Cluster Map

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pollyanna is glad to chat with you

Pollyanna is glad to be back and to chat with you. As usual, for starters we call your attention to our Human Rights Action blog and ask you to click and extend a hand to those who are in such great need of help.

All of us, Pollyanna, Titan and YandA, join in wishing our Muslim friends, Eid Mubarak, for the Eid el Adha holiday coming up at the end of this week.

George McGovern, 1922-2012

George McGovern was an American liberal-Democrat politician who ran unsuccessfully for the Presidency against Richard Nixon in 1972. He ran on a liberal, peace proponent platform at the height of the Vietnam War and was roundly defeated. He served in the Senate and was instrumental in carrying through important legislation of the liberal agenda. In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Mr. McGovern ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. He moved to Rome, and he worked on plans for delivering food to malnourished people around the world. In 2000, Mr. Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
He was of the breed of Midwestern Progressives who stood for human values, social justice and peace. He opposed the war in Iraq and called for a phased withdrawal to end in 1977. In his final book, “What It Means to Be a Democrat,” released last November, he despairs of an “insidious” political atmosphere in Washington while trying to rally Democrats against “extremism” in the Republican ranks.

“We are the party that believes we can’t let the strong kick aside the weak,” Mr. McGovern wrote. “Our party believes that poor children should be as well educated as those from wealthy families. We believe that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes and that everyone should have access to health care.”
Rest in Peace Senator McGovern. Let us hope to be worthy of your legacy. We append an obituary from the  New York Times.

Arlen Specter 1930-2012.
Former Senator Arlen Specter, a  Jewish Republican, the last of the moderates in that party, died this week of cancer. Though he began and ended his Senate years as a Democrat, Specter represented the state of
Pennsylvania in Congress as a Republican for most of his 5 terms in the highest legislative chamber.
Speaking at the AFL-CIO convention
His political platform was always moderate centrist, but his party affiliation was born of expediency and rooted in ideological pragmatism. A Jewish pro-choice Republican, Specter was first and foremost a political survivor whose wit and sharp tongue cut whichever way was most electorally prudent. Near the end he switched to the Democrats, but lost in their primary. Liberals never forgave his treatment of Anita Hill that paved the way for the confirmation of Clarence Thomas, although he did block Bork. He tried to broker piece between Israel and Syria, but despite many friendly meetings with Hafez Assad, his efforts came to naught. We append an obituary from both the Washington Post and JTA.

While Pollyanna usually leaves the rants and the raves to her brother Titan who is a highly skilled ranter, she is totally outraged over the arrest of Anat Hoffman for wearing a talit (prayer shawl) and singing the Shema out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, while marking the centenary of Hadassah with visitors from abroad on Rosh Hodesh Heshvan. We have placed the protest petition on the Human Rights Blog. We also append the a Web site with updates on the Anat Hoffman issue. This is not going to go away.

The offense of Anat Hoffman consisted of singing in public, in fact she sang a prayer. Orthodox Jews believe, as stated in the Talmud, that the voice of a woman is part of her genital equipment, or in Hebrew, "Kol b'isha erva." In the Army, orthodox soldiers have walked out of ceremonies when female voices were raised in song. The youth movements in the country at their annual convention cut out solo singing by girls. Everyone surrenders to orthodox terror. This is of course a curtailment of free speech levied specifically at women, which is why Pollyanna is ranting about it. We refer you to a recent blogpost by the Heresiarch (on the side here) in which he deals with jail for wearing what was admittedly a very offensive tee shirt.

Freedom of speech allows one to be offensive and if someone's feelings are hurt, too bad. Consensus in society about what is acceptable should work and the law should not be invoked. The slope towards repression is too steep and too slippery. The ruling in 2003 that women cannot pray in public out loud or hold a Torah scroll or wear a talit, all by the High Court in Israel, is a prime example of the lack of courage, integrity and commitment to democracy of this body. As Adam Wagner writes 
"The problem is that once the state starts policing speech and thought, this tends to be the thin end of the wedge. People become frightened to say what they feel and instead say what they think they ought to say. Such a climate would undoubtedly place a chill on the wonderful, bizarre, entertaining, sometimes concerning but always interesting world of social media. And that would be bad for everyone." 
Here in Israel we have a combination of  repression of both freedom of religion and of freedom of
expression. .

As we all know 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai a Pakistani schoolgirl attended school until Oct. 9, when a Taliban gunman shot her in the head for her outspoken public advocacy of women’s education. Madonna who is supposed to be astute as a business person and smart as an artist performed a striptease in Los Angeles that culminated with Malala's name on her back, between the bra and the thong.
Idiocy of the highest order
One can well imagine the reaction in Pakistan or in any Muslim country. This is hardly support or help for Malala.

This fact is apparently not understood by the judiciary of Italy. Six Italian scientists and an ex-government official have been sentenced to six years in prison over the 2009 deadly earthquake in L'Aquila. The court ruled that the seismologists had been "too reassuring" by telling the press that they did not expect the small tremors observed to be precursors of a major earthquake. The seismologists were wrong and the Richter 6.3 quake killed over 300 people. Nonetheless, there is no way that anyone other than God can predict an earthquake. The precedent is chilling and we can be sure that people will be wary of predicting. In fact, there will be many false warnings and unnecessary evacuations because no one wants to go to jail for being wrong. We quote David Rothery, of the UK's Open University, who said earthquakes were "inherently unpredictable". The best estimate at the time was that the low-level seismicity was not likely to herald a bigger quake, but there are no certainties in this game."
Italy has apparently reverted to the Middle Ages and its judges hand down voodoo verdicts. Nature magazine has delivered a scathing judgement on the trial and sentence. Let us hope this ridiculous verdict is reversed on appeal. The head of Italy's disaster body, Luciano Maiani, has resigned in protest at the prison sentences passed on seven colleagues.

Unlike earthquakes, weather can be predicted fairly accurately these days since the advent of the supercomputer. We did weather forecasting eons ago in the army and it was clear that the forecaster could never be brought to trial for failure to predict, as long as negligence was not involved. We would like to call your attention to five day rain intensity and distribution forecasts for Israel now available on line. The color coding is self-explanatory. Pollyanna is bookmarking this link and recommends it to you.
We are pleased to welcome to our neighborhood (actually it has been there for billions of years) a newly discovered planet at Alpha Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor. It is only a paltry 4.4 light-years (about 42 trillion(British billion) kilometers) away. Hold it with the packing, the planet is not habitable, but still the discovery by the European Southern Telescope is a notable achievement. We cannot but mention that the congratulatory press release from NASA had a few lines about the discovery and then a bloated description of what NASA will do in the future in this area.  Poor taste to say the least.

Archaeologist Björn Wallebom clears the northern brim of the dolmen, or several upright stones with a horizontal boulder on top in which a body would be placed.
CREDIT: Annika Knarrström, Swedish National Heritage Board.

A 5,500-year-old tomb possibly belonging to a Stone Age chieftain has been unearthed at a megalithic monument in the shape of a ship called the Ale's Stenar (Ale's Stones). The tomb, in Sweden, was likely robbed of stones to build the Viking-era ship monument. The tomb was investigated by ground penetrating radar followed by the digging of a trench and found to be round and to have a rectangular structure inside the circle. It may well be older than Stonehenge. Read more.

Our beloved Voyager 1 spacecraft may or may not be about to leave the solar system and cross the heliopause into interstellar space.

It is not, of course, a farewell to Voyager. Indeed as our project scientist Ed Stone said at the party at the end of the planetary phase of the mission:
"So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna 
On the field of battle. Not fare well, 
But fare forward, voyagers".-T.S. Eliot.
Now 18 billion kilometers away, Voyager 1 is the most distant spacecraft flung from Earth. Voyager 2, launched two weeks earlier but on a longer path, is trailing its twin by about 3.4 billion kilometers.
Voyager 1 was launched in 1977. Four of its original instruments (labelled in yellow) are still returning data on conditions at the edge of the Solar System.
 The instruments on board that are still operating (launch was in 1977 and we joined the Plasma Science Team in 1979) show two of the three required criteria for passage through the heliopause, as stated by our friend Ed Roelof, a space scientist at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, (where we spent a sabbatical in 1996-97).  Ed, who works with Voyager 1 data, said that, in any model of the heliopause, an object exiting through it should experience three changes: a sharp rise in the number of collisions with cosmic rays (high-energy particles from space), a dramatic drop in the number of collisions with charged particles from the sun, and a change in the direction of the surrounding magnetic field. We seem to have experienced the first two, but the magnetic field change is lacking. In fact, as stated  in a Nature paper, by Bob Decker, also a space scientist at APL and his colleagues, at the current location of Voyager 1, the average velocity of solar particles has dropped to nearly zero. Nobody seems to understand this and as Tom Krimigis (we are quoting many friends his week) says “There no longer exists any guidance on what constitutes getting out of the Solar System and into the Galaxy." There are of course dissenting voices and we advice you to read the link to Ron Cowan's excellent popular review and think about it yourself.

EDWARD HUBBLE, 1889-1953, as we all know or should know, was the discoverer of the red shift that proved that the universe was and is expanding.

He laid the foundations of modern observational cosmology. Obviously his car had the mirror shown here (cartoon xkcd).

What If deals with a question of nutrition of cows. We could not help but be reminded of a few Ogden
Nash gems on the subject of cows:
The cow is of the bovine ilk, 
one end is moo, the other milk,
to say nothing of the deep thought in
Brown cow softly mooing, 
No bull, nothing doing.

Normally we stay out of politics, but the statement of an American politician that pregnancy resulting from rape is the will of God led us to decide to share with you the take of The Onion on this issue.
Did God rape Mary?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pollyanna congratulates the Nobel Laureates and salutes girls everywhere

Maya as little Pollyanna

Pollyanna is glad to be back with you. The holiday season is behind us and we can now get back to the real world, such as it is. As usual, for starters we call your attention to our Human Rights Action blog and ask you to click and help those who are in such great need of support.

Pollyanna calls your attention to the International Day of the Girl, October 11, 2012. For this occasion, the blog is coming out on Thursday instead of the usual Friday. She together with Titan and YandA invite you to the Because I Am a Girl site and ask you to join up and support the initiative to empower girls everywhere.  Abuse is rampant in far too many countries.
Please meet Urmila:

Urmila is a 22 year old former Kamlahari (a child servant) and a women’s activist from Nepal. Urmila comes from a family of bonded, landless farmers. Her family was so poor that they sold her to work as a Kamlahari for 40 dollars a year when she was 6 years old.

Like so many other girls of Urmila’s Tharu ethnic group, she was forced to leave her community and work in conditions of often extreme exploitation without any personal compensation in the house of a rich and prosperous family in the capital of Kathmandu. Urmila remained in the Kamlahari system of forced child servitude for 11 years.

In 2007, and at the age of 17, Urmila was finally freed. Then, with the help of international and local NGOs, Urmila’s dream finally came true: she was able to start school. Urmila is now attending ninth grade of a private English high school.

From the moment she gained freedom, Urmila decided she had to fight for the many Kamlahari girls, who still live in slavery. In December 2007, she was elected the first president of the Common Forum for Kamlahari Freedom (CFKF), an organization founded by girls and women to fight for their own rights. Urmila and a delegation of girls travelled several times to see the President, the Prime Minister and other important people in Kathmandu to claim financial support for the education of the ex-Kamlahari girls.

While Pollyanna usually leaves the rants and the raves to her brother Titan who is a highly skilled ranter, she is totally outraged over the attack on Malala Yousafzai, a 14 year old campaigner for girls' rights, who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen. Surgeons have removed a bullet from her head and she is reported to be in stable condition.
Pakistani hospital workers carry injured Malala Yousafzai, 14, on a stretcher at a hospital following an attack by gunmen in Mingora on Oct. 9, 2012. (Mohammed Rehman - AFP/Getty Images)
  Malala Yousufzai rose to fame because of her innocent but courageous desire to attend school, which translated into a one-girl campaign of resistance when Taliban captured Swat valley in 2009 and ordered girls' schools closed. Several hundred in Swat and neighbouring Bajaur and Mohmand were destroyed. Only a few in urban areas have been rebuilt. Her blog came to the attention of BBC Urdu and she became known worldwide. She was just 11 when she started her diary, two years after the Taliban took over the Swat Valley and ordered girls' schools to close. Writing under the pen-name Gul Makai for BBC Urdu, she exposed the suffering caused by the militants. Her identity emerged after the Taliban were driven out of Swat. She later won a national award for bravery and was nominated for an international children's peace award.

There are protests in Pakistan, but this brave girl's life will remain in danger. The police arrested 40 suspects, but released them all on bail. Pollyanna weeps for such girls and calls for action by all enlightened people. If there is a Pakistani embassy in your country, you can start by calling them and making your opinion known to them.

Pollyanna is anything but glad that some idiot decided that he could improve a painting by Mark Rothko in the Tate Modern in London. We know that set of paintings, the Seagram Murals and sincerely hope that the restoration experts will succeed in undoing the damage.

Pollyanna is delighted to congratulate this year's Nobel Laureates in science:

PHYSICS: The Nobel Prize in Physics 2012 was awarded jointly to Serge Haroche
Photo: © CNRS Photothèque/Christophe Lebedinsky

  and David J. Wineland
Photo: © NIST

 "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems".

CHEMISTRY: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 was awarded jointly to Robert J. Lefkowitz
Photo: Stewart Waller/PR Newswire. © HHMI

 and Brian K. Kobilka        
Photo: © Stanford University

"for studies of G-protein-coupled receptors".

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012 was awarded jointly to Sir John B. Gurdon
Photo: Creative Commons Attr. 2.0 Generic license

and Shinya Yamanaka
Photo: Creative Commons Attr. 2.0 Generic license

 "for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent".

Now let us go into these awards more deeply.

Serge Haroche of France and American David Wineland opened the door to new experiments in quantum physics in the 1990s by showing how to observe individual atoms and particles of light called photons while preserving their quantum properties. These results are seminal and will eventually lead to great technological advances, such as much faster computers. It is amazing to us that, as a physicist once said to Yakir Aharonov of Tel Aviv University, people can do quantum physics in vivo. . We like the quote on Yakir's Web page, "How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress", Niels Bohr
Brian K. Kobilka and Robert J. Lefkowitz won the Nobel Prize in chemistry on Wednesday, receiving the honor for their work unveiling how an important group of signaling molecules works in the body.  The molecules, called G-protein-coupled-receptors, or GPCRs, are embedded in the membrane of cells and cause important chemical cascades when a target molecule attaches to them. That target could be anything from a hormone such as adrenaline to neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
Read more in the Washington Post.
It is worthy of note that this is the first time that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded to  two medical doctors, which indicates that basic science and medicine are drawing closer to one another.
We add a quote courtesy of the Science Media Center from Mark Sansom, professor of molecular biophysics at Oxford University:
"G-protein coupled receptors have for a long time been the holy grail of membrane protein research. They are fundamental to regulation of many physiological processes, from the nervous system to taste and smell. They are also a major class of drug target and are incredibly important to the pharmaceutical industry. In particular Kobilka's work in determining the structure of G-protein coupled receptors has revolutionized our understanding of how they work as small 'molecular machines' and will lead to enormous advances in drug design."
In a testament to the revolutionary potential of the field of regenerative medicine, in which scientists are able to create and replace any cells that are at fault in disease, the Nobel Prize committee on Monday awarded the 2012 Nobel in Physiology or Medicine to two researchers whose discoveries have made such cellular alchemy possible.
The prize went to John B. Gurdon of the University of Cambridge in England, who was among the first to
clone an animal, a frog, in 1962, and to Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Japan who in 2006 discovered the four genes necessary to reprogram an adult cell back to an embryonic state.
Read more:
The implications of this work are mind-boggling. There has been controversy over the use of embryonic stem cells in this research. It is encouraging that the courts in the USA have ruled that the use of stem cells is legal. The source of these cells is embryos that are left over in fertility clinics and would normally be trashed. These cells which have not yet made a job choice can be used to replace diseased or faulty tissues in the body. Pollyanna at 99 and Titan at 4.6 billion are both aware of the frailties of aging, in particular the loss of cartilage that causes osteoarthritis. It is thrilling to see that stem cell research is making major progress in replacing cartilage.
Glassy, resilient bone-capping cartilage has long eluded tissue engineers trying to grow it in the lab.
Biophoto Assoc./Getty Images
The blue sky version of the stem cell approach goes like this: Stem cells are extracted from a patient, geared up to become chondrocytes, wrapped in a favorable mix of compounds and then inserted into damaged joints. The cells take it from there. Voilà: neo-cartilage. This is not yet routine clinical practice, but it is on the way.

The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Chinese writer Mo Yan,  the first Chinese author ever to win the Nobel prize in literature.

China Daily, via Reuters

Mo Yan in Beijing in 2009.

“Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition,” the citation for the award declared, striking what seemed a careful balance after campaigns of vilification against other Chinese Nobel laureates.
 Pollyanna, Titan and YandA all applaud the new Nobel Laureates in science and literature.

Pollyanna, along with the rest of us,  wishes to to fire a blast at the Jerusalem Post.   This rag of a tabloid masquerading as a real newspaper hit a new low in provinciality and stupidity with its headline "NY Jewish doctor wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry."  The item appeared not as an item of science news, but as part of the Jewish World section, as if the fact that Lefkowitz happens to be Jewish has any relevance to the research and that his contribution to the research was more important than that of  Kobilka who is just a trivial goy from a small town in Minnesota. This sort of behavior shows up often in our country. In 2006 the Chemistry Laureate was Roger Kornberg of the USA, who is married to an Israeli woman. This led the local press to anoint him as an honorary Israeli and to claim the prize for all of us. We have ten perfectly legitimate Nobel Laureates in Israel, four of them in Chemistry and one in literature, and there is no need to hitchhike on the laurels and achievements of others.
Pollyanna strongly approves of the fact that at dozens of Conservative (Masorti) synagogues around Israel, congregants celebrating Simhat Torah carried the flag of egalitarianism and pluralism. Literally, that is to say.
One of Rabbi Graetz's daughters posing with new Masorti flag Photo by Courtesy of Tzvi Graetz
A brand new Simhat Torah flag conceived by the Israeli branch of the world Conservative movement offers a fresh take on the traditional scenes depicted on this popular holiday accessory (particularly when topped with an apple): Rather than bearded men dancing with Torah scrolls - the women standing in the background, if present at all - this flag has men and women dancing together with the Torah scrolls, joined by members of other marginalized groups of society. Reform movement, pick it up.

Last week Titan delivered the opinion of all of us on the stupid and harmful film made by an idiot of an
Islamophobe. We find it of interest, however, to note that Live Science has compiled a list of seven major religious hoaxes in history. Some, such as the nefarious Protocols of the Elders of Zion are purveyors of hate. We saw the Protocols for sale at book stalls on the streets of Cairo and we are told that when the new Alexandria Library was opened, the contributions of various faiths were marked by the Quran, the New Testament and the Protocols rather than the Old Testament. The latter were removed after an Israeli government protest and a worldwide Jewish outcry. Other hoaxes are funny or simply tricks to relieve the faithful of some of the burden of their worldly wealth for the benefit of holy men. There are modern hoaxes such as Scientology that are doing very well.
Many of us know the great American poem about Casey at the Bat.

We were reminded of it when we read that a well known English golfer named Paul Casey, on the green in two on a par five, had his ball stolen by a dog. After due restitution and some delay, he made his birdie.

What If is not really up to par this week. Apparently there were not any really good questions. Randall had to revive Schroedinger's cat or invoke his own cat to make it interesting. C'est la vie. On the other hand, Letitia shares a problem with many of us.

We recall a struggle to cancel an American Express card many years ago. Dilbert's company also has a successful business model: