Cluster Map

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pollyanna greets you

Pollyanna hopes that all her US readers are having a happy Thanksgiving holiday and would like to share a lovely image with all. It is a study of interactions on two very different levels: at one level, these gigantic galaxies are interacting through collisions over immense distances (in both time and space); on another level, the image represents the interaction between NASA's Great Observatories (Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer), which have joined forces to bring us this amazing view.

As usual, we link you to our Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action blog.  Please take a minute to act on behalf of people whose rights are being infringed.

Before getting into the fun stuff, Pollyanna would like to sound off about a few feminist issues.  One is the good news that the blasphemy charges against a young, possibly retarded, Christian girl in Pakistan have been thrown out of court.  Her accusers are facing a perjury indictment.  We cheer the judiciary and hope that the girl and her family can return to a normal life.
Rimsha was taken to a secret location after being released on bail

The other is the sexist side of the sordid soap opera being played out in real life in the US security and intelligence establishment.  All too often the system manages to blame the women involved for everything. We refer you to a transcript of a good feminist rant on this subject by Robin Morgan that was broadcast on the Women's Media Center show.

On the local scene, Pollyanna adds her own rant about religious freedom for women in Israel. Again we have arrests for the wearing of a talit (prayer shawl) in Jerusalem.
One of the Women of the Wall being arrested in Jerusalem. Photo by Emil Salman

International Day for the Elimination
of Violence against Women
25 November

We quote:
Violence against women and girls takes many forms and is widespread throughout the globe. […] On this International Day, I urge governments and partners around the world to harness the energy, ideas and leadership of young people to help us to end this pandemic of violence. Only then will we have a more just, peaceful and equitable world.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Message for the International Day for the
Elimination of Violence against Women
25 November 2011


"Any girl can be glamorous," Hedy Lamarr once said. "All she has to do is stand still and look stupid."
 Most of our readers are too young to remember the famous film star of the 1930's and 1940's Hedy Lamarr.   Although she was an Old Hollywood sex symbol, she most definitely  had a brain. It's a fact that may be nearly as overlooked as her wartime creation: a landmark technology that was a precursor to Bluetooth.

It's not surprising that she's known best for her sultry persona, given her film role that made everyone sit up and take notice. In 1933's "Ecstasy," a Czech film, she raised eyebrows and drew condemnation around the globe when she appeared nude in one part of the film and simulated an orgasm in another.

Lamarr is seen going skinny-dipping and, still without a stitch on, chasing a runaway horse. The orgasm scene comes later, and, yes, she does smoke a cigarette afterward. "Ecstasy" is considered the first theatrically released movie to feature an actress simulating an orgasm on screen.
Take that, Meg Ryan.

From Wikepedia  we learn that she was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, the only child of assimilated Jewish parents. Her mother, Gertrud (née Lichtwitz), was a pianist and Budapest native who came from the "Jewish haute bourgeoisie", and her father, Lemberg-born Emil Kiesler, was a successful bank director.
In addition to making movies and being the sex symbol of her era, she invented a device for frequency jumping to enable guided torpedoes to avoid jamming. It was rejected by the brass hats during the war, but used later and is also a basis for Bluetooth.

We applaud the life of Hedy Lamarr and point you to a biography.

From a smart and lovely lady we move on to the idiots in our midst.  We are sure that the Darwin awards site will pick up on the drunk Australian who tried to ride a huge crocodile.  From this genius we move on to the Republican party and the understanding of science by its leaders.  We present their twelve most egregious goofs on science and  must admit that President Obama was a bit off base himself in 2008 when discussing autism and the spurious claim that it is related to vaccines. Hilary Clinton did not do any better on that score.  In general, we have ranted often about the vast ignorance and irrationality that clouds up public discussion. Perhaps we should be encouraged by the news from Andy Borowitz that math and science people are welcome in the Republican party despite their strange beliefs.

Pollyanna is pleased that the display of nativity scenes that has long stood around Xmas time along the beach park ridge in Santa Monica will vanish.  The rule of the court was that the interest of the city in preventing a divisive event was legitimate.  The city tried to be fair and raffled off the slots.  Last year an atheist coalition won most of them and put up an anti-religion display.  We were there last year and photographed it.
Here's to separation of Church and State.

We have a few nice discoveries to share with you.

We usually think of fossils as associated with rocks.  In fact, a fossil record has been found in medieval woodcuts in Europe.  The holes left by beetles gnawing their way out of the wood show up in the prints and provide information about the distribution of insect species in Europe during the period 1400-1800.  Cool indeed.
The 1541 woodcut "De Rijke Man" (The Rich Man) by Cornelius Anthonisz. White circles reveal where furniture beetles gnawed through the wood block before printing.
CREDIT: © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

A planet-sized non-stellar object has been found relatively close to Earth.  These objects which do not orbit a star wander around the galaxy and have been known for some time.  This one, known to its buddies as CFBDSIR2149, is only about 115 to 160 light-years from Earth. It will be useful to study the object in detail,  since investigation of exoplanets is always complicated by the presence of the primary star, the light from which overwhelms everything around it.

It has long been known that trees are capable of warning one another  of insect attacks and other dangers by means of chemical signals.  It is interesting to note that coral reefs in danger of being overwhelmed by algae or seaweed send out a call for help to fish which come and feast on the parasites.  Nature is indeed wonderful.
The broad-barred goby (Gobiodon histrio), that lives among coral branches will react to a chemical cue released by its sheltering coral if the coral is touched by a brilliant green, toxic seaweed (right).  The fish will nip back the encroaching foliage. Credit: Danielle Dixson
What If? generates an interesting answer to a weird question. 

This week Pollyanna calls your attention to The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Kevin Dutton
Christian Bale as Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Rex

 reviewed in The Guardian/Observer by Tim Adams.

Finally, we close with a warning to Web addicts

and some sympathy for nerds


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pollyanna congratulates the President

Pollyanna Forster - CEO, owner and wine director

Pollyanna is back and is lifting a glass of wine in honor of the victory of President Obama in his campaign for reelection. (she has many incarnations under the same name and herself is underage for drinking...)Normally she abjures politics, but this is just too good to pass over.  Congratulations, mazal tov dear Mr. President and we look forward to the next four years with the firm belief that you will do great things.

Before we get on with the blog, we first refer you to our Human Rights action blog.  Please click and act on behalf of people whose human rights are being violated.

Eighteenth birthday party

Our granddaughter Ella is going off to her military service this week and we wish her all the best.  We even give her a musical send off straight from Mozart:

Ella's enlistment into the army resolves a security lacuna that has existed since our grandson Joey got out a few weeks ago.

One of the exciting results of the US  election that makes Pollyanna very glad is the role played by women and the achievements of women.  The results show more women in more important elective positions than ever before. Check out this impressive list of victories for women.

There are many other exciting results of the election, but Pollyanna will leave them to her dear brother Titan who handles the political matters of the family.

Pollyanna is pleased to note two major religious appointments made this week.  Bishop Tawadros has been chosen as the new pope of Egypt's Coptic Christians, becoming leader of the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.
Blindfolded boy takes a name from a bowl to chose the new pope

Justin Welby has been named as next Archbishop of Canterbury the Head of the Anglican Church.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby: ''To be nominated to this post is both astonishing and exciting.''

Pollyanna, together with Titan and YandA, wishes both of them success in their new and challenging tasks.

Pollyanna would like to commend the Cleveland OH judge who ordered a woman who drove on a sidewalk to avoid a loading schoolbus to stand on a corner with a sign warning about idiots!!  Right on, Your Honor.

This is something that Pollyanna has always regarded as troubling, the unwillingness of many people, possibly a majority, to accept the findings of modern science with respect to cosmology and biological evolution.  This obscurantism is  common in the US, but can be found worldwide, a rejection of rational thought and discussion and a grasping at mystic ideas that have no basis in any objective evidence.

Bill Nye discusses this and indeed is worried that there will not be a generation of rational people in the future to run the world.  Here is a discussion that you might find to be interesting.

No one claims that science has all the answers, but it is an ongoing process of finding reasonable answers to questions in nature.  Many antiscience advocates point to the changes in paradigm as a failure of science compared to the "eternal truths" offered by religion. The truth is just the opposite.  The replacement of the Ptolemaic model of the solar system by the Copernican is an example of the success of the scientific method. Similarly, a model of matter called SuperSymmetry or SUSY to its friends is awaiting the judgement of experiments in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).  SUSY, is now a critical part of theoretical physics. It resolves many inconsistencies in other theories and holds them together in a neat and beautiful mathematical framework. Yet SUSY has no experimental evidence so far.
Large Hadron Collider

Physicists were hoping that the LHC would throw up particles that would validate supersymmetry, but it hasn't happened so far. People have also worked for decades developing string theory that is supposed to provide the link between quantum mechanics and gravity.  They include some of the greatest mathematical minds on the planet.  Nonetheless, if string theory fails experiment, then away it goes.  In all these cases, we wait and see and have no difficulty changing the paradigm if that is called for.

A new theory in paleontology posits that the growth of the brain of our ancestor Homo Erectus derived from the fact that H.Erectus knew how to cook. Cooked meat provides more energy at a lower cost in digestion than raw meat and thus the growth of the brain that passed on to H. Sapiens was phenomenal. The theory is neat, but the confirmation by hearth relics at the time of H. Erectus is missing and so the discussion goes back and forth.  It is certainly an interesting idea, although some say that the time of H. Erectus 1.6 million years ago was too early for fire.  Hearths date from 250,000 years ago whereas  burnt seeds etc. indicate that about 800,000 years ago is the earliest date for first controlled use of fire. While we are with paleontology, we note that a new and quite convincing explanation  for the existence of the rear wings in four-wing flying dinosaurs attributes their use to fine tuned navigation around tree branches and other obstacles.

The huge storm that both devastated the east coast of North America and claimed 69 lives  along with causing untold damage in the Caribbean was not an immigrant from the West Coast of Africa.  It appears that Sandy herself was born in the Caribbean .  On the evening of October 19, a trough of low air pressure drifted slowly in the Caribbean Sea, east of Costa Rica and south of Haiti. The U.S. National Hurricane Center gave this tropical wave only a 20 percent chance of strengthening into a named storm. As it happened, however, a combination of meteorological circumstances that rarely come together gave birth to Sandy and drove her to major hurricane status.
What's left of Hurricane Sandy exits over the Great Lakes in this image taken in the wee hours of October 31. To better predict any future superstorms, scientists are working to understand exactly how Sandy was born, grew and died. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

For those of us who are interested in these things, the sequence of events creates a fascinating story. It should be noted that the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts predicted Sandy’s sharp westward turn days before the U.S. equivalent did. The European model uses higher-resolution data, farther in advance, than the leading American model does, which indicates greater computing power. Our Yankee friends sometimes tend to be penny wise and pound foolish.

A blogging period never seems to go by without a new planet popping up in someone's telescope.  We are now informed of a super-Earth orbiting the star HD 40307 that was known to host three planets, all of them too near to support liquid water. Now a Super-Earth that may support liquid water has been found.  Read all about it.!

We have long been considered pests for our unwillingness to tolerate smoke injected to our lungs without our consent. We have one relative who claims he is preventing lung cancer by drinking copious amounts of orange juice.  Yes, he has a responsible job and manages to cross the street without being run over.  In any case, it is nice to get further confirmation that preventing smoking in the public arena has positive effects. 

We call your attention to
On Politics
A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present

Alan Ryan (Author, New College, Oxford University)
Book One:
A History of Political Thought:
Herodotus to Machiavelli

Book Two:
A History of Political Thought:
Hobbes to the Present
First the publisher's blurb:
Three decades in the making, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive histories of political philosophy in nearly a century.  Both a history and an examination of human thought and behavior spanning three thousand years, On Politics thrillingly traces the origins of political philosophy from the ancient Greeks to Machiavelli in Book I and from Hobbes to the present age in Book II. Whether examining Lord Acton’s dictum that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” or explicating John Stuart Mill’s contention that it is “better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied,” Alan Ryan evokes the lives and minds of our greatest thinkers in a way that makes reading about them a transcendent experience. Whether writing about Plato or Augustine, de Toqueville or Thomas Jefferson, Ryan brings a wisdom to his text that illuminates John Dewey’s belief that the role of philosophy is less to see truth than to enhance experience. With this unparalleled tour de force, Ryan emerges in his own right as one of the most influential political philosophers of our time

OK, what do the reviewers say? The New Yorker review is for subscribers, but we can quote: "Ryan shows how the assumptions behind many theories of politics are as much metaphysical as they are political: in most cases, a thinker’s views of politics are indecipherable without his views of man, nature, and God. Among the dangers facing democracies today, he focuses on the likelihood that individuality will shrink before the onslaught of mediocrity and conformity, and on the possibility that we will settle for a “Persian” prosperity instead of demanding a “Greek” politics of active participation. One of the valuable functions of a history like “On Politics” is to show how narrow a slice of the intellectual spectrum American politics currently fights over."

Read more if you can open it.

We also link you  to an excellent review in the Los Angeles Times.  Ryan deals with problems of the evolution of democracy. He draws the dichotomy of Greece and Persia very well. The Persian subject lived under a competent government, as noted by Herodotus, but had few if any individual rights. The Greek had both rights and the responsibilities that came with them, but lived under the rule of Law rather than the whim of a King. This reminds us of a conversation with the Chinese ambassador in Tel Aviv who assured us that the Chinese people were happy and that people do not really want democracy. They would rather be looked after by a strong and competent leadership. The speech delivered this week by the outgoing leader Mr. Hu Jintao at the Communist Party congress in Beijing tells us what the problem of that is.

Pollyanna thanks Yosefa for calling to her attention to this gross but funny commercial exploitation of women. Imagine a pink laptop, presumably all dumbed down for the weak female brain.  Take a look and join the laughter.  Seriously it is sad that women are still regarded as weak-minded silly creatures.

WHAT IF? This question was asked two days before the US election.  We like the answer.