Cluster Map

Friday, December 21, 2012

Pollyanna assures you that this is not the last blog

NASA / JPL / SSI / color composite by Emily Lakdawalla
Rhea on the rings with Prometheus and Janus
Cassini was nearly two million kilometers away from Rhea on March 28, 2010 when it captured this approximately natural color view of the moon sitting in front of Saturn's rings. In the background are two much smaller moons, Prometheus (sitting in front of the F ring on the left) and Janus (above the rings to the right).

Pollyanna again wishes all a happy holiday.  This week we mark the 340th anniversary of the discovery of Rhea, a large satellite of Saturn.  The discovery was made by Giovanni Domenico Cassini, the founder of a dynasty of French astronomers who served for four  generations as directors of the Paris Observatory.
Giovanni Domenico Cassini

The spacecraft in orbit around Saturn is named for him. Pollyanna is displaying both Rhea and its discoverer with links to information about both. For the mythology buffs, RHEA was the Titanis mother of the gods, and a goddess of female fertility, motherhood, and generation. Her name means "flow" and "ease." As the wife of Kronos (time), she represented the eternal flow of time and generations ; as the great Mother (Meter Megale), the "flow" was menstrual blood, birth waters, and milk. She was also a goddess of comfort and ease, a blessing reflected in the common Homeric phrase "the gods who live at their ease (rhea)."
Rhea riding lion, Athenian red-figure vase,
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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 doing anything else, Pollyanna would like to deal with a few feminist issues, first religious freedom for women in Israel. Again we have arrests for the wearing of a talit (prayer shawl) in Jerusalem, along with major crimes such as singing out loud etc.
A policewoman leading away Laura Wharton from the Women of the Wall prayer service in Nov. 2012. Photo by Emil Salman
The time has come for liberal Jews everywhere to make it clear to the Israeli political establishment that this situation is unacceptable.

The second is the killing of innocents by a gunman in the US. Pollyanna, along with everyone, mourns the death of 20 children and 6 teachers of the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT who were gunned down by a monster with an assault weapon. There is no limit to the grief and outrage we all feel as we contemplate this disaster. You may want to sign a condolence card. We are reminded of the lines of Bialik in his poem about a massacre of Jews in Tsarist Russia:

On the Slaughter

Translated by A.Z. Foreman

And cursed be he that shall say: avenge this!
Such vengeance for blood of babe and maiden
Hath yet to be wrought by Satan.

There is no talk of revenge, but laws must be changed and the purveyors and supporters of a gun-ridden society must be held to account.  An anachronistic amendment from the early 19th century based on the idea that the new republic had no need for a standing army, but must be prepared to defend itself has been twisted to create a monster of a rapacious industry and a powerful group of people who profit from gun dealing.  We are told that there are 35,000 food markets in the US and 51,000 gun dealerships.  Just think. Let us hope that President Obama will put politics aside and stand up for the safety and security of the people.

Pollyanna totally agrees with Robin Morgan that the use of arms in the perpetration of violence is a gender issue   It has to do with men and boys shooting at women and girls.  Her comments are worth reading.  You can also hear the panel discussion of Women's Media Center online at 1300 UT or 1500 IST on Saturday. Note an ad for the Bush assault rifle of the type used by Lanza.
Can you imagine going deer or duck hunting with this gun? It is intended for killing and the ad equates manliness with owning this killing machine. Pollyanna wants to puke.

Pollyanna is glad that the governments of South Africa and Vietnam have signed an agreement to curb the poaching of rhinos in South Africa.  The poaching is driven by a superstitious belief in the Far East that attributes medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities to the horn of the animal. As a result, this wonderful species is in danger of extinction.
At least 618 rhinos have been poached in South Africa in 2012, nearly double the number killed in 2010

She sincerely hopes that this first international agreement on the rhino will make a difference.

Pollyanna salutes the five people chosen by Care2 as the outstanding human rights defenders of 2012. 
Anthony Shadid, Journalist, died in Syria

Chut Wutty, environmental activist

Li Wangyang, human rights activist

Nabeel Rajab, human rights activist

Malala Yousafzai, human rights and women’s rights activist

In particular, We like the idea of nominating Malala Yousufzai for the Nobel Peace Prize.  Already as a result of her wounding and struggle, the president of Pakistan has committed $3,000,000 to the education of girls. To our mind, the man who shot Malala is a true colleague of Adam Lanza--there is something particularly despicable about anyone who would harm a child. The late Christopher Hitchens made this point in his revision of the Ten Commandments for our modern secular world.

We have long contended that science is a place of sanctuary from the evils of the world. Let us look at some goodies from the world of science to raise our morale and give Pollyanna and the rest of us something to be glad about. Before we do that, let us put to rest the fear that this year's northern winter solstice is going to mark the end of the world.  The Mayans got a bum rap here.
Tortuguero Monument Six, supposedly predicting the "end of the world" in December, actually tells the life and battles of a ruler.
 The nuts running around looking for refuge or just stocking up on vodka are completely off their collective rocker.  Andy Borowitz tells us that the good folks at Google have been taking the matter seriously and have come up with a marvelous terminal home page for the world.
Anyone who has read The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second part of the famous trilogy in five parts, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, will appreciate the effort made by our friends at Google.

Unrivalled control of a robotic arm has been achieved using a paralysed woman's thoughts, a US study says.
We are delighted at the report that Jan Scheuermann, who is 53 and paralyzed from the neck down, was able deftly to grasp and move a variety of objects just as we would with a normal arm, by means of a robot arm controlled by an implant in her brain.  This is a marvelous achievement and promises a ray of hope for paralyzed people.  Her first action, bless her, was to pick up a piece of chocolate.  We agree.

Science progresses best when existing paradigms are attacked and broken.  Two new ideas on the origin of life constitute such attacks.  One is the claim that the search for the origin of life is barking up the wrong tree and that instead of looking for the right chemistry, we should be looking for the key differences in the way that living creatures store and process information.  The concept is thought-provoking and should not be dismissed out of hand.
Historically, scientists have defined living creatures by the presence of DNA, but how living creatures process information may be a better hallmark of life, a new study argues

 The second new idea is the claim that instead of land animals evolving out of creature that came out of the sea, the direction was the opposite. A geologist at the University of Oregon claims that fossil studies show that life evolved on land and then made its way into the ocean.
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons) A new study proposes that land-based life, as shown by this Ediacaran fossil, may not have evolved from ocean animals.

Other paleontologists have severe doubts about this theory and it is certain to generate fruitful debate in the scientific community.

In addition to the Rhea discovery anniversary mentioned above, we are happy to tell you that our neighboring star Tau Ceti, only twelve light years away and the closest, single, solar-type star has a family of five planets. One of them is in the "habitable zone" i.e at a range from the star in which liquid water can exist. Wherever we look in the sky, we find stars with planets, which is most exciting.

What If is amusing--what path would the Wise Men have followed if they left Jerusalem and followed a star?  Pollyanna, a true feminist asks what would have happened if they had been Three Wise Women?
This content may be offensive to devout Christians and we hope no one starts a Jihad.

We join Andy Borowitz in congratulating Mitt Romney on his being chosen Man of the Year by Time for 1912. You might also go to Andy's Twitter account to see Mitt's response.

There is Science and there is Science as Gene Weingarten can tell you.  We are all committed to the principles of William Occam(1287-1347) who laid down the rule that explanations should be as simple as possible.

We agree that Letitia is the real brain behind Barney.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pollyanna heads for the solstice

Pollyanna greets you and wishes happy solstice festivals for all, Hannuka Dec. 9-16 (2012-5773), Christmas Dec. 25 and Kwanzaa Dec.26-Jan 1.  Solstice marking goes back a long time and while the return of the Sun is Northern Hemisphere specific, the phenomenon of an extreme in solar declination could certainly not go unnoticed anywhere. The Talmud tells how Adam in the first year of creation (he and Eve started out just after Rosh Hashana) noted that the days were becoming shorter and was worried that the world was coming to an end because of his sin.  He fasted and prayed for eight days and then noted that the days were becoming longer and understood that this is simply how the world works. He marked his relief with eight days of rejoicing. (Avoda Zara8a)

We also call your attention to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action blog. Please open and act for people whose basic rights are being violated.

Bob Lin 1940-2012.
Robert Lin in 2008, upon his retirement as director of the Space Sciences Laboratory. Photo by Peg Skorpinski.

Bob Lin a dear friend and colleague died suddenly of a stroke on November 17 in Berkeley CA. In addition to his countless contributions to space science and his development of the Space Sciences Laboratory at UC Berkeley, he was a true Renaissance man, with manifold interests and a warm personality that drew many friends to him.  We remember him most fondly and there will be a gap in the space science community in his absence.  We recall a Chinese New Year dinner that he took a group of us out to enjoy in the authentic style and many other interactions, mainly associated with the warm hospitality of SSL. His accomplishments are far too many for us to enumerate here and we refer you to the obituary put out by the University.  Rest in Peace, Bob, we shall miss you.

Dave Brubeck 1920-2012 
The great jazz musician Dave Brubeck died one day short of his 92nd birthday.

We have long been fans of his take on jazz and his unique style. Instead of talking about him, just listen to him and the Quartet in Take Five and follow him along the Walk of Fame to his star in the 1700 block of Vine St.

As you all know, Pollyanna eschews politics and lets brother Titan rant about the entire spectrum of human rights abuses around the world and at home.  She does, however, lose her cool when it comes to abuse of women and girls. She is now up in arms about the beheading of a 14 year old girl in Afghanistan simply because of a rejection of a marriage proposal. Gastina, a schoolgirl, was beheaded in the Imam Sahib district of Kunduz province. The attack was initially reported by local media, and was confirmed by Amnesty International researcher Horia Mosadiq in an email.

The girl was fetching water when she was accosted, according to reports. The men, who have not been identified, were arrested by police. The girl and her parents had refused a marriage proposal by one of the men. This was the 15th deadly attack on a female victim in Kunduz in 2012, according to Amnesty International. It is indeed a hopeful development that legislation has been initiated in the US Congress to provide protection for Afghan women after the withdrawal of Western troops. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas, introduced the Afghan Women and Girls' Security Promotion Act. If passed in its current form, the bill addresses how women's security will be monitored as the U.S. military withdraws from the country.

The bill also calls for improved gender sensitivity among Afghanistan's national security forces and recruitment of women within the ranks of those forces.

We also have an interview with a 90 year old survivor of the "comfort women" who were held in sexual slavery by the Japanese army during WWII.  The link from Amnesty International invites you to print and send a letter to the Foreign Minister of Japan calling for apology and some form of restitution.  Japan needs to confront its past.

In Israel we claim to be more sensitive-for example, a female radio host has been ordered to apologize for trashing a rape victim and telling her to "loosen up sexually." The station will probably be fined.  We think the goddamn bitch, Varda Raziel Jacont, should be fired. She has already caused at least one Israeli young man to think out loud that rape is OK.

Now let us get on to interesting things:
It appears that the skeleton of King Richard III of England, who was killed in the battle of Bosworth in 1485 at the conclusion of the Wars of the Roses, has been found.  DNA taken from the skeleton is being compared with that of one of  his descendants to confirm the identification.  He received a bad press from Shakespeare, but one might regard the Bard as something of a Tudor propagandist who knew whence came his patronage.  Much effort has been devoted by his supporters to clear him of the murder of the two young princes in the Tower. Stay tuned.

The phenomenon of conversion to Judaism of Christians has always intrigued us.  One might think that people have enough trouble without incurring more. We Jews are forbidden to  seek converts, a prohibition that goes back to the 2nd Century when the Romans made conversion to Judaism a capital crime. We have met many such people and have one in our family. Arguably, among the most interesting   are the Evangelicals  in Colombia. 

Their environment is mainly Catholic as in all former Spanish colonies.  It seems that the descendants of those converted by force in the days of the Inquisition are returning bit by bit to their ancient roots. We find it fascinating since the vestiges of Jewish culture still survive in nominally Catholic families in Mexico and elsewhere. Welcome back to the tribe dear friends.

It appears that the oldest known dinosaur fossil has spend the the last several decades in a museum storage bin. A denizen of the Middle Triassic around 243 million years ago, the creature predates all previous dinosaur finds by 10 to 15 million years.
The Triassic Period - between 252 and 201 million years ago - not only presided over the rise of the dinosaurs. It also saw the emergence of turtles, frogs, lizards and mammals.

The fossil was found in colonial Tanzania in the 1930's by a British paleontologist Rex Parrington near Lake Nyasa and named Nyasasaurus parringtoni. It has been dated to the the Middle Triassic around 243 million years ago, which means that the creature predates all previous dinosaur finds by 10 to 15 million years.  This provides support to the hypothesis that the dinosaurs arose in the southern part of the protocontinent Pangea before it split apart to form our modern continents. The southern part of Pangaea comprised Africa, Australia, South America and Antarctica. The dating became possible with the development of modern scanning tools.  The Cambridge fossils were compared with Nyasasaurus bones in South Africa. Pollyanna thinks this is cool.

Curiosity, the roving vehicle on Mars, has deployed the last of it instruments, the Sample Analysis at Mars, or SAM, suite. It has provided a full chemical analysis for a small dune in the area called Rocknest.  Here are details of the findings.
Curiosity has driven about half a kilometer since landing at Bradbury Landing (named after the late science fiction author Ray Bradbury) in August. As of early December the rover was at the spot marked Point Lake.
NASA, JPL-Caltech, Univ. of Arizona

We are also informed by the Messenger spacecraft,in orbit around Mercury, that the hot rock nearest to the Sun has water ice on its surface  in pockets at the planet's poles that never see sunlight.
Permanently Shadowed Polar Craters
Full Image and Caption

 The ice was anticipated because of radar data from Earth that showed ice-type reflectivity and now it has been confirmed in situ.  Cheers and let us have Mercury on the rocks.

The Moon has long been known to have basaltic volcanoes all over its surface.  It is exciting to learn that the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has discovered the presence of now-dead silicate volcanoes on the far side of the Moon.
This image from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows a region on the far side of the moon between the Compton and Belkovich craters. The colored region marks a high amount of the mineral thorium, which is thought to have been deposited by rare silicate volcanoes in the past.
CREDIT: NASA/GSFC/ASU/WUSTL, processing by B. Joliff

This implys that the Moon has had an active and variegated history over cosmic time.

Our old friend Voyager 1 (we served on the team for its long defunct plasma experiment) is moving steadily towards the interstellar medium.  It now is reported to have hit a region of magnetic field lines that connect to the Sun at one end and the interstellar magnetic field at the other, forming what Tom Krimigis calls a "magnetic highway." We cannot tell when the spacecraft will cross over into the interstellar medium, but it should be relatively soon. We discussed the transition of Voyager 1 on this blog just a month ago.   Page back to October 26.
Fly, little one. Fly!
Pollyanna would like to share with you a view of the Earth at night as seen by the camera of an astronaut:

We are approaching the Christmas season when Tom Lehrer tells us to "drag out the Dickens, even though the prospect sickens."

Scrooge and Tiny Tim will be around in the English speaking world and in the United States there will be little girls dancing The Nutcracker Suite ballet.. We believe that our honorary granddaughter Tali made it from sheep to fairy at some stage, but we are not sure. In any case, we have a review of a book on Charles Dickens from the New York Review of Books. by  Joyce Carol Oates

Charles Dickens: A Life
by Claire Tomalin
Penguin, 527 pp., $36.00
Charles Dickens in 1850, when he was writing David Copperfield

 What If chose to answer several brief questions this week instead of one big one.  The post is interesting.

For the humor section, Pollyanna has rounded up the usual complement of nuts including Andy Borowitz on North Korean perfume, Gene Weingarten with a few examples of inanity

and poor Wally almost achieving his goal.