Cluster Map

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pollyanna and Titan have skipped a few weeks because of the illness (or malingering) of their imaginary playmates YandA. Now that things are back to what passes around here for normal, Pollyanna is taking her turn. She starts with best wishes for a Merry Christmas to all her Christian readers. She, Titan and YandA wish you all a happy holiday and for the religious amongst you a renewal of your faith and joy in your beliefs and practice. For the record, the picture above does not represent the historical St. Nicholas who was a fourth century Greek bishop in what is now Turkey to anyone except Kelly Megyn. She is a Fox broadcaster who announced to the world that Santa Claus and Jesus were both white. Lovely. She owes a big apology.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. As the weeks and months go by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. Her choice is again the Mercy Corps who are doing important work in the Philippines in the wake of the tornado along with other activities around the globe. Pollyanna and Titan have signed on to become Partners in Mercy by making a recurring monthly donation and encourage you to do the same.

  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
This touching photo is of a girl living in an evacuation center a few days after Typhoon Haiyan raked the Philippines. The stuffed animal she’s hugging is clearly providing much needed comfort. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Nelson Mandela main pic
The past few weeks have been marked everywhere by the death and memorial ceremonies for the late Nelson Mandela. For us and all advocates of human rights he was an icon. He spent 27 years in prison for his beliefs. Much has been written in the past few weeks and there is not much that we could add. We refer you to a collection of news, comments and tributes amassed by the Guardian. We also would like to call your attention to the appreciation by Thomas Friedman in the NYTimes. He was brought to his final rest in his home village in a manner befitting a Xhosa chief. Rest in Peace and may your legacy inspire us. We quote his favorite poem.


Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my
unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (1849-2003)

André Schiffrin NYTimes
Andre' Schiffrin, a publishing force for 50 years, whose passion for editorial independence produced shelves of serious books, a titanic collision with a conglomerate that forced him out to stem losses, and a late-in-life comeback as a nonprofit publisher, died in Paris on December 1. He was 78. While many of you may never have heard of him, we all owe him a debt for his work at Random House in the Pantheon Books section. He brought us the work of Jean-Paul Sartre, Gu"nter Grass, Studs Terkel, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir, Noam Chomsky, Julio Corta'zar, Marguerite Duras, Roy Medvedev, Gunnar Myrdal, George Kennan, Anita Brookner, R. D. Laing and many others. Obituaries can be found in both the NYTimes and the Guardian. When he was fired for the sake of the bottom line there was outrage throughout the literary world. He came back to fight again. Within two years, he had raised enough money to launch the New Press, a not-for-profit "publisher in the public interest". It was an immediate success; many of his authors, including Terkel, left Pantheon to join him, and an ambitious intern programme aimed at attracting candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds into the book business has benefited the wider world of publishing.

IN MEMORIAM Peter O'Toole 1932-2013

The actor Peter O'Toole died this week. We saw him in many films and were always impressed by his talent even if the films were not always worthy of him. We saw him very recently in Man of La Mancha in which he played both Cervantes and his creation Don Quixote. His most famous film was Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but we remember him best as Henry II, a role he played twice, once in Beckett and again in The Lion in Winter. O'Toole  was nominated eight times for the Oscar, but never won it. He was given an honorary Oscar for his life work in 2000.He loved Shakespeare and appeared on stage as Macbeth and Hamlet among other roles. He loved the sonnets especially and in the last film for which he was nominated for an Oscar, Venus, he recited Sonnet 18, 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?' There is a detailed obituary in the Guardian. Rest in Peace, you made many people happy.

IN MEMORIAM Joan Fontaine 1917-2013. 

Joan Fontaine, 24
The actress whose career spanned a long era from her first major role in Rebecca in 1939 to her final roles in TV movies,( her last appearance was in Good King Wenceslas, on the Family Channel, in 1994) died on December 16, aged 96, at her home in Carmel CA. She won an Oscar in 1942 for Suspicion, a Hitchcock film, and had two other nominations. Sadly, she and her sister Olivia de Havilland were estranged throughout their adult lives. Detailed obituaries are in the NYTimes and the Guardian.


We note the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten 1913-1976. He was indeed one of the great musicians of the last century. It is odd and somewhat amusing that the life and work of this wonderful composer, who was openly gay, is now being celebrated in a festival in Russia, possibly the most homophobic country in Europe. Even his opera, Death in Venice, based on the Mann novel which has a clear homosexual theme, is being performed in Moscow. We give you his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.

As you know Pollyanna can rant as loudly as Titan about matters involving the abuse of women and girls. She is foaming at the mouth over the proposal brought before a parliamentary committee in Afghanistan. Twelve years after the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's government is considering bringing back a gruesome spectacle that has become synonymous with Islamist cruelty:  the use of public stoning as a punishment for sex outside marriage. Pollyanna asks you to join the worldwide protest against the reintroduction of stoning along with amputation and flogging. It is also linked above in the Miriam Shlesinger blog.

Rasta lost her hand during an attack by members of her village © Vlad Sokhin
Rasta lost her hand during an attack by members of her village © Vlad Sokhin
Usually Pollyanna and Titan do not solicit donations. Pollyanna is making an exception here for a campaign by Amnesty Australia on behalf of the women in Papua New Guinea who are being attacked and abused as "witches." The horror involved is difficult to describe or to imagine. Please support this campaign.

At a totally different level Pollyanna chides the Israeli military justice system for its lenient treatment of an officer who sexually harassed three women soldiers under his command. He got off with community service and while he was demoted one rank and cashiered out of the army, it is quite probable that he will enjoy a pension. He certainly should have gone to jail, but the macho culture continues to rule.  The concept that "boys will be boys" and misplaced solidarity have a pernicious effect. The fact that other armies, including that of the USA, have the same problem is of scant comfort. We have to meet our own standards.

Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times
Breast cancer is a scourge that affects as many as one in nine women. We have had our own experience of it.  The malignancy  can be treated and cured if caught early enough. We regard, therefore, any effort to raise awareness of the disease and to encourage women to undergo screening as a positive and worthy endeavor.. We applaud the young Israeli woman who allowed a picture of her breast with its incision scar to be published in the NYTimes. The fact that part of her nipple was shown actually caused controversy and offense. Pollyanna says come off it idiots, there is nothing prurient in the picture and if it caused even one woman to get a mammogram, we say bravo!


The brave little comet that dared to approach within 1.2 million km of the solar surface is no more. . It was one of the most observed comets in history and was tracked by thousands of telescopes and spacecraft. It may have been unrealistic to expect it to have survived such a close perihelion. While the expectations of a spectacular naked eye object lighting up the December sky were not realized, the ISON event cannot be considered a failure. Much data were garnered and a huge number of people because aware of astronomy and of the wondrous phenomena that go on in our solar system and universe.


BLUE MOON  Hydrogen atoms that could have originated in water molecules shooting up from an ocean buried by ice appear in blue, superposed on a photo of Europa.

Long ago we wrote a paper on plumes of satellites and inferred from Galileo observations that Europa, a Galilean satellite of Jupiter,  has an atmosphere. It is exciting to read that there appear to be transient geysers on Europa. Of course, we should wait for further confirmation, but the idea is very exciting to those of us who get excited about what goes on at the moons of the outer planets.


Indeed some of you may wonder why people get excited about geysers on a moon of Jupiter or a little boson named Higgs that gives matter mass. The late Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar gave a lecture on the subject of the beauty in science and showed that it differs not an iota from beauty in art, literature and music. Pollyanna would like to share it with you.


What If?? At what point in human history were there too many (English) books to be able to read them all in one lifetime? Gregory Willmot 
A difficult question, but Randall does his best. We like his in jokes...

  Objects In Mirror

The Onion informs us that a rather slow-witted but persistent conspiracy theorist has discovered the amazing fact that NASA is funded by the Federal government. Wow! Here is the interview:


Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Dec/11/2013


Wizard of Id Cartoon for Dec/13/2013

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pollyanna wishes all a Happy Hannuka, Thanksgiving and Thanksgivukka


Pollyanna notes that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hannuka coincide this year for the first time ever. It will happen again in 7,000 years. Enjoy Thankgivukka! When you sit down to your turkey and latkes, appreciate the blessings in your life.

 For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Now that a year has gone by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. She puts everything aside in the wake of the devastation caused by super typhoon Haiyan. She offers a link to a list of ways to donate to the aid of the victims.
Super typhoon slams into Philippines - Nov. 19, 2013

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan react after not being allowed to board an evacuation flight from Tacloban Airport in Tacloban, Philippines, November 12, 2013.
Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan react after not being allowed to board an evacuation flight from Tacloban Airport in Tacloban, Philippines, November 12, 2013.

It is disgraceful that China came out with a niggardly offer and now is trying damage control. China initially offered a paltry $100,000 in aid and, after an international outcry, raised that figure to $1.6 million. It’s as if Dr. Evil decided to go into the disaster-relief business: “One point six million dollars!” Hence the headlines worldwide expressing outrage that China, the world’s second-largest economy, was offering less money than do-it-yourself furniture maker Ikea.

As you all know Pollyanna rants about matters concerning women and girls. She is very upset over the blaming of girl victims of sexual abuse for the actions of their abusers. In Israel, a famous pop singer is being investigated for the statutory rape of underage girls and already people are feeling sorry for him. While Eyal Golan was allegedly having sex with 15 year olds, his father is alleged to have done the pimping. The prophet Amos in this weeks Prophet reading refers to the practice:
 כֹּ   ז הַשֹּׁאֲפִים עַל-עֲפַר-אֶרֶץ בְּרֹאשׁ דַּלִּים, וְדֶרֶךְ עֲנָוִים יַטּוּ; וְאִישׁ וְאָבִיו, יֵלְכוּ אֶל-הַנַּעֲרָה, לְמַעַן חַלֵּל, אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי
....They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.

In the US, as the nation watched the Steubenville rape case come to a close, we also watched something else happen: the coverage of multiple news sources sympathized with the convicted rapists while ignoring the narrative of Jane Doe. The good old Internet has exploded, calling out how media’s coverage was offensive to the victim and apologetic of the rapists. A Ms. Foundation for Women graphic with over 100,000 shares on Facebook and a petition with more than 280,000 signatures asking for CNN to apologize on air for their coverage are just the tip of the online criticism iceberg. It’s clear that rape culture is being publicly discussed more and more, creating progress by keeping the media accountable. However, we can’t just shout about how the media is wrong: we also have to point out specifically what is inappropriate and why, or else media will keep making the same mistakes. Pollyanna wants to call your attention to a group of teenage girls in New York who are using theater to raise awareness and take a stand against slut-shaming in schools. Slut: The Play's narrative about a teen girl being put on trial in the court of her community's opinion after being raped is timely and unfortunately commonplace. The above  link connects  you to an article and an interview with the girls. It is worthy of your attention.
In this context Pollyanna calls your attention to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November. The Reform Movement in Israel is devoting this Shabbat on which the Torah reading describes two acts of violence inside a family to the elimination of such violence. The two incidents are the selling of Joseph by his brothers and the abuse of Tamar by her father in law,  Judah. For the Hebrew readers, Pollyanna provides a link to the special prayer composed for this Shabbat.

Doris Lessing dies aged 94
Doris Lessing with her prize insignia of the 2007 Nobel prize in literature. Photograph: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images
The literary world mourned on hearing that Doris Lessing, the Nobel-prize winning author of   The Golden Notebook and The Grass is Singing, among more than 50 novels covering subjects from politics to science fiction, had died peacefully at her London home aged 94.She was at age 89 the oldest winner of the Nobel Prize and the eleventh woman. Her reaction to the news was typically iconoclastic. When she learned she had won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, she said, “Oh, Christ,” and waved her hand at the reporters who had staked out her home in London, shooing them away. Then she turned and paid for her taxi as her son Peter, who lived with her and whom she cared for while he was ill, looked on. A running meter demands attention; after nearly nine decades, the last step to literary glory can be put off for five more minutes. There is much to say about her rich and fascinating life and how she managed to irk the establishment. We leave it all for you to read in the beautiful tribute to her by Margaret Atwood in the Guardian Book Section.

John F Kennedy. His life and death have been the subject of thousands of books, documentaries and Hollywood movies. Photograph: PA
Just 50 years ago Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy in Dallas TX. We old folks remember where we were and what we were doing on that Friday Nov. 22, 1963. His short term as President, 1,036 days to be exact, did not abound with great achievements except for one that dwarfs everything else. We were living just outside Washington during the Cuban missile crisis and we recall well the tension and fear that all was about to go up in a mushroom cloud. He was able to face down his hawks and deal intelligently with Khruschev and thus saved us all. His memory is clouded now by myths that were already circulating during his lifetime. He projected the image of the young leader with his young family in the White House compared to the geriatric bunch who ran the world. The Guardian, as usual, gives an excellent appreciation of his life.

BBC HardTalk raised the question of the surrogate reproduction industry in India. On one hand, it provides children for childless couples and money to poor women who rent out their wombs. Poverty is so endemic in India, especially for illiterate women, that they are easily recruited. We link you to an interview with Dr Nayna Patel, who is a pioneer in the field. She says it is a "positive experience" for surrogate mothers but HardTalk asks her  in a radio interview if she is exploiting poor, sometimes illiterate, women?   Pollyanna thinks the latter. You may listen to the interview and form your own opinion and if you wish, tell Pollyanna what you think.

Pollyanna wishes to congratulate Mr. Shai Nitzan on his appointment as State Prosecutor of Israel  and hopes that he will make a major contribution to restoring public confidence and to affirmation of the rule of law. We agree with the editorial in Haaretz that he faces major challenges, some of them of his own making.
Shai Nitzan
Shai Nitzan. Photo by Emil Salma
She also says cheers and thumbs up to the school text book publishers in Texas who refuse to buckle to creationist pressure and will provide biology texts that teach evolution.

In addition to the rant, Pollyanna is not at all glad about the acceleration of the deforestation of Brazil. The sacrifice of the rainforest to greed is something that will come back to haunt all of us.
Last year’s massive weakening of the Forest Code in the Brazilian Congress lead to a massive increase in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon.
She is also very upset at the poisoning of school children in India and thinks it is most appropriate that the headmistress of the school involved and her husband are being charged with murder. Their actions went beyond the limits of mere criminal negligence.


Comet ISON s now plummeting fast toward its late November encounter with the sun –its perihelion, or closest point to the sun – on November 28, 2013. At perihelion, it’ll be lost in the sky’s glare. It’s getting closer and closer to the sunrise now. If it survives its passage near the sun, it’ll return to our skies in early December, and, indeed, early December may be the best time to try to see the comet. So get ready! The Comet ISON Observing Campaign had these encouraging words about ISON this week(Nov. 20):
    For those of you who remember C/2011 W3 Lovejoy’s beautiful sungrazing passage in December 2011, Lovejoy had an estimated total magnitude of about mag 10 when it was eight days before perihelion, and went on to reach approximately mag -3 at peak. ISON is now eight days from perihelion and is estimated to be around magnitude 4.5. I’m not going to speculate on what that means for its peak brightness, but note that ISON is about 100 times brighter than Lovejoy was at about the same distance!
Image: ISON
This stunning portrait of Comet ISON was captured by John Nassr on Nov. 15 from his Stardust Observatory in Baguio City in the Philippines. Nassr used a Nikon D7000 digital SLR camera coupled to his custom-built 16-inch f/4.5 Newtonian reflector to record the sungrazing comet’s intricate tail. The image is a combination of five 1-minute-long exposures at ISO 6400.
Here is a guide for the encounter with  Comet ISON with advice on photography. While ISON is harmless to Earth, there are indications that impacts of fairly large objects are more common than had been thought.
SPACE ROCKS This 570-kilogram meteorite was recovered from Lake Chebarkul on October 16.

DNA studies of a 24,000 year old skeleton of a boy from Russia indicate that nearly 30 percent of modern Native Americans' ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia.
Photo courtesy of State Hermitage Museum in Russia
Remains of 24,000 Year-Old Mal’ta Boy. Photo courtesy of State Hermitage Museum in Russia
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies. It implies that colonization of North America took place well before the 14,500 years ago date inferred from archaeology. Pollyanna is fascinated.

The MAVEN, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, spacecraft is off to the Red Planet. It may give us an answer to the riddle of what happened to the dense atmosphere that Mars must have possessed in the past. Bon Voyage!!


Wolf descendant
The wolf to dog evolutionary path has long been a murky trail for evolutionary biologists. Darwin himself thought that dogs must have several ancestors because of the multiplicity of breeds. Now new research just published in Science indicates that dog domestication most likely occurred in Ice Age Europe, between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago -- much earlier, and much farther north, than previously believed.

Dogs, the authors argued, evolved from a now extinct species of European wolf that followed bands of nomadic or semi-nomadic humans who were hunting woolly mammoths and other large prey. Initially, the wolves sought out the carcasses and scraps of meat left behind by man, the authors suggest. Over time, these hang-around wolves began to fill a special role in human hunter-gatherer society, researchers say. Read more.

We are delighted that the Big Bang Theory sitcom is back with us. It is also nice that the actors are negotiating for a living wage. 
 The Big Bang theory-20110721-63.jpg
Pollyanna finds it amusing to note that the off screen lives of the actresses who play Penny and Bernadette have attracted attention and they both have been interviewed in Maxim, a sexist magazine aimed at the horny male segment of the population.
Kaley Cuoco Pics
melissa rauch maxim
Melissa Rauch

A new biography of the writer Norman Mailer has come out,
Norman Mailer, A Double Life, by J. Michael Lennon Simon and Schuster, 947 pp., $40.00. 
It is reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Edward Mendelson. We have long admired Mailer's work, fiction and non-fiction and we recommend the review. You would also do well to read something by Mailer and the biography gives you a long list from which to choose.


What If? The question-What is the furthest one human being has ever been from every other living person?
Were they lonely? Bryan J. McCarter; Interesting this time.

Letitia experiences the joys of stepmothering.
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Nov/22/2013

Elections are coming up in Emek Hefer, our little corner of the world, the rural area of Israel from which this nonsense emanates. This is how it works:
Wizard of Id Cartoon for Nov/20/2013

We had occasion to peek and even post indirectly at a blog site that deals with questions of dating and social life for people who are no longer young. It is obviously not easy to sell yourself.
Dilbert Cartoon for Nov/19/2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pollyanna says HI!

Pollyanna is happy to greet you again.
She is pleased to bring you all kinds of goodies and a rant as usual.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Now that a year has gone by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. Her choice is the Womens' Media Center. This is a non-profit organization, founded by Gloria Steinem, that (we quote from the mission statement) “works to ensure women are powerfully and visibly represented in the media” and “to diversify the media in its content and sources, so that the stories and perspectives of women and girls are more accurately portrayed.” WMC convenes panels, issues reports, organizes grassroots campaigns, and meets with media outlets to address issues of women’s representation and general diversity. Women are indeed underrepresented in the media and often are given distorted images, so this is a good idea. Pollyanna recommends donating to WMC on their Web site, linked above.

Pollyanna would like to call your attention to Spike Lee.
Spike Lee
Film Director Spike Lee looks on during the game between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics during Game five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 1, 2013 in New York City. (Al Bello/Getty)
First she wishes to congratulate him on winning the 2013 Lillian Gish award and to call your attention to a new movie that he is coming out with. It is a remake or if you will a reinterpretation of Oldboy a Korean cult film. He discusses it in the interview linked above.. It will be released soon and we look forward to seeing it.

As you all know Pollyanna rants about matters concerning women and girls. This time she is ranting in a Stentorian voice and foaming at the mouth about an issue that should make all decent people stand up and scream. She refers to female genital mutilation, a procedure common in Islamic societies, although not mandated by the Koran. As defined by the World Heath Organization,(WHO) Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. A few descriptive details from WHO:
Key facts

    Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
    The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
    Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths.
    About 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
    FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
    In Africa an estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM.
    FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

 Samira Hashi, her mother Lul Musse and grandmother Faduma Ali
Samira Hashi, her mother Lul Musse and grandmother Faduma Ali. The older women underwent FGM in Somalia but decreed that Samira should not. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart Photo by Center for American Progress (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Peter Beinart, who has long been one of our favorite spokesmen for the liberal view of Israel and Zionism,  is moving from the Daily Beast to the Atlantic Media Co. As a result the Open Zion section of the Daily Beast will close down, but we can expect to hear from Peter Beinart in the pages of the Atlantic. He is also becoming a senior columnist for Haaretz. Pollyanna wishes him all success in his new endeavor.

Strunk and White
In the last decade before retirement we had the task (actually we volunteered) of teaching scientific writing in English to Tel Aviv University graduate students. Every year we  discovered that their high schools had failed to teach them writing techniques that are language-independent. Our trusty ally was the little book on style  by Strunk and White and we worked hard to get them to write in plain language without quibbling and fancy decorations that mean nothing. Anyone who has written a paper with colleagues from MIT is familiar with "the data are not inconsistent with..." and other timid statements. We found it interesting, therefore, to learn from Judy (thank you) that nearly 70 years ago George Orwell was ranting about the same failings. As an example, he takes a well-known verse from the King James Version:
Ecclesiastes IX, 11:(Koheleth for us)
 I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

    Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Of course this is a parody, but it makes the point. Pollyanna challenges her Israeli readers to try to render the same verse from the original into modern Hebrew.
 שַׁבְתִּי וְרָאֹה תַחַת-הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כִּי לֹא לַקַּלִּים הַמֵּרוֹץ וְלֹא לַגִּבּוֹרִים הַמִּלְחָמָה וְגַם לֹא לַחֲכָמִים לֶחֶם וְגַם לֹא לַנְּבֹנִים עֹשֶׁר, וְגַם לֹא לַיֹּדְעִים, חֵן:  כִּי-עֵת וָפֶגַע, יִקְרֶה אֶת-כֻּלָּם.

Super Typhoon Haiyan hits the Philippines
Image from Japan Meteorological Agency's MTSAT of Haiyan over the Leyte Gulf. Photograph: Zuma/rex
Map of path of typhoon Haiyan
Path of typhoon Haiyan
 It has  winds of over 240 kph, which makes it the strongest typhoon in all history to hit land At least 100 people are reported dead at the time of this writing. As global warming continues, more and more energy will be available for super storms and we can expect the intensity of such events to continue to increase. Indeed, as a species we have fouled our nest.

Pollyanna is amazed at the discovery of a stash of over 1,400 paintings in an apartment in Munich. These were paintings that the Nazis considered degenerate, but they were not above trying to sell them The collection includes works by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Nolde, Renoir, Courbet, Matisse, and Chagall, including one of his paintings whose existence previously was unknown. The story of how this amassing of art came to be is also fascinating. It is told in detail by Christopher Dickey and Nadette De Visser in the Daily Beast.


Experiments that purported to find the evasive material known as dark matter that pervades the universe have been show to have failed
WIMP DETECTOR  Photomultiplier tubes such as these should detect subtle flashes of light caused by dark matter particles striking xenon nuclei
 The search will go on, but even well-designed experiments can come up with false positives. The results of a very sensitive detector showed that previously reported detections of WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) are apparently spurious. No one doubts the existence of dark matter, but it is proving more difficult to detect than anyone had anticipated

A recent press conference by NASA informs us that we may safely believe that there are countless, in fact billions, of Earth size planets in the habitable zones of their primaries. An analysis of data from the Kepler spacecraft by Erik Petigura, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley shows that about 20% of the stars in our galaxy have such planets in orbits that could support liquid water. There are several caveats. Although these planets are Earth-size, nobody knows what their masses are and thus whether they are rocky like the Earth, or balls of ice or gas, let alone whether anything can, or does — or ever has or will — live on them.
There is reason to believe, from recent observations of other worlds, however, that at least some Earth-size planets, if not all of them, are indeed rocky. Last week, two groups of astronomers announced that an Earth-size planet named Kepler 78b that orbits its sun in 8.5 hours has the same density as the Earth, though it is too hot to support life. “Nature,” as Mr. Petigura put it, “knows how to make rocky Earth-size planets.” Pollyanna salutes Erik Petigura on his remarkable achievement of data analysis and physics.


WR 102ka, shown in this WISE spacecraft image, may have been born and developed in complete isolation, which is rare but possible for massive stars.
We are not referring here to Texas but to an observation of a very massive star that is not associated with any cluster of stars. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that says that stars are born in clusters. This star is 100 times the mass of the Sun and is located in the vicinity of a black hole. It is interesting to ask whether some environments have different modes of star formation than others. Stay tuned.

It is not common for new species of animals to be discovered nor do we often get an opportunity for study of a rare or elusive species. Pollyanna reports on both this week. A new species of Pacific humpback dolphin has been identified through both DNA and morphological studies. 
INTO THEIR OWN  Two members of a new, and so far unnamed, species of humpback dolphin leap from the blue waters off Australia’s northern coast.
Welcome to taxonomy dear friend. Soon someone will come up with a name for you. Another noteworthy ichthyological event is the finding of the bodies of two oarfish on the coast of California, a male and a female.
Marine scientists are excited about the opportunity to dissect and learn about this creature.
The body of an 18-foot male oarfish was found in the waters off Santa Catalina Island in California last month. Five days later, a 14-foot female washed up 50 miles away.
 It is the largest bony fish in the sea and very rarely found since it manages to avoid nets.

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio has just had a new translation into English by a Texas professor, Wayne A. Rebhorn.  This book, written by Boccaccio in the mid-14th century tells of a group of ten young people, seven women and three men who flee the plague-ridden city of Florence in 1348 to a pleasant retreat in the country. Over a period of ten days each of them must tell a story a day. Eventually 100 stories are accumulated, some sad, some happy, some bawdy and some moralizing. Joan Acocella reviews it in detail in the New Yorker  with much background about Boccaccio and his times. If the link does not open, there is a review in a Dallas newspaper. The stories mostly reflect the world of people of the merchant class, and the skill they most feature is the one most prized by that class, ingegno: cleverness, wit, thinking on your feet.
Here is an example summarized:
 A famous tribute to ingenuity is the story of Peronella, told by Filostrato. Peronella spins wool for a living, and her husband is a stonemason. She is pretty, and soon she has a lover, Giannello. One morning after the husband has gone to work, Peronella and Giannello are enjoying each other’s company when suddenly the husband returns. There is a barrel in the house, and Peronella tells Giannello to hide in it. When the husband enters, she begins loudly berating him:
 "What’s the story here? Why have you come back home so early like this? It seems to me, seeing you there with your tools in your hands, that you want to take the day off. If you carry on like this, how are we going to live? Where are we supposed to get our bread from?"
Calm down, the husband says. We’ve had a windfall. See that barrel over there? Well, he just sold it for five silver ducats. Call off the deal, Peronella says. She has sold the barrel for seven ducats, and the man who bought it is right now inside the barrel, checking its condition. Out pops Giannello, claiming that the inside of the barrel needs to be scraped if he is to buy it. The husband climbs in and goes to work. Peronella leans over the top of the barrel and gives him orders: “Scrape here, and here, and over there.” As she bends over, Giannello, whose business with Peronella that morning had been interrupted, lifts her skirt from behind. After the three have finished, simultaneously, Giannello pays the husband the seven ducats and, in a lovely, tart last sentence, gets him to take the barrel to his house.
Great fun was had by almost all.


What If? really gets silly this week. The question: How big of a lawn would you have to have so that when you finished mowing you'd need to start over because the grass has grown?  Thanks to Nick Nelson for this challenge to Randall's patience...

This is for us oldies who remember party line telephones, although we never had one at home. People living in the country had to put up with them. For details, ask a grandparent.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Nov/04/2013


We love skype, it connects with our faraway loved ones and does good things. We sometimes, however, would like to close it down and for some reason it is often like canceling an unwanted credit card. Full empathy to Alice.

Dilbert Cartoon for Nov/06/2013

We love to complain about infrastructure especially after returning from Europe where we get around cities on light rail etc.
Wizard of Id Cartoon for Nov/03/2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Pollyanna greets the autumn season

Pollyanna is back, and hopes that all have recovered from the Jewish and Muslim holidays. Now we can all have some peace and quiet until Hannuka and Thanksgiving barge in together. In the meantime, as you can see below, our colleagues in the scientific community are back at work.  Broadcasting of The Big Bang Theory resumes in Israel on Saturday night and we welcome back Sheldon and the gang.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Now that a year has gone by without Miriam, we continue to realize what we have lost. She got us into the human rights struggle. Please act on behalf of people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

This week it is Pollyanna's turn to promote a charity. Her choice is Reporters without Borders, a France-based international non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press. The organization has consultant status at the United Nations. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has joined them in the role of "ambassador".
Ai Weiwei – ambassador for Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders has two primary spheres of activity: one is focused on Internet Censorship and the New Media, and the other on providing material, financial and psychological assistance to journalists assigned to dangerous areas. Its missions are to:
  •   monitor continuously attacks on freedom of information worldwide and denounce any such attacks in the media;
  •  act in cooperation with governments to fight censorship and laws aimed at restricting freedom of   information;
  • morally and financially assist persecuted journalists, as well as their families; and offer material assistance to war correspondents in order to enhance their safety.
Pollyanna recommends a visit to their Web site, linked above.  She thinks it is worthy to support their causes and to donate to support their activities.

All over the world people, especially children in the Third World suffer and die because of vitamin A deficiency. A genetic modification in rice replaced one of the genes intended to produce beta carotene. The original gene, which makes an enzyme called phytoene synthase, came from the narcissus flower, and was replaced with one from maize that is far more efficient. It produced 20 times more beta carotene, the molecule from carrots that combines with a second molecule of itself once inside our bodies to make a molecule of vitamin A, The GMO rice has been steadfastly opposed by Greenpeace and other environmental organizations. Indeed we have long been negative about GMO mainly because of Monsanto and their foul manipulations to make farmers dependent on them. If this is a real benefit for people suffering from vitamin A deficiency, perhaps we should rethink our position on GMO and look at things on a case by case basis.. What do you think?

As you all know Pollyanna rants about matters concerning women and girls. Now she is ranting about the people, mostly women and girls, who were victims of the Rana factory building collapse and the more recent Aswad fire that killed 10 people in Bangladesh. The Guardian reports that this factory was not included in the work safety inspection plan.

The main beneficiaries of the cheap labor in unsafe conditions in Bangladesh are Western companies. Buyers of clothing made in Aswad include Wal-Mart ("George" clothing line), Gap, UK's Primark, and two Canadian companies ── Hudson's Bay Co. and Loblaws Inc., owner of Joe Fresh. Many companies have signed on to a compact to inspect work safety in Bangladesh, but Walmart and Gap have come up with something much weaker. Gap has issued a pious press release, but so far only 6% of the victims of Rana Plaza have been compensated. Pollyanna is far from glad, in fact she is furious and suggests that we all think a bit before buying brand name clothing from companies that risk the lives of their workers for filthy lucre.


Carolyn Porco brings us northern hemisphere springtime at Saturn and gives us a peek at the lake region. With northern spring in full swing, the liquid methane and ethane seas and lakes that are found in Titan's north polar region have finally come under the watchful gaze of Cassini's remote sensing instruments. Infrared images reveal new clues about how the lakes formed and about Titan's Earth-like "hydrologic" cycle, which involves liquid hydrocarbons rather than water.(Image Advisory can be found here.)  Pollyanna's brother Titan has some cool stuff.
Dark Lakes on a Bright Landscape (NASA Cassini Saturn Mission Image)
Dark lakes on a bright landscape

At least we do not expect the lakes and seas on Titan to be full of fish. Alas, the Pacific Ocean here on Earth is apparently equally dead. An Australian sailor saw no marine life and tons of rubbish on a 37,000 km voyage from Australia to Japan. The sea is overfished and garbage and debris make sailing an obstacle course. It is indeed tragic that we have so badly fouled our nest.

The practice of phubbing, i.e. messing with your smart phone and ignoring the real person you are with has become an epidemic. Hadass, bless her, has raised this issue in her blog (alongside) and refers us to an Australian site that deals with the phenomenon. Indeed phubbing can be quite obnoxious, but we cannot avoid thinking of people who cannot interact otherwise, such as our dear beloved Raj and his sweetheart Lucy. For them, a texting date in a library is just perfect. Of course, even they have  reached the point of speaking to one another, despite her habit of escaping via the window of the ladies' room.

We are great fans of Stilton cheese, one of the brands of "walking" cheeses that we love for breakfast. We are now told that the owner of a pub in the town of Stilton has been ordered to refrain from using the name of the town for the cheese he makes there. It is a technical issue having to do with EU naming rules. Stilton cheese is made in certain counties, none of which contains the town of Stilton, where it was said to have been invented in the 18th century. Weird things happen. Good luck Mr. Pubmaster McGivern.

We are sure that most of you have seen one production or the other of the musical Fiddler on the Roof, based on the Tevyeh story cycle by Shalom Aleichem.

Sam Falk/The New York Times

Rehearsals for the 1964 Broadway debut of “Fiddler on the Roof,” with Zero Mostel pulling the cart. He sometimes clashed with the show’s director and choreographer, Jerome Robbins, standing to the left onstage. (Both won Tony Awards for the show.)

It describes life in the late 19th and early 20th century Jewish towns in the Pale of Settlement in Czarist Russia. We saw it in 1964 in its pre-Broadway run in Washington. It was a colossal success. Thank you Richard for calling our attention to this article in the NYTimes giving a bit of the history of the production. Zero Mostel was superb as Tevyeh. Indeed he was a marvelous actor. We also saw him in the role of Pseudolus the slave in A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. Here we see him as Tevye asking God to make him rich.


 The ESA Rosetta spacecraft is en route to a rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. It was launched in 2004 and in August 2014 will meet the comet and drop a lander on the nucleus.
Rosetta mission milestones 2014-2015
 In a few months, in January, it will be aroused by a command from Earth to end its hibernation and to start warming up for its task. In the nine years that it has been in space it has executed a convoluted orbit that includes three flybys of Earth and one of Mars to get the boosts needed to make the trip. See the video in the link. Thanks to Ray for bringing these details and the link to our attention.

An ancient tomb dating back to about 2500 BCE has been found near Cairo. It appears to be that of the doctor who took care of the royal family. The region where it was found south of Cairo is a known ancient burial site for the pharaohs of the very early dynasties. We have visited Egypt and indeed the necropolis areas in which the ancient kings are buried are most impressive.
A picture taken on October 22, 2013 shows Egyptian hieroglyphics on a 4,000 year old tomb which was discovered by archaeologists in Abusir on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital, Cairo
Entrance to the tomb

Samantha Harper asks What If, If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince? The answer is nice.

Dilbert discovers that courtship in the Facebook era is not easy at all:
Dilbert Cartoon for Oct/20/2013

and then there is perception :

At the last EMMY awards ceremony, the MC opened by explaining to the younger people that television is something that you watch on your telephone. Indeed, the world is changing but also remaining the same:
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Oct/25/2013