Cluster Map

Friday, February 1, 2013

Pollyanna in the rain

Pollyanna, like the rest of  us, is drenched with rain these days, but has hopes for blue skies to come.

We will settle for this

Pollyanna is back and would like to cheer you up by pretending we did not have an election and that the world is full of things that we can be glad about--OK, that is a Pollyannaism and that is what we do on alternate weeks. Titan did enough reality last week to keep you depressed for a few millennia. Pollyanna counters that all these troubles are small when compared to the largest object in the universe. An international team of astronomers, led by academics from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), has found the largest known structure in the universe. The large quasar group (LQG) is so large that it would take a vehicle traveling at the speed of light some 4 billion years to cross it.

skydist small-LQG CCLQG
The coloured background indicates the peaks and troughs in the occurrence of quasars at the distance of the LQG. Darker colours indicate more quasars, lighter colours indicate fewer quasars. The LQG is clearly seen as a long chain of peaks indicated by black circles. (The red crosses mark the positions of quasars in a different and smaller LQG). The horizontal and vertical axes represent right ascension and declination, the celestial equivalent of longitude and latitude. The map covers around 29.4 by 24 degrees on the sky, indicating the huge scale of the newly discovered structure. Credit: R. G. Clowes / UCLan

Pollyanna calls your attention to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action update blog. Please click and write as called upon for people whose basic rights are being denied and violated.

Our beloved Miriam was a professional translator and taught the subject for many years at Bar Ilan University. She would often regale us with gems from her pupils or from misuse of English in Israel. Of course, they are only funny to people who know Hebrew and can understand the Sabra mind: translate back beauties such as "I felt like a light bulb in the doll house" or canned plums that assured you of "new fear of foreskin" while enjoying a cup of "tonsil-flavored" cappuccino. It was also nice to be told that your train to Tel Aviv was a collecting train to Ben-Gurion Airport until someone straightened them out. Yosefa sent us a NYTimes article by Andy Martin about translation. We are sure that Miriam would have loved it.

If you think your phone company is ripping you off and indeed that may be true, think of the French lady who received a bill for closing her account before the end of the contract. It came to the whopping sum of €11,721,000,000,000,000 or 11.721 petaeuros (fun to write such a word for 10^15).
Customer service told her that there was nothing to be done, but she could arrange a payment schedule. The sum is greater than the annual GDP of France and indeed cooler heads prevailed at the phone company. In Psalms 146:3 we are told "Do not trust in princes-in man who has no salvation"
אַל-תִּבְטְחוּ בִנְדִיבִים--    בְּבֶן-אָדָם, שֶׁאֵין לוֹ תְשׁוּעָה
and Pollyanna suggests that we do not trust in computers.

At one time in history (12-15th centuries) Timbuktu  was a major Islamic cultural center and a trading emporium at the edge of the desert.
A vintage map of the Sahara desert with "Timbuctoo" located on the southern edge.
A vintage map of the Sahara desert with "Timbuctoo" located on the southern edge.
Nicholas Belton /
 It was known as as source of salt to the Africans and of gold to Europeans. We were, therefore, alarmed to receive reports that the famous library with its ancient manuscripts had been burned by the Islamists. Pollyanna is very relieved to learn that most of the manuscripts are safe. We were of course reminded of the destruction of the huge Buddha stations in Afghanistan by the Taliban. Kudos to Capetown University for its role in helping fund the preservation of the documents.

These Tibetan animals, the analogue of the North American bison, were hunted to near extinction in the last few centuries. It is, therefore, good news that makes Pollyanna glad to learn that their numbers are increasing in the Tibetan plateau in response to a Chinese government conservation program. They prefer the vicinity of glaciers, where food is more abundant and the herd is estimated to be as large as a thousand individuals.
Wild yaks at foot of glacier in Tibet, Credit: Joel Berger -- WCS/University of Montana

We humans tend to regard ourselves as the epitome of creation. It is indeed somewhat humbling to learn that the humble dung beetle Scarabaeus satyrus uses the Milky Way for navigation at night and thus finds the most direct way to bring his ball of excrement home to the family.
Researchers fitted dung beetles with tiny blinders for experiments showing that the feces-eating insects can use the Milky Way to orient themselves. Credit: Marcus Byrne
 It is a nice experiment which provides insight into how all creatures manage to adapt to their environment and find use for it. As so aptly said by Oscar Wilde:

The former PM of Israel Ariel Sharon has been in a coma for the past seven years. We are now told that activity has been detected in his brain by FMRI which is of major research interest. There is little hope that Sharon will recover, but the advances in technology that enabled these detections may enable communication to be established with comatose people. Pollyanna cannot help being reminded of the great Almadovar firm, Talk to Her.

Pollyanna and Titan have both been remiss in updating you about the world of literature. We shall try to compensate by bringing a few books to your attention. We start with a scholarly  book on the history of sex in the Graeco-Roman world, The Joy of Sexus - Lust, Love and Longing in the Ancient World by Vicki Leon. It got in general good reviews-the reviewers seem to have enjoyed their task. It is the book of the month on the Scandalous Women blog of Elizabeth Kerri Mahon and seems to be a good read. The blog also looks interesting. After all, "Well-Behaved Women don't make History" according to  Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ms Mahon hosts Vicki Leon for a guest post that details the illicit affair between Aspasia
 and Pericles 

in ancient Athens.

We next move on to congratulate Hilary Mantel for her book, Bring Up the Bodies
 which became the first work to win the Costa Book of the Year as well as the Man Booker Prize. She won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 for Wolf Hill, the first book in her planned trilogy on the life of Thomas Cromwell. Bring Up the Bodies  finds the chief minister to Henry VIII in 1535 after the king has broken with Rome to marry Anne Boleyn. The third book is due out next year and is called The Mirror And The Light. Mantel is yet to tire of her protagonist. She said: “He's very much a work in progress, he's got four more years to rise to the top of the tree then we'll see his very sudden fall." She feels no need to apologize for winning two prizes in one year. This year is unprecedented for the Costa Prize because women won in all five categories. This year's awards were also notable as the non-fiction prize was awarded to a graphic novel. Mary Talbot's work Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, which was illustrated by her husband Bryan, examines two father and daughter relationships: James Joyce and his daughter Lucia, and Talbot's own, a Joyce scholar.

Also recognized this year was The Innocents by Francesca Segal, which won the prize for first novel. Inspired by Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, the judges described it as “affectionate and witty”.

Sally Gardner won the Children's prize for Maggot Moon. The author was once described as “unteachable” because of her severe dyslexia and was 14 before she could read at all. She said winning the prize was an inspiration “for anyone who dreams”.

Now we move from praise to brickbats. We have enjoyed several books by Jared Diamond
Jared Mason Diamond is an American scientist and author best known for his popular science books 
 including Guns, Germs and Steel, Collapse and Why Sex is Fun. His newest book, The World Until Yesterday is criticized strongly by Wade Davis in the Guardian
Aborigine man at Uluru
Matrix of connectedness' … an Aborigine man at Uluru. Photograph: Alamy
 and savaged by Stephen Corry in The Daily Beast. Stephen Corry is the director of Survival International and author of Tribal peoples for tomorrow’s world. Davis' point is that Diamond is limited by his failure to grasp that cultures reside in the realm of ideas, and are not simply or exclusively the consequences of climatic and environmental imperatives. He proceeds to take him to task for what he considers shallow thinking. Corry goes further and says that Diamond is simply wrong. Diamond argues that industrialized people (‘modern’) can learn from tribal peoples (‘traditional’) because they show how everyone lived until a few thousand years ago. Corry agrees that ‘we’ can learn from tribes, but counters that they represent no more of a throwback to our past than anyone else does. He shows that Diamond’s other—and dangerous—message is that most tribes engage in constant warfare. According to Diamond, they need, and welcome, State intervention to stop their violent behavior. Corry argues that this is merely a political opinion, backed by questionable and spurious data. He sees Diamond’s position as one of supporting colonial ideas about ‘pacifying savages’ and claims it is factually and morally wrong. The comments in the wake of Davis' review are interesting as well. We leave it to you to judge.



As you all know by now, we are tenants of a dog named Murphy

who believes that he was put on earth to chase cats. We now think, thanks to a picture sent to us by Richard (thank you), that we know how he was thus indoctrinated.

We like to keep the cats around because they are useful to keep our yard free of rodents and snakes. It is not clear what the hierarchal relations are, but we manage. Indeed  it is good that we had cataract operations and now can identify them:

SMBC presents a new idea for implementation in the academic community:

What If is fun this week, how to fly an airplane on different bodies in the Solar System. We can assure you that the planetary science is right.

Gene Weingarten has a not so subtle comment about what billionaires tend to expect from their trophy wives, with apologies to Lucretia who is smarter than she trys to look.
We wind up with Wally the benefactor of the children of the world.
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

and with technology crushing Sesame Street:

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