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Friday, March 15, 2013

Pollyanna wishes everyone happy spring holidays

Pollyanna is back and welcomes spring. She and Titan may take some vacation since their amanuensis is going off to Canada to spend the Pesach holiday with family there. The equinox is upon us and with it we get both Pesach (Passover) and Gregorian Easter. Pollyanna, Titan and YandA wish all a happy Pesach or Easter, whichever you celebrate.

For starters, as usual, we refer you to our 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 open it and help the people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

As you know, both Titan and Pollyanna rant about the war on women and about what is happening to women around the world whether or not you get tired of it. If it really bores you, then go out and do something about it. International Women's Day was last week and brother Titan devoted most of his blog to it. This week, we just connect you to a report on the status of women in Israel.  RANT, RANT AND RAVE!!

Pollyanna sends best wishes to the newly elected Pontiff and hopes sincerely that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, who is now Pope Francis I, will be equal to the task. 

There are shadows in his past relating to the "dirty war" in Argentina, but he denies the allegations and we shall give him the benefit of the doubt. The Catholic church, and to a lesser extent Bergoglio himself, were perceived in Argentina as sympathetic to the country’s right-wing military junta, which ruled in the 1970s. That was decades ago, of course, but you can sometimes see hints of the war’s bitter legacy in the left-right political divide in the country.

The HuffPost very kindly offered ten better choices for the job. You may make your own judgement.

In the spirit of leadership changes, Xi Jinping has become the new president of China

and Li Keqiang

 is the new premier. Here in Israel, a new government is also coming into being and if the last bugs are ironed out will be sworn in next Monday. Pollyanna wishes all the new leaders good luck and success.

closeup of 3 eggs standing
There exists a silly belief that only on the Vernal Equinox (north) is it possible to get eggs to stand on end. Somewhere next Thursday there will be television shows in which idiot broadcasters explain to innocent children that this is a result of the lining up of the terrestrial and solar gravitational fields or some other such mental rotgut. Whereas we could have some harmless fun with Groundhog Day last month and give a plug to an otherwise unknown town in Pennsylvania, this egg business can actually plant misinformation in the minds of young and impressionable people and as such is pernicious. Phil Plait gives the entire piece of claptrap a proper debunking. When you open the link, scroll down to the equinox and the eggs.

In general, it is shocking to see how much nonsense is believed by people, from the existence of unicorns to creationism. In our synagogue, otherwise intelligent people gather each week to study Kabbala and, we fear, may even take it seriously. An analysis of misconceptions about Kabbala is given in Judaism101. A rabbi once told us with a straight face that the weather is influenced by human thoughts--we love her dearly, but she was dismissed on the spot from our list of serious people. A good analysis of why human stupidity is so rampant is given in a blog in the San Francisco Chronicle online by Mark Morford. He moans about ignorance and idiocy in the US, but we can assure him that it is quite universal. Maybe some of us are elitist (not a dirty word), but someone has to worry about global warming, AIDS, epidemics etc and maintain some level of rationality in public policy. In order to do that the ability to think critically is essential. Unfortunately, critical thinking is not popular and people would rather watch reality TV and ignore unpleasant real reality based on scientific findings.

Three cheers for Grandpa!! Where can I tie up my unicorn?

Last summer the people at LHC reported data that were consistent with the identification of a particle of mass 126 as the long-sought Higgs boson. New data recently announced have confirmed this finding although it may be that this particle is just the first of a series of heavier Higgs bosons . Its mass of 126 times the mass of the proton is just about what would be needed to create a marginally stable universe that could blink out of existence in a cataclysm billions of years from now. Pollyanna salutes the scientists of CERN/LHC and awaits more exciting results from their efforts

The question of what caused the superabundance of carbon 14 in tree rings from the years 774-775 appears to have found an astronomical answer. Japanese researchers writing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical society have related the surge in C-14 to the collision of two black holes, neutron stars or white dwarfs, which gave rise to a fierce blast of gamma radiation. They said the event could only have taken place at least 3,000 light years away from here, otherwise the planet would have been fried. Now a search has begun for a remnant of the event that might still be visible in the sky. What with gamma rays and skimming asteroids, this universe seems to be a dangerous place. . Perhaps the universe will click off (see above) before we get cooked by a gamma ray burst or collide with an asteroid. Pollyanna is glad that none of these things are immediate threats. Maybe we need some mysticism as an opiate, a la Marx

Closer to home and less threatening, we hear that the Mars rover Curiosity has come up with evidence for the existence of liquid water on Mars in the far past. The finding was a result of drilling and analysis and has led to much thinking about the habitability of Mars long ago. It is consistent with supporting life at around the same time that life arose on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. Now Curiosity is in safe mode because of an anomaly possibly associated with a cosmic ray hit. In any case, we need to wait until May for communication because of solar conjunction blocking contact. Cheers for Curiosity and its team on Earth!

No, we are not talking about offering up one of our Cabinet ministers as a means of placating whatever deity might find him/her enticing although a few of us lefty dissidents find the idea tempting. Archaeologists working in the South have come across a burial site of a donkey buried in a ritual manner.

The grave was found in a temple courtyard, in the heart of the sacred precinct of Tel Haror, a Middle Bronze Age city near Gaza that was fortified by massive ramparts and a deep moat and dates back from around 1700 B.C. to 1550 B.C. At that time, donkeys played a major role in travel and commerce. This donkey was apparently not a draught animal, but was intended for ritual use which indicates that the people there regarded it as something worthy of their god. Interesting indeed.

Despite our long-held belief that soccer players jell their brains by heading the ball, new research indicates that expert, experienced soccer players have better cognitive skills in some areas than novice players or ordinary couch potatoes such as us. In particular, their ability to predict the motions of an opponent was found to be connected to enhanced activity in the areas of the brain associated with high-level executive functioning and eye-muscle coordination. "Our neuroimaging data clearly shows greater activation of motor and related structures in the brains of expert footballers, compared to novices, when taking part in a football-related anticipation task," Daniel Bishop, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

This report adds to a growing body of knowledge about the inner workings of talented athletes' brains. A study from Scientific Reports found that professional athletes process complex visual scenes faster than amateur athletes, and much faster than nonathletes.
Will brain researchers soon be part of the training squad at elite sports organizations? Perhaps, Bishop told "I can see top teams employing neuroscientists in the future.  We believe this greater level of neural activity is something that can be developed through high-quality training, so the next step will be to look at how the brain can be trained over time to anticipate the moves of opponents," Bishop said in a statement.

What if? is really silly this week.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has solved a major philosophical problem:

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