Cluster Map

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Abandon hope, Pollyanna is back

Pollyanna/Titan demonstration somewhere-one of hundreds around the world

Pollyanna and Titan held a meeting on the asteroid Vesta
 The Best'a Vesta: Orbital Imagery Captures Asteroid's Towering Peak
and decided that, in view of the massive outcry and outrage of their public, the huge demonstrations in major cities, from Beijing to New York and from Sydney to London, and the million signatures on the AVAAZ petition, they have no honorable choice but to return the mandate for meaningless barking to Murphy

and  rejoin the blogosphere. We hear your collective resounding sigh of relief and here we are.

If truth be told, the hiatus was the fault of our amanuensis and imaginary playmates YandA who irresponsibly went gallivanting around Canada and France. Y has written up a description of the experience of  the ceremony of recognition of a Righteous of the Nations in France. We also have a French TV film of the ceremony.

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.

Our In Memoriam section will leave the Iron Lady Thatcher to Titan who will use the next week to come up with a suitably vituperative obituary of the bitch, something not natural for mild and sweet Pollyanna, who only says, Iron Lady, RIP=Rust in Pieces. Pollyanna does, however, wish to touch on the life of one of the great leaders of the feminist movement, Shulamith Firestone who died last summer, alone and mentally ill. Her death last year was tragic for several reasons.
Photo by Michael Hardy
Shulamith Firestone in about 1970, the year “The Dialectic of Sex” was published.
According to Susan Faludi’s sensitive profile of the pioneering radical feminist in the New Yorker a few weeks ago, Firestone died alone and impoverished, with no food in her apartment, after decades of struggle with schizophrenia. That’s one tragedy. Another is that she was rejected by both her biological family—very religious Jews who did not accept her—and her self-created family—the '70s-era New York Radical Feminist group she had co-founded. She was a widely quoted feminist writer who published her arresting first book, “The Dialectic of Sex,” at 25, only to withdraw from public life soon afterward, In addition to the above-linked New Yorker profile, which called our attention to her, an obituary was published in the NYTimes at the time of her death. Her brand of radical feminism has vanished as women today are urged to play by the corporate rules set by men. Not much space is left for someone who compared giving birth to "shitting a melon."

These are the remains of a device that were first discovered in 1902 when archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed a heavily corroded gear wheel amongst artifacts recovered by sponge divers from a sunken Roman cargo ship off the eponymous island.
Antikythera Mechanism
The Antikythera mechanism

It has been studied in detail over the last century, is currently housed in the Greek National Archaeological Museum in Athens and is thought to be one of the most complicated antiques in existence. It was apparently a kind of mechanical analog computer used to calculate the movements of stars and planets in astronomy, as in a modern orrery. It has been estimated that the Antikythera mechanism was built around 87 B.C and was lost in 76 B.C with the sinking of a Roman ship, thought to be carrying spoils of war from Greece to Rome, although it is clear that the  device itself was of Greek design and construction. As such, its complexity is amazing--it had about thirty gears to move the mechanism with great accuracy. The device was very thin and made of bronze. It was mounted in a wooden frame and had more than 2,000 characters inscribed all over it. Though nearly 95 percent of these have been deciphered by experts, there as not been a publication of the full text of the inscription. Pollyanna finds it fascinating and recommends that you read more about this example of ancient Greek technology. 

Thanks to Judy for calling our attention to something that is happening in the Orthodox Jewish community. Whereas the various liberal components of Judaism have long been ordaining female rabbis and calling them Rabba, the Orthodox have kept spiritual leadership as a male preserve. Now we are told that there is an institution called Yeshivat Maharat that provides a four year program to train female Orthodox clergy. Maharat is a Hebrew acronym for Manhiga Hilkhatit Rukhanit Toranit, one who is a teacher of Jewish law and spirituality. We wish them all success and hope they can really make a change. We note that the first such person has been appointed at a synagogue in Montreal, which is considerably more traditional than say New York or Boston.
Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold
It is somewhat surprising (or maybe not) that in many instances, even in liberal congregations, the resistance to female clergy comes from women. We look forward to the day when the female senior rabbi can be called rabba and no one will think anything of it. In the meantime we note that while the Montreal congregation hired Maharat Feingold, the post of associate rabbi there remains vacant. We shall stay tuned and hope that this is not just another trick to marginalize women in Judaism.

Pollyanna thinks it is exciting that scientists in Britain have managed to create a vaccine against bovine hoof and mouth disease that is safer than the conventional type. The vaccine was made with the aid of an electron beam from a synchrotron which generated X-rays that analyzed the structure of the virus at the atomic level and made possible the creation of the shell of the virus without its RNA interior.
Computer image of foot-and-mouth virus
It is an entirely synthetic vaccine which does not rely on using live infectious virus. As is well known, escape of pathogens is a major hazard in the manufacture of vaccines.The vaccine has been engineered to make it more stable, which means it can be kept out of the fridge for many hours before returning to the cold storage environment - thus overcoming one of the major hurdles in administering vaccines in the developing world. Foot and mouth disease is endemic in the Third World and there was a devastating outbreak of it in England a few years ago. This bodes well for the development of vaccines for an entire class of viruses, the picornavirus family that includes polio.

Apropos vaccine, we have a new outbreak of crackpot science. An Italian, Gian Paolo Vanoli has made the claim that vaccines cause children to become homosexuals. He is responsible for many quack claims such as the "benefit" of drinking one's own urine. It would be just a comic side show, but he is a leader of the anti vaccination movement and his publicity-seeking noise is pernicious if it causes people to refrain from vaccinating children. We all know how bad this can get and even cost lives.

Pollyanna is delighted that the District Court in Jerusalem has dismissed an appeal by the police against an order that declared their arrests of women for performing ritual acts illegal.
Women wear tefillin at the Western Wall.
Women wear tefillin and prayer shawls at the Western Wall. Photo by Michal Fattal
 The judge ruled that the 2003 ruling "did not ban the Women of the Wall from praying in any particular place" and that there was no "reasonable suspicion" that the women had broken laws relating to holy sites. It is a major turnaround and a blow for religious freedom. Cheers for Judge Sobel.

Usually Pollyanna leaves human rights protests, other than matters of women and girls, in the capable hands of brother Titan who is a universe-wide known ranter and raver. Sometimes, however, things get out of hand. Pollyanna is most upset over the disappearance of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie Frozen Yogurt from our local supermarket freezers.

This is totally unacceptable. Please lodge your protest on the linked form.


NASA announces that the Planck space mission has released the most accurate and detailed map ever made of the oldest light in the universe, revealing new information about its age, contents and origins. The map results suggest the universe is expanding more slowly than scientists thought, and is 13.8 billion years old, 100 million years older than previous estimates.
This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck mission. Image credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration
The data also show there is less dark energy and more matter, both normal and dark matter, in the universe than previously known. Dark matter is an invisible substance that can only be seen through the effects of its gravity, while dark energy is pushing our universe apart. The nature of both remains mysterious. In a recent public speech in California, Stephen Hawking, the great astrophysicist, declared dark matter and energy to be the missing links of cosmology. Recent experiments with super-cooled detectors deep in an old Minnesota iron mine are giving tantalizing hints of possible detection of one postulated form of dark matter, the WIMP, i.e. Weakly Interacting Massive Particle. Stay tuned.

The Kepler space telescope is continuing its search for Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. A few have turned up in the so-called habitable zone, i.e. the range of orbits in which a planet can harbor liquid water. Most recently a pair of planets somewhat larger than Earth have been found. The discovery is a five-planet system around a star called Kepler-62, some 1,200 light-years away in the constellation Lyra. Astronomers found the planets by analyzing nearly three years’ worth of data. The inner three worlds are too hot for life, but planets Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f are far more accommodating. They are 1.6 and 1.4 times the diameter of Earth, respectively, and their orbits arewithin the boundaries of the habitable zone in which scientists think liquid water could exist. Pollyanna is enthralled by these studies and suggests that we all keep our eyes on future developments.

We have all wondered as we drive along the highway when a traffic camera will get us. Now we are told that drivers in Bangalore, India are about to be frightened by cardboard cutouts of policemen that are being posted around the city. Pollyanna  thinks that recruiting some real policemen might be just a bit more effective. The 'fake' policemen have been placed in the central district and will be seen around the whole city soon.
 Man on phone next to cardboard traffic officer
BTW, YandA discovered that there are real speed cameras on French highways.

The move is part of a drive to control traffic in the city that has about 4.2 million vehicles on its roads. Bangalore is home to much of the high-tech community in India and Pollyanna finds it hard to imagine that cardboard cops are going to have much of an effect. It is a bit amusing, but not really so when you consider that in Bangalore  on average at least two pedestrians are killed on its roads every day by speeding vehicles.

Mario Livio, whose blog, A Curious Mind, is followed here, notes the interesting 19th century friendship between the scientist Michael Faraday, a founding father of electromagnetic studies and Joseph M. W. Turner, one of the great landscape and seascape painters of the time. Faraday was able to inform Turner on matters of color, light and other phenomena in a way that rendered Turner's paintings more realistic. Here is an example of the wind-sea interaction that causes ridge-like waves.
Figure 1. "Lifeboat and Manby Apparatus going off to a stranded vessel making signal blue lights of distress," by Joseph Mallord William Turner. From,-c.1831.
This is something that Yosefa passed on and Pollyanna would like to share it with you. Any comment would be superfluous.

Now the time has come to move from the sublime to the ridiculous. Usually our lighter side is just funny, put first we must post something that looks funny, but is really not. Here is a picture of a Kohen (priest) all wrapped up in plastic just to protect himself from impurity in case the plane flies over a cemetery.

He survived the flight, alas, so there must have been an air hole. In that case, presumably, the "tumah" or impurity from whatever corpses may have been under the plane could have made its way in. I present a discussion by someone who agrees with me that this is the sort of thing that gives our religion a bad name. Some may have thought that he was trying to protect himself from the proximity of women on the plane, but that was not the case. If there is a fear that a home might have been build over an ancient cemetery, the true believers build "tuma or impurity chimneys" that let the ghosts or whatever escape without polluting the home environment. I suppose this is no worse than the belief that Mohammed flew to heaven on a winged horse or managing to believe three or even six other impossible things before breakfast.

Pollyanna would have liked this tea party too

What If? We have traditionally invoked the What If? column of XKCD for some interesting speculation. Today, Pollyanna has decided to let our beloved little Cynthia ask the question, with some interesting results.
 Of course, we are not going to miss out on xkcd. Here we have the astrophysical aspects of a major Hollywood event--stars will be stars.

 and for those of us who gawk with innocence and dismay when the computer screen announces some esoteric error, xkcd has some good advice: