Cluster Map

Friday, May 24, 2013

Here is Pollyanna again

Pollyanna is with you again and would like to open with a suggestion that you take a look at the sky to the Northwest after sunset on the 24th and 25th. There will be a small Olympian convention with Jupiter, Venus and Mercury getting together for a chat and presumably a drink.

Thanks to This Year in Space and Sky and Telescope for the information

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 has been a week of much senseless death at the hands of both man and nature.

Pollyanna weeps for the two little girls who were  murdered in Israel apparently by their father. The mother of the two girls who were murdered on Monday had complained a day earlier to the Arad police, saying she feared her ex-husband would kill her daughters. The police ignored the complaint and did not call the girls’ father in for questioning nor send anyone to the house. On Tuesday the girls, ages three and five, were found strangled in their home in the Bedouin village of Al-Fura’a.
Sisters Asinad, 3, and Ramais, 5, who were found dead Bedouin town of Al-Fura’a.
Sisters Asinad, 3, and Ramais, 5, who were found dead in Bedouin town of Al-Fura’a.

One must wonder if racism played a role in the police malfeasance. We are promised that heads will roll.

Pollyanna mourns the loss of life in the terrible tornado in Oklahoma.  The blows we  sustain from nature are unavoidable, but we must prepare for them as best we can. In the Golan, an Israeli soldier who was working at mine clearing was killed by an explosion of an old mine, despite warnings by the Engineer Corps that these mines were faulty and liable to explode unexpectedly. This amounts to criminal negligence and we hope some lessons will be learned and some careers ended.
In Beersheba in Southern Israel a disgruntled bank customer, who had been refused an expanded overdraft, shot and killed four people, including the branch manager, his deputy and two customers before shooting himself. In London, two crazed Muslims attacked a British soldier in the street and hacked him to death with a meat cleaver. A suicide bomber attacked a military base and uranium mine in Niger and killed at least 19 people. This is the tip of the murderous iceberg. Pollyanna is shocked and appalled. There seems to be no end to killing, whether by malice or incompetence. Pollyanna salutes the brave woman, the Cub Scout leader, , Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who bravely stood up to the killers in London. 
Ingrid Loyau-Kennett talks with Woolwich attacker


A vulture is freed in the Israeli southern Neguev Desert (Pic:Getty)
Vulture released in Israel with GPS and markings
This majestic bird is one of nature's great scavengers. In recent years it has been threatened with extinction and as a result is now a protected species. In France, its population has increased and it is now accused of being a predator as well as scavenger. It now has attracted attention by the speed with which the body of a woman who had fallen to her death from a mountain was devoured. In less than an hour from her death, nothing was left except bones and clothing. Since farmers are required to burn dead animal carcasses, the birds have no carrion and have become predators on livestock. The incident of the human body may be the trigger to legalize hunting the vultures. In Israel, there are just a few breeding pairs left and major efforts are being made to restore the species. The birds are tracked by GPS devices which caused one poor individual to be taken into custody by the Saudis as an Israeli spy!

Let us move on to happier things and start by welcoming James Levine back to the podium. He conducted a
concert at Carnegie Hall after a long hiatus caused by illness.

Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times
James Levine conducted the Met Orchestra on Sunday.
We also find some solace in the joys of science. The comet ISON is arousing much interest and as a sun-grazer it might put on a dazzling show when it reaches its perihelion of 1.17 million kilometers from the surface of the sun on Nov. 28.Because of this extremely close approach, comet ISON holds the "potential" to flare into a dazzling object — possibly becoming bright enough to be briefly glimpsed in broad daylight. On the other hand, we recall comet Kohutek that was supposed to be a Star of Bethlehem in December 1973, but fizzled badly, although it provided rich scientific information to telescope observers.

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of Comet ISON was taken on April 10, 2013, when the comet was slightly closer than Jupiter's orbit at a distance of 386 million miles from the sun (394 million miles from Earth).
CREDIT: NASA, ESA, J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute), and the Hubble Comet ISON Imaging Science Team

In other news from astronomy, it appears that the Kepler space telescope mission has come to an end after four years (the designed lifetime) because of hardware failure. While the telescope’s search for planets may be over, researchers’ analysis of the data it collected is not. Kepler data have yielded more than 2,700 likely planets and 132 confirmed ones, with more yet to come as the data are mined. It is disappointing that not all the questions are answered, but we are grateful for what we have obtained.

A BYZANTINE MOSAIC has been found in southern Israel. It is most impressive, 12 by 8.5 meters in size and was obviously the floor of a public building during the Byzantine period, 4th to 6th century C.E.
byzantine mosaic from the byzantine period
The mosaic discovered prior to construction of a highway in Israel, was decorated with geometric structures and amphoras, or vessels for holding wine. The amphoras were also decorated, for instance, one was flanked by a pair of peacocks.
CREDIT: Yael Yolovitch, Israel Antiquities Authority

It is most encouraging that for the first time, scientists have created human embryonic stem cells by transferring the nucleus of a mature cell into an egg.
Using a laser and a tiny needle, researchers suck DNA from a human egg, the first step of a newly revised process that created human embryonic stem cells for the first time.
Courtesy of M. Tachibana
The cloning technique could nudge the dream of personalized medicine closer to reality, researchers suggest May 15 in Cell. These cells can be used for various therapies and can give hope to sufferers from spinal cord injuries and diseases such as diabetes or Parkinson’s. In other news, we are told that the people of Europe are really one big family. DNA data show that everyone living in Europe 1,000 years ago who left any descendants is an ancestor of every European living today. On the other hand, the hypothesis that humanity represents a small population of survivors for a huge volcanic eruption 75,000 years ago has come under further scrutiny and doubt has been raised on both geological and genetic grounds. This is an ongoing investigation, so stay tuned.

A study conducted in Russia over a fifty year period shows that by selective breeding, foxes can become either dog-like, i.e. tame or wolf-like, i.e. more aggressive.
Taming silver foxes (shown) alters their behavior. A new study links those behavior changes to changes in brain chemicals.
Tom Reichner/Shutterstock
 No DNA changes took place, but the activity of certain genes in brains of the animals changed, in particular in the the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. The former is involved in decision making and in controlling social behavior, among other tasks. The latter helps process emotional information. The researchers found that the activity of hundreds of genes in the two brain regions differed between the groups of affable and hostile foxes. This gives a hint about what happened to the brains of wolves on their way to becoming dogs.

Pollyanna sends her mazal tov to Prof. George Daniel Mostow who was awarded the Wolf Prize in mathematics last week for the discovery of the rigidity phenomenon in geometry, known as the strong rigidity theorem.
George Daniel Mostow
Wolf Prize laureate Prof. George Daniel Mostow. Photo by David Bachar

Prof. Mostow will turn 90 on July 4, but just took a swim in the Mediterranean. We all salute his great achievements, described by the  prize committee who wrote that "In Mostow's work one finds a stunning display of a variety of mathematical disciplines," and that "few mathematicians can compete with the breadth, depth and originality of his works."

The Wolf Prize is awarded annually in Israel to scientists and artists from abroad, for "achievements in the interest of mankind and friendly relations among peoples." So far it has been awarded to 272 laureates from 23 countries, for their contributions to agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics, architecture, music, painting and sculpture.

What if is amusing this week.  

Those of us who have Ph.D.'s can recall the halcyon days of graduate  school and the terrible shock of getting the longed-for degree and being thrust out into the real world where things have to be done. Of course, you can chose an academic career which is in some ways a continuation of graduate school. Those who like money will turn to jobs in industry. Dilbert encounters such a person and we present the beginning of the relationship.
Dilbert Cartoon for May/23/2013

Dilbert Cartoon for May/24/2013


Barney & Clyde Cartoon for May/19/2013

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