Cluster Map

Friday, July 19, 2013


Pollyanna is with you. again. She apologizes for scatterbrain Titan who remembered Ramadan, but forgot to congratulate our French readers for Bastille Day. Joyeux jour de la Bastille albeit belated.

 Pollyanna herself was a bit late for Canada Day and the Fourth of July as well. We hope you all had fun.
Pollyanna also wishes Nelson Mandela a recovery from his illness and marks the 95th birthday of this great man and leader. There should be more like him scattered around the world.

Nelson Mandela's Birthday
Messages left by supporters are seen on a poster of former South African President Nelson Mandela outside his Soweto home. (Jerome Delay / Associated Press / July 18, 2013)

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. She chose two active organizations that help battered women in Israel. There are 142,000 abused women in Israel, spanning the entire spectrum of society. Woman to Woman, is a nonprofit that runs a shelter for battered women. Donations can be made both in Israel and from abroad at their Web site. Meir Panim helps the women regain critically needed independence by offering a post-shelter rehabilitation program that launches them on a path towards emotional and financial self-sufficiency. Please pitch in. Pollyanna and Titan want to do something besides ranting and we hope this has some impact.
This Friday night between 2127 and 2142 UT (Greenwich)we will all be on camera from Saturn. The Cassini spacecraft is to be positioned to take a scan of Saturn and its entire ring system during a total eclipse of the Sun. Earth will show up in the background. Carolyn Porco, the head of imaging on Cassini, is calling for everyone to take 15 minutes to step outside, gaze up into the blackness of space, be grateful for our existence, and maybe even wave. “Take a moment to reflect on our cosmic whereabouts and the significance of the accomplishments that allow this interplanetary photo session to happen,” she urges. “Think about how precious life is, about our place in the cosmos. Look up and smile.” Pollyanna recommends these links about the event.

Yes Virginia, there is a place in America where cars were banned in 1898 and the ban has never been repealed. It is the town of Mackinac Island, in Lake Huron, offshore of Michigan. The city council decided as follows in 1898:
“Resolved: That the running of horseless carriages be prohibited within the limits of the village of Mackinac.” — Mackinac Island Village Council, July 6, 1898”
Mackinac Island has a permanent population of 500, but there are 15,000 or so tourists there at any time during the summer. The town must be a really nice place.  
Photo credit: Cletch on Flickr
 A propos horseless carriages and the operation thereof, Michael Quinion (World Wide Words), in a discussion of people who struggle to find nouns, tells us of a driving lesson in the 1930's:
When it starts you push down on the doo-funny with your left foot, and yank the uptididdy back, then let up the foot dingus and put your other foot on the hickey-ma-doodle, don’t forget to push down on the hootananny every time you move the whatyoumaycallit and you’ll behunkydory. Gosh, dear, what’s the matter, haven’t you been listening to me? Centralia Daily Chronicle, 10 Jul. 1937.

A few weeks ago we discussed going to gym and we showed you some of the motivations for overcoming our natural sloth (a deadly sin, FYI). We find the noisy music often played in the gym to be a royal pain in the butt, but it seems that to many people it is essential. In fact, in competition, a portable music player can be considered an illicit performance-enhancing device, Lord help us. We share with you an article from SciAm about the role of music in working out effectively. We once went to a gym that gave us classical music and it was great. Our present gym owner is a philistine and loudly declares her hatred for the classical genre. We have  resisted the awful boom-boom more or less successfully but it is an ongoing struggle. Perhaps if music were allowed on the track, we would not get scandals such as Tyson Gay testing positive. Yuck!

More bans are falling on the tobacco industry in Europe and Pollyanna is very glad about it. Now menthol cigarettes are to be outlawed, because they are considered more attractive to younger people. Indoor bans and higher taxes are also making themselves felt although the black market is rising because of the higher taxes. The Wall Street Journal provides an interesting analysis of the tobacco market in Europe and its problems. We think the companies that purvey the junk are the problem.
One of the questions of evolution that is asked by biologists and also by soccer goalies or rugby/football players is why, of all the organs of the body, our testicles are denied the protection of the bony skeleton that is given to kidneys, heart, pancreas and the rest. It was always thought that sperm production requires a temperature lower than 36.9C, but that is not obvious. In fact, the sperm making facility may well have adjusted to the out-of-body temperature after the expulsion.  Elephants reproduce quite well without an external scrotum. There is an interesting discussion of the topic in a recent online Slate and there seems to be no definite answer. Pollyanna would agree, if she dared to say it, that this is still an inscrotable question.

Showing off to the ladies is adaptive for some species
A Velvet monkey's neon scrotum.
A vervet monkey's neon scrotum Courtesy of Gijs Joost Brouwer
and the ability to gallop(external testes are protected from abdominal stresses) helped us catch prey in the old days, but our reproductive plumbing is archaic, going back to the fish from which we evolved. To quote the writer, Liam Drew, who is a soccer goalie, "soccer goalkeepers should probably look to our baseball-playing friends who use evolution's gift of a large brain and opposable thumbs to don a protective cup." We note that players of US or Aussie rules football or Rugby abjure the cup because it impedes motion and is really only useful for the baseball catcher. It is amusing that a few years ago, a girl catcher on a Little League team in Florida was ordered to wear the cup to protect her putative scrotum. There was nationwide laughter and Nike and others sent along their protective padded panties for girl athletes.

A propos evolution, here are some goodies from a recent conference on evolutionary biology, including cheerful news

The first study of vision in diamondback terrapins finds the animals see a wider range of wavelengths than people do.
Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock
about terrapin color vision,  island giantism and eye color distribution. We also note an interesting SciAm article about the evolution of complexity. Not all is simple and straightforward, which is good for science.

The long predicted tail of the heliosphere, the bubble of space around our Sun, has been observed in data gathered by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, a satellite launched in 2008. The shape and size remain to be determined. On the other side of the scale, we are told of the detection of extragalactic radio waves, from 5 to 11 billion light years away. These are really ancient photons and can serve as probes of the plasma in intergalactic space. Pollyanna thinks that all this is really exciting.

 This week Pollyanna wants to present  a novelist who for too long was denied the recognition that her work deserved. In a profile of Lionel Shriver in the New Yorker, Christine Smallwood gives us interesting insights into a philosophy of the people who do not quite make it, the near-successes that Shriver herself almost became. Pollyanna also would like to call your attention to a biography of Jane Franklin, the younger sister of Benjamin Franklin, written by the Harvard professor Jill Lepore. The book will be published by Knopf in October of this year. There is an autobiographical article about Lepore and her work in a recent New Yorker, but it is available only to subscribers to the print edition.

What IF follows up the saga described on Titan's blog last week. XKCD drained all of Earth's oceans and sent them to Mars. He follows up with what happens on Mars. Poor Curiosity, just went to look for water! In the meantime, we can see how XKCD can get serious in his comments on social media, for example.

This one reminds us of questions on climate change, i.e. what warming? today is cold etc. from people who do not know the difference between weather and climate and, alas, are in decision-making positions.

First he approached Ms Foxx with that idiotic smirk:
and then the inevitable happened:

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