Cluster Map

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Pollyanna wishes all a Happy Hannuka, Thanksgiving and Thanksgivukka


Pollyanna notes that Thanksgiving and the first day of Hannuka coincide this year for the first time ever. It will happen again in 7,000 years. Enjoy Thankgivukka! When you sit down to your turkey and latkes, appreciate the blessings in your life.

 For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Now that a year has gone 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 puts everything aside in the wake of the devastation caused by super typhoon Haiyan. She offers a link to a list of ways to donate to the aid of the victims.
Super typhoon slams into Philippines - Nov. 19, 2013

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan react after not being allowed to board an evacuation flight from Tacloban Airport in Tacloban, Philippines, November 12, 2013.
Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan react after not being allowed to board an evacuation flight from Tacloban Airport in Tacloban, Philippines, November 12, 2013.

It is disgraceful that China came out with a niggardly offer and now is trying damage control. China initially offered a paltry $100,000 in aid and, after an international outcry, raised that figure to $1.6 million. It’s as if Dr. Evil decided to go into the disaster-relief business: “One point six million dollars!” Hence the headlines worldwide expressing outrage that China, the world’s second-largest economy, was offering less money than do-it-yourself furniture maker Ikea.

As you all know Pollyanna rants about matters concerning women and girls. She is very upset over the blaming of girl victims of sexual abuse for the actions of their abusers. In Israel, a famous pop singer is being investigated for the statutory rape of underage girls and already people are feeling sorry for him. While Eyal Golan was allegedly having sex with 15 year olds, his father is alleged to have done the pimping. The prophet Amos in this weeks Prophet reading refers to the practice:
 כֹּ   ז הַשֹּׁאֲפִים עַל-עֲפַר-אֶרֶץ בְּרֹאשׁ דַּלִּים, וְדֶרֶךְ עֲנָוִים יַטּוּ; וְאִישׁ וְאָבִיו, יֵלְכוּ אֶל-הַנַּעֲרָה, לְמַעַן חַלֵּל, אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי
....They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.

In the US, as the nation watched the Steubenville rape case come to a close, we also watched something else happen: the coverage of multiple news sources sympathized with the convicted rapists while ignoring the narrative of Jane Doe. The good old Internet has exploded, calling out how media’s coverage was offensive to the victim and apologetic of the rapists. A Ms. Foundation for Women graphic with over 100,000 shares on Facebook and a petition with more than 280,000 signatures asking for CNN to apologize on air for their coverage are just the tip of the online criticism iceberg. It’s clear that rape culture is being publicly discussed more and more, creating progress by keeping the media accountable. However, we can’t just shout about how the media is wrong: we also have to point out specifically what is inappropriate and why, or else media will keep making the same mistakes. Pollyanna wants to call your attention to a group of teenage girls in New York who are using theater to raise awareness and take a stand against slut-shaming in schools. Slut: The Play's narrative about a teen girl being put on trial in the court of her community's opinion after being raped is timely and unfortunately commonplace. The above  link connects  you to an article and an interview with the girls. It is worthy of your attention.
In this context Pollyanna calls your attention to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November. The Reform Movement in Israel is devoting this Shabbat on which the Torah reading describes two acts of violence inside a family to the elimination of such violence. The two incidents are the selling of Joseph by his brothers and the abuse of Tamar by her father in law,  Judah. For the Hebrew readers, Pollyanna provides a link to the special prayer composed for this Shabbat.

Doris Lessing dies aged 94
Doris Lessing with her prize insignia of the 2007 Nobel prize in literature. Photograph: Shaun Curry/AFP/Getty Images
The literary world mourned on hearing that Doris Lessing, the Nobel-prize winning author of   The Golden Notebook and The Grass is Singing, among more than 50 novels covering subjects from politics to science fiction, had died peacefully at her London home aged 94.She was at age 89 the oldest winner of the Nobel Prize and the eleventh woman. Her reaction to the news was typically iconoclastic. When she learned she had won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, she said, “Oh, Christ,” and waved her hand at the reporters who had staked out her home in London, shooing them away. Then she turned and paid for her taxi as her son Peter, who lived with her and whom she cared for while he was ill, looked on. A running meter demands attention; after nearly nine decades, the last step to literary glory can be put off for five more minutes. There is much to say about her rich and fascinating life and how she managed to irk the establishment. We leave it all for you to read in the beautiful tribute to her by Margaret Atwood in the Guardian Book Section.

John F Kennedy. His life and death have been the subject of thousands of books, documentaries and Hollywood movies. Photograph: PA
Just 50 years ago Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy in Dallas TX. We old folks remember where we were and what we were doing on that Friday Nov. 22, 1963. His short term as President, 1,036 days to be exact, did not abound with great achievements except for one that dwarfs everything else. We were living just outside Washington during the Cuban missile crisis and we recall well the tension and fear that all was about to go up in a mushroom cloud. He was able to face down his hawks and deal intelligently with Khruschev and thus saved us all. His memory is clouded now by myths that were already circulating during his lifetime. He projected the image of the young leader with his young family in the White House compared to the geriatric bunch who ran the world. The Guardian, as usual, gives an excellent appreciation of his life.

BBC HardTalk raised the question of the surrogate reproduction industry in India. On one hand, it provides children for childless couples and money to poor women who rent out their wombs. Poverty is so endemic in India, especially for illiterate women, that they are easily recruited. We link you to an interview with Dr Nayna Patel, who is a pioneer in the field. She says it is a "positive experience" for surrogate mothers but HardTalk asks her  in a radio interview if she is exploiting poor, sometimes illiterate, women?   Pollyanna thinks the latter. You may listen to the interview and form your own opinion and if you wish, tell Pollyanna what you think.

Pollyanna wishes to congratulate Mr. Shai Nitzan on his appointment as State Prosecutor of Israel  and hopes that he will make a major contribution to restoring public confidence and to affirmation of the rule of law. We agree with the editorial in Haaretz that he faces major challenges, some of them of his own making.
Shai Nitzan
Shai Nitzan. Photo by Emil Salma
She also says cheers and thumbs up to the school text book publishers in Texas who refuse to buckle to creationist pressure and will provide biology texts that teach evolution.

In addition to the rant, Pollyanna is not at all glad about the acceleration of the deforestation of Brazil. The sacrifice of the rainforest to greed is something that will come back to haunt all of us.
Last year’s massive weakening of the Forest Code in the Brazilian Congress lead to a massive increase in deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon.
She is also very upset at the poisoning of school children in India and thinks it is most appropriate that the headmistress of the school involved and her husband are being charged with murder. Their actions went beyond the limits of mere criminal negligence.


Comet ISON s now plummeting fast toward its late November encounter with the sun –its perihelion, or closest point to the sun – on November 28, 2013. At perihelion, it’ll be lost in the sky’s glare. It’s getting closer and closer to the sunrise now. If it survives its passage near the sun, it’ll return to our skies in early December, and, indeed, early December may be the best time to try to see the comet. So get ready! The Comet ISON Observing Campaign had these encouraging words about ISON this week(Nov. 20):
    For those of you who remember C/2011 W3 Lovejoy’s beautiful sungrazing passage in December 2011, Lovejoy had an estimated total magnitude of about mag 10 when it was eight days before perihelion, and went on to reach approximately mag -3 at peak. ISON is now eight days from perihelion and is estimated to be around magnitude 4.5. I’m not going to speculate on what that means for its peak brightness, but note that ISON is about 100 times brighter than Lovejoy was at about the same distance!
Image: ISON
This stunning portrait of Comet ISON was captured by John Nassr on Nov. 15 from his Stardust Observatory in Baguio City in the Philippines. Nassr used a Nikon D7000 digital SLR camera coupled to his custom-built 16-inch f/4.5 Newtonian reflector to record the sungrazing comet’s intricate tail. The image is a combination of five 1-minute-long exposures at ISO 6400.
Here is a guide for the encounter with  Comet ISON with advice on photography. While ISON is harmless to Earth, there are indications that impacts of fairly large objects are more common than had been thought.
SPACE ROCKS This 570-kilogram meteorite was recovered from Lake Chebarkul on October 16.

DNA studies of a 24,000 year old skeleton of a boy from Russia indicate that nearly 30 percent of modern Native Americans' ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia.
Photo courtesy of State Hermitage Museum in Russia
Remains of 24,000 Year-Old Mal’ta Boy. Photo courtesy of State Hermitage Museum in Russia
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies. It implies that colonization of North America took place well before the 14,500 years ago date inferred from archaeology. Pollyanna is fascinated.

The MAVEN, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, spacecraft is off to the Red Planet. It may give us an answer to the riddle of what happened to the dense atmosphere that Mars must have possessed in the past. Bon Voyage!!


Wolf descendant
The wolf to dog evolutionary path has long been a murky trail for evolutionary biologists. Darwin himself thought that dogs must have several ancestors because of the multiplicity of breeds. Now new research just published in Science indicates that dog domestication most likely occurred in Ice Age Europe, between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago -- much earlier, and much farther north, than previously believed.

Dogs, the authors argued, evolved from a now extinct species of European wolf that followed bands of nomadic or semi-nomadic humans who were hunting woolly mammoths and other large prey. Initially, the wolves sought out the carcasses and scraps of meat left behind by man, the authors suggest. Over time, these hang-around wolves began to fill a special role in human hunter-gatherer society, researchers say. Read more.

We are delighted that the Big Bang Theory sitcom is back with us. It is also nice that the actors are negotiating for a living wage. 
 The Big Bang theory-20110721-63.jpg
Pollyanna finds it amusing to note that the off screen lives of the actresses who play Penny and Bernadette have attracted attention and they both have been interviewed in Maxim, a sexist magazine aimed at the horny male segment of the population.
Kaley Cuoco Pics
melissa rauch maxim
Melissa Rauch

A new biography of the writer Norman Mailer has come out,
Norman Mailer, A Double Life, by J. Michael Lennon Simon and Schuster, 947 pp., $40.00. 
It is reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Edward Mendelson. We have long admired Mailer's work, fiction and non-fiction and we recommend the review. You would also do well to read something by Mailer and the biography gives you a long list from which to choose.


What If? The question-What is the furthest one human being has ever been from every other living person?
Were they lonely? Bryan J. McCarter; Interesting this time.

Letitia experiences the joys of stepmothering.
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Nov/22/2013

Elections are coming up in Emek Hefer, our little corner of the world, the rural area of Israel from which this nonsense emanates. This is how it works:
Wizard of Id Cartoon for Nov/20/2013

We had occasion to peek and even post indirectly at a blog site that deals with questions of dating and social life for people who are no longer young. It is obviously not easy to sell yourself.
Dilbert Cartoon for Nov/19/2013

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Pollyanna says HI!

Pollyanna is happy to greet you again.
She is pleased to bring you all kinds of goodies and a rant as usual.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Now that a year has gone 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. Her choice is the Womens' Media Center. This is a non-profit organization, founded by Gloria Steinem, that (we quote from the mission statement) “works to ensure women are powerfully and visibly represented in the media” and “to diversify the media in its content and sources, so that the stories and perspectives of women and girls are more accurately portrayed.” WMC convenes panels, issues reports, organizes grassroots campaigns, and meets with media outlets to address issues of women’s representation and general diversity. Women are indeed underrepresented in the media and often are given distorted images, so this is a good idea. Pollyanna recommends donating to WMC on their Web site, linked above.

Pollyanna would like to call your attention to Spike Lee.
Spike Lee
Film Director Spike Lee looks on during the game between the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics during Game five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 1, 2013 in New York City. (Al Bello/Getty)
First she wishes to congratulate him on winning the 2013 Lillian Gish award and to call your attention to a new movie that he is coming out with. It is a remake or if you will a reinterpretation of Oldboy a Korean cult film. He discusses it in the interview linked above.. It will be released soon and we look forward to seeing it.

As you all know Pollyanna rants about matters concerning women and girls. This time she is ranting in a Stentorian voice and foaming at the mouth about an issue that should make all decent people stand up and scream. She refers to female genital mutilation, a procedure common in Islamic societies, although not mandated by the Koran. As defined by the World Heath Organization,(WHO) Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. A few descriptive details from WHO:
Key facts

    Female genital mutilation (FGM) includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
    The procedure has no health benefits for girls and women.
    Procedures can cause severe bleeding and problems urinating, and later cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth increased risk of newborn deaths.
    About 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
    FGM is mostly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and age 15.
    In Africa an estimated 101 million girls 10 years old and above have undergone FGM.
    FGM is a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

 Samira Hashi, her mother Lul Musse and grandmother Faduma Ali
Samira Hashi, her mother Lul Musse and grandmother Faduma Ali. The older women underwent FGM in Somalia but decreed that Samira should not. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
Peter Beinart
Peter Beinart Photo by Center for American Progress (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Peter Beinart, who has long been one of our favorite spokesmen for the liberal view of Israel and Zionism,  is moving from the Daily Beast to the Atlantic Media Co. As a result the Open Zion section of the Daily Beast will close down, but we can expect to hear from Peter Beinart in the pages of the Atlantic. He is also becoming a senior columnist for Haaretz. Pollyanna wishes him all success in his new endeavor.

Strunk and White
In the last decade before retirement we had the task (actually we volunteered) of teaching scientific writing in English to Tel Aviv University graduate students. Every year we  discovered that their high schools had failed to teach them writing techniques that are language-independent. Our trusty ally was the little book on style  by Strunk and White and we worked hard to get them to write in plain language without quibbling and fancy decorations that mean nothing. Anyone who has written a paper with colleagues from MIT is familiar with "the data are not inconsistent with..." and other timid statements. We found it interesting, therefore, to learn from Judy (thank you) that nearly 70 years ago George Orwell was ranting about the same failings. As an example, he takes a well-known verse from the King James Version:
Ecclesiastes IX, 11:(Koheleth for us)
 I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

    Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Of course this is a parody, but it makes the point. Pollyanna challenges her Israeli readers to try to render the same verse from the original into modern Hebrew.
 שַׁבְתִּי וְרָאֹה תַחַת-הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כִּי לֹא לַקַּלִּים הַמֵּרוֹץ וְלֹא לַגִּבּוֹרִים הַמִּלְחָמָה וְגַם לֹא לַחֲכָמִים לֶחֶם וְגַם לֹא לַנְּבֹנִים עֹשֶׁר, וְגַם לֹא לַיֹּדְעִים, חֵן:  כִּי-עֵת וָפֶגַע, יִקְרֶה אֶת-כֻּלָּם.

Super Typhoon Haiyan hits the Philippines
Image from Japan Meteorological Agency's MTSAT of Haiyan over the Leyte Gulf. Photograph: Zuma/rex
Map of path of typhoon Haiyan
Path of typhoon Haiyan
 It has  winds of over 240 kph, which makes it the strongest typhoon in all history to hit land At least 100 people are reported dead at the time of this writing. As global warming continues, more and more energy will be available for super storms and we can expect the intensity of such events to continue to increase. Indeed, as a species we have fouled our nest.

Pollyanna is amazed at the discovery of a stash of over 1,400 paintings in an apartment in Munich. These were paintings that the Nazis considered degenerate, but they were not above trying to sell them The collection includes works by Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Nolde, Renoir, Courbet, Matisse, and Chagall, including one of his paintings whose existence previously was unknown. The story of how this amassing of art came to be is also fascinating. It is told in detail by Christopher Dickey and Nadette De Visser in the Daily Beast.


Experiments that purported to find the evasive material known as dark matter that pervades the universe have been show to have failed
WIMP DETECTOR  Photomultiplier tubes such as these should detect subtle flashes of light caused by dark matter particles striking xenon nuclei
 The search will go on, but even well-designed experiments can come up with false positives. The results of a very sensitive detector showed that previously reported detections of WIMPS (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles) are apparently spurious. No one doubts the existence of dark matter, but it is proving more difficult to detect than anyone had anticipated

A recent press conference by NASA informs us that we may safely believe that there are countless, in fact billions, of Earth size planets in the habitable zones of their primaries. An analysis of data from the Kepler spacecraft by Erik Petigura, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley shows that about 20% of the stars in our galaxy have such planets in orbits that could support liquid water. There are several caveats. Although these planets are Earth-size, nobody knows what their masses are and thus whether they are rocky like the Earth, or balls of ice or gas, let alone whether anything can, or does — or ever has or will — live on them.
There is reason to believe, from recent observations of other worlds, however, that at least some Earth-size planets, if not all of them, are indeed rocky. Last week, two groups of astronomers announced that an Earth-size planet named Kepler 78b that orbits its sun in 8.5 hours has the same density as the Earth, though it is too hot to support life. “Nature,” as Mr. Petigura put it, “knows how to make rocky Earth-size planets.” Pollyanna salutes Erik Petigura on his remarkable achievement of data analysis and physics.


WR 102ka, shown in this WISE spacecraft image, may have been born and developed in complete isolation, which is rare but possible for massive stars.
We are not referring here to Texas but to an observation of a very massive star that is not associated with any cluster of stars. This contradicts the conventional wisdom that says that stars are born in clusters. This star is 100 times the mass of the Sun and is located in the vicinity of a black hole. It is interesting to ask whether some environments have different modes of star formation than others. Stay tuned.

It is not common for new species of animals to be discovered nor do we often get an opportunity for study of a rare or elusive species. Pollyanna reports on both this week. A new species of Pacific humpback dolphin has been identified through both DNA and morphological studies. 
INTO THEIR OWN  Two members of a new, and so far unnamed, species of humpback dolphin leap from the blue waters off Australia’s northern coast.
Welcome to taxonomy dear friend. Soon someone will come up with a name for you. Another noteworthy ichthyological event is the finding of the bodies of two oarfish on the coast of California, a male and a female.
Marine scientists are excited about the opportunity to dissect and learn about this creature.
The body of an 18-foot male oarfish was found in the waters off Santa Catalina Island in California last month. Five days later, a 14-foot female washed up 50 miles away.
 It is the largest bony fish in the sea and very rarely found since it manages to avoid nets.

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio has just had a new translation into English by a Texas professor, Wayne A. Rebhorn.  This book, written by Boccaccio in the mid-14th century tells of a group of ten young people, seven women and three men who flee the plague-ridden city of Florence in 1348 to a pleasant retreat in the country. Over a period of ten days each of them must tell a story a day. Eventually 100 stories are accumulated, some sad, some happy, some bawdy and some moralizing. Joan Acocella reviews it in detail in the New Yorker  with much background about Boccaccio and his times. If the link does not open, there is a review in a Dallas newspaper. The stories mostly reflect the world of people of the merchant class, and the skill they most feature is the one most prized by that class, ingegno: cleverness, wit, thinking on your feet.
Here is an example summarized:
 A famous tribute to ingenuity is the story of Peronella, told by Filostrato. Peronella spins wool for a living, and her husband is a stonemason. She is pretty, and soon she has a lover, Giannello. One morning after the husband has gone to work, Peronella and Giannello are enjoying each other’s company when suddenly the husband returns. There is a barrel in the house, and Peronella tells Giannello to hide in it. When the husband enters, she begins loudly berating him:
 "What’s the story here? Why have you come back home so early like this? It seems to me, seeing you there with your tools in your hands, that you want to take the day off. If you carry on like this, how are we going to live? Where are we supposed to get our bread from?"
Calm down, the husband says. We’ve had a windfall. See that barrel over there? Well, he just sold it for five silver ducats. Call off the deal, Peronella says. She has sold the barrel for seven ducats, and the man who bought it is right now inside the barrel, checking its condition. Out pops Giannello, claiming that the inside of the barrel needs to be scraped if he is to buy it. The husband climbs in and goes to work. Peronella leans over the top of the barrel and gives him orders: “Scrape here, and here, and over there.” As she bends over, Giannello, whose business with Peronella that morning had been interrupted, lifts her skirt from behind. After the three have finished, simultaneously, Giannello pays the husband the seven ducats and, in a lovely, tart last sentence, gets him to take the barrel to his house.
Great fun was had by almost all.


What If? really gets silly this week. The question: How big of a lawn would you have to have so that when you finished mowing you'd need to start over because the grass has grown?  Thanks to Nick Nelson for this challenge to Randall's patience...

This is for us oldies who remember party line telephones, although we never had one at home. People living in the country had to put up with them. For details, ask a grandparent.

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Nov/04/2013


We love skype, it connects with our faraway loved ones and does good things. We sometimes, however, would like to close it down and for some reason it is often like canceling an unwanted credit card. Full empathy to Alice.

Dilbert Cartoon for Nov/06/2013

We love to complain about infrastructure especially after returning from Europe where we get around cities on light rail etc.
Wizard of Id Cartoon for Nov/03/2013