Cluster Map

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

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