Cluster Map

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pollyanna wishes everyone happy spring holidays

Pollyanna is back and welcomes spring. She and Titan may take some vacation since their amanuensis is going off to Canada to spend the Pesach holiday with family there. The equinox is upon us and with it we get both Pesach (Passover) and Gregorian Easter. Pollyanna, Titan and YandA wish all a happy Pesach or Easter, whichever you celebrate.

For starters, as usual, we refer you to our 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 open it and help the people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

As you know, both Titan and Pollyanna rant about the war on women and about what is happening to women around the world whether or not you get tired of it. If it really bores you, then go out and do something about it. International Women's Day was last week and brother Titan devoted most of his blog to it. This week, we just connect you to a report on the status of women in Israel.  RANT, RANT AND RAVE!!

Pollyanna sends best wishes to the newly elected Pontiff and hopes sincerely that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, who is now Pope Francis I, will be equal to the task. 

There are shadows in his past relating to the "dirty war" in Argentina, but he denies the allegations and we shall give him the benefit of the doubt. The Catholic church, and to a lesser extent Bergoglio himself, were perceived in Argentina as sympathetic to the country’s right-wing military junta, which ruled in the 1970s. That was decades ago, of course, but you can sometimes see hints of the war’s bitter legacy in the left-right political divide in the country.

The HuffPost very kindly offered ten better choices for the job. You may make your own judgement.

In the spirit of leadership changes, Xi Jinping has become the new president of China

and Li Keqiang

 is the new premier. Here in Israel, a new government is also coming into being and if the last bugs are ironed out will be sworn in next Monday. Pollyanna wishes all the new leaders good luck and success.

closeup of 3 eggs standing
There exists a silly belief that only on the Vernal Equinox (north) is it possible to get eggs to stand on end. Somewhere next Thursday there will be television shows in which idiot broadcasters explain to innocent children that this is a result of the lining up of the terrestrial and solar gravitational fields or some other such mental rotgut. Whereas we could have some harmless fun with Groundhog Day last month and give a plug to an otherwise unknown town in Pennsylvania, this egg business can actually plant misinformation in the minds of young and impressionable people and as such is pernicious. Phil Plait gives the entire piece of claptrap a proper debunking. When you open the link, scroll down to the equinox and the eggs.

In general, it is shocking to see how much nonsense is believed by people, from the existence of unicorns to creationism. In our synagogue, otherwise intelligent people gather each week to study Kabbala and, we fear, may even take it seriously. An analysis of misconceptions about Kabbala is given in Judaism101. A rabbi once told us with a straight face that the weather is influenced by human thoughts--we love her dearly, but she was dismissed on the spot from our list of serious people. A good analysis of why human stupidity is so rampant is given in a blog in the San Francisco Chronicle online by Mark Morford. He moans about ignorance and idiocy in the US, but we can assure him that it is quite universal. Maybe some of us are elitist (not a dirty word), but someone has to worry about global warming, AIDS, epidemics etc and maintain some level of rationality in public policy. In order to do that the ability to think critically is essential. Unfortunately, critical thinking is not popular and people would rather watch reality TV and ignore unpleasant real reality based on scientific findings.

Three cheers for Grandpa!! Where can I tie up my unicorn?

Last summer the people at LHC reported data that were consistent with the identification of a particle of mass 126 as the long-sought Higgs boson. New data recently announced have confirmed this finding although it may be that this particle is just the first of a series of heavier Higgs bosons . Its mass of 126 times the mass of the proton is just about what would be needed to create a marginally stable universe that could blink out of existence in a cataclysm billions of years from now. Pollyanna salutes the scientists of CERN/LHC and awaits more exciting results from their efforts

The question of what caused the superabundance of carbon 14 in tree rings from the years 774-775 appears to have found an astronomical answer. Japanese researchers writing in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical society have related the surge in C-14 to the collision of two black holes, neutron stars or white dwarfs, which gave rise to a fierce blast of gamma radiation. They said the event could only have taken place at least 3,000 light years away from here, otherwise the planet would have been fried. Now a search has begun for a remnant of the event that might still be visible in the sky. What with gamma rays and skimming asteroids, this universe seems to be a dangerous place. . Perhaps the universe will click off (see above) before we get cooked by a gamma ray burst or collide with an asteroid. Pollyanna is glad that none of these things are immediate threats. Maybe we need some mysticism as an opiate, a la Marx

Closer to home and less threatening, we hear that the Mars rover Curiosity has come up with evidence for the existence of liquid water on Mars in the far past. The finding was a result of drilling and analysis and has led to much thinking about the habitability of Mars long ago. It is consistent with supporting life at around the same time that life arose on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. Now Curiosity is in safe mode because of an anomaly possibly associated with a cosmic ray hit. In any case, we need to wait until May for communication because of solar conjunction blocking contact. Cheers for Curiosity and its team on Earth!

No, we are not talking about offering up one of our Cabinet ministers as a means of placating whatever deity might find him/her enticing although a few of us lefty dissidents find the idea tempting. Archaeologists working in the South have come across a burial site of a donkey buried in a ritual manner.

The grave was found in a temple courtyard, in the heart of the sacred precinct of Tel Haror, a Middle Bronze Age city near Gaza that was fortified by massive ramparts and a deep moat and dates back from around 1700 B.C. to 1550 B.C. At that time, donkeys played a major role in travel and commerce. This donkey was apparently not a draught animal, but was intended for ritual use which indicates that the people there regarded it as something worthy of their god. Interesting indeed.

Despite our long-held belief that soccer players jell their brains by heading the ball, new research indicates that expert, experienced soccer players have better cognitive skills in some areas than novice players or ordinary couch potatoes such as us. In particular, their ability to predict the motions of an opponent was found to be connected to enhanced activity in the areas of the brain associated with high-level executive functioning and eye-muscle coordination. "Our neuroimaging data clearly shows greater activation of motor and related structures in the brains of expert footballers, compared to novices, when taking part in a football-related anticipation task," Daniel Bishop, lead author of the study, said in a statement.

This report adds to a growing body of knowledge about the inner workings of talented athletes' brains. A study from Scientific Reports found that professional athletes process complex visual scenes faster than amateur athletes, and much faster than nonathletes.
Will brain researchers soon be part of the training squad at elite sports organizations? Perhaps, Bishop told "I can see top teams employing neuroscientists in the future.  We believe this greater level of neural activity is something that can be developed through high-quality training, so the next step will be to look at how the brain can be trained over time to anticipate the moves of opponents," Bishop said in a statement.

What if? is really silly this week.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has solved a major philosophical problem:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pollyanna has survived Purim

Dressing up for Purim

Pollyanna is back in the wake of Purim. It is a nice fun holiday although it celebrates a lot of bad guys getting killed, but as we say about Jewish history, "they tried to kill us, we won, let's eat." She likes a feminist twist on the Megilla provided in this short story.

For starters, as usual, we refer you to our Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action blog. Please open it and help the people who are so much in need of support in their trials and tribulations at the hands of oppressive regimes and corporations.

As you know, both Titan and Pollyanna rant about the war on women and about what is happening to women around the world whether or not you get tired of it. If it really bores you, then go out and do something about it in your environment. This week, we focus on Somalia and ask you to sign an AVAAZ petition. A young woman was gang raped by soldiers and when she went public, she was jailed for "insulting the state."
 Somalia: No authority to rape

We also call your attention to the witch hunting going on in Papua New Guinea where two women were nearly burned at the stake for "sorcery."A few hundred years ago, women were burned all over Europe and in North America for witchcraft. That was then, and this is now. Or is it?  Is today’s war on women in the western world so different from these events in Papua New Guinea, or the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries?

For example: we learned recently that the Irish government has admitted and apologized for the fact that  for more than seven decades, it was in collusion with the so-called Magdalene laundries operated by religious congregations that kept generations of women and girls (as young as 12) in virtual enslavement.

Other instances of the ongoing war on women: Republican legislators in Iowa think it’s a good idea to put rape victims in jail. In Virginia, women are being forced to have ultrasounds before they can have an abortion. The state’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has signed into law Virginia’s mandatory ultrasound law, making the state the eighth to require such a procedure.

As Pollyanna and Laila Ali, the author article on Somalia,  see it, misogyny continues to be alive and well worldwide.
Pollyanna is not glad and can and will rant as loud as brother Titan and their imaginary playmates YandA. She would like to call your attention also to the death, in mysterious circumstances, of a female human rights defender in Colombia
Colombian human rights defender Angélica Bello died on 16 February in controversial circumstances
© Private
and the use of rape as a weapon of war in Congo. This is very reminiscent of what the Serbian army did in Bosnia two decades ago. RANT, RANT AND RAVE!!

OK, Pollyanna hears you complaining. Where is the nice stuff you ask? We start with news of the economic recovery in Rwanda. This once war-torn land has picked itself up out of the mud.
Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuter
 Over the last decade in Rwanda, deaths from HIV, TB, and malaria dropped by 80 percent, maternal mortality dropped by 60 percent, life expectancy doubled -- all at an average health care cost of $55 per person per year. More developed nations could learn something from this example according to a report in the Atlantic. The organization, Musicians without Borders, has implemented a youth training program in Rwanda with lovely results. Here is a short film about the program.

As you all know, our Murphy

 is one step short of a Nobel Prize in Physics so it was interesting to read about the intelligence of dogs. For example, over 200 professional dog obedience judges ranked 110 dog breeds on the basis of their intelligence. According to them, the top dozen dogs in terms of intelligence are:

1. Border Collies
2. Poodle
3. German Shepherd
4. Golden Retriever
5. Doberman Pincher
6. Shetland Sheepdog
7. Labrador Retriever
8. Papillon
9. Rottwieler
10. Australian Cattle Dog
11. Pembrook Welsh Corgi
12. Miniature Schnauzer

At the low end of the intelligence rankings are:

106. Borzoi
107. Chow Chow
108. Bull dog
109. Basenji
110. Afghan Hound

Murphy is a cross between 7 and 10 on this list, which puts him at 8.5. The post goes on to show that having a too intelligent dog is not always optimum for the humans involved. Yes,they can outsmart you!


The date of the first publishing of Homer's Iliad has been estimated by means of the same techniques used to track mutations in genes. The result, that it was written down in the mid-eighth century BCE, is consistent with what classics scholars estimate for the date.
Homer's 'Iliad' codex from approximately the late 5th-early 6th century A.D.
CREDIT: Public domain | Iliad VIII 245-253 in codex F205 | Taken from

The universe contains two kinds of matter, normal and anti-. At the LHC, D-mesons have been caught in the act of flipping between the normal and the anti-matter state. Theory holds that four members of the meson family can undergo the matter - anti-matter oscillation - the matter and anti-matter quarks both flip to their opposites. Three particle types - K-mesons and two types of B-mesons had been caught in the act before. Now we have the goods on brother D. Lest this seem confusing, here is the particle lineup of the Standard Model of Physics.

• The Standard Model is the simplest set of ingredients - elementary particles - needed to make up the world we see in the heavens and in the laboratory

• Quarks combine to make, for example, the proton and neutron - which make up the nuclei of atoms today - though more exotic combinations were around in the Universe's early days

• Leptons come in charged and uncharged versions. Electrons - the most familiar charged lepton - together with quarks make up all the matter we can see; the uncharged leptons are neutrinos, which rarely interact with matter

• The "force carriers" are particles whose movements are observed as familiar forces, such as those behind electricity and light (electromagnetism) and radioactive decay (the weak nuclear force)

• The Higgs boson exists because, although the Standard Model holds together neatly, nothing requires the particles to have mass; for a fuller theory, the Higgs - or something else - must fill in that gap

With these ingredients, we can somehow, but not completely understand our world. Note that the gravity jar is not with the other spices. We do not yet have an understanding of gravity, the most noticeably pervasive force in our everyday world.

Usually one does not regard the plumber's craft, while essential to our well being, as a source of creativity and amusement. We refer you to the 31 finalists in the 2012 Funny Plumbers competition who are indeed astounding. For example:
funny plumber, bathroom fixes, dumpaday (8)

Last week, Titan had an IN MEMORIAM for André Cassagnes, the man who invented the Etch A Sketch.
 Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of the New Yorker challenged his cartoonists to use the device to draw cartoons. Of course, they could not find a real Etch A Sketch, so they used the apps. The results are amusing to say the least.

What If? deals with an interesting question, but this time he has a typo that can confuse you. We leave it as an exercise for the reader to find the typo.

The late great physicist Richard Feynman once said that while everyone is entitled to his own opinions, no one is entitled to his own facts. We now have a source of manufactured facts brought to our attention by Doonesbury. One example is the following:
Sometimes a bit of resourcefulness can go a long way: