Cluster Map

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pollyanna welcomes Spring

Pollyanna is back with you and hopes that in the name of social justice you all had an equal equinox. She would like to share with you a quote from an email we received from a colleague, Dr. Moshe Waxman, guru emeritus from the TAU Comp Center.
  “Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last
fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be

This is from a Cree Indian prophecy and it is very true. Someone should tell the Koch brothers. Someone should also tell the Japanese company that is marketing whale meat and elephant ivory. These two splendid and endangered species deserve better from humanity. Usually Pollyanna and Titan do not call for direct action and refer to the Miriam blog. In this case however, Pollyanna would really like you to send a rant to the Rakuten corporation calling on them to stop their despicable practice motivated by greed. There is a prepared rant at the link.
Stop Sale of Whale Meat and Elephant Ivory

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger HumanRights action blog. Over a year has gone and 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 Pollyanna is sending you to help fight child illiteracy in the community of Cajul in an isolated region of Guatemala. GlobalGiving recommends this project and we join them. It may seem small, but teaching 900 poor children to read can turn a community around.

The tragic saga of MH370 has been unfolding before us for the past two weeks. It appears that the plane went down far from land and it is not at all clear what could have motivated this senseless act of terrorism, if indeed it was that. Nothing else makes any more sense.The families of the victims evoke great empathy and sorrow. On BBC-TV, the daughter of a Polish leader who perished in the 2010 crash near Smolensk was interviewed. When asked about closure for families of victims, she replied bluntly, "there is no such thing as closure." She expressed sympathy for the families of flight 370, especially for their fear and dragged out uncertainty. There are, of course, conspiracy theories floating around claiming that the plane was controlled remotely by the CIA, that the passengers were killed by oxygen cutoff at 45,000 feet and that the plane is hidden at Diego Garcia. The same theorists claim that the planes destroyed on 9/11 never hit the buildings and are flying somewhere in the world today. Let them babble.

For a change, instead of a specific rant about abuse of women, Pollyanna would like to call your attention to a document by the Central American Women's Network (CAWN) devoted to the topic " Women renegotiating power paradigms in Central America: their struggles in the second half of the 20th century." It is a bit long, nine pages, but worth the read for anyone interested in the process of achieving equality for women anywhere and everywhere. Pollyanna would also like to call your attention to the campaign Because I am a Girl run by Plan International, a charity for children's rights. We will get to Plan International in detail in a future post.

We are all shocked and dismayed at the news of the calamitous mud slide near Oso, WA, USA, which has taken so many lives and caused so much destruction. We are following the rescue and recovery efforts and hope that the final death toll does not increase further than it has. When we confront the forces of nature, we realize how puny we humans really are.

The scale of devastation
At the station where we fuel our cars there is a page from a local newspaper posted on the wall claiming that an explosion was caused at a gas station by a cell phone. This rank nonsense has been taken up by our idiot government and we see signs in gas stations warning not to use cell phones. It makes no sense that the radiation from a cell phone, all the 0.75 to 1 watt of microwave power, could ignite gas fumes. We checked it with Snopes and found complete refutation and documentation of the myth. We quote: "The claim that the batteries used in a cellular phone can ignite gasoline seems specious, since cellular phone batteries are the same voltage as automobile batteries (12V D.C.) but deliver far less current. Likewise, the claim that a "cellular phone ringer uses more than100 volts for excitation" is a curious artifact of the "regular" telephone era: cellular phones don't have ringers; they produce audio tones that simulate the sound of a ringing telephone." OTOH, static electricity, from whatever source, can be dangerous near fuel pumps, but that has nothing to do with cell phones, solar flares or fluctuations in the stock market. Randall gives us another example of how a myth can be created, albeit with a tongue deep in the cheek.

Induced Current

The First of April, the day devoted to folly is coming up. Pollyanna chooses to mark it with some music from the greatest of the sons of Johannes Sebastian Bach, OK, maybe she is exaggerating a bit. Pollyanna is happy to present the 1712 Overture by P.D.Q. Bach.
P.D.Q. Bach, 1807-1750
There is no requirement that you listen to the end. Give this music all the respect that it deserves, that is to say, none at all. Pollyanna will spare you the Unbegun Symphony and Erotica for Banned Instruments, but you can find them on YouTube.

While many scientific ideas are said to be half-baked, those associated with the Sicilian Space Program are from deep in the nutty oven. Thanks to Richard for calling our attention to the flight of the cannolo into the stratosphere. 
As described in several media, a group of amateur scientists launched a cannolo, a cream-stuffed pastry roll symbolic of the Italian island, into the stratosphere, capturing bizarre images of the dessert flying far above the earth. It reached a height of nearly 30 km and took some pictures as well, all for the princely cost of 350 Euros. We salute the imaginative guys from the town of Enna. Cheers says Pollyanna. We hope it raised the morale of poverty-stricken Sicily, long the neglected stepchild of the Italian republic.

OK, enough of tasty spacecraft, let us look at some real science.

You all know about Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. Scientists have succeeded in getting light to go around an object and continue to  propagate, but only at long wavelengths. Visible light invisibility will depend on new materials. Time invisibility, i.e. causing an event to not have happened has been achieved. It involves creating a hole in a light beam or in space-time if you will in which anything that happens will not be seen. It is done by sending a light beam, the “probe beam,” through an optical fiber. The team then introduced additional rays through the time lens ( a device based on a special optical fiber that allows one light ray to interact with another light ray. ) and used them to split the probe beam so that the front section was blue and the rear section was red. The probe beam was then sent through another optical fiber in which blue light travels faster than red, thereby opening up a gap in the beam. Within this gap, an event can occur without the beam detecting it.
Schematics of the temporal cloak using a pair of STLs.
The STLs are used to create a temporal ‘hole’ in a probe beam such that any temporal or spectral changes caused by an event within this hole do not occur. The figure is oriented such that the probe light is described by horizontal line…

To close the hole, the probe beam was sent through another optical fiber in which blue light travels more slowly than red, enabling the rear section to catch up to the front. Finally, the beam was sent through another time lens to turn it back into a uniform ray with the same color and wavelength as the original. In this way, the very fact that the hole in time occurred was also concealed. This is like the Israeli judge who issued a gag order and then issued another one forbidding the publication of the existence of the first gag order. It took two days for all the information to come out on the bloggosphere. This erasure of information seems to be more effective, albeit on a much smaller scale.

An Israeli researcher, M. Friedman, fresh back from a post-doc at Cornell where he was involved in the research and was the first author on a Nature paper, is setting up to expand on this work at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. He plans on increasing the scale of the phenomenon by a factor of 10,000. Pollyanna thinks this is really cool.

embryo made from STAP cells
STEM CELL RESULTS QUESTIONED  A technique for making a type of stem cell called STAP cells (shown in green) that can reportedly transform into any cell type is now in question as multiple researchers have failed to replicate the results.
It sounds like a replay of the old cold fusion story. Haruko Obokata of the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, and colleagues first reported in two January 29 papers in Nature that they had reprogrammed newborn mouse cells by dunking them into acid or squeezing them. The cells took on stem cell–like qualities and were dubbed STAP cells for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency. So far, no other researchers have been able to repeat the accomplishment. It now appears that the technique is not as simple as described in the original Nature paper. The paper is under fire for other reasons as well. Pollyanna hesitates to call this jiggery-pokery, but if it is an honest error as in the fast neutrino case, then let us have the truth as quickly as possible.

Two major discoveries in the outer Solar System were announced in the same recent Nature paper. One is a planet orbiting at 80 AU (1 AU or astronomical unit is the mean distance from the center of the Sun to the center of the Earth, 150,000,000 km or 8 light minutes).
Orbit diagram for the solar system, showing Sedna and 2013 VP<sub>113</sub>
The orbits of Sedna (orange) and dwarf planet 2012 VP113 (red). Also shown are the orbits of the giant planets (purple). The Kuiper belt is the dotted light blue region. Illustration: Scott S Sheppard/Carnegie Institution for Science

The other is the discovery that the asteroid Chariklo has rings analogous to those of Saturn and the other giant planets.  The discovery was made by observing the passage of the asteroid in front of a star (occultation) and noting the decrease in the light of the star.
Light curve of the occultation by the Chariklo system.
 The rings show up in the absorption of the light of an occulted star

This is quite surprising since one would not have thought an asteroid to have sufficient gravitational attaction i.e. mass to hold and maintain a ring system. Pollyanna is thrilled.


 What If? asks How far would a tungsten countertop descend if I dropped it into the Sun?
Michael Leuchtenburg
Not very far.

You all know what Archimedes claimed he could do with a lever and a fulcrum. Randall can possibly do more:

Pollyanna would like to share a philosophical discussion between the genius brains of Dilbert, Wally and their boss:
The Official Dilbert Website featuring Scott Adams Dilbert strips, animations and more

 Pollyanna is very glad that the social services are really trying to help street people, such as Clyde and Dabney,  take control of their lives and deal with reality:

Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/25/2014
Pollyanna also would like to point out the hazards of the teaching profession when dealing with the other end of the socio-economic spectrum:
Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/28/2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Happy Purim from Pollyanna

Pollyanna is back with you and wishes all her Jewish readers a very happy Purim festival which is coming up. It commemorates the events described in the Biblical Book of Esther. The book will be read in synagogues around the world on Saturday night (Sunday in Jerusalem) and the day will be marked by celebrations, masquerades, children putting on the story as a play and an order from the rabbis to get as drunk as a lord.

At some indeterminate time during the heyday of the Persian Empire a scheming bad guy named Haman conspired to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. His plot was foiled by the wisdom of Mordechai and the courage and resourcefulness of Esther who just happened to be the Queen of Persia at time. Have fun everyone!

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights action blog. Over a year has gone by without Miriam, and 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.

Pollyanna is going to discuss an issue that might be regarded as less than refined by some of our readers. She refers to the problem of keeping girls in school in the Third World and in particular to the problem of absenteeism from school by teen age girls because of menstruation. Linda Scott blogging as DoubleXEconomy discusses the issues in depth. She points out that the present situation in which girls in both sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia use cloth or worse in place of sanitary pads is unacceptable. She writes in part "They use whatever they can find, often cutting up old clothes, but sometimes taking “found” cloth, even from the public rubbish. We have heard horror stories of girls using animal skin and leaves, but all the direct reports we have heard have been of cloth usage, if sanitary pads (or sometimes toilet paper) are not in use." There are also issues of privacy. When a girl reaches puberty, she becomes an object of sexual predation which in turn can lead to  unwanted pregnancies and ostracism by families. Keeping girls in school and protecting them from exploitation and abuse are important matters both  for the girls themselves  and for the future of their societies.

In India, the invention of a cheap machine  for the production of sanitary pads by Arunachalam Muruganantham has revolutionized female health. The machine enables women to make their own sanitary pads out of cellulose.The whole process can be learned in an hour.We can only hope that it spreads.
Muruganantham stands next to his invention in a still from the documentary Menstrual Man
The inventor and his device
In the meantime, Pollyanna recommends The Kasiisi Project Girls Support Program, which functions in Uganda and has three main initiatives: keeping  girls a) in school, b) informed about their sexual health and c) economically independent. The Kasiisi Project Girls Support Program has developed initiatives to assist girls in successfully completing their education. These programs include:
Supplying sanitary pads to girls who are menstruating; 

Constructing private 'girls only' latrines; 
Providing accurate health information and mentorship through a female health worker.
Please donate.

Pollyanna is ranting this week about the legislative initiative in Mozambique that would grant impunity to a rapist who married his victim. In the Miriam blog (see above) there is a link to a protest site and Pollyanna hopes that all of you will raise your voices in a fierce outcry against this atrocity. It is clear that this law allows rapists to commit crimes with impunity, in violation of women's and girls' rights not to be subjected to torture and ill-treatment; this law is also a retrogression of the rights of women and girls in the country and places survivors of sexual abuse at risk of being deprived of justice, as well as being subjected to a profoundly abusive situation where they will be subjected to further acts of rape, under the obscene guise of a so-called "marriage." Less than a week ago we marked International Women's Day, yet we see that women are still fair game for exploiters and predators.

Pollyanna is also up in arms against the antivaxxers. The propaganda caused by totally spurious "research" data linking MMR vaccines to autism has created an atmosphere in which many people refuse to vaccinate their children. We have bashed them in the past, especially Mayim Bialik aka Amy Farrah Fowler for this. Now we see the results with the resurgence of a disease thought to have been eliminated, measles. We think that unvaccinated children should be excluded from schools, kindergartens and nursery schools.

In Afghanistan we have a very sad story of two lovers who wish to marry, but are in a Romeo and Juliet situation. Mohammed Ali and Zakia
Two star-crossed Afghans cling to love, even at risk of death
Zakia, 18, whose life is being threatened by family members after publicly declaring love for a man of a different sect, in Bamian, Afghanistan, Feb. 17, 2014. (Mauricio Lima/The New York Times)
would like to marry, but their families will not hear of it and as a result their lives, in particular hers, are in danger. Mohammad Ali is a Hazara, who are mostly Shia Muslims. Zakia is a Tajik, a Sunni ethnic group. (As with many Afghans, neither has a surname.) The rule of tradition still can trump modernity in many parts of the world.


Disintegrating asteroid P/2013 R3 as viewed by Hubble on 29 October 2013
Pieces of the asteroid formerly known as P/2013 R3 move apart, flung off by quantum effects writ large.
Phil Plait, blogging in Slate, calls our attention to the disintegration in full view of observers of the asteroid P/2013 R3, discovered in September 2013. This is apparently a terminal phase of the YORP effect by which the emission of infrared radiation by an object can accelerate its rotation and, if the object is sufficiently fluffy, impair its structural integrity.

Pollyanna is not only glad, she is delighted to tell of new therapies for the treatment of cancers. A potential revolution in cancer treatment that involves harnessing the body’s own immune defenses to eliminate tumors has been voted breakthrough of the year by the Washington-based journal Science. Two different techniques show signs of helping some patients. One  involves antibodies that release a brake on T cells, giving them the power to tackle tumors. Another involves genetically modifying  an individual's T cells outside the body to make them better able  to target cancer, and then reinfusing them so they can do just  that. Experts stress that these techniques have been tested in only small trials, and they don't always work. But the results have raised hope that immunotherapy may give doctors new options for treatment in the future.

Pollyanna cheers!

As you all know our owner Murphy has a strong case of species prejudice against all cats and deplores our feeding the creatures to bribe them to keep our yard free of mice and snakes. We have never subscribed to his belief that cats are evil, but we are sure he is pleased with the new novel by Lynne Truss. We of course know her as the gura of the language with her panda book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Now she has tried her hand with a horror novel that has a bit of tongue in cheek. Viv Groskop reviews it in the Telegraph. Meow!

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem is putting on an exhibit of 9,000 year old  stone masks.
World’s oldest masks
These Neolithic objects show human artistry at its dawning. It should be an interesting exhibition and is certainly appropriate for the Purim season.


A controversy and a lawsuit have broken out in Britain over the appropriate place to bury the remains of Richard III that were discovered in Leicester. The descendants of the Plantagenet family want him buried in York but the authorities have decided to inter him in Leicester. Stay tuned.


What If? raises some interesting questions of law enforcement.

I've occasionally seen "radar enforced" on speed limit signs, and I can't help but ask: How intense would radio waves have to be to stop a car from going over the speed limit, and what would happen if this were attempted?

Those of us who wear hearing aids will appreciate the consideration Wally shows:

Todays Comic

Welcome to the modern world:Barney & Clyde Cartoon for Mar/12/2014