Cluster Map

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pollyanna winds down February

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.
Venus and Moon at dawn
 Pollyanna is back with you and wishes all a nice weekend full of things to be glad about. She is glad to share a lovely picture of an old moon meeting a morning star crescent. If the picture has vanished, as NASA images often do, go to the site.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights 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.

A Bushman woman in the street in New Xade, the government resettlement camp to which many Bushmen have been relocated in the last ten years.
A Bushman woman in the street in New Xade, the government resettlement camp to which many Bushmen have been relocated in the last ten years. Beer and AIDS dominate the atmosphere.
© Dominick Tyler
Pollyanna is pointing you this week to Survival International, which is a human rights organization formed in 1969, that campaigns for the rights of indigenous tribal and uncontacted peoples, seeking to help them to determine their own future. Please donate and support.


Maya, our granddaughter, defended her BA Honors thesis at the University of Oregon and passed "with distinction." She wrote about "Nihilism in Children's Literature" which must be a unique topic, creatio ab nihilo, as the Bible tells us. Pollyanna, Titan and YandA are all very happy and proud.

Pollyanna is ranting this week about the plight of women in Somalia where rape is the norm and the security forces, who are among the worst offenders, enjoy complete impunity. Human Rights Watch has published a report on the issue and has called upon the government of Somalia to take steps to curb the widespread sexual violence to which women in Somalia are subjected.The 72-page report, “‘Here, Rape is Normal’: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia,” provides a road map for the government and its international donors to establish a comprehensive strategy to reduce rape, provide survivors with immediate and urgent assistance, and develop a long-term approach to end these abuses. The report focuses on improving prevention, increasing access to emergency health services, ensuring justice, legal and policy reform, and promoting women’s equality. A summary of the report is provided by AWID.

The police are worse than indifferent to these cases. We quote:
Maryam, a 37-year-old single mother who was gang-raped in her makeshift shelter, was the only survivor Human Rights Watch interviewed who attempted to file a police report. The police officers at the station humiliated her after she bled from injuries sustained during the rape.
“Before they let me go, they told me I had to wash the floor where I was bleeding,” she said. “I sat down, they gave me a brush and I cleaned the floor.” She never returned to the police station to pursue the case or report a second gang rape three months later.

Pollyanna thinks that it is totally wrong and unethical for someone to pretend to put out real meteorological predictions that are false and are just designed to enhance hits on a Web site and thus get more ad money. The prediction of a huge storm in the US next week by a huckster named Kevin Martin has been exposed as a hoax by El Blogo de Weatherdudeo writing in the Daily Kos. This sort of panic spreading is pernicious and even if it may be protected free speech, it is important that the truth be put out to protect people. Please read the blog and reassure your social circles that there is no storm to fear.

The Oscars will be handed out Sunday night. We like Nebraska, but it may not be the front runner. Here is a prediction for whatever it is worth. . Here is a list of the nominees.


We have long known that it is not a good idea for women to postpone maternity. It now appears that men too have a biological clock. A new study  of over 2 million children in Sweden over a long period shows that children of older fathers are vulnerable to a range  of disorders.
Comparing children of a 45-year-old dad to those of a 24-year-old father the study indicated:
    autism was more than three times as likely
    a 13-fold increased risk of ADHD
    double the risk of a psychotic disorder
    25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder
    2.5 times more likely to have suicidal behavior or problems with drugs
    lower scores at school

The results were published in JAMA Psychiatry. 

A large meteorite crashed into the moon this week and created a burst of light visible to the naked eye on Earth.
the impact of a large meteorite on the lunar surface of the moon
The flash was picked up by two telescopes in Spain's Midas observatory. Photograph: J Madiedo/Midas
 It was estimated to be about 400 kg in mass and its speed at impact was estimated to be about 61,000 km/h, the largest meteorite impact on the moon ever recorded! Pollyanna is impressed.

Zircon crystal
This zircon, which is about twice the width of a human hair, is now confirmed to be the oldest bit of the Earth's crust ever discovered. It was found in the Jack Hills region of Australia. (Courtesy John W. Valley/University of Wisconsin-Madison)

A piece of ancient zircon found in Australia indicates that the crust of the Earth was solid slightly less than 4.4 billion years ago. This has implications for the origin of life since solid crust is needed for viable life. During the Hadean era (named for its hellish conditions) the Earth was too hot and the surface molten. If the crust indeed had formed so long ago, maybe life is older than the 3.4 billion years indicated by the fossil record. The result was published in Nature Geosciences. The use of tomography to track the mobility of radiogenic lead was the key to the experiment and Pollyanna says this is cool.

Clovis point
Example of a Clovis fluted blade (Photo : Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources/ Wikimedia creative commons )
There has been some dispute whether the Clovis culture that existed for a few centuries long ago represented the ancestry of Native Americans. DNA analysis of a 12,600 year child skeleton buried with Clovis artifacts in Montana shows that indeed this is the case. The boy's genome showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today's native peoples in the Americas. This puts paid to theories of European or Melanesian origins of New World populations.


What If? Assuming that you have a spaceship in orbit around the Earth, could you propel your ship to speeds exceeding escape velocity by hitting golf balls in the other direction? If so, how many golf balls would be required to reach the Moon?

—Dan (Kanta, Ontario) Fun answer indeed. Cheers Randall.

Kids get in trouble at school by shooting their mouths off. Hadass picked up a story from Facebook that gives an example.

Then we have Cynthia:
Barney & Clyde

We have not visited SMBC for a while. Maybe that was a good idea...


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Polllyanna says happy Valentine's Day


Pollyanna is back with you and wishes all a happy Valentine's day. This week a Tel Aviv taxi driver gave us a couple of heart-shaped chocolates wrapped in red cellophane. Nice that St. Valentine has become ecumenical and Jews love him as well. Pollyanna says cheers to the florists of Paris.

For starters, let us refer you to the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights 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.

Pollyanna is pointing you this week to the Malala Fund.

As you must remember, over one year ago, in October 2012, Malala was shot in the head on her way back from school. She was targeted for raising for her voice for the rights of all girls to go to school. "Who is Malala?" the terrorists said as they boarded her school bus and attempted to silence her forever. They succeeded in making her voice stronger. Please donate and support.


The lady who as a very small child was a cinema superstar died this week at age 85. She started her career at age 3 and hit the big time at age six.She immediately made an impression, bordering on the freakish, singing Baby Take a Bow, in Stand Up and Cheer (1934), among seven movies in which she appeared in the same year. Little Shirley became the darling of America and the world during the depression-ridden era of the 1930's. After only her first year in movies, she received a Special Oscar "in grateful recognition of her outstanding contribution to screen entertainment during the year 1934". She was marketed by the studio into a national institution: there were Shirley Temple dolls, toys and clothes (including a line in bathing suits). "I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six," she recalled. "Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked me for my autograph." As an adult she became active in Republican party politics, for which we forgive her, even her support for the Vietnam war. She became US ambassador to Ghana (1974-76) and White House chief of protocol (1976-77), during Gerald Ford's presidency. She also served as foreign affairs officer with the state department under Reagan and ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1989-92) under George H.W. Bush. There are many obituaries. We link you to the Guardian. Here is a sample of her art:


 See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download 
 the highest resolution version available.
This week we mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of the man who is beyond a doubt the father of modern science. He built a telescope and pointed it at the sky, although the funding came from the Medici family who wanted their ship captains to spot the pirates before the pirates spotted them. He acknowledged the grant by naming the four moons of Jupiter that he discovered the "Medici stars." The mythological names were given by Cassini much later. Galileo found that the moon was not smooth but had mountains and valleys, that Venus had phases which proved that it went around the Sun and that Jupiter had moons that went around the planet. His proof of Copernican theory made him a heretic and he faced the Inquisition. He introduced the idea of proof by experiment and created the scientific mind set that shuns dogma and always looks for what is unknown and uncertain. For a concise biography go to this biography site. For a more detailed discussion of his life and career, Pollyanna refers you to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Pollyanna is furious over a change in the criminal code of Afghanistan that will allow men to attack their wives, children and sisters without fear of judicial punishment, undoing years of slow progress in tackling violence in a country blighted by so-called "honor" killings, forced marriage and vicious domestic abuse.

The small but significant change to Afghanistan's criminal prosecution code bans relatives of an accused person from testifying against them. Most violence against women in Afghanistan is within the family, so the law – passed by parliament but awaiting the signature of the president, Hamid Karzai – will effectively silence victims as well as most potential witnesses to their suffering.

In Afghanistan, traditionally, extended families live in closed compounds. The only witness to an act of domestic violence will almost certainly be a family member. It means that fathers and brothers will have total impunity for so-called "honor killings" and  forced child marriages, abuse of women and girls and enslavement of young women. All these criminals  will be immune to prosecution. The countries that have been funding the Afghan regime are turning a blind eye to this and when the last foreign troops leave the country next year, the fate of women will be terrible.

In her famous book Eats, Shoots and Leaves (you all know the joke), Lynne Truss calls for the establishment of an Association for the Protection of the Apostrophe. We could not agree more. Judy sent us a horrible example of apostrophe abuse and what it can do to innocent people.
Displaying apostrophe's.jpg

We have long been involved in plasma physics and while we have primarily worked on space and planetary plasmas, we have watched with hope as our laboratory colleagues struggled over the decades with the problem of generating energy via nuclear reactions from stably  confined plasma. Every star does this with ease because of gravitational confinement, but keeping a laboratory plasma in place long enough to generate a viable system that will put out more energy than goes in is immensely difficult. We are, therefore, extremely delighted (Pollyanna is dancing in glee) that finally laser confinement has succeeded in passing this milestone. Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California have achieved a "fuel gain" of greater than one at the National Ignition Facility (NIF). Using NIF's ultra-powerful laser to crush tiny pellets of deuterium–tritium fuel, they have produced more energy from fusion reactions than was deposited in the fuel. Although still far from the long-sought-after goal of "ignition", the latest results are nevertheless an important step on the road to realizing fusion energy, say researchers.

When finally clean fusion reactors replace fission reactors, which leave behind radioactive waste, and fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere, mankind will move into a totally new era of energy. The source is simply sea water deuterium and the residue is a tiny wisp of tritium. This has been a Holy Grail of plasma science for many decades and when it comes about, the social, economic and political implications will be tremendous. We are still far from igniting a viable reactor, but Dr. Omar Hurricane and his crew have made a major step forward in that direction.
Photograph of the fusion fuel capsule at the National Ignition Facility
Inside the hohlraum at NIF
Cheers to the LLNL crew!

While single electric charges are commonplace, no one has every observed a single pole magnet. They always have a north and south pole which, has mathematical implications that we shall not detail here. In 1931, the great physicist Paul Dirac published a paper in which he predicted, on the basis of quantum mechanical considerations that magnetic monopoles exist. Dirac showed that naturally occurring magnetic monopoles would require electric charge to come in discrete units. This discreteness is seen in nature but is not fully understood, and therefore the search for magnetic monopoles is an active field of research. In the last 83 years, all searches for magnetic monopoles have failed.

Now we are told that a group led by David Hall and colleagues at Amherst College in Massachusetts and collaborators at Aalto University in Finland is able to produce an analogue of what is known as a "Dirac monopole", the generalized quantum-mechanical form of a magnetic monopole put forward by Dirac. The result is very exciting to people, such as Pollyanna, who get excited and glad about this sort of thing.

Main Entry Image
Researchers from Tel Aviv University have used carbon dating to show that the first
camels were introduced into the region that is now  Israel in the ninth century BCE whereas the Patriarch stories, in which camels appear as pack animals,  refer to a much earlier era. The introduction of the camel as a pack animal had, of course, major implications for commerce at the time. The camel is capable of traversing deserts and other difficult types of terrain that would be impassable to donkeys or horses. If the stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs and their dysfunctional families were written down in the eighth or seventh centuries, the anachronism is natural. Our religious friends might take some offense at this debunking of legends, but in the wake of the Super Bowl which Titan discussed last week, there is room for some skepticism. For background, Tebow is a former NFL quarterback who is an outspoken evangelical Christian and was discarded by the Broncos.

What If? asks If you made a beach using grains the proportionate size of the stars in the Milky Way, what would that beach look like? Jeff Wartes The answer is interesting.

The late Robert Benchley, grandfather of Peter Benchley of Jaws fame, wrote a column in the old days of print media that had many good insights on society, as it was then,and as it is, alas, today. We invite you to a diagnosis session in self-psychiatry.

All Aboard for Dementia Praecox
It is a little terrifying, with all that I have to do this week, to
discover that I have a dementia praecox into the bargain. "What
next?" I often ask myself.

There is no doubt about the dementia praecox. I've got it, all
right. The only question now is, can I swing the other things that
I have to face? A good case of dementia praecox is about enough for
one week.

I got my data from a report submitted at the American Psychiatric
Association. This report said that dementia praecox can be helped
by oxygen treatment. And, in passing, the report just happened to
mention the symptoms of dementia praecox. Not that any of its
readers would find it applicable to themselves—just in passing, you

Early stages: (1) "Defective judgment." Well, I could keep you here
all night giving examples of my defective judgment that would make
your blood curdle. I couldn't even judge a sack-race. On this count
I qualify hands down.

(2) "Retarded perception." I didn't even know that the fleet was in
until I read Time ten days later.

(3) "Restrictions in the field of attention." My attention can be
held only by strapping me down to a cot and sitting on my chest.
Even then my eyes wander.

(4) "Deficiency of ethical inhibitions." I took a course in ethics
once, but I didn't do very well in it. We didn't know about
"inhibitions" in my day. They came in with horn-rimmed glasses and
Freud. We just said "Yes, please," or "No, thanks," and let it go
at that. I don't know whether I've got "ethical inhibitions" or
not. Just try me once, that's all.

(5) "Silly laughter." I hold the Interscholastic (New England),
Intercollegiate, East Coast Amateur and Open Professional cups for
silly laughter. I laugh at anything except a French clown. You
can't be sillier than that.

We dedicate this strip to those who like electrifying puns(I disclaim responsibility for this says Pollyanna)