Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Pollyanna does not rant--happy blog no matter what! June 8, 2010

 Cecilia Bartoli mezzo

                              Renee Fleming soprano

This week I am taking a leaf out of the book of Pollyanna.  For the unfamiliar, Polyanna is the 13 year old orphan heroine of a 1913 novel.  No matter how bad her situation, she always found something to be glad about.  The book along with its multiple sequels has remained a best seller and generations of children, especially girls, learned unrealistic optimism from it.  There will be no rants this week since Eldar, Levi, Burston and Harel can easily outrant me and have a platform in Haaretz.  This blog has eight acknowledged readers and maybe a few more hiding in the bushes.  Haaretz has a few more although I would hesitate to guess how many.  Certainly it has fewer than Yediot, Maariv and a few other rags.  I salute Richard Silverstein and leave Tikkun Olam in his capable hands for the nonce.  I would appreciate feedback about dropping the rants.

Indeed we would all like to escape the silly world in which people appoint their buddies to investigate them etc., but as the example of the great 20th century physicist James Franck shows, the little voice inside gets at us.  Franck shared the 1926 Nobel Prize for discovering the electron spin and laid the foundations for our understanding of molecules and their structure.  After participating in the Manhattan Project, he first tried to persuade the government to blow up a bomb as a demonstration instead of attacking Japan, , in which he failed.  He also failed to prevent the Cold War nuclear arms race.  
In February 1946 Franck wrote to Max Born, in English, about
his reluctance to become involved in political matters.

    I would be quite content . . . if only my conscience would
    not force me to take a stand on a few political issues. I
    hate to be involved in anything political; I hate
    publicity, but I just cannot retire into the ivory tower of
    free research and forget about the world. And, of course,
    at our age we are probably more pessimistic than the young
    people. Even I am not consistent in my pessimistic point of
    view, because I have an elementary joy in each new
    grandchild, and feel that whenever I ha
ve the opportunity I
    am a kind of professional grandfather.


Fair disclosure--I am a Renee Fleming and Cecilia Bartoli groupie as you can see above.  I have RF on DVD as Rusalka which is incredible, CB is well represented in my disk collection  and I follow both of them around on YouTube.
I am appending a review of RF's latest, a collection of rock songs called Dark Hope. I tried to buy it in Tel Aviv, but it has not yet come to Israel.   She can do anything.  CB has a new disk out dedicated to the memory of the castrati and their art. 

Imagine my delight when I discovered that they had appeared together at the Met in 1998 in Le Nozze di Figaro.  Enjoy as they compose a letter to the lecherous Count Almaviva.

 Some good news with justice done, 
There are at last some convictions in the Bhopal disaster, 25 years on.  For those who have forgotten what Union Carbide did to innocent people then, click here  15,000 people
died as a result of a chemical leak.
The lightness of the sentences shows--oops, almost a rant.

Negligent municipal officials in Cairo, Egypt
have been sentenced to prison for causing deaths in a rockslide.  Unsafe neighborhoods in the city are not to be targeted.
Turkish officials responsible for the death of  an activist under torture have also been convicted in a landmark case. 


Recent advances in linguistics have led to the decipherment of the speech of young Klingons
Thanks to Phil Plait and the Bad Astronomy blog, right along side this one.

Astrobiologists have a tough field.  My friend Yuri says it is the only domain of science devoid of any subject matter.  That may be a bit cruel, but indeed there is more speculation in that area than in most.  It has been speculated that organisms with a methane metabolism might float around in the atmosphere of Titan 
and could be detected by  depletion of the hydrocarbons on which they live.  Recently there have been some observations and model results that point in such a direction and unfortunately the press has had a field day with the presumed discovery of extraterrestrial life.  Needless to say, there reports resembled reports of Mark Twain's death and NASA has made an effort to make sense out of the results and put things into perspective.  Please click.  
I have some doubts about the computer simulation, but people do take them seriously, sometimes too seriously. 


We are told that time flies like an arrow whereas fruit flies like a banana.  Sorry about that.  In any case, as I brought up last week and the week before, there are all kinds of problem related to the flight of time's arrow.  People are starting to ask what were once considered unacceptable or meaningless questions such as what preceded the Big Bang.  The word universe implied something unique, but now we hear  talk of multiverses.  Physics is getting messier all the time which is good for future employment of theorists.  Come and have a read.

Quantum mechanics leads to concepts quite foreign to our ordinary world.  The construction of a molecule larger than a virus can have strange results such as pointing in two directions at once, a molecular analog, if you will, of Schroedinger's famous cat  This can make for a considerable amount of disorientation.  It appears that Gene Weingarten can be equally  disoriented in the normal world.


  1. Mr. Franck's choice of employment sounds strangely familiar... good luck on the optimism trip, hope it lasts!

  2. The optimism is pleasant (and also the content - much more interesting than the orig. Pollyanna) As you say Haaretz rants well - but only on Israeli topics. Please do not stop your comments on things happening in other places in the world.