Prometheus and Pandora II

Prometheus and Pandora are with you  again and will continue to come back to rant and rave and maybe even inform and amuse a bit at irregular intervals.

This painting  by Gustave Moreau from 1868 seems to convey the idea that giving mankind fire against the will of the gods might not have been such a good idea. “When I consider what they have done over the millennia with my gift of use of energy from nature, perhaps we might all be better off if they were still living in caves and eating raw meat…”


In this issue of the blog, you might find a few politicians who might well be sent to spell our friend Prometheus on the dismal rock.

As we all know too well, Pandora had a few issues as well.


Just for the record, it was not a box but a clay amphora. The box came from a medieval mistranslation from Greek to Latin.


The Charity Corner has found a home on the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action site. Titan and Pollyanna hope that you will visit there, take the actions and make the donations.



February 1, 1818, Frederick Douglass in Talbot County, Maryland, USA

February 3 1808, Felix Mendelssohn, in Hamburg, Germany

Felix Mendelssohn, painting by Wilhelm Hensel.

Felix Mendelssohn, painting by Wilhelm Hensel. ©

February 12, 1809, Charles Darwin in Shrewsbury, England and Abraham Lincoln in Hardin County, Kentucky

Charles Darwin, carbon-print photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868.

Charles Darwin, carbon-print photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron, 1868.

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Abraham Lincoln

February 20, 1844, Ludwig Boltzmann in Vienna, Austria

Ludwig Boltzmann

February 22, 1732, George Washington at Pope’s Creek, Virginia, USA

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February 10, 1923, Wilhem Conrad Roentgen, discoverer of X-rays, Munich, Germany

Image result for Roentgen place of death


February 10, 2005, Arthur Miller, playwright, Roxbury CT, USA

February 17, 1600, Giordano Bruno, burned at the stake for various heresies including an expansion of the Copernican view of the universe.

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Giordano Bruno


Prometheus and Pandora are well aware that entering the rant and rave field in the wake of big Titan out there in his huge orbit is a major task. Pandora, herself, will make no attempt to be glad about everything as Pollyanna was. Nonetheless, the years of ranting have yielded little progress, so P&P will try to move things on.



The first topic to rant about is climate change. For decades scientists have been warning that the collection of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will eventually alter the climate of Earth to the point of no return. It means that sustaining our growing population at present standards of energy use and consumption will no longer be feasible. Last year, Chris Mooney and Jason Samenow, writing in the Washington Post pointed out that already the polar cap is madly overheated. Look at this:


What is amazing is that no one seems to understand what is happening. Trump says climate change is a hoax and the oil companies are quite happy to bribe a few corrupt scientists to cast doubt on what is obvious. It is reminiscent of Big Tobacco casting doubt on the connection between smoking and cancer.

Look at this graphic from @BillMickibbon. Note for all other years the ice coverage increased but this year, it failed to recover.

Polar night is in full swing, yet the north pole is a crazy 20C warmer than its normal temperature. Just look above, a picture is worth a thousand words. The first town facing evacuation is apparently Barrow, on the North Coast of Alaska. Warming air, melting permafrost and rising sea levels are threatening their coastline, and researchers predict that by mid-century, the homes, schools and land around Barrow and its eight surrounding villages will be underwater. This despite decades of erecting barriers, dredging soil and building berms to hold back the water.

“The coastline is backing up at rates of 10 to 20 meters per year,” says Robert Anderson, a University of Colorado,Boulder, geomorphologist who has studied Alaska’s landscape evolution since 1985 and who first noticed in the early 2000s how alarming the erosion was becoming. “It’s baffling.”

When the sea ice melts, the coast becomes exposed to waves, wind and storms that slam into the shore, causing erosion. As ice moves farther from shore, waves can be six-meters high when they reach land, Anderson says.

Arctic ice used to retreat less than 100 miles (160km) from the shore. In 2012, it retreated more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km). Wind blowing across an expanse of water for a long time creates whitecaps, then small waves, which then slowly consolidate into big swells that carry huge amounts of energy in a single punch.

Another imminent calamity is the loss of dissolved oxygen in the world ocean. Fish will lose their ability to survive. Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burns–what are all our leaders, especially Trump doing as the planet burns?

Last week Southern California was hit by a monster storm that cost at least four lives. When will there be a wake-up call that will be heard by those who have the power to change things? We do not seem to be doing well.



Dams can be a great source of benefit for society, controlling the flow of rogue rivers and enabling the prosperity that comes from efficient tilling of the soil. They are also a potential source of great danger. The collapse of a major dam can bring huge human and material catastrophe in its wake. The failure of a dam in California in 1928 was such a calamity. Since then the state has had a reputation of diligent inspections as it has built the largest network of major public dams in the nation. Now a major dam at Oroville in the northern part of the state came close  to failure and  caused the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people because of what environmental groups had asserted in 2005 was a design flaw. The incident presented a warning sign for California, where a network of dams and waterways is suffering from age and stress.

 Workers inspecting damage to the Oroville Dam spillway last week. Credit Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press

Workers inspecting damage to the Oroville Dam spillway last week. Credit Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee, via Associated Press

It also demonstrated that older dams may not be designed to deal with the severe weather patterns California has experienced because of global warming. The Oroville Dam was completed in 1968, toward the end of the golden era of dam building. Now it is under extreme stress and workers worked furiously to get the spillways working and the water level down.Finally evacuees have been allowed to return to their homes. Let us hope for the best.


 According to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assessment, “Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world.”Photograph by Victor J. Blue for The New Yorker

According to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assessment, “Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world.”Photograph by Victor J. Blue for The New Yorker

In Iraq, 40 km north of Mosul stands a dam on the Tigris River. It is according to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the most dangerous dam in the world. It was built in the Saddam era. Dexter Filkins, writing in a recent New Yorker, provides a comprehensive history and evaluation of the dam and the danger it presents to Iraq. A breach would cause a colossal wave that could kill as many as a million and a half people.

Completed in 1984, the dam sits on a foundation of soluble rock, a multilayer foundation of anhydrite, marl, and limestone, all interspersed with gypsum—which dissolves in contact with water. Dams built on this kind of rock are subject to a phenomenon called karstification, in which the foundation becomes shot through with voids and vacua. To keep it stable, hundreds of employees have to work around the clock, pumping a cement mixture into the earth below. Without continuous maintenance, the rock beneath would wash away, causing the dam to sink and then break apart. Iraq’s recent history has not been conducive to that kind of vigilance.

A worker opens a valve in the “gallery,” a tunnel that runs inside the base of the dam, four hundred feet below the top. Photograph by Victor J. Blue for The New Yorker

A worker opens a valve in the “gallery,” a tunnel that runs inside the base of the dam, four hundred feet below the top. Photograph by Victor J. Blue for The New Yorker

The reservoir contains 11 billion cubic meters of water. If the dam were to fail, Iraq would suffer a catastrophe of Biblical scale. Millions would die and the survivors would have no support system to keep them going. An Italian company is working to reinforce the base of the dam, but it is not clear that they will have time to avoid the looming calamity. It is frightening that such ticking time bombs are not dealt with in time or prevented in the first place. It is illustrative of the situation that the director of the dam, Riyadh al-Naemi,does not face up to reality. Naemi has heard all the predictions of the dam’s imminent demise. “Sure, we have problems,” he says. “But the Americans are exaggerating. This dam is not going to collapse. Everything is going to be fine.”

Delusion and mortal danger are not good companions.


Approximately 8,000 Israelis die each year for reasons linked to smoking, among them 700 nonsmokers who are subject to secondhand smoke. Nonetheless, the warning on cigarette packs is very mild and efforts to make it more effective, including graphic depictions of the effects of smoking have been blocked by the Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) who has consistently opposed regulation that would have required cigarette manufacturers to place warning pictures on cigarette packages, saying they are “unaesthetic.” This, despite convincing evidence that graphic labeling is cost-effective and successful in reducing smoking, in particular the starting of smoking by young people. The army contributes to the increase of smoking by young people. Ruth Schuster in Haaretz  describes how it works, including the sale of cigarettes at a discount on bases, something that is indeed revolting. A soldier drafted into the Israel Defense Forces is in an enclosed environment. “The soldiers are there all day – so the military environment strongly influences their health, for good or bad,” points out Dr. Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “By nature, because of the boredom, exposure to smokers and the social habit, smoking flourishes. That is why a concentrated effort is needed to create an environment that encourages non-smoking.”

Yet times and even militaries change. The American Army has made vast strides toward eradicating the tobacco use, say the scientists, including Dr. Salman Zarka from Haifa University and the IDF Medical Corps. They are urging the government to take steps to turn the Israeli army into a non-smoking zone.  It bears noting that smoking is categorically illegal in public venues in Israel, including all government buildings.

Back to our anti-health minister. While he fights junk food in a praiseworthy manner, he is very weak on tobacco. A sting operation set up by Channel 2 showed how he and his senior staff met illegally with importers of e-cigarettes, all for money in envelopes. You may read all about it here for chapter 1.  There is also a chapter 2.

Note that Litzman is from a very religious party and shows the level of moral integrity associated with such devout people.
We agree with Prof. Judith Mackay, the British, Hong Kong-based physician who has been described by the tobacco industry as “one of the three most dangerous people in the world.” She has suggested that manufacturing and marketing tobacco could be regarded as “crimes against humanity.”


Israeli women smoke cigarettes while spending time at a cafe in central Tel Aviv. (Kobi Gideon / FLASH90)


The Caliphate: From Grand to Sordid


Abu Bakr al-Baghda

In view of the recent revival of the caliphate by ISIS , it is of interest to look at the history and evolution of the idea throughout the history of Islam. The three books reviewed here in the New York Review of Books provide a great deal of insight into the idea, which has survived many vicissitudes and assumed many forms from a semi-divine figure, the sinless “shadow of God on earth,” and the religious successor to the Prophet Muhammad. A more mundane idea was that the caliph was the chief executive of the umma, the Muslim community, an ordinary human with worldly powers. There has been a wide range of options between these extremes.


 Last year MOMA held a retrospective exhibition on the works of Pedro Almodovar, which,alas, Prometheus, Pandora and their friends and amanuenses YandA (to say nothing of Murphy) missed. We are great fans of his films and found it interesting that the  critic     Clayton Dillard, writing in Slant,  ranks the Spanish auteur’s films from worst to best. While we agree that I’m So Excited never gets off the ground despite the fun that the actors seem to be having, we think he underrates What Have I Done to Deserve This?. Prometheus and Pandora would be happy to have your take on this ranking. It might relieve the boredom on the rock with the vulture.


Dark Habits indeed


Supernovae are massive explosive events marking the end of the life cycle of a massive star. They are hard to spot and are usually observed when well into the process. It is, therefore, of interest if a supernova can be caught in its initial phase and close to us (but not too close). This happened recently: on January 21: an astronomy professor at the University of London spotted a supernova—right in the middle of a stargazing class, of all things—in a galaxy called Messier 82, a.k.a. the Cigar Galaxy, a mere 12 million light-years away. Astronomers are very excited about it for various reasons,  one that it is a Type I which can be used to measure the rate of expansion of the universe. It has also been observed in detail by the Hubble Space Telescope.

Hubble views new supernova in Messier 82

Hubble image taken on 31 January 2014 with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3. This image is inset into a photo mosaic of the entire galaxy taken in 2006 with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.


WhatIf-What if the entire continental US were on a decreasing slope from West to East. How steep would the slope have to be to sustain the momentum needed to ride a bicycle the entire distance without pedaling?

—Brandon Rooks

The answer, as usual, is interesting, at least to us nerds and geeks.


Our friend Andy Borowitz, writing in the New Yorker has exciting news that the health and quality of life of the American people has improved drastically. You may click here to find out why.



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