Prometheus and Pandora IX


Thanksgiving is upon us (was celebrated in Canada on October 9), see our featured image above and we should all, presumably, be thinking of what we should be grateful for  to whomever we wish to designate as the recipient of our gratitude. . Of course you should be careful of your requests (Thanks to Zach for the cartoon):


IN MEMORIAM John Ashbery 1927-2017

John Ashbery, a long-standing contributor to and friend of The New York Review, died on September 3, aged ninety, at his house in Hudson, New York. He was the author of twenty-eight books of poems (not counting Selecteds or Collecteds) as well as one novel, three plays, three volumes of essays and criticism, and three of
translations from French. Over the course of his career he received
just about every major prize, including the triple crown: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975).


He was considered an enigmatic genius of modern poetry whose energy, daring and boundless command of language raised American verse to brilliant and baffling heights.

Writing for Slate, the critic and poet Meghan O’Rourke advised readers “not to try to understand the poems but to try to take pleasure from their arrangement, the way you listen to music”. Writer Joan Didion once attended an Ashbery reading simply because she wanted to determine what the poet was writing about.

“I don’t find any direct statements in life,” Ashbery once explained to the Times in London. “My poetry imitates or reproduces the way knowledge or awareness comes to me, which is by fits and starts and by indirection. I don’t think poetry arranged in neat patterns would reflect that situation.”

Interviewed by the Associated Press in 2008, Ashbery joked that if he could turn his name into a verb, “to Ashbery”, it would mean “to confuse the hell out of people”.

At the time of his death he was considered, by general acclaim, the greatest living American poet. A full obituary can be found in the Guardian.

Rest in Peace John Ashbery and we shall remain confused.


Bloodshed for Naught.

Prometheus, Pandora and their amanuenses, YandA, are outraged at the church massacre in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5 . A gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror.

from Chicago Tribune

The gunman was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. Mr. Kelley, who lived in New Braunfels, Tex., died shortly after the attack.


Since Prometheus and Pandora wrote the above paragraph, a new rampage of terror has come about. On Tuesday, 14/11 a gunman went on a rampage in California. He conducted a 45-minute attack through Rancho Tehama, a quiet reserve about 120 miles northwest of downtown Sacramento.

The gunman at one point terrorized a local elementary school. Witnesses said he crashed through the school’s gates with his truck and opened fire, spraying walls and classrooms with bullets. Teachers and other adults on campus frantically got the students under desks and locked down the school.

Cheers to the elementary school teachers.

Before the rampage was over, six people were dead, including the gunman and his wife, and at least 10 were wounded. According to police, it appears that the shooter was randomly picking targets.The gunman was killed after two officers engaged him, law enforcement officials said. The gunman had a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns.

The sister of the gunman confirmed his identity as Kevin Janson Neal, 44. Sheridan Orr, of North Carolina, said her brother had a history of mental illness and episodes of rage.“There are certain people that do not need guns, and my brother was clearly one of them,” she said.

Maybe there has been enough of this-a dispute between neighbors escalated to a shooting rampage. America, please wake up! The NRA has blood on its hands indeed, but so has every progressive who did not get around to registering to vote for an anti-gun candidate.



In recent years, killing at churches has become more common. Here are a few events:

Sept. 24, 2017 | Antioch, Tenn.

A gunman carrying two pistols opened fire as Sunday services were ending at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, killing one person and wounding seven others; he also pistol-whipped a church usher who confronted him. The gunman, identified as Emanuel K. Samson, shot and wounded himself, the police said; he was taken into custody.

June 17, 2015 | Charleston, S.C.

Nine people who had gathered for Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a landmark black church in Charleston, were shot and killed  by a white gunman, identified by the police as Dylann Storm Roof, who was arrested the next day. A 10th person was wounded. The dead included the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a prominent state senator.
What has the President to say: Speaking at a news conference in Japan, the first stop on his tour of Asia, President Trump called the shooting a “mental health problem at the highest level” and not “a guns situation,” adding the gunman was a “very deranged individual.” He also ordered flags flown at half-staff at the White House and all federal buildings through Thursday.

President Trump appeared to offer his condolences for the wrong mass shooting on Tuesday in a late-night Twitter post, which was later deleted.

“May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived,” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post at 11:34 p.m., soon after arriving back in the United States from his 12-day trip through Asia.

That attack occurred more than a week ago, on Nov. 5. One might think that there are so many mass killings in the USA that the president can indeed confuse them. Of course, thoughts and prayers are always welcome:




Despite the horrors of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people Israel sold sophisticated weapon systems to the Myanmar military. Israeli weapons are being sold to Myanmar in gross violation of the restrictions on weapons sales to that country. Only last month Israel refused to announce that it would stop selling weapons to Myanmar. The Rohingya minority is now considered the most persecuted people in the world.

rohingya refugee

Human rights activists petitioned the High Court in Israel, but the response of the government was that the court has no jurisdiction. A verdict was rendered, but is being kept secret. Eitay Mack, the petitioners’ lawyer, noted that the European Union and the United States had imposed a trade embargo on the country formerly known as Burma, and said Israel was the only Western state supplying weapons to the military junta.


Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing meeting in Jerusalem, September 10, 2017. Credit: Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook

Yair Auron writing in Haaretz details past sales of arms by Israel to regimes committing genocide–“I had the privilege of submitting petitions with Mack against the sales of weapons by Israel to the murderous regime in Serbia, which conducted ethnic cleansing campaigns in the early 1990s, and at least one massacre in Srebrenica in Bosnia, and another petition against the weapons deliveries to the Hutu government in Rwanda, which conducted the fastest genocide in human history.

Hundreds of rabbis and religious leaders have pleaded with the Israeli government to stop these sales, but to little avail. The Israeli consul in New York justified
the sales by pointing out crimes committed by Rohingya people as balancing the ledger. Indeed Muslim Rohingya activists did attack a police station and killed several soldiers. This can hardly be called a justification for banishing 300,000 or more civilians unless you have the twisted mind of an Israeli official. There has been one unconfirmed report in a French online magazine that the sales have stopped. We hope this is true, but the main issue is the secrecy of the sales and the lack of decency and principle shown by Israel. Israel was one of the few countries selling weapons to South Africa during apartheid and only stopped selling weapons to Rwanda during the genocide there after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that put an arms embargo on the country.

We note that the European Union has established criteria for arms transfers as follows: (we detail them because of the importance of this issue)


Respect for the international commitments of EU member states, in particular the sanctions decreed by the UN Security Council and those decreed by the Community, agreements on nonproliferation and other subjects, as well as other international obligations

An export license should be refused if approval would be inconsistent with, inter alia:
a) the international obligations of member states and their commitments to enforce
UN, OSCE and EU arms embargoes;
b) the international obligations of member states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons
c) their commitments in the frameworks of the Australia Group, the Missile
Technology Control Regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Wassenaar
d) their commitment not to export any form of anti-personnel landmine.


The respect of human rights in the country of final destination

Having assessed the recipient country’s attitude towards relevant principles established by international human rights instruments, Member States will:
a) not issue an export license if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.
b) exercise special caution and vigilance in issuing licenses, on a case-by-case basis
and taking account of the nature of the equipment, to countries where serious
violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the UN,
the Council of Europe or by the EU;
For these purposes, equipment which might be used for internal repression will include, inter alia, equipment where there is evidence of the use of this or similar equipment for internal repression by the proposed end-user, or where there is reason to believe that the equipment will be diverted from its stated end-use or end-user and used for internal repression. In line with operative paragraph 1 of this
Code, the nature of the equipment will be considered carefully, particularly if it is intended for internal security purposes.
Internal repression includes, inter alia, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, summary or arbitrary executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as set out in relevant international human rights
instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


The internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts

Member States will not allow exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination.


Preservation of regional peace, security and stability

Member States will not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would
use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim.
When considering these risks, EU Member States will take into account inter alia:
a) the existence or likelihood of armed conflict between the recipient and another
b) a claim against the territory of a neighbouring country which the recipient has in the
past tried or threatened to pursue by means of force;
c) whether the equipment would be likely to be used other than for the legitimate
national security and defense of the recipient;
d) the need not to affect adversely regional stability in any significant way.


The national security of the member states and of territories whose external relations are the responsibility of a Member State, as well as that of friendly and allied countries

Member States will take into account:
a) the potential effect of the proposed export on their defense and security interests
and those of friends, allies and other member states, while recognizing that this factor cannot affect consideration of the criteria on respect of human rights and on regional peace, security and stability;
b) the risk of use of the goods concerned against their forces or those of friends, allies or other member states;
c) the risk of reverse engineering or unintended technology transfer.


The behavior of the buyer country with regard to the international community, as regards in particular to its attitude to terrorism, the nature of its alliances and respect for international law

Member States will take into account inter alia the record of the buyer country with regard to:
a) its support or encouragement of terrorism and international organised crime;
b) its compliance with its international commitments, in particular on the non-use of
force, including under international humanitarian law applicable to international and non-international conflicts;
c) its commitment to non-proliferation and other areas of arms control and
disarmament, in particular the signature, ratification and implementation of relevant arms control and disarmament conventions referred to in sub-para b) of Criterion One.


The existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or reexported under undesirable conditions

In assessing the impact of the proposed export on the importing country and the risk that exported goods might be diverted to an undesirable end-user, the following will be considered:
a) the legitimate defence and domestic security interests of the recipient country,
including any involvement in UN or other peace-keeping activity;
b) the technical capability of the recipient country to use the equipment;
c) the capability of the recipient country to exert effective export controls;
d) the risk of the arms being re-exported or diverted to terrorist organisations (antiterrorist equipment would need particularly careful consideration in this context).


The compatibility of the arms exports with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country, taking into account the desirability that states should achieve their legitimate needs of security and defense with the least diversion for armaments of human and economic resources

Member States will take into account, in the light of information from relevant sources such as UNDP, World Bank, IMF and OECD reports, whether the proposed export would seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country. They will consider in this context the recipient country’s relative levels of military and social expenditure, taking into account also any EU or bilateral

All  this causes Prometheus and Pandora to think that in some especially hot corner of  Hell, Hitler is chuckling at his posthumous victory–the state of the Jews is preserving his genocidal legacy.

OK friends, let us get on to something more pleasant.

Born: August 25, 1918
Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died: October 14, 1990
New York, New York
American composer, conductor, and pianist

Leonard Bernstein was an American composer, conductor, and pianist. His special gift of bridging the gap between the concert hall and the world of Broadway made him one of the most glamorous musical figures of his day. He took piano lessons as a boy and attended the Garrison and Boston Latin Schools. At Harvard University, he studied with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame-Hill, and A. Tillman Merritt, among others. Before graduating in 1939, he made an unofficial conducting debut with his own incidental music to “The Birds,” and directed and performed in Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock.” Then at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova, conducting with Fritz Reiner, and orchestration with Randall Thompson.

In 1940, he studied at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s newly created summer institute, Tanglewood, with the orchestra’s conductor, Serge Koussevitzky. Bernstein later became Koussevitzky’s conducting assistant.

Bernstein was appointed to his first permanent conducting post in 1943, as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14, 1943, he substituted on a few hours notice for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert, which was broadcast nationally on radio, receiving critical acclaim. Soon orchestras worldwide sought him out as a guest conductor.


The New Yorker gives the centenary festival a royal kickoff.

Illustration by MVM



This month the writer we are featuring is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She grew up in Nigeria and now divides her time between Nigeria and the United States. Her bibliography includes three successful novels,

  • Purple Hibiscus (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003; London: Fourth Estate, 2004; Lagos: Farafina, 2004).
  • Half of a Yellow Sun (London: Fourth Estate, 2006; Lagos: Farafina, 2006; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).
  • Americanah (London: Fourth Estate, 2013; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013; Lagos: Farafina, 2013).

She received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and has won countless awards for her writing, details of which can be found on the Web site maintained by Daria Tunca and hosted by Liege University.

Pandora and Prometheus were captivated by her TED lecture and invite you to watch it at this link.

You may find the transcript of her talk here.


Divers in the ancient port of Caesarea in Israel came up last spring with a 1,600 year old treasure trove.


Among the artifacts the divers recovered were a bronze lamp depicting the image of the sun god Sol; a figurine of the moon goddess Luna; a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave; fragments of three life-size bronze cast statues; objects fashioned in the shape of animals; a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head; and fragments of large jars that carried drinking water along with thousands of Roman coins that were lumped together inside vessels.


The find was made by amateurs, recreational divers and they deserve high praise for reporting their find to the authorities. Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority praised the divers, Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra’anan.

“The divers demonstrated good citizenship and are deserving of praise,” he said. “They will be awarded a certificate of appreciation and invited to tour the storerooms of the National Treasures.

“By reporting the discovery of the marine assemblage to the Israel Antiquities Authority, they have made it possible for all of us to enjoy these spectacular remains from antiquity.”


In honor of the 150th birthday of the great conductor Arturo Toscanini (1857-1957) the writer Harvey Sachs has brought out a new biography.

Musician of Conscience
By Harvey Sachs
Illustrated. 923 pp. Liveright Publishing. $39.95.


Sachs published a biography of Toscanini in 1978, but it is generally agreed that the new book is in no way redundant. Much has been learned of the great conductor’s
life in the past 40 years. As Sachs puts it in his preface:
“this book is a completely new biography, not a revision or an expanded version of the earlier book. Apart from quotations from other sources, I don’t believe that a single entire sentence from the old book is to be found in this one. I have examined new sources, reexamined old ones, and produced what I hope is a close-to-definitive account of a long life filled with artistic, personal, and political drama….”

Toscanini’s was a ninety-year life that began before the invention of the phonograph and the incandescent light bulb and ended at the dawn of the space age; an eighty-year musical immersion that began before Wagner and Verdi had written their final masterpieces and that ended in the era of Boulez and Stockhausen; a sixty-eight-year career, carried out in twenty European, North and South American, and Middle Eastern countries; and a private existence that was torn between love of family and erotic restlessness.


The book is reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Tim Page and in the NYTimes by Robert Gottlieb.


In a recent New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz provides a list of imaginary creatures from angels to zombies and asks you to rate the probability of their existence in the real world. This may sound silly, but many a study of fantasy by cognitive psychologists provides a great deal of insight into the workings of our minds. As Schulz concludes “…we use our ability to think about things that aren’t real all the time, in ways both everyday and momentous. It is what we are doing when we watch movies, write novels, weigh two different job offers, consider whether to have children. As that last example suggests, perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this ability is that we can use it to nudge the impossible into the realm of the real. We stare at the sky, watch a seagull bob on a thermal, build wax wings and then fixed wings and then Apollo XI.”



In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Walter Isaacson discusses the technique and effort of da Vinci to create the enigmatic smile of the world’s most famous painting. As Isaacson puts it:

“His greatest triumph of combining art, science, optics, and illusion was the smile of the Mona Lisa, which he started working on in 1503 and continued laboring over nearly until his death 16 years later. He dissected human faces, delineating the muscles that move the lips, and combined that knowledge with the science of how the retina processes perceptions. The result was a masterpiece that invites and responds to human interactions, making Leonardo a pioneer of virtual reality.”
The article is long and detailed, but well worth your time. Pandora wishes that she could have been painted by an artist of such genius. She and Prometheus would like to share a song about Mona Lisa with you.




WhatIf can become a bit gross at times:

How long would it take for a single person to fill up an entire swimming pool with their own saliva?

—Mary Griffin, 9th grade

Randall of course has an answer and it provides a tour of human history. You can draw your own conclusions of 9th grader Mary and her ideas.



John Wooden, the famous basketball coach at UCLA in the distant past, said that competition brings out the best in men–here is an example:





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