Prometheus and Pandora X




It is our great pleasure to congratulate our friend and colleague at Tel Aviv University, Prof. Pinhas Alpert on his selection by the European Geophysical Society to receive the Bjerknes medal for 2018. The 2018 Vilhelm Bjerknes Medal is awarded to Prof. Pinhas Alpert for the creation of novel approaches to investigate synergistic processes in the atmosphere and to monitor air moisture and flash floods employing cellular systems. Also, for his outstanding contribution to the study of cyclones and aerosols. Alpert is the first Israeli awarded with the Bjerknes Medal. The medal is named after the Norwegian scientist Vilhelm Bjerknes (1862-1951) who is considered to be one of the founders of modern meteorology and weather forecasting.


December is the month in which the Sun reaches its maximum southern declination directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. and Northern Hemisphere days become shorter until December 21 when they begin to lengthen. Note the illustration here.

southern_solsticeYes, dear friends in Tasmania and elsewhere, it is high summer for you and your winter solstice will be in June. Let us continue with Northern Hemisphere chauvinism. For Tel Aviv, which is where we are, it falls on December 21:

Winter Solstice Time = 18:27:29 Sunrise = 06:37:35 Sunset = 16:40:32
Day Duration = 10 Hours 02 Mins 57 Secs
Previous Day Duration = 10 Hours 02 Mins 59 Secs
Next Day Duration = 10 Hours 02 Mins 58 Secs

From the earliest times the solstice was marked by people in ceremonies, mostly designed to persuade the gods to return the Sun. Oddly enough it worked every year. There are countless ways in which humans have celebrated the solstices, winter and summer. It is theorized that Stonehenge may have been built as a solstice temple. Because of  the alignment of the stones, experts acknowledge that the design appears to correspond with the use of the solstices and possibly other solar and lunar astronomical events in some fashion.


Stonehenge in snow

There are several theories as to why the structure was built, including that the area was used as a temple to worship the Sun; as a royal burial ground; and/or as a type of astronomical observatory. However, because none of these theories has been proven correct as yet, the true reason (or reasons) for Stonehenge’s existence remains a mystery.

An ancient tradition in the Talmud tells us of Adam and the first Winter Solstice

“When Adam saw the day gradually diminishing, he said, “Woe is me! Perhaps because I sinned, the world around me is growing darker and darker, and is about to return to chaos and confusion, and this is the death heaven has decreed for me. He then sat eight days in fast and prayer. But when the winter solstice arrived, and he saw the days getting gradually longer, he said, “Such is the way of the world,” and proceeded to observe eight days of festivity. The following years he observed both the eight days preceding and the eight days following the solstice as days of festivity.”
(Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah 8a) Note that Eve is nowhere in the story

We Jews have our festival of light, Hannuka,

Image result for hanukkah

our Christian friends celebrate the birth of their Savior


and some of our African-American friends enjoy Kwanzaa.


Seven candles in a kinara symbolize the seven principles of Kwanzaa

Our friends at The Nib offer us an unfortunately appropriate card for this year:




Alas there is always too much to rant and rave about and we certainly cannot cover everything. This month we are ranting and raving about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers around the world. World Human Rights Day falls on 10 December each year – the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year, Human Rights Day kicks off a year-long campaign to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights to which everyone is inherently entitled as a human being — regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. It is the most translated document in the world, available in more than 500 languages.


Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States, chair of the drafting committee, holding a Universal Declaration of Human Rights poster in English. UN Photo (1949)

Drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted and
the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowers us all. The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. We need to stand up for our own rights and those of others. We can take action in our own daily lives, to uphold the rights that protect us all and thereby promote the kinship of all human beings.

We should all read the Declaration.

Let us look just at article 1– All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood

Now move on to the UN Convention on Refugees which derives from article 14 of the Declaration:
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and
principles of the United Nations.

This led to the establishment of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) whose mission statement reads in part:

The 1951 Refugee Convention is the key legal document that forms the basis of our work. Ratified​ by 145 State parties, it defines the term ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them. The core principle is non-refoulement, which asserts that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This is now considered a rule of customary international law. UNHCR serves as the ‘guardian’ of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol. According to the legislation, States are expected to cooperate with us in ensuring that the rights of refugees are respected and protected.

With this in mind let us take a look at how these lofty principles are applied today by countries around the world:


Australia is applying a brutal policy towards all asylum seekers who attempt to come to the country by boat. They are not allowed to enter the country under any circumstances. This holds even if they are legally found to be genuine refugees. Instead, these “illegal maritime arrivals,” as the Australian government calls them, are shunted to poorer neighboring countries — Nauru and Papua New Guinea, of which Manus Island is a part — indefinitely until they can be resettled somewhere that isn’t Australia.
Lisa Pryor writing in the NYTimes gives a damning description of the policy and the attitudes behind it. As she writes-“Refugee policy is to Australians what gun policy is to Americans, our unshakable madness. Irrational, cruel and surprising to the outside world, we cling to our ideas despite all evidence. Many Australians are working hard to bring about a change in attitudes and policy, but harshness toward refugees who attempt to reach Australia by boat is an article of faith in our culture that is difficult to budge.”

There are decent people in Australia but they seem to have little influence.


Australians protesting the country’s refugee policies in Sydney in April. Credit Amer Ghazzal/Barcroft Media, via Barcroft Media, via Getty Images

The object is not to save money, but to implement cruelty for its own sake. It shows a dark side of the Australian character, an embedded racism that knows no shame. Pandora and Prometheus note, alas, that this is by no means unique to Australia.

We could fill up several blogs writing about Myanmar (Burma), Syria and other so-called benighted places where human rights are meaningless or even Israel, where refugees and asylum seekers face a rough deal from the grandchildren of those who were hounded across Europe and killed in a systematic genocide in the last century. Instead, let us look at the country that sets an example of democracy, Norway. This is a country that opened its arms and its borders to a flood of refugees and now is implementing the toughest refugee policy in Europe. This may be attributed to one of
Norway’s most controversial government politicians, Sylvi Listhaug, who promised that Norway would impose what she called “the strictest asylum policies in Europe.” We see the results with the propagation of the myth that Afghanistan is “safe” and the systematic rejection of asylum pleas from Iraqis. Bear in mind that Norway is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has been accused of not bearing its share of the burden.


This is reality

Eight humanitarian organizations want the government to keep them open and accept at least 2,500 more refugees who’ve already been certified by the UN. Asylum seekers’ advocacy group NOAS, Norwegian Peoples Aid (Norsk Folkehjelp), Amnesty International, Caritas, the refugee aid organization Flyktninghjelpen, CARE, Atlasalliansen and Mellomkirkelig råd have sent a letter to the government asking that funds be set aside so that more UN quota refugees can be brought to Norway from camps in Greece and Italy.

It seems unusual that an Amnesty International campaign should target a democratic country in northern Europe, but that is the case. Amnesty has launched
a campaign designed to stop the deporting of teenagers bereft of families to a dangerous place such as Afghanistan. They note that the Immigration minister Ms Listhaug has said that she would not care to visit Kabul. She should stop sending people, including young persons, to a place that she regards as too dangerous for herself. Amnesty International presents nine convincing reasons why the policy of the Norwegian government is morally wrong and unworthy of a wealthy democracy. We suggest that you join the protest. The featured image above shows a demonstration of high school students on behalf of their classmate Taibeh Abbasi who is in danger of being sent to Afghanistan.


Taibeh and her brother

While some countries, such as The Netherlands, have done better than Norway, the fact is that nearly 10,000 people have been returned to Afghanistan by
European governments. The security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate and the returnees face killing, abuse, rape and the usual
violations of human rights typical of a country in the throes of a civil war. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that 2016 was the deadliest year on record for civilians in Afghanistan, with 11,418 people killed or injured. The UN body stated:
“In 2016, conflict-related insecurity and violence inflicted severe harm on civilians, especially women and children. The intensification of armed clashes between Pro-Government Forces and Anti-Government Elements over territorial gains and losses resulted in record levels of civilian harm, including the highest number of child casualties and levels of internal displacement documented since 2009.”

David Miliband, President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. He served as Foreign Secretary of the UK from 2007 to 2010.
 (October 2016) has published a thoughtful and useful  article in the New York Review of Books, in which he provides a detailed description of the present dire situation and lays down a practical plan for dealing with it.

So what can we do? ask Prometheus and Pandora. The answer is to rant, to point fingers and to join protests against the inhuman and immoral behavior of the so-called civilized nations of our planet. Hannah Arendt wrote in her essay “We Refugees”: “Apparently nobody wants to know that contemporary history has created a new kind of human beings. The kind that are put in concentration camps by their
foes and in internment camps by their friends.”

Please rant with us say Prometheus, Pandora and their imaginary friends YandA.


Climate change aka global warming is real and is happening. The various deniers can spew out all the pernicious nonsense they want, e.g. “Chinese hoax” according to the idiot in the White House, who was placed there by a nation of idiots. Just look at this NASA Web site and groan in despair. You should read and think about polar bears. You may also view this video of a polar bear dying of starvation because of our irresponsible actions.


Ethan Kuperberg has updated Christmas carols to fit the age of global warming.

You can even listen to them.

We cannot leave this section without referring to the political situation that is responsible for it. Ultimately it comes down to leadership that relies on a base of ignorant people, who feel rejected and out of place in modern society. Chemi Shalev writing in Haaretz describes the parallel degeneracy of Trump and Netanyahu who are leading the US and Israel down a path of destruction. to quote Shalev--“In both countries, values and ideology have been replaced by a kind of tribal loyalty that can sanitize any sin and cleanse any crime. The deteriorating discourse in politics and the masses’ blind worship of its leaders increasingly repel politicians who are burdened with integrity and a conscience, leaving only extremists, thugs, grovelers and apparatchiks to run the party and the country, along with shameless opportunists who find it expedient not to fight the rot that is spreading all around them. “


It might be noticed that this has happened many times in the  past. Richard Hofstadter, the late Harvard philosophy professor, noted the right-wing psychosis over 50 years ago. His article on the paranoid style of American politics is worth reading today and is relevant to the situation in Israel, the US, Hungary and several other countries. The rejection of the nuttiness and corruption by the people of France, the Netherlands and even Alabama offers some hope for the future.

We found a lovely reaction to the idiotic Trump declaration about Jerusalem from Signe Wilkenson:



Women and their treatment have been on central stage in the past few weeks. Before we present an in depth panel discussion, Pandora would like to call your attention to a Website devoted to the needs of women. It is certainly worthy of your attention and support. During this holiday season, the site is asking us to give a cow to a woman in Rwanda. Put your hand on the mouse and your heart in your wallet–$100 will not render the readers of this blog penniless.

Now on to issues involving women.We would like to share with you a panel discussion from the NYTimes magazine in which

Seven Women Discuss Work, Fairness, Sex and Ambition

The participants are:

Amanda Hess is a David Carr fellow at The New York Times, where she writes about internet culture.

Anita Hill is a professor of social policy, law and women’s and gender studies at Brandeis University. In 1991, she testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

Laura Kipnis is a professor at Northwestern University and the author, most recently, of “Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.”

Soledad O’Brien anchors and produces the Hearst Television political-magazine program “Matter of Fact With Soledad O’Brien.” She has won three Emmys, among other awards.

Lynn Povich is the author of “The Good Girls Revolt,” the story of the gender-discrimination complaint that she and other women brought against Newsweek in 1970. She was the editor in chief of Working Woman.

Danyel Smith is senior editor of culture at ESPN’s The Undefeated. She was the editor of Billboard and the editor in chief of the music magazine Vibe.

Moderated by Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and the Truman Capote fellow at Yale Law School.

Hannah Whitaker is New York-based photographer. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Magazine and won an Art Directors Club award for her photo essay “Rise and Shine.”

A related piece, from the same source is also worthy of your attention.

The Reckoning Women and Power in the Workplace

Your humble blogger would like to tell you a story from long ago about his late wife, Daphne. She was a soldier in the Israeli army and was waiting for a flight control course after basic training, while I was an air cadet. Unfortunately, she was pretty enough to attract the attention of the base commander, who persuaded the local female officer supervisor, to assign her to his command. He tried to impose his will up to attempted rape. She complained to the woman officer who was there to protect her and received the following response: “What do you think you were drafted for?” We rushed to get married and got her out of his clutches.

Today the Israel army has tough rules, in particular if a command relationship is exploited.  It seems to be working, although in the military the old boys network still exists and “boys will be boys.”


Paula Scher“You can’t help making value judgments about these men against what you already know about them — their politics, for example, or their contributions to culture. I’ve tried to quantify it here. My chart sets down some absurd rules of behavior and forgiveness in beyond-absurd times.”

Prometheus and Pandora hope you have found something relevant in their rants and wish all a happy, harassment-free holiday season.


It is exciting to hear that the moon of Saturn, Enceladus, appears to have plate tectonics, which could bolster the chance that the ocean known to be inside Enceladus might harbor life. For the record, the prediction of the water beneath the surface goes back to Voyager times, vid. ICARUS 56, 426-438 (1983); allow us to boast a bit.

A rendering of the icy surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. According to Freeman Dyson, its active geysers ‘must originate in an underground system of channels connected to a warm deep ocean,’ suggesting a ‘promising place for us to look f

A rendering of the icy surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. According to Freeman Dyson, its active geysers ‘must originate in an underground system of channels connected to a warm deep ocean,’ suggesting a ‘promising place for us to look for evidence of life.’

The issue of a mission to Enceladus to search for life is discussed below in the book review by Freeman Dyson.


The Green Universe: A Vision

Freeman Dyson

How to Make a Spaceship: A Band of Renegades, an Epic Race, and the Birth of Private Spaceflight
by Julian Guthrie
Penguin, 432 pp., $28.00

Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets
by Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix
Pantheon, 320 pp., $27.95

All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life
by Jon Willis
Yale University Press, 214 pp., $30.00

In this review from the New York Review of Books, Freeman Dyson discusses in depth the question of Big Science, a la NASA versus Little Science as exemplified by Little Space, aiming to carry out space operations in the Dicke style, using hardware and software mass-produced for other purposes by companies in a competitive
market at vastly lower cost. The Dicke style refers to Richard Dicke, a Princeton physics professor, who built a laser reflector to be put on the moon as a cost of $5000. NASA adopted the design with glee and built the device for $3,000,000, a factor of 600 over Dicke’s cost. Big Space has been very successful with large missions such as Voyager and Cassini, but there are now several start-up companies operating independently of NASA in the Little Space culture, hoping to do space missions that will be bolder, quicker, and cheaper.

Halfway between Big Space and Little Space, there is a group of companies that grew rapidly in recent years, led by SpaceX, a company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. This culture is a compromise, using commercial competition to cut costs while relying on the government for steady funding.

In the review Dyson makes the point that a one shot sample return of the geyser output of Enceladus has little chance of settling the life question and shows the weakness of Big Space culture. After analyzing all three books, Dyson gives us his Noah’s Ark proposal to colonize the universe and it is indeed a fascinating idea. It involves the generation of entire ecologies of living creatures adapted to survive in remote places away from Earth.


What If? will start us off with a silly question and an amusing answer.

What if you built a siphon from the oceans on Europa to Earth? Would it flow once it’s set up? (We have an idea for selling bottled Europa water.)

—A group of Google Search SREs

Pandora and Prometheus are chuckling and suggest selling water from Enceledus which in view of the above might be more exotic.


We have often been amused by the comments from professional wine tasters about a hint of this and a smidgen of that etc. We offer this comment with a smile:



We have all or most of us made some ghastly error in picking up a tube of something and using where it should not be used–we confess to starting to brush our teeth with anti fungal paste. Let us have some empathy for Barney…


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