Prometheus and Pandora XII

Our featured  image evokes the holiday of Purim. Cheers and best wishes to all who are going to celebrate it this week.

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


October 9, 1923 Tel Aviv, Mandate Palestine-January 31, 2018 (aged 94) Jerusalem, Israel

Haim Gouri, a leading Israel poet died on January 31. His life represents a history of an entire generation who fought to create the state and lived long enough to experience great disappointment with the community as it stands today.He grew up in a socialist Zionist family. His father served for a long time in the Knesset (Parliament) as a representative of Mapai, the precursor of the Israel Labor Party. Haim Gouri served in the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Hagana underground, which fought in the 1940s to establish the state of Israel. After the war he was sent to Hungary to organize Holocaust survivors to come to Israel and participate in the struggle for independence and the establishment of the state. The experience had a profound effect on him.

A number of his most famous poems became some of Israel’s most beloved songs, particularly those about the War of Independence in 1948 and the founding of Israel. He became well-known to the Israeli public for his journalistic coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961.

He published 12 books of poetry and 10 works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as translations, journalism and documentary films. Obituaries can be found in Haaretz and in the NYTimes.


First let us understand what we mean by this term. Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns. In a short introductory video the Understanding Race project from the American Anthropological Association says race is a powerful idea and an enduring concept, invented by society. It has also fostered inequality and discrimination for centuries, as well as influencing how we relate to other human beings:

The American Anthropological Association has posted comments on race, racism and their implications on its Web site. They have developed a program for teaching middle school age children about race.

A set of principles: The program conveys three overall messages:

Race is a recent human invention
Race is about culture, not biology
Race and racism are embedded in institutions and everyday life.

That given, let us look at manifestations of racism in the world around us and try to understand how we can oppose racism in all its forms.

It is important to debunk various misconceptions upon which racism rests:

There is no biological foundation to ‘race.’ Physical differences between individuals and groups of individuals are genetically /scientifically so minute they are meaningless. What matters are the social meanings that are attached to perceived physical differences, be these ‘skin color,’ hair color, height, etc., and the political and economic forces that support (reinforce, and enforce) these perceptions. In other words, ‘race’ is a social construction. The idea that somehow white skin color provides a justification for the idea of racial superiority has over time been responsible for the colonial attitudes that caused European powers to conquer enslave and oppress indigenous people throughout the world

In Calgary, Alberta, a body called CARED ((Calgary Anti-Racism Education) maintains a Web site devoted to confronting racism. We strongly recommend that you open the site and learn about anti-racism and how to be an effective participant in the struggle. The philosophy of CARED is defined thus:
“Our Philosophy

“We recognize both the influence and the potential of the formal education system, as well as the many anti-racism initiatives in workplaces and communities, and want to build on that potential. The CARED Collective has engaged in extensive discussion and consideration of the terms “Anti-Racism Education” and “Anti-Racism Training.” While recognizing the very significant impacts of individuals working within the formal ‘education system” we believe that historically the formal education system has often functioned to reinforce rather than dismantle racism. This has been aptly demonstrated in analyses of how specific racialized groups have been misrepresented (or absent altogether) in the curriculum, in teacher education, in positions of authority and decision-making within the system. Studies of racism experienced by racialized ‘students’ and ‘teachers’ in the system have demonstrated that it is characterized by silence, exclusion, subtle behaviors and overt acts of violence and, increasingly, anti-racism has also been demonstrated in critical analyses of whiteness. Moreover, racism in the formal education system is not only about ‘who’ is in the system, who holds positions of authority in the system, or about curriculum content. While these absolutely are crucial factors, they are not the only considerations. It is not only a matter of What is taught, but How.”

While individual racism can seek protection under freedom of speech laws, it ultimately is connected with what sociologists define as systemic racism which manifests itself in two ways:

institutional racism: racial discrimination that derives from individuals carrying out the dictates of others who are prejudiced or of a prejudiced society
structural racism: inequalities rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that excludes substantial numbers of members of particular groups from significant participation in major social institutions.

Manifestations of systemic racism are often easy to identify, for example, in the Jim Crow laws of the US or the treatment of the Bushmen by the government of Botswana. Others are more subtle such as opportunities in education, hiring and advancement practices and access to sports. An example is the sport of ice hockey, which in the US and Canada is predominantly white. There is no explicit policy that excludes people of color and indigenous people from participating in organized hockey, yet there are few players of color/indigenous players. What is it that keeps organized hockey ‘white’?

Playing hockey is expensive (fees and gear), time consuming for families, requires transportation and an accommodating work schedule, and in most of Canada, for example, is conducted in English. While there is no ‘intent’ to exclude non-English speaking, lower-income, shift-working, single-parent families from playing organized hockey, the system is designed by and for middle-class, professional white families. The same is true for soccer in the US.

We also see structural racism in the attitude towards refugees in countless countries. The fact that most of the refugees are black or Muslim or both plays a major role in determining the reception or non-reception of refugees in Western countries such as Norway, Australia, Israel and many others.

It behooves all of us to look carefully at our own attitudes. The CARED program in Canada is a channel through which one can fight racism. The organization Survival International provides an opportunity to help indigenous tribes around the world. Amnesty International works to defend human rights around the world and by the nature of such work encounters racism almost everywhere.


Again we are facing a school shooting in the US, this time a school in Florida with at least 17 dead, 5 of them Jewish. The description is harrowing. A former student, who had been expelled for undisciplined behavior returned to the school with an automatic rifle and shot students all over the building. He is now in custody and will answer for his crime, but none of this will enhance personal security in a country that refuses to control deadly weapons in the hands of its citizens. The US spends untold billions fighting terrorism around the world and rightly so, but as pointed out by Uri Friedman in the Atlantic, it does little to prevent mass shootings at home. The shooting this week in Parkland FL is the eighth such event in 2018 only seven weeks into the year. Prometheus and Pandora have given up on the US political system as an entity to do something about gun proliferation. Joe Biden, the former vice president of the US has started a petition calling out members of Congress who are not willing to take the risk of standing up to the NRA. Please go there and add your name.


The rise of the #MeToo movement has brought about a change in attitudes towards the major issue of abuse of women and girls (and men and boys as well.) We would like to call your attention to an op-ed in the NYTimes by Nicholas Kristof in which he revisits the sad case of Dylan Farrow who was sexually assaulted by her adoptive father, Woody Allen, when she was seven years old.


Dylan Farrow

She is now a woman in her thirties and continues her allegation, now with the support of #MeToo women and others who now are ostracizing Allen.

The counter view points out that there is little evidence of the abuse and cites the findings of an evaluation team from Yale New Haven Hospital, who concluded that Allen had not sexually abused Dylan. On the other hand, the judge in the custody case noted that “Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate.” Bret Stephens writing also in the NYTimes makes the point that whereas the case against Harvey  Weinstein and the like was backed by evidence beyond any reasonable doubt, Dylan Farrow’s case suffers from the lack of such evidence. As Kristof puts it: “Indeed, the certainty of the Dylan Farrow case is that there has been a gross injustice: Either an innocent man’s career is being destroyed, or a victim has been unfairly doubted since she confided in her pediatrician about an assault when she was 7 years old.”

OK enough ranting–we could fill countless blogs with the corruption scandals in Israel, but we will leave that to professional journalists. Here is a link to Haaretz which is full of the nasty business. Now let us move on to more pleasant places.


Software used by professors to discover plagiarism by students has been applied to the search for sources of the vocabulary and stories in various plays by Shakespeare. A pair of unusual scholars, Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, claim, in a book about to be published, to have found such a source. The authors are not suggesting that Shakespeare plagiarized but rather that he read and was inspired by a manuscript entitled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” written in the late 1500s by George North, a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who served as an ambassador to Sweden.

This is an amazing discovery for the Shakespeare scholarly community. and will spur more searches for unpublished manuscripts to which Shakespeare might have had access. Stay tuned.


Our friends at the New York Review of Books have provided us with reviews of a trio of works about Jacques Offenbach which includes a new biography by Lawrence Senelick, a musicologist reconstruction of Tales of Hoffman and a production at the Met. The three
are reviewed by Adam Kirsch.

Adam Kirsch
January 18, 2018 Issue

Jacques Offenbach and the Making of Modern Culture
by Laurence Senelick
Cambridge University Press, 354 pp., $120.00

The Real “Tales of Hoffmann”: Origin, History, and Restoration of an Operatic Masterpiece
by Vincent Giroud and Michael Kaye, with a foreword by Plácido Domingo
Rowman and Littlefield, 563 pp., $130.00; $75.00 (paper)

Les contes d’Hoffmann, an opera by Jacques Offenbach, directed by Bartlett Sher, at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City, September 26–October 28, 2017

Jacques Offenbach; engraving by André Gill from the cover of <i></dt><dd class=

It is noted that Offenbach is known today mainly for Tales of Hoffman, which Senelick describes as untypical of Offenbach’s oeuvre in its intellectual, poetic, and melancholy nature. In his time his works were known to Paris audiences for being comic, knowing, exciting; they lampooned everything respectable, from classical mythology to military glory to the sanctity of marriage; they featured actresses baring their legs and shoulders as they danced the cancan. Pandora and Prometheus regard him as a Gallic version of Gilbert and Sullivan, albeit with the explicit sex and wild abandon censored out in the latter to conform with Victorian English prudery. Can you imagine the Three Little Maids in the Mikado coming on with a CanCan like this?

We have two of his send ups in our DVD collection, La belle Hélène and Orphée aux Enfers, and they are delightful spoofs. The book certainly looks like a good read.


Reviewed in the NYTimes by Parul Seghal

This collection of essays of Marilynne Robinson deals with the question in the title. When Barak Obama asked her how she got to where she is, how someone born in the boondocks of Idaho becomes the kind of person who declares, as Robinson does, “democracy is my aesthetics and my ethics and more or less my religion”?, the answer is somewhere in her writings, possibly here.


Marilynne Robinson Credit Alec Soth/Magnum, for The New York Times

In these essays she comes to grips with that question herself. The book is demanding, but well worth the effort. Help may be found in the long interview with her by




Global Virome Project (540x270)

GVP is a ten-year project to pre-empt emerging pandemic threats by identifying the majority of unknown viruses throughout the world that are likely to infect humans.

The Challenge

We live in an era when the threats posed by global pandemics and epidemics are greater than at any other point in human history. Recent outbreaks such as SARS, Ebola and Zika illustrate that we are ill-prepared and extremely vulnerable to emerging viral threats. However, less than 0.1% of all viruses with the potential to pose a threat to global health are estimated to have spilled over from animals to humans. Since the mid-20th century, new and deadly diseases have emerged at an alarming rate and the threats from this vast pool of unknown viruses are accelerating exponentially, driven by our expanding population and global travel.

Pandora and Prometheus are most impressed and hope that the project brings the anticipated benefits to humankind.


Using a single photon, or particle of light, two people can simultaneously send information to one another, scientists report in a new pair of papers. The feat relies on a quirk of quantum mechanics — superposition, the phenomenon through which particles can effectively occupy two places at once. The theory is given in a paper in Phys. Rev. Letters and a demonstration is shown in paper posted at on February 14.
Imagine that two people, Alice and Bob, are stationed some distance apart. In standard classical physics, Alice and Bob would each require their own photon to send each other messages simultaneously, with each light particle transmitting a single bit, 0 or 1.


DOUBLE DUTY  Thanks to the phenomenon of quantum superposition, a single particle of light can send information in two directions at once, scientists report.

If, however,  Alice and Bob possess a photon that is in a superposition — simultaneously located near Alice and near Bob — both of them can manipulate that photon to encode a 0 or 1, and then send it back to the other. How each manipulates the photon determines which of the two receives the photon in the end. If Alice and Bob put in the same bit — both 0s or both 1s — Alice receives the photon. If their bits don’t match, Bob gets it. Since Alice knows whether she sent a 0 or a 1, she immediately knows whether Bob encoded a 0 or 1, and vice versa.

To show that such communication is possible, Walther and colleagues sent single photons through an arrangement of mirrors and other optical devices. The setup put the photon in a superposition, sending it simultaneously to two stations that represented Alice and Bob.

By changing the phase of the light’s electromagnetic wave — shifting where the troughs and peaks of the wave fell — the researchers encoded the photon with a 0 or 1 at each station. Then, at each station, the photon — still in limbo between Alice and Bob — was sent to the opposite station. Along the way, the photon interacted with itself, interfering like water ripples combining to amplify their strength or cancel out. That interference determined whether the final photon was detected at Alice’s station or Bob’s.

Indeed quantum mechanics is weird, but it is certainly fascinating.



Neanderthal and modern human skulls. Photograph: Sabena Jane Blackbird/Alamy

It has long been believed that the extinction of Neanderthals was caused by the arrival of humans who had a cognitive edge that manifested itself in more cooperative hunting, better weaponry and innovation, a broader diet, or other major advantages. Careful
study of the archaeological record does not support any of the hypotheses based on this assumption. Part of the misunderstanding may have arisen because researchers compared Neanderthals with their successors, the modern humans who lived in the Upper Palaeolithic, rather than the humans who lived at the same time. That is like saying people in the 19th century were less intelligent than those in the 21st because they didn’t have laptops and space travel.


What If

What if I tried to re-enter the atmosphere in my car? (a 2000 VW Jetta TDI). Would it do more environmental damage than it is already apparently doing?

—Casey Berg

The answer is interesting.








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