Prometheus and Pandora XIII

This month we (the Jews among us)  are preparing for the Pesach holiday which commemorates the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from bondage in Egypt during Pharaonic times. The featured image above shows us the Seder plate with the items used during the Seder.

Pesach is observed by avoiding leaven, and highlighted by the Seder meal that includeד four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

“Matzah is one of those wonderful transcendent ritual items in Judaism, a symbol embodying a duality to teach a moral lesson. At the beginning of the seder, we break one of the sheets of matzah and call it the bread (lekhem) of affliction (oni). It is the meager sustenance of slaves, the meanest fare of the poor, the quickly produced food of those who make a hurried, under-cover-of-dark getaway. Yet later, it represents freedom, the bread we ate when we were liberated from Egyptian bondage.”–quote from Leslie K. Rossץ

We are told that God inflicted ten plagues upon the Egyptian people, culminating in the killing of the first born, which broke Pharaoh’s spirit and caused him to drive the Israelites from his land.

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Later, Pharaoh regretted his decision, chased them into the Red Sea where God caused our people to  cross on dry land and then brought the waters back to drown the Egyptians.  The Talmud tells us that when the angels joined in the hymn of rejoicing (Exodus XV,1-22), God reprimanded them saying “beings I created are drowning in the sea and you sing?” The angels pointed out that humans were singing and He responded that humans are capable of mixed feelings of joy and sadness whereas angels have only pure feelings. We mark the mourning for the drowned Egyptians by shortening our hymn of praise on the seventh day of the holiday.

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In Hebrew the festival is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because God passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn on the very first Passover eve. This year the holiday runs from March 31 to April 7. It is constrained by the Torah to always fall on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. We have discussed the equinox in previous blogs, now we just show a picture of what it means.

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Photo from space

 

Prometheus and Pandora together with their imaginary friends YandA wish all their Jewish readers a very Happy Pesach.  They also wish their Christian friends a Happy Easter, which  takes place from Good Friday on March 30 until Easter Monday on April 2.

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.

IN MEMORIAM Steven Hawking 1942-2018

Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died on March 14 at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76.

He was crippled by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) but was able to overcome the difficulties of such a life. He was diagnosed at age 21 and lived with the disease for 55 years. He made great contributions to cosmology and the understanding of black holes and their role in the universe. Hawking’s popular book A Brief History of Time was a long time best seller.

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For scientists, we recommend the biography by a former collaborator Roger Penrose, himself an outstanding scientist. More accessible obituaries can be found in the NYTimes and in the Guardian. His ashes will be interred in Westminster Abbey near the graves of  Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

RANTING ABOUT THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

It is both saddening and maddening to see democracy being wiped out in so many countries. Prometheus and Pandora find it frustrating that in far too many instances it is done with the compliance of the people or their total ignorance of the implications of what is happening around them. This is nothing new–over 2000 years ago the Roman philosopher Cicero is supposed to have reacted to Julius Caesar’s destruction of the republic “Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and gave him triumphal processions. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the ‘new, wonderful good society’ which shall now be Rome, interpreted to mean ‘more money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.”  (The attribution is historically doubtful but he might have said it and it is indeed true.)

Back to our time–Donald Trump poses a dangerous threat to American democracy — but many people do not know how extraordinary this  threat is, in concert with troubling trends in the USA and the world. In just his first year in office, Trump has undermined election results,  cozied up to dictators, threatened to jail his political opponents, maliciously lied to manipulate the media and the masses, and attacked judges and even his own Justice Department for refusing to stop investigations into his actions. and that is just scratching the surface. In their award-winning and New York Times best-selling book, “How Democracies Die”, Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt provide illuminating and alarming context for the current predicament of people who care about democracy. In this riveting new book, Levitsky and Ziblatt conduct an insightful investigation into how other democracies have failed and broken down and what the average person can do to fight back. The Washington Post summed up the book perfectly:

“Cool and persuasive… ‘How Democracies Die’ comes at exactly the right moment.”

True manipulation a la Lukovich

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OUR BOOK REVIEWS

NEVER LET ME GO

By Kazuo Ishiguro. 288 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24.

We have just read this 2005 novel by the Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. It is heavily dystopian. As Sarah Kerr says in her review in the NYTimes “There is no way around revealing the premise of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel. It is brutal, especially for a writer celebrated as a poet of the unspoken. But it takes a while for us to get a handle on it. Since it’s the nature of Ishiguro narrators to postpone a full reckoning of their place in the world, all we know in the early going is that we don’t quite know what’s going on.”
It is a strange read, but worth the effort. In general, Ishiguro is stingy of early detail (vid. Remains of the Day) and we have to live with that as we read. Kazuo Ishiguro fascinates M. John Harrison, who reviews in the Guardian, with his  subtle take on mortality and hopelessness, in Never Let Me Go. Revealing more would be spoiling–in fact, Pandora and Prometheus think that the reviewers reveal too much and it is best to go along with Kathy the narrator, who knows what is going on, but mostly tells us of  her innocent childhood and adolescence.

In honor of Women’s Day on March 20, the NYTimes has compiled a set of reviews of books about women and  their struggles. Three, of particular interest to Pandora and Prometheus, are about the invisible women of science,

A LAB OF ONE’S OWN
Science and Suffrage in the First World War
By Patricia Fara
334 pp. Oxford University Press. $24.95.

BROAD BAND
The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet
By Claire L. Evans
278 pp. Portfolio/Penguin. $27.

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Sobel, Dava, reviewed in the Guardian by Nicola Davis.

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British women in the 1920s using chemical processes to test batches of milk from cows. Credit Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The first two are reviewed in the NYTimes by Dava Sobel. The “Lab” is a title salute to A Room of One’s Own, a 1929 feminist polemic essay by Virginia Woolf. To some  of us it brought up a memory  of A League of Their Own, a 1992 film about the professional all-female baseball league that played during WWII. The league was real, the film about it is fiction, but good. Since Patricia Fara is English, her reference must be to the Woolf essay. Dava Sobol herself, the author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, has published her own history of female astronomers, The Glass Universe, that explores these women’s lives and work, revealing their grit, tenacity and brilliance in classifying the stars. “Even before they won the right to vote, several of them made contributions of such significance that their names gained honored places in the history of astronomy,” writes Sobel.

NEWS FROM SCIENCE

ARCHAEOLOGY UNDER THE JAIL

Excavations under the Megiddo prison, which is now being vacated, have come up with some remarkable findings, described in Haaretz by Ruth Schuster.  The prison will be replaced by an archaeological park featuring one of the earliest-known houses of Christian worship, which was found in the ancient Jewish village of Kefar Othnay (a.k.a. Kfar Otnai), as well as the remains of a vast Roman army base across the Qeni river, Megiddo Regional Council announced this week. The new park will also encompass seven Ottoman-era flour mills built along a stream, the council says.

One of the structures was a pre-church, from before Christians began to build churches. It contains a dedication inscription in Greek:

 

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Inscription found in Roman-era prayer house in Othnay, inside Megiddo Prison compound: “The god-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial”  credit Dr. Yotam Tepper

The article is fascinating and provides fresh insights into the role of Christianity in the Roman army in the era before the conversion of Constantine.When the site becomes open to the public, it will be a worthwhile visit.

Elsewhere on our planet, in Chile, DNA analysis of a small mummy has provided insight into evolution. The researchers identified in her DNA a group of mutations in genes related to bone development. Some of these mutations might be responsible for the skeleton’s bizarre form, causing a hereditary disorder never before documented in humans.

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A mummified skeleton from the Atacama Desert in Chile has been described as “alien.” But genetic analysis shows that she was human and may have had a previously unknown bone disorder. Credit Bhattacharya S et al. 2018

SILLY TIME

What If?

If you suddenly began rising steadily at one foot per second, how exactly would you die? Would you freeze or suffocate first? Or something else?

Rebecca B. The answer tells us a bit about our atmosphere.

 

 

Believe Big Pharma?

This is how it works….

In the past I have given sweatshirts with the logo “Eschew Obfuscation” and “Procrastinate Now” to people and they were indeed appreciated, albeit in long obscure words much later. I have stumbled on a good take on procrastination:

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