In our featured image Murphy wishes all a Happy New Year in the name of Prometheus, Pandora and the amanuenses YandA.
The Charity Corner has found a home on the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action site. Promethus and Pandora hope that you will visit there, take the actions and make the donations.
IN MEMORIAM LYUDMILA ALEXEYEVA 1927-2018
Lyudmila M. Alexeyeva, a leader of the Russian human rights movement in the Soviet Union and in the era of President Vladimir V. Putin, died on on December 8in a Moscow hospital. She was 91.
Ms. Alexeyeva had been Russia’s most prominent surviving Soviet-era dissident, harking from the same generation as the physicist Andrei Sakharov and the novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Though frail, she took part in street protests until about eight years ago.
She spent about 50 years in the Russian opposition, starting as a typist for a samizdat journal in the 1960s and continuing as an observer of politicized court hearings against street protesters under Mr. Putin. She was considered the grandmother of the Russian human rights movement Even President Putin came to visit her on her 90th birthday. Detailed obituaries can be found in the Economist and the NYTimes.
ON THE DEMISE OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY
We have been ranting a great deal about the erosion of liberal democracy around the world, especially in the US and Israel. Now we would like to look a bit at the theory around it. The late Professor J.L. Talmon of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, devoted much effort to clarifying the difference between liberal democracy and totalitarian democracy.
Talmon was a leader of the Cold War liberals and at the same time a Zionist., i.e. a Jewish nationalist. The apparent contradiction between liberalism and nationalism created a tension in his philosophy. As pointed out by M.H. Hacohen in a detailed essay in the History of European Ideas, Talmon lived in two worlds. Hacohen argues that that Talmon’s nationalism (Zionism included)—historicist, romantic, visionary—lived in permanent tension with his liberalism—empiricist, pluralist, pragmatic.
Talmon himself regarded his mission as “an attempt to show that concurrently with the liberal type of democracy there emerged from the same premises in the eighteenth century a trend toward what we propose to call the totalitarian type of democracy”
Professor Talmon finds the ground for the antagonism between the two types of democracy in a radical difference of attitude toward politics, which grows out of a radical difference of philosophy. Liberal democracy assumes that politics is largely a matter of trial and error, and it regards political systems as mainly “pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity.” Totalitarian democracy on the other hand is “based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics” and it “postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things” toward which history inevitably tends and toward which recalcitrant human nature must, if necessary, be driven.
This theoretical framework is very relevant to what is happening in the world today. A recent issue of The Atlantic (October 2018) devotes a large section to articles about the demise of democracy. The examples are mostly from the US scene such as the article about losing the habits of democracy by Yoni Applebaum, but a description of the loss of democracy in Poland by Anne Applebaum provides an enlightening view of the process. The stages are:
- Conspiracy theories.
- Attacks on the free press
- An obsession with loyalty
Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well. We see it happening in Israel as well. The concepts of Professor Talmon are alas an accurate description. Anne Applebaum, in the article cited above, refers to the Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian who chronicled an even more extreme shift in his own country in the 1930’s. He described how, one by one, his friends were drawn to fascist ideology, like a flock of moths to an inescapable flame. He recounted the arrogance and confidence they acquired as they moved away from identifying themselves as Europeans—admirers of Proust, travelers to Paris—and instead began to call themselves blood-and-soil Romanians.
In the light of the above, it is easy to understand the obsession of the far right with George Soros. This Hungarian born American billionaire has donated huge sums to support liberal democracy in the former Soviet bloc countries. As a result he is the bogyman target that these regimes need to deflect the dissatisfaction of their people. Soros-bashing has already spread to the US and is a harbinger of what lies ahead for the Western world of Trump and Brexit.
Whereas in Israel the defining “truth” to which we are supposed to subscribe is the idea of establishing a state for the Jews of the
world (vid. Talmon’s tension above), in other countries it is nativism, for example, Trump’s white Christians or Marine La Pen’s “France for the French” nationalism. For young American Jews who grew up with the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights inter alia it does not make sense to push these values aside when considering Israel. It puts them off to see the PM of Israel consorting with the autocrats of Europe such as Orban of Hungary and other proponents of “illiberal Christian democracy” which will put an end to the era of multiculturalism. The violence of Israel’s rule over the Palestinians is indeed driving American Jews to protest.
In Israel we have an additional component, the Messianic drive, that guides the politics of the settlers block, Gush Emunim. Prof. Talmon summed up this irrational mind set well “Claims such as those of Gush Emunim sound to the international community much like that biblical passage Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the Valley of Ayalon “would sound in an astronomers’ debate.”Of course a lack of connection to reality is not unique to Israel…
FILM REVIEW: ROMA
Roma is a 2018 drama film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón also produced, co-edited and photographed the film. It stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Enoc Leaño and Daniel Valtierra. Set in the early 1970s, the film is a semi-autobiographical take on Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City, and follows the life of a live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family. The title refers to the Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City.
The film has won universal critical acclaim, as well as many awards, starting with the Golden Lion when it had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. The review in Rolling Stone by Peter Travers begins “If a thing of beauty is a joy forever, as John Keats famously said, then the surpassing loveliness and bracing brilliance of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma will never pass into nothingness. …”
Other reviews are in the same style, such as the Guardian (Peter Bradshaw): “Alfonso Cuarón’s new film Roma is thrilling, engrossing, moving – and just entirely amazing, an adjectival pileup of wonder. He has reached back into his own childhood to create an intensely personal story, and this is the second time I have seen it since the premiere at this year’s Venice film festival, hoping to get a clearer view of those later images that on first viewing were made wobbly by tears. Same problem, though. Those coming to see this film had better prepare themselves to be emotionally wrung out.”
This is a film definitely worth your time to see.
A WORD FROM SCIENCE
December 26, 2018
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly by a distant “worldlet” 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from the Sun in just a few days, on New Year’s Day 2019. The target, officially designated 2014 MU69, was nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” (pronounced “ultima toolee”) a Latin phrase meaning “a place beyond the known world,” after a public call for name recommendations. No spacecraft has ever explored such a distant world.
Ultima, as the flyby target is affectionately called by the New Horizons team, is orbiting in the heart of our solar system’s Kuiper Belt, far beyond Neptune. The Kuiper Belt is a collection of icy bodies ranging in size from dwarf planets like Pluto to smaller planetesimals like Ultima Thule and even smaller bodies like comets — which are believed to be the building blocks of planets.
This is indeed exciting news in geekdom and you are all invited to share the fun on New Year’s Day.
Pile of Viruses
What if every virus in the world were collected into one area? How much volume would they take up and what would they look like?
The answer is interesting and quite creative.
Some of our older readers might appreciate: