Our featured image shows Pandora trying to undo, based on a etching by F.S. Church
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.
ANNIVERSARIES OF 2018
With each new year, history offers a fresh list of memorable occasions ideally suited to be remembered. In a previous issue, we marked the centennial of the birth of the great American musician Leonard Bernstein. For a list of the top 10 scientific anniversaries, see Science News.
A CENTENNIAL OF A SCIENTIST
Let us continue with the centennial of the birth of the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman. He was an American theoretical physicist who was widely regarded as the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in his field in the post-World War II era. He revised and essentially recreated the field of quantum electrodynamics, for which he shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics. Feynman took a leading role in the Manhattan Project during the war, after which he continued his brilliant career, mostly at CalTech. He is celebrated, inter alia, for the introduction of the famous Feynman diagrams that gave a concrete expression to esoteric calculations and a quantum mechanical theory for superfluidity. The link above connects to a detailed biography in the Britannica.
A DOUBLE CENTENNIAL OF A SCIENTIST
James Prescott Joule (200th birthday)
James Joule was born into a family of brewers on December 24, 1818. The brewery provided a laboratory where he developed exceptional experimental skills. Despite no formal scientific training and no academic job, he still became one of England’s leading scientists. His experimental skill led him to establish precisely the amount of work needed to produce a quantity of heat and the relationship between heat and electricity.
The results of his experiments were fully described in his famous 1845 paper “On the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat” and they established that heat and mechanical work are both forms of energy. His efforts became the cornerstone of the theory of conservation of energy (the First Law of Thermodynamics). Read more here.
A CENTENNIAL FOR DEMOCRACY
Women’s right to vote
A major anniversary in the history of democracy in Great Britain and Ireland is set to take place in February: the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 meant that women, who were over the age of 30, property owners and graduates from British universities, were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time. The same Act gave the vote to all men over the age of 21. The law was later extended ten years later, in June 1928, to include all women over the age of 21.
Aharon Appelfeld (February 16, 1932-January 4, 2018)
Aharon Appelfeld credit Arik Sultan
Israeli writer and Israel Prize laureate Aharon Appelfeld died on Thursday January 4 at age 85. He was a prolific author whose works were translated into a number of languages and who had a wide following in the English-speaking world. The last of his 45 books, “Timahon” (“Astonishment”), was published in Hebrew in 2017. His most recent book in English, “The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping: A Novel,” was published a year ago.
Philip Gourevitch, writing in the New Yorker calls him one of the subtlest, most unorthodox, and most exactingly perceptive novelists to make the memory of the Holocaust his abiding project. He was born in Romania, and was eight when the war became his life. His mother was killed. He was deported with his father to Trans-Dniester, in Ukraine. He escaped alone from a concentration camp there. He sustained himself for three years as a vagabond farm-laborer. He wound up for a while as a kitchen boy in the Soviet Army. He fetched up next in a refugee camp, then on a kibbutz in Palestine, then fighting in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. At that point he was just sixteen, and felt totally inhabited by overwhelming memories, yet at the same time unable to summon anything like a complete or precise account of any part of his lost boyhood or his odyssey through hell. So he began, over the ensuing decade, to write stories. “I remember something, but not too much,” he told Gourevich. “Therefore I’m writing fiction, because I understood immediately that my memory is weak and I must fill it with imagination.”
His biography is well known, boyhood spent surviving in Nazi-held Europe, coming alone to Israel at age 12 and his subsequent education and entrance into writing in the late 1950’s. Gili Izikovich writing in Haaretz gives a fascinating and revealing interview with him.
Full obituaries can be found in Haaretz and in the NYTimes.
John Watts Young (September 24, 1930 – January 5, 2018)
Mr. Young moving across the surface during the Apollo 16 mission, April 1972. Credit Charles M. Duke Jr./NASA
John Young, NASA’s longest-serving astronaut, who walked on the moon and flew on the first Gemini and space shuttle missions, has died. The first person to fly six times into space — seven, if you count his launch off the moon in 1972 —and the first astronaut to command four different types of spacecraft. Young died on Friday (Jan. 5) following complications from pneumonia. He was 87.
John Young, training for Apollo 16 in December 1971 (NASA)
Mr. Young joined NASA in the early years of manned spaceflight and was still flying, at age 53, in the era of space shuttles. He was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was also chief of NASA’s astronaut office for 13 years and a leading executive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Mr. Young retired in 2004. A detailed obituary can be found in the NYTimes and in SpaceCollect.
There is much to rant about as the new year gets underway. Pandora and Prometheus will throw a few at you and hope that your blood pressure reacts as it should.
A MAJOR RANT ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL
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. The pernicious nature of the denial has been working for a long time and now, whether we accept it or not, climate change is here and affecting us every day. For example, let us look at a recent article in the Los Angeles Times entitled Wildfires, sea level rise, coral bleaching: Climate change is already here. If we consider wildfires we find that over the last 30 years, the American West has seen a dramatic increase in their incidence.
Scientists recently determined that human-caused warming has greatly increased the area of land that has burned since the 1980s. That amounts to 16,000 additional square miles (0ver 44,000 square kilometers), or the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined . The cost is huge.
The same article provides a chilling (or sweating) account of sea level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching–part of what we have been inflicting upon ourselves for decades with our political heads in the sand. What is even more frightening is the continuation of denial caused by a combination of economic interests focused on short term profit and a natural inclination of people to chose to avoid unpleasant reality. This is analogous to the European Jews in the writing of Aharon Applefeld (obituary in this blog) who fled from one place to another in Europe but never understood until it was too late that the game was over. We, Prometheus and Pandora recommend strongly that all take a look at the Web site Skeptical Science which deals with climate change denial and confronts the mythical arguments of the deniers with solid scientific fact.
For Example: Warmest year on record in the oceans
More than 90% of the heat trapped by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations ends up going into the Earth’s oceans. While surface temperatures fluctuate a bit from year to year due to natural variability, ocean heat content increases much more smoothly and is, in many ways, a more reliable indicator of the warming of the Earth, albeit one with a shorter historical record.
2017 set a clear record for the highest ocean heat content since records began in 1958, according to the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(IAP-CAS), which maintains an up-to-date ocean heat content database.
The figures below shows ocean heat content for each year in the region of the ocean between the surface and 2,000 meters in depth (comprising the bulk of the world’s oceans), as well as a map of 2017 anomalies.
The upper figure shows changes in ocean heat content since 1958, while the lower map shows ocean heat content in 2017 relative to the average ocean heat content between 1981 and 2010, with red areas showing warmer ocean heat content than over the past few decades and blue areas showing cooler.
A RANT ABOUT ABUSE OF WOMEN AND GIRLS
Since the original disclosure of the sexual abuse of women in the film industry, more women have come out and the hashtag #MeToo is expanding. Ronan Farrow in a series of articles in the New Yorker provides us with a detailed chronicle and description of what is involved in a woman coming forward to accuse powerful men, in particular Harvey Weinstein and the likes of him who can crush women who dare to accuse. In addition, the perpetrators are surrounded by high-powered lawyers and colleagues who over the decades chose to look aside, while the women were offered bribes for silence.
Pandora points out that all this anguish is real but these women are educated professionals who could go elsewhere and rebuild their lives. Women who fall victim to the use of rape as a weapon of warfare have no such avenue of protest and demand for redress. The UN Security Council has declared rape a war crime. In the resolution, passed 19 June, the Security Council noted that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”
The resolution demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”
Rape has been a dishonorable camp follower of war for as long as armies have marched into battle. In the 20th century, perceptions of rape in war have moved from something that is inevitable when men are deprived of female companionship for prolonged periods to an actual tactic in conflict. The lasting psychological harm that rape inflicts on its victims has also been recognized: Rape is always torture, says Manfred Nowak,
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In an op-ed in the Washington Post
More than half a million Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar and crossed over to Bangladesh since August 25 [Annette Ekin/Al Jazeera]
, Christian Caryl gives a fierce indictment of the use of rape as a means of destroying a community. Human Rights Watch
has come out with a harrowing report
on sexual abuse of Rohingya women by the Burmese military. This is by no means an isolated case. Thousands of women have fallen victim to rape in South Sudan’s civil war. The reign of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has resulted in the wholesale sexual abuse of young women from the ancient religious community of the Yezidis. Women were also raped during the recent ethnic unrest in Burundi.
It is indeed worthy that the Weinsteins of the world be called to account and that Dr. Larry Nassar, the predatory physician of the US Olympic gymnastics team, has been sentenced to a long jail term. . It is equally important that the world community makes the rapists in combat zones accountable for their crimes as well.
A RANT ABOUT DEPORTATION OF REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS
In a previous blog Prometheus and Pandora pointed an accusing finger at Norway which deports asylum seekers to Afghanistan despite the civil war raging there. Now they join the outcry much closer to home, the cruel deportation of thousands of African asylum seekers from Israel to “third countries.” The government had claimed that Rwanda and Uganda had agreed to take the refugees, which is apparently false. An editorial in Haaretz called on the government to stop lying and to adopt a reasonable policy towards these unfortunate asylum seekers who are fleeing war and genocide. The foul way the government has acted despite court orders is a shame to all of us. Instead of keeping the 37,000 asylum-seekers in Israel who were deported, allowing them to work and live with dignity, and dispersing them throughout the country so as not to burden long-time residents of south Tel Aviv, Israel — a state of refugees — insists on betraying the dictates of justice and undermining its own moral right to exist.
A movement of protest against these policies is rising. Hundreds of professionals including flight crews, school principals and psychologists have called on Israel to
halt deportations of asylum seekers or announced they would not cooperate with expulsions. For example, a letter by educators reads in part- “We teach tens of thousands of students about our past as refugees, persecuted people and asylum seekers during the darkest periods of human history, out of a personal and professional commitment to ensure ‘never again” the principals wrote. “We believe that asylum seekers, like all people, are entitled to have their natural rights protected, by virtue of their being human beings, by
virtue of conventions that Israel has signed, and by virtue of the Declaration of Independence and Israel’s Jewish and human values.”
As Noa Yachot writes in 972-“Even as it invokes the Holocaust at every turn, Israel is feeding the people who most need its protection to a brutal human smuggling industry. In doing so, it becomes an active player in the worst migration crisis since the Jewish people’s near-extinction.”
Israeli progressives must continue the protest and hope that progressive Jews in the US will join in support. Already the plan for deporting tens of thousands of asylum seekers, most of them from Eritrea or Ethiopia, seems to have gone agley as happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. Of course, the pressure must be maintained. The only thing that will deter the likes of Netanyahu and Der’i is bad PR, especially abroad.
A FEW RANTS IN THE WAKE OF THE PENCE VISIT
When the US VP addressed the Knesset, the Arab members were evicted. It is a shame to admit that members of the left wing opposition sat quietly while this was happening. Prometheus and Pandora, both loyal supporters of Meretz (as well as their imaginary playmates, YandA) were appalled. They even sent Ms Tamar Zandberg, a Knesset member from Meretz, who is running for the leadership of the party, a tweet of protest that was neither acknowledged nor answered. Haaretz took them to task severely in an editorial with full justification.
Mr. Pence’s speech was a combination of bullshit, humbug and platitudes, but the audience, Israelis whose knowledge of Christian evangelical ideology is essentially zero, failed to understand the main point. Amit Gevaryahu writing in Haaretz points out most correctly that as an evangelical Pence was making it clear that Israel is only a pawn in the process of bringing about the second coming of Christ. Gevaryahu sums up the essence of Pence’s speech-“…Regardless, per Pence, the tribulations and successes of the Jews are valuable only as pre-figurations and theological models for Christians. But the Jewish state is also necessary for his eschatology. Evangelicals like Pence see the urgent need to literally encourage Jews to return to Zion and to sovereignty as a critical step towards Christ’s second coming.”
The U.S. Vice President stood before the assembled delegates of the Jewish state and told them, right after talking about the Holocaust, that Abraham was not their father but that Abraham was his father.
…”And this too is the level to which Israel’s Knesset has stooped. Its overwhelming right-wing and religious majority obsequiously traded the historical Jewish claim to Abraham, the Torah, and redemption according to the Jewish narrative, for the lentil stew of American “recognition” of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the city where, Pence and others hope, Christian dreams may still come true.”
TIDBITS FROM SCIENCE
New Egyptian dinosaur reveals ancient link between Africa and Europe
Mansourasaurus shahinae helps fill in gaps of African dinosaurs of Late Cretaceous
A new dinosaur fossil discovered in the Egyptian Sahara is contributing to our knowledge of dinosaur evolution. As reported in Science Daily “When it comes to the final days of the dinosaurs, Africa is something of a blank page. Fossils found in Africa from the Late Cretaceous, the time period from 100 to 66 million years ago, are few and far between. That means that the course of dinosaur evolution in Africa has largely remained a mystery. But in the Egyptian Sahara Desert, scientists have discovered a new species of dinosaur that helps fill in those gaps. “
Skeletal reconstruction of the new titanosaurian dinosaur Mansourasaurus shahinae from the Late Cretaceous of the Dakhla Oasis, Egypt. Bones shown in color are those that are preserved in the original fossil; other bones are based on those of closely related dinosaurs.
Credit: Andrew McAfee, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
SUCCESSFUL CLONING OF PRIMATES
A group of scientists led by Zhen Liu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has succeeded in cloning twin macaque monkeys. The work required years of experimentation by means of a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. This method was used twenty years ago to create Dolly, the first cloned sheep. Adapting the method to primates was by no means a trivial task. The effort finally delivered two twin monkeys, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. The scientific paper was published in Cell.
Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua
RANT ON POLISH REWRITING OF HISTORY
The Polish parliament has approved a controversial law forbidding any mention of participation of the “Polish nation” in crimes committed during the Holocaust. The law also forbids use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the death camps where Jews and others were murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War. Anyone who violates the new law, including non-Polish citizens, will be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.
This law has drawn criticism from around the world and especially from Israel and Jews. PM Netanyahu for once got it right “The law is baseless. I strongly oppose it. History cannot be changed and it is forbidden to deny the Holocaust. I ordered the Israeli embassy in Poland to meet with the Polish Prime Minister and express my firm stand against the law,” Netanyahu said.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, also condemned the proposed law. Yad Vashem noted, however, that Poland is right in its objection to the term “Polish death camps,” explaining that “there is no doubt that the term is a distortion of history. The death camps were set up in Nazi-occupied Poland with the intention of murdering Jews as part of the final solution. “
Indeed there were Poles who helped Jews and hid them, but in truth more than 200,000 Jews were killed, directly or indirectly, by Poles in World War II, says historian Jan Grabowski, who studied the brutal persecution of the victims. His conclusion: There were no bystanders in the Holocaust.
We must,however, note that according to Yad Vashem the citizens of Poland have the world’s highest count of individuals who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews from extermination during the Holocaust in World War II. There are 6,706 Polish men and women recognized as Righteous to this day, over a quarter of the total number of 26,513[ awards.
Righteous Among the Nations medals and diplomas handed over during a ceremony in the Polish Senate on 17th April 2012
Nonetheless, Prometheus and Pandora strongly condemn this attempt to obscure the role played by Poland, a nation with a long history of antisemitism. They agree with Ofer Aderet who calls in Haaretz to leave the judgement of Poland’s role in WWII to future historians.
The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart
Image of The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart
September 4, 2017
Princeton University Press
This book has all the appearances of a fascinating read. To quote the review in the New York Review of Books by Larry Wolff (for subscribers only alas) the above book has boldly placed Machiavelli and early modern political theory at the center of the early history of opera, reflecting creatively on the ways in which the reverberations of the great Florentine realist reached even into the musical realm. For just as The Prince
was presented as a precious gift precisely because it described and prescribed the conduct of princes, so the operas of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries placed princes on the stage and let them sing their political circumstances. The book gets a full open review by Lew Whittington in the New York Journal of Books. A less favorable review is given by Mark Berry in Times of Higher Education.
In the author’s discussion of the work of Mozart including the Marriage of Figaro, in which the aristocracy is ridiculed by Figaro’s defiance, we see an example of something subversive:
“Se vuol ballare, signor contino,
Il chitarrino le suonerò.”
[If you want to dance, little count,
I’ll play my little guitar.]
Nonetheless, it is clear that while the foundations of the old regime were tottering, Mozart was no real revolutionary. Cohen attributes the Contessa’s nostalgia in
“Dove sono i bei momenti di dolcezza e di piacer?”(“Where have they gone, the beautiful moments of sweetness and pleasure?”).
not only to her once happy marriage, but also to a feeling of loss as the times change.
Kiri Te Kanawa lets us hear it.
Recall this opera had its premier in 1786, only three years before the fall of the Bastille. The censors allowed it to premier in Prague rather than Vienna. Riccardo Panela the operatic baritone who has played the role of the lecherous Count has written an interesting analysis of how shrewd self censorship by De Ponte and Mozart enabled the opera to reach the stage.
Which has a greater gravitational pull on me: the Sun, or spiders? Granted, the Sun is much bigger, but it is also much further away, and as I learned in high school physics, the gravitational force is proportional to the square of the distance.
Interesting for us geeks.
A LANGUAGE LESSON OF SORTS AT THE SOUP KITCHEN
Darwin would have loved this:
Find a cool WUMO here.