Category Archives: Prometheus

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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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.

IN MEMORIAM Haim Guri

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

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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.

A RANT ABOUT RACISM

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.

RANT ABOUT ANOTHER SCHOOL SHOOTING

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.

ON ACCOUNTABILITY AND SEX CRIMES #METOO IS MAKING CHANGES HAPPEN

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.

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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.

SHAKESPEARE’S MUSE DISCOVERED

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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 BOOK REVIEWS

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.

CLASSICAL CANCAN
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.

A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS BY MARILYNNE ROBINSON

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.

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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

 

SCIENCE TIDBITS

THE GLOBAL VIROME PROJECT (GVP)

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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.

SPOOKY SCIENCE

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 arXiv.org 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.

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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.

NEANDERTHALS NOT ALL THAT DUMB

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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.

SILLY TIME

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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BIG PHARMA HAS CONVINCING ADS

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WELCOME TO NEW WORLD POLITICS

 

AND THE MODERN SCHOOL…

Prometheus and Pandora XI

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

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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)

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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

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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.

 

IN MEMORIAM

Aharon Appelfeld (February 16, 1932-January 4, 2018)

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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.

, 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. 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)

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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.

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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.

THE RANTS

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.

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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.

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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.

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More than half a million Rohingya refugees fled Myanmar and crossed over to Bangladesh since August 25 [Annette Ekin/Al Jazeera]

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, 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.

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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. “

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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.

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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.

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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.

BOOK REVIEW

The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart
Image of The Politics of Opera: A History from Monteverdi to Mozart
Author(s):
Mitchell Cohen
Release Date:
September 4, 2017
Publisher/Imprint:
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.

SILLY TIME

What If

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.

—Marina Fleming

Interesting for us geeks.

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A LANGUAGE LESSON OF SORTS AT THE SOUP KITCHEN

WE AGREE

Darwin  would have loved this:

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Find a cool WUMO here.

 

 

Prometheus and Pandora X

CONGRATULATIONS TO A FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE

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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.

WINTER SOLSTICE TIME

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.

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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,

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our Christian friends celebrate the birth of their Savior

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and some of our African-American friends enjoy Kwanzaa.

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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:

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RANT AND RAVE

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.

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

A SMALL RANT ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE

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. “

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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:

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RANT ABOUT ABUSE OF WOMEN

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.”

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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.

TIDBITS FROM SCIENCE

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.

BOOK REVIEW

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.

SILLY TIME

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.

REAL CONNOISSEURS OF WINE

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:

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LOOK CAREFULLY!!

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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Prometheus and Pandora IX

.

Thanksgiving is upon us (was celebrated in Canada on October 9), see our featured image above and we should all, presumably, be thinking of what we should be grateful for  to whomever we wish to designate as the recipient of our gratitude. . Of course you should be careful of your requests (Thanks to Zach for the cartoon):

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IN MEMORIAM John Ashbery 1927-2017

John Ashbery, a long-standing contributor to and friend of The New York Review, died on September 3, aged ninety, at his house in Hudson, New York. He was the author of twenty-eight books of poems (not counting Selecteds or Collecteds) as well as one novel, three plays, three volumes of essays and criticism, and three of
translations from French. Over the course of his career he received
just about every major prize, including the triple crown: the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975).

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He was considered an enigmatic genius of modern poetry whose energy, daring and boundless command of language raised American verse to brilliant and baffling heights.

Writing for Slate, the critic and poet Meghan O’Rourke advised readers “not to try to understand the poems but to try to take pleasure from their arrangement, the way you listen to music”. Writer Joan Didion once attended an Ashbery reading simply because she wanted to determine what the poet was writing about.

“I don’t find any direct statements in life,” Ashbery once explained to the Times in London. “My poetry imitates or reproduces the way knowledge or awareness comes to me, which is by fits and starts and by indirection. I don’t think poetry arranged in neat patterns would reflect that situation.”

Interviewed by the Associated Press in 2008, Ashbery joked that if he could turn his name into a verb, “to Ashbery”, it would mean “to confuse the hell out of people”.

At the time of his death he was considered, by general acclaim, the greatest living American poet. A full obituary can be found in the Guardian.

Rest in Peace John Ashbery and we shall remain confused.

RANT FOR THE MONTH

Bloodshed for Naught.

Prometheus, Pandora and their amanuenses, YandA, are outraged at the church massacre in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 5 . A gunman clad in all black, with a ballistic vest strapped to his chest and a military-style rifle in his hands, opened fire on parishioners at a Sunday service at a small Baptist church in rural Texas, killing at least 26 people and turning this tiny town east of San Antonio into the scene of the country’s newest mass horror.

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from Chicago Tribune

The gunman was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. Mr. Kelley, who lived in New Braunfels, Tex., died shortly after the attack.

NEW TERROR

Since Prometheus and Pandora wrote the above paragraph, a new rampage of terror has come about. On Tuesday, 14/11 a gunman went on a rampage in California. He conducted a 45-minute attack through Rancho Tehama, a quiet reserve about 120 miles northwest of downtown Sacramento.

The gunman at one point terrorized a local elementary school. Witnesses said he crashed through the school’s gates with his truck and opened fire, spraying walls and classrooms with bullets. Teachers and other adults on campus frantically got the students under desks and locked down the school.

Cheers to the elementary school teachers.

Before the rampage was over, six people were dead, including the gunman and his wife, and at least 10 were wounded. According to police, it appears that the shooter was randomly picking targets.The gunman was killed after two officers engaged him, law enforcement officials said. The gunman had a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns.

The sister of the gunman confirmed his identity as Kevin Janson Neal, 44. Sheridan Orr, of North Carolina, said her brother had a history of mental illness and episodes of rage.“There are certain people that do not need guns, and my brother was clearly one of them,” she said.

Maybe there has been enough of this-a dispute between neighbors escalated to a shooting rampage. America, please wake up! The NRA has blood on its hands indeed, but so has every progressive who did not get around to registering to vote for an anti-gun candidate.

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In recent years, killing at churches has become more common. Here are a few events:

Sept. 24, 2017 | Antioch, Tenn.

A gunman carrying two pistols opened fire as Sunday services were ending at the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ, killing one person and wounding seven others; he also pistol-whipped a church usher who confronted him. The gunman, identified as Emanuel K. Samson, shot and wounded himself, the police said; he was taken into custody.

June 17, 2015 | Charleston, S.C.

Nine people who had gathered for Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a landmark black church in Charleston, were shot and killed  by a white gunman, identified by the police as Dylann Storm Roof, who was arrested the next day. A 10th person was wounded. The dead included the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a prominent state senator.
What has the President to say: Speaking at a news conference in Japan, the first stop on his tour of Asia, President Trump called the shooting a “mental health problem at the highest level” and not “a guns situation,” adding the gunman was a “very deranged individual.” He also ordered flags flown at half-staff at the White House and all federal buildings through Thursday.

President Trump appeared to offer his condolences for the wrong mass shooting on Tuesday in a late-night Twitter post, which was later deleted.

“May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived,” Mr. Trump said in a Twitter post at 11:34 p.m., soon after arriving back in the United States from his 12-day trip through Asia.

That attack occurred more than a week ago, on Nov. 5. One might think that there are so many mass killings in the USA that the president can indeed confuse them. Of course, thoughts and prayers are always welcome:

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HOME SWEET HOME

ARMS FOR KILLERS

Despite the horrors of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people Israel sold sophisticated weapon systems to the Myanmar military. Israeli weapons are being sold to Myanmar in gross violation of the restrictions on weapons sales to that country. Only last month Israel refused to announce that it would stop selling weapons to Myanmar. The Rohingya minority is now considered the most persecuted people in the world.

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Human rights activists petitioned the High Court in Israel, but the response of the government was that the court has no jurisdiction. A verdict was rendered, but is being kept secret. Eitay Mack, the petitioners’ lawyer, noted that the European Union and the United States had imposed a trade embargo on the country formerly known as Burma, and said Israel was the only Western state supplying weapons to the military junta.

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Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing meeting in Jerusalem, September 10, 2017. Credit: Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook

Yair Auron writing in Haaretz details past sales of arms by Israel to regimes committing genocide–“I had the privilege of submitting petitions with Mack against the sales of weapons by Israel to the murderous regime in Serbia, which conducted ethnic cleansing campaigns in the early 1990s, and at least one massacre in Srebrenica in Bosnia, and another petition against the weapons deliveries to the Hutu government in Rwanda, which conducted the fastest genocide in human history.

Hundreds of rabbis and religious leaders have pleaded with the Israeli government to stop these sales, but to little avail. The Israeli consul in New York justified
the sales by pointing out crimes committed by Rohingya people as balancing the ledger. Indeed Muslim Rohingya activists did attack a police station and killed several soldiers. This can hardly be called a justification for banishing 300,000 or more civilians unless you have the twisted mind of an Israeli official. There has been one unconfirmed report in a French online magazine that the sales have stopped. We hope this is true, but the main issue is the secrecy of the sales and the lack of decency and principle shown by Israel. Israel was one of the few countries selling weapons to South Africa during apartheid and only stopped selling weapons to Rwanda during the genocide there after the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that put an arms embargo on the country.

We note that the European Union has established criteria for arms transfers as follows: (we detail them because of the importance of this issue)

CRITERION ONE

Respect for the international commitments of EU member states, in particular the sanctions decreed by the UN Security Council and those decreed by the Community, agreements on nonproliferation and other subjects, as well as other international obligations

An export license should be refused if approval would be inconsistent with, inter alia:
a) the international obligations of member states and their commitments to enforce
UN, OSCE and EU arms embargoes;
b) the international obligations of member states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons
Convention;
c) their commitments in the frameworks of the Australia Group, the Missile
Technology Control Regime, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Wassenaar
Arrangement;
d) their commitment not to export any form of anti-personnel landmine.

CRITERION TWO

The respect of human rights in the country of final destination

Having assessed the recipient country’s attitude towards relevant principles established by international human rights instruments, Member States will:
a) not issue an export license if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.
b) exercise special caution and vigilance in issuing licenses, on a case-by-case basis
and taking account of the nature of the equipment, to countries where serious
violations of human rights have been established by the competent bodies of the UN,
the Council of Europe or by the EU;
For these purposes, equipment which might be used for internal repression will include, inter alia, equipment where there is evidence of the use of this or similar equipment for internal repression by the proposed end-user, or where there is reason to believe that the equipment will be diverted from its stated end-use or end-user and used for internal repression. In line with operative paragraph 1 of this
Code, the nature of the equipment will be considered carefully, particularly if it is intended for internal security purposes.
Internal repression includes, inter alia, torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, summary or arbitrary executions, disappearances, arbitrary detentions and other major violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms as set out in relevant international human rights
instruments, including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

CRITERION THREE

The internal situation in the country of final destination, as a function of the existence of tensions or armed conflicts

Member States will not allow exports which would provoke or prolong armed conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts in the country of final destination.

CRITERION FOUR

Preservation of regional peace, security and stability

Member States will not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the intended recipient would
use the proposed export aggressively against another country or to assert by force a territorial claim.
When considering these risks, EU Member States will take into account inter alia:
a) the existence or likelihood of armed conflict between the recipient and another
country;
b) a claim against the territory of a neighbouring country which the recipient has in the
past tried or threatened to pursue by means of force;
c) whether the equipment would be likely to be used other than for the legitimate
national security and defense of the recipient;
d) the need not to affect adversely regional stability in any significant way.

CRITERION FIVE

The national security of the member states and of territories whose external relations are the responsibility of a Member State, as well as that of friendly and allied countries

Member States will take into account:
a) the potential effect of the proposed export on their defense and security interests
and those of friends, allies and other member states, while recognizing that this factor cannot affect consideration of the criteria on respect of human rights and on regional peace, security and stability;
b) the risk of use of the goods concerned against their forces or those of friends, allies or other member states;
c) the risk of reverse engineering or unintended technology transfer.

CRITERION SIX

The behavior of the buyer country with regard to the international community, as regards in particular to its attitude to terrorism, the nature of its alliances and respect for international law

Member States will take into account inter alia the record of the buyer country with regard to:
a) its support or encouragement of terrorism and international organised crime;
b) its compliance with its international commitments, in particular on the non-use of
force, including under international humanitarian law applicable to international and non-international conflicts;
c) its commitment to non-proliferation and other areas of arms control and
disarmament, in particular the signature, ratification and implementation of relevant arms control and disarmament conventions referred to in sub-para b) of Criterion One.

CRITERION SEVEN

The existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or reexported under undesirable conditions

In assessing the impact of the proposed export on the importing country and the risk that exported goods might be diverted to an undesirable end-user, the following will be considered:
a) the legitimate defence and domestic security interests of the recipient country,
including any involvement in UN or other peace-keeping activity;
b) the technical capability of the recipient country to use the equipment;
c) the capability of the recipient country to exert effective export controls;
d) the risk of the arms being re-exported or diverted to terrorist organisations (antiterrorist equipment would need particularly careful consideration in this context).

CRITERION EIGHT

The compatibility of the arms exports with the technical and economic capacity of the recipient country, taking into account the desirability that states should achieve their legitimate needs of security and defense with the least diversion for armaments of human and economic resources

Member States will take into account, in the light of information from relevant sources such as UNDP, World Bank, IMF and OECD reports, whether the proposed export would seriously hamper the sustainable development of the recipient country. They will consider in this context the recipient country’s relative levels of military and social expenditure, taking into account also any EU or bilateral
aid.

All  this causes Prometheus and Pandora to think that in some especially hot corner of  Hell, Hitler is chuckling at his posthumous victory–the state of the Jews is preserving his genocidal legacy.

OK friends, let us get on to something more pleasant.

LEONARD BERNSTEIN CENTENARY
Born: August 25, 1918
Lawrence, Massachusetts
Died: October 14, 1990
New York, New York
American composer, conductor, and pianist

Leonard Bernstein was an American composer, conductor, and pianist. His special gift of bridging the gap between the concert hall and the world of Broadway made him one of the most glamorous musical figures of his day. He took piano lessons as a boy and attended the Garrison and Boston Latin Schools. At Harvard University, he studied with Walter Piston, Edward Burlingame-Hill, and A. Tillman Merritt, among others. Before graduating in 1939, he made an unofficial conducting debut with his own incidental music to “The Birds,” and directed and performed in Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock.” Then at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he studied piano with Isabella Vengerova, conducting with Fritz Reiner, and orchestration with Randall Thompson.

In 1940, he studied at the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s newly created summer institute, Tanglewood, with the orchestra’s conductor, Serge Koussevitzky. Bernstein later became Koussevitzky’s conducting assistant.

Bernstein was appointed to his first permanent conducting post in 1943, as Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. On November 14, 1943, he substituted on a few hours notice for the ailing Bruno Walter at a Carnegie Hall concert, which was broadcast nationally on radio, receiving critical acclaim. Soon orchestras worldwide sought him out as a guest conductor.

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The New Yorker gives the centenary festival a royal kickoff.

Illustration by MVM

 

PROFILE OF A WRITER

This month the writer we are featuring is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She grew up in Nigeria and now divides her time between Nigeria and the United States. Her bibliography includes three successful novels,

  • Purple Hibiscus (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2003; London: Fourth Estate, 2004; Lagos: Farafina, 2004).
  • Half of a Yellow Sun (London: Fourth Estate, 2006; Lagos: Farafina, 2006; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007).
  • Americanah (London: Fourth Estate, 2013; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013; Lagos: Farafina, 2013).

She received a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and has won countless awards for her writing, details of which can be found on the Web site maintained by Daria Tunca and hosted by Liege University.
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Pandora and Prometheus were captivated by her TED lecture and invite you to watch it at this link.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

You may find the transcript of her talk here.

MARINE ARCHEOLOGY

Divers in the ancient port of Caesarea in Israel came up last spring with a 1,600 year old treasure trove.

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Among the artifacts the divers recovered were a bronze lamp depicting the image of the sun god Sol; a figurine of the moon goddess Luna; a lamp in the image of the head of an African slave; fragments of three life-size bronze cast statues; objects fashioned in the shape of animals; a bronze faucet in the form of a wild boar with a swan on its head; and fragments of large jars that carried drinking water along with thousands of Roman coins that were lumped together inside vessels.

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The find was made by amateurs, recreational divers and they deserve high praise for reporting their find to the authorities. Jacob Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority praised the divers, Ran Feinstein and Ofer Ra’anan.

“The divers demonstrated good citizenship and are deserving of praise,” he said. “They will be awarded a certificate of appreciation and invited to tour the storerooms of the National Treasures.

“By reporting the discovery of the marine assemblage to the Israel Antiquities Authority, they have made it possible for all of us to enjoy these spectacular remains from antiquity.”

BOOK REVIEW

In honor of the 150th birthday of the great conductor Arturo Toscanini (1857-1957) the writer Harvey Sachs has brought out a new biography.

TOSCANINI
Musician of Conscience
By Harvey Sachs
Illustrated. 923 pp. Liveright Publishing. $39.95.

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Sachs published a biography of Toscanini in 1978, but it is generally agreed that the new book is in no way redundant. Much has been learned of the great conductor’s
life in the past 40 years. As Sachs puts it in his preface:
“this book is a completely new biography, not a revision or an expanded version of the earlier book. Apart from quotations from other sources, I don’t believe that a single entire sentence from the old book is to be found in this one. I have examined new sources, reexamined old ones, and produced what I hope is a close-to-definitive account of a long life filled with artistic, personal, and political drama….”

Toscanini’s was a ninety-year life that began before the invention of the phonograph and the incandescent light bulb and ended at the dawn of the space age; an eighty-year musical immersion that began before Wagner and Verdi had written their final masterpieces and that ended in the era of Boulez and Stockhausen; a sixty-eight-year career, carried out in twenty European, North and South American, and Middle Eastern countries; and a private existence that was torn between love of family and erotic restlessness.

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The book is reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Tim Page and in the NYTimes by Robert Gottlieb.

WEIRD COGNITION

In a recent New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz provides a list of imaginary creatures from angels to zombies and asks you to rate the probability of their existence in the real world. This may sound silly, but many a study of fantasy by cognitive psychologists provides a great deal of insight into the workings of our minds. As Schulz concludes “…we use our ability to think about things that aren’t real all the time, in ways both everyday and momentous. It is what we are doing when we watch movies, write novels, weigh two different job offers, consider whether to have children. As that last example suggests, perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this ability is that we can use it to nudge the impossible into the realm of the real. We stare at the sky, watch a seagull bob on a thermal, build wax wings and then fixed wings and then Apollo XI.”

HOW MONA LISA GOT HER SMILE

mona

In a recent issue of The Atlantic, Walter Isaacson discusses the technique and effort of da Vinci to create the enigmatic smile of the world’s most famous painting. As Isaacson puts it:

“His greatest triumph of combining art, science, optics, and illusion was the smile of the Mona Lisa, which he started working on in 1503 and continued laboring over nearly until his death 16 years later. He dissected human faces, delineating the muscles that move the lips, and combined that knowledge with the science of how the retina processes perceptions. The result was a masterpiece that invites and responds to human interactions, making Leonardo a pioneer of virtual reality.”
The article is long and detailed, but well worth your time. Pandora wishes that she could have been painted by an artist of such genius. She and Prometheus would like to share a song about Mona Lisa with you.

 

 

SILLY TIME

WhatIf can become a bit gross at times:

How long would it take for a single person to fill up an entire swimming pool with their own saliva?

—Mary Griffin, 9th grade

Randall of course has an answer and it provides a tour of human history. You can draw your own conclusions of 9th grader Mary and her ideas.

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THE VALUE OF SPORT

John Wooden, the famous basketball coach at UCLA in the distant past, said that competition brings out the best in men–here is an example:

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THIS STRIP IS DEDICATED TO THE GRANDPARENTS AMONG OUR READERS

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Prometheus and Pandora VIII

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.

NOBEL PRIZES 2017(note featured image…)

Prometheus

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and Pandora,

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from their orbits around Saturn, send heartfelt congratulations to the 2017 Nobel Laureates.

Nobel Prize in Physics

The physics prize was divided, one half awarded to Rainer Weiss (MIT),

mit-10-3-2017-weiss-nobel-01_0

the other half jointly to Barry C. Barish(Caltech)

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and Kip S. Thorne (Caltech)

kip_thorne_at_caltech

“for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”.

They received the prize for the discovery of gravitational waves released into the world by violent events in the universe such as the mergers of black holes. Weiss, professor emeritus of physics at MIT, along with Thorne and Barish, California Institute of Technology physicists, pioneered LIGO, or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, the scientific project that made gravitational wave detection possible.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

The Chemistry prize was awarded to Jacques Dubochet (University of Lausanne),

le-genial-cv-du-prix-nobel-de-chimie-jacques-dubochet

Richard Henderson (Cambridge University)

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and Joachim Frank (Columbia University)

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“for developing cryo-electron microscopy for the high-resolution structure determination of biomolecules in solution”.

Cryo-electron microscopy is a technique that takes accurate and detailed pictures of living things at atomic scales. This is assisting scientists make high-resolution, 3D images that can help in cancer drug research and better understanding of the Zika virus.

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

The 2017 prize was awarded jointly to  Jeffrey C. Hall (University of Maine),

jeffrey-hall-nobel-prize-medicine-2017

Michael Rosbash (Brandeis University)

Michael Rosbash

and Michael W. Young (Rockefeller University)

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“for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm”.

The award celebrates the study of the tiny biological clocks in every living thing. The three American scientists “were able to peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings,” the Nobel Prize Committee said. “Their discoveries explain how plants, animals, and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth’s revolutions.”

Nobel Prize in Economics

171009-richard-thaler-nobel-economics-prize

The US economist Richard Thaler was awarded the $1.1 million Nobel Economics Prize for his contributions in the field of behavioral economics.

The award-giving body said that Thaler’s contributions have built a bridge between the economic and psychological analyses of individual decision-making.

Nobel Prize in Literature

The Literature prize was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro

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“who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.

The author of seven novels, a short-story collection and screenplays, Ishiguro was born in bomb-hit Nagasaki in 1954, and moved to England at the age of 5.

 

Nobel Peace Prize

The Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)

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Akira Kawasaki, an ICAN International Steering Group member and a co-chair of Japanese nongovernmental organization Peace Boat, speaks to a group of 20 hibakusha during a meeting in Tokyo on Monday. | KYODO

“for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons”.

The group formed by Geneva-based coalition of disarmament activists is behind the first treaty to prohibit nuclear arms.

RANTS OF THE MONTH

Lies emanating from high places.

One of the major factors in the deterioration of the ability of people to make rational political decisions has been the decay of professional standards in journalism. It has reached the point of justifying barefaced lies that are presented by the likes of Kellyanne Conway who reckons that lies from the Trump White House are merely ‘alternative facts’. The Guardian presents an example of how this works.

Mike Luckovich also shows the technique:

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In truth, real truth, there is nothing really new. The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III left us a stele in which he described a great “victory”at Qarqar, Syria,  in the year 853 BCE. The king was pursuing an old objective of both Assyria and Babylon, access to the Mediterranean. He claimed to have fought against 12 kings although only 11 are listed (Twelve Kings is an Akkadian term meant to symbolize any kind of alliance.)
The coalition consisted of:

  • King Hadadezer himself commanded 1,200 chariots, 1,200 horsemen and 20,000 soldiers;
  • King Irhuleni of Hamath commanded 700 chariots, 700 horsemen and 10,000 soldiers;
  • King Ahab of Israel sent 2,000 chariots and 10,000 soldiers;
  • The Kingdom of KUR Gu-a-a identified as Que – Cilicia sent 500 soldiers;
  • The land of KUR Mu-us-ra- identified as Masura, which is the outlet of the Düden River[5] sent 1,000 soldiers;
  • The land of Irqanata (Tell Arqa) sent 10 chariots and 10,000 soldiers;
  • King Matinu Baal of Arwad sent 200 soldiers;
  • The land of Usannata sent 200 soldiers;
  • King Adunu Baal of Shianu – figures lost
  • King Gindibu of Arabia sent 1000 camelry;
  • King Ba’asa, son of Ruhubi, of the land of Ammon sent 100 soldiers.
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Fake news in cuneiform on limestone

Shalmaneser boasts that his troops inflicted 14,000 casualties upon the allied army, capturing countless chariots and horses, and describes the damage he inflicted on his opponents in savage detail. However, the royal inscriptions from this period are notoriously unreliable. They never directly acknowledge defeats and sometimes claim victories that were actually won by ancestors or predecessors. If Shalmaneser had won a clear victory at Qarqar, it did not immediately lead to further Assyrian conquests in Syria to say nothing of advancing to the sea.  Assyrian records make it clear that he campaigned in the region several more times in the following decade, engaging Hadadezer six times, who was supported by Irhuleni of Hamath at least twice.
Shalmaneser’s opponents held on to their thrones after this battle, though Ahab of Israel died shortly afterwards in an unrelated battle.  Hadadezer was king of Damascus until at least 841 BC. Also note the inflated numbers such as Ahab’s 2000 chariots and 10,000 men. Chop off a few zeroes and you might be near the truth. The goal of reaching the Mediterranean, the Levant and Egypt was attained by a Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, nearly 200 years later.

In the 1950’s the CIA  did a similar set of manipulative tricks with US public opinion as disclosed now in an story in the NYTimes. It was done by raising donations from the public for Radio Free Europe which was a propaganda station broadcasting to the Soviet bloc. The NYTimes story is edifying, to say the least.

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A billboard in Denver, Colo., in 1954, encouraged contributions to Radio Free Europe. Credit Floyd H. McCall/The Denver Post, via Getty Images

Cheers Kellyanne,  you are part of a long tradition.

You also have a worthy colleague in Israel known as the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Office.  An incident took  place in which a group of human rights activists attempted to protect shepherds who were being driven from their grazing grounds by settler thugs.  The activists were led by Rabbi Arik Ascherman, cofounder of Rabbis for Human Rights. 

Rabbi Ascherman described the incident in detail in Haaretz.

Needless to say the report put out by the Army could easily have been written by Kellyanne Conway, a scribe in the service of Shalmaneser III, a CIA flunky or any of the countless purveyors of “alternative facts” in the 30 century gap between them.  Amira Hass writing in Haaretz describes the creation of alternate facts by the Army. She details the lies of the Army Spokesperson’s Office and quotes the official version:

“Contrary to what has been claimed, the vehicle was damaged following an attempt by the driver to pass by. The officer at the site did not move the spikes in order to damage the vehicle.”

As Ms Hass notes, “the IDF should check the effectiveness of those spikes. If the car ran over them deliberately with all four wheels yet only one rear tire was blown, the army has a serious problem with its equipment. “

It has an even greater problem with its veracity, but fortunately for the army, it has a brainwashed neo-fascist public that will swallow any cock and bull story it chooses to present. Shalmaneser, rest in peace, your legacy is in good hands.

FACEBOOK PLAYS DIRTY FOR MONEY–FOR SHAME!

The depth  and extent of the role played by Facebook in the 2016 elections in the US is now coming to light and a shoddy story it is indeed.  It is reported in the NYTimes that Facebook has disclosed  that it had identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin.

Most of the 3,000 ads did not refer to particular candidates but instead focused on divisive social issues such as race, gay rights, gun control and immigration, according to a post on Facebook by Alex Stamos, the company’s chief security officer. The ads, which ran between June 2015 and May 2017, were linked to some 470 fake accounts and pages the company said it had shut down. Facebook has turned the ads over to Congress for investigation.

The African-American community has a special bone to pick with Facebook over the racism in the ads. They were designed to inflame and exploit racial, political and economic rifts in the United States. Russian-backed Facebook pages promoted anti-immigrant rallies, targeted the Black Lives Matter movement and focused attentions on critical election swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

Facebook is now heavily engaged in damage control, apologizing in all directions and promising to do better in the future. None of this can undo the damage caused by the greed that led them to take the ads in the first place.

TRUMP AND DOOM

Chemi Shalev writing in Haaretz describes Trump as  a disaster waiting to happen, a calamity set to occur, an explosive device primed to go off. Like people paralyzed in the middle of a nightmare, the world looks at Trump today with trepidation and frustration, awaiting a catastrophe it feels helpless to avoid. As David Leonhardt writes in the NYTimes, “The blizzard of lies — to quote a Dave Frishberg song — can be overwhelming. The president is willing to lie whenever it suits his purpose. Summoning outrage about each new lie is exhausting, and I understand why people sometimes tune out.”
While in Israel Netanyahu has decided to flatter Trump almost obsessively as a brave leader with a coherent view of the Middle East, the rest of the world – with the exception of Israel and Trump’s white base, which view any leader, from Trump and Putin to Mussolini and Franco as preferable to leftist/liberal government – regards Trump as an irresponsible juvenile delinquent who can’t control his urges, is clueless about the world surrounding him and is close to causing global catastrophe.
Prometheus and Pandora agree totally and sometimes wonder whether it was a good idea to steal fire from the gods and give it to man. Let us all fervently hope that somehow the world will survive this presidency and that the American people will come to their senses. This is problematic since,  as Yehuda Bauer points out in Haaretz,  at heart, the United States is a violent society that is founded on the blood of others. According to data which are hard to verify, between 1968 and 2017 some 1.6 million Americans were murdered by other Americans – almost all of them with the use of firearms (which every American has the right to carry). In 2015 alone, about 33,000 citizens were murdered by their neighbors. In comparison, 1.2 million were killed in all the wars in US history.

 

OK, ENOUGH RANTING, NOW LET US HAVE SOMETHING MORE INTERESTING

CONGRATULATIONS TO MARGARET KIVELSON

Our dear friend and colleague Margaret Kivelson, professor emerita at UCLA was the recipient of the 2017 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize for outstanding contributions to planetary science by the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences. This is a most prestigious award and Prometheus and Pandora are delighted to see it go to our beloved Margy. Cheers for a great scientist and wonderful person.

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FAR OUT COMET DISCOVERED

A comet has been discovered at an unprecedented distance from the sun (23 AU,  beyond the orbit of Saturn) and is moving inwards. The observations showing inbound long-period comet C/2017 K2 (PANSTARRS) to be active at a record heliocentric distance. Nucleus temperatures are too low (60–70 K) either for water ice to sublimate or for amorphous ice to crystallize, requiring another source for the observed activity.
This is exciting news in astronomy geekdom and Pandora and Prometheus are full of enthusiasm about it. The scientific report is out in ApJ. Letters and we note that the work of colleagues at Tel Aviv University, led by our late friend Akiva Bar Nun is referenced.

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Figure 1. Left: prediscovery CFHT image of C/2017 K2 (arrow) from UT 2013 May 12 at 23.765 au. Right: HST image from UT 2017 June 27 at 15.874 au. The antisolar (-⊙) and negative velocity () vectors are marked. Both images have north to the top and east to the left).

CONSCIOUSNESS: A SERIES OF CONVERSATIONS

In past postings we have shared some of these conversations from the New York Review of Books.. This week we have a new discussion, number 12 in the series.
We hope you will find it interesting. We note that the Never Not Here blog has provided us with a link to all the discussions up to now.

The present discussion #12  asks: What is “an object” in the end? And what is “the world” that these objects make up?

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Giorgio Morandi: Metaphysical Still Life, 1918 Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan/Scala/Art Resource, NY/ARS, NY

When we talk about consciousness, we rarely discuss ordinary physics, which we assume science has long since understood: objects are composed of atoms; they exist entirely separate from ourselves, and can be measured and manipulated in all kind of ways. It’s also clear, however, that this idea of the physical world works only if we suppose that consciousness—our experience of that world—is distinct and apart from it; objects exist first outside us, then in a secondary, shadowy way as representations inside our brains. This is the so-called internalist view. Yet, in these discussions, Riccardo Manzotti has frequently insisted that there are no representations in our brains. Rather, he has suggested that experience and object are one. But in that case, what do we mean by an object?

—Tim Parks

 

Prometheus and Pandora recommend that you read this discussion and think about the ideas involved.

 

PROFILE OF A WRITER

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Elizabeth Hardwick in Castine, Maine in the 1980s. Photograph: Susan Wood/ Getty Images

Pandora and Prometheus would like to share with you a profile of the late Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007) who was one of the cofounders of the New York Review of Books. Her life story can be found in the Guardian obituary, but in this article Darryl Pinkney gives us a much more personal few of his former teacher. He is the editor of The New York Stories of Elizabeth Hardwick. (2010) which is reviewed in the Guardian, but Pandora and Prometheus think you might find the NYRB profile interesting as well.

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SILLY TIME

What If? asks

Can you use a magnifying glass and moonlight to light a fire?

—Rogier Spoor

The answer is that you cannot as Randall explains with a bit of thermodynamics and physics.

You can’t start a fire with moonlight[1] no matter how big your magnifying glass is. The reason is kind of subtle. It involves a lot of arguments that sound wrong but aren’t, and generally takes you down a rabbit hole of optics.

Nothing like a resourceful kid when a cop pulls you over:

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WUMO do not like their cartoons reproduced and we will respect this. Just go here.

Our friend the Wizard has some environmental advice:

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Prometheus and Pandora VI

 Picture above:

WE ARE TOLD THERE WAS A MEETING OF SOME PEOPLE IN THE TRUMP TOWER

Prometheus from Chernobyl

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The giver of energy at an ill-fated reactor–bitter irony

PANDORA-Takes a Wonder Woman pose

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Copyright 2014-2015 GENZOMAN from DeviantArt

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

Simone Veil, (1927-2017), an Auschwitz survivor who played a leading role in legalizing contraception and abortion in France, died on June 30 aged 89. Veil, an icon of French politics and the first president of the European parliament, died at home, her son Jean said.

In 1973, while serving as health minister, she pushed through laws to liberalize contraception, with the pill not only authorized but reimbursed by the social security system. A year later she led the charge in the national assembly for the legalization of abortion, where she braved a volley of insults, some of them likening terminations to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.The legislation, the Loi Veil (Veil law), is considered a cornerstone of women’s rights and secularism in France.

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Simone Veil, Nazi death camp survivor and French politician who spearheaded abortion rights. Photograph: AP

A staunch pro-European, Veil was elected to the European parliament in 1979, becoming the first president of the assembly. After a second term as health minister under the Socialist president François Mitterrand, Veil last held major public office between 1998 and 2007, when she was a member of the constitutional council. President Emmanuel Macron eulogized her “ Her uncompromising humanism, wrought by the horror of the camps, made her the constant ally of the weakest, and the resolute enemy of any political compromise with the extreme right “

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Simone Veil’s funeral took place at Les Invalides in Paris

She is the fifth woman to be buried in the Pantheon.. A full obituary of this remarkable woman can be found in both the Guardian and the NYTimes.

Liu Xiaobo, (1955 – 2017) Nobel laureate and political prisoner, has died at 61 in Chinese custody. He was China’s only Nobel Peace Prize laureate and catapulted to fame in 1989, when the Communist Party’s violent crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square created an international uproar.

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Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese Nobel Peace Prize laureate who died of cancer while in state custody, was mourned in Hong Kong on Thursday. Credit Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Now, nearly three decades later, Mr. Liu has died of cancer while in state custody, a bedridden and silenced example of Western governments’ inability, or reluctance, to push back against China’s resurgent authoritarians.

When pro-democracy protests broke out in Beijing in the spring of 1989, Liu was lecturing in New York but decided to return despite having previously shown little interest in politics. Liu flew back to Beijing and headed to Tiananmen Square, where he played a central role in the protests. He led a hunger strike shortly before the 4 June military crackdown in which hundreds, possibly thousands of lives were lost. He was jailed for almost two years for his role in what Beijing called “counter-revolutionary” riots. The experience served as a political awakening that transformed Liu into a lifelong activist and champion of democracy. He was one of the authors of Charter 08, a manifesto initially signed by over 350 Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison for this activity and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. The Chinese reaction to this was to put his wife, the poet and artist Liu Xia, with whom he had fallen in love during the 1990s, under house arrest and she has spent recent years living in almost total isolation, under constant surveillance.

Liu Xiaobo had no illusions about the prospects for democracy in  China. He realized that a leader against the autocracy was needed and he felt his own inadequacy deeply, as he wrote in a letter to a friend in 2000:

“Compared to others under the Communist black curtain, we cannot call ourselves real men. Through the great tragedies of all these years, we still don’t have a righteous giant like [Václav] Havel. In order for everyone to have the right to be selfish, there has to be a righteous giant who will sacrifice selflessly. In order to obtain “passive freedoms” (freedom from the arbitrary oppression by those in power), there has to be a will for active resistance. In history, nothing is fated. The appearance of a martyr will to completely change a nation’s soul and raise the spiritual quality of the people. But Gandhi was by chance, Havel was by chance; two thousand years ago, a peasant’s boy born in the manger was even more by chance. Human progress relies on the chance birth of these individuals. One cannot count on the collective conscience of the masses but only on the great individual conscience to consolidate the weak masses. In particular, our nation needs this righteous giant; the appeal of a role model is infinite; a symbol can rouse an abundance of moral resources. For example, Fang Lizhi’s ability to walk out of the U.S. Embassy, or Zhao Ziyang’s ability to actively resist after stepping down, or so-and-so refusing to go abroad. A very important reason for the silence and amnesia after June Fourth is that we did not have a righteous giant who stepped forward.”

Nicolas Kristof has expressed eloquently our admiration for his courage to step forward. An editorial in the NYTimes summed up his brave life and called for the release of his widow,  Liu Xia,   and permission for  her to move to the country of her choice.

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A man in front of a poster of Liu Xiaobo at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo in 2010. Credit Odd Andersen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Full obituaries can be found in the NYTimes and in the Guardian.

JULY MILESTONES

BORN IN JULY

3 July, 1962 Tom Cruise

Film Actor, Actor, Producer

Tom Cruise was born on July 3, 1962, in Syracuse, New York. After developing an interest in acting during high school, he rocketed to fame with his star turns in Risky Business and Top Gun. Cruise later earned acclaim for his work in the hit film Jerry Maguire and the Mission: Impossible franchise. He also was targeted by the tabloids for his marriages to actresses Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes.

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Imprinting hands in Hall of Fame

5 July 1889 Jean Cocteau

French Artist, Author, Actor, Director, Poet, Playwright
Writer, artist and film director Jean Cocteau was one of the most influential creative figures in the Parisian avant-garde between the two World Wars.
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8 July 1908 Nelson Rockefeller U.S. Vice President, Governor
The son of John D. Rockefeller Jr., Nelson Rockefeller served four terms as governor of New York. He was later appointed vice president under President Gerald Ford.
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12 July 1997 Malala Yousafzai  Activist, Children’s Activist, Women’s Rights Activist
As a young girl, Malala Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
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19 July 1834 Edgar Degas French Painter, Sculptor
Painter and sculptor Edgar Degas was a highly celebrated 19th century French Impressionist whose work helped shape the fine art landscape for years to come.
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DIED IN JULY

It is an interesting coincidence that three US presidents died on July 4. The second and third presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4 1826 and the fifth, James Monroe, on July 4 1831. Not unexpectedly, many interpreted this as some divine sign.
“People interpreted their deaths in a religious manner,” said Michael Meranze, a U.S. history professor at UCLA. “It was clearly taken symbolically as both the birth and growth of the early republic.” In 1826, for instance, Rep. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts
delivered a two-hour-long eulogy in Boston suggesting their deaths were a sign that God was protecting the nation.

“As their lives themselves were the gifts of Providence, who is not willing to recognize in their happy termination, as well as in their long continuance, proofs that our country and its benefactors are objects of His care?” Webster said.

 

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John Adams, oil painting by Gilbert Stuart, 1826; in the National Museum of American Art…

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Thomas Jefferson, oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale, 1800; in the White House Collection,…

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James Monroe.
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (file no. LC-USZC4-12215)

20 July 1866 Bernhard Riemann famous German mathematician

His  profound and novel approaches to the study of geometry laid the mathematical foundation for Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. He also made important contributions to the theory of functions, complex analysis, and number theory.

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Bernhard Riehmann

27 July 1946 Gertrude Stein  Art Collector, Publisher, Author, Poet, Journalist(1874–1946)

Gertrude Stein was an American author and poet best known for her modernist writings, extensive art collecting and literary salon in 1920s Paris.

RANTING

TRUMP ABANDONS THE ENVIRONMENT–FRANCE RESPONDS FOR ALL OF US

The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, responded to Trump for the whole world. The invitation to responsible environmental scientists to come to work in France should resonate everywhere. We are all required to take whatever steps we can to remedy the catastrophic situation that political sloth and corporate corruption have created for us.

In Guatemala environmental activists are under attack. Members of the Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action (CALAS) have been the target of a smear campaign after they challenged the license of the San Rafael mining company in court. On 5 July, the Supreme Court of Justice notified it would provisionally suspend the mining company’s license. CALAS members are at risk of further attacks. Every one of us can take action on their behalf and on behalf of the environment. ACT!!

HOW BAD WILL THE CATASTROPHE BE?

An article in New York magazine by David Wallace-Wells predicts a frightening scenario for our planet and our  species.  He paints a picture in which the planet becomes uninhabitable for human beings.  The scientists whom he interviewed over the past several months — the most credentialed and tenured in the field, few of them inclined to alarmism and many advisers to the IPCC who nevertheless criticize its conservatism — have quietly reached an apocalyptic conclusion, too: No plausible program of emissions reductions alone can prevent climate disaster.

Wallace-Wells gives us a long list of catastrophes that are already with us or drawing near all caused by human blindness to reality. They include the end of food availability, plagues of various types, unbreathable air and perpetual warfare as people struggle for vanishing resources, permanent economic collapse and poisoned oceans.

James Hansen, who was one of the first scientists to blow the whistle on global warming, gave an interview in which he discussed some of the dire effects including the possibility that government of the planet will collapse. Michael Mann, a prominent climatologist, also took part in the discussion. What they have to say is worth your time and attention. Read Hansen’s final summation:

I think on the shorter term, the planet becomes much less habitable — low latitudes become less habitable, and if we lose coastal cities everything starts going backwards. The progress we’ve had over the last centuries, more people having a higher standard of living — that’s going to go in the other direction. So we really have to stabilize it at a level that allows ice sheets to remain on Greenland and Antarctica with sizes comparable to what they have now. And that requires that the warming be not more than a degree or so. But the business community really doesn’t understand that.

I remember when we wrote our first paper on this, in 1981, and the New York Times reported it on the front page. I remember saying to one of my co-authors, “This is going to be very interesting, sometime during our careers, we’re going to see these things beginning to happen.”

You probably thought you’d see the world responding.
Yeah! And it worked with the ozone.

Is that just because it was a smaller problem?
DuPont told Reagan it was okay, because they were working on alternative chemicals and could make just as much money at that. That’s what the whole fossil-fuel industry should be working on — alternative energies. But they chose instead to double down on fossil fuels.

Robinson Meyer, writing in The Atlantic recently, takes issue with Wallace-Wells and suggests that his doomsday prophecy may be overstated. He agrees that the situation is grave, but faults Wallace-Wells for ignoring positive things that are happening. Nonetheless, his conclusions are not optimistic:

Yet this (the reality of today) is worrisome by itself. Consider the world that climate scientists say is more realistic: a place where sea levels cause mass migration within and without the developed world; where the economy is never great but is not in shambles either; where voters fear for their livelihoods and superpowers poke at each others’ weaknesses.

Does that world sound like a safe and secure place to live? Does it sound like a workable status quo? And how many small wars need to start in that world before they all fuse together? Who needs planet-killing methane burps when nine different countries have 15,000 nuclear weapons between them? In short, there are plenty of doomsday scenarios to worry about. They don’t need to be catastrophic on their face to induce catastrophe.

The present era, dubbed the Anthropocene for the impact of humans on nature and the planet, is not fully defined. In a recent article in NYMagazine, Robert Sullivan presents various theories of when humanity doomed the planet and itself, ranging from the dawn of nuclear energy to various historical events that shaped society as we know it. One theory blames our friend Prometheus for the gift of fire.

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Theory 2: Was it all the way back when humans first learned to control fire? Science Photo Library/Corbis

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DOOMSDAY IN SYRIA/IRAQ

As the Syrian conflict enters its seventh year, more than 465,000 Syrians have been killed in the fighting, more than a million injured and over 12 million Syrians – half the country’s prewar population – have been displaced from their homes.

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The battles go on and the horror continues.  The battle for the Iraqi city of Mosul seems to have ended with the Iraqi army having defeated ISIS. The main victims were the civilian population. An Amnesty International report accuses both sides of flagrant indifference to the lives and safety of civilians. The report documents how  ISIS moved non-combatants from neighboring villages into the zones of the battle in west Mosul, trapped them in their homes and prevented them from escaping, using them as human shields. Meanwhile Iraqi and coalition forces failed to take adequate measures to protect civilians, instead subjecting them to a terrifying barrage of fire from weapons that should never be used in densely populated  areas.

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“If you tried to run away, they would catch you and kill you, and hang your body from the electricity pylon as a warning. They were left for days, just hanging there.”

The full text of the Amnesty International report can be downloaded.     

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Victory has been declared in Mosul but explosions still silence Islamic State fighters. Photograph: Ghaith Abdul-Ahad for the Guardian

HOME SWEET HOME

CEASE FIRE IN SYRIA?

Cease fire in Syria–a problem for Israel. At first glance it would appear both unreasonable and immoral to oppose putting a stop to the bloodletting in Syria. Yet a deeper look shows why Israel cannot support the cease fire brokered by Russia and the USA. Shmuel Rosner, writing in the NYTimes points out the danger to the security interests of Israel if the cease fire enables Iran to reach the border region between the Golan Heights and Syria.

The Russian reaction was an attempt to reassure Israel. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, that Russia and the United States would do all they could to address Israeli concerns about the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria.

He was responding to comments by  Netanyahu who told reporters in Paris late on Sunday that the arrangement perpetuated Iran’s presence in Syria and that Israel was therefore “utterly opposed” to it.

STATE HOMOPHOBIA

Same-sex couples are not allowed, in practice, to adopt children in Israel. The court petition regarding adoption by same-sex and common-law couples was filed by the Association of Israeli Gay Fathers, with the Israel Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, against the Welfare Ministry and the attorney general. The state has responded by informing the Court  that it will not lift the discriminatory procedures for same-sex couples who want to adopt children in Israel.

The Social Affairs and Justice Ministries told the High Court of their position ahead of the hearing that will be held later this week. The position is “children should only be given for adoption to families that are not considered in Israeli society as irregular.”
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.801808
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.801629

The High Court of Justice has given the government two months to reconsider its opposition to allowing same-sex couples to adopt in the country. The facts are that since 2008, when single-sex couples and couples who have common-law marriages became legally able to adopt within Israel, 550 such couples have submitted petitions to adopt, Haaretz reported. While only three same-sex couples were successful, more than 1,000 straight couples have adopted in the same period.

Bradley Burston, writing in Haaretz, points to the behavior of the government as the death knell of Netanyahu’s political career. Prometheus and Pandora and their imaginary playmates sincerely hope that he is right.

SUBMARINES

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Not just a game

Israel is engaged in purchasing submarines and other ships from Germany. The signing of a memorandum of understanding on the German sale of three submarines to Israel has been postponed, a National Security Council official said on Tuesday morning.

The official’s announcement came following a report in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth that Germany postponed the signing of the memorandum in light of Israel’s investigation into possible corruption in the deal. According to the daily, the signing  was meant to take place  in Germany, but  has been postponed indefinitely.

Several senior Israeli officials have been  arrested and one of the main suspects is turning state witness, which could bring about a major crisis.

ISRAEL VS THE EU

Netanyahu went to Budapest to meet with the Eastern part of the EU and launched a blistering attack against them, analyzed by Chemi Shalev. The EU responded with a strong referral to humanitarian law and respect for human rights. The hubris (hutzpa in Hebrew and Yiddish) in this statement is amazing.

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From left: Bohuslav Sobotka of the Czech Republic, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Viktor Orbán of Hungary, Robert Fico of Slovakia and Beata Szydło of Poland at a press conference following talks in Budapest between Netanyahu and the heads of government. Photograph: Balazs Mohai/EPA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the European Union would not survive if it didn’t change its stance on Israel, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” reporters overheard Netanyahu saying at a meeting of Eastern European leaders in Budapest.

“The truth is the truth — both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future,” he added. “Both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel.”

This entire episode really should be in our Silly Time corner.

A BIT FROM SCIENCE

A NEW PARTICLE IN OUR MIDST

A few weeks ago at the EPS Conference on High Energy Physics in Venice, the LHCb experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider  reported the observation of Ξcc++(Xicc++) a new particle containing two charm quarks and one up quark. The existence of this particle from the baryon family was predicted by current theories, but physicists have been looking for such baryons with two heavy quarks for many years. The mass of the newly identified particle is about 3621 MeV, which is almost four times heavier than the most familiar baryon, the proton, a property that arises from its doubly charmed quark content. It is the first time that such a particle has been unambiguously detected. The discovery was a major event in geekdom and should contribute to our understanding  of the nature of matter.

Measuring the properties of the Ξcc++ will help to establish how a system of two heavy quarks and a light quark behaves. Important insights can be obtained by precisely measuring production and decay mechanisms, and the lifetime of this new particle.

Cheers say Prometheus and Pandora.

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Image representing the new particle observed by LHCb, containing two charm quarks and one up quark. (Image: Daniel Dominguez/CERN)

A CHILD PSYCHOPATH?

The question of juvenile psychopathy is discussed in detail in a recent issue of the Atlantic. Barbara Bradley Hagerty   presents several cases and a summary of research and therapy methods. For some children, their environment—growing up in poverty, living with abusive parents, fending for themselves in dangerous neighborhoods—can turn them violent and coldhearted. These kids aren’t born callous and unemotional; many experts suggest that if they’re given a reprieve from their environment, they can be pulled back from psychopathy’s edge.

But other children display callous and unemotional traits even though they are raised by loving parents in safe neighborhoods. Large studies in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have found that this early-onset condition is highly hereditary, hardwired in the brain—and especially difficult to treat. “We’d like to think a mother and father’s love can turn everything around,” Raine says. “But there are times where parents are doing the very best they can, but the kid—even from the get-go—is just a bad kid.”

Still, researchers stress that a callous child—even one who was born that way—is not automatically destined for psychopathy. By some estimates, four out of five children with these traits do not grow up to be psychopaths. The mystery—the one everyone is trying to solve—is why some of these children develop into normal adults while others end up on death row. The structures in the brain involved in psychopathy have been identified, but there is still very little that can be done. Various therapy modes are described in the article and it is worth your attention.

 

POWER CORRUPTS INDEED

Lord Acton told us “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

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John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (1834-1902)

What Lord Acton knew from intuition and observation of colleagues has now been found scientifically. Basically, having power for a long time causes a brain malfunction known as hubris syndrome.  Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, found that subjects under the influence of power,  acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.

Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University, in Ontario, recently described something similar. Unlike Keltner, who studies behaviors, Obhi studies brains. And when he put the heads of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, he found that power, in fact, impairs a specific neural process, “mirroring,” that may be a cornerstone of empathy.  This finding  gives a neurological basis to what Keltner has termed the “power paradox”: Once we have power, we lose some of the capacities we needed to gain it in the first place.

“Hubris syndrome,” as Lord David Owen  and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence.

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Anyone who has served in an army is quite aware of this syndrome among commanders. Much has been written about military incompetence, e.g.:

On The Psychology Of Military Incompetence

This book documents 100 years of military incompetence and stupidity from the Crimean War to WWII. It examines the social psychology of military organizations, provides case studies of individual commanders and identifies an alarming pattern in the causes of military disaster.

SILLY TIME

WHAT IF?

What would happen if one tried to funnel Niagara Falls through a straw?

—David Gwizdala

The answer is that certainly you could not, but it is still fun to think about it.

Imagine using a particle accelerator to push the water…

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CONFESSIONS OF A PHYSICIST: XKCD WILL KEEP US HONEST

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IS CYNTHIA QUALIFIED TO BE PRESIDENT?

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 GLUTEN MUST BE REALLY BAD STUFF…

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ST. GEORGE IS A REPUBLICAN?

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