Category Archives: Prometheus

Prometheus and Pandora XXIII

Pandora and Prometheus are back to rant at you or preferably with you about a variety of issues. In the featured image they become a bit nostalgic about their first date set up by Mercury.


Toni Morrison February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019

Chloe Anthony Wofford “Toni” Morrison (born Chloe Ardelia Wofford; was an American novelist, essayist,editor, teacher, and professor emeritus at Princeton University. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye, was published in 1970. The critically acclaimed Song of Solomon (1977) brought her national attention and won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1988, she won the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for Beloved (1987). Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993. In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected her for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Also that year, she was honored with the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. On May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. A detailed appreciation by Margalit Fox can be found in the NYTimes.

Toni Morrison 1993



In previous postings Prometheus and Pandora have ranted loud and clear about the attack on abortion rights launched by the right wing in the US. Now we would like to address the sad fact that after the romantic interlude under starry skies or in the back seat, any pregnancy that ensues is suddenly HER problem exclusively, while the young man full of testosterone gets a free pass. One might think that the woman or girl became pregnant on her own or through some supernatural or spiritual agency. We know of only one such event in all human history which is documented in the New Testament. Mythology tells us of Athena emerging from the forehead of Zeus or of Venus rising from the sea.

Birth of Venus Sandro Botticelli 1480

For us ordinary mortals the means of impregnation are well known and there is a basic wrong perpetrated when only one of the partners must suffer the burden, risks and stigma. The author Elizabeth Hardwick, writing in the Morning Call in 1996 suggests satirically to the Republican convention of that year to add a Celibacy Amendment to the Constitution mandating celibacy for single young men and required marriage for any pregnancy caused by violation.

As she writes:
“Unmarried women have inflicted terrible tortures on their own bodies, hoping to undo or to conceal. When that failed, as it usually did, society often gave them abandonment, disgrace and, in some cultures, death.”

Elizabeth Hartwick by David Levine

Her daughter Harriet Lowell writing in the New York Review in the present invokes her mother’s article as being highly relevant to the reality of the present.


On a closely related issue Pandora and Prometheus call your attention to an article by Peter Beinart in the Atlantic about the prevalence of subjugation of women in our culture. He notes that this is the common denominator of modern dictatorship which enables the enemies of democracy to win democratic elections. As Beinart puts it

“But besides their hostility to liberal democracy, the right-wing autocrats taking power across the world share one big thing, which often goes unrecognized in the U.S.: They all want to subordinate women.”

Of course Trump claims to be reaching out to women, as interpreted well by Mike Lukavich.

The suppression of women goes back to ancient times, as may be noted in Isaiah III and in the Book of Esther I. Here we have the speech of Memuchan to the king which states the principle of subjugation of women most explicitly:

Then Memuchan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles:

“Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.

This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord. Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”

The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memuchan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language,proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.

This consideration leads us to some difficult questions about the forthcoming elections in the US. As Beinart concluded a real change in the public and political domain requires a change in domestic attitudes. We would love to nominate Elizabeth Warren to run against Trump. She is certainly much better qualified for the task than Trump and many of her Democrat contenders in the primary. Yet, we wonder if she indeed has a real chance of overcoming the deep misogyny in society both in US and in the rest of the world. She certainly believes that she can and we shall support her if and when she is nominated.


This year we mark the centenary of the 19th amendment of the US Constitution that granted the right to vote to women. It is interesting and somewhat sad to view the arguments against suffrage that have not wholly vanished today. Men then believed that women shouldn’t vote because they were, quite literally, not made for it. According to the leading theory, mental exertion could jeopardize reproductive health. And if the science of the day asserted that women could become infertile if they did too much thinking, no man would want to send his daughter, sister, or wife to college or the office—and certainly not to the ballot box.

The idea that menstruation required rest and certainly an avoidance of cognitive activity was debunked by the 19th century American physician Mary Putnam Jacobi.Real power only came when women were elected to positions of power.

In our time we saw how Trump attributed an attack on him by a female TV journalist to her period. Some idiotic ideas die hard.


It is indeed most appropriate and worthy of commendation that American Jews are leading a protest against the policies and actions of the ICE towards immigrants. Jews know only too well what it means to be a refugee and to flee death and destruction to whatever haven can be found. Children are being separated from their families at the border and imprisoned in concentration camps. ICE raids are increasing in frequency and severity, instilling fear and terror into immigrant communities. People are dying at the border as they flee for their safety. The Never Again Action Network calls for Jews to block ICE centers and detention facilities. In Wisconsin the movement stood up, blocked ICE and made it clear that

“Never Again is Now!”

The slogan and hashmark #neveragain also represents a movement that strives for general human rights etc. Certainly there is no contradiction. The general movement defines itself thus:

Causes We Support

Genocide Awareness:

Now more than ever, the world needs to remember the atrocities of the past to prevent genocides of the future. The world is still at risk of revisiting the horrors of the past. Most frighteningly, the world is at risk of forgetting the past.

Human Rights Around the globe:

There are places where basic human rights are not respected. We support organizations
dedicated to upholding and enforcing international laws on human rights and holding those who violate those rights accountable. .

Gun Control

We support the Never Again movement started by the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Never again should children in our schools die in their classrooms. It is time to take action on gun control.


Two new books on climate change are reviewed in the New York Review of Books by Alan Weisman

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
by David Wallace-Wells
Tim Duggan, 310 pp., $27.00

Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?
by Bill McKibben
Henry Holt, 291 pp., $28.00

These two books present the horrible truth about climate change and the list of errors and malfeasance on the part of the economic and political leaders of humanity. The review opens with an indictment that cannot be denied.

“Climate scientists’ worst-case scenarios back in 2007, the first year the Northwest Passage became navigable without an icebreaker (today, you can book a cruise through it), have all been overtaken by the unforeseen acceleration of events. No one imagined that twelve years later the United Nations would report that we have just twelve years left to avert global catastrophe, which would involve cutting fossil-fuel use nearly by half. Since 2007, the UN now says, we’ve done everything wrong. New coal plants built since the 2015 Paris climate agreement have already doubled the equivalent coal-energy output of Russia and Japan, and 260 more are underway.”

The great problem is to convince millions of people that their life style is not sustainable and that major changes must be made very soon if we are not to face apocalypse. We think that everyone should think seriously about how to deal with these issues since for politicians it is an article of faith that continued, albeit lethal, economic growth is essential for getting reelected. As Wallace-Wells writes:

The entire history of swift economic growth, which began somewhat suddenly in the eighteenth century, is not the result of innovation or trade or the dynamics of free trade, but simply our discovery of fossil fuels and all their raw power. “

Richard Misrach: Untitled, 2007

Our addiction to fossil fuels despite hurricane winds and burning forests is so total that one wonders if anything can sway us to wise up and do the right thing.



Nine-hundred light-years from Earth, there’s a football-shaped planet so hot that heavy metals boil through its atmosphere, venting into space. It was discovered by the Hubble Space telescope and analyzed in detail in an article in The Astronomical Journal. Hot Jupiter’s are well known, but this one appears to be special. Much interest in geekdom…


The famous quantum cat

Dead or alive, left-spinning or right-spinning — in the quantum world particles such as the famous analogy of Schrödinger’s cat can be all these things at the same time. An international team, together with experts from Forschungszentrum Jülich, have now succeeded in transforming 20 entangled quantum bits into such a state of superposition. The generation of such atomic Schrödinger cat states is regarded as an important step in the development of quantum computers.


Big Bang illustration (stock image).
Credit: © Andrea Danti / Adobe Stock

Dark matter, which researchers believe make up about 80% of the universe’s mass, is one of the most elusive mysteries in modern physics. What exactly it is and how it came to be is a mystery, but a new study now suggests that dark matter may have existed before the Big Bang.


For WhatIF we present a thermal and technological history of the Earth and its inhabitants.

As we prepare our kiddies to go back to school (really grandkiddies):

Politics as usual…

Prometheus and Pandora XXII

Our featured image expresses what Prometheus and Pandora think of the war on reproduction rights taking place in the US and elsewhere.


MIRA ZAKAI 21 September 1942-20 May 2019

Mira Zakai

Prometheus and Pandora and their friends mourn the loss of a great singer, musician and teacher. She died while in recovery from a stroke that she had experienced a year ago.Mira Zakai performed with most of the world’s top conductors and orchestras. Norman Lebrecht has written a beautiful appreciation of her. Since retiring from the concert stage, Mira Zakai became Head of Lied and Oratorio at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music of Tel Aviv University. We all are grateful for the pleasure she gave us. May she rest in peace.

Sir Yehudi Menuhin chose her to be the only soloist in a special concert for Pope John Paul II – an event which took place at Castel Gandolfo – to sing Bach’s aria “Have mercy oh God” [Erbarme dich mein Gott] with him playing the violin obbligato part. This concert was telecast world-wide. She had previously appeared at Menuhin’s festival as a soloist in Bach’s Mass in B minor. Her 1982 recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with Georg Solti won the Grammy for Best Overall Classical Recording at the 1982 awards. An acclaimed recitalist – Miss Zakai performed in the leading European and American cities as well as in her own country

Murray Gell-Mann September 15, 1929 – May 24, 2019

He was an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physics for his
work on the theory of elementary particles. He was the Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Theoretical Physics Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology, a distinguished fellow and one of the co-founders of the Santa Fe Institute, a professor of physics at the University of New Mexico, and the Presidential Professor of Physics and Medicine at the University of Southern California.

Gell-Mann spent several periods at CERN, a nuclear research facility in Switzerland,  as a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation fellow in 1972.

Gell-Mann was known for his ability to bring order into confusing sets of phenomena. He introduced the concept of “strangeness,” a quantum property that accounted for previously puzzling decay patterns of certain mesons. As defined by Gell-Mann, strangeness is conserved when any subatomic particle interacts via the strong force i.e., the force that binds the components of the atomic nucleus.

As his former colleague Sean Caroll writes in an appreciation in the NYTimes “There are many ways to become an influential theoretical physicist. Some produce creative new ideas, while others are masters of intricate calculations. Some are best at speculating about the unknown, while others bring clarity and insight to established lore. Part of what made Dr. Gell-Mann special was his mastery of all these modes. His work with Francis Low on the “renormalization group” taught physicists how phenomena at high energies and short distances could be elegantly related to what happens at low energies and long distances. This philosophy remains the central organizing principle of much of modern physics.”
He played a major role in developing the Standard Model of Physics that keeps particles in order. He had countless other achievements, too many to list here. A detailed obituary can be found in the NYTimes.

Dr. Gell-Mann at the California Institute of Technology in an undated photo. He collaborated with the renowned physicist Richard Feynman at Caltech.CreditCaltech

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Prometheus and Pandora XXI

Our featured image shows a schema of the interior of a proton



Born: May 4, 1939, Jerusalem
Died: December 28, 2018, Tel Aviv
Spouse: Nilly Zuckerman (m. 1960–2018)
Movies: A Tale of Love and Darkness, The Little Traitor, Tsahal, My Michael

Amos Oz was an Israeli writer, novelist, journalist, and intellectual. He was also a professor of Hebrew literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. From 1967 onward, Oz was a prominent advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

In Israel we have an additional component, the Messianic drive, that guides the politics of the settlers block, Gush Emunim. Prof. Talmon summed up this irrational mind-set well “Claims such as those of Gush Emunim sound to the international community much like that biblical passage— “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the Valley of Ayalon “would sound in an astronomers’ debate.” Amos Oz addressed this issue. His article on the meaning of secular Judaism was republished in Haaretz on the occasion of his death.

Amos Oz leaves behind a legacy of literature and and moral and philosophical leadership. He was a moral leader of the progressive left and strongly espoused the cause of human rights, in particular for the Palestinians suffering under the occupation. There is a detailed obituary in the Jewish Virtual Library as well as a beautiful elegy written by his daughter, Fanya Oz-Salzburger.


January 31, 1921 – January 15, 2019

Carol Channing, the Broadway star best known for her enduring portrayal of the meddlesome matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in the musical “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. She won three Tony Awards, including one for lifetime achievement.

Dolly was actually the second of two roles that made Channing’s reputation. The first was Lorelei Lee, the gold-digging dingbat in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” which opened on Broadway in 1949. The show’s popular song, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” was often played as Channing’s entrance music until the title song from “Hello Dolly!” trumped it.

“Carol Channing had only two major roles to her credit,” Miles Kreuger, president of the Los Angeles-based Institute of the American Musical, said in a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times. “But she is regarded as one of the great stars of American theater. That in itself is a phenomenon.”

The caricaturist Al Hirschfeld drew Carol Channing as the matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” in 1964. The critic Walter Kerr called her “maybe the only creature extant who can live up to a Hirschfeld.” Credit Al Hirschfeld Foundation

Obituaries can be found in the Washington Post and the NYTimes.


April 26, 1929-February 28, 2019

André Previn in 1965. He conducted, composed, played jazz piano and scored movies in a musical life that spurned categories.Credit Erich Auerbach/Getty Images

André Previn, who blurred the boundaries between jazz, pop and classical music — and between composing, conducting and performing — in an extraordinarily eclectic, award-filled career, died on February 28 at his home in Manhattan. Previn modeled himself on Leonard Bernstein who showed that a musician can cross lines and appear in several genres. He received a number of awards and honors for his outstanding musical accomplishments, including both the Austrian and German Cross of Merit, and the Glenn Gould Prize. He is the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Kennedy Center,the London Symphony Orchestra, Gramophone Classic FM, and in 2010 was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy. For his 80th birthday celebrations in 2009, Carnegie Hall presented four concerts which showcased the diversity of his career.
A full and detailed obituary can be found in the New York Times. Gail Eichenthal wrote an appreciation of Previn’s career in the KUSC blog.


In the last few blogs Prometheus and Pandora have held forth at length about the difference between liberal democracy and the totalitarian version. They have referenced Jacob Talmon and others. Now they would like to discuss the question of the evolution of liberal thought and the failure of the expected turn to liberal democracy in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union. In the New York Review of Books, David Bell reviews three studies that deal with the history of liberalism and its rise and fall.

Can Democracy Work?: A Short History of a Radical Idea, from Ancient Athens to Our World
by James Miller
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 306 pp., $27.00

The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century
by Helena Rosenblatt
Princeton University Press, 348 pp., $35.00

On the Spirit of Rights
by Dan Edelstein
University of Chicago Press, 325 pp., $40.00
Musée du Louvre, Paris
Eugène Delacroix: Liberty Leading the People, 1830

We would like to quote the optimistic conclusion to the review by Bell:

“Anyone reading these three books, particularly in the current grim political moment, will come away convinced of the fragile nature of the ideas underlying rights-based liberal democracy. They will grasp more clearly than ever that this liberal ideal, which seemed to triumph in the late twentieth century, had a tortuous history, with its successes dependent on a host of contingent factors. Readers will also be left in no doubt about some of the less savory things that often accompanied it. Miller pays due attention to the “carnival of atrocities” during the French Revolutionary Terror, even as France undertook its first grand experiment with democracy. Rosenblatt emphasizes the elitist,exclusionary tendencies inherent in the history of liberalism. Edelstein notes that, thanks to the concern with property of both the French Physiocrats and English common lawyers, the ideal of rights that triumphed in the eighteenth century can be seen as “the intellectual forefather of free-market fundamentalism.”

Yet at the same time readers will come away with the realization that the liberal ideal has a much richer, deeper, more varied past than they might imagine from accounts that stress only the supposed Anglo-American path to “classical” liberalism. Perhaps forms of liberal democracy built upon narrowly individualist notions of rights and liberty, and that deny most citizens the chance for meaningful political participation, are indeed too fragile to offer sufficient protection against unfettered capitalism and the rising inequalities we see today around the world, as well as against surges of angry populism. But there are other ways to think about liberal democracy, inspired by constitutional models that strive to maximize democratic participation, by forms of liberal thought that emphasize moral action and the common good, and by a vision of human rights that extends broadly and fully across the globe. The French Revolution, for all its radical excesses, offered one such vision, and a particularly powerful one. Despite its well-documented flaws, its ideals may still be able to inspire those seeking to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.”

The most pessimistic of the three is Miller who recognizes that today, profound social transformations have left the democratic ideal more imperiled than ever. Increasing inequality makes it more difficult for people to have their voices heard; government secrecy deprives them of the information necessary for political participation; and in an age of globalization many of the most pressing problems, such as climate change, require global, not local, solutions. America’s current plight spurs Miller (drawing on F. Scott Fitzgerald) to some passionate and anguished prose:

“This is what democracy in America often seems like: an elusive fantasy, forever out of reach, forever unrealized, even as its most eloquent bards, trapped in their own prejudices, are “borne back ceaselessly into the past.””

But he still holds out hope that some version of the Condorcetian ideal of local democratic restraints on national governance might yet continue to inspire contemporary democratic movements.

Prometheus and Pandora look upon the plethora of books and academic studies that have come out since the election of Trump and the rise of authoritarian regimes imposed upon people by their own voting as an expected but irrelevant reaction to what is happening. Our academic friends prefer to sit comfortably in their ivory towers and write books about how the world is going to hell in a basket. It would be more to the point if they would use their prestige and position to persuade the public that it is in its interest to preserve the frail institutions of democracy. In 2015 Andy Borowitz, writing in the New Yorker, claimed that millions of people are fed up with arguing with idiots. In particular he noted the difficulty of getting people to understand that climate change is real and dangerous and that gun control is a prime societal need. Indeed, these things are a tough sell, but turning our backs is not a viable option.



Since St. Patrick’s Day falls this month, Prometheus and Pandora decided to take a look at the beloved folk legend that in addition to bringing Christianity to the Emerald Isle, the fifth century saint also banished the snakes from Ireland. In fact, the reason for the absence of snakes in Ireland is much more complicated. In truth, there never were any snakes in Ireland for the good reason that geology was against them. The full story is told by Sara Fechts writing in Popular Science and it is more interesting than a saint waving a staff.


Opportunity working hard on Mars

The Mars rover Opportunity has finally been declared dead after eight months of failed attempts to contact it. The rover, along with its twin Spirit that operated on the other side of the planet, was set up to run for 90 days. In reality, it operated for nearly 15 years. Both rovers were dropped onto the planet in 2004. Spirit failed after getting stuck in a sand drift in 2010, but Opportunity continued to operate until a major dust storm blocked its solar cells from recharging. The mission is now over, leaving a treasure trove of new data. The Mars Exploration Rovers tell us of an ancient time when Mars was awash in water, with good conditions for supporting microbial life. Here is a link to one of the rovers’ most significant discoveries about the red planet.


A new study published in Phys. Rev. Letters provides a detailed description of what goes on inside a proton. At the center of a proton, the pressure is greater than that found inside a neutron star. Calculations were carried out over a year, using a theory called Quantum Chromodynamics with supercomputers. The results show that the pressure inside a proton is about 10**35 pascals or about 2.6*10**22 times the pressure at the center of the Earth.

Phiala Shanahan and William Detmold, both at MIT, find that the simple picture of a proton as three quarks held together by a bunch of gluons is incomplete. Their work is described in Live Science and is of major scientific importance, albeit esoteric to most of us. Their model of the proton is shown above as our featured image.


Two Sisters: A Father, His Daughters, and Their Journey into the Syrian Jihad by Åsne Seierstad, translated from the Norwegian by Seán Kinsella
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 418 pp., $28.00; $16.00 (paper)

The book is reviewed in a forthcoming issue of the New York Review of Books, published online, by Christopher de Bellaigue for those with access, It is also reviewed in the NYTimes by Suzy Hansen. Asne Seierstad established herself as a writer with her 2003 book The Bookseller of Kabul which was an international best seller. She went on to write two books of reportage, the first about Baghdad in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, the second about Chechnya following the brutal war there. She then wrote about the killer Breivik and now has moved on to the Norwegian jihad. The book chronicles the attempt of Sadiq Juma, a Somali immigrant to Norway to retrieve his two daughters who have run off to Syria to join ISIS.

The Interpol notice issued in October 2013 after the Juma sisters left Norway for Syria

The story is harrowing, but it tries to provide an answer to the question of the failure of Western liberal society to integrate these young Muslim women.


What If? What if the Earth stopped rotating? -Andrew Brown

In the Bible (Josh X, 12) we hear the request
“Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the Valley of Ayalon “

Randall has an answer and it is not a cheerful one. Of course a slight slowing of the rotation might help true love.,dpr_2.0,f_auto,fl_progressive,q_80,w_800/fufbqhqclf0pi2ehnyon.jpg
We have blogged for human rights, but Barney gives perspective
What more need be said?
Spring is coming…
Our oncologist claims that all men talk nonsense including her husband…

Prometheus and Pandora XX

In our featured image Murphy wishes all a Happy New Year in the name of Prometheus, Pandora and the amanuenses YandA.

As we all know,  Prometheus and Pandora orbit Saturn and keep the f-ring in place. Their old friend Titan orbits much farther out, but they may visit him in the Google blogger if this Gutenburg editor foisted upon us by WordPress continues to drive us nuts.

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


Lyudmila M. Alexeyeva, a leader of the Russian human rights movement in the Soviet Union and in the era of President Vladimir V. Putin, died on on December 8in a Moscow hospital. She was 91.

Ms. Alexeyeva arriving at a New Year’s Eve anti-Kremlin protest in downtown Moscow in 2009.CreditIvan Sekretarev/Associated Press

Ms. Alexeyeva had been Russia’s most prominent surviving Soviet-era dissident, harking from the same generation as the physicist Andrei Sakharov and the novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Though frail, she took part in street protests until about eight years ago.

She spent about 50 years in the Russian opposition, starting as a typist for a samizdat journal in the 1960s and continuing as an observer of politicized court hearings against street protesters under Mr. Putin. She was considered the grandmother  of the Russian human rights movement Even President Putin came to visit her on her 90th birthday. Detailed obituaries can be found in the Economist and the NYTimes.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia visiting Ms. Alexeyeva on her 90th birthday at her Moscow home last year.CreditPool photo by Alexei Nikolsky


 We have been ranting a great deal about the erosion of liberal democracy around the world, especially in the US and Israel. Now we would like to look a bit at  the theory around it. The late Professor J.L. Talmon of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, devoted much effort to clarifying the difference between liberal democracy and totalitarian democracy.

Jacob Talmon (1916-1980)

Talmon was a leader of the Cold War liberals and at the same time a Zionist., i.e. a Jewish nationalist. The apparent contradiction between liberalism and nationalism created a tension in his philosophy. As pointed out by M.H. Hacohen in a detailed essay in the History of European Ideas, Talmon lived in two worlds. Hacohen argues that that Talmon’s nationalism (Zionism included)—historicist, romantic, visionary—lived in permanent tension with his liberalism—empiricist, pluralist, pragmatic. 

Talmon himself regarded his mission as  “an attempt to show that concurrently with the liberal type of democracy there emerged from the same premises in the eighteenth century a trend toward what we propose to call the totalitarian type of democracy”

Professor Talmon finds the ground for the antagonism between the two types of democracy in a radical difference of attitude toward politics, which grows out of a radical difference of philosophy. Liberal democracy assumes that politics is largely a matter of trial and error, and it regards political systems as mainly “pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity.” Totalitarian democracy on the other hand is “based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics” and it “postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things” toward which history inevitably tends and toward which recalcitrant human nature must, if necessary, be driven.

This theoretical framework is very relevant to what is happening in the world today. A recent issue of The Atlantic (October 2018) devotes a large section to articles about the demise of democracy. The examples are mostly from the US scene such as the article about losing the habits of democracy by Yoni Applebaum, but a description of the loss of democracy in Poland by Anne Applebaum provides an enlightening view of the process. The stages are:

  • Polarization.
  • Conspiracy theories.
  • Attacks on the free press
  • An obsession with loyalty

Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well. We see it happening in Israel as well. The concepts of Professor Talmon are alas an accurate description. Anne Applebaum, in the article cited above, refers to the Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian who chronicled an even more extreme shift in his own country in the 1930’s. He described how, one by one, his friends were drawn to fascist ideology, like a flock of moths to an inescapable flame. He recounted the arrogance and confidence they acquired as they moved away from identifying themselves as Europeans—admirers of Proust, travelers to Paris—and instead began to call themselves blood-and-soil Romanians.
In the light of the above, it is easy to understand the obsession of the far right with George Soros. This Hungarian born American billionaire has donated huge sums to support liberal democracy in the former Soviet bloc countries. As a result he is the bogyman target that these regimes need to deflect the dissatisfaction of their people. Soros-bashing has already spread to the US and is a harbinger of what lies ahead for the Western world of Trump and Brexit.

Whereas in Israel the defining “truth” to which we are supposed to subscribe is the idea of establishing a state for the Jews of the
world (vid. Talmon’s tension above), in other countries it is nativism, for example, Trump’s white Christians or Marine La Pen’s “France for the French” nationalism. For young American Jews who grew up with the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights inter alia it does not make sense to push these values aside when considering Israel. It puts them off to see the PM of Israel consorting with the autocrats of Europe such as Orban of Hungary and other proponents of “illiberal Christian democracy” which will put an end to the era of multiculturalism. The violence of Israel’s rule over the Palestinians is indeed driving American Jews to protest.

Demonstrators march towards Trump Hotel in Washington to protest against the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In Israel we have an additional component, the Messianic drive, that guides the politics of the settlers block, Gush Emunim. Prof. Talmon summed up this irrational mind set well “Claims such as those of Gush Emunim sound to the international community much like that biblical passage— Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the Valley of Ayalon “would sound in an astronomers’ debate.”Of course a lack of connection to reality is not unique to Israel…


Roma is a 2018 drama film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón also produced, co-edited and photographed the film. It stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Enoc Leaño and Daniel Valtierra. Set in the early 1970s, the film is a semi-autobiographical take on Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City, and follows the life of a live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family. The title refers to the Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City.

The film has won universal critical acclaim, as well as many awards, starting with the Golden Lion when it had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. The review in Rolling Stone by Peter Travers begins “If a thing of beauty is a joy forever, as John Keats famously said, then the surpassing loveliness and bracing brilliance of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma will never pass into nothingness. …”
Other reviews are in the same style, such as the Guardian (Peter Bradshaw): “Alfonso Cuarón’s new film Roma is thrilling, engrossing, moving – and just entirely amazing, an adjectival pileup of wonder. He has reached back into his own childhood to create an intensely personal story, and this is the second time I have seen it since the premiere at this year’s Venice film festival, hoping to get a clearer view of those later images that on first viewing were made wobbly by tears. Same problem, though. Those coming to see this film had better prepare themselves to be emotionally wrung out.”

This is a film definitely worth your time to see.


December 26, 2018

All About Ultima: New Horizons Flyby Target is Unlike Anything Explored in Space

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly by a distant “worldlet” 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from the Sun in just a few days, on New Year’s Day 2019. The target, officially designated 2014 MU69, was nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” (pronounced “ultima toolee”) a Latin phrase meaning “a place beyond the known world,” after a public call for name recommendations. No spacecraft has ever explored such a distant world.

This is the first detection of Ultima Thule using the highest resolution mode of the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. Three separate images, each with an exposure time of 0.5 seconds, were combined to produce the image. All three images were taken on Dec. 24, when Ultima was 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from the Sun and 6.3 million miles (10 million kilometers) from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Ultima, as the flyby target is affectionately called by the New Horizons team, is orbiting in the heart of our solar system’s Kuiper Belt, far beyond Neptune. The Kuiper Belt is a collection of icy bodies ranging in size from dwarf planets like Pluto to smaller planetesimals like Ultima Thule and even smaller bodies like comets — which are believed to be the building blocks of planets.

This is indeed exciting news in geekdom and you are all invited to share the fun on New Year’s Day.


What If?

Pile of Viruses

What if every virus in the world were collected into one area? How much volume would they take up and what would they look like?


The answer is interesting and quite creative.

Some of our older readers might appreciate:

Prometheus and Pandora XIX

Our featured image shows our protagonists as Pokemons.

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

IN MEMORIAM Montserrat Caballé, April 12, 1933-October 6, 2018


Montserrat Caballé on stage in Santander, northern Spain, in 2006. Photograph: Victor Fraile/Reuters

The great diva who conquered the opera world with her magnificent voice and commanding presence has died at age 85. She had a colossal career spanning decades. Few opera singers rocketed to fame more swiftly than she. When Caballé substituted for Marilyn Horne in the title role in a concert performance of Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at Carnegie Hall on April 20, 1965, she was virtually unknown beyond a few provincial European opera houses. After the performance—and a twenty-five-minute ovation—all that would change. Record companies stormed the backstage while the applause was still going on. RCA won.

Pandora and Prometheus are fortunate enough to have in their collection an operatic event that took place outdoors and was preserved on video—Norma at the Orange Festival in 1974, opposite tenor Jon Vickers, a white-hot performance  and one that Caballé herself regarded as a major highlight of her career.

Detailed obituaries can be found in the Guardian and in Opera News. We can all be glad that she did not heed what she was told at her first auditions in Italy. The Italian maestros who heard her in Milan and Florence advised the already buxom young soprano to return to Spain, get married and raise a family.

Her collaboration with a rock singer was a unique phenomenon. In 1987, the mayor of Barcelona invited her to provide a theme song for the Olympic Games to be held in the city in 1992, giving the BBC the music for its television coverage. For this, she collaborated on the album Barcelona (1988) with the lead singer of Queen, Freddie Mercury, whom she knew to be a keen opera lover and who called her voice “the best in the world”.
We would like to share with you her performance of the Puccini aria Mia bambino caro




We cannot ignore the horrible event of the shooting of innocent people by a criminal in Congregation Etz Hayim in Pittsburgh. We honor the memory of the martyrs, the holy ones who were killed only for the “crime” of being Jewish. We lower our heads in shame at the totally inappropriate reaction of the Israeli government to the massacres.


Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Brothers Cecil Rosenthal, 59 and David Rosenthal, 54
Husband and wife Sylvan Simon, 86 and Bernice Simon, 84
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

Read the obituaries.

A Pittsburgh newspaper put the opening words of the Kaddish on its from  page.


We salute the members of the Pittsburgh community, Muslims, Christians, whatever, who have rallied around the Jewish community. Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Pittsburgh Islamic Center, says the Muslim community has raised more than $70,000 for the victims of the synagogue attack and their families. Mohamed said: ‘We just want to know what you need … If it’s people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We’ll be there.’

Nothing, not even the massacres coming one after the other seems able to get the US body politic to enact civilized gun control legislation.


Of course there are compelling political reasons for this:


This section of our rants  will focus on sexual harassment by men in power and the culture of impunity that has always protected them. The recent exposures in Hollywood and New York of sexual corruption in the entertainment industry have given rise to a unity of protest and disclosure as exemplified by the #meToo movement. An online data base called Rotten Apples enables one to see if anyone involved in a show, film or series has been accused of sexual harassment.

Pandora tells us that this goes back a long way, to the gods of ancient Greece, such as the pursuit of the nymph Daphne by the amorous Apollo. Her father turned her into a tree to save her.


Apollo and Daphne
By John William Waterhouse

Today, alas, no such miraculous means are available and powerful men have used their positions with impunity to pressure and harass female employees and colleagues. On the other hand mass media and the internet have played a great role in exposing and shaming them. We shall focus on a few cases in Israel and in the entertainment business in the US.


Image result for gilady alex

Gilady, who founded the Israeli television broadcaster Keshet, served as a senior executive of NBC in the United States in the ’80s and ’90s, rising to the post of senior vice president. He also sits on the International Olympics Committee. He has been forced to step down from his position at Keshet  in the wake of accusations of serious sexual misconduct. The claims are by Neri Livneh, a columnist with Haaretz, and Oshrat Kotler, a journalist on Channel 10 television. Livneh wrote a column that appeared on Haaretz’s Hebrew website in which she said she was contacted by Gilady’s secretary in 1999, who said that Gilady, then a top TV executive, wished to meet with her on the premise that he
had an interesting offer for her. She eventually found herself at his home where Gilady exposed his penis to her, saying “Talk to it.” Livneh alleged that many people were aware of sexual misconduct of this kind committed by Gilady but preferred not to make it public. She described the incident on a women’s program in 1999 but had been asked not to mention Gilady’s name for legal reasons, Livneh says.

Kotler alleged that Gilady, then CEO of Keshet, made an “indecent proposition” when she met with him for a job interview. When she told him that she was married, he responded: “What has that got to do with it? Don’t you know how they get ahead in television in Hollywood?”

Other women have come out with allegations against Gilady and his reaction has been to file a defamation lawsuit, although in the case of Livneh he has publicly admitted the facts described. We shall wait and see how this case works out.


Image result for dan margalit

Dan Margalit is an Israeli journalist who has announced that he will cease all journalistic work after eight women accused him of sexual assault and harassment. At age 80 he is currently an op-ed columnist for Haaretz. His career has included stints as a senior reporter and columnist at many papers; he was also a popular host of several television shows. He is considered one of the country’s most influential journalists, with close ties to many senior politicians.
Orly Azoulay, a journalist for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper,in October became the eighth woman to speak out and accuse Margalit of sexual assault and harassment.  Azoulay, 65, accused Margalit of sexually assaulting her in 1992 in the studio of the “Popolitika” television political talk show, which Margalit hosted and where she was a panel member.
Before Azoulay, seven women had come out with accusations of sexual harassment. Haaretz reported that five women had accused him over the course of his long career, and two more spoke out later.
Margalit is now accused of being a serial sexual harasser of young female journalists. It is regrettable that a distinguished career should be marred at the end by such disclosures from the past, but the victims have borne the pain for all these years and he does not deserve impunity.


Image result for harvey weinstein

He was a extremely powerful Hollywood producer and a serial sexual predator who was brought down by Pulitzer prize winning articles in the New Yorker and in the NYTimes. The New Yorker articles by Ronan Farrow, a contributing writer, exposed the decades-long sexual predation by Weinstein and the complex system of private investigators, lawyers, and nondisclosure agreements that he used to cover it up. Two reporters at the Times, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, first reported on Weinstein’s sexual-harassment settlements, on October 5, 2017. Farrow’s first article, a seven-thousand-word investigation published five days later, disclosed the first accusations of rape and sexual assault against Weinstein. Farrow’s subsequent articles exposed additional rape and harassment allegations.

Weinstein is now facing sexual-assault charges in a court in New York. According to law-enforcement officials, the charges against him are based on the allegations of several women although the prosecution seems to have encountered difficulties relating to the functioning of the DA’s office.


Image result for moonves

Moonves was until recently the CEO of the CBS Corporation. He too has been brought down by the writings and actions of Ronan Farrow. Farrow reported in the New Yorker:

“Six women who had professional dealings with him told me that, between the nineteen-eighties and the late aughts, Moonves sexually harassed them. Four described forcible touching or kissing during business meetings, in what they said appeared to be a practiced routine. Two told me that Moonves physically intimidated them or threatened to derail their careers. All said that he became cold or hostile after they rejected his advances, and that they believed their careers suffered as a result. “What happened to me was a sexual assault, and then I was fired for not participating,” the actress and writer Illeana Douglas told me.”
All the women said they still feared that speaking out would lead to retaliation from Moonves, who is known in the industry for his ability to make or break careers. “He has gotten away with it for decades,” the writer Janet Jones, who alleges that she had to shove Moonves off her after he forcibly kissed her at a work meeting, told me. “And it’s just not O.K.””

CNN reported that Moonves would step down from his position at CBS. Later the same day, CBS announced that Moonves had left the company and would not receive any of his exit compensation, pending the results of the independent investigation into the allegations. The company named six new members of its board of directors and said it would donate twenty million dollars to organizations that support the #MeToo movement and workplace equality for women. The donation will be deducted from any severance payments that may be due to Moonves.

Let us hope that the public shaming of these powerful and exploitative men contributes to the creation of a work culture and a social atmosphere in which women are respected and treated fairly


No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies by William T. Vollman Viking
No Good Alternative: Volume Two of Carbon Ideologies by William T. Vollmann Viking

The Most Honest Book About Climate Change Yet

William T. Vollmann’s latest opus is brilliant, but it offers no comfort to its readers.

This dystopian novel describes the world as it will be. He addresses a reader who lives in the future, under radically different circumstances—inhabiting a “hotter, more dangerous and biologically diminished planet.” He envisions her turning the pages of his climate-change opus within the darkened recesses of an underground cave in which she has sought shelter from the unendurable heat; the plagues, droughts, and floods; the methane fireballs racing across boiling oceans. Because the soil is radioactive, she subsists on insects and recycled urine, and regards with implacable contempt her ancestors, who, as Vollmann tells her, “enjoyed the world we possessed, and deserved the world we left you.”
In contrast to other writers about climate change, Vollmann holds out no hope and regards our attempts to mitigate as futile exercises. The two components of the book are reviewed together in the Atlantic by Nathaniel Rich. In a similar vein albeit in a different context, Gerta Keller, a Princeton geologist who rejects the asteroid impact hypothesis of dinosaur extinction, and attributes the mass die-off of 65 million years ago to colossal volcanism, compares what we are doing to our planet to the lethal effects of a series of colossal volcanic eruptions in a part of western India known as the Deccan Traps. The story of the huge controversy between the impacters and the volcano camp appears in the same issue of the Atlantic.


A most exciting discovery has come from the Kepler and Hubble space telescopes. A moon orbiting a planet that itself is in orbit around a star other than the sun, i.e. an exoplanet has been discovered. In a paper published Oct. 3 in the journal Science Advances, Alex Teachey and David Kipping, both from Colombia University, report
that the detection of a candidate exomoon — that is, moons orbiting planets in other star systems — is unusual because of its large size, comparable to the diameter of Neptune. Such gargantuan moons do not exist in our own solar system, where nearly 200
natural satellites have been cataloged.  Stay tuned, more will certainly be coming on this subject.


SMBC has the answer.





What IF?

I understand that the New Horizons craft used gravity assist from Jupiter to increase its speed on the way to Pluto. I also understand that by doing this, Jupiter slowed down very slightly. How many flyby runs would it take to stop Jupiter completely?


More than we can afford. The answer puts things into perspective.


WUMO has a special for dog owners… Because of strict copyright rules, we only give you the link.


Prometheus and Pandora XVIII

Our featured image shows Athena and Hephaistos, who had been ordered by Zeus  to create a woman, Pandora, admiring their handiwork.

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



NEIL SIMON July 4, 1927-August 26, 2018


Neil Simon, one of the rare late-20th century playwrights who was a brand name for plays such as “The Odd Couple” and “Barefoot in the Park,” died on August 26. He was 91. A statement from his reps said, “Neil Simon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, died on August at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. The cause was complications from pneumonia. His wife, Elaine Joyce Simon, was at his bedside along with Mr. Simon’s daughters, Ellen Simon and Nancy Simon.” In addition to his four Oscar nominations and 17 Tony nominations, Simon’s works brought an unsurpassed 50 Tony nominations for their actors. His competitive Tony wins came for “The Odd Couple” (best playwright) and for best play for “Lost in Yonkers” and “Biloxi Blues.”

Detailed obituaries can be found in the NYtimes and Variety.


John T. “Jack” Gosling 10 July 1938-10 May 2018

John T. “Jack” Gosling died 10 May 2018, in Louisville, Colo., after a battle with cancer. With his passing, the field of space physics has lost one of its most insightful, productive, and influential scientists, and many of us have lost a dear and treasured friend. A detailed obituary and account of his great scientific achievements has been written by his colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory. and published in EOS. the journal of the American Geophysical Union. Rest in peace, dear friend.


For once we want to be a bit positive. We have found a fascinating site called Brainpickings, run by a lady named Maria Popova. Prometheus and Pandora recommend that you take a look at it and maybe cough up a donation to keep it running.

Pandora and Prometheus would like to link you to a review of a beautiful book by the great Shel Silverstein, The Missing Piece. Enjoy!


Prometheus and Pandora have been ranting for quite a while about the erosion of democracy in Israel and elsewhere. At the risk of being redundant we will link you to a hard-hitting article by Chemi Shalev in Haaretz in which he analyzes the spooky symbiosis between Trump and Netanyahu and draws a parallel between the pogrom of Charlottesville a year ago and the Nation State law in Israel. Both support white/Jewish supremacy and as Shalev writes-“We’re all Jews, Netanyahu is signaling, we know why we’re here, and nothing else matters:.”

Of course much else does matter, especially the rights of minority communities, Arabs, Druze and others. The problem is in many ways the assertion that the Jewish nature of the state trumps human rights. If the rightist interpretation of Judaism is adopted, Israel will find itself disconnected from the largest Jewish community in the world, that in the USA, most of whose members are liberal.  Shuki Friedman writing in Haaretz makes the point that the definition of Judaism is the critical point in the struggle for the soul of the nation. If the closed parochial version continues to be dominant then democracy has no chance. We shall also lose our connection to the liberal nations still left in the EU.  Eva Illiuz, also in Haaretz, points out the catastrophic effect for the Jews of the world of Israel’s alignment with the populist, often anti-Semitic countries around the world. Hungary and Poland are strong examples of this trend.


An illustration depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Auschwitz. Credit Eran Wolkowski

Despite the hostile environment, there are people, including human rights lawyers and other activists, who are struggling in Israel to protect minority rights. David Shulman writing in the NYRB extols their courage and persistence . He reviews two books, one on the connection of Jews to human rights in the 20th century and the struggle for human rights in  Israel seen  through the eyes of a human rights lawyer.





In a few weeks our dear friend and colleague Margy Kivelson, professor emerita at UCLA, will celebrate her 90th birthday. Over the decades we have shared  several spacecraft missions and have greatly enjoyed both working with her and hanging out in her delightful company. She has had a remarkable career and is still going strong in science and in everything else. We had an email from her a few weeks ago that warmed our hearts. For a description of her life and career we refer you to the NYTimes who do it much better than we could.




The original letter in which Galileo argued against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church has been rediscovered in London. Credit: The Royal Society

The original letter of 1613 — long thought lost — in which Galileo Galilei first set down his arguments against the church’s doctrine that the Sun orbits the Earth has been discovered in a misdated library catalogue in London. The letter was used in the process against him by the Inquisition. It appears that he modified the letter to soften his claims against Scripture as science, but the version that was used in court was the strong one. The new discovery resolves the question of how the softening was done. It appears that Galileo himself did the editing and lied about the first version.



This spectacular photo shows the view from asteroid Ryugu of the Minerva-II1A rover during a hop after it successfully landed on Sept. 21, 2018. The probe is one of two that landed on Ryugu from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft. It’s the first time two mobile rovers landed on an asteroid.
Credit: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Two tiny hopping robots have successfully landed on an asteroid called Ryugu–part of a sample return mission of the mother spacecraft Hayabusa2. The  robots now have a companion on the surface of   Ryugu. A shoebox-sized lander called the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) deployed from its mothership, Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft, as planned at 9:57 p.m. EDT Tuesday (Oct. 2; 0157 GMT on Oct. 3) and came to rest on Ryugu shortly thereafter.


The German-French Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) lander captured this photo of asteroid Ryugu during landing operations on Oct. 3, 2018. The lander’s shadow is visible at upper right.
Credit: German Aerospace Center (DLR)



What would the world be like if the land masses were spread out the same way as now – only rotated by an angle of 90 degrees?


The answer from Randal is very interesting. You will enjoy reading it.



Prometheus and Pandora do not wish to run afoul of WUMO’s copyright.




Prometheus and Pandora XVII

Our featured image shows Mercury presenting Pandora to Prometheus by Richard Westmacott

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.


URI AVNERY September 10, 1923-August 20, 2018


Uri Avnery in July, 2014. credit אורן זיו

Uri Avnery was an icon and a great man who provided us in the peace movement the leadership that we need. We shall miss him sorely and can only hope that someone will rise to take on the mantle and try to fill these huge shoes. He was the first to put forward the idea of two states, Israeli and Palestinian living in peace, side by side. From the early 1950s, long before any talk of a Palestinian state by Israel’s side became fashionable, even among the left, Avnery supported a two-state solution. On a deeper level, he was the first Israeli public figure, in a generation when the Palestinians were perceived as indistinguishable from the wider Arab nation, to call upon other Israelis to see the Palestinians as a distinct nation, living beside them. The highlights of his career are shown in this graphic.


While Uri was a skilled politician and leader, he, and many in his circle, admitted he had some difficulties when it came to people skills. A friend once said:
“Avnery is disabled like Trumpeldor was. Trumpeldor lacked an arm;
Avnery lacks feeling.”  Uri wrote in his memoir: “There’s something wrong with my emotional relations with people. And the worst thing about it is, I don’t really care.”

We recall meeting him at a demonstration opposite the Defense Ministry that had been poorly scheduled and conflicted with a human rights demonstration before an embassy  by Amnesty International. When he was reproached for this, his response was “shut up and pick up a sign.” While he could be thorny at times, he earned respect by showing up in his late 80’s to demonstrate in hard conditions including blows and tear gas, such as at Bil’in, where he provided a physical example to followers who could easily have been his grandchildren. His devoted wife Rachel was by his side until her death in 2011. We were even  helped by Rachel with an onion when the tear gas became dense.


Uri was one of the people, along with the late Baruch Kimmerling, who led the way in dissent from the Zionist party line (more or less the same for all the parties). He left a huge legacy of clear rational thinking about our future with the Palestinians, something sorely lacking in our present leadership.

Here are six must reads written by Avnery for Haaretz, plus an interview marking his 90th birthday. We note that President Rivlin, who is far on the political spectrum from Uri and his group, had praise for him.

Rivlin said on Monday that Uri Avnery was “the eternal opposition figure” whose fight for freedom of expression “paved the way of Israel as a young country.”

 “We had strong differences, but they paled in contrast to the aspiration to build a free and strong society here,” Rivlin said.

 Detailed obituaries can be found in Haaretz, in the Guardian , in Forward and in the NYTimes.

Aretha Franklin March 25, 1942 August 16, 2018

Regarded as one of the greatest singers of all time, Aretha Franklin has died of advanced pancreatic cancer at age 76. Aretha Franklin was one of the most iconic voices in music history and a brilliant artist. Over the course of her decades-long career, she inspired countless musicians and fans, and created a legacy that paved the way for a long line of strong female artists.

Known as “the queen of soul”, Franklin sold more than 75 million records in her lifetime and won 18 Grammy awards. She had 77 entries in the US Billboard Hot 100 and 20 No 1 singles on the R&B chart. Her last album was A Brand New Me, released in November 2017, which paired archival vocal recordings for Atlantic Records with new orchestral arrangements by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Her last original recording was Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics in 2014, which included her take on Adele’s Rolling in the Deep.

“American history wells up when Aretha sings,” former US president Barack Obama said of her performance of (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors. “Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock’n’roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.”
In the wake of her death, some of America’s most prominent figures have paid their respects. Barack and Michelle Obama put out a joint statement, reading, in part:

“Every time she sang, we were all graced with a glimpse of the divine. Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade—our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect. She helped us feel more connected to each other, more hopeful, more human. And sometimes she helped us just forget about everything else and dance.”
Franklin performed at Obama’s 2009 inauguration, singing My Country, ‘Tis of Thee. Her final live performance was at a gala event for Elton John’s AIDS foundation, in November 2017. John posted a tribute on Instagram, saying: “The loss of Aretha Franklin is a blow for everybody who loves real music: Music from the heart, the soul and the Church. Her voice was unique, her piano playing underrated – she was one of my favorite pianists.”

JOHN MCCAIN August 29, 1936, August 25, 2018

Sen. John McCain has died from complications of aggressive brain cancer. He was just four days shy of his 82nd birthday.


A Navy officer for 22 years, a tortured prisoner of war in Hanoi for more than five, a congressman for six, a U.S. senator for 31, and the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, McCain became one of the nation’s most prominent politicians. While he had vociferous critics for some of his views and many of his votes, he gained wide respect on both sides of the Senate aisle.

Former president Obama posted a moving tribute to John McCain:

“John McCain and I were members of different generations, came from completely different backgrounds, and competed at the highest level of politics.   But we shared, for all our differences, a fidelity to something higher — the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched, and sacrificed.
 We saw our political battles, even, as a privilege, something noble, an opportunity to serve as stewards of those high ideals at home, and to advance them around the world. We saw this country as a place where anything is possible — and citizenship as our patriotic obligation to ensure it forever remains that way.”
“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt. Michelle and I send our most heartfelt condolences to Cindy and their family.”
The tweet by Trump, totally void of any real feeling is not worth quoting. John McCain left instructions that Trump should not speak at his funeral.



The Israeli government is using its security service, Shin Bet, to harass leftists and Arabs and in general anyone who dares to criticize the government and the occupation, in particular the latter. This has been going on for a long time, but has become worse recently. The interrogation of Peter Beinart at the airport indicates that no one, no matter how highly placed and famous, is immune to the attack of the “opinion police.” The reasoning behind this systematic harassment of so-called leftists has been analyzed by Carlo Strenger writing in Haaretz. While the Netanyahu government strives to perpetuate the image of democratic Israel, in substance it is doing all in its power to destroy liberal democracy, which includes judicial oversight, press freedom and freedom of expression. Mordechai Kremnitzer also in Haaretz deals with the politicization of the Shin Bet which makes it play a role in delegitimization by the government of the opponents of the occupation.
Bradley Burston in Haaretz tells us flat out that the Israel we knew and loved has gone, destroyed by the actions of our antidemocratic government. Burston uses the Hebrew expression “sinat hinam”-gratuitous hatred, hatred without just cause, hatred which does nothing but take a place of conflict, despair, bigotry, violence, and make it worse. He gives several examples of which we quote one:
“… security services at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion Airport’s departures area took aside and interrogated at length and with pronounced incredulity a prominent Jewish-American philanthropist who chairs Brandeis University’s Board of Trustees, is Orthodox, and has close family in the settlement city of Maaleh Adumim. The reason? His suitcase had been searched, and guards had found a pro- Palestinian pamphlet in his luggage, left over from coexistence meetings the philanthropist had attended between Jewish-American community leaders and Palestinians.”

Chemi Shalev in Haaretz makes it clear, the state of Israel is rotting away, falling into the hands of the likes of Ayelet Shaked and her colleagues in the illiberal government that cozies up to the likes of ethnocentric Hungary. As Shalev concludes “An Israel that stoops so low as to detain someone like Beinart, and implicitly threatens to brand him persona non-grata, is not my Israel. It is not the country I grew up in, and it is not a country that I would want my children to live in either.”
Prometheus and Pandora are waiting for the Israeli Jews who believe in the values of liberal democracy to stand up and struggle for the soul of the country we all love.

The erosion of democracy is not unique to Israel. We see it happening all over the world where populist demagogues  lead people to follow them blindly and cheerfully give up their rights and freedoms. Marcus Tullius Cicero is said to have reacted to the takeover of Rome and the subversion of the republic by Julius Caesar  with the comment–“blame not Caesar, blame the mindless people who dance for him in the streets as he deprives them of their freedoms”. More recently, Paul Krugman, writing in the NYTimes, explains how vulnerable US democracy is to the same demise that has happened in Eastern Europe and it is not because of economic stress.  He puts it bluntly-“The point is that we’re suffering from the same disease — white nationalism run wild — that has already effectively killed democracy in some other Western nations. And we’re very, very close to the point of no return.” The threat by Trump of violence if the Republicans lose in the forthcoming midterm elections cannot be dismissed. In Israel, blind hatred of Arabs and racism towards African refugees play the same role.


A UN report has said top military figures in Myanmar must be investigated for genocide in Rakhine state and crimes against humanity in other areas.

The report, based on hundreds of interviews, is the strongest condemnation from the UN so far of violence against Rohingya Muslims. It says the army’s tactics are “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats”. Myanmar rejected the report.

At least 700,000 Rohingya have fled violence in the country in the past 12 months. Prometheus and Pandora are very disappointed in Myanmar’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to intervene to stop attacks. The Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu called her out last year in an open letter:

My dear Aung San Su Kyi

I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya.

In my heart you are a dearly beloved younger sister. For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people. You symbolised righteousness. In 2010 we rejoiced at your freedom from house arrest, and in 2012 we celebrated your election as leader of the opposition.

Your emergence into public life allayed our concerns about violence being perpetrated against members of the Rohingya. But what some have called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and others ‘a slow genocide’ has persisted – and recently accelerated. The images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread.

We know that you know that human beings may look and worship differently – and some may have greater firepower than others – but none are superior and none inferior; that when you scratch the surface we are all the same, members of one family, the human family; that there are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims; and that whether we are Jews or Hindus, Christians or atheists, we are born to love, without prejudice. Discrimination doesn’t come naturally; it is taught.

Aung San Su Kyi File picture: Edgar Su/AP

My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country.

It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain.

As we witness the unfolding horror we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again. We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness again.

God bless you.


Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Hermanus, South Africa


We can add nothing to this call.



A recent study by a group of scientists led by Stéphane Hallegatte of the World Bank has estimated the dangers threatening   coastal cities around the world. They assess economic average annual losses (AAL) in 136 coastal port cities, using a method developed for assessing city-level flood risk and a new database of urban coastal protection. The results are horrific and we, as homo sapiens, have only ourselves to blame. Prometheus is again wondering if giving fire to humans was a good idea. Here is a view of flooding in Mumbai, India.


Read the article carefully and especially note the tables, which   unfortunately we cannot reproduce here.


Higgs boson observed to decay to two bottom quarks


An ATLAS candidate event for the Higgs boson (H) decaying to two bottom quarks (b), in association with a W boson decaying to a muon (μ) and a neutrino (ν). (Image: ATLAS/CERN)

CERN has announced that the Higgs boson that was discovered six years ago has been found to decay into two bottom quarks. The finding,  by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), is consistent with the hypothesis that the all-pervading quantum field behind the Higgs boson also gives mass to the bottom quark. Both teams have submitted their results for publication. The result gives support to the Standard Model. Cheers all over geekdom.


J. M. Coetzee, the Netherlands, 2005

J. M. Coetzee, the Netherlands, 2005




By J.M. Coetzee
Published 2013-09-03
Viking Adult


By J.M. Coetzee
260 pp. Viking. $27.

This week we consider a pair of novels by the Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus (2013) and the Schooldays of Jesus (2017). The former was reviewed in the Guardian by Theo Tait and the latter in the NYTimes by Jack Miles. The Schooldays of Jesus also has a review in the NYRB by Colm Tóibín. The novels deal with a man Simon and a boy David who come to a new and unknown land. They have moved across Lethean waters to a new land, a place called Novilla, in order to start a new life. It may or may not be the afterlife; the boy and the man have been “washed clean” of all their memories, given these new names, and taught the rudiments of Spanish, the land’s language, at a refugee camp.
Coetzee has brought his characters to an island.  Simón tells Davíd:

“You arrived on a boat, just as I did, just as the people around us did, the ones who didn’t have the luck to be born here…. When you travel across the ocean on a boat, all your memories are washed away and you start a completely new life…. There is no before. There is no history. The boat docks at the harbor and we climb down the gangplank and we are plunged into the here and now. Time begins. The clock starts running.”
The novels are enigmatic as Coetzee uses the utopian setting to expound his philosophical ideas. In analogy to Robinson Crusoe, his two Jesus books play with the idea of how life on a desert island can become more intense, almost more true, as does his own version of Defoe’s story, Foe (1986). The life away from the noise of the world offers a zone where more searching questions can be asked,  in which the social space of the novel can be replaced by parable and commentary on what we deem important and how stories come to us.

Critics have said that these two books are not as great as Diary of a Bad Year or Waiting for the Barbarians, which among others led to his 2003 Nobel Prize.  Pandora and Prometheus will leave that question to you.


What if–answers to absurd questions.

What would happen if I dug straight down, at a speed of 1 foot per second? What would kill me first?

Jack Kaunis

Enjoy the answer.



Cheap flights have a long history as told by WUMO. Now you can fly for 50p.