In our featured image Murphy wishes all a Happy New Year in the name of Prometheus, Pandora and the amanuenses YandA.
The Charity Corner has found a home on the Miriam Shlesinger Human Rights Action site. Promethus and Pandora hope that you will visit there, take the actions and make the donations.
IN MEMORIAM LYUDMILA ALEXEYEVA 1927-2018
Lyudmila M. Alexeyeva, a leader of the Russian human rights movement in the Soviet Union and in the era of President Vladimir V. Putin, died on on December 8in a Moscow hospital. She was 91.
Ms. Alexeyeva had been Russia’s most prominent surviving Soviet-era dissident, harking from the same generation as the physicist Andrei Sakharov and the novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Though frail, she took part in street protests until about eight years ago.
She spent about 50 years in the Russian opposition, starting as a typist for a samizdat journal in the 1960s and continuing as an observer of politicized court hearings against street protesters under Mr. Putin. She was considered the grandmother of the Russian human rights movement Even President Putin came to visit her on her 90th birthday. Detailed obituaries can be found in the Economist and the NYTimes.
We have been ranting a great deal about the erosion of liberal democracy around the world, especially in the US and Israel. Now we would like to look a bit at the theory around it. The late Professor J.L. Talmon of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, devoted much effort to clarifying the difference between liberal democracy and totalitarian democracy.
Talmon was a leader of the Cold War liberals and at the same time a Zionist., i.e. a Jewish nationalist. The apparent contradiction between liberalism and nationalism created a tension in his philosophy. As pointed out by M.H. Hacohen in a detailed essay in the History of European Ideas, Talmon lived in two worlds. Hacohen argues that that Talmon’s nationalism (Zionism included)—historicist, romantic, visionary—lived in permanent tension with his liberalism—empiricist, pluralist, pragmatic.
Talmon himself regarded his mission as “an attempt to show that concurrently with the liberal type of democracy there emerged from the same premises in the eighteenth century a trend toward what we propose to call the totalitarian type of democracy”
Professor Talmon finds the ground for the antagonism between the two types of democracy in a radical difference of attitude toward politics, which grows out of a radical difference of philosophy. Liberal democracy assumes that politics is largely a matter of trial and error, and it regards political systems as mainly “pragmatic contrivances of human ingenuity and spontaneity.” Totalitarian democracy on the other hand is “based upon the assumption of a sole and exclusive truth in politics” and it “postulates a preordained, harmonious and perfect scheme of things” toward which history inevitably tends and toward which recalcitrant human nature must, if necessary, be driven.
Recent events in the United States follow a pattern Europeans know all too well. We see it happening in Israel as well. The concepts of Professor Talmon are alas an accurate description. Anne Applebaum, in the article cited above, refers to the Romanian writer Mihail Sebastian who chronicled an even more extreme shift in his own country in the 1930’s. He described how, one by one, his friends were drawn to fascist ideology, like a flock of moths to an inescapable flame. He recounted the arrogance and confidence they acquired as they moved away from identifying themselves as Europeans—admirers of Proust, travelers to Paris—and instead began to call themselves blood-and-soil Romanians. In the light of the above, it is easy to understand the obsession of the far right with George Soros. This Hungarian born American billionaire has donated huge sums to support liberal democracy in the former Soviet bloc countries. As a result he is the bogyman target that these regimes need to deflect the dissatisfaction of their people. Soros-bashing has already spread to the US and is a harbinger of what lies ahead for the Western world of Trump and Brexit.
Whereas in Israel the defining “truth” to which we are supposed to subscribe is the idea of establishing a state for the Jews of the world (vid. Talmon’s tension above), in other countries it is nativism, for example, Trump’s white Christians or Marine La Pen’s “France for the French” nationalism. For young American Jews who grew up with the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights inter alia it does not make sense to push these values aside when considering Israel. It puts them off to see the PM of Israel consorting with the autocrats of Europe such as Orban of Hungary and other proponents of “illiberal Christian democracy” which will put an end to the era of multiculturalism. The violence of Israel’s rule over the Palestinians is indeed driving American Jews to protest.
In Israel we have an additional component, the Messianic drive, that guides the politics of the settlers block, Gush Emunim. Prof. Talmon summed up this irrational mind set well “Claims such as those of Gush Emunim sound to the international community much like that biblical passage Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the Valley of Ayalon “would sound in an astronomers’ debate.”Of course a lack of connection to reality is not unique to Israel…
FILM REVIEW: ROMA
Roma is a 2018 drama film written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Cuarón also produced, co-edited and photographed the film. It stars Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Enoc Leaño and Daniel Valtierra. Set in the early 1970s, the film is a semi-autobiographical take on Cuarón’s upbringing in Mexico City, and follows the life of a live-in housekeeper to a middle-class family. The title refers to the Colonia Roma, a neighborhood in Mexico City.
The film has won universal critical acclaim, as well as many awards, starting with the Golden Lion when it had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival. The review in Rolling Stone by Peter Travers begins “If a thing of beauty is a joy forever, as John Keats famously said, then the surpassing loveliness and bracing brilliance of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma will never pass into nothingness. …” Other reviews are in the same style, such as the Guardian (Peter Bradshaw): “Alfonso Cuarón’s new film Roma is thrilling, engrossing, moving – and just entirely amazing, an adjectival pileup of wonder. He has reached back into his own childhood to create an intensely personal story, and this is the second time I have seen it since the premiere at this year’s Venice film festival, hoping to get a clearer view of those later images that on first viewing were made wobbly by tears. Same problem, though. Those coming to see this film had better prepare themselves to be emotionally wrung out.”
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fly by a distant “worldlet” 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from the Sun in just a few days, on New Year’s Day 2019. The target, officially designated 2014 MU69, was nicknamed “Ultima Thule,” (pronounced “ultima toolee”) a Latin phrase meaning “a place beyond the known world,” after a public call for name recommendations. No spacecraft has ever explored such a distant world.
Ultima, as the flyby target is affectionately called by the New Horizons team, is orbiting in the heart of our solar system’s Kuiper Belt, far beyond Neptune. The Kuiper Belt is a collection of icy bodies ranging in size from dwarf planets like Pluto to smaller planetesimals like Ultima Thule and even smaller bodies like comets — which are believed to be the building blocks of planets.
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
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
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:
RANT ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT
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.
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?”
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.
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.
“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
BOOK REVIEW/CLIMATE CHANGE
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 WORD FROM SCIENCE
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.
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.
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.”
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!
RANT OF THE MONTH
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.
A RANT IN A PICTURE
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARGY!
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.
TIDBITS FROM SCIENCE
GALILEO LETTER DISCOVERED
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.
LANDING ON AN ASTEROID
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)
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.
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.
RANT ABOUT FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
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.
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.
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.
RANT ABOUT SEA LEVEL RISE
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 economicaverageannuallosses(AAL)in136coastalportcities, usingamethoddevelopedforassessingcity-levelfloodrisk anda newdatabaseofurbancoastalprotection. 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.
EXCITING NEWS FROM SCIENCE
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
THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS
By J.M. Coetzee
THE SCHOOLDAYS OF JESUS
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.
Our feature image: A blood moon rises over Marseille, southern France, Friday, July 27, 2018. Curiosity and awe have greeted a complete lunar eclipse, the longest one of this century. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
This month there is so much to rant and rave about, both at home and worldwide, that Prometheus and Pandora have no idea where to start. Let us start with the closest and the possibly worst.
RANT ON A FASCIST LAW
The Knesset overnight, 17-18/7, passed into law the contentious nation-state bill that for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people, ” in its quasi-constitutional Basic Laws. The law also declares that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, sets the Hebrew calendar as the official calendar of the state, and recognizes Independence Day, days of remembrance and Jewish holidays. One clause of the bill downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing, but also cryptically stipulates that “this clause does not harm the status given to the Arabic language before this law came into effect.” Read the full text of the law here.
This law is another lethal blow against democracy in Israel. In an unusual public critique of proposed legislation, President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter Tuesday morning to Knesset members urging them to amend the controversial bill aimed at enshrining Israel’s Jewish character in law, saying that the measure “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world and the State of Israel.”
Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man puts it well in +972, ” You can look at the Jewish Nation-State law from two perspectives. There is the message it was intended to send to Jews: a positive affirmation of Israel as the Jewish nation-state; as the Jewish homeland; as the state of the Jews; a reassuring and nationalist message that says ‘this country is yours and yours alone.”
The other message, the inverse, meant for Palestinians, is: “this is not your land; this country does not belong to you, irrespective of whether you are an Israeli citizen living in the home of your great-grandparents or a refugee yearning to return to the land of your grandparents; your culture, language, and history are at best tolerated — this is not their home, this is not your homeland.”
The Jewish Nation-State Law states, implicitly and explicitly, that Israel belongs not to all of its citizens, over 20 percent of whom are not Jewish. Instead, it declares that Israel belongs to the Jewish people, some half of whom are not Israeli citizens.
It tells all of us that we are well on the way to becoming an apartheid fascist state. As stated by Adalah attorney Fady Khoury in an interview with +972, “Apartheid in South Africa was a process. It was a system that took years to develop and was built on the work of academics and theologians who had to create justifications for white supremacy. It was a system of hierarchy, in which there is one group with all the power and another without any power.”
Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. A beach for Whites only near the integrated fishing village of Kalk Bay, not far from Capetown. January 1, 1970. (UN Photo/KM)
There appears to be little that liberal Israeli citizens can do to halt this process. It would seem that liberal Zionism has been crushed by the combination of the right wing in Israel and the policy of the Trump administration, as pointed out by Michelle Goldberg in the NYTimes several months ago. In general the difficulty that liberal Zionists, such as Prometheus and Pandora, have in reconciling their humanist beliefs with support for Israel is nothing new. Four years ago Anthony Lerman writing in the NYTimes outlined the dilemma of liberal Zionists–“They’re convinced that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, but they fail to explain how to reconcile God’s supreme authority with the sovereign power of the people. Meanwhile, the self-appointed arbiters of what’s Jewish in the Jewish state — the extreme religious Zionists and the strictly Orthodox, aided and abetted by Jewish racists in the Knesset like Ayelet Shaked, a Jewish Home Party member and Minister of Justice, who recently called for the mothers of Palestinian “snakes” to be killed — are trashing democracy more and more each day. “
RANT ON UNWORTHY FRIENDS
Here in Israel we have been “honored” by visits of people who are the dregs of world politics.
Viktor Orban the Prime Minister of Hungary, who is known as one of the world’s greatest enemies of democracy, was here for a few days visiting his dear buddy, Netanyahu. Under Netanyahu’s leadership, ties with Orban have warmed, prompting criticism from the local Jewish community over the Hungarian prime minister’s attacks on Jewish billionaire George Soros, which critics say toy with anti-Semitic stereotypes. They also object to his past praise for a former Nazi ally. He has praised Horthy who ruled occupied Hungary during the war and under whose aegis over half a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the Holocaust.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) hold a Rubik’s Cube at the Hungary-Israel Business Forum in Budapest, Hungary, on July 19, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
While Orban has vilified George Soros,the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire, who has been promoting democracy in Hungary and Eastern Europe in general ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, Israel has lobbied the United States to “open doors” to Orban’s government. The US government has traditionally kept Orban at arm’s length in view of Hungary’s ultra-nationalist stance and the prime minister’s embracing of what he has termed an “illiberal democracy.”
Israeli protesters hold signs by as people block the road for the convoy of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on July 19, 2018 at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem (AFP PHOTO / GALI TIBBON)
In the meantime, Israel and Myanmar have signed an agreement to coordinate what is written about each country in the school textbooks of the other. In a somewhat controversial move, the agreement allows the parties to “through their competent authorities, endeavor to mutually verify school textbooks, particularly concerning the passages referring to the history of the other state and, where needed, introduce corrections to these textbooks.” A joint committee will be established to implement the agreement and will meet every three years. Noa Landau in Haaretz gives the details. We wonder what our children will learn about the genocide of the Rohingya. We are told that Israel has ceased selling weaponry to Myanmar, but the cozy relationship continues. We should all be ashamed including President Rivlin.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin meeting Senior General Min Aung Hlaing during the Myanmar general’s visit in 2015. (Photo: Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page)
CRIME AGAINST CHILDREN
The Trump separation of children from their parents is beyond words. Let Mike Luckovich put it best.
GOODIES FROM SCIENCE
WATER FOUND ON MARS
The Holy Grail of planetary science, liquid water on Mars, has been found. The Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) instrument on the Mars Express spacecraft collected radar measurements over the SPLD (South Pole Layered Deposit) .The research team led by R. Orosei of Istituto di Radioastronomia, Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica in Bologna, Italy identified a distinct 20-km-wide bright reflector on multiple profiles collected over 3 years. They rule out a number of possible explanations for this bright reflector, leaving the existence of liquid water, either as a distinct water layer or as saturated sediments, as the only explanation. The finding is described in detail in news media such as BBC while the scientific paper has come out in Science.
Melanoma is an aggressive form of skin cancer and early detection is of the greatest importance. A blood test marker has long been sought by researchers and it now appears to have been found. An Australian team has published in the journal Oncotarget a description of research that has found a marker in the blood that can serve as an indicator of early stage melanoma. Pandora and Prometheus are very excited about this breakthrough and hope the test finds its way into clinical use very soon.
This week we look at the NYRB reviews of two books on English religious music. Prometheus and Pandora hope you find them interesting.
God’s Own Music
February 22, 2018 Issue
O Sing unto the Lord: A History of English Church Music
by Andrew Gant
University of Chicago Press, 454 pp., $35.00
Messiah: The Composition and Afterlife of Handel’s Masterpiece
by Jonathan Keates
Basic Books, 165 pp., $25.00
Ian Bostridge gives us a very personal review of these two books. The history book by Gant provides a detailed synopsis and melds the history of English music with developments in English history. Bostridge himself was a choir boy at a church in London that had seen better days in its past, but nonetheless had a charismatic organist and choir master who inspired the boys to reach heights of song. In particular they performed and loved the great hymns of the the English Reformation and its immediate aftermath—Thomas Tallis, William Byrd, the exotically named Orlando Gibbons, John Blow, Henry Purcell—and the music that was created in an attempt to recreate that beauty of holiness: the Victorian and Edwardian anthem tradition of Hubert Parry, Charles Villiers Stanford, Herbert Howells, and many others.
Thomas Webster: A Village Choir, 1847
The oratorio The Messiah by Handel is indeed worthy of a study on its own. In writing it Handel deviated from his usual style of stories of Old Testament heroes and it is devoted to the prediction of the coming of Christ. Handel was disappointed that people saw it as entertainment rather than a call to Godliness. It is customary for the audience to stand during the Hallelujah Chorus, although the source of the custom is not clear. When the piece was performed in Tel Aviv a few years ago, a few people, including your humble servant, stood, most did not.
A QUESTION ABOUT MUSIC
Classical music is one of the few domains in which women continue to play a very minor and subservient role. Last week’s Donne – Women in Music report expressed this in stark statistics. Across Europe, 97.6% of classical and contemporary classical music performed in the last three seasons was written by men, leaving a paltry 2.3% written by women. Why is this so? In a BBC documentary that aired this summer, the question is addressed by Danielle de Niese who writes about it in the Guardian.
‘As a soprano, where is my voice, where is the female perspective?’ … Danielle de Niese Photograph: BBC
Our featured image above shows a montage of the small moons of Saturn including : Pan, Daphnis, Atlas, Prometheus, Pandora, Epimetheus, Janus, and Mimas, to scale. A true family picture of our friends.
The eight innermost moons of Saturn, in color images collected by Cassini between June 7, 2005, and July 5, 2010. Pan and Daphnis (top left small moons) orbit within the Encke and Keeler gaps in the rings; Atlas (below Pan and Daphnis) orbits at the outer edge of the main rings. To their right are Prometheus and Pandora; Prometheus orbits just inside and Pandora just outside the F ring. Below them are Epimetheus (left) and Janus (right), which trade positions every four years, averaging out to the same distance from Saturn. Mimas orbits considerably farther away, but its gravitational effects influence the positions of gaps and waves within the rings. At full resolution, the montage has a scale of 500 meters per pixel.
Roth at his home in Connecticut, 2005. Photograph: Douglas Healey/AP
The great American-Jewish novelist died this month at the age of 85. His work has been described as ‘savagely funny and bitingly honest’ which Pandora and Prometheus consider a good description. The Guardian asked 14 acclaimed writers including William Boyd, David Baddiel, Linda Grant and Joyce Carol Oates to pick their favorite work and the responses are worth reading. As Jennifer Gilmore wrote in Forward–“Roth’s death, like all deaths, is the end of many things. Of towering white male novelists. Of that first wave of Jewish American immigrants who helped build literature as I know it. Of America as my Jewish grandparents knew it.”
He angered many people, such as rabbis who resented his way of presenting Jewish characters, women who disliked his misogynist way of presenting women in his novels and literary critics such as Irving Howe, whom Roth lampooned mercilessly. Howe declared ironically that Roth “now stands close to the center of our culture (if that is anything for him to be pleased about), and he is accorded serious attention both by a number of literary critics and those rabbis and Jewish communal leaders who can hardly wait to repay the animus he has lavished upon them.”
In addition to the obituaries in the NYTimes and elsewhere, many writers have written how Roth influenced their careers. Andrew Martin writing in Vice tries to explicate Roth’s attitude towards women. He refers to Vivian Gornick who wrote a vividly argued and much quoted essay about the way that Roth’s narrators, beginning with the title character of his infamous, spectacularly successful novel Portnoy’s Complaint, transfer their rage at the powers that be on to the women they’re sleeping with, creating an “impassioned association of woman-hating with being Jewish-in-America” that outpaced even Bellow’s. These comments are certainly worth reading.
FELICIA LANGER December 9, 1930 – June 21, 2018
The lawyer who was the first to bring the Occupation and its violations of human rights and international law to the courtroom died in Germany on June 21.
Attorney Felicia Langer in 2008. UNiesert, Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)
Felicia Langer was an Israeli attorney and human rights activist known for her defense of Palestinian political prisoners in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She became a hated figure in Israel and was regarded as a traitor by many people. In 1990 she gave up the struggle since she realized that the courts and the system were using her as a fig leaf to portray the regime in a favorable light. She is eulogized by Gideon Levi inHaaretz and the +972 blog by the human rights lawyer Michael Sfard.
May she rest in peace. Many lawyers are following the path that she laid out for them with phenomenal courage and integrity.
MICHAEL S.J. BELTON September 29, 1934-June 4, 2018
Our esteemed colleague, Mike Belton died this month at the age 84. He was the President of Belton Space Exploration Initiatives, LLC, and an Emeritus Astronomer at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). Born in Bognor Regis, England, he received his Bachelor’s degree at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley. He joined Kitt Peak National Observatory (the precursor to NOAO) in 1964 and carried out research on nearly all objects that fell under “planetary science.” A detailed obituary has been put out by the American Astronomical Society.
We remember him from the heady days of planetary exploration with Voyager, Galileo and other spacecraft. Rest in Peace Mike.
The story is told in the blog of Allison Kaplan Sommer who writes in Haaretz. She interviewed one of the participants in the phony beach resort in Sudan through which thousands of Ethiopian Jews were smuggled to Israel. The story is fascinating and worthy of your time. Here is the route:
RANT ON RAQQA
The picture speaks for itself
The city of Raqqa in Syria was subjected to a major set of attacks by the US-led coalition. The attack was supposed to drive Da’ash out of its self-declared capital. The attack killed hundreds of civilians who had no way of escaping the city. Someone must be held accountable for this massive atrocity. Please open the link, read the devastating account and sign the letter to the US Secretary of Defense demanding an accounting for the killings.
In the end, Da’ash was granted safe passage out of the town so the civilian deaths served no real military purpose.
RANT ON KIDNAPPING CHILDREN TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT
PROFILE OF A WRITER
Our attention is called this month to William Trevor, whose mournful, sometimes darkly funny short stories and novels about the small struggles of unremarkable people placed him in the company of masters like V. S. Pritchett, W. Somerset Maugham and Chekhov. He died in 2016 in Somerset, England at age 88. With the republication of his final collection of short stories, “Last Stories” a renewed interest is seen in his oeuvre. The collection is reviewed this month in the Washington Post by Heller McAlpin. When he died a wave of obituaries came out including a beautiful evaluation by the great Irish writer Ann Enright. She extols him as” a tender and compassionate chronicler of small town life.”
Trevor, although born in Ireland, lived most of his adult life in England He described himself “I don’t really feel those divisions any more than really I feel, in literary terms, the division between Ireland and England. I feel that writers of fiction do belong in a no man’s land some place and I certainly feel I do.”
From that no-man’s land he gave us a treasure of wonderful writing. Prometheus and Pandora are grateful for the revival of his work and memory.
SOMETHING FROM SCIENCE
The question of the origin of language in homo sapiens has long proved difficult of linguists and anthropologists. A recent hypothesis relates the development of language to the ability of our ancestors to make stone tools. Oren Kolodny, a biologist at Stanford University, puts the question in more scientific terms: “What kind of evolutionary pressures could have given rise to this really weird and surprising phenomenon that is so critical to the essence of being human?”
Homo Ergaster, an early ancestor of humans that made complex tools Kike Calvo / AP
Naturally there is considerable resistance to this idea, in particular from the doyen of linguistics Noam Chomsky, Robert Berwick and other well-known linguists. In a famous 2014 paper in PLOS Biology they conclude that the evolution of language was unrelated to tool making and happened quickly. “The language faculty is an extremely recent acquisition in our lineage,” these authors wrote, “and it was acquired not in the context of slow, gradual modification of preexisting systems under natural selection but in a single, rapid, emergent event.”
The question is a thorny one since language in its development and evolution left no fossil record. The controversy will continue and we shall try to follow it. Stay tuned.
MAYBE SOME GOOD NEWS ON THE CLIMATE FRONT
Bill Mckibben writing it in the Guardian informs us that the fossil fuel industry is on the ropes. He quotes research “In the past several years, oil industry financial statements have revealed significant signs of strain: Profits have dropped, cash flow is down, balance sheets are deteriorating and capital spending is falling. The stock market has recognized the sector’s overall weakness, punishing oil and gas shares over the past five years even as the market as a whole has soared.” The Pope has also taken a stand against the fossil fuel industry. Cheers.
The basic trajectory of the world away from coal and gas and oil is firmly underway.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
This is a book aimed at young boys who like history and derring do. Prometheus and Pandora recently gave a copy to a young grandson in the hope that the adventures will motivate him to overcome the barrier and to read English. We append a review by Lady Fanciful.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Novel by Michael Chabon
A “towering, swash-buckling thrill of a book” (Newsweek), hailed as Chabon’s “magnum opus” (The New York Review of Books), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a triumph of originality, imagination, and storytelling, an exuberant, irresistible novel that begins in New York City in 1939. The book won the Pulitzer Prize of 2000. Prometheus and Pandora loved it. See the reviews in the NYTimes and the Guardian.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet
By Claire L. Evans
278 pp. Portfolio/Penguin. $27.
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:
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.
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
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: