Category Archives: Prometheus

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.

 

IN MEMORIAM

NEIL SIMON July 4, 1927-August 26, 2018

'THE ODD COUPLE' PLAY OPENING NIGHT POST PARTY, NEW YORK, AMERICA - 27 OCT 2005

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

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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.

UNRANT

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.

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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

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY MARGY!

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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

galileoletter

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

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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.

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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)

SILLY TIME

WhatIf

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?

—Socke

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

SPELLING IS IMPORTANT

HERE IS A LINK TO A WUMO

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

WE HEAR MUCH ABOUT AI…

 

 

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.

IN MEMORIAM

URI AVNERY September 10, 1923-August 20, 2018

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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.

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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.

bilin_onion

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

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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.

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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.

RANT ABOUT GENOCIDE IN MYANMAR

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.

Love

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 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.

EXCITING NEWS FROM SCIENCE

Higgs boson observed to decay to two bottom quarks

hbb-event-20aug-2-2

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.

BOOK REVIEWS

J. M. Coetzee, the Netherlands, 2005

J. M. Coetzee, the Netherlands, 2005

 

 

THE CHILDHOOD OF JESUS

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

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.

SILLY TIME

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.

WE HAVE LONG HELD WITH THE PRINCIPLE “ESCHEW OBFUSCATION”

ABOUT KETTLES AND POTS…

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prometheus and Pandora XVI

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)

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.

RANTS AND RAVES

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.”

First Phase Digital

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.

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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.”

Orban was received with open arms, visited Yad Vashem according to protocol, met the President, the works. All that Pandora and Prometheus, as well as their friends, can do is to blush with shame. Daniel Barenboim the great musician puts it best.  

There were some signs of   protest.

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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)

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

tThe planet 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.

BLOOD MARKER FOR MELANOMA

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.

BOOK REVIEWS

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
Ian Bostridge
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.

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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.

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‘As a soprano, where is my voice, where is the female perspective?’ … Danielle de Niese Photograph: BBC

SILLY TIME

WHAT IF?

Lake Tea

What if we were to dump all the tea in the world into the Great Lakes? How strong, compared to a regular cup of tea, would the lake tea be?

Alex Burman

The answer should be of great interest to the tea drinkers among us.

We are planning a trip abroad and have consulted the Id folks on travel:

WUMO

Here is the link.

Anyone who has traveled with children will have empathy.

Prometheus and Pandora XV

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.

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

IN MEMORIAM

PHILIP ROTH March 19, 1933-May 22, 2018

Roth at his home in Connecticut, 2005.

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.

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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 in Haaretz 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

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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.

CONGRATULATIONS TO NETTA BARZILAI

This Israel singer just won the Eurovision with her song “Toy” Cheers!

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This is the performance that won.

Here are the lyrics.

https://genius.com/Netta-barzilai-toy-lyrics

Netta says it is a #MeToo song of empowerment. Pandora and Prometheus, to say nothing of their imaginary playmates, YandA, find it mostly opaque, but that is a matter of age.

A TRUE CLOAK AND DAGGER STORY

One of the Israeli intelligence agency’s most daring missions is being turned into a movie, ‘Red Sea Diving Resort.’ One of the operatives looks back on a breathtaking operation that saved thousands of Ethiopian Jews’ lives in the 1980’s. Here is the pitch…


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:

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RANT ON RAQQA

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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

Words fail:

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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.”

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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?”

He and his colleagues have proposed a provocative answer. In a recent paper, Kolodny  argues that early humans—while teaching their kin how to make complex tools–hijacked the capacity for language from themselves. The hypothesis is described in detail in the Atlantic by Ben James. Kolodny and Edelman published their scientific results and ideas in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Human origins

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.’

The basic trajectory of the world away from coal and gas and oil is firmly underway.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

WuMo even find a lighter side: Lest they sue us, we just give you the  link. https://www.arcamax.com/thefunnies/wumo/s-2092525

 

BOOK REVIEWS

Ronald Welch – The Gauntlet

the-gauntlet

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

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

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.

CHEERS FOR THE WORLD CUP

Gideon Levy writing in Haaretz extols the world of sports and the world wide festival of the World Cup of soccer. He has a point although there is some argument over Senegal’s ejection over yellow cards, possibly a result of referee racial bias. We also deplore the sexual harassment of female journalists.

SILLY TIME

WhatIf is interesting indeed–a five year old kid can think of things.

Earth-Moon Fire Pole

My son (5y) asked me today: If there were a kind of a fireman’s pole from the Moon down to the Earth, how long would it take to slide all the way from the Moon to the Earth?

Ramon Schönborn, Germany

The answer is interesting.

ON MORALITY

AI TELLS THE TRUTH

Zack cuts close to the bone here:

 

 

Fish beaks? Zack needs some basic biology lessons…

 

Prometheus and Pandora XIII

This month we (the Jews among us)  are preparing for the Pesach holiday which commemorates the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from bondage in Egypt during Pharaonic times. The featured image above shows us the Seder plate with the items used during the Seder.

Pesach is observed by avoiding leaven, and highlighted by the Seder meal that includeד four cups of wine, eating matzah and bitter herbs, and retelling the story of the Exodus.

“Matzah is one of those wonderful transcendent ritual items in Judaism, a symbol embodying a duality to teach a moral lesson. At the beginning of the seder, we break one of the sheets of matzah and call it the bread (lekhem) of affliction (oni). It is the meager sustenance of slaves, the meanest fare of the poor, the quickly produced food of those who make a hurried, under-cover-of-dark getaway. Yet later, it represents freedom, the bread we ate when we were liberated from Egyptian bondage.”–quote from Leslie K. Rossץ

We are told that God inflicted ten plagues upon the Egyptian people, culminating in the killing of the first born, which broke Pharaoh’s spirit and caused him to drive the Israelites from his land.

10-plagues

Later, Pharaoh regretted his decision, chased them into the Red Sea where God caused our people to  cross on dry land and then brought the waters back to drown the Egyptians.  The Talmud tells us that when the angels joined in the hymn of rejoicing (Exodus XV,1-22), God reprimanded them saying “beings I created are drowning in the sea and you sing?” The angels pointed out that humans were singing and He responded that humans are capable of mixed feelings of joy and sadness whereas angels have only pure feelings. We mark the mourning for the drowned Egyptians by shortening our hymn of praise on the seventh day of the holiday.

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In Hebrew the festival is known as Pesach (which means “to pass over”), because God passed over the Jewish homes when killing the Egyptian firstborn on the very first Passover eve. This year the holiday runs from March 31 to April 7. It is constrained by the Torah to always fall on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. We have discussed the equinox in previous blogs, now we just show a picture of what it means.

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Photo from space

 

Prometheus and Pandora together with their imaginary friends YandA wish all their Jewish readers a very Happy Pesach.  They also wish their Christian friends a Happy Easter, which  takes place from Good Friday on March 30 until Easter Monday on April 2.

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

IN MEMORIAM Steven Hawking 1942-2018

Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and best-selling author who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity, died on March 14 at his home in Cambridge, England. He was 76.

He was crippled by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) but was able to overcome the difficulties of such a life. He was diagnosed at age 21 and lived with the disease for 55 years. He made great contributions to cosmology and the understanding of black holes and their role in the universe. Hawking’s popular book A Brief History of Time was a long time best seller.

hawking
For scientists, we recommend the biography by a former collaborator Roger Penrose, himself an outstanding scientist. More accessible obituaries can be found in the NYTimes and in the Guardian. His ashes will be interred in Westminster Abbey near the graves of  Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin.

RANTING ABOUT THE DEATH OF DEMOCRACY

It is both saddening and maddening to see democracy being wiped out in so many countries. Prometheus and Pandora find it frustrating that in far too many instances it is done with the compliance of the people or their total ignorance of the implications of what is happening around them. This is nothing new–over 2000 years ago the Roman philosopher Cicero is supposed to have reacted to Julius Caesar’s destruction of the republic “Do not blame Caesar, blame the people of Rome who have so enthusiastically acclaimed and adored him and rejoiced in their loss of freedom and danced in his path and gave him triumphal processions. Blame the people who hail him when he speaks in the Forum of the ‘new, wonderful good society’ which shall now be Rome, interpreted to mean ‘more money, more ease, more security, more living fatly at the expense of the industrious.”  (The attribution is historically doubtful but he might have said it and it is indeed true.)

Back to our time–Donald Trump poses a dangerous threat to American democracy — but many people do not know how extraordinary this  threat is, in concert with troubling trends in the USA and the world. In just his first year in office, Trump has undermined election results,  cozied up to dictators, threatened to jail his political opponents, maliciously lied to manipulate the media and the masses, and attacked judges and even his own Justice Department for refusing to stop investigations into his actions. and that is just scratching the surface. In their award-winning and New York Times best-selling book, “How Democracies Die”, Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt provide illuminating and alarming context for the current predicament of people who care about democracy. In this riveting new book, Levitsky and Ziblatt conduct an insightful investigation into how other democracies have failed and broken down and what the average person can do to fight back. The Washington Post summed up the book perfectly:

“Cool and persuasive… ‘How Democracies Die’ comes at exactly the right moment.”

True manipulation a la Lukovich

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OUR BOOK REVIEWS

NEVER LET ME GO

By Kazuo Ishiguro. 288 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $24.

We have just read this 2005 novel by the Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. It is heavily dystopian. As Sarah Kerr says in her review in the NYTimes “There is no way around revealing the premise of Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel. It is brutal, especially for a writer celebrated as a poet of the unspoken. But it takes a while for us to get a handle on it. Since it’s the nature of Ishiguro narrators to postpone a full reckoning of their place in the world, all we know in the early going is that we don’t quite know what’s going on.”
It is a strange read, but worth the effort. In general, Ishiguro is stingy of early detail (vid. Remains of the Day) and we have to live with that as we read. Kazuo Ishiguro fascinates M. John Harrison, who reviews in the Guardian, with his  subtle take on mortality and hopelessness, in Never Let Me Go. Revealing more would be spoiling–in fact, Pandora and Prometheus think that the reviewers reveal too much and it is best to go along with Kathy the narrator, who knows what is going on, but mostly tells us of  her innocent childhood and adolescence.

In honor of Women’s Day on March 20, the NYTimes has compiled a set of reviews of books about women and  their struggles. Three, of particular interest to Pandora and Prometheus, are about the invisible women of science,

A LAB OF ONE’S OWN
Science and Suffrage in the First World War
By Patricia Fara
334 pp. Oxford University Press. $24.95.

BROAD BAND
The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet
By Claire L. Evans
278 pp. Portfolio/Penguin. $27.

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars
Sobel, Dava, reviewed in the Guardian by Nicola Davis.

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British women in the 1920s using chemical processes to test batches of milk from cows. Credit Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The first two are reviewed in the NYTimes by Dava Sobel. The “Lab” is a title salute to A Room of One’s Own, a 1929 feminist polemic essay by Virginia Woolf. To some  of us it brought up a memory  of A League of Their Own, a 1992 film about the professional all-female baseball league that played during WWII. The league was real, the film about it is fiction, but good. Since Patricia Fara is English, her reference must be to the Woolf essay. Dava Sobol herself, the author of Longitude and Galileo’s Daughter, has published her own history of female astronomers, The Glass Universe, that explores these women’s lives and work, revealing their grit, tenacity and brilliance in classifying the stars. “Even before they won the right to vote, several of them made contributions of such significance that their names gained honored places in the history of astronomy,” writes Sobel.

NEWS FROM SCIENCE

ARCHAEOLOGY UNDER THE JAIL

Excavations under the Megiddo prison, which is now being vacated, have come up with some remarkable findings, described in Haaretz by Ruth Schuster.  The prison will be replaced by an archaeological park featuring one of the earliest-known houses of Christian worship, which was found in the ancient Jewish village of Kefar Othnay (a.k.a. Kfar Otnai), as well as the remains of a vast Roman army base across the Qeni river, Megiddo Regional Council announced this week. The new park will also encompass seven Ottoman-era flour mills built along a stream, the council says.

One of the structures was a pre-church, from before Christians began to build churches. It contains a dedication inscription in Greek:

 

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Inscription found in Roman-era prayer house in Othnay, inside Megiddo Prison compound: “The god-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial”  credit Dr. Yotam Tepper

The article is fascinating and provides fresh insights into the role of Christianity in the Roman army in the era before the conversion of Constantine.When the site becomes open to the public, it will be a worthwhile visit.

Elsewhere on our planet, in Chile, DNA analysis of a small mummy has provided insight into evolution. The researchers identified in her DNA a group of mutations in genes related to bone development. Some of these mutations might be responsible for the skeleton’s bizarre form, causing a hereditary disorder never before documented in humans.

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A mummified skeleton from the Atacama Desert in Chile has been described as “alien.” But genetic analysis shows that she was human and may have had a previously unknown bone disorder. Credit Bhattacharya S et al. 2018

SILLY TIME

What If?

If you suddenly began rising steadily at one foot per second, how exactly would you die? Would you freeze or suffocate first? Or something else?

Rebecca B. The answer tells us a bit about our atmosphere.

 

 

Believe Big Pharma?

This is how it works….

In the past I have given sweatshirts with the logo “Eschew Obfuscation” and “Procrastinate Now” to people and they were indeed appreciated, albeit in long obscure words much later. I have stumbled on a good take on procrastination:

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Prometheus and Pandora XII

Our featured  image evokes the holiday of Purim. Cheers and best wishes to all who are going to celebrate it this week.

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

IN MEMORIAM Haim Guri

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

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Haim Gouri, a leading Israel poet died on January 31. His life represents a history of an entire generation who fought to create the state and lived long enough to experience great disappointment with the community as it stands today.He grew up in a socialist Zionist family. His father served for a long time in the Knesset (Parliament) as a representative of Mapai, the precursor of the Israel Labor Party. Haim Gouri served in the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Hagana underground, which fought in the 1940s to establish the state of Israel. After the war he was sent to Hungary to organize Holocaust survivors to come to Israel and participate in the struggle for independence and the establishment of the state. The experience had a profound effect on him.

A number of his most famous poems became some of Israel’s most beloved songs, particularly those about the War of Independence in 1948 and the founding of Israel. He became well-known to the Israeli public for his journalistic coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961.

He published 12 books of poetry and 10 works of fiction and nonfiction, as well as translations, journalism and documentary films. Obituaries can be found in Haaretz and in the NYTimes.

A RANT ABOUT RACISM

First let us understand what we mean by this term. Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns. In a short introductory video the Understanding Race project from the American Anthropological Association says race is a powerful idea and an enduring concept, invented by society. It has also fostered inequality and discrimination for centuries, as well as influencing how we relate to other human beings:

The American Anthropological Association has posted comments on race, racism and their implications on its Web site. They have developed a program for teaching middle school age children about race.

A set of principles: The program conveys three overall messages:

Race is a recent human invention
Race is about culture, not biology
Race and racism are embedded in institutions and everyday life.

That given, let us look at manifestations of racism in the world around us and try to understand how we can oppose racism in all its forms.

It is important to debunk various misconceptions upon which racism rests:

There is no biological foundation to ‘race.’ Physical differences between individuals and groups of individuals are genetically /scientifically so minute they are meaningless. What matters are the social meanings that are attached to perceived physical differences, be these ‘skin color,’ hair color, height, etc., and the political and economic forces that support (reinforce, and enforce) these perceptions. In other words, ‘race’ is a social construction. The idea that somehow white skin color provides a justification for the idea of racial superiority has over time been responsible for the colonial attitudes that caused European powers to conquer enslave and oppress indigenous people throughout the world

In Calgary, Alberta, a body called CARED ((Calgary Anti-Racism Education) maintains a Web site devoted to confronting racism. We strongly recommend that you open the site and learn about anti-racism and how to be an effective participant in the struggle. The philosophy of CARED is defined thus:
“Our Philosophy

“We recognize both the influence and the potential of the formal education system, as well as the many anti-racism initiatives in workplaces and communities, and want to build on that potential. The CARED Collective has engaged in extensive discussion and consideration of the terms “Anti-Racism Education” and “Anti-Racism Training.” While recognizing the very significant impacts of individuals working within the formal ‘education system” we believe that historically the formal education system has often functioned to reinforce rather than dismantle racism. This has been aptly demonstrated in analyses of how specific racialized groups have been misrepresented (or absent altogether) in the curriculum, in teacher education, in positions of authority and decision-making within the system. Studies of racism experienced by racialized ‘students’ and ‘teachers’ in the system have demonstrated that it is characterized by silence, exclusion, subtle behaviors and overt acts of violence and, increasingly, anti-racism has also been demonstrated in critical analyses of whiteness. Moreover, racism in the formal education system is not only about ‘who’ is in the system, who holds positions of authority in the system, or about curriculum content. While these absolutely are crucial factors, they are not the only considerations. It is not only a matter of What is taught, but How.”

While individual racism can seek protection under freedom of speech laws, it ultimately is connected with what sociologists define as systemic racism which manifests itself in two ways:

institutional racism: racial discrimination that derives from individuals carrying out the dictates of others who are prejudiced or of a prejudiced society
structural racism: inequalities rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that excludes substantial numbers of members of particular groups from significant participation in major social institutions.

Manifestations of systemic racism are often easy to identify, for example, in the Jim Crow laws of the US or the treatment of the Bushmen by the government of Botswana. Others are more subtle such as opportunities in education, hiring and advancement practices and access to sports. An example is the sport of ice hockey, which in the US and Canada is predominantly white. There is no explicit policy that excludes people of color and indigenous people from participating in organized hockey, yet there are few players of color/indigenous players. What is it that keeps organized hockey ‘white’?

Playing hockey is expensive (fees and gear), time consuming for families, requires transportation and an accommodating work schedule, and in most of Canada, for example, is conducted in English. While there is no ‘intent’ to exclude non-English speaking, lower-income, shift-working, single-parent families from playing organized hockey, the system is designed by and for middle-class, professional white families. The same is true for soccer in the US.

We also see structural racism in the attitude towards refugees in countless countries. The fact that most of the refugees are black or Muslim or both plays a major role in determining the reception or non-reception of refugees in Western countries such as Norway, Australia, Israel and many others.

It behooves all of us to look carefully at our own attitudes. The CARED program in Canada is a channel through which one can fight racism. The organization Survival International provides an opportunity to help indigenous tribes around the world. Amnesty International works to defend human rights around the world and by the nature of such work encounters racism almost everywhere.

RANT ABOUT ANOTHER SCHOOL SHOOTING

Again we are facing a school shooting in the US, this time a school in Florida with at least 17 dead, 5 of them Jewish. The description is harrowing. A former student, who had been expelled for undisciplined behavior returned to the school with an automatic rifle and shot students all over the building. He is now in custody and will answer for his crime, but none of this will enhance personal security in a country that refuses to control deadly weapons in the hands of its citizens. The US spends untold billions fighting terrorism around the world and rightly so, but as pointed out by Uri Friedman in the Atlantic, it does little to prevent mass shootings at home. The shooting this week in Parkland FL is the eighth such event in 2018 only seven weeks into the year. Prometheus and Pandora have given up on the US political system as an entity to do something about gun proliferation. Joe Biden, the former vice president of the US has started a petition calling out members of Congress who are not willing to take the risk of standing up to the NRA. Please go there and add your name.

ON ACCOUNTABILITY AND SEX CRIMES #METOO IS MAKING CHANGES HAPPEN

The rise of the #MeToo movement has brought about a change in attitudes towards the major issue of abuse of women and girls (and men and boys as well.) We would like to call your attention to an op-ed in the NYTimes by Nicholas Kristof in which he revisits the sad case of Dylan Farrow who was sexually assaulted by her adoptive father, Woody Allen, when she was seven years old.

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Dylan Farrow

She is now a woman in her thirties and continues her allegation, now with the support of #MeToo women and others who now are ostracizing Allen.

The counter view points out that there is little evidence of the abuse and cites the findings of an evaluation team from Yale New Haven Hospital, who concluded that Allen had not sexually abused Dylan. On the other hand, the judge in the custody case noted that “Mr. Allen’s behavior toward Dylan was grossly inappropriate.” Bret Stephens writing also in the NYTimes makes the point that whereas the case against Harvey  Weinstein and the like was backed by evidence beyond any reasonable doubt, Dylan Farrow’s case suffers from the lack of such evidence. As Kristof puts it: “Indeed, the certainty of the Dylan Farrow case is that there has been a gross injustice: Either an innocent man’s career is being destroyed, or a victim has been unfairly doubted since she confided in her pediatrician about an assault when she was 7 years old.”

OK enough ranting–we could fill countless blogs with the corruption scandals in Israel, but we will leave that to professional journalists. Here is a link to Haaretz which is full of the nasty business. Now let us move on to more pleasant places.

SHAKESPEARE’S MUSE DISCOVERED

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Software used by professors to discover plagiarism by students has been applied to the search for sources of the vocabulary and stories in various plays by Shakespeare. A pair of unusual scholars, Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter, claim, in a book about to be published, to have found such a source. The authors are not suggesting that Shakespeare plagiarized but rather that he read and was inspired by a manuscript entitled “A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels,” written in the late 1500s by George North, a minor figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth, who served as an ambassador to Sweden.

This is an amazing discovery for the Shakespeare scholarly community. and will spur more searches for unpublished manuscripts to which Shakespeare might have had access. Stay tuned.

OUR BOOK REVIEWS

Our friends at the New York Review of Books have provided us with reviews of a trio of works about Jacques Offenbach which includes a new biography by Lawrence Senelick, a musicologist reconstruction of Tales of Hoffman and a production at the Met. The three
are reviewed by Adam Kirsch.

CLASSICAL CANCAN
Adam Kirsch
January 18, 2018 Issue

Jacques Offenbach and the Making of Modern Culture
by Laurence Senelick
Cambridge University Press, 354 pp., $120.00

The Real “Tales of Hoffmann”: Origin, History, and Restoration of an Operatic Masterpiece
by Vincent Giroud and Michael Kaye, with a foreword by Plácido Domingo
Rowman and Littlefield, 563 pp., $130.00; $75.00 (paper)

Les contes d’Hoffmann, an opera by Jacques Offenbach, directed by Bartlett Sher, at the Metropolitan Opera, New York City, September 26–October 28, 2017

Jacques Offenbach; engraving by André Gill from the cover of <i></dt><dd class=

It is noted that Offenbach is known today mainly for Tales of Hoffman, which Senelick describes as untypical of Offenbach’s oeuvre in its intellectual, poetic, and melancholy nature. In his time his works were known to Paris audiences for being comic, knowing, exciting; they lampooned everything respectable, from classical mythology to military glory to the sanctity of marriage; they featured actresses baring their legs and shoulders as they danced the cancan. Pandora and Prometheus regard him as a Gallic version of Gilbert and Sullivan, albeit with the explicit sex and wild abandon censored out in the latter to conform with Victorian English prudery. Can you imagine the Three Little Maids in the Mikado coming on with a CanCan like this?

We have two of his send ups in our DVD collection, La belle Hélène and Orphée aux Enfers, and they are delightful spoofs. The book certainly looks like a good read.

A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS BY MARILYNNE ROBINSON

Reviewed in the NYTimes by Parul Seghal

This collection of essays of Marilynne Robinson deals with the question in the title. When Barak Obama asked her how she got to where she is, how someone born in the boondocks of Idaho becomes the kind of person who declares, as Robinson does, “democracy is my aesthetics and my ethics and more or less my religion”?, the answer is somewhere in her writings, possibly here.

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Marilynne Robinson Credit Alec Soth/Magnum, for The New York Times

In these essays she comes to grips with that question herself. The book is demanding, but well worth the effort. Help may be found in the long interview with her by

 

SCIENCE TIDBITS

THE GLOBAL VIROME PROJECT (GVP)

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GVP is a ten-year project to pre-empt emerging pandemic threats by identifying the majority of unknown viruses throughout the world that are likely to infect humans.

The Challenge

We live in an era when the threats posed by global pandemics and epidemics are greater than at any other point in human history. Recent outbreaks such as SARS, Ebola and Zika illustrate that we are ill-prepared and extremely vulnerable to emerging viral threats. However, less than 0.1% of all viruses with the potential to pose a threat to global health are estimated to have spilled over from animals to humans. Since the mid-20th century, new and deadly diseases have emerged at an alarming rate and the threats from this vast pool of unknown viruses are accelerating exponentially, driven by our expanding population and global travel.

Pandora and Prometheus are most impressed and hope that the project brings the anticipated benefits to humankind.

SPOOKY SCIENCE

Using a single photon, or particle of light, two people can simultaneously send information to one another, scientists report in a new pair of papers. The feat relies on a quirk of quantum mechanics — superposition, the phenomenon through which particles can effectively occupy two places at once. The theory is given in a paper in Phys. Rev. Letters and a demonstration is shown in paper posted at arXiv.org on February 14.
Imagine that two people, Alice and Bob, are stationed some distance apart. In standard classical physics, Alice and Bob would each require their own photon to send each other messages simultaneously, with each light particle transmitting a single bit, 0 or 1.

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DOUBLE DUTY  Thanks to the phenomenon of quantum superposition, a single particle of light can send information in two directions at once, scientists report.

If, however,  Alice and Bob possess a photon that is in a superposition — simultaneously located near Alice and near Bob — both of them can manipulate that photon to encode a 0 or 1, and then send it back to the other. How each manipulates the photon determines which of the two receives the photon in the end. If Alice and Bob put in the same bit — both 0s or both 1s — Alice receives the photon. If their bits don’t match, Bob gets it. Since Alice knows whether she sent a 0 or a 1, she immediately knows whether Bob encoded a 0 or 1, and vice versa.

To show that such communication is possible, Walther and colleagues sent single photons through an arrangement of mirrors and other optical devices. The setup put the photon in a superposition, sending it simultaneously to two stations that represented Alice and Bob.

By changing the phase of the light’s electromagnetic wave — shifting where the troughs and peaks of the wave fell — the researchers encoded the photon with a 0 or 1 at each station. Then, at each station, the photon — still in limbo between Alice and Bob — was sent to the opposite station. Along the way, the photon interacted with itself, interfering like water ripples combining to amplify their strength or cancel out. That interference determined whether the final photon was detected at Alice’s station or Bob’s.

Indeed quantum mechanics is weird, but it is certainly fascinating.

NEANDERTHALS NOT ALL THAT DUMB

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Neanderthal and modern human skulls. Photograph: Sabena Jane Blackbird/Alamy

It has long been believed that the extinction of Neanderthals was caused by the arrival of humans who had a cognitive edge that manifested itself in more cooperative hunting, better weaponry and innovation, a broader diet, or other major advantages. Careful
study of the archaeological record does not support any of the hypotheses based on this assumption. Part of the misunderstanding may have arisen because researchers compared Neanderthals with their successors, the modern humans who lived in the Upper Palaeolithic, rather than the humans who lived at the same time. That is like saying people in the 19th century were less intelligent than those in the 21st because they didn’t have laptops and space travel.

SILLY TIME

What If

What if I tried to re-enter the atmosphere in my car? (a 2000 VW Jetta TDI). Would it do more environmental damage than it is already apparently doing?

—Casey Berg

The answer is interesting.

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BIG PHARMA HAS CONVINCING ADS

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WELCOME TO NEW WORLD POLITICS

 

AND THE MODERN SCHOOL…

Prometheus and Pandora XI

Our featured image shows Pandora trying to undo, based on a etching by F.S. Church

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

ANNIVERSARIES OF 2018

With each new year,  history offers a fresh list of memorable occasions ideally suited to be remembered. In a previous issue, we marked the centennial of the birth of the great American musician Leonard Bernstein. For a list of the top 10 scientific anniversaries, see Science News.

A CENTENNIAL OF A SCIENTIST

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Let us continue with the centennial of the birth of the Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman. He was an American theoretical physicist who was widely regarded as the most brilliant, influential, and iconoclastic figure in his field in the post-World War II era.  He revised and essentially recreated the field of quantum electrodynamics, for which he shared the 1965 Nobel Prize in Physics.  Feynman took a leading role in the Manhattan Project during the war, after which he continued his brilliant career, mostly at CalTech.  He is celebrated, inter alia, for the introduction of the famous Feynman diagrams that gave a concrete expression to esoteric calculations and a quantum mechanical theory for superfluidity.  The link above connects to a detailed biography in the Britannica.

 A DOUBLE CENTENNIAL OF A SCIENTIST

James Prescott Joule (200th birthday)

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James Joule was born into a family of brewers on December 24, 1818. The brewery provided a laboratory where he developed exceptional experimental skills. Despite no formal scientific training and no academic job, he still became one of England’s leading scientists. His experimental skill led him to establish precisely  the amount of work needed to produce a quantity of heat and the relationship between heat and electricity.

The results of his experiments were fully described in his famous 1845 paper “On the Mechanical Equivalent of Heat” and they established that heat and mechanical work are both forms of energy. His efforts became the cornerstone of the theory of conservation of energy (the First Law of Thermodynamics).   Read more here.

A CENTENNIAL FOR DEMOCRACY

Women’s right to vote

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A major anniversary in the history of democracy in Great Britain and Ireland is set to take place in February: the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote. The introduction of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 meant that women, who were over the age of 30, property owners and graduates from British universities, were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time. The same Act gave the vote to all men over the age of 21. The law was later extended ten years later, in June 1928, to include all women over the age of 21.

 

IN MEMORIAM

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

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Aharon Appelfeld credit Arik Sultan

Israeli writer and Israel Prize laureate Aharon Appelfeld died on Thursday January 4 at age 85.  He was a prolific author whose works were translated into a number of languages and who had a wide following in the English-speaking world. The last of his 45 books, “Timahon” (“Astonishment”), was published in Hebrew in 2017. His most recent book in English, “The Man Who Never Stopped Sleeping: A Novel,” was published a year ago.

, writing in the New Yorker  calls him one of the subtlest, most unorthodox, and most exactingly perceptive novelists to make the memory of the Holocaust his abiding project. He was born in Romania, and was eight when the war became his life. His mother was killed. He was deported with his father to Trans-Dniester, in Ukraine. He escaped alone from a concentration camp there. He sustained himself for three years as a vagabond farm-laborer. He wound up for a while as a kitchen boy in the Soviet Army. He fetched up next in a refugee camp, then on a kibbutz in Palestine, then fighting in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. At that point he was just sixteen, and felt totally inhabited by overwhelming memories, yet at the same time unable to summon anything like a complete or precise account of any part of his lost boyhood or his odyssey through hell. So he began, over the ensuing decade, to write stories. “I remember something, but not too much,” he told Gourevich. “Therefore I’m writing fiction, because I understood immediately that my memory is weak and I must fill it with imagination.”

His biography is well known, boyhood spent surviving in Nazi-held Europe, coming alone to Israel at age 12 and his subsequent education and entrance into writing in the late 1950’s. writing in Haaretz gives a fascinating and revealing interview with him.

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

 

John Watts Young (September 24, 1930 – January 5, 2018)

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Mr. Young moving across the surface during the Apollo 16 mission, April 1972. Credit Charles M. Duke Jr./NASA

John Young, NASA’s longest-serving astronaut, who walked on the moon and flew on the first Gemini and space shuttle missions, has died. The first person to fly six times into space — seven, if you count his launch off  the moon in 1972 —and the first astronaut to command four different types of spacecraft. Young died on Friday (Jan. 5) following complications from pneumonia. He was 87.

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John Young, training for Apollo 16 in December 1971 (NASA)

Mr. Young joined NASA in the early years of manned spaceflight and was still flying, at age 53, in the era of space shuttles. He was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs. He was also chief of NASA’s astronaut office for 13 years and a leading executive at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Mr. Young  retired in 2004. A detailed obituary can be found in the NYTimes     and in SpaceCollect.

THE RANTS

There is much to rant about as the new year gets underway.  Pandora and Prometheus will throw a few at you and hope that your blood pressure reacts  as it should.

A MAJOR RANT ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL

Climate change aka global warming is real and is happening. The various deniers can spew out all the pernicious nonsense they want, e.g. “Chinese hoax” according to the idiot in the White House, who was placed there by a nation of idiots.  The pernicious nature of the denial has been working for a long time and now, whether we accept it or not, climate change is here and affecting us every day. For example, let us look at a recent article in the Los Angeles Times entitled Wildfires, sea level rise, coral bleaching: Climate change is already here.  If we consider wildfires we find that over the last 30 years, the American West has seen a dramatic increase in their incidence.

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Scientists recently determined that human-caused warming has greatly increased the area of land that has burned since the 1980s. That amounts to 16,000 additional square miles (0ver 44,000 square kilometers), or the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined . The cost is huge.

 

The same article provides a chilling (or sweating) account of sea level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching–part of what we have been inflicting upon ourselves for decades with our political heads in the sand. What is even more frightening is the continuation of denial caused by a combination of economic interests focused on short term profit and a natural inclination of people to chose to avoid unpleasant reality. This is analogous to the European Jews in the writing of Aharon Applefeld (obituary in this blog) who fled from one place to another in Europe but never understood until it was too late that the game was over. We, Prometheus and Pandora recommend strongly that all take a look at the Web site Skeptical Science which deals with climate change denial and confronts the mythical arguments of the deniers with solid scientific fact.

For Example: Warmest year on record in the oceans

More than 90% of the heat trapped by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations ends up going into the Earth’s oceans. While surface temperatures fluctuate a bit from year to year due to natural variability, ocean heat content increases much more smoothly and is, in many ways, a more reliable indicator of the warming of the Earth, albeit one with a shorter historical record.

2017 set a clear record for the highest ocean heat content since records began in 1958, according to the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences(IAP-CAS), which maintains an up-to-date ocean heat content database.

The figures below shows ocean heat content for each year in the region of the ocean between the surface and 2,000 meters in depth (comprising the bulk of the world’s oceans), as well as a map of 2017 anomalies.

The upper figure shows changes in ocean heat content since 1958, while the lower map shows ocean heat content in 2017 relative to the average ocean heat content between 1981 and 2010, with red areas showing warmer ocean heat content than over the past few decades and blue areas showing cooler.

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A RANT ABOUT ABUSE OF WOMEN AND GIRLS

Since the original disclosure of the sexual abuse of women in the film industry, more women have come out and the hashtag #MeToo is expanding. Ronan Farrow in a series of articles in the New Yorker provides us with a detailed chronicle and description of what is involved in a woman coming forward to accuse powerful men, in particular Harvey Weinstein and the likes of him who can crush women who dare to accuse. In addition, the perpetrators are surrounded by high-powered lawyers and colleagues who over the decades chose to look aside, while the women were offered bribes for silence.
Pandora points out that all this anguish is real but these women are educated professionals who could go elsewhere and rebuild their lives. Women who fall victim to the use of rape as a weapon of warfare have no such avenue of protest and demand for redress. The UN Security Council has declared rape a war crime. In the resolution, passed 19 June, the Security Council noted that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instill fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”
The resolution demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”

Rape has been a dishonorable camp follower of war for as long as armies have marched into battle. In the 20th century, perceptions of rape in war have moved from something that is inevitable when men are deprived of female companionship for prolonged periods to an actual tactic in conflict. The lasting psychological harm that rape inflicts on its victims has also been recognized: Rape is always torture, says Manfred Nowak,
Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Christian Caryl gives a fierce indictment of the use of rape as a means of destroying a community. Human Rights Watch
has come out with a harrowing report on sexual abuse of Rohingya women by the Burmese military. This is by no means an isolated case. Thousands of women have fallen victim to rape in South Sudan’s civil war. The reign of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has resulted in the wholesale sexual abuse of young women from the ancient religious community of the Yezidis. Women were also raped during the recent ethnic unrest in Burundi.

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It is indeed worthy that the Weinsteins of the world be called to account and that Dr. Larry Nassar, the predatory physician of the US Olympic gymnastics team, has been sentenced to a long jail term. . It is equally important that the world community makes the rapists in combat zones accountable for their crimes as well.

A RANT ABOUT DEPORTATION OF REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS

In a previous blog Prometheus and Pandora pointed an accusing finger at Norway which deports asylum seekers to Afghanistan despite the civil war raging there. Now they join the outcry much closer to home, the cruel deportation of thousands of African asylum seekers from Israel to “third countries.” The government had claimed that Rwanda and Uganda had agreed to take the refugees, which is apparently false. An editorial in Haaretz called on the government to stop lying and to adopt a reasonable policy towards these unfortunate asylum seekers who are fleeing war and genocide. The foul way the government has acted despite court orders is a shame to all of us. Instead of keeping the 37,000 asylum-seekers in Israel who were deported, allowing them to work and live with dignity, and dispersing them throughout the country so as not to burden long-time residents of south Tel Aviv, Israel — a state of refugees — insists on betraying the dictates of justice and undermining its own moral right to exist.
A movement of protest against these policies is rising. Hundreds of professionals including flight crews, school principals and psychologists have called on Israel to
halt deportations of asylum seekers or announced they would not cooperate with expulsions. For example, a letter by educators reads in part-  “We teach tens of thousands of students about our past as refugees, persecuted people and asylum seekers during the darkest periods of human history, out of a personal and professional commitment to ensure ‘never again” the principals wrote. “We believe that asylum seekers, like all people, are entitled to have their natural rights protected, by virtue of their being human beings, by
virtue of conventions that Israel has signed, and by virtue of the Declaration of Independence and Israel’s Jewish and human values.”
As Noa Yachot writes in 972-“Even as it invokes the Holocaust at every turn, Israel is feeding the people who most need its protection to a brutal human smuggling industry. In doing so, it becomes an active player in the worst migration crisis since the Jewish people’s near-extinction.”

Israeli progressives must continue the protest and hope that progressive Jews in the US will join in support. Already the plan for deporting tens of thousands of asylum seekers, most of them from Eritrea or Ethiopia, seems to have gone agley as happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. Of course, the pressure must be maintained. The only thing that will deter the likes of Netanyahu and Der’i is bad PR, especially abroad.

A FEW RANTS IN THE WAKE OF THE PENCE VISIT

When the US VP addressed the Knesset, the Arab members were evicted. It is a shame to admit that members of the left wing opposition sat quietly while this was happening. Prometheus and Pandora, both loyal supporters of Meretz (as well as their imaginary playmates, YandA) were appalled. They even sent Ms Tamar Zandberg, a Knesset member from Meretz, who is running for the leadership of the party, a tweet of protest that was neither acknowledged nor answered. Haaretz took them to task severely in an editorial with full justification.

Mr. Pence’s speech was a combination of bullshit, humbug and platitudes, but the audience, Israelis whose knowledge of Christian evangelical ideology is essentially zero, failed to understand the main point.  Amit Gevaryahu writing in Haaretz points out most correctly that as an evangelical Pence was making it clear that Israel is only a pawn in the process of bringing about the second coming of Christ. Gevaryahu sums up the essence of Pence’s speech-“…Regardless, per Pence, the tribulations and successes of the Jews are valuable only as pre-figurations and theological models for Christians. But the Jewish state is also necessary for his eschatology. Evangelicals like Pence see the urgent need to literally encourage Jews to return to Zion and to sovereignty as a critical step towards Christ’s second coming.”

The U.S. Vice President stood before the assembled delegates of the Jewish state and told them, right after talking about the Holocaust, that Abraham was not their father but that Abraham was his father.
…”And this too is the level to which Israel’s Knesset has stooped. Its overwhelming right-wing and religious majority obsequiously traded the historical Jewish claim to Abraham, the Torah, and redemption according to the Jewish narrative, for the lentil stew of American “recognition” of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the city where, Pence and others hope, Christian dreams may still come true.”

TIDBITS FROM SCIENCE

 New Egyptian dinosaur reveals ancient link between Africa and Europe

Mansourasaurus shahinae helps fill in gaps of African dinosaurs of Late Cretaceous

A new dinosaur fossil discovered in the Egyptian Sahara is contributing to our knowledge of dinosaur evolution.  As reported in Science Daily “When it comes to the final days of the dinosaurs, Africa is something of a blank page. Fossils found in Africa from the Late Cretaceous, the time period from 100 to 66 million years ago, are few and far between. That means that the course of dinosaur evolution in Africa has largely remained a mystery. But in the Egyptian Sahara Desert, scientists have discovered a new species of dinosaur that helps fill in those gaps. “

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Skeletal reconstruction of the new titanosaurian dinosaur Mansourasaurus shahinae from the Late Cretaceous of the Dakhla Oasis, Egypt. Bones shown in color are those that are preserved in the original fossil; other bones are based on those of closely related dinosaurs.
Credit: Andrew McAfee, Carnegie Museum of Natural History

 

SUCCESSFUL CLONING OF PRIMATES

A group of scientists led by Zhen Liu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has succeeded in cloning twin macaque monkeys. The work required years of experimentation by means of a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. This method was used twenty years ago to create Dolly, the first cloned sheep. Adapting the method to primates was by no means a trivial task. The effort finally delivered two twin monkeys, named Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua. The scientific paper was published in Cell.

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Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua

RANT ON POLISH REWRITING OF HISTORY

The Polish parliament has approved a controversial law forbidding any mention of participation of the “Polish nation” in crimes committed during the Holocaust. The law also forbids use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the death camps where Jews and others were murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War. Anyone who violates the new law, including non-Polish citizens, will be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.
This law has drawn criticism from around the world and especially from Israel and Jews. PM Netanyahu for once got it right “The law is baseless. I strongly oppose it. History cannot be changed and it is forbidden to deny the Holocaust. I ordered the Israeli embassy in Poland to meet with the Polish Prime Minister and express my firm stand against the law,” Netanyahu said.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, also condemned  the proposed law.  Yad Vashem noted, however, that Poland is right in its objection to the term “Polish death camps,” explaining that “there is no doubt that the term is a distortion of history. The death camps were set up in Nazi-occupied Poland with the intention of murdering Jews as part of the final solution. “

Indeed there were Poles who helped Jews and hid them, but  in truth  more than 200,000 Jews were killed, directly or indirectly, by Poles in World War II, says historian Jan Grabowski, who studied the brutal persecution of the victims. His conclusion: There were no bystanders in the Holocaust.

We  must,however, note that according to Yad Vashem the citizens of Poland have the world’s highest count of individuals who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews from extermination during the Holocaust in World War II. There are 6,706 Polish men and women recognized as Righteous to this day, over a quarter of the total number of 26,513[ awards.

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Righteous Among the Nations medals and diplomas handed over during a ceremony in the Polish Senate on 17th April 2012

Nonetheless, Prometheus and Pandora strongly condemn this attempt to obscure the role played by Poland, a nation with a long history of antisemitism. They agree with Ofer Aderet who calls in Haaretz to leave the judgement of Poland’s role in WWII  to future historians.

BOOK REVIEW

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

This book has all the appearances of a fascinating read. To quote the review in the New York Review of Books by Larry Wolff (for subscribers only alas)  the above book has boldly placed Machiavelli and early modern political theory at the center of the early history of opera, reflecting creatively on the ways in which the reverberations of the great Florentine realist reached even into the musical realm. For just as The Prince
was presented as a precious gift precisely because it described and prescribed the conduct of princes, so the operas of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries placed princes on the stage and let them sing their political circumstances. The book gets a full open review by Lew Whittington in the New York Journal of Books. A less favorable review is given by Mark Berry in Times of Higher Education.

In the author’s discussion of the work of Mozart including the Marriage of Figaro, in which the aristocracy is ridiculed by Figaro’s defiance, we see an example of something subversive:

“Se vuol ballare, signor contino,
Il chitarrino le suonerò.”
[If you want to dance, little count,
I’ll play my little guitar.]
Nonetheless, it is clear that while the foundations of the old regime were tottering, Mozart was no real revolutionary. Cohen attributes the Contessa’s nostalgia in

“Dove sono i bei momenti di dolcezza e di piacer?”(“Where have they gone, the beautiful moments of sweetness and pleasure?”).
not only to her once happy marriage, but also to a feeling of loss as the times change.

Kiri Te Kanawa lets us hear it.

Recall this opera had its  premier in 1786, only three years before the fall of the Bastille. The censors allowed it to premier in Prague rather than Vienna. Riccardo Panela the operatic baritone who has played the role of the lecherous Count has written an interesting analysis of how shrewd self censorship by De Ponte and Mozart enabled the opera to reach the stage.

SILLY TIME

What If

Which has a greater gravitational pull on me: the Sun, or spiders? Granted, the Sun is much bigger, but it is also much further away, and as I learned in high school physics, the gravitational force is proportional to the square of the distance.

—Marina Fleming

Interesting for us geeks.

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A LANGUAGE LESSON OF SORTS AT THE SOUP KITCHEN

WE AGREE

Darwin  would have loved this:

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Find a cool WUMO here.