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Interesting reading for your weekend pleasure!

22 November 2008

Some good and improtant news.  The next installment has this week’s important but bad news.

  1. The Sun Shows Signs of Life“, NASA, 7 November 2008 —  Good news about the solar cycle, suggesting that fears of an extremely cold 11-year solar cycle may be exaggerated.
  2. Only in America?“, David Berreby, Slate, 17 November 2008 — “The wrongheaded American belief that Barack Obama could only happen here.”

Excerpts

1.  “The Sun Shows Signs of Life“, NASA, 7 November 2008 —  Good news about the solar cycle, suggesting that fears of an extremely cold 11-year solar cycle may be exaggerated.  November has also produced more Solar Cycle 24 spots.  Excerpt:

After two-plus years of few sunspots, even fewer solar flares, and a generally eerie calm, the sun is finally showing signs of life. “I think solar minimum is behind us,” says sunspot forecaster David Hathaway of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

His statement is prompted by an October flurry of sunspots. “Last month we counted five sunspot groups,” he says. That may not sound like much, but in a year with record-low numbers of sunspots and long stretches of utter spotlessness, five is significant. “This represents a real increase in solar activity.”

Even more significant is the fact that four of the five sunspot groups belonged to Solar Cycle 24, the long-awaited next installment of the sun’s 11-year solar cycle. “October was the first time we’ve seen sunspots from new Solar Cycle 24 outnumbering spots from old Solar Cycle 23. It’s a good sign that the new cycle is taking off.”

Old Solar Cycle 23 peaked in 2000 and has since decayed to low levels. Meanwhile, new Solar Cycle 24 has struggled to get started. 2008 is a year of overlap with both cycles weakly active at the same time. From January to September, the sun produced a total of 22 sunspot groups; 82% of them belonged to old Cycle 23. October added five more; but this time 80% belonged to Cycle 24.

The tables have turned.

2.  Only in America?“, David Berreby, Slate, 17 November 2008 — “The wrongheaded American belief that Barack Obama could only happen here.”  Excerpt:

People are still amazed he won. In a country where more than a few white folks would still say outright that one of “them” shouldn’t be in charge, here was a politician who didn’t downplay his ethnicity, his foreign-sounding name, or his father who wasn’t even a Christian. And he wasn’t just ethnically atypical. He’d made himself a member of the country’s meritocratic elite. He wrote real books that really sold. That blend of outsider detachment and obvious ambition drove his earnest enemies crazy.

… Last week, the New York Times told us Europe would not soon—indeed might never—see a political triumph like Obama’s. It described British politics as though Disraeli had never existed and painted a similar picture of mono-ethnic France.

Désolé, chers collègues, but one year after the far-off, sunny isle of Corsica was acquired by France in 1768, there was born there one Napoleon Bonaparte, whose heavy Italian accent made him seem even more exotic to la France profonde than his strange name. At least our president-elect, born on the far-off, sunny isle of Oahu two years after it became a U.S. state, pronounces English without the marked accent of, oh, the governor of California. And speaking of German accents, the Times thumb-sucker also foresaw that there would be no German Obama any time soon. Bad timing for them: Three days later, Germany’s Greens elected Cem Ozdemir, an ethnic Turk, as their new leader.

The truth is that Obama-style chiefs of state-people who came out of stigmatized ethnic minorities or “foreign” enclaves to lead their governments-are an uncommon but regularly recurring part of history. Alberto Fujimori, who held both Peruvian and Japanese citizenship, was elected president of Peru in 1990. Sonia Gandhi, born Edvige Antonia Albina Maino in northern Italy, led her Congress Party to a resounding victory in India’s 2004 elections. Daniel arap Moi is from the Kalenjin people, not the Luo or Kikuyu who are the nation’s largest ethnic groups and its centers of political gravity. But this did not bar him being president of Kenya from 1978 to 2002.

… For one thing, self-made, boundary-crossing leaders generally arise in times of upheaval, when it’s clear familiar ways aren’t working. Were it not for the French Revolution, after all, Napoleon’s “supernatural energies might [have died] away without creating their miracles,” as Disraeli himself observed. Disraeli’s own career took place in a rapidly industrializing England. Fujimori’s slogan, in a time of economic chaos, was “Cambio” or “change.” As for the Berber, Arab, and Balkan Roman emperors, they were Latin-speaking Colin Powells-outsiders who had entered politics’ elite circles via military service.

About their atypical and unprivileged status, boundary-breaking leaders have, like Obama, usually been open, not shy-a second trait they often share. They make a loud, clear show of the fact that they aren’t hiding or trimming their origins. Fujimori was happy to be called “El Chino.” Napoleon took his emperor’s crown from the pope and ostentatiously placed it on his head himself. Disraeli, though a Christian from age 13 on, never tried to hide his Jewish identity. “Yes, I am a Jew,” he famously told a boorish opponent in parliamentary debate, “and when the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”

… The lesson to be gleaned, then, from the hardly new success of “outsider” leaders is that, in troubled times, people want leaderly reassurance. But it’s not necessarily ethnic/religious/one-of-us reassurance. Rather, they want something new and brave to address their fears, without effacing what they love most about their country. In other words, they want society to be new and old, changed and restored, familiar and unfamiliar. Anyone can say the right things about those contradictory desires, but it’s much more convincing to elect a person who by birth embodies them.

Afterword

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Arms Merchant permalink
    22 November 2008 6:10 pm

    “So they attacked [Obama] as doubly strange, both ‘not like us’ and elite.”

    Berreby uses typical rhetorical device: set up a widely-recognized but unspecified “they” and then attribute all sorts of nefarious designs to “them.” Who on the serious Right criticized Obama for being “not like us?” If anything, Obama himself played that game, contrasting the “clingers” with the unstated “us,” i.e., good San Francisco liberals. See this video from CNN: “Obama: ‘Small towns cling to guns or religion’“.

    “They claimed you could not trust this man, that he was unknowable, unreliable, a snob, and a toff.”

    Berreby is on more solid ground here. The Right’s main criticism of Obama was not that he was a member of some alien group but rather that, in fact, he was such a blank slate. More accurately, that the centrist positions he espoused were at odds with his personal history and relationships.

    Yet, his election is a good indication that Identity is really not that big a deal with whites or Hispanics (although it obviously was with blacks, 95% of whom voted for Obama). America is still to a certain extent a meritocracy, where achievement is valued and rises regardless of social class or race.

    On the other hand, in Victorian Britain the most important prerequisite for any appointment was being a gentleman, and Disraeli was this in spades, as Berreby notes. The mischaracterization of Sarah Palin by snobs from both the Left and Right as some hayseed rube redneck shows the weakness of that argument in the modern, meritocratic USA.

    “They ridiculed the seal he’d contrived for himself, with its Latin motto meaning, roughly, ‘yes, we can.'”

    Well, yes, the faux Presidential Seal was a bit over the top.

    Like

  2. 23 November 2008 1:47 am

    Yes, we have risen above race, however, if you’re from and of the countryside, the city folk will go to their graves before you rule over them.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I trust you have evidence for this. If you cite Gov Palin as proof:

    (1) Please provide some evidence that a large number of people opposed her because of her rural background, since there are so many other reasons she was not qualified.
    (2) If true, there should be other examples of this. Can you cite any?

    Like

  3. 23 November 2008 5:53 am

    It’s simpler to note the enthusiasm exhibited for her among country folk. The political schism between rural and exurban vs urban voters is well documented. McCain was a huge yawn among rural voters until Palin was chosen. Agree or not that Palin has potential as a leader, but her emphatic support among rural voters is undeniable. Do you think the intelligence distribution bell curve is skewed in the countryside or are people just unable to reach correct conclusions there because they lack urban-class education? Seriously, this disconnect fascinates me as a country raised, city educated seeker of the truth who likes Palin. If anything she suffers from a lack of expertise in misdirection, dissembling and obfuscation, tools of the trade for a politician. Refreshing, but hobbling if she wants to play in the big game. She’s learning though. I believe the turkey pardon kerfuffle was staged by her to fan these flames.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree with most of this, but not all.

    (1) The following iis a strange comment!

    “Do you think the intelligence distribution bell curve is skewed in the countryside or are people just unable to reach correct conclusions there because they lack urban-class education?”

    What about the policy differences? I have not studied the voting patterns, but from a look at the maps discussed here, policy differences explain much of the difference. McCain’s conservative credentials were quite weak (one reason for the “strange new respect” the mainstream media lavished on him in recent years for his non-conservative views).

    (2) Re: turkey-gate. Even these trivial incidents can reveal much about a person’s character. Palin’s response to such things is to lie. From Entertainment Tonight, 21 November 2008:

    There’s a new flap involving Sarah Palin: In honor of Thanksgiving, she pardoned one turkey while other birds met their demise right behind her. Now the former VP hopeful’s rep is speaking out to ET about the turkey pardon-gone-wrong!

    “The [Alaska] governor did not know it was going on behind her,” Palin’s spokesperson tells ET of the reportedly grisly scene at Triple D Farm & Hatchery outside Wasilla. Cameras captured Palin extending the annual Thanksgiving pardon to one turkey while a farm hand slaughtered the bird’s feathered friends in the background.

    Palin’s spokesperson tells ET the bird butchering wasn’t going on when the shot was set up, and a cameraman “ignored” the governor’s staff’s request to remove the graphic sight once cameras were rolling.

    Analysis from Mudflaps (“Tiptoeing Through the Muck of Alaskan Politics”):

    So why bring it up again? Because now, Palin is denying it, and saying she had no idea of what was going on ten feet behind her while she gave the interview, and is basically calling the photographer a liar.

    … Of course, Palin or her staff could have stopped the interview at any time if this had been the case. Considering there were many people there who saw and heard exactly what happened during this interview, and that I know one of them personally, we can feel confident in saying this desperate attempt on Entertainment Tonight to rescue Palin’s image from the turkey pile sounds like exactly what it is – a big fat lie.

    Once again the media becomes the whipping boy for Palin’s incompetence, lack of judgment, and inability to understand how she is perceived by others.

    Like

  4. 23 November 2008 6:50 pm

    Here is a link: “Rural Voters in Battleground States Love Palin, Back McCain“, Slate, 20 September 2008.

    I believe we homo sapiens largely project our own values onto our leaders. This gets us into all kinds of trouble. Rural voters are strong on religion, land derived hard work, and self reliance. Urbanites value education, capital allocation and symbolic manipulation derived hard work, and inter-reliance. As Americans, we share respect for hard work. We should focus on that. As humans, we would do well to admit that we all tend to believe in magic, which also gets us into all kinds of trouble, witness global warming.

    It’s a strange comment only if I’m drinking and you’re not. Levity for a Saturday night.
    .
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Great article, thanks! It documents the urban-rural voting patterns about which there has been so much discussion. But it does not mention the material of your comments about which I asked.

    (1) Is their any “evidence that a large number of people opposed her because of her rural background”?
    (2) What does “the intelligence distribution bell curve” have to do with any of this?

    Like

  5. Arms Merchant permalink
    23 November 2008 9:31 pm

    FM: I haven’t been able to find a poll that specifically suggested that blue voters rejected Palin because of her rural background as opposed to her qualifications. Yet, one would suspect this is the case with at least some voters because the culture war is still alive and well. There was certainly a lot of discussion among feminists about her potential appeal to red vs. blue (below). Would be nice to see some polling data.

    I could go into the voluminous anti-Palin blog posts and an email that was circulated by my liberal sister-in-law equating Palin with “toothless rednecks,” but that’s not really authoritative, is it?

    Kay S. Hymowitz, “Red State Feminism,” City Journal, 8 Spetember 2008 — Excerpt:

    Sure, part of the red staters’ identification with Palin is a matter of lifestyle. Blue-state feminists live in big cities and suburbs; Palin lives in South Podunk. Blue staters’ kids play soccer; Palin’s play hockey. They have WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER bumper stickers; she’s a member of the NRA. They dine on sushi; she eats salmon that she caught and gutted.

    Obama surfs through“, Camile Paglia, Salon, 12 November 2008 — See page 2, 1/3 down for “The Real Reason Palin Was Excoriated by the Press”. Excerpt:

    How dare Palin not embrace abortion as the ultimate civilized ideal of modern culture? How tacky that she speaks in a vivacious regional accent indistinguishable from that of Western Canada! How risible that she graduated from the University of Idaho and not one of those plush, pampered commodes of received opinion whose graduates, in their rush to believe the worst about her, have demonstrated that, when it comes to sifting evidence, they don’t know their asses from their elbows.

    .
    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree, Palin’s candidacy brought out into view major fault lines in American culture! This is of course nothing new. There is often a dark side to elections. People voting…
    * against John Kennedy because he was Roman Catholic,
    * against Mitt Romney because he was Mormon,
    * against Obama because he had “black blood” (i.e., more than most people in the eastern and southern states),
    * against Hillary because she was a woman, and
    * against Palin because she was from a rural area.

    Of all those I believe (guess) that the last was the smallest of these effects.

    Like

  6. 23 November 2008 10:35 pm

    In terms of policy, Marx might say the cities control allocation of capital as an important economic input while the country folk work the land as another input. Historically, a critical banking function has been to “carry” the farmers until they get paid for their crops. What this has to do with our modern world in which satellites tell giant robot harvesters where to go next is unclear. A lot of our culture wars, and urban/suburban tension is likely based on a nostalgic fantasy rather than current reality. Indeed, a lot of our predicate assumptions nationwide are apparently due for serious reconsideration. We voted for change, we are about to get lot’s of it.

    Like

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