Some good and improtant news. The next installment has this week’s important but bad news.
- “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.
- “Only in America?“, David Berreby, Slate, 17 November 2008 — “The wrongheaded American belief that Barack Obama could only happen here.”
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.
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