Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Reading

Not The Only One — Rinku Sen points out that Donald Trump isn’t the only racist in the GOP.

Donald Trump’s latest attack on US District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over the suit brought against Trump University by its former students, led Paul Ryan to distance himself from the candidate he’s endorsed. He called Trump’s statement “textbook” racism, wishing aloud that Trump would stick to the GOP’s focus on revitalizing the economy. Ryan didn’t go so far as to withdraw his support from a Trump nomination, noting that the GOP policy agenda has a far greater chance of succeeding with Trump in the White House than with Hillary Clinton. But it is that policy agenda itself that advances racism, even if it stops short of racial slurs about the people who will suffer the most from its implementation.

Ryan’s clumsy attempts to navigate around Trump only throw into relief the GOP’s broader refusal to acknowledge that racism takes many, many forms—most of them unconscious, hidden, and systemic. Trump’s overt racism actually obscures the party’s covert racism. In some cases, that covert racism may even come with good, if paternalistic, intentions of saving communities of color from the “evils” of dependence. But for the GOP—and too many Democrats, for that matter—if racist intention isn’t obvious (and sometimes, even if it is), there is no need to bring up race at all. Indeed, doing so points to the moral weakness of racial justice advocates.

New York Representative Lee Zeldin, for instance, is particularly opposed to the notion that we might develop a policy agenda that actually directs resources to the racial groups with highest need. “So being a little racist or very racist is not OK,” he said on CNN in countering attacks on Trump, “but, quite frankly, the agenda that I see and all the microtargeting to blacks and Hispanics from a policy standpoint, you know, that’s more offensive to me.” Trump surrogates like Zeldin don’t want us to consider the possibility that a supposedly universal agenda might have different impacts on different racial and ethnic groups. Rather, they want us to believe proponents of “identity politics,” as another Trump surrogate argued, are the real racists, pushing “political correctness” down the collective American throat.

This isn’t new. Resistance to the idea that “textbook” racism can be found in our political and economic systems as much as in our individual hearts and minds was also fully present in the policy debates of the 1960s. And that resistance deeply shaped the Civil Rights Act. For example, in the employment section, employers were vulnerable under the law only if a complainant could prove a “pattern or practice of resistance” to civil-rights measures—or, if you can establish a racist intent. That was written to punish only the most explicit kind of Southern racism, while leaving the subtler Northern version intact. While updates to the act gave lip service to the notion that racist impact constitutes discrimination, even if intention is not obvious, civil-rights plaintiffs still bear the burden of establishing intention if they want any recourse.

Or take voting today. Perhaps GOP leaders are sincere when they say their ongoing attack on (nonexistent) voter fraud with new voter-ID laws are not designed to suppress the votes of people of color. But they will not acknowledge evidence that the law’s impact is nonetheless voter suppression. Or take the question of equal opportunity for children. A bill adopted by the House Education and Workforce Committee this year, which Ryan has endorsed, forces 11,000 high-poverty schools out of eligibility for free-lunch programs, lowers nutritional standards, and makes it much tougher for schools to enroll kids who need help. The children who are adversely affected will be far disproportionately of color. But they aren’t named as targets, so we cannot pin down racist intention; Ryan and many others denouncing Trump this week would strongly object if someone called the bill “textbook” racism. As long as lawmakers and politicians don’t say “black” or “Mexican” or “Arab,” they are cleared of racist intention, as though the impacts of their actions don’t matter.

But they do matter, to a growing electorate of color.

The GOP (and, again, lots of Democrats, too) willfully ignore the fact that all politics are identity based. White men are simply not required to own their identities in politics because they constitute the default universal. When Zeldin calls out “microtargeting” as racist, he attempts to shut down any discussion of the racialized effects of supposedly race-neutral policies. The result is a debate in which only the most obvious, intentional brand of racism is to be condemned.

The Next Step — Frank Bruni profiles Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who could be the next rising star.

If you went into some laboratory to concoct a perfect Democratic candidate, you’d be hard pressed to improve on Pete Buttigieg, the 34-year-old second-term mayor of this Rust Belt city, where he grew up and now lives just two blocks from his parents.

Education? He has a bachelor’s from Harvard and a master’s from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Public service? He’s a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve. For seven months in 2014, he was deployed to Afghanistan — and took an unpaid leave from work in order to go.

He regularly attends Sunday services at his Episcopal church. He runs half-marathons. His TEDx talk on urban innovation in South Bend is so polished and persuasive that by the end of it, you’ve hopped online to price real estate in the city.

And though elective office was in his sights from early on, he picked up some experience in the private sector, including two years as a consultant with McKinsey. He describes that job in politically pitch-perfect terms, as an effort to learn how money moves and how data is mined most effectively.

Two years ago, The Washington Post called him “the most interesting mayor you’ve never heard of.”

And that was before he came out. He told his constituents that he was gay in an op-ed that he wrote for the local newspaper last June, during his re-election campaign. Then he proceeded, in November, to win 80 percent of the vote — more than the first time around.

But what happens if he aims higher than this primarily Democratic city of roughly 100,000 people — which he’s almost sure to? Is there now a smudge on that résumé, or could he become yet another thrilling symbol of our country’s progress?

The breaking of barriers was the story of last week, as Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination. There are more milestones to come: for women, for blacks, for Hispanics, for other minorities.

Although voters in Wisconsin elevated an openly lesbian candidate, Tammy Baldwin, to the United States Senate, and Oregon’s governor has described herself as bisexual, no openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person has ever emerged as a plausible presidential candidate.

How soon might that change? Could we look up a dozen or more years from now and see a same-sex couple in the White House?

I’d wondered in the abstract, and after a veteran Democratic strategist pointed me toward Buttigieg as one of the party’s brightest young stars, I wondered in the concrete.

He probably winced when he read that: At no point during my visit with him last week did he express such a grand political ambition or define himself in terms of his sexual orientation.

“I’m not interested in being a poster boy,” he told me. He has not, since his op-ed, spoken frequently or expansively about being gay.

He doesn’t hide it, though. His partner, Chasten Glezman, a middle-school teacher, moved in with him this year and sometimes accompanies him to public events.

One day Buttigieg popped into Glezman’s classroom with an offering from Starbucks. That night, he got an email fuming that the children had been unnecessarily exposed to certain ideas.

He wrote back “explaining how what I was doing was the same kind of thing a straight couple would do,” he told me. “I didn’t go in there to discuss L.G.B.T. issues. I went in there to bring a cup of coffee to somebody that I love.”

“But it was one of those moments,” he added, “when I realized we can’t quite go around as if it were the same.”

South Bend is Indiana’s fourth largest city and abuts the University of Notre Dame, where both of Buttigieg’s parents have taught. It was once famous for its Studebaker auto assembly plant, but that closed more than half a century ago, prompting a painful decline.

Buttigieg has worked to reverse it. His “1,000 houses in 1,000 days” campaign demolished or repaired that many abandoned homes. New construction and the dazzling River Lights public art installation, which bathes a cascading stretch of South Bend’s principal waterway in a rainbow of hues, are reinvigorating the city center. And the old Studebaker plant is at long last being renovated — into a mix of office, commercial, residential and storage space.

All of that could set Buttigieg up for a Senate or gubernatorial bid down the line. So could his sharp political antenna. He saw the future: In 2000, he won the nationwide J.F.K. Profile in Courage Essay Contest for high school students with a tribute to a certain congressman named Bernie Sanders.

“Politicians are rushing for the center, careful not to stick their necks out on issues,” he wrote, exempting Sanders and crediting him with the power “to win back the faith of a voting public weary and wary of political opportunism.”

He seems always to say just the right thing, in just the right tone. When I asked why he signed up for the Navy Reserve, he cited his experience canvassing for Barack Obama in Iowa in 2008.

“So many times, I would knock and a child would come to the door — in my eyes, a child — and we’d get to talking and this kid would be on his way to basic training,” he remembered. “It was like this whole town was emptying itself out into the military.” But very few of the people he knew from Harvard or Oxford signed up.

When I asked where the Democratic Party errs, he said that too many Democrats “are not yet comfortable working in a vocabulary of ‘freedom.’ Conservatives talk about freedom. They mean it. But they’re often negligent about the extent to which things other than government make people unfree.”

“And that is exactly why the things we talk about as Democrats matter,” he continued. “You’re not free if you have crushing medical debt. You’re not free if you’re being treated differently because of who you are. What has really affected my personal freedom more: the fact that I don’t have the freedom to pollute a certain river, or the fact that for part of my adult life, I didn’t have the freedom to marry somebody I was in love with? We’re talking about deep, personal freedom.”

HE also challenged the degree to which some Democrats “participate in the fiction that if we just turn back the clock and get rid of trade, everybody can get their manufacturing jobs back. There are a lot of people who think they lost their jobs because of globalization when they actually lost their jobs because of technology.”

The solution, he said, isn’t isolationism, protectionism and nostalgia. It’s new skills and a next generation of products and services.

Did I mention that he speaks passable Arabic? Or that he’s an accomplished musician who played piano with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra in 2013 for a special performance of “Rhapsody in Blue”?

Or that he recently won a J.F.K. New Frontier Award, given annually to a few Americans under 40 whose commitment to public service is changing the country?

The daunting scope of his distinctions may be his greatest liability. (How many accolades named after J.F.K. can one man collect?)

That and his precociousness. Before his mayoralty, he ran an unsuccessful campaign for state treasurer of Indiana. He was 28.

So he’s not the most relatable pol in the pack. The laboratory would fix that.

Or maybe he’s fixing it himself. I last saw him at South Bend’s minor league baseball park, where he was chowing down on an all-American supper of nachos smothered in strips of fatty beef and a pale yellow goo. It looked like training for the Iowa State Fair.

Give him some Tums. And keep an eye on him.

Turn on the Dark — Rebecca Boyle in The Atlantic on the disappearance of the night sky.

The Pawnee people took literally the idea that we are all star stuff. In their cosmology, which dates back at least 700 years, the first woman was born from the marriage of stars, and the first man from the union of the sun and moon. The stars themselves were sent by the creator god, Tirawa, who tasked them with holding up the sky.

The brightest stars were entrusted with Earth’s climate, which was thought to be the key to its fertility. But this arrangement made some lesser stars jealous, so they stole a sack of violent storms that belonged to the brighter stars and emptied them on the Earth, and this is how death came to the world.

Today, the clouds, wind, and rain are still the principal ways that humans experience the sky, and that experience is changing. The Pawnee lived through thunderstorms and tornadoes, but ours are likely to become more violent as climate change worsens. And our night sky is changing too. As light pollution intensifies, it’s emptying out of stars, and life on Earth is paying a price.

One-third of humanity —and 80 percent of North Americans—can’t see the bright smear of the Milky Way, our home in the cosmos. For the first time in the history of our species, entire generations of people have never seen our galaxy.

A full 99 percent of the people in North America and Europe sleep under a bright haze at night, caused by light pollution. A new dark sky atlas describes just how widespread this problem is, and gives scientists a starting point for studying the impact artificial light is having on humans and the other creatures that share this planet.

“The light that we detected is not even seen by people, because they are asleep; it is only seen by astronomers,” says Fabio Falchi of the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute in Thiene, Italy. “But I am convinced that light pollution is no longer a problem for astronomers. It is a global problem for everyone. All life on Earth evolved with the dark, with 12 hours of dark and 12 hours of sun. But now we are enveloping our planet in a perpetual glow. And life is affected by that.”

Falchi and Chris Elvidge, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, have been studying satellite images of the Earth at night since the 1990s. Their first atlas, produced in 2001, used older satellite data that was taken around 8 p.m. local time, while the updated atlas comes courtesy of a new satellite that captured sky glow around 1 or 2 a.m. Because of these and other differences, the new atlas can’t be directly contrasted with the old one. But the scientists think light pollution is more widespread now, even as some communities are trying to bring back the night. This is partly because of LEDs.

“Awareness is rising, but not as much, I think, as the new lights,” Falchi says.

Many cities are replacing their older high-pressure sodium or metal halide street lamps with LEDs, which use less energy but shine more brightly, especially in the part of the visible-light spectrum that scatters the most. (This is the same effect that makes the sky blue.) This means cities are both getting brighter and spreading their light across greater distances. Standing in Death Valley National Park, for example, a visitor can see gumdrop-shaped domes of light hovering over Las Vegas to the east and Los Angeles to the west, both of which are hundreds of miles away.

[…]

Falchi and Elvidge say they have also sought out dark skies, but they have to travel to get them. A few years ago Falchi visited Chile’s Atacama desert, one of the driest and darkest places on the planet, where the view of the Milky Way presented him with what he called one of “the great natural wonders.”

Elvidge tries to escape the haze by visiting the mountains, an easy and obvious choice for someone in Boulder, Colorado. But sometimes he drives east instead, passing the exits for Denver and the smaller agricultural city of Greeley. After a two-hour ride, he arrives at the windswept Pawnee National Grassland.

Nobody lives out there now; the Pawnee themselves are long gone, and white farmers mostly abandoned the area after the Dust Bowl. Apart from the sandstone Pawnee Buttes, improbably rising from the plains like a pair of prairie ziggurats, the grassland’s most compelling feature is its sky. Here, you can see the same stars the Pawnee people did, centuries ago. Taking them in just as the Pawnee would have, you can wonder, as they did, where we came from.

Doonesbury — Academic festival overture.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. When we moved from the northern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan to a condo a few miles south of Toledo I found I could hardly get to sleep because of the light pollution. The horizon was glowing no matter where you looked and the night was never utterly dark, glowing with star-shine. You can find the pure night sky blazing with stars and the Milky Way just as the Ottawa tribes did hundreds of years ago if you’re willing to live away from towns and cities where lights are always shining and blotting out the stars. But of course if we all did that we’d be creating a village and our sky would glow with electricity, not stars.

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