Open Thread: Appreciating the 1619 Project for Its Detractors

I’m nowhere near finished reading the NYTimes‘ whole 1619 Project (wish I’d found a print edition yesterday, frankly), but IMO it will have an impact on The Discourse similar to that of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Atlantic article. And, yes, one sure signifier of its importance is the volume and intensity of the hatred directed against it by the Usual Suspects (few, if any, of whom could’ve read so much as Nikole Hannah-Jones’ introductory essay before taking their grievances public). The pushback was, thankfully, immediate…


Read more








Naming & Shaming Open Thread: Even Trump’s Supporters Find the Association Embarrassing

[Fanfare: Flugelhorns & Euphoniums]

Rep. Joaquin Castro — he’s the twin brother of Julian Castro — tweeted out a campaign add that featured a list including the names and occupations of people in his San Antonio congressional district who had given the legal maximum to the Trump re-election campaign in 2019 (This is of course public information, which anybody can look up, and I encourage you to do so).

Naturally this elicited shrieks of outrage from the Republican party establishment that simply publicizing the fact that people are in 2019 donating money to a white supremacist who inspires his followers to murder Hispanics like Castro himself was also a form of “inciting violence against private citizens” because [step in argument missing]….

If you are giving Trump money at this point you are a garbage person, who should be named, shamed, and shunned. I think it’s an excellent idea to publicize the names of people who are donating to Trump, in order to boycott their businesses, while exercising the core First Amendment right to let everyone know that Trump supporters are, individually and collectively, garbage people who should be ostracized by any and every decent human being…

But SERIOUSLY:


Read more



I’ve Been To A Mountaintop…

Mauna Kea, to be precise — several times.  I’ve shot parts of three films there, all centered on the telescopes atop the highest mountain on the Big Island of Hawai’i.  As you may have noticed, the mountain — and a new telescope — have been in the news lately:

Construction was set to begin this week on a giant telescope on the barren summit of Mauna Kea, a volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island, considered the best observatory site in the Northern Hemisphere.

That would be the Thirty Meter Telescope, or TMT, a project that originated with the same team that built the twin ten meter Keck telescopes that were the largest optical telescopes in the world from 1993 to 2009. (They’ve since been pipped by the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), atop the Canary Islands.) Astronomers and designers from Caltech and the University of California system, later joined by other partners set out to build the TMT as one of the next generation of ‘scopes aiming to explore some of the fundamental questions of astronomy, many of which were raised by discoveries made by the current generation of ginormous light buckets. That would be stuff like deeper investigations of the large scale structure of the cosmos, maybe image of planet formation around distant stars, certainly black hole inquiry and much more.

The TMT project was launched with great confidence.  The problems its leaders anticipated were technical: how to construct an light-gathering area and/or an optical pipeline that large that holds its shape, that doesn’t mind temperature shifts, that can be morphed on demand to adjust for turbulence in the air above it and so on, through a whole host of very tricking engineering issues.

But there was never any real doubt about the right place to put this instrument, or of the project’s access to the summit of Mauna Kea, which, after all, already played host to more than a dozen other observatories.  (I know this, because I talked to those in charge of the project at the time of its inception, many of whom had appeared in one or another of my films.)

They were wrong. Last week, after years of delays, some negotiations, and, by now, mistrust and more on the Hawai’ian activist side, the state governor announced that the project had cleared its last hurdles and construction would begin.  This week, protestors blocked the one access road to the summit and the observatories brought their people off the mountain.  At first, law enforcement was on the scene, but there were no direct confrontations.  That changed yesterday:

On Wednesday, that opposition had a new face: About 30 Hawaiian elders were arrested as they blocked a road leading to Mauna Kea’s summit to halt the construction, organizers said. They described an emotional but peaceful scene as the elders, who were sitting under tents on the road, were escorted by police officers to nearby white vans while dozens of other protesters chanted and cried. Some had to be carried.

“We have come to the point in time where enough is enough,” Leilani Kaapuni, one of the elders, said in a phone interview. She said she was arrested for obstruction of a government road but later returned to the blockade. “This mountain is sacred,” she said.

If I had to guess, I’d expect this to end in a loss for the protests. There’s a lot of momentum behind the TMT, and a ton of money involved — and there’s a huge investment in cash and intellectual possibilities in the existing observatories that would probably be lost if the new instrument didn’t make it to the mountain. Money and power talk, so I’d bet the Hawai’ian state authorities will muscle this through — and likely with the support of plenty of citizens of the state (though I’d bet many fewer among those Hawai’ians of original Hawai’ian descent).

Visible protest against the telescopes will be much more difficult if/when the TMT goes in, as the almost all the action of high altitude astronomy now takes place far from its mountain tops.  The Mauna Kea observatories have the headquarters well away from the summit.  Those astronomers doing science with the telescope, if they aren’t looking at a truly remote feed back to their offices back home, get no closer than the cattle town of Waimea, miles away and more than 10,000 feet in vertical distance away from anything a mere observer could break.

Those using the TMT wouldn’t see, that is, the kinds of protests going on now.  And the question of who has power over sacred spaces of interest to the dominant culture will be answered again, in the same way it has been almost every time these conflicts come up.

I should say that I’m an astronomy lover. I find the science that the TMT could do to be fascinating and utterly beautiful.  But man-o-man, have the leaders of that project botched this dispute for years. I do not know how you now get this project i any way that acknowledges and accommodates the claims of the disempowered first residents of the island.  But I do know that failure will have consequences; human goods — which scientific discoveries certainly are — achieved by the destruction of other goods are tainted.

I’ll leave you with the text of an article I wrote for The Boston Globe on this same subject four years ago.  Looking back, I can’t say I’m surprised that the astronomical community didn’t find a way to connect to its opposition.  But I am saddened by that fact.

Images:  Johannes Vermeer, The Astronomerc. 1668

US Air Force file photo, Air Force 1 over Mt. Rushmore, 10 February 2001.

Read more








Shut Down the Long Weekend Open Thread: There Is Nothing Trump Can’t Fvck Up

… not even a fireworks display on the Fourth of July.

Also from the Washington Post (paper of record for the company town whose monopoly industry is national politics), “Evening in America: What it felt like on Trump’s Fourth of July”:

From the president’s vantage point, his supporters looked like they were in cages. Their fingers curled around chain-link. Bellies smushed against butts. When their knees gave out, they sat on ponchos and muddy blankets and squares of wet cardboard. The air, scented by sodden socks and bug spray, sagged with humidity. When the breeze picked up, so did the sensation that everything was surrounded by a battalion of toilets. It was difficult to move, to escape, but then no one was trying to do so. They were grateful to be here, soaked by hours of drizzle, hugged by a lazy heat, waiting hours and hours for him, for the show. The president had invited them to express their love of country in a maze of corrals, on a truly crappy day of weather, but they didn’t feel like prisoners of pomp or slaves to circumstance but jubilant pilgrims thrilled to be counted as citizens of the “most just and virtuous republic ever conceived,” as the president put it…

Trump’s been doing this kind of thing for years, though never with the U.S. military as his production team. In April 1990, when he opened the doomed Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, a 43-year-old Donald Trump arranged 5½ minutes of fireworks that were half-obscured by his own building, insinuated that he had cured a disabled guest of honor and — after his podium spittled theatrical fog — told the crowd to “have a nice life.” (His business would file for bankruptcy the following year.)…


Read more








Thursday Evening Open Thread: ‘Dumb’ vs. ‘Willfully Ignorant’

I first read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi when I was 9 or 10 (my English-teacher mother gave me a copy when I told her Tom Sawyer was a terrible book, and I was having doubts about Twain’s literary stature). That book made explicit one of the great ‘secrets’ of American life: There’s a considerable percentage of our fellow citizens who genuinely admire con artists, thugs, and those who ‘know how to get what they want, whatever it takes.’

The number of such secret fellow-felons has certainly grown no less, here in our second Gilded Age. It’s not necessarily that all Trump voters are stupid (although many of them *are* plenty stupid; look at the Fox talking heads!), but they choose to insist on being ignorant enough to believe the crap Fox / Trump / the entire GOP ladles into their gaping maws…

As another great American artist once said, You can’t cheat an honest man…


Read more