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How have politics changed since JFK’s presidency?

Question: How have politics changed since JFK’s presidency? 

Ted Sorensen: I would say it’s changed in two ways. First to stick to public speaking, the age of eloquence has disappeared. We now have a president who barely knows the language. We have speeches from political candidates and leaders which are pedestrian at best. They are not inspirational. They have very few new substantive ideas. Some are substantive and not new. Some are new but not substantive. So it’s too bad, and I think television gets part of the blame. Television is supposedly the cool medium that comes into the living room, the bedroom. For people to sound like John F. Kennedy today would seem old fashioned. And now it’s such an informal, casual era in the way we talk; the way we dress; the way we communicate with each other. There are almost no standards. There are some of course, but our leaders are not held to them. So in terms of eloquence, a lot has changed. Secondly, in terms of relations between the parties, a lot has changed. John F. Kennedy is the man who, when he refused to support the nominee of his own party for governor in his home state of Massachusetts, said, “Sometimes party asks too much.” Well today party seems to ask everything of everybody. And the candidates – even on the Senate floor – have forgotten what comity . . . and not comity. There’s a little of that going on unintentionally. But comity meaning relations of respect and looking for reasons to agree with others and find harmony with others. That kind of comity has disappeared. And it’s all too rare that debate between members of opposition parties find a common ground for the interests of all the American people. That prevailed under Kennedy’s leadership. It’s all too rare today except in the speeches from Senator Obama.

Question: Who is to blame? 

Ted Sorensen: That’s a very, very good question, and probably a so-so psychologist would have to answer it. In the Congress, the language of comity disappeared when Mr. Gingrich became the Speaker, and he was . . . He was so fiercely partisan that he engaged in name calling of Democrats and ideas voiced by Democrats that it could only be considered vituperation. It certainly cannot be considered a reasonable debate of the kind that I witnessed back in the days when I was a young assistant to the United States Senator from Massachusetts. And the proliferation of media . . . We now have news cycles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And we have not only the major television networks, but we have dozens if not hundreds of cable networks. And we have as well the Internet, which we are now using, and all of the bloggers all competing for the attention of people. And to be heard over that din, people find it . . . or think it’s necessary to shout; to use more extreme words and phrases; more absurd and ridiculous demands and proposals. That’s very unfortunate. Sad to say, maybe the three assassinations in the 1960s of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King – all three of whom made beautiful, memorable, eloquent speeches in the course of public debate. You can’t lose three people like that and expect the world to go on as it was before. Sometimes an individual makes a difference. And for three of them to be taken savagely that way I think wounded the American psyche.

Question: What’s the worst you’ve heard recently?

Ted Sorensen: The worst I’ve heard recently was Bill Clinton, who knows better . . . He’s an intelligent man. For him after his wife lost in South Carolina to Senator Obama . . . for him to say, “Well Jesse Jackson won in South Carolina. It meant nothing.” That was Mr. Clinton’s devious way of making people think that Barack Obama is another Jesse Jackson, when that is not even remotely true. And Mr. Clinton knows it’s not remotely true. He knows that Jesses Jackson was never a serious national candidate, and he certainly knows by now that Barack Obama is a serious national candidate. So why can’t Mr. Clinton go back to the ideals that characterized him when he was first running for the presidency in 1992 and stop this trash talk?

 

 

 

The era of eloquence and comity has passed, says Sorensen.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
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The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

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NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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