Tag Archives: great

Less Liberal Contempt, Please

Mother Jones

Michael Tomasky writes today that elite liberals need to make peace with middle America. We need to be willing to welcome folks to our side of the aisle even if they don’t agree with every single liberal piety:

There are plenty of liberals out there in middle America, and plenty of liberalish moderates, and plenty of people who lean conservative but who aren’t consumed by rage and who think Barack Obama is a pretty cool guy and who might even have voted for him. These people are potential allies. But before the alliance can be struck, elite liberals need to recognize a fundamental truth: All of these people in middle America, even the actual liberals, have very different sensibilities than elite liberals who live on the coasts.

First of all, middle Americans go to church….Second, politics simply doesn’t consume middle Americans the way it does elites on the coasts….They talk kids, and local gossip, and pop culture, and sports….Third, their daily lives are pretty different from the lives of elite liberals. Few of them buy fair trade coffee or organic almond milk. Some of them served in the armed forces. Some of them own guns, and like to shoot them….Fourth, they’re patriotic in the way that most Americans are patriotic. They don’t feel self-conscious saluting the flag.

….We need to recognize that in vast stretches of this country, hewing to these positions doesn’t make someone a conservative.

There’s nothing especially new here. It’s basically the old problem of Reagan Democrats, which liberals have been wrestling with for a couple of generations. I’d argue that it has two fundamental origins.

First, the great sort. A century ago, hardly anyone had more than a high school education. Both of my grandfathers were plenty smart enough to go to college, but neither one did because they couldn’t afford it. (I don’t need to bother telling you about my grandmothers, do I?) Because of this, people of widely different intelligence mixed together all the time. There wasn’t really much choice.

After the war, that changed. College became widely available, and nearly everyone who was smart enough to go, did so. Thirty years later, their kids mostly went to college too. But among the postwar generation that didn’t go to college, their kids mostly didn’t either. Since then, there’s been yet another generation, and we’re now pretty solidly sorted out. Those of us with college degrees marry people who also have degrees. Our kids all go to college. Our friends all went to college. And we live in neighborhoods full of college grads because no one else can afford to live there.

On the other side, it’s just the opposite. Your average high school grad marries someone who’s also a high school grad. (If they get married at all.) Their kids are high school grads. Their friends are high school grads. And their neighborhoods are full of high school grads.

The two groups barely interact anymore. They don’t really want to, and they’re physically separated anyway. (More and more, they’re also geographically separated, as liberals cluster in cities and conservatives live everywhere else.)

Second, there’s the decline of unions. Fifty years ago, the working class commanded plenty of political respect simply because they had a lot of political power. No liberal in her right mind would think of condescending to them. They were a constituency to be courted, no matter what your personal feelings might be.

But young liberals in the 60s and 70s broke with the unions over the Vietnam War, and the unions broke with them over their counterculture lifestyle. This turned out to be a disaster for both sides, as Democrats lost votes and workers saw their unions decimated by their newfound allies in the Republican Party. By the time it was all over, liberals had little political reason to care about the working class and the working class still hated the hippies. Without the political imperative to stay in touch, liberals increasingly viewed middle America as a foreign culture: hostile, insular, vaguely racist/sexist/homophobic, and in thrall to charlatans.

By the early 90s this transformation was complete. On the liberal side, elites rarely interacted with working-class folks at all and had no political motivation to respect them. Republicans swooped in and paid at least lip service to working-class concerns, and that was enough. It didn’t put any more money in their pockets, but at least the Republicans didn’t sneer at their guns and their churches and their fatigue with rapid cultural change.

I don’t think there’s any good answer to the great sort. Certainly not anytime in the near future. But this affects Republicans too, so it doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. The bigger problem, I think, is the decline of unions, which broke the political ties between working-class and middle-class liberals. There’s no realistic way that unions are going to make a comeback, which means that liberals need to come up with some other kind of working-class mass movement that can repair those ties. But what? This has been a pet topic of mine for years, but I’m no closer to an answer than I was when Reagan took office.

In the meantime, we can still try to do better. Rhetorically, the big issue dividing liberal elites and middle America is less the existence of different lifestyles, and more the feeling that lefties are implicitly lecturing them all the time. You are bad for eating factory-farmed meat. You are bad for enjoying football. You are bad for owning a gun. You are bad for driving an SUV. You are bad for not speaking the language of microaggressions and patriarchy and cultural appropriation. Liberals could go a long way toward solving this by being more positive about these things, rather than trying to make everyone feel guilty about all the things they enjoy.

Substantively, liberals might have to shift a little bit, but not by a lot. We don’t have to become pro-life, but we need to be more tolerant of folks who are a little uneasy about the whole subject. We don’t need to become Second Amendment zealots, but we should be more tolerant of folks who don’t want to be sneered at for keeping a gun around the house for self defense. We don’t need to tolerate racism, but we should stop badgering folks for not being able to express themselves in the currently approved language of wokeness.

It goes without saying—which is why I need to make sure to say it—that the whole point here is to broaden our appeal to people who are just a little bit on the conservative side of center. That is, persuadable, low-information folks who agree with us on some things but not on others. The hard-right conservatives are out of reach, and there’s no reason to try to appeal more to them.

In the same way that right-wing Republicans need to learn how to talk about women’s issues (see Akin, Todd), Democrats need to learn how to talk about middle America. No more deplorables. No more clinging to guns and religion. Less swarming over every tin-eared comment on race.

In general, just less contempt. Does it matter that working-class folks often display the same contempt toward us? Nope. As any good lefty knows, contempt from the powerful is a whole different thing than contempt from the powerless. We need to do better regardless of what anyone else does.

Can we do it? It’s worth a try.

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Less Liberal Contempt, Please

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Sex, Drugs, and Oysters: This Book Explains What It’s Really Like to Work at a Fancy Restaurant

Mother Jones

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It takes Tess, a 22-year-old waitress new to Manhattan, about three months to master the art of balancing three plates on one arm. It’s not long before a fine-dining restaurant kitchen becomes her whole world, and its crew of employees, her family. Tess quickly adapts to a life of cocaine-addled adventures in Sweetbitter, novelist Stephanie Danler’s coming-of-age story.

Danler drew detail from her own experience working as a back-waiter, bartender, and restaurant manager in New York City. In our latest episode of Bite, we talked to Danler about her career waiting tables while moonlighting as a writer, how restaurant staffs mirror families, and the fast life that often comes with a job in the service industry. We also talked about our favorite food-filled fiction.

Inspired by Danler, we polled Mother Jones staffers and readers for some of their favorite descriptions of food in novels. Here, in no particular order, are their responses. Enjoy, and leave your ideas in the comments.

1. High Bonnet: A Novel of Epicurean Adventures, by Idwal Jones, originally published 1945, a new edition available with a great intro by Anthony Bourdain. Balzac in cook’s whites—earnest young guy from the provinces goes to Paris with the intention of making it big as a chef, experiences mishaps, triumphs, etc. Great stuff on the inner workings of the kitchen model that still dominates the restaurant scene, even here in the United States: the “brigade” system, modeled after the military, characterized by strict hierarchy and division of labor—the intrigues, betrayals, hazings, unexpected acts of solidarity and kindness. And great food descriptions! Bourdain wrote that with a few tweaks, it could have been set in modern NYC. -Tom Philpott

2. Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Understood Betsy, with its wonderful descriptions of the meager meals Betsy had before she went to live in Vermont, and the hearty meals she had once she moved there, and of course the great descriptions of butter churning and the like. -Linda B.

3. The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen. This novel follows an elderly couple from the Midwest and their three adult children. One is a hipster chef in Philly, who experiences culinary triumphs and misadventures, and another is Chip, a disgraced academic who’s down on his luck. Franzen creates a hilarious scene when Chip attempts to buy food at a market on Grand Street in New York City (cleverly dubbed the “Nightmare of Consumption”) and realizes he can’t afford much of the fancy food items. -Tom Philpott
A sample: “Finally he abandoned the Italian idea altogether and fixed on the only other lunch he could think of–a salad of wild rice, avocado, and smoked turkey breast. The problem then was to find ripe avocados. He found ripe avocados that were the size of limes and cost $3.89 apiece. He stood holding five of them and considered what to do. He put them down and picked them up and put them down and couldn’t pull the trigger. He weathered a spasm of hatred of Denise for having guilted him into inviting his parents to lunch. He had the feeling that he’d never eaten anything in his life but wild-rice salad and tortellini, so blank was his culinary imagination.”

4. My first book, Island of a Thousand Mirrors. Lots of Sri Lankan food. I’ve had readers say it makes them want to cook it. -Nayomi Munaweera

5. The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard Morais. Only 100 feet separate a traditional French restaurant and a new Indian eatery across the street, but there is a world of cultural distance between the two. The novel, set in the foothills of the Alps, follows the son of the Indian restaurant’s owners, from his introduction to cooking as a boy in Mumbai to his education at the French restaurant and beyond. Steven Spielberg’s 2013 movie version starred Helen Mirren and Manish Dayal. -Jenny Luna
A sample: “This was a weekly ritual at the restaurant, a constant pushing of Bappu to improve the old recipes. It was like that. Do better. You can always do better. The offending item stood between them, a copper bowl of chicken. I reached over and dipped my fingers into the bowl, sucking in a piece of the crimson meat. The masala trickled down my throat, an oily paste of fine red chili, but softened by pinches of cardamom and cinnamon.”

6. If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books as an adult, as I just did (to my daughter), you realize it’s all about food. Probably because the Ingalls family was frequently hungry. Lots of cream. Salt pork. Beans. Corn porridge and corn bread. Butter. Wild game. Bear meat. Quail. Sugar on everything. The beginning of comfort food. -Moises V-M

7. In the memorable first scene of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, an ex-slave welcomes an old friend into her house with Southern biscuits. Meals play many different roles throughout this heart wrenching novel. -Kiera Butler

8. The description of making molasses snow candy in Little House on the Prairie blew my mind as a snowless southern Californian kid. It just seemed so fun. -Sarah Z.

9. All of the Yashim mysteries, by Jason Goodwin. (The Janissary Tree is the first one.) Cooking in Istanbul, with fresh ingredients. -Jan H.

10. The Joy Luck Club is Amy Tan’s classic, heartfelt story of Chinese-American women coming together to tell stories over food and games of mahjong. -Jenny Luna

11. Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels. Lots of mouthwatering early 19th century shipboard meals: spotted dick pudding, toasted cheese, burgoo, hard tack with weevils. -Heine C.

12. Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances, and Home Remedies, by Laura Esquivel. This sensuous novel focuses on a young woman who is in love with her sister’s suitor. Because she can’t express her emotions, she instead unleashes them in her food—with powerful results. -Jenny Luna

13. Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. So much camp coffee, so many tortillas. -Casey M.

14. The Epicure’s Lament, by Kate Christensen. A dying man plans on relishing his final days alone in his family’s mansion with copious amounts of food and whiskey—but his family members have other plans. -Jenny Luna

15. Sylvia Plath was interested in the shame most women associated with the sensual pleasure of eating. In The Bell Jar, she delves almost comically into how much Esther loves to eat compared to the other girls on her college internship. -Katie F.
A sample: “In New York we had so many free luncheons with people on the magazine and various visiting celebrities I developed the habit of running my eye down those huge handwritten menus, where a tiny sir dish of peas cost fifty or sixty cents, until I’d picked the richest, most expense dishes and ordered a string of them. We were always taken out on expense accounts, so I never felt guilty. I made a point of eating so fast I never kept the other people waiting who generally ordered only chef’s salad and grapefruit juice because they were trying to reduce. Almost everybody I met in New York was trying to reduce…Under cover of the clinking of water goblets and silverware and bone china, I paved my plate with chicken slices. Then I covered the chicken slices with caviar thickly as if I were spreading peanut butter on a piece of bread. Then I picked up the chicken slices in my fingers one by one, rolled them so the caviar wouldn’t ooze off and ate them.”

16. Dickens has amazing writing about food and not necessarily “good” food. I read Great Expectations years ago and I still describe it as “bolting” my food. -Tej S.

17. Desperate Characters, by Paula Fox. Not only does this novel dramatize the first stirrings of the gentrification wave that would decades later transform Brooklyn—it’s set mainly in Cobble Hill—it also beautifully depicts the late mid-century stirrings of foodie-ism that would later engulf US culture. -Tom Philpott
A sample: “Mrs. and Mrs. Otto Bentwood drew out their chairs simultaneously. As he sat down, Otto regarded the straw basket which held slices of French bread, an earthenware casserole filled with sautéed chicken livers, peeled and sliced tomatoes on an oval willowware platter Sophie had found in a Brooklyn Heights antique shop, and risotto Milanese in a green ceramic bowl. A strong light, somewhat softened by the stained glass of a Tiffany shade, fell upon this repast.”

Other readers recommended John Lanchester’s The Debt to Pleasure, Patricia Storace’s Book of Heaven, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Joanne Harris’ Five Quarters of an Orange, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Joanne Marshall’s Chocolat, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, the novels of Haruki Murakami, Brian Jacques’ Redwall books, the mysteries of Diane Mott Davidison, Enid Blyton’s books, Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder, Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, Laurie Colwin’s Happy All the Time, Andy Weir’s The Martian, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, and from the iconoclasts among you, George Orwell’s 1984, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and, ahem, Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs.

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Sex, Drugs, and Oysters: This Book Explains What It’s Really Like to Work at a Fancy Restaurant

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Finally, a Cookbook Without Annoyingly Perfect Photos

Mother Jones

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If you’ve browsed your local bookstore’s cookbook section lately, you’ll likely find hardbound books filled with beautiful photos of exquisite dishes. They’re fun to look at, but these close-ups of perfectly plated food can be intimidating. As most home cooks can attest, dinners rarely come out as appealing as those on the glossy pages of cookbooks.

When Samin Nosrat, a former Chez Panisse chef who taught Michael Pollan how to cook, decided to write her book, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, she deliberately chose not to include photos. On our most recent episode of Bite, we talked to Samin about her book’s illustrations, drawn by artist Wendy MacNaughton.

“I wanted to create this universal idea for people,” Nosrat said. “As much as I love food photography, it is deeply stylized. You create this magical fake world of sets and props and lighting and perfectly cooked food and in some ways it’s a little disingenuous.” Drawings and handwritten notes on everything from clam sauce to whipped egg whites color the pages of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

Here’s a sampling of some of the great illustrations, and advice, throughout the book:

Wendy MacNaughton

Wendy MacNaughton

Wendy MacNaughton

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Finally, a Cookbook Without Annoyingly Perfect Photos

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Stephen Colbert Gets Back in Character to Say Farewell to Bill O’Reilly

Mother Jones

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Stephen Colbert revived his conservative pundit persona on Wednesday to bid a proper farewell to Bill O’Reilly, just hours after Fox News announced it was severing ties with its top-rated host. The firing followed weeks of controversy after the New York Times revealed O’Reilly and Fox News had paid nearly $13 million to settle sexual harassment allegations with multiple women during his tenure at Fox.

“You didn’t deserve this great man,” Colbert, in character, said. “All he ever did was have your back. And if you were a woman, you know, have a go at the front too.”

As the segment closed, the Late Show host offered some comfort to O’Reilly viewers, reminding them that in the case they’ll miss watching “sexual harassers who are on TV all the time, we still have Donald Trump.”

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Stephen Colbert Gets Back in Character to Say Farewell to Bill O’Reilly

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A West Virginia Miracle? I’m Not Feeling It.

Mother Jones

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Tyler Cowen shocks us all today by suggesting that West Virginia has been the site of a productivity miracle lately. He admits he’s mainly trying to provoke us, since West Virginia is unquestionably one of the poorest states in the nation. But it made me curious. How much has the West Virginia economy grown compared to neighboring states and to the US as a whole? I chose Maryland since it’s next door and no one considers it especially poor. Here’s what things look like:

In terms of growth, West Virginia has done OK since the start of the century. It was affected less by the Great Recession than the US as a whole—no surprise since West Virginia didn’t suffer from the housing boom and bust—but its growth rate since then has been a little below average. Ditto for median household income, which has been flat since the end of the recession.

As for cost of living, this site says West Virginia is 3 percent lower than the US. It’s a little cheaper on average to live in West Virginia compared to the rest of the country, but not by enough to matter.

So the bottom line is that West Virginia is poor; its growth rate since 2000 is above average thanks to insulation from the housing bust but below average since the end of the recession; and its cost of living is about average. That’s not terrible, but I guess I’m not feeling the miracle.

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A West Virginia Miracle? I’m Not Feeling It.

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Susan Rice Did Nothing Wrong, Part the Millionth

Mother Jones

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I missed this a couple of days ago, but Nancy LeTourneau alerts me to a recent CNN report about Susan Rice’s requests to “unmask” the names of individuals in intelligence reports that she received when she was Obama’s National Security Advisor. This was all part of the great Devin Nunes fiasco, where he went to the White House to read the reports, came back to Capitol Hill to hold a press conference, and then rushed back to the White House to tell President Trump all about it. But there’s no there there:

After a review of the same intelligence reports brought to light by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal….Over the last week, several members and staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees have reviewed intelligence reports related to those requests at NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland.

One congressional intelligence source described the requests made by Rice as “normal and appropriate” for officials who serve in that role to the president.

Fine. Susan Rice did nothing wrong. It’s not as if we didn’t know that already, but it’s nice to see it confirmed. Rice must be getting really tired of being a handy Republican punching bag.

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Susan Rice Did Nothing Wrong, Part the Millionth

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Lead Update: White Folks and Alabama Prisoners

Mother Jones

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It’s been…weeks, at least, since I’ve mentioned lead and crime, and today I got two nice little anecdotes at once. The first is from lead researcher extraordinaire Rick Nevin, who directs our attention to this chart:

As predicted by the lead-crime theory, the prison population of younger cohorts (15-25) has dropped the most. The 26-30 cohort is flat, and the older cohorts are making up a bigger proportion of the total prison population. Why? Because everyone under 30 grew up in a fairly lead-free environment, so they’re less likely to commit serious crimes than similar cohorts in the past. 35-year-olds grew up at the tail end of the lead era, and are still moderately crime prone. Older cohorts were heavily lead poisoned as kids, and they’ve remained more crime prone even as they’ve grown older.

If you have a good memory, you may also recall a post I wrote four years ago explaining that lead poisoning affected blacks and Hispanics more than whites because they were more likely to grow up in dense urban environments with a lot of auto exhaust. Because of this, during the great crime wave of the 60s and 70s, their crime rates went up faster than white crime rates. The flip side of this is that with lead mostly gone, their crime rates are dropping faster than they are for whites. We can see this in the declining share of the jail population made up by blacks and Hispanics. Keith Humphreys shows us the mirror image of this, the rising share of the jail population made up by whites:

The lead hypothesis predicts that young cohorts are less crime prone than older cohorts, so their share of the jail and prison population should decline. It predicts that black crime rates will drop faster than white crime rates. And it also predicts that small-city crime rates will drop faster than big-city crime rates. All of these things have turned out to be true.

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Lead Update: White Folks and Alabama Prisoners

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The Mayberry Machiavellis Lost a Battle on Friday. But the War Is Not Over.

Mother Jones

Here is the last paragraph of David Brooks’ blow-by-blow evisceration of every single thing related to the Republican health care debacle:

The core Republican problem is this: The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided. So the Republicans have the politics driving the substance, not the other way around. The new elite is worse than the old elite — and certainly more vapid.

Remember the Mayberry Machiavellis? In the Bush White House they were “staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption.” This is now the entire Republican Party. Keep in mind that they never wanted to propose an Obamacare replacement in the first place. They figured they could just promise one for later. So deliciously Machiavellian! But it turned out that even the rubes who usually took their cues from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity saw through their repeal-and-delay ploy. So they had to come up with a plan. Any plan.

And they did. Within a few days they whipped up a health care bill. No one cared very much what was in it. Sean Spicer’s initial selling point—seriously—was the fact that it was much shorter than Obamacare. A few days later the CBO gave it possibly the most devastating score of any bill in history: 24 million people would lose coverage. But that was just substance, not important stuff like politics, so Republicans shrugged. When Tucker Carlson told Donald Trump about the millions who would be kicked off their plans, Trump muttered “I know” and swiftly moved on.

Then the horsetrading began. Not over details here and there, but over the very foundations of the bill. Old people would see their premiums treble or quadruple, which nobody considered a problem until AARP pointed out that old people vote. So Paul Ryan tossed in $75 billion and told the Senate to figure out what to do with the money. Cutting nearly a trillion dollars in Medicaid funding wasn’t enough for some? Fine, let states add work requirements. The ultras don’t like essential health benefits? Out they go. Progress is being made.

By the time they were finished, a Rube Goldberg bill that was as brutal as anything we’ve ever seen had almost literally become tatters. Nobody cared what was in it. Nobody cared if it would work. Nobody cared if it would actually cover anyone.

And even at that, something like 90 percent of the Republican House caucus was apparently willing to shrug and vote for it. Promise made, promise kept. Who cares what’s in it?

The silver lining here is that apparently there really is a limit to the power of Mayberry Machiavellianism. Merely repeating that the bill was “great” over and over wasn’t enough. The hustle was just too raw. Even the white working class, the famous demographic that delivered the White House to Donald Trump, disapproved of the bill 48-22 percent.

So now we move on to tax cuts for the rich. Will the hustle work this time? Or has health care finally made even the Fox News crowd skeptical that Republicans actually care about the working class?

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The Mayberry Machiavellis Lost a Battle on Friday. But the War Is Not Over.

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Ranchers are reeling after wildfires swept through the Great Plains.

According to the cover article in today’s issue of the journal Nature, the iconic reef off the coast of Australia suffered unprecedented coral die-off after last year’s record-breaking bleaching event. Now, as the Southern Hemisphere hits late summer temperatures, central and southern sections of the reef — areas which avoided the worst of last year’s bleaching — are in trouble.

“We didn’t expect to see this level of destruction to the Great Barrier Reef for another 30 years,” coral researcher Terry Hughes told the New York Times. Hughes led the team that conducted aerial surveys to document the bleaching last year, as well as subsequent surveys to assess just how much of that bleaching turned into dying.

Bleached corals don’t always turn into dead corals — some are able to recover when temperatures drop. Er, if temperatures drop. If water temperatures stay high and corals stay bleached, they will eventually starve to death. Without coral building reefs, whole ecosystems may disappear, along with the food, tourism, and jobs they support.

Hughes and his coauthors found that even corals in pristine, protected water were likely to be suffering from heat stress, meaning the only thing left to do to protect corals is, you know, address climate change.

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Ranchers are reeling after wildfires swept through the Great Plains.

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Why Does a White Guy Always Have to Be the Hero?

Mother Jones

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Chinese director Zhang Yimou, of Hero and House of Flying Daggers fame, made his English-language debut with The Great Wall, which opened Friday. But in a story set in ancient China, Matt Damon’s character sticks out like a sore thumb. The presence of his pale mug in movie posters and trailers drew backlash even before the film’s release. “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world,” Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu wrote in a Twitter tirade. “We don’t need salvation.” Damon and Yimou felt compelled to publicly defend the film, with Damon calling it “historical fantasy.”

The lack of people of color in starring roles is a longstanding Hollywood problem, and things are especially bad for Asians. A 2016 study (PDF) by the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California found that more than half of films and TV shows had no speaking roles for Asian characters—and it’s exceedingly rare to see Asians in lead roles. Producers often claim there just aren’t enough roles for Asian actors, which is true—or vice versa, which is not. Often, when the opportunity arises to cast Asian characters, Hollywood decision-makers hire white actors to portray them. Sometimes they simply rewrite nonwhite characters as white ones. These things are called whitewashing.

The Great Wall exemplifies a related Hollywood trend wherein white characters play a dominant role in a foreign situation, while nonwhite locals are reduced to sidekicks or people “to be killed or rescued—or to have sex with,” as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen put it recently. Vogue recently added to the outrage over cultural tone-deafness by presenting Karlie Kloss, an American model of German and Danish descent, as a geisha—for the magazine’s diversity issue, no less. Vogue later removed the photographs from its website and Kloss apologized for her participation, but it was yet another episode in America’s long history of whitewashing Asians. We’ll leave you with this brief history of the same. Dig around and you’re sure to find plenty more.

1926

The first Charlie Chan film is released, starring Japanese actor George Kuwa, but the films fail to win large audiences until Warner Oland, a Swedish actor, takes on the role. The Chan films become extremely popular, with more than 40 made, but are later criticized for racist stereotypes.

Wikimedia Commons

1935

Merle Oberon, whose partial Indian ancestry she keeps a secret for most of her life, is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She is later credited as the first (and only) Asian-American ever nominated in that category.

1944

In Dragon Seed, Katharine Hepburn, plays Jade, a Chinese woman who stands up to Japanese invaders. Turhan Bey, who is of Turkish and Czech descent, co-stars as her husband.

Katharine Hepburn and Turhan Bey in Dragon Seed. Wikimedia Commons

1945

Rex Harrison portrays a Thai king in Anna and the King of Siam, the film adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. A 1951 remake continues to use non-Asian actors in the role—Russian-born Yul Brynner is the new king.

1956

Marlon Brando plays Sakini, a Japanese translator on the island of Okinawa after World War II, requiring hours of daily makeup work. “It was a horrible picture,” he later writes, “and I was miscast.”

1961

Mickey Rooney dons yellow-face, prosthetic teeth, and taped eyelids for his role as Audrey Hepburn’s temperamental landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (His “bucktoothed, myopic Japanese” is “broadly exotic,” the New York Times writes.) Rooney is later taken aback to learn that his portrayal is considered racist. “It breaks my heart,” he tells the Sacramento Bee in 2008, adding, jokingly, “Those that didn’t like it, I forgive them.”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Wikimedia Commons

1967

Sean Connery, 007, goes undercover Japanese in You Only Live Twice. (His makeup job would fool nobody, let alone a Bond villian.)

1972-75

In the TV series Kung Fu, David Carradine plays Kwai Chang Caine, a Buddhist monk versed in the martial arts. Bruce Lee had originally pitched the series and hoped to star in it, but the producers went with Carradine instead. Kung Fu became one of the most popular shows of its day.

David Carradine in Kung Fu. Wikimedia Commons

1981

Asian actors and artists in California protest Hollywood’s attempt to revive Charlie Chan with Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. “I don’t think racism is funny any more,” San Franciscan Eliza Chan tells the Washington Post. “We have been called “Charlie” for so many years. We have been made fun of—the way we speak, the way we act—people expect us to be like Charlie Chan, and we can’t stand that any more.”

1982

British actor Ben Kingsley, whose father is Indian, wins a Best Actor Oscar for Ghandi. He is the first—and as of 2017, the only—actor of Asian descent ever nominated in the category, much less win.

Director Richard Attenborough, left, and actor Ben Kingsley pose with their Ghandi Oscars. Reed Saxon/AP

1984

Japanese-American actor Gedde Watanabe portrays the (ostensibly) Chinese exchange student Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles. Mainstream audiences find the caricature hilarious, but many Asian-Americans cringe. “Because there were so few Asian actors onscreen at that time, people were looking for Kurosawa in a comedy,” Watanabe recalls in a 30th anniversary interview. “Sixteen Candles wasn’t that kind of movie.”

Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.

1990

A British theater production of Miss Saigon, a retelling of Madame Butterfly in the context of the Vietnam War, almost doesn’t make it to Broadway after a union protests the casting of British actor Jonathan Pryce in a Eurasian role. Although Pryce, who wears eye prosthetics and bronzer for the performance, wins a Tony and the play goes on to become one of Broadway’s longest-running hits, Miss Saigon continues to be criticized for its stereotypical portrayals.

2003

Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai features Tom Cruise as Capt. Nathan Algren, a guilt-wracked former Union Army soldier who gets to be the hero when he helps some rebel samurai fight a corrupt Japanese empire—it’s all about Cruise, of course. Washington Post critic Stephen Hunter savages the film: “Basically what Zwick has done is to take Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves and insert it into the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, with a samurai clan in the role of an Indian tribe.”

Warner Bros.

2006

Ang Lee is the first Asian director to win an Oscar, for Brokeback Mountain.

Director Ang Lee accepts his Oscar from Tom Hanks. Chris Carlson/AP

2010

White actors play the leads in the live-action film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, previously an animated series with characters of Asian and Native American descent. Fans pan it and the movie flops.

Avatar: The Last Airbender series. Nickelodeon

The Last Airbender movie. Paramount Pictures

2012

White actor Jim Sturgess dons yellowface and doctored eyes to play a Korean character in Cloud Atlas. Director Andy Wachowski defends the casting: “The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race. The character of this film is humanity.” It’s not Sturgess’ first brush with whitewashing: In 21, a film based on the true story of college card-counters who gamed the casinos, he plays a student who in real life was Chinese-American.

2015

Emma Stone stars as a half-Asian character in Aloha, which flops at the box office. The role, she says later, opened her eyes to Hollywood’s diversity problems and “flaws in the system.” Director Cameron Crowe also apologizes, calling the casting “misguided.”

Feb. 2016

In an otherwise spot-on monologue—”I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards”—Oscars host Chris Rock rips Hollywood’s lack of diversity, yet manages to stereotype Asian Americans, who are all but invisible in American films

April 2016

The creators of Ghost in the Shell, adapted from a Japanese manga and anime film, face backlash after casting Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese main character. Tilda Swinton also gets hit with criticism for her role as the Ancient One, a Tibetan character, in Dr. Strange.

Ghost in the Shell, 1995. Production IG

Ghost in the Shell, 2017. Paramount Pictures

May 2016

Comedian Margaret Cho, Nerds of Color blogger Keith Chow, author Ellen Oh and other Asian Americans start a monthlong #WhiteWashedOut campaign that calls on Hollywood to stop whitewashing Asians and urging white actors to reject Asian roles.

Nov. 2016

Hong Kong actor and director Jackie Chan accepts an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in an emotional speech: “After 56 years in the film industry, making more than 200 films, breaking so many bones, finally this is mine.” He is one of four filmmakers to receive the lifetime achievement award.

Jackie Chan at the Governors Awards. Chris Pizzello/AP

Feb. 2017

Matt Damon plays a European mercenary who saves China from monsters in The Great Wall. Actress Constance Wu takes issue: “We like our color and our culture and our strengths and our own stories,” she writes. “Hollywood is supposed to be about making great stories. So make them.”

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Why Does a White Guy Always Have to Be the Hero?

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