Good morning on Thursday, September 9, 2021: National “I Love Food” Day. Once again, the scare quotes imply that we don’t really love food, but are just pretending to.
It’s also National Wiener Schnitzel Day (cultural appropriation), National Steak au Poivre Day (more cultural appropriation), California Admission Day, celebrating the day in 1850 when California was admitted as the 31st state, International Buy a Priest a Beer Day (?), International Sudoku Day, and National Teddy Bear Day. If you have a teddy, the first person to send me a photo of it will have it posted here. Here’s my own teddy, named Toasty, who is exactly as old as I am (I was told I got him the day I was born). Toasty resides in my office; he’s almost totally depilated from years of cuddling and, as you can see, has been repaired many times.
. . . and Matthew himself is the winner. His bear, which he also got when he was born, is also beaten up: “Teddy, with a patch on his head where he got singed by the fire.”
News of the Day:
When I saw the title of Bret Stephens’s new op-ed at the NYT, “Another failed Presidency at hand,” I asked myself, “President of what country?” But there’s a picture of Joe Biden at the top, so I didn’t have to guess. And yes, Biden isn’t perfect, but in my view he’s done a pretty damn good job. Stephens, however, indicts Biden for issues he bears little responsibility for:
Joe Biden was supposed to be the man of the hour: a calming presence exuding decency, moderation and trust. As a candidate, he sold himself as a transitional president, a fatherly figure in the mold of George H.W. Bush who would restore dignity and prudence to the Oval Office after the mendacity and chaos that came before. It’s why I voted for him, as did so many others who once tipped red.
. . . Instead, Biden has become the emblem of the hour: headstrong but shaky, ambitious but inept. He seems to be the last person in America to realize that, whatever the theoretical merits of the decision to withdraw our remaining troops from Afghanistan, the military and intelligence assumptions on which it was built were deeply flawed, the manner in which it was executed was a national humiliation and a moral betrayal, and the timing was catastrophic.
We are a country that could not keep a demagogue from the White House; could not stop an insurrectionist mob from storming the Capitol; could not win (or at least avoid losing) a war against a morally and technologically retrograde enemy; cannot conquer a disease for which there are safe and effective vaccines; and cannot bring itself to trust the government, the news media, the scientific establishment, the police or any other institution meant to operate for the common good.
How much of that is due to Biden’s incompetence? Not much, in my view: the man is dealing with attitudes that long predated his presidency, and the pandemic was a mess, even for people like the vaunted Dr. Fauci. Stephens also criticizes Biden for his $3.5 trillion budget bill, for which, says Stephens, is like LBJ’s war on poverty, with big ambitions yet lacking LBJ’s means. Can Biden help it if the Senate is evenly split and with little mood to reconcile? (Johnson, after all, had been a Senator for many years, and knew how the system worked.) Stephens has a solution, but I don’t think it will help either Biden or the Democratic Party:
There’s a way back from this cliff’s edge. It begins with Biden finding a way to acknowledge publicly the gravity of his administration’s blunders. The most shameful aspect of the Afghanistan withdrawal was the incompetence of the State Department when it came to expediting visas for thousands of people eligible to come to the United States. Accountability could start with Antony Blinken’s resignation.
The president might also seize the “strategic pause” Manchin has proposed and push House Democrats to pass the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill without holding it hostage to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Infrastructure is far more popular with middle-of-the-road voters than the Great Society reprise that was never supposed to be a part of the Biden brand.
My sense is that Biden will do neither.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, began yesterday; she faces 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; she has pleaded not guilty. Holmesfaces up to 20 years in prison. As the WSJ notes:
Weeks of witness testimony are expected to follow opening statements. Prosecutors have identified more than 180 potential witnesses. Ms. Holmes is among 55 potential witnesses that her lawyers said they may call if she chooses to present evidence in her own defense. Both sides have flagged thousands of exhibits they could enter as evidence, including emails, text messages, media articles and internal Theranos documents.
I’m writing this on Wednesday morning; we’ll see if Holmes claims that she was abused by her co-defendant and partner, Sunny Balwani, and that abuse is a mitigating factor that will exculpate her. From reading John Carreyrou’s superb book, I saw no sign of such abuse or of Holmes making prior claims about it.
. . . Now, on Wednesday evening, I see that that both sides have made their opening statements (the prosecution gets to go first). As the Associated Press reports, the prosecution is trying to make a strong case for Holmes’s malfeasance:
After the jury was seated and U.S. District Judge Edward Davila gave his preliminary instructions, federal prosecutor Robert Leach wasted little time vilifying Holmes.
He cast Holmes in a dark light, depicting her as a conniving entrepreneur who duped investors, customers and patients for years, even though she knew her startup, Theranos, was nearly bankrupt and its much-hyped blood-testing technology was a flop. . .
He said the evidence would show that Theranos was already in deep trouble as far back as 2009, about six years after Holmes founded the Palo Alto, California, company. At that point, Leach said, Holmes resorted to a pattern of lying and hyperbole in an effort to fool major media outlets, wealthy investors such as media mogul Rupert Murdoch, well-connected Theranos board members such as former U.S. Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger, and customers such as Walgreens.
Some of the most damning evidence may be presented by a former top finance officer at Theranos who will testify that the company only had $650,000 in revenue from 2011 through 2014, according to Leach. Yet Holmes was telling investors and other people that Theranos would generate $140 million in revenue in 2014, Leach said.
The defense also made an opening statement, mentioning an abuse excuse:
Holmes’ defense team countered with a more heroic narrative describing her as a tireless worker who poured more than 15 years of her life in pursuit of a faster, cheaper and less invasive way to test blood samples and screen for disease.
Defense attorney Lance Wade, argued that Holmes was simply trying to wrest control of the blood-testing technology market from two dominant laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp. “She did her best day in and day out to make Theranos successful,” Wade said of Holmes as he began a roughly 90-minute presentation.
. . . In court documents unsealed just before the trial started, Holmes’ lawyers also disclosed that she may take the witness stand to assert some of her statements and actions while running Theranos were the result of “intimate partner abuse” inflicted by the company’s chief operating officer and her secret lover, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani.
I wouldn’t take the witness stand if I were her, as she would then open herself up to questions about EVERYTHING.
I thought about taking a poll about whether she’d be found guilty or not, but that’s premature, as we need to hear what comes out in court.
A photo from the WSJ with its caption:
The Guardian has a story about the effect of climate change on animal morphology. (h/t Charles) The classic features of animals to reduce overheating (like the large ears of desert rabbits and foxes) are changing over time in some species:
Animals are increasingly “shapeshifting” because of the climate crisis, researchers have said.
Warm-blooded animals are changing their physiology to adapt to a hotter climate, the scientists found. This includes getting larger beaks, legs and ears to better regulate their body temperature.
When animals overheat, birds use their beaks and mammals use their ears to disperse the warmth. Some creatures in warmer climates have historically evolved to have larger beaks or ears to get rid of heat more easily. These differences are becoming more pronounced as the climate warms.
I haven’t read the paper yet, but I hope the researchers are distinguishing between this being a genetic change—a response to natural selection—or a developmental “plastic” change not reflecting changes in genes. (Cats, for example, grow longer fur in cold weather, and if the climate got colder we’d see cats having longer fur, but that’s not evolutionary). The only way to distinguish these two causes (which can interact) is to breed the animals in the lab, observing whether under constant temperature conditions their offspring have acquired more pronounced heat-reducing features over time. If that were observed, it would show that evolutionary change is happening. This is a flaw of many field studies that simply observe a change in animals in the field over time, and then assume it’s an evolutionary change rather than simply a developmental response to the environment.
Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 653,216, an increase of 1537 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 4,611,320, an increase of about 11,200 over yesterday’s total.
Stuff that happened on September 9 includes:
- 1499 – The citizens of Lisabon are celebrating the triumphal return of the explorer Vasco de Gama, completing his two-year journey around the Cape of Good Hope to India.
- 1543 – Mary Stuart, at nine months old, is crowned “Queen of Scots” in the central Scottish town of Stirling.
- 1776 – The Continental Congress officially names its union of states the United States.
- 1791 – Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is named after President George Washington.
- 1839 – John Herschel takes the first glass plate photograph.
Here’s the photo, with the plate still existing. The Wikipedia caption: “Herschel’s first glass-plate photograph, dated 9 September 1839, showing the 40-foot telescope.”
- 1850 – California is admitted as the thirty-first U.S. state.
- 1940 – George Stibitz pioneers the first remote operation of a computer.
In a demonstration to the American Mathematical Society conference at Dartmouth College in September 1940, Stibitz used a modified teletype to send commands to the Complex Number Computer in New York over telegraph lines. It was the first computing machine ever used remotely. (See the commemorative plaque and the hall where this event took place in the photos below.)
Here’s the site: McNutt Hall at Dartmouth, where the plaque belong hangs in the entryway:
- 1947 – First case of a computer bug being found: A moth lodges in a relay of a Harvard Mark II computer at Harvard University.
- 1956 – Elvis Presley appears on The Ed Sullivan Show for the first time.
Here’s the King’s first appearance, to much female screaming. He sang “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender”:
- 1969 – In Canada, the Official Languages Act comes into force, making French equal to English throughout the Federal government.
Here’s an example of the dual usage at a superb bagel bakery (the Fairmount) in Montreal (click to enlarge):
- 1971 – The four-day Attica Prison riot begins, eventually resulting in 39 dead, most killed by state troopers retaking the prison.
- 2015 – Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch of the United Kingdom
Here’s Elizabeth being crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. She’s now reigned for over 69 years! (Her reign officially began on February 6, 1952.)
Notables born on this day include:
- 1585 – Cardinal Richelieu, French cardinal and politician (d. 1642)
- 1754 – William Bligh, English admiral and politician, 4th Governor of New South Wales (d. 1817)
- 1828 – Leo Tolstoy, Russian author and playwright (d. 1910)
Here’s the great man in his study in 1908. when he was 80:
Here’s his gravesite at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky: a monument built on fried chicken.
- 1941 – Otis Redding, American singer-songwriter and producer (d. 1967)
- 1966 – Adam Sandler, American actor, screenwriter, and producer
- 1980 – Michelle Williams, American actress
Those who succumbed on September 8 include:
- 1087 – William the Conqueror, English king (b. 1028)
- 1815 – John Singleton Copley, American-English colonial and painter (b. 1738)
Here’s Copley’s “Boy With a Flying Squirrel”, painted in 1765:
- 1976 – Mao Zedong, Chinese philosopher, academic, and politician, 1st Chairman of the Communist Party of China (b. 1893)
Here’s the Chairman as a young revolutionary in 1927, when he was about 34 years old:
- 1985 – Paul Flory, American chemist and engineer, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1910)
- 2003 – Edward Teller, Hungarian-American physicist and academic (b. 1908)
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is once again touting her virtues:
A: What are you doing?Hili: I’m trying to convince the world of my inborn gentleness and goodness.
Ja: Co robisz?Hili: Próbuję przekonać świat o mojej wrodzonej łagodności i dobroci.
And here is Szaron, the darkest tabby I’ve ever seen:
A meme from Nicole:
From Jesus of the Day: I see black dots everywhere!
From Facebook, and I make no claims about its truthfulness:
A tweet from Titania:
So disappointed in the Taliban right now.
This kind of thing could really damage their reputation.https://t.co/6mvxqh4cYs
— Titania McGrath (@TitaniaMcGrath) September 8, 2021
From Ken. showing Texas Governor Greg Abbott dilating on Texas’s new antiabortion law, with an aside on rapists. Texas deserves the governor it’s got!
This is an incredibly bizarre statement. When asked why sex assault victims who get pregnant have to carry to term under TX law, first Abbott says they have 6 weeks to get abortion, then says he is going to eliminate rape by arresting all future rapists. pic.twitter.com/OYFH11xT1G
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) September 7, 2021
From the Auschwitz Memorial:
9 September 1938 | A Hungarian Jewish girl, Ágnes Noiman (Neuman), was born in Budapest.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) September 9, 2021
From Barry, who finds this, as we all will, terrifying. A king cobra!
Snake came out and said…”you want a piece of me?”😳😬😏😂🐍 pic.twitter.com/3dXtlyFrad
— Fred Schultz (@fred035schultz) September 7, 2021
— The Dark Pirate Jussim (@PsychRabble) September 8, 2021
Tweets from Matthew. This is a good one; be sure to click on the picture to reveal the answer:
HELLFIRE BURN pic.twitter.com/2uct3qGHEm
— TEDDY The Bar🧸ian 🏳️🌈 (@NESGenKid) September 8, 2021
This isn’t just a headline, it’s a TRUE headline. See the BBC story here:
Well this is a headline. pic.twitter.com/lXXhLYAkqU
— Edward Collins (@ejpcollins) September 8, 2021
The second tweet is the one I’m highlighting.
I like those really long YouTube videos, called things like ‘birds feeding on log’, and I’ve only recently realised that they’re primarily aimed at cats.
— Prof Sophie Scott CBE (@sophiescott) September 8, 2021