Good morning on Friday, Sept. 2, 2022, the lead-in to the three-day Memorial Day weekend. It’s also National “Grits for Breakfast” Day. But why the scare quotes: are you supposed to pretend you had grits for breakfast? I happen to love them, as they’re a good starchy medium for sopping up fried eggs or gravy. Others can’t stand them, but those people are wrong.
Here’s part of the country’s best breakfast: at the Loveless Motel and Cafe (no longer a motel) in Nashville. I don’t show their biscuits (also the country’s best), but here is country ham with red-eye gravy (gravy in ramekin at left), fried eggs, and grits to the right.
There is no better way to start the day. If you’re in Nashville, go! (Photograph below from 2012; breakfast was part of my honorarium when I spoke at Vanderbilt.)
Stuff that happened on September 2 includes:
- 1561 – Entry of Mary, Queen of Scots into Edinburgh, a spectacular civic celebration for the Queen of Scotland, marred by religious controversy.
Mary had been in France since 1548, but had been Queen ever since she was six days old, and eighteen when she entered Edinburgh. Regents governed in her place until she returned to Scotland. Here’s an imagined painting of the scene by Willliam Brassey Hole.
- 1666 – The Great Fire of London breaks out and burns for three days, destroying 10,000 buildings, including Old St Paul’s Cathedral.
From Wikipedia: “Central London in 1666, with the burnt area shown in pink and outlined in dashes.” The Tower of London was spared.
- 1752 – Great Britain, along with its overseas possessions, adopts the Gregorian calendar.
- 1859 – The Carrington Event is the strongest geomagnetic storm on record.
A bit more about this:
The Carrington Event was the most intense geomagnetic storm in recorded history, peaking from 1 to 2 September 1859 during solar cycle 10. It created strong auroral displays that were reported globally and caused sparking and even fires in multiple telegraph stations. The geomagnetic storm was most likely the result of a coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun colliding with Earth’s magnetosphere.
The geomagnetic storm was associated with a very bright solar flare on 1 September 1859. It was observed and recorded independently by British astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson – the first records of a solar flare.
A geomagnetic storm of this magnitude occurring today would cause widespread electrical disruptions, blackouts, and damage due to extended outages of the electrical power grid.
- 1898 – Battle of Omdurman: British and Egyptian troops defeat Sudanese tribesmen and establish British dominance in Sudan.
This is the battle that made Kitchener famous, and its most famous event was the charge of the 21st Lancers, shown below. Winston Churchill was at the battle as well.
A poster with Kitchener:
- 1901 – Vice President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt utters the famous phrase, “Speak softly and carry a big stick” at the Minnesota State Fair.
- 1912 – Arthur Rose Eldred is awarded the first Eagle Scout award of the Boy Scouts of America.
Here’s Eldred in 1912; he got the rank because he earned 21 merit badges. Below that is Eldred’s own bade:
- 1945 – Communist leader Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam after the end of the Nguyễn dynasty.
- 1998 – Swissair Flight 111 crashes near Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia; all 229 people onboard are killed.
Here’s a reconstructed video of the crash, including the original voice transmissions. A fire onboard made the plane unable to fly except manually, but the smoke in the cockpit kept the pilots from seeing where they were. They were in fact headed straight into the ocean at 345 mph, causing a deceleration of 350 Gs, which of course caused the plane to disintegrate.
*Joe Biden apparently kicked off his next campaign for President with a prime-time television speech (transcript here) in which he name-checked Trump and his minions (“MAGA Republicans”), something he doesn’t often do. The NYT has a news analysis, but did anybody really believe Uncle Joe when he said, in his last campaign, that he’d bring the country together?
From the NYT:
And so the president who declared when he took office that “democracy has prevailed” declared in a prime-time televised speech that in fact democracy 19 months later remained “under assault.” Former President Donald J. Trump “and the MAGA Republicans,” as Mr. Biden termed his predecessor’s allies, still represent a clear and present danger to America.
If it sounded like a repeat of the 2020 campaign cycle, in some ways it is, although the incumbent and likely challenger have changed places. A country torn apart by ideology, culture, economics, race, religion, party and grievance remains as polarized as ever. Mr. Biden has scored some bipartisan legislative successes, but he has been singularly unable to heal the broader societal rift that he inherited. It may be that no president could have.
With an opposition party that has largely embraced the lie that the last election was stolen and remains in thrall to a twice-impeached and defeated former president who encouraged a mob that attacked the Capitol to stop the transfer of power, Mr. Biden’s appeals to national unity have found little traction. Some Republicans have argued that his efforts to build consensus were fainthearted at best, while some Democrats complain they were excessive.
Either way, they have made little difference in the national conversation. And so with the midterm congressional campaign getting underway in earnest, Mr. Biden has dispensed with the unity message, at least for now, reaching into the 2020 file cabinet and bringing out the call to win “a battle for the soul of this nation” that was the cornerstone of his successful election.
And the end of Biden’s speech:
Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.
Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front. Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know, because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.
But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans. And that is a threat to this country.
He’s going to run again, or so I predict.
*The Washington Post reports that Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court hyper-conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, emailed dozens of lawmakers in the 2020 battleground states of Arizona and Wisconsin, pressing them to overturn Biden’s election.
The new emails show that Thomas also messaged two Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin: state Sen. Kathy Bernier, then chair of the Senate elections committee, and state Rep. Gary Tauchen. Bernier and Tauchen received the email at 10:47 a.m. on Nov. 9, virtually the same time the Arizona lawmakers received a verbatim copy of the message from Thomas. The Bernier email was obtained by The Post, and the Tauchen email was obtained by the watchdog group Documented and provided to The Post.
“Please stand strong in the face of media and political pressure,” read the emails sent Nov. 9, just days after major media organizations called the presidency for Biden. “Please reflect on the awesome authority granted to you by our Constitution. And then please take action to ensure that a clean slate of Electors is chosen for our state.”
The issue, of course, is whether this produces conflicts of interest for her husband. If he was fully cognizant of this, and agreed with her and prompted her to act, then the answer is yes. But if she did it without his prompting or agreement, I don’t see the issue, as she’s a citizen with freedom of speech. Granted, she’s also a nutjob who acted rashly, knowing that it could influence the lawmakers because of who her husband is. And, I suppose, that could be a problem. What’s more of a problem is that she also emailed Mark Meadows, Trump’s White House Chief of Staff, along the same lines following the election. When the wife of a Supreme Court justice tries to use her influence with the White House, and a Supreme Court case comes up in which the 2020 election is contested, then Clarence Thomas should recuse himself.
*Over at the NYT, Asra Nomani, a Muslim who used to write for the Wall Street Journal, argues that “School is for merit.” As you know, merit is being devalued, or even considered racist, because meritocratic evaluation does not lead to equity. Nomani knows this, and has experienced it, but she’s suing her local high school to institute “merit-based race-blind admissions.” She may well win this suit, but it will all become moot when the Supreme Court overturns affirmative action this fall. That said, there are plenty of people trying to figure out how to obviate or destroy the meritocracy, so it’s important to keep the value of merit in mind as we try to give everyone equal opportunities. A few quotes from Nomani:
Merit demands excellence and rigor. It is not, as its critics often insist, an elitist, classist or racist value. It acknowledges that all kids have talents. Even though talents are not distributed equally, it is our obligation as parents and teachers to nurture each child’s individual spark and make sure that all children have the chance to be the best that they can be. I learned that on the Morgantown High volleyball team. I was never going to make the Olympic team. But Coach Rice encouraged me to understand that the most valiant, healthy challenge is a personal one, to strive to do and be my best.
Merit should never have become a battlefront in the culture wars. I understand the impulse to declare the system rigged when so many children, particularly Black and Hispanic children, have fallen behind academically. But the answer to racial disparities in math and reading scores and advanced academic enrollment is not to blame the game and rerig it to favor outcomes that please certain political constituencies but do little to make life better for struggling children. The solution is to channel more resources into disenfranchised communities — from the Black urban poor to the white rural poor in my native West Virginia. The solution is not to give up on merit.
. . .Unfortunately, these misguided policies are spreading across the education landscape. In California and Virginia, school districts are moving to decrease the number of D and F grades doled out and putting in place “equitable grading,” like making a 50 (instead of a 0) the lowest grade a student can receive and allowing missed deadlines in new “reasonable late work policy” guidelines. School districts in other parts of the country are eliminating academically advanced programs, advanced placement classes and valedictorian honors.
This race to the bottom doesn’t help the young people it sets out to uplift, including students with learning disabilities, people facing socioeconomic challenges and new English language learners.
*Two days ago I criticized an article in Inside Higher Ed in which two authors, realizing that affirmative action is on the way out, tried to find ways around its upcoming demise. Sadly, the solutions offered were risible, except, I think, for the idea of increasing funding to universities historically catering to minorities. In a new article on his Substack called “Against detached entitlement in intellectual spaces“, author Jessie Singal does a much better analysis of the IHE piece than I did. A snippet:
It’s also noteworthy how little Tichavakunda and Kolluri have to offer in the way of substantive non-RBAA policies to address the lack of black (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Latino) students at competitive colleges. This is a really big, thorny problem that has existed for decades. At root, it comes down to the fact that black and Latino kids are simply less likely to be accepted into these schools if you use “traditional” metrics. As the University of Michigan put it in an amicus brief it filed supporting the pro-RBAA side of the SCOTUS case being heard this fall:
The University of Michigan has concluded that while targeted recruiting and outreach efforts, combined with emphasis on socioeconomic factors in admissions, are helpful in increasing attendance by underrepresented minorities, such measures are not themselves sufficient to secure the educational benefits of student-body diversity. While U-M’s efforts have attempted to expand the cohort of qualified racially and socioeconomically diverse candidates, the overall pool of potential minority applicants with competitive academic qualifications remains very small—both in absolute terms and relative to the number of qualified non-minority and wealthier applicants.
I’ve argued previously that people tend to stigmatize this sort of argument as itself racist, but that they shouldn’t. These numbers reflect, in part, the fact that certain groups have gotten a raw deal as a result of the nation’s very racist past and need more help to catch up with everyone else. It has nothing to do with being black per se — certain recent black immigrant groups are flourishing (those from Nigeria and Ghana in particular), doing better than many non-black ethnic groups, in part because they simply aren’t lugging this baggage around. It’s the subgroups that have been locked in intergenerational cycles of poverty that are the ones most likely to be shut out of higher education. It isn’t a surprise that a group that is numerically small (the United States is just 12.4% black) and whose ancestors were disproportionately likely to have been subjected to this sort of historical brutalization would have trouble competing for slots in competitive higher education settings.
He goes on to criticize Tichavkunda and Kolluri’s solutions of offering AP (advanced placement) African-American studies courses, and requiring DEI statements for all applicants to colleges.
So if you introduce another AP class, whatever the subject, you’ll get… a group of disproportionately Asian and (to a lesser extent) white kids taking it, racking up college credit, and using that to jockey in the admissions game. It isn’t like by introducing a black-related subject, you’ll suddenly get more black students qualified to take and pass AP courses, because the question of who does and doesn’t enroll in college-level coursework as a high-school student is overdetermined, and sadly has a lot to do with factors which occur much earlier in life.
It’s a very similar deal with “requiring students to include in their application a statement on their commitments to racial justice.” We already know what would happen in a hypothetical race-blind admissions system that introduces this element: Kids in positions to “write” (read: have their parents hire someone to write for them) compelling admissions essays will pen searing, poignant, beautiful essays about their commitment to racial justice. These kids will be… the same kids already dominating college admissions.
In the end, Singal himself offers no solution to inequity (I would say “equal opportunity”), except to say, as do I, that it’s a “very serious problem.”
*I rarely read The Wall Street Journal‘s op-eds because they’re so predictably conservative, but this title took me aback: “Donald Trump’s vendetta politics.” It’s based on his assault on Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell’s wife, who is ethnic Chinese. And that’s why Trump makes fun of her, using her ethnicity as a tool in his war against McConnell. The WSJ is unusually strong in its anti-Trumpism here:
Mr. Trump has been pursuing a vendetta against Mitch McConnell since the Senate GOP leader denounced the former President’s role in the events of Jan. 6. Mr. Trump calls him “a broken down hack politician,” despite Mr. McConnell’s role in keeping a Supreme Court seat open in 2016 for Mr. Trump to run on. The Court issue was crucial to Mr. Trump’s victory, and Mr. McConnell was indispensable in getting his judicial nominees through the Senate.
Mr. McConnell is wise to ignore Mr. Trump’s attacks. But that may be why Mr. Trump has recently dragged in Ms. Chao, who is Mr. McConnell’s wife. On Aug. 20 in a post on Truth Social, his social-media site, Mr. Trump said Mr. McConnell “should spend more time (and money!) helping [Republicans] get elected, and less time helping his crazy wife and family get rich on China!”
Of course the paper has to get its licks in against the Democrats, too, as they apparently “tried to dig up dirt” on Ms. Chao (fruitlessly), but the piece’s ending is strongly critical of the Orange Man:
Beyond the unfairness to Ms. Chao, all of this relates to Mr. Trump’s role in the GOP. Instead of focusing on President Biden, Mr. Trump cares above all about settling scores with members of his own party. His politics is always about himself, not a larger cause. His vendettas have already hurt Republican prospects in 2022 by blackballing good candidates and letting Democrats divert attention from Mr. Biden’s failures. No wonder Democrats are thrilled to have Mr. Trump around.
Yes, the paper’s op-ed is Republican, but here their take on Trump’s behavior is on the money. But let him be crazy; as the paper says, he’s hurting Republican prospects.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is sunning and punning. It turns out that the pun works in Polish, too:
Hili: Sometimes I indulge in musing.A: And then what?Hili: And then I’m sitting here being a-musing.
Hili: Czasem wpadam w zadumę.Ja: I co?Hili: Siedzę zadumana.
. . . and a lovely photo of Szaron taken by Paulina:
And our third cat cartoon of the day, drawn by Lars Kenseth and contributed by Stash Krod:
The Tweet of God, who sees all that will happen:
There’s a special place in hell for Trump, but not before a special place in jail.
— God (@TheTweetOfGod) August 31, 2022
From Simon: Larry the Cat wants to rise above his station and be the Prime Minister!
— Larry the Cat (@Number10cat) September 1, 2022
I found this one:
A bird telling a hedgehog to hurry across because it's dangerous🦔🕊 pic.twitter.com/3POcD2eLpj
— Tansu YEĞEN (@TansuYegen) August 31, 2022
From Malcom, a neuronally disadvantaged moggy:
It has been scientifically proven that cats are among the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. Then there's Gary. pic.twitter.com/d1UDfC07TQ
— Paul Bronks (@SlenderSherbet) August 29, 2022
A rare plaudit from Andrew Sullivan:
— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) September 1, 2022
From The Auschwitz Memorial:
2 September 1932 | A Jewish boy, Dov Imre Berkovits, was born in Șimleu Silvaniei in Romania.
— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) September 2, 2022
Tweets from Matthew. This one isn’t hard!
Experience an instant self-esteem boost by spotting the odd-one-out. pic.twitter.com/Jy928yp2xm
— Dick King-Smith HQ (@DickKingSmith) September 1, 2022
I presume the little ball in the upper-right corner represents the Earth:
Absolute unit of a massive solar flare observed – "20 times taller than the size of the Earth".
— Larry McNish (@GrumpyOldAstro) August 30, 2022
And a beautiful butterfly with fuzzy legs:
Anteros renaldus – Red-faced Jewelmark.
Amérique du sud.
(by NABA Jeffrey Glassberg / Danny Leandro) pic.twitter.com/QRUSTmscvK
— André Arcadio Fuster (@AAFuster) August 31, 2022