Image for post
Image for post
The official Supreme Court portrait of Justice Hugo Black.

The topic of the moment in American politics is “originalism,” on public display at the Amy Coney Barrett hearings. For those of us who grew up in the “Christ-haunted” South, the arguments for originalism sound extremely familiar. And I think there’s a reason why.

The Complicated Hugo Black

Many years ago, when originalism was first gaining traction in conservative circles, I happened to be reading Roger Newman’s excellent biography of famed New Deal Senator and then Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. …

Image for post
Image for post
The late Nick Cordero, Tony-nominated 41-year-old actor who died of COVID-19 on July 5, 2020 after 95 days in a Los Angeles hospital. He lost function in both lungs and had to have a leg amputated before finally succumbing, after multiple cycles of extreme illness and small recoveries. It took three tests initially to confirm that it was coronavirus, and not pneumonia, that Cordero had contracted. At left are his widow Amanda Kloots and their now-one-year-old son Elvis Eduardo. No, Nick Cordero didn’t have any pre-existing medical conditions, but thanks so much for asking. Photo from etonline

This is what we are bringing down upon our nation by gaslighting a pandemic.

This isn’t the flu. This isn’t an “old people’s disease.” This isn’t just an inconvenience for you. This isn’t a vast left-wing conspiracy to keep you from watching sports in person. This. Is. A. Pandemic.

Younger people as well as older people are dying horrible deaths. This poor man suffered for four months, over three of those months in the hospital. He lost function in both of his shot-through-with-holes lungs, and had a leg amputated before finally dying. Tell his 1-year-old son and 38-year-old widow that his was an “acceptable death.”

This is what our “What, Me Worry?” feigned ignorance in the face of a pandemic is doing.

And has done, and will do even more of to our nation. As we gear up insanely for in-person college in the rapidly impending fall, think about it: we’ll be hearing more of these stories (if the journalists keep reporting them, that is) about college students with their lives in front of them. We’ll be hearing the same stories about college faculty and staff and advisors to Greek organizations. We’ll be hearing these same stories about parents and grandparents when the college kids they’re so proud of come home at Thanksgiving. We’ll be hearing these same stories about some football players who could have lifted their families out of poverty in the NFL, maybe. We’ll be hearing these same stories about the immunocompromised siblings of the college students, who caught COVID-19 despite their best efforts to be protected. That is, if the First Amendment and the newspapers are still in operation. …

Image for post
Image for post
Found at

Life in the Purity Cult

I’m a meteorologist. I shouldn’t have to apologize for that. But everyone in my field does at one time or another. I have a Ph.D. from a famed public university. I did a post-doc at a renowned Ivy League university, and worked in an internationally recognized NASA institute. I do research at a major research university that helps your plane rides be less bumpy, and reduces deaths and damage from windstorms. I’m not “that weather guy on TV,” but I have taught people you may have seen on a national network or two.

But that’s not good enough.

It’s not good enough in the purity cult of capital-S Science, as so aptly captured by xkcd creator Randall Munroe (see above). In that strange world, meteorologists (or, for those who work in climate as well as weather, “atmospheric scientists”) rank below both the physicists and the chemists in the pecking order. We work with biologists (biometeorology), psychologists and sociologists (e.g., human responses to natural hazards), which taints us even further in the eyes of the Scientists who judge from above. …

With a look back at the first UGA meteorologist, Josiah Meigs

Image for post
Image for post
The University of Georgia’s first real president, Josiah Meigs

On the occasion of my receiving the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professorship, I thought I’d use my 15 minutes-or-fewer of “fame” to shine a spotlight on the person this professorship is named for. It’s also a chance to shine the beam forward across two centuries to the atmospheric sciences program I’m a part of at UGA, to note some surprising similarities and an amusing contrast between Meigs and myself, and to inquire a little about the changing climate of Athens, thanks to Meigs.

Josiah Meigs Comes To Georgia

The Meigs Professorship honors Josiah Meigs, who was the first president of the University of Georgia once it actually became more than a hypothetical charter. UGA was the brainchild of its in-name-only first president, Abraham Baldwin. A Yale graduate and later tutor at Yale, Baldwin broke new ground in the United States by getting his adopted state of Georgia to charter a public university in 1785. By the time the state was able to get its act together and actually launch this effort, in 1801, Baldwin was a U.S. Senator and too busy to be a college president. So Baldwin turned to one of his top students from his Yale tutor days, Meigs, and invited him to come on down to Athens, Georgia and be the president instead. …

Perfect, Then and Now

Image for post
Image for post
You can almost stop reading now. Perfect ACT scores were 10 times more common… an order of magnitude more common!… in 2018 than in 2001. This is after adjusting for the rising number of people taking the ACT. Data from ACT, analysis and snazzy Excel graph by the author.

When I was a junior in high school in 1982, I had a good day on the American College Testing (ACT) standardized test, one of the gateway tests for college admission. I did a little more prep than my friends. I bought a book and practiced a little bit with it. That was unusual in my middle-class public high school in Birmingham, Alabama. There were no test-prep classes that I knew of. No coaches. No online help; this was 1982. …

Image for post
Image for post
Jack Weinberg was a 24-year-old (b. 1940) graduate student teaching assistant at UC-Berkeley when he coined this phrase. Jerry Rubin (b. 1938) championed the phrase.

Now that I have your attention — no, I’m not addressing nearly 2,000 misconceptions about the meme and saying of the cultural moment. The list is under ten. And the moment may have already passed, while I was busy professoring and school boarding in earnest this fall. I thought it was still worth saying.

But first, a bit about me.

Who Am I?

I was born two months and two days after the more-or-less official end of the Baby Boom. I am the youngest child (by over seven years) of my parents, who were themselves the youngest children in their respective families. …

Image for post
Image for post
The quote that launched a generation of critical scholarship on Keats, it seems.

On September 23rd I celebrated the 200th anniversary of John Keats’s miracle year with a tribute to his life and work and his “perfect ode,” To Autumn.

Tonight I celebrate the 224th anniversary of his birth, as I do each year. This year I celebrate it somewhat mournfully, by continuing the story of my essay and juxtaposing it with the latest critical analysis from the literary lions of our day. …

Image for post
Image for post
The tombstone of John Keats in Rome. All he wanted on the stone was the phrase at the bottom, but his friends felt more needed to be said.

Here’s one metric of the honest-to-God decline of Western civilization for me:

Just four days ago, the pinnacle moment of one of the great years in the history of intellectual achievement went virtually unnoticed. I’ve been writing about it on my Facebook page all year, but even I was detained from honoring the bicentennial moment because of a onslaught of fake news directed at me as an elected official (details omitted).

When lies destroy a year-long promise to remember an intellectual achievement, that’s when you know we aren’t Greece, and we aren’t even Rome anymore. …

Image for post
Image for post
Weather radar image of Hurricane Cleo over Miami, Florida, early on August 27, 1964

I’m a meteorologist originally from Birmingham, Alabama, so I am fairly well-qualified to discuss the forecasts of Hurricane Dorian and the non-threat it posed to my native state last week. To everyone from Donald Trump to his NOAA administrator-quislings I say, “YOU’RE FIRED!”

But the ego-driven distraction about Dorian has managed to shift our focus away from just how remarkable the non-sharpie-altered National Hurricane Center forecasts for Dorian were — and how far meteorology has progressed in my lifetime. …

Image for post
Image for post

History judges the U.S. not only on the Presidents it chooses, but also on the questions we ask of those aspiring to the Oval Office. And that’s a sobering thought.

Remember in 2016 when somehow nobody ever thought to ask Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton about climate change? That omission hasn’t aged well.

In the 2020 election cycle climate change can actually be discussed in the Democratic debates, now that scientists fear it’s too late to avert serious consequences. And we also get questions that sound like they were drafted by the GOP to pit progressives against each other.

But instead of getting mad about that, take a step back. If recent history is any measure, there’s probably a key question that in 2024 we’ll say, “Why didn’t we ask that in…


John Knox

A geography professor and meteorologist at UGA in Athens, GA. I write about news, sports, weather, climate, education, journalism, religion, poetry, the South.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store