Return to Mabry Mill

Click here for high-resolution version.

The abbey is only 15 miles south of the Virginia state line, and the new Fiat 500 drives like a mini-Ferrari (while sipping gasoline). I can be on the Blue Ridge Parkway in a hop and a skip. Road trip!

You’ll find Mabry Mill on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Milepost 176, just north of Meadows of Dan, Virginia. For those of you who live far away and may not be aware of it, the Blue Ridge Parkway actually is an American national park, a kind of linear national park that is 469 miles long. It’s a scenic two-lane road, closed to commercial traffic, built during Roosevelt’s New Deal, to create jobs during the Great Depression and to stimulate local economies. It runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Charlottesville, Virginia (the location of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello), to the Nantahala National Forest in southwest North Carolina. The parkway will take you through Asheville, North Carolina, which is often called the San Francisco of the South. The parkway was a part of my childhood (my father was born in Carroll County, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains), and now the Blue Ridge Parkway is a part of my golden years.

As I believe I have mentioned before in this blog, my maternal line intermarried with the Mayberry (later shortened to Mabry) family in the early 19th Century. I’m sure the records exist to connect my maternal ancestors with the family of Edwin Boston Mabry, who built the mill in 1867, but it’s not something I’ve gotten around to trying to figure out. Just behind Mabry Mill, actually, is a Dalton cemetery. I’ve included a photo below. These are my ancestral stomping grounds. My ancestors arrived in Carroll County, Virginia, right after the revolutionary war, from the Charlottesville area (Albemarle County). Before that they were in Tidewater Virginia. The Dalton Genealogical Society has never been able to determine with any certainty where the first Virginia Dalton originated (he is referred to as Timothy 1). Tradition says England. But the genetic evidence points much more strongly to Ireland.

Also note that this area has one of the darkest skies, with the least light pollution, of any area on the American East Coast. This is because there are no nearby cities. The surrounding terrain is mostly forest. Stop at an overlook pullover on the parkway near the Rocky Knob campground on a moonless night, just a few miles north of Mabry Mill, and you’ll get a good look at the Milky Way.

Another note on the photos: May 2018 was a very wet month, with a lot of rain in late May from tropical storm Alberto. The mountains were as green as Ireland when these photos were taken (May 30, 2018).

⬆︎ The mill’s water sluice now leaks so badly that there is not enough water to turn the water wheel. My understanding is that the U.S. Park Service does not at present have any plans to rebuild the sluice. Click here for high-resolution version.

⬆︎ Here the outflow from the mill pond flows under the Blue Ridge Parkway. Click here for high-resolution version.

⬆︎ This was press for extracting the juice from sorghum stalks. The press was turned by a mule. See next photo. Click here for high-resolution version.

⬆︎ Here the sorghum juice was boiled down over a wood fire to make molasses. The mill did more than just grind grain. It also was a sawmill with a blacksmith shop and other light-industry services. Click here for high-resolution version.

⬆︎ In the Dalton cemetery just behind Mabry Mill. Click here for high-resolution version.

⬆︎ Appalachian folk music is an important part of the local culture.

London Spy

Ben Whishaw as Danny, and Edward Holcroft as Alex

Almost in despair that five perfectly good gigabytes of my monthly satellite data was hours away from expiring, I happened upon “London Spy,” on Netflix. It’s a BBC television drama from 2015 with five episodes. I watched the first two episodes last night. It’s fantastic.

I’ve looked up a couple of reviews this morning. Let’s just say that the reviews are “mixed.” Those that are critical are snarky. But pay no attention to the snarky reviews, because such reviews are aimed at simple folk who stream simpler fare about simpler characters. “London Spy” is for those who need a more challenging story diet. It’s beautifully written and beautiful to watch. It’s psychologically disturbing, and it’s excellent mystery of the sort that the British do so well. In the plot, a vulnerable London naif, because of love, gets pulled into a dangerous situation in which he is way over his head.

Ben Whishaw is Danny, a troubled underachiever and hopeless romantic who would like to get his life together. Edward Holcroft is Alex, whom Danny meets along the Thames riverfront when Danny is having a very bad day. Jim Broadbent is Scottie, a much older man whose care and attention have kept young Danny alive as Danny made mistakes that could have been fatal.

I had recently watched Whishaw as Richard II in “The Hollow Crown,” a superb 2015 high-budget version of Shakespeare’s play. Whishaw is an incredibly gifted actor who can play a king as convincingly as he can play a young London slacker with a drug problem.

Script writers rarely get mentioned, and that’s a shame. This script was written by Tom Rob Smith, a young British writer and novelist who is only 38.

Tom Rob Smith writes about the kind of characters that most people don’t care much about, people whose lives are usually lived in the shadows. Danny works in a warehouse. Scottie managed to survive a typical case of blackmail, moral destruction, and emotional isolation. And yet such characters occur and again and again in real life in all times and places. I recognize them because they are my own Jake and Phaedrus characters. They’re always in over their heads, they’re always in it for love, and if they can survive, then despite the scars and damage they always turn out to be more resourceful than we — or they themselves — thought them to be.

Jim Broadbent as Scottie

J.B. Priestley

“An Inspector Calls,” BBC, 2015

J.B. Priestley had never particularly been on my literary radar screen. He should have been. I will work on that.

Last night, with quite a few gigabytes of satellite data to use up before my account does its monthly reset, I was determined to find something good to stream, which seems increasingly hard to do. On Amazon Prime, I came across “An Inspector Calls,” a 2015 BBC production of Priestley’s most famous play, with which I was unfamiliar.

It was one of the best films I’ve seen in years. The cast is superb. Who says that stagey productions are slow? I couldn’t avert my eyes or take a bathroom break. I was late putting the chickens to bed.

The play was written in 1945. It is set in 1912. I generally love films that are based on plays. I’m sure that this is because such films, of necessity, emphasize the work of the writer. There will be no special effects and no loud soundtrack. No effort will be made to hold the interest of those with short attention spans. Much will be demanded of the cast. Some exertion of the mind will be required. We will be reminded of why we love the English language.

For an overview of Priestley’s biography, I started with the Wikipedia article. By the third paragraph, Priestley had earned my permanent respect: “His left-wing beliefs brought him into conflict with the government, and influenced the birth of the Welfare State. The programme was eventually cancelled by the BBC for being too critical of the Government.” The program the article is referring to is Priestley’s radio program on the BBC in the 1940s. Here’s a short sample from Youtube, June 1940, in which Priestley is talking about the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Is “An Inspector Calls” didactic, as some critics complain? You bet it is. The headline on a review in The Spectator reads “An Inspector Calls is poisonous, revisionist propaganda — which is why the luvvies love it.” I must be a luvvie. Any play that after almost 75 years still gets under right-wing skin that badly is not to be missed. And that play’s writer is not to be forgotten.

Writers’ lives matter. As surely as odious propagandists such as Ayn Rand helped to pull us all into the right-wing swamp in which we are now mired, so also left-wing propagandists such as J.B. Priestley helped to prepare the world for the liberal policies and institutions that brought decades of shared prosperity after World War II. But in more recent decades, right-wingers have been winning the propaganda wars, and thus they have succeeded in reversing and rolling back the very policies that enabled the Golden Age that cranky old conservatives still glorify — the 1950s. I am at present reading a new book by Robert Kuttner, Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?, which tells the story of how those liberal policies came about in the days of the New Deal, and how they were reversed. I will review that book soon.

As the BBC understood in reviving “An Inspector Calls,” we have regressed, badly. Priestley’s Eva Smith, a poor factory worker who struggled for a better life but was blocked at every turn, is still very much with us. The wealthy Arthur Birling also is entirely recognizable, though I would have to say that Arthur Birling, in fictional 1912, shows a capacity for truth and kindness and transformation that I fail to detect in today’s rich lords of the universe — at least those who have political and media power.

“What a load of manipulative, hysterical tosh,” rants The Spectator. That’s what they always say about anything that disturbs their nasty little Ayn Rand world, and plenty of fine writers have vindictive 1-star reviews to prove it. May Priestley’s heirs write on, and may we somehow manage to find them out there in all the noise and bile and razzle.

J.B. Priestley, “Let the people sing.

Taking a look at the Facebook propaganda

On May 10, the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released information on 3,500 Facebook ads that were posted by Russian agents to influence the 2016 election. Here is the Washington Post story. Here is a link to PDF files of the ads on a House web site.

Every reasonable American should look at these ads and study them as an exercise in understanding propaganda. What I find particularly frightening is the sharp Russian understanding of the American culture wars and the sophisticated ability to inflame the American culture wars with simple images and simple language. In short, the foreigners who created these ads have a far better understanding of the United States than Americans who watch Fox News.

That many of these Facebook ads were targeted toward fans of Fox News is not in the least surprising. Republican hunger to be deceived is so profitable that now Sinclair Broadcast Group wants to root its way into Rupert Murdoch’s trough. But the ads often worked both sides of the same issue — inflaming the grievances of African-Americans while also stoking white racism.

Will the Republicans who are addicted to Fox News learn anything about how they are manipulated, and by whom? Frankly, I doubt it. While Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are doing everything they can as the minority party to help Americans understand what happened, majority Republicans are putting all their efforts into a cover-up. Axios reported this morning on a poll commissioned by Republicans that found that unaffiliated voters are paying attention to the Mueller investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Republicans, though, aren’t budging. They still believe that Donald Trump is honest and trustworthy and that the law is being used to frame him. I continue to believe that authoritarian personalities have cognitive and moral defects that block any idea that does not fit with their defective internal wiring. These are the same kind of people, after all, who continued to send money to the Rev. Jim Bakker even after Bakker was in prison for bilking his flock of millions of dollars.

By the way, I try not to post about the Mueller investigation, though I follow the leaks and legal actions closely. I think it’s very clear where that’s heading, but unfortunately we don’t have any choice but to wait for Mueller’s report and wait for the indictments to become public.

If you have time, I also recommend Googling for collections of Nazi propaganda posters. Cheap, low-end propaganda hasn’t really changed, nor have the low-end people who are susceptible to it. Certainly, there is such a thing as high-end propaganda, which is aimed at people who actually read. But, because of television, and increasingly because of social media, presidential elections have become extremely low-end affairs.

“Youth Serves the Führer. All 10-year-olds into the Hitler Youth.”