1880 edition of Ivanhoe

Click here for high-resolution version.

The way books are constructed has hardly changed in centuries. It’s daunting, though, to contemplate just how much human labor was required to publish a book in 1880. The Linotype was invented in 1884 (in the United States), but I’m sure it was years before they were widely in use.

Even today, publishing a book requires a huge amount of editorial labor (or literary labor, as Ken and I call it). But today the work involved is a mere fraction of what it used to be. (Thanks, Adobe.)

Even though I’ve been to Edinburgh twice in the last four years, it seems odd that I’ve never visited an antique bookstore there. I’ll correct that on the next trip. Part of the problem, though, would be schlepping books home in one’s luggage. International shipping of small items, though, is much quicker than it used to be, as long as things don’t get hung up in customs. This book cost £12.20, plus $3.99 shipping, from Cambridge Rare Books Ltd. in Gloucester. Delivery took 16 days.

The typography in old books is beautiful, an inspiration to those of us who make books (using Adobe products) today. Sadly, many old classics have long been out of print. They’re read mostly in digital editions today. At some point in the future, Acorn Abbey Books may make a few new hardback editions of old classics. The books wouldn’t sell well, but at least they’d get a bit of new life. Books published before 1926 are now in the public domain. In the United States, the rule is 95 years after publication. In the United Kingdom, I believe it’s 70 years after the author’s death.

Click here for high-resolution version.

Click here for high-resolution version.

Click here for high-resolution version.

Click here for high-resolution version.

Click here for high-resolution version.

Strawberry preserves

… Or maybe it’s more like strawberry syrup. Though I reduced the sugar a bit, which is probably what made the preserves too thin, I did cook the preserves until they reached 220 degrees. I greatly prefer preserves that are slightly runny, even if this batch is a bit too runny. To my taste, it’s a crime to use pectin in preserves. Runny preserves are better than any recipe that uses pectin. Many store-bought preserves contain not only pectin, but added water as well. Homemade preserves are much better and much cheaper.

A gallon of strawberries made just over five pints of preserves. If you’d like to make strawberry preserves now that it’s strawberry season, there are many recipes on line. The recipe I used called only for strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice. After boiling the mixture until it reached 220 degrees, I put the preserves in jars and used the water-bath method. That is, I boiled the jars for ten minutes. All of the jars sealed nicely.

Banned in Texas

Better Nate Than Ever, Disney+

If you haven’t watched a Disney feel-good flick for a while, then here are two reasons to watch Better Nate Than Ever. One, it’s very funny and very sweet. It’s even got Lisa Kudrow. Two, the book the film is based on is a good example of the kind of book that some people want banned from libraries. Here’s an example of a ban-the-book list from NBC News: “Records requests uncovered dozens of attempts to remove library books from schools, nearly all related to titles dealing with racism, gender or sexuality.”

The book, by Tim Federle, was published in 2013. The Disney film was released a few weeks ago and can be streamed from Disney+.

Nate Foster is 13 years old and is in the seventh grade. He’s bullied for being different. His athletic older brother is ashamed of him. Nate’s method of surviving is to dream of Broadway.

When those who dream of theocracy start going after Disney — Disney! — then they’ve already lost. But the sad thing is that so many kids are still caught in the crossfire.

Not a seascape

The morning after the storm. Click here for high-resolution version.

If I were a poet, I’d try to write a poem that captures how forests and the sea are so much alike. Both are dark and deep and full of creatures. Both can be quiet and peaceful, but both are violent and dangerous in a storm. In a storm, they even make the same sound. The sea has its gulls. The woods have their crows. It’s funny how they sound so much alike. I would love to live on a high, heather-and-grass promontory above the sea. But, since I can’t, the woods are the next best thing.

Last night, starting before dusk, there was a tornado warning as a long train of violent storms passed through. Here at the abbey, as I sat by the upstairs windows and periodically checked the weather radar, the worst of the storms just missed us. Lily sat with me and watched the storms unless the thunder got too loud, then she would go hide. A tornado actually touched down about 12 miles to the east. Sometimes the window had to be closed because of the rain. But, during lulls in the rain, both Lily and I are greatly entertained by the wind and wild sea-sounds through the open window.

In the wind of a storm, the trees around the house billow and toss like the sea against rocks, with all the right sound effects. When there is lightning, I count off seconds to measure how close it is. A huge bolt of lightning hit the ridge just after dark, and a clap of thunder sent Lily scurrying before I could say “one.” I could almost imagine that I’m in a lighthouse on a tiny island, just above a roiling green sea.

Who’s afraid of the Ninth Amendment?

May 3, 2022. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

There is an unspoken rule among legal eagles that ordinary people (like me) should not try to interpret the Constitution. The reason is that constitutional law (legal eagles use the term “jurisprudence”) is very complicated and embodies a long history of Supreme Court case law about which we non-experts are expected to know nothing.

Fine. I know nothing.

But what about this:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

That is the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and it is part of the original Bill of Rights ratified in 1791. Could anything be clearer? And yet, for many years, legal eagles have put forth the idea that the Ninth Amendment does not contain any “substantive rights,” but rather that it is “a statement on how to read the Constitution.” Here’s how people like me, who know nothing, would read it: The authors of the Constitution knew perfectly well that authoritarians and preachers would claim that any right not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution does not — and can never! — exist, and that authoritarians and preachers would try to use the law to dictate how others live.

The U.S. Supreme Court is clearly terrified of the Ninth Amendment and has almost completely ignored it in centuries of “jurisprudence.” A 1947 case (United Public Workers v. Mitchell) actually had the effect of putting a limit on the Ninth Amendment. The Ninth Amendment is obliquely referenced in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the case having to do with a private right to use contraceptives, but that ruling was based on the Fifth Amendment, not the Ninth. There actually is still disagreement on whether a right to privacy exists, because privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution.

Now comes the right-wing hack Samuel Alito, who actually writes in the document leaked from the Supreme Court this week: “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision. …”

Coming from a Supreme Court justice, no less, that sounds to me perversely and knowingly anti-constitutional — not to mention that it sounds like propaganda, which know-nothings who know even less than I do will fall for. Alito is disparaging (and then denying) a right not enumerated in the Constitution, with reference to a made-up right-wing legal theory rather than the actual text of the Constitution.

The New Yorker writes: “If a right isn’t mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, Alito argues, following a mode of reasoning known as the history test, then it can only become a right if it can be shown to be ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.’ ” Really? Is that in the Constitution? But what do I know. These people get their instructions directly from God and billionaires.

But it seems clear to me that Alito’s concept of “jurisprudence” boils down to this: There can be no such thing as moral progress, because the concept of rights, justice, and equality are ossified, locked down, and cannot advance beyond the state of moral progress that had been achieved by the year 1791, when many members of the government and even the universities owned slaves. No wonder it took so long even to end slavery or to allow women to vote. And now the Supreme Court is not merely blocking constitutional rights, it’s taking them away.

Everyone has moral qualms about abortion. No one thinks that abortion is a good thing. But that’s not the question. The question is whether a minority’s moral views can override the Constitution and start putting people with different views in prison. And we know what these people really want and what their project is. We know this isn’t over and that right-wing religionists — a minority — will now move on to take away other constitutional rights, always the rights of the people they don’t like, and always with a particular, peculiar, vindictive viciousness toward anything having to do with sex.

There are so many things I’d like to say about the meanness of the people who consider themselves our moral superiors and intend to lord it over us, but so far I’ve still got a weak grip on civility. That’s really hard work these days.

Agricultural entrepreneurs: Yes!

Here at my latitude, strawberry season has started. As of last year, acquiring strawberries got a lot easier for me. A new strawberry farm started up last year only a 10-minute drive from here. They pick the berries in the morning, then sell them for $10 a gallon under the porch of an old barn right beside the fields.

But the situation is getting even better. The strawberry operation has been so successful that they’re putting in 10 or 12 acres of summer vegetables, watered, like the strawberries, from a nearby pond. They’ll sell the vegetables the same way — pick them in the morning and sell them at the barn. The price, they say, will be $1.50 a pound for all varieties of vegetables. They’re not organic, but they promise no pesticides.

Strange as it sounds, even though I live in farming country, the northern part of this county is considered a food desert because of the distance to grocery stores. Few people have gardens anymore. For me, a source of reasonably priced just-picked summer vegetables changes things. I’m planning to downsize my garden and concentrate on things that the farm won’t sell, such as basil (of which I use a great deal).

The investment this farm has made is considerable, and it’s obviously paying off. Not only is it a highly appropriate form of economic development for this area, it also supplies fresh food to the locals while saving them money. The family who own the farm work alongside a Mexican crew that obviously is experienced both at cultivating the crops and at picking them.

Progress! Now if we only had broadband.

A stupid new book about Apple

Inside an Apple store

First of all, I have not read this book, and I’m not going to read it. In fact, it won’t be released until two days from now. But this morning in the New York Times, the book’s author has an utterly stupid little collection of misleading anecdotes under the headline “How Technocrats Triumphed at Apple.” The book is After Steve: How Apple Became a Trillion-Dollar Company and Lost Its Soul, by Tripp Mickle, a New York Times reporter. Good grief. Apple hasn’t lost its soul. It only lost the fancy-pants designer and professional snob Jony Ive. And good danged riddance.

The Times article — and clearly the book as well — is a hagiographical fanboy piece about Ive, who, had he stayed at Apple, would have designed Apple into the dirt. True nerds and computer lovers cheered when Ive finally left Apple. It’s to Ive that we owe the era of Apple computers getting thinner and thinner to the point of fragility — unrepairable, and fastened together with, I kid you not, glue. (Screws aren’t pretty, you see.) Phones were so sleek that they’d squirt right out of your hands. Ive’s design notions were lipstick for the software, too. Ive thought that we wanted our screens to be “uncluttered,” even if we couldn’t find anything or had to click six screens deep to get to a function we needed.

The promotional copy about this book on Amazon sounds intentionally deceptive. It says that Ive “designed” the iPod, iPad, MacBook Air, the iMac G3, and the iPhone. But Ive designed only the look, the skin, of those devices. He had nothing to do with the engineering. The promotional copy calls Ive “a London-born genius.” By contrast, Tim Cook is called “the product of a small Alabama town.” That’s precisely the kind of sneering, class-conscious snobbery that would have ruined Apple if it had continued.

Apple’s true genius is in its engineering, both in its software and its hardware. Consider the new iMac Studio, which actually looks like a computer, a lovely little box. Ive would never have allowed all those USB ports and Thunderbolt ports because they’d be “clutter.” But those ports are what iMac users actually want and need. Ive had nothing to do with Apple’s advanced engineering, such as the new M1 chips, which freed Apple from Intel’s stagnation.

Lost its soul indeed. Apple makes computers, not garb and bling for hipsters.

That the dude who wrote this stuff works for the New York Times is disturbing. This kind of wrongheadedness is yet another sign that the New York Times inhabits an abstract, imaginary world that, in a different way, is as delusional as MAGA world. It’s the kind of wrongheadedness that begs for a parody about how the New York Times would have covered the rise of Hitler — in an “objective,” take-no-sides, ivory tower sort of way that would have been just fine printing op-eds by Joseph Goebbels as though it was fair speech to be taken seriously. This is a whole different subject for another time, but I attribute the New York Times’ break with reality to its management. I cheered when Dean Baquet left the New York Times, just as I cheered when Jony Ive left Apple. But I fear that Baquet’s successor, Joe Kahn, will be just as bad. At Apple, however, there is no new Jony Ive. Let’s hear it for engineers and technocrats.

Update 1: It seems quite a few readers of the New York Times agreed with my comment there, which quickly made the “Readers’ Picks” category.

Update 2: Twenty-four hours after the New York Times posted this piece, it appears from the comments (about 550 at this point) that the piece has backfired all over the fanboy NYT reporter and the now-discredited design czar Jony Ive. Virtually everyone has piled on against Ive and in favor of function versus overdone styling. Apple, no doubt, is following those comments, which amount to a million dollars worth of market research for free. Macrumors.com posted a link to the New York Times piece, and the comments there went the same way. Let’s hope this episode reinforces Apple’s commitment to function — computers as computers rather than fashion statements.