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The French paradox



Roquefort

Several news outlets carried stories yesterday about a Swedish study which found that full-fat dairy products not only may not be harmful to heart health but actually may be beneficial. For example, there was this story in the Guardian: “Research suggests a diet rich in dairy fat may lower the risk of heart disease.”

I’ll try to consider the case still open, because this was only one study (though a good study that went on for 16.6 years). Still, I have never worried a great deal about modest amounts of butter and cheese, partly because those of us with pastoral ancestors have had thousands of years to adapt to, and even thrive on, dairy foods.

Nor do I feel any pressure to give up my practice of using full cream in my coffee. I moved on from mere half and half years ago. The study involved people in Sweden, who, my guess would be, don’t follow the most Mediterranean of all possible diets. My guess would be that dairy fat would be even more forgiveable when blended with a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, rather than butter or lard, as the main dietary fat. And surely we should stick to the rule that no amount of hydrogenated fat is safe, and that newfangled oils such as corn oil should be avoided.

Artemis



Artist’s representation of the Artemis lunar module. Source: NASA via Wikipedia

This is a twofold post. First, some gripes about the media. And second, a little about NASA’s program to return to the moon and, eventually, to go to Mars.

Some gripes

I fell for the clickbait and its down-with-billionaires appeal. NASA wasn’t on my radar screen, and I was distracted by the breathless media coverage of billionaires and their little rockets. It would have been easy to suppose that NASA was being upstaged and supplanted by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. But an excellent piece in yesterdays’s Washington Post (a piece with no clickbait appeal) made it clear that that’s not the case. The article is “NASA looks to a future that includes flights to the moon and Mars as it reorganizes.” This is a good piece for starting to get up to speed on what NASA is doing today.

The piece is an interview with Bill Nelson of NASA. The commercial space industry, Nelson says, allows “NASA to get out of low Earth orbit and go explore.” The media have had very little to say about this, having focused on rage and turmoil on earth (and on low earth orbit, where billionaires are having so much fun). Apparently today’s media find Musk and Bezos more interesting than NASA. If you want to know what NASA is doing right now, you need to visit NASA’s web site. The Wikipedia article on Artemis, though poorly written, is comprehensive.

Moon launch

We actually have a NASA moon launch to look forward to later this year, in November or December, if the launch is on schedule. This first launch is covered in a separate Wikipedia article on the first stage of the Artemis program, Artemis 1. This flight will be a test with no humans on board. This year’s flight will be an exciting mission because NASA will be launching, for the first time, its biggest rocket ever. The new SLS rocket will produce 15 percent more thrust than the Saturn V rockets used in the Apollo program.

The third stage of the Artemis program, stage 3, is scheduled for 2024. Two astronauts are to land on the moon and remain there for just under a week.

Here is a YouTube video of NASA’s test firing of the rocket earlier this year, at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. This is a long video. You can skip ahead to about 51 minutes when they actually light up the rocket. Before the rocket starts, you’ll see lots of water flowing. That’s to keep the test site from melting down. By the way, I have seen a rocket engine test-fired at the Stennis Space Center. It was an impressive sight that I will never forget. I have never seen a rocket launch, though. That just might be worth a trip to Cape Canaveral in 2024.

Mechanical math



Calculating at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA/JPL photo.

Starting, say, in the early 1960s, when computer chips started to become available, one of the first applications was making electronic calculators. That was a huge advance in technology, but it also is sad, because mechanical calculators became obsolete. A whole genre of elegant mechanical engineering was lost.

In the film Hidden Figures, a Friden calculating machine is used as a prop, sitting on the desk of Katherine Johnson. In a 1966 photo in the Wikipedia article about Johnson, she is sitting in front of a mechanical calculator. Mechanical calculators got us to the moon (though the Apollo capsules had a rather primitive computer). You can see a Friden STW10 in operation in this YouTube video. Those machines were complex enough to do real math, not just addition and subtraction.

Many machines as elegant and expensive as the Fridens were preserved, and many have been restored. More humble machines, however, of the type used by accountants, met fates that were much more demeaning. Even when they survived, few were considered to be worth restoring.

I had wanted a mechanical adding machine for a long time. Recently I found one in such good condition that it could be restored with little effort beyond cleaning it and oiling it.


Remington Model 10811-10 adding machine

This is a Remington Model 10811 (or Model 10811-10) adding machine. I believe it was made in the early 1960s. It’s a non-electric model, but an electric model of the same machine was available, as you will see in the manual.

It is my curse to want to rescue and adopt every old example of beautiful mechanical engineering. Fortunately I don’t have the space for that, nor would I be able to afford a machine such as a Friden STW10. This Remington adding machine came from eBay, from a seller in East Bend, North Carolina. I met the seller halfway and picked up the machine in person rather than having it shipped. I also learned the history of the machine. I am its second owner. It belonged to the seller’s parents, both now in their late 80s. They ran a TV repair shop many years ago, and they used the adding machine to add up customers’ bills. It was completely dust free, having always been kept covered. The cover came with the calculator.

Machines like this need lots of oil and even a bit of grease in some places. The oil and grease had become gummy, but I’ve started the process of cleaning it up. It works perfectly. I actually will use it for managing money (which is what it was designed for), because the electronic calculator I’ve been using for the past few years isn’t heavy enough and slides around on the desk.

Judging from eBay, there seem to be quite a few of this model of adding machine still in existence. Most are in rough shape, though. I have scanned the eight-page manual, and I’m posting it here for those who are are Googling for the manual. I seem to have one of the few copies of the manual still in existence.

The manual:


Click here for high-resolution version


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Click here for high-resolution version


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Who doesn’t love a band?






Stokes County’s biggest public event is the Stokes Stomp, an outdoor music festival that happens each September on the weekend after Labor Day. The Democratic Party had a booth, of course. But I sneaked away from the booth when the army band arrived.

As the band regrouped at the stage for the national anthem, I asked the band director, “When’s the Sousa?” Much to my disappointment, he said that too many members of the band were sidelined with Covid for a concert band performance. Drat. Maybe next year. And by the way, a nicer and more polite group of people you’ll never see.

It’s time to talk about galactic law



Hubble space telescope: the Sombrero Galaxy. Source: Wikimedia Commons


… the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities.” — Elon Musk, Starlink terms of service



Elon Musk’s long game

Before the likes of Elon Musk started swaggering around the solar system, the question of galactic law was a matter of interest mainly to writers and readers of science fiction, or to those who speculate on whether a galactic federation may already exist, if there are civilizations out there. Elon Musk has forced the issue.

If you sign up for Musk’s Starlink internet service (which involves hundreds of trashy little satellites swarming around earth just above the atmosphere), you will have to agree to these terms of service. I’ve put the diabolical part in bold:

10. Governing Law. For Services provided to, on, or in orbit around the planet Earth or the Moon, this Agreement and any disputes between us arising out of or related to this Agreement, including disputes regarding arbitrability (“Disputes”) will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California in the United States. For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.

Here we see a big part of Musk’s game, which is about power as well as money. He is declaring that Mars is a free planet not bound by any earthly laws. However, if there are disputes about your bill, California law will apply.

Never mind that Musk’s businesses have already sucked up, in subsidies, $4.9 billion in taxpayer dollars. Musk’s intent is to make earth-based governments (and chumps like us who actually pay taxes) finance a libertarian utopia on Mars. Musk will claim big chunks of Mars as his property, his to rule and to exploit, if he gets there first. This is terrifying far beyond the question of who gets to pocket the dollar value of whatever might be found on Mars. Musk not only intends to privatize space, he intends to make space, from the start, into a Wild West beyond the reach of earthly law.

Colonies

My objections are philosophical. Yes, there are obvious parallels with earth’s colonial era and the establishment of European colonies in North America. But, if human civilization on earth has made any progress since 1600, we mustn’t repeat old mistakes. Fortunately for the American colonies, the Enlightenment was well under way as the colonies were developing a constitution and a new body of laws. (Also fortunately, libertarianism at the time was just an embryo.) Today, there are powerful forces that are seeking to roll back the Enlightenment, cripple democracies, empower oligarchies, and maintain order with authoritarian methods including religion.

I am no philosopher, and I am not a historian of law. But I think it’s reasonably accurate to say that, as the American colonies were forming themselves into the United States of America 250 years ago, there were three or so competing philosophies of law and government to draw on. First, there was the concept of natural law, the idea that rights are inherent in being born human, and that rights are not created by government. Second, there was utilitarianism, a theory of ethics which was being developed during the Enlightenment and which boils down to the greatest good for the greatest number. And third, there was religion.

Rawls or Nozick?

Today, the philosophical landscape has changed. There are two new political philosophies to take into consideration. The first is libertarianism. Though libertarianism has some old roots, it wasn’t really codified until the 1970s. Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) was a libertarian answer in opposition to John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1971). Rawls’ theory is referred to as justice as fairness.

We almost never hear the names Robert Nozick or John Rawls mentioned in the high-stakes and sometimes violent political struggle now playing out in the United States and elsewhere. But that’s what it boils down to — Nozick’s theory of government versus Rawls’.

Nozick, and libertarians, want minimal government, “limited to the narrow functions of protection against force, theft, fraud, enforcement of contracts, and so on.” To quote from Wikipedia, “When a state takes on more responsibilities than these, Nozick argues, rights will be violated.”

Rawls’ theory, unfortunately, is not something that can be summed up in a sentence or two. A good deal of reasoning is required, working from some basic principles. Not by any means does the complexity of Rawls’ theory make it weaker. Rawls’ theory of justice acknowledges a social contract. William Edmundson argues (and I agree), in John Rawls: Reticent Socialist, that the only form of just government under Rawls’ principles is democratic socialism.

In a libertarian utopia, there is no limit to inequality, and human misery is of no concern to the government. Government won’t lift a finger to help anyone, except through the police. In a society based on Rawls, we’re all in it together, and no one can abandon others to a state that they wouldn’t want for themselves.

We’re already close enough to a libertarian utopia to see where it leads. It leads to a tiny elite of super-rich oligarchs, hostile to democracy, lording it over a work force of disinformed, barely educated, and heavily policed ignorati who are expected to work their asses off for a little bit of pie. Of course that’s the kind of society that people like Elon Musk want. They’ll take anything they can get if they can make taking it legal. They even have the power, already, to take money from the weak, through subsidies — reverse taxation. That’s what oligarchy is all about, and that’s what the Trump era is all about — a crude grab to entrench oligarchy in the United States and put it beyond the reach of law and democracy.

A thought experiment

What if Elon Musk’s attempt to lay the foundations of the laws of space has already failed? What if there actually already is a federation of civilizations in our galaxy? What would their law look like? On what kind of principles would that law be based? Though that would have been good to know 250 years ago during earth’s age of Enlightenment, it’s much more relevant now, as earth’s oligarchs compete to extend their power into space, to privatize it, and to set it beyond the reach of earthly law or any human value other than liberty and profit.

Not least because I’m convinced that we are in fact being visited by extraterrestrials, I can’t help but speculate that we already have some hints about what galactic law might look like, if it exists. If earth really is being visited by extraterrestrials, and especially if those visitors are coming from more than one planet, then it seems likely that they already are bound by, and are acting in accord with, galactic law. We seem to have some rights as earthlings, including the right not to be robbed or conquered by those with superior power. It’s possible that they’re even here to help, since they have done no harm. Whatever the principles of galactic civilizations’ law might be, my reasoning tells me that it’s much more likely to be in harmony with Rawls’ civilizing philosophy than with Nozick’s dog-eat-dog Wild West.

However, until such time as the galactic federation makes itself known, we’re on our own to deal with dangerous figures such as Elon Musk. If we’re going to fight this war — and in many ways it is a war — then we need to be clear on the principles at stake. There are those who would tolerate any degree of injustice and misery in the name of liberty. I am not one of them.


Further thoughts

Musk’s self-promotion: It’s possible that the lines about Mars in the Starlink terms of service are really just self-promotion on Musk’s part, intended to direct attention to his other projects and to delight the clueless techno-utopian libertarian fanboys who circulate around him on YouTube and elsewhere.

Rawls the obscure: I often wonder why Rawls is so little known, given that many would agree that he wrote the most important work in moral philosophy for two or more centuries. Partly, my guess would be, that’s because Rawls’ ideas are complex, and the book is a very hard read. His opponents with elite educations and goods of their own to promote certainly noticed quick enough that they had quietly been shamed and diminished. Nozick’s book appeared only three years after Rawls’ book. And some of the most erudite arguments against Rawls have been made by Jesuits, horrified that their theologies are not (even if they ever were) the state of the art in moral philosophy. To my lights, even utilitarianism now seems savage.


Roastnears


When I was a young’un growing up in North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley, corn of the type one wants for corn on the cob was called roastnears. I learned in school, around the fifth grade, that roastnears means roasting ears. Back then, I thought of that as just the way people talked. Now I would see it as a bit of the Southern Appalachian dialect.

I don’t try to grow corn here. It takes up too much room in the garden, and the raccoons pull it down and steal it. This summer, neighbors have given me corn. But there is no shortage of it. All through late summer, grocery stores sell it in large quantities, very fresh, for 20 cents to 50 cents an ear.

I would never boil it, not least because who wants all that heat in the kitchen in high summer. Roasting it in foil on an outdoor grill is easiest. But it’s more fun to roast it in the shucks. Peel the shucks back on the raw ear of corn, remove the silks, apply some olive oil, and fold the shucks back over the corn. About 22 minutes in a hot covered grill should do it. Apply as much butter and salt as your conscience will permit.

It’s an ill wind that …



Mabry Mill, running on water from former Hurricane Ida

The last week of August felt like the hottest, most humid, and most miserable week of the summer. Late Sunday, Hurricane Ida hit New Orleans. The levees held, and the storm moved north. On Wednesday, what remained of the storm passed over central Tennessee, bringing rain (and much cooler weather) to western North Carolina.

Having felt housebound by the heat, I made a little road trip to Meadows of Dan, Virginia, to enjoy the highlands weather. The high temperature up there was 67F on Wednesday. Though I had a rain jacket with me, I walked some in the rain without the jacket and intentionally got wet.

I don’t know when the mill races at Mabry Mill were repaired, but they have been repaired, were full of water, and the water wheel was turning. I had been afraid that the impoverished U.S. Park Service would never have the money available for the repairs.

In the video below, note that the wheel is turning very slowly. If the mill actually was in operation, the volume of water sent onto the wheel would be much greater, and the wheel would spin much faster. The mill and restaurant were closed when I was there, and there was nobody around but me.

The low temperature tonight will be 55F. It seems possible that September actually has arrived on schedule this year, after several years in which everyone was saying that September is the new August.

The Heart of Mid-Lothian ★★★★



“The Porteous Mob,” James Drummond, 1855. The painting is on display in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Click here for high-resolution version.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an article in The Herald of Scotland in which a scholar of literature urged filmmakers to make “blockbuster” movies from Walter Scott novels. The article is “Call for Walter Scott’s novels to be given film treatment,” Aug. 10.

I found the article charming, but I also was skeptical. At that point, I had read only one Walter Scott novel, The Antiquary, 1816, the third of Scott’s Waverley novels. That novel was a good enough read, but it’s not blockbuster material. Had I continued to judge Scott’s novels based only on the The Antiquary, I would not have rated him all that high, and I would have continued to wonder whether the high esteem in which the Scottish hold Scott has more to do with nationalism than with literature.

But any scholar, in this age, who makes a specialty of 19th Century literature automatically has my respect. So, I thought it likely than Alison Lumsden, who is quoted in the article, must know things that I don’t know. I ordered a used copy of The Heart of Mid-Lothian from Amazon. It’s a 1947 edition, poorly printed and with small type, but I didn’t want to read this book on a Kindle. Almost always, when old books are made into Kindle editions, they are full of typos because the text was scanned and was poorly edited, or not edited at all, for scanner errors.

The novel was first published in 1818. That makes it more than 200 years old. I had just finished reading Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit (1842) and Barnaby Rudge (1841). To read these novels back to back seemed like a good idea, not least because my neural circuits for parsing long 19th Century sentences were fully warmed up, and also because I was curious how the Dickens would compare with the Scott.

The Heart of Mid-Lothian is a seriously good novel, and I now agree with Alison Lumsden: It deserves to be made into a blockbuster.

One of the reasons Lumsden gives for bringing Scott to the screen is “because I think that’s a really good way of getting people to engage with writers again — they see the film and then they read the book.”

No doubt Professor Lumsden has students who would be able to read The Heart of Mid-Lothian. But my guess is that this novel would be insurmountable by most young readers today. The novel is long. The sentences are very long. For the first 120 pages, hardly anything happens. Most daunting, though, is that the dialogue (of which there is a great deal) is in dialect, written phonetically. (Some people would see this speech not as a dialect of English, but as a separate Scots language.) Thus there is a great deal of reader friction. Other readers may have other methods, but my method is to sound the dialogue in my mind. Usually it can be understood from the sound of it. If a character uses the word “waur” in a sentence, it’s not too difficult to recognize that “waur” means “worse.” The word “maun,” meaning “must,” will already be understood by readers of English literature. But some words simply have to be looked up, such as “gleg,” meaning sharp or wary. I learned the meaning of “Gardyloo!” from a walking tour in Edinburgh, in which I also learned about the Grassmarket and Half-Hanged Maggie, and where the gallows used to be. (If you love Edinburgh or are planning a trip there, that alone is a reason to read this novel.)

Even the people of Edinburgh speak in dialect. But characters from the Highlands are more challenging:

Hout, tout, ne’er fash your thumb, Mrs. Putler. The law is put twa-three years auld yet, and is ower young to hae come our length ; and pesides, how is the lads to climb the praes wi’ thae tamn’d breekens on them? It makes me sick to see them. Put ony how, I thought I kend Donacha’s haunts gey and weel, and I was at the place where he had rested yestreen ; for I saw the laves the limmers had lain on, and the ashes of them ; by the same token there was a pit greeshoch purning yet. I am thinking they got some word out o’ the island what was intended — I sought every glen and cleuch, as if I had been deer-stalking, but teil and wauff of his coat-tail could I see — Cot tam!

Note the beautiful rhythm of this little speech. Rhythm has a great deal to do with why we find Scottish accents so charming.

There is another factor that Chuzzlewit, Rudge, and Mid-Lothian have in common that may be offputting to contemporary readers. That is that the dramatic trajectories are very different. Contemporary readers will expect a story to begin with some dramatic action. Then the author will be forgiven for a bit of exposition. Then the action will resume and build step by step until the climax. The climax will be followed by a very short denouement. Readers of 200 years ago, no doubt, would have been entirely content with a different sort of trajectory. For many pages — maybe even 20 percent of the novel’s length — nothing much will happen. Some scenes will be set and characters will be introduced. But nothing happens, and how the characters and settings are related is not disclosed. There will be clues and a bit of foreshadowing, but there is hardly any dramatic tension. Finally the threads of the plot (and the subplots) will start to emerge. By the halfway point, the reader will finally see where the story is going. The climax will occur very early, around the three-quarters mark, followed by a very long denouement. Readers who anticipate this might be more motivated to stick with an antique novel if they have low expections that anything important will happen until well after 100 pages.

For that reason, books such as The Heart of Mid-Lothian would present some big problems for filmmakers. A filmmaker might, for example, have to start the movie with a high-drama event that doesn’t occur until much later in the story, and then depend on a flashback to introduce the characters and settings and to do the necessary exposition. Or screenwriters might cut the first quarter of the novel completely, and dribble in the background some other way. Exposition is another challenge. Contemporary writers avoid relying on exposition, in which the author explains what is happening. Instead, the action is expected to tell the story. In Mid-Lothian, the readers will encounter many pages of exposition, and only the key dramatic parts will be handled with scenes and dialogue. The art of storytelling and the expectations of readers have changed. But old stories are good stories all the same.

As the drama in Mid-Lothian picked up and peaked, I found myself staying up late to read. Was it a good read, worth the effort? Yes!

There are other rewards, though, for reading a novel like this. I understand much better now why the Scottish hold Scott in such high esteem. I have a much better feel for some Scottish history — particularly the events that followed “the Glorious revolution,” though that history is complicated and remains vague to me. Scott was a lawyer. He works in some very interesting facts about Scottish law, for which he clearly had great respect. And though I don’t think that Scott was particularly religious, a major theme in Mid-Lothian is the religious conflict in Scotland that was closely connected with conflict around the union of Scotland and England. One of the characters in Mid-Lothian, David Deans, goes into long and rather tedious disquisitions on doctrine. Scott refers to Deans as a “proser,” and it’s fairly clear that Scott was making fun of doctrinal hair-splitting, as well as of old men who talk too much.

As for the Porteous riots, the riots are not central to the plot of Mid-Lothian, but the riots have a great deal to do with the characters. The Porteous riots — of which Scott’s account is surely historically accurate — also ruffled feathers in London, and those ruffled feathers in London also connect with the plot.

Jeanie Deans, Mid-Lothian‘s heroine, will seem like a prude, I think, to young people today. But Jeanie’s sister, Effie, is very different. The difference between these two sisters will give modern young readers plenty to think about. And for students looking for a topic for a paper, I suggest this: Compare the hangman characters in Barnaby Rudge and The Heart of Mid-Lothian. Was Scott as much a social reformer as Dickens? How did the Scottish of the time justify capital punishment? Was the public attitude toward capital punishment starting to change? Why or why not? How does a duke’s attitude compare with that of a peasant, or with that of a religious character such as David Deans?

I should say a few words about the moral tone of The Heart of Mid-Lothian. It is an extended meditation on suffering and justice. Here is a quotation from Jeanie Deans:

O madam, if ever ye kend what it was to sorrow for and with a sinning and a suffering creature, whose mind is sae tossed that she can be neither ca’d fit to live or die, have some compassion on our misery! — Save an honest house from dishonour, and an unhappy girl, not eighteen years of age, from an early and dreadful death! Alas! it is not when we sleep soft and wake merrily ourselves that we think on other people’s sufferings. Our hearts are waxed light within us then, and we are for righting our ain wrangs and fighting our ain battles. But when the hour of trouble comes to the mind or to the body — and seldom may it visit your Leddyship — and when the hour of death comes, that comes to high and low — lang and late may it be yours! — Oh, my Leddy, then it isna what we hae dune for oursells, but what we hae dune for others, that we think on maist pleasantly. And the thoughts that ye hae intervened to spare the puir thing’s life will be sweeter in that hour, come when it may, than if a word of your mouth could hang the haill Porteous mob at the tail of ae tow.

In short, though I read this novel in two weeks, I feel as though I just finished an entire semester in a tough course on Scottish literature and history that I found very rewarding. Thank you, Professor Alison Lumsden of the University of Aberdeen.


The Scott Monument in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens. The monument stands on prime real estate just west of Waverley Station, below, and northeast of, the castle. I’ve never been inside this tower and have only admired it from the park, from which I took this photo, but I’ll climb the steps on my next trip. The tower is over 200 feet high.


On a lighter note: It’s entirely possible that the difficulty of understanding the many Scottish accents has been a running joke among speakers of English for centuries. I’d have to say that, as a native speaker of Southern Appalachian English, I am pretty good at parsing Scottish. I easily understand all of the video below. Twice in my life I have encountered English accents that I have not been able to understand, and it’s possible that one of them was speaking Gaelic rather than English. One was a Cockney taxi driver in London. I knew he was speaking Cockney only because of “My Fair Lady” (though I also read “Pygmalion” in high school and thought that it was one of the funniest things I’d ever read). The other was an old man, a beggar, I think, who approached me on the street in Edinburgh. Sometimes locals will take the time to school you, as with a clerk in the ferry office in the east of England who wouldn’t give me my ticket to the Hook of Holland until I correctly pronounced “Harwich” (which sounds like “Harridge” to me). There are very funny videos about this on YouTube with James McAvoy.






Watchmen


I’m two years behind on this. It took a while for Watchmen (2019) to show up on my radar screen. I’ve watched only the first episode so far, but rarely have I seen a first episode as original, as surprising, and as good as this.

A friend recommended Watchmen (in a texting conversation) while we were talking about Trumpists and Trumpist militias. Watchmen is based on a comic book series from the 1980s. HBO, I understand, made significant changes in updating the storylines. Comics purists, I understand, were enraged at the changes. But Watchmen — or at least the first episode — speaks directly, and maybe even presciently, to what we’re living through. It was extremely satisfying to see rightwing defectives who would take the law into their own hands taken down and taken out in the picturesque ways that Hollywood can deal with villains.

But it also worried me. I texted my friend: “Has there been any concern that it might encourage the militia crazies?” He replied, “No, those folks didn’t have it on their radar.” Whew.

As we wait for justice to catch up with the tyrants, traitors, racists, insurrectionists and criminals who are trying to destroy American democracy and install their little Hitler, Watchmen is good therapy. There are nine episodes, and they can be streamed from HBO.

Late summer



Abelia

Those of us who live in southern climates are usually glad to see cooler weather return after a hot summer. But there’s also something melancholy about the idea of summer’s end. As Shakespeare wrote (sonnet 18), “… summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

The abelia bush is in full bloom. The bush is huge. I could hide my Fiat 500 inside it. And though the bees don’t seem to be all that interested in the thousands of little trumpet flowers, there often are a dozen butterflies at a time working the bush. Meanwhile, the fig trees in the orchard are looking good. But the true bumper crop of fall tree fruit here comes from the persimmon trees, wild trees that volunteered in the yard 12 years ago and that now are producing lots of fruit. There will be many persimmon puddings this fall, and, I hope, enough persimmon pulp to freeze.

Abelia is a relative of honeysuckle. It’s an old-fashioned shrub that one doesn’t see as often anymore. I wish I had entire hedges of it. Unlike honeysuckle, it doesn’t climb and choke things. It grows quickly, and though I have never pruned my abelia bush, I think abelia doesn’t mind being shaped a bit.

September is the season of yellow flowers. Soon — and almost overnight — the rural roadsides will be lined with yellow flowers. We’re starting to have nighttime temperatures in the 60s (F), a sure sign that September is on the way.


Green persimmons, four to six weeks away from ripening