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Yep … I’m in the woods



A drone 235 feet directly above the abbey. Click here for high resolution version.

I’ve been interested in photography drones for a long time. But only recently did drones become halfway affordable. Smaller and smaller computer chips, improvements in battery technology, and smaller and better cameras have made it possible to build drones that weigh less than half a pound but which can shoot excellent 4K video. The drone I bought is a DJI Mini 3.

I took the photo above by putting the drone on its landing mat in the driveway in front of my house. There are trees all around me, so the driveway is the safest area for avoiding trees. I flew the drone straight up to an altitude of about 235 feet, then pointed it southwest to shoot this picture. The low mountains are the Sauratown Mountain chain, a small chain of mountains in Stokes and Surry counties (of North Carolina) about forty miles south of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. The three bumps to the right include Hanging Rock State Park, and the bump to the left is Sauratown Mountain.

It will certainly be a while before I have the skill to shoot any dramatic video with the drone. Learning to fly drones takes a lot of practice. Some of the YouTube videos shot with drones are amazing. There are lots of people who have been flying drones for years and who are very good pilots as well as good photographers and video editors. And it seems that a great many of them live in picturesque places such as the coasts of the U.K. (including Scotland) and Ireland. I have a lot to learn. But I’ll certainly have drone videos, and more drone photos in the future.

Will we finally get a Trump mug shot?



Source: Wikimedia Commons

A big problem with posting about current events is that it’s almost impossible to find photographs that are in the public domain. For a long time now, the world has been waiting for a criminal indictment of Donald Trump that comes with a mug shot. Police mug shots are public record and are therefore in the public domain. For whatever reason, no mug shots were provided with Trump’s previous indictments. But now, in Georgia, we’re promised that that will change.

According to Axios, the sheriff of Fulton County has said that Trump will be treated the same as any other person charged with a crime. “Unless somebody tells me differently, we are following our normal practices, and so it doesn’t matter your status, we’ll have a mugshot ready for you,” the sheriff said.

Time Magazine wrote a piece back in March saying that a genuine Trump mug shot would be a fundraising boon for Trump. That may be, since some people are that stupid. But for the rest of us, a Trump mug shot will lead to a grand outpouring of memes like nothing ever seen before. There will be a great feast and festival of snark and schadenfreude.

We know that Trump has until August 25 to turn himself in, but so far there has been no word on when his arraignment will happen.

I can’t wait.

By the way, speaking of feasts, the media have been feasting on polls saying that the Trump indictments cause Trump’s popularity (among Republicans) to rise. This is bunk. Trumpists are still in the anger and denial stage. Those who respond to polls of course say that the indictments make them more likely to vote for Trump. It’s the only way they can register their anger and denial. Polls fifteen months before an election are meaningless anyway.

I closely monitor the Facebook group of the Republican Party in my county. This county voted 78 percent for Trump in 2020. That Facebook group provides some insight into the state of mind of Trumpists in red, red counties. Mostly they’re not even talking about Trump. Very few Republicans even post anymore — only the most radical and angry ones. My impression is that it’s all starting to sink in. They’re figuring out that they’ve been deceived and taken for a ride by a con man, and that they’re now accountable for everything they’ve done and said in the past. The smarter ones may have started reaching the depression stage of grief, which I would call demoralization, when the grief is political. There is absolutely nothing in sight for them to lift their spirits or give them a win. Their future is lose, lose, lose, as far as the eye can see.

Scapegoats 2, Republicans 0


The political death wish of the Republican Party is mind-boggling. Why do they go on fighting battles that they’ve already lost and that accelerate their slide toward permanent minority status and the contempt of history? — at least, in civilized places as opposed to places such as Florida, Texas, and Tennessee.

Banning books, and threatening librarians with prison sentences, can only backfire, given time. According to the Washington Post, at least seven states have passed laws that impose criminal penalties for books that Republicans deem obscene. Arkansas threatens librarians with prison sentences of six years, Oklahoma ten.

Don’t Republicans know about the internet? Young people have always found ways of finding out about things that adults don’t want them to know. Because of the internet it’s easier today than ever. Schoolchildren in Florida no doubt know that there are some subjects that their teachers aren’t allowed to talk about. The kids will work twice as hard to educate themselves on such subjects. They’ll also learn another lesson — that Republicans are hateful and contemptible. Florida’s law originally applied only to grades K-3, but earlier this year the state board of education expanded the ban to include grades 4-12.

One of the frequently banned books is Casey McCuiston’s Red, White, and Royal Blue. The book was a New York Times Bestseller. According to Wikipedia, translations have been published in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Finland, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Sweden, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Spain, Israel, and Uruguay.

Republicans might as well stand in front of a speeding train and wave a crucifix. Publishers must love it when a book is banned. For many books, a ban creates a sharp increase in sales.

A movie version of Red, White, and Royal Blue was released this weekend by Amazon Prime Video. The film is more serious than it appears to be in the trailers. There is an immigrant element (Mexico) as well as the gay element. Texas gets the middle finger. Only just now did I realize that “Royal Blue” is a double entendre, as one of the characters sets out to make Texas not just a blue state, but a royal blue state.

The cast includes Stephen Fry and Uma Thurman. Thurman was born in Boston, but she does a pretty good Texas accent.

The sound track is clearly meant for people younger than I am. That’s as it should be. But upon hearing a few lines of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “If I Loved You,” (1945), sung by a voice and in a style that just doesn’t work for someone my age, I had to pause the video and go listen to a proper performance. I’ve included a link to a video below, from Royal Albert Hall.

Young people have another internet hit to stream right now, the second season of “Heartstoppers,” on Netflix.




Oxford India paper



Click here for high resolution version.

Once again, unable to find any newer fiction that interested me, I’m reading another Sir Walter Scott. It’s The Fortunes of Nigel, and I believe this will be the eighth or ninth Walter Scott that I’ve read. Though Scott’s works are available at Gutenberg and can be read on Kindles, I like having nice old editions of 19th Century classics. I bought this copy of Nigel on eBay from a seller in the United Kingdom.

The book was not expensive, but I was immediately impressed by the quality of the binding and, in particular, the quality of the paper. Though the paper is 111 years old, it is bright white and has hardly yellowed at all (though the heavier paper used for the illustrations has yellowed somewhat). The paper is remarkably thin and opaque. There is no brittleness. It wasn’t too hard to figure out what kind of paper this almost certainly is. The clue is the name Henry Frowde on the title page, over the Oxford University Press imprint.

Henry Frowde, it seems, was not a scholar, but he was a genius at printing and binding. He must have been a bit of a religious fanatic, because he printed a lot of Bibles. One of his innovations was the use of Oxford India paper, which was made from bleached rags and hemp. It was often used for Bibles, and as you’ll see in the Wikipedia article, Encylopedia Britannica used it for their 1911 edition.

So now that’s another item for my next visit to the U.K. — visiting some bookstores that sell old books. I’m guessing that there are several of those in Edinburgh. I am not particularly interested in rare books, nor would I be able to afford them. But I am very interested in beautiful books that are beautifully printed on good paper and beautifully bound. There are many cheaply printed old editions of 19th Century classics. It’s nice to see that the Oxford press adhered to a higher standard.


⬆︎ Click here for high resolution version.


⬆︎ Click here for high resolution version.


⬆︎ Click here for high resolution version.

To heck with the news. Let’s talk about food.



Barley biscuits with pinto beans, okra-tomato sauté, and green beans. Click here for high resolution version.

The news is exasperating. Even as Trump makes madman threats, including threatening people such as Mike Pence, who is sure to be a witness at Trump’s trials, the media are doubling down on the horsewash idea that Smith won’t be able to prove the charges against Trump and that Trump will get back into the White House in 2024. Never mind all that for now. In time, it’ll all get sorted out. Eating well is the best revenge. But never forget how the media have tried to scare us to keep milking Trump for clicks and ratings.

For barley biscuits, you can adjust the proportions of unbleached wheat flour with hulled barley flour to suit your taste. At a ratio of one part barley flour to five parts wheat flour, all you’ll notice is some some extra (and delicious) flavor. With five parts barley flour to one part wheat flour, the biscuits will be a bit crumbly, and it will be hard to keep them moist (using buttermilk will help). Everything in between is worth experimenting with.

Until this summer, I didn’t know that sweet potato leaves make good greens. But you can eat them either cooked or raw, as a salad green. No wonder the deer like them so much. And though most lettuces don’t like high summer, sweet potato greens love high summer, even though the sweet potatoes won’t be ready until fall.


Sweet potato leaves stir-fried with garlic; fried rice with cashews and summer vegetables; and tofu. Click here for high resolution version.

The devil now polls 58 percent in America



But which one is the devil?

“The Devil presenting St Augustin with the Book of Vices,” Michael Pacher, 1435-1498

There probably is a way to do the math, but my back-of-a-napkin estimate is that, at the current rate, the Enlightenment will have arrived in America in about 942 more years.

The Washington Post has an article today with this headline: “As organized religion falters, the devil falls on hard times.” It seems that the devil’s numbers have dropped. According to the article, a Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans now believe in the devil, down from 68 percent in 2001. The devil polls 20 points higher among Republicans at 78 percent, which is the percentage of the vote that Donald Trump got in my county in 2020.

Things like this make me realize what a naïf I am for thinking that people ought to know better than to spray glyphosate in their gardens, or to drink bleach, or to believe what they hear on television.

I think I need to go pour myself some Scotch and listen to some Beatles.

Outsourcing is now an option



I grew the tomatoes on the upper shelf. The tomatoes on the lower shelf were part of my weekly vegetable pickup.

Technically, where I live is a food desert. The nearest grocery stores are about twelve miles away. A shocking number of rural people get most of their food these days from dollar stores such as Dollar General. Dollar General stores are everywhere. This makes it easier for me to believe the terrifying statistic that 70 percent of the American diet these days comes from ultra-processed foods.

It’s shocking how few rural people have vegetable gardens. And why should they? They don’t eat that stuff anymore. With transplants it’s a different story.

I’ve always had a garden, for better or for worse, in the fifteen years I’ve lived here. However, I do not enjoy — at all — summer gardening. It’s the heat, the humidity, the bugs, the ticks, the weeds, the briars, the gnats in the eyes. No matter how energetic my start in the spring, by summer the garden is always a wreck.

This summer I have an entirely new option. A young couple who live about two miles away (transplants from the Chicago area) have taught themselves to be superb gardeners. When they first moved here, they had day jobs. But this year they’ve quit their jobs and are making a living with their garden. Mostly they sell on Saturdays at an upscale farmer’s market in Greensboro. But, for a few local people like me, they started a weekly pickup of an assortment of vegetables — community supported agriculture. I was able to downsize my own garden this summer to a very manageable one row of nothing but tomatoes and basil, both of which are easy to grow and neither of which I’d be able to live without in summer.

These two young people taught themselves to garden, mostly by watching a lot of videos. In retrospect, I can see what a good idea that is. Old hands like me tend to garden the way we saw it done as children, and though we may experiment with newer methods, we never reach the state of the art. Whereas the garden I’m buying from this summer is a sight to behold. I’ve never seen anything like it other than at Monticello, or an abbey garden on Iona in Scotland. Almost half the garden is in flowers. They don’t till. Everything is perfectly mulched and well watered. The climbing system for such things as beans and cucumbers is ingenious, not to mention tall. They make their own compost, partly from the compostables they collect from their customers in Greensboro as part of the business. They even make enough wine for their own consumption, from native varieties of grapes.

There may well be some local young people — that is, young people who were born here and grew up here — who are interested in doing this kind of thing. But I don’t know of any. The reason for this, as I see it, has everything to do with the cultural decline of the rural deplorables. In a county that voted 78 percent for Trump in 2020, it’s safe to assume that 78 percent of the calories are coming from Dollar General and fast food from the nearest towns — Walnut Cove and Madison. These people — the people who are making America great again — eat their burgers and chicken sandwiches in the car and throw the bags, wrappers, and empty cups out the window onto the road.

Show me someone who lives otherwise, and the odds will be greater than 78 percent that that person is a liberal.


The nearby gardeners, at their booth at a Greensboro farmer’s market


Feasting your inner pet



Lentil-barley burger with fixin’s

Just in the last ten to twenty years, we’ve gotten a whole new insight into how to use food to keep ourselves healthy. That new insight has to do with our microbiome. For much longer than that, we’ve known that antibiotics will do serious harm to our digestive systems. Even so, we didn’t appreciate just how important the microbiome is and how to take care of it. We also know now why, beyond the stomach, we have a two-stage digestive system. Cows have four stages, but we humans don’t eat grass. Still, we humans are omnivores (except for grass), and now we know much more about why we require a two-stage digestive system. The first stage in humans is about the enzymes, and all that, which break down our food and feed us. The second stage is all about feeding the microbiome. And feeding the microbiome is all about fermentation.

The favorite food of the microbiome is soluble fiber. That’s what ferments best, that’s what is most nutritious to the microbiome, and that’s what creates the nutrients that we need but that we can’t acquire directly from our food. One of the key signs of a healthy microbiome is a low level of inflammation everywhere in the body. That’s because of the nutrients that only the microbiome can produce. Unsurprisingly and conversely, one of the key signs of a poorly fed microbiome is inflammation everywhere in the body. We probably notice it first in our joints. We don’t notice it in our arteries — a very dangerous place indeed for inflammation.

I’ve started thinking of the microbiome as a kind of inner pet, a pet that we should take care of as carefully as we take care of our cat. One of the things we’ve learned is that the makeup of our microbiome can change very quickly, based on what we eat. There’s also an inertia in the microbiome, because our inner pet adjusts to what we eat, and, once adjusted, wants to go on eating the same thing. If you’re living on pizza, doughnuts, and TV dinners, then that’s very bad news, because that’s what your microbiome will crave. But if you have a well-fed microbiome, then what you crave will be healthy food. There are many references in the literature to a brain-gut connection, but I’m not sure we know yet how that really works. Presumably the microbiome creates substances that are carried by the bloodstream to the brain and tell us what to crave.

Two of the foods highest in soluble fiber are lentils and barley. The two of them together, with seasonings, make mighty fine burgers for feasting for both stages of your digestive system.

I use organic green lentils, which I buy in bulk from Whole Foods. I make barley flour by grinding organic hulled barley, using an old Champion juicer with a milling attachment. Organic hulled barley is hard to find locally, but you can get it from Amazon. I believe that every well-equipped kitchen should have a grinder for flour. I buy unbleached wheat flour already ground. But I use my grinder for whole wheat flour and barley flour.

Just as your cat nags you when it wants to be fed, your microbiome will nag you, too. It will nag you for more of whatever you’ve been eating lately. If you feed your microbiome lots of soluble fiber, I can testify that that’s what it will nag you for. I eat fiber because it’s good for us. But I also eat it — no kidding — because that’s one of the main things that my microbiome nags me for.

But I still like a nice slice of pizza a few times a year.

Vigil


After watching all nine seasons of “Masterpiece Endeavour,” I found myself in a serious state of Endeavour withdrawal and was desperate for something just as good to watch next. I considered the 1980s series “Inspector Morse,” but it seemed a little too dated (though I love the red Jaguar). I checked Shaun Evans’ filmography and found that his most recent role was in “Vigil,” which was broadcast on BBC One in 2021. As far as I could tell, the only way to watch “Vigil” in the U.S. is to subscribe to NBC’s Peacock streaming service. So that’s what I did, at $4.99 a month.

A bonus in “Vigil” is that the lead character is played by Suranne Jones, of “Gentleman Jack.” Another bonus in “Vigil” is that it’s set in Scotland, though it mostly takes place inside a Royal Navy submarine, the HMS Vigil.

I’ve only watched one episode so far (of six in the first season). There will be a second season, which probably will be broadcast in the U.K. next year.

It was amusing reading some of the snarky reviews of “Vigil,” including this one in the Telegraph: “A TV drama so bad it could be Russian propaganda.”

I’m easy, I guess. With Shaun Evans, Suranne Jones, and all those beautiful Scottish accents, how could I not like it?

Speaking of accents: In “Endeavour,” Shaun Evans uses an accent appropriate to his background as a former Oxford student. Evans is from Liverpool, though, and his native accent is a Liverpool accent. There are television interviews in which you can hear his native accent. I have read that he was reluctant for his fans to hear his Liverpool accent, for fear that it would break the spell. And speaking of Liverpool, the northwest of England is one of the not-too-many parts of England I haven’t visited. It sounds like a fascinating city, and I think I just might go there on my next visit.

Why so much chatter about UFOs of late?



Source: Syracuse NewTimes, 2015

There has been so much media buzz about UFOs lately that even conservative pundits such as the New York Times’ Ross Douthat have written columns such as “Does the U.S. Government Want You to Believe in U.F.O.’s?” Ezra Klein, also at the New York Times, recently had a podcast with the title “What the Heck Is Going On With These U.F.O. Stories?” A big part of the recent buzz has been because of a whistle-blower who has claimed that the U.S. government possesses crashed UFOs, or at least pieces of them.

Back in 2019, I wrote a post here about the UFO that I saw in the early 1970s in eastern North Carolina. I included the sketch below to try to help describe what I saw, especially to make the point that it was no mere “light in the sky.” Lights in the sky don’t impress me (or any UFO watchers). Images from military radar don’t impress me either. My reasoning is this: If little old me has seen what I’ve seen, then the U.S. military has seen much, much, much more.

So what might be going on?

One theory, as Douthat suggests, is that the government is using some sort of procedure to gradually disclose UFOs to us, to condition us to the existence of UFOs so that some Big Announcement won’t freak us out too much. That’s an interesting and maybe even plausible idea, but those of us who have been interested in UFOs for a long time recall that, back in the 1980s, the same idea was prevalent because of films such as Close Encounters, E.T., Enemy Mine, and even the Star Wars films. But nothing ever came of it. The government is just as secretive as ever, really. As I see it, the purpose of the release of military radar video is to deceive us into thinking that the government is still mystified about what’s going on. I cannot believe that.

Recently I sent a copy of my UFO sketch to a friend who lives in France. She replied with a link to the sketch above, which looks very much like the sketch I made in 2019. The sketch above comes from a story in the Syracuse NewTimes from January 2015, “15 Years of Cylinder UFOs Over New York State”. Never before had I seen a UFO sketch that looked so much like what I saw.

I’ve made this standard disclaimer countless times, as many times as I’ve told my UFO story. That’s that my anecdote is just another anecdote among many thousands of anecdotes. The epistemological value of an anecdote is pretty much zero. So there is no reason why anyone should take seriously what I say, and no reason why anyone should take any UFO anecdote seriously. But the epistemological calculus for me personally is very different. I know what I saw, I saw it clearly, I remember it clearly, and I have no more reason to doubt what I saw than I have reason to doubt that I saw Donald Trump’s Boeing 757 parked and mothballed at La Guardia airport when I was last there in 2019. Thus my question is not “Do UFO’s exist?” but “What is the full story of what is going on?” I can only speculate, though some possibilities are more probable than others.

For one, I have zero doubt (or doubt that is as close to zero as is ever possible in a human mind) that, because I’ve seen these things, the U.S. military has seen them too — no doubt lots and lots of them. The idea that the U.S. military has collected the remains of crashed UFOs seems entirely plausible.

It would be a wonderful thing if humanity gets the Big Announcement soon. I can’t express how much I’d like to see that in my lifetime.

But people sort roughly into two categories — people such as religious people whose worlds and minds would completely fall apart because they can’t handle it; and people like me who are eager to get on with a huge expansion of human knowledge and heavy revisions in human philosophy. I’ll admit here that there is a whiff of vindictiveness in my point of view. Primitive minds — closed minds, religious minds, ugly minds — have held all of us back for far too long. If such minds were unable to deal with the Big Announcement, their defeat would be total, and there’d be nothing in the world (or in the galaxy!) that they could do about it other than go home, load their guns, and lock their doors. Then the rest of us could participate in a renaissance like nothing humanity has ever seen before.

Primitive minds will ask, “What if they’re here to eat us or to enslave us?” In fact, the primitive mind of Ronald Reagan thought that a war with aliens would be just the thing to unite humanity. Such nonsense. If E.T. visitors were here to enslave us or eat us, and if they have the power to do that, they’d already have done it.

Though I’d have a thousand questions for them, three questions stand out. First: How does their propulsion work? Second: Are they capable of faster-than-light interstellar travel, or did they get here much more slowly and do they therefore have some sort of outpost near earth? And, third: Is there a galactic federation with laws, a capital, and libraries? I’d imagine that if such a place exists, it must be a lot like the Star Wars planet Coruscant.

Maybe I’ll never find out. But future generations of earthlings surely will, and I envy them.


My sketch of the UFO I saw in the early 1970s