Hmm Weekly for September 8, 2020

September is June. Tuesday is Friday.

Hmm Weekly for September 8, 2020


Ask The Sophist

Dear The Sophist,
My baby was born in June. Now it is September and I still have not publicized her birth with any kind of announcement. I have told some friends and family about the baby in a piecemeal fashion. So it's not like I'm trying to keep her existence a secret.

I actually have an announcement written out. But I have been stymied by the next step, that of compiling a list of people who will receive the announcement. I suppose I could indiscriminately blast my entire contact list. But my contact list is a hodgepodge of family, friends, acquaintances, and random people I only met once, or only got introduced to via email ten years ago. I am worried that the people in the "random" category would judge me for not having made a more careful selection of recipients. I don't want to just do a social media post either, because that feels too impersonal.

I am not sure I fully grasp the dividing line between personal and public anymore.

Will it be too late to announce the birth in a week? A month?

—Signed but Not Sent

Dear Bringing Up Baby,
Congratulations! There's no better moment to have a new (or newish) infant than when you can't leave the house anyway.

Relatedly, the scheduling problem you are worrying about is no scheduling problem at all. Time has rarely been more elastic than it is right now. September is June; nobody can tell the difference between 11 a.m. and Wednesday and the vernal equinox. The only people enforcing deadlines about anything are the ones who have responded to the universal loss of control by retreating into unhinged, fantasy-fueled tyranny—trying to force schools or businesses to open as if there were no plague, or insisting on collecting rent money when the rent money does not exist and cannot exist.

So if you wanted permission to send out your announcement on Halloween, or for New Year’s, you would be all set. But you say what you're really struggling with is choosing the audience when you do send it out. Understandably, you don’t want the wider world to first encounter your baby as a piece of spam.

Mostly, this too is not a serious difficulty. People tend to automatically calibrate their response to baby news to fit the situation, so the same announcement that might stir a great-aunt into excitement and delight will make someone you know from two jobs ago say “Oh, that's nice” and shrug and immediately forget about your baby.

There is, however, a limit to this self-regulating principle, and you would be far, far past that limit if you were to—did you really suggest sending it to your entire contacts list? Really? What are you, LinkedIn? There is literally nothing that would merit sending a message to every address your email service has incidentally bottom-trawled into its wasteful memory-net through the years. The Sophist lives in constant low-key dread of someday trying to send a document or note to myself and accidentally sending it to one particular person whom The Sophist only slightly knew and hasn’t emailed or spoken to since the second Bush’s second administration, but whose last name happens to begin with the same two letters as The Sophist’s own personal email address. Type a random letter into the “To” field in your mail program and look at what comes up on the list. See? Absolutely not.

If only you had some more carefully edited list of people, with whom you're more likely to be in touch—a “social network,” you might say. You worry that a social media post is “too impersonal,” but at least on your various social platforms, the people have all clicked a button to “friend” or “follow” you, unlike somebody you swapped three emails with in 2010 as you tried and failed to get them to actually show up and take away a free couch. Baby announcements are one of the few non-miserable things people still use the platforms for, and no one will begrudge you for making yours that way.

In case your real objections to a social media post are aesthetic, you can always stick with email, pulling up your contact list and skimming down it, checking off the people you would actually send an email to in 2020. You made a point of saying you had already composed the text of the email, which is a way of evading the subject of your reluctance to do the tedious but not impossible work of picking out the recipients. But as we already discussed, it's not too late for you to face the job and get it over with.

Or you could just put a baby photo in your Christmas cards. Still fine!

Feliz Navidad,
The Sophist

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Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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From left: Inland sea oats, cardinal flower, buttonbush, inland sea oats.


THE PLANTS WERE showing off a little on Labor Day. In the thick part of August the growing things in Central Park had lost their earlier juicy vitality, the luminous flourishing green of June and July going dark and dusty, limp and bug-chewed. For September, though, they had stirred themselves toward autumn, coming up with new russet tones and sprouting seed heads. The late-season flowers were out: glimmering little jewelweed blossoms, purple spikes of pickerelweed, dangling cardinal flowers so red the eye couldn't give them depth or shape, like laser dots. At least, I believe they were pickerelweed and cardinal flower; I took their pictures and sent them through the nature app and those were the best guesses on its list of guesses. I sent the jewelweed, too, and the guess came back jewelweed and of course I would have known it was jewelweed if I'd routed the question through my brain instead of beaming it off through the mobile internet. Wouldn't I? I should have. I did know it, in my own woods, before there was a mobile internet.

There was something else, a shrub wildly jutting with round little balls, which the app kept trying to say could be buttonbush, and possibly it was, but the photos that came with the suggestion didn't feel like knowledge.

Maybe all the seeds were drawing out the rats, who were everywhere around the Ramble—little ones you could try to kid yourself were mice, a huge one by the water's edge with the sun coming pink through its ears. A squirrel tried to beg and was distracted by a nut falling and bouncing on the path beside it. The catbirds were bold and curious; a cardinal, considerably scruffier and less red than the cardinal flowers, perched on a branch close by the path.

I almost missed the inland sea oats. My wife flagged them as a curiosity, because they looked at first as if they had two totally mismatched kinds of leaves—long, pointy grasslike leaves down below, and then little serrated leaves at the top. I framed both sets of leaves in the phone camera and sent the picture to the app and it guessed they were inland sea oats, with immediately convincing photos. At the word "oats," I realized the top leaves were really tidy, flattened seed heads, like something carefully cut and folded from exquisitely thick paper. If you pinched one between thumb and finger, you could feel the separate parts of it, and how it thickened, slightly but perceptibly, from edge to middle. They dangled there in space with a slight papery curl to them, sharp-edged, immune to intermediation.

Now that I'd seen them, I adored them. I loved the name, with its doubly qualified analogy: not oats, really, but sea oats; not sea oats, really, but sea oats growing inland. Or something mytho-pompous, the Oats of the Inland Sea. Further along was another patch, with the late light behind it so the edges of the dangling seed heads glowed. They were the best thing in the Park.


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Sandworms of Dune, ranked

No. 4: Dune (TV mini-series, 2000).

No. 3: Dune (1984 film).

No. 2: Dune (2020 film).

No. 1: Dunecat.


WE GET YET even one more squeeze out of our presentation of select recipes from the leviathan and encyclopedic 1896 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, by Fannie Merritt Farmer, Principal of the Boston Cooking-School, with a selection of items from


Liquid Foods may first be considered. Barley water and rice water are known as astringent or demulcent drinks, and are generally used to reduce a laxative condition. The starch of barley is perhaps more valuable than that of rice. Toast water is often beneficial in cases of extreme nausea. A small quantity of clam water may be given when the stomach refuses to retain other foods. Clam water is also used to increase a secretion of mother’s milk.
Oatmeal water is occasionally ordered for dyspeptic patients, but more frequently used for the workman on the road or the farmer in the field. In the hottest days of summer, oatmeal water may be drunk with safety where ice water would be extremely dangerous.
Fruit waters are principally used for fever patients. They are cooling, refreshing, and mildly stimulating, and are valuable for the salts and acids they contain. Lemons, being easily procured and of moderate price, are most extensively used.

1 tablespoon lemon juice.
2 tablespoons syrup.

Make a syrup by boiling eight minutes one cup water and one-half cup sugar. To two tablespoons syrup add one tablespoon lemon juice and one-half cup water. Soda water, Apollinaris, or Seltzer water may be used.

Irish Moss Lemonade.
1/4 cup Irish moss.
Juice 1 lemon.
2 cups cold water.

Pick over and soak Irish moss in cold water to cover. Remove moss, add two cups cold water, and cook twenty minutes in double boiler; then strain. To one-half cup of liquid add lemon juice, and sugar to sweeten.

Flaxseed Lemonade.
1 tablespoon whole flaxseed.
Lemon juice.
1 pint boiling water.

Pick over and wash flaxseed, add water, and cook two hours, keeping just below boiling point. Strain, add lemon juice, and sugar to taste.

If you make one of these waters, please won’t you send a picture to

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