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It may sound a tad pedantic, but saying “flush out” when one means “flesh out” can have a serious and sometimes hilarious impact on the meaning of what one is trying to communicate.

This public service announcement is made on behalf of my jaw muscles, aching from trying to maintain a straight face through about a half hour conversation with someone who was apparently unaware of the difference.

Recently, ol’ Robbo chucked a couple of walnut shells across the table at our Maximum Leader over his professing to enjoy the “Adagio” from Khachaturian’s ballet Spartacus. (Actually, I called Maxy a Communist.  But after all, he asked.)

Anyhoo, let it not be said that Robbo holds other people to standards to which he does not also hold himself.  Bearing this in mind, I must confess that I somewhat enjoy a few of the dances from Khachaturian’s other ballet, Gayane, particularly the famous “Sabre Dance,”  when they come on the radio from time to time.

In my defense, regular port-swillers will know that I have before now noted my weakness for musick reminiscent of the Turk, the Tatar and the sands of Araby.   And Armenia is close enough.

So there you are.  Whether you believe my interest in pre-20th Century folk tunes from far away places is genuine, or else think I myself ought to be polishing up the Internationale, I leave to you.

The Joisey Turnpike Authority (Motto: “Pump Your Own Gas? Fuggedaboudit!“) must be sporting some serious scorch-marks on their jeans pockets:

The New Jersey Turnpike Authority said it hopes to begin alerting motorists to traffic jams — 10 minutes before they occur.

The agency, which manages the two main toll roads in the most densely populated U.S. state, approved the awarding of a $652,000 contract to En Pointe Technologies Inc.

The El Segundo, California-based company has a computer system that is designed to give drivers an early heads-up on developing traffic jams, to allow them more time to detour away from congestion, Brian Gorman, director of technology, told members of the authority’s board at their regular meeting today.

The system was tested on the 148-mile (238-kilometer) New Jersey Turnpike and the 173-mile Garden State Parkway, which stretches from Cape May to the New York state line. It predicted traffic with at least 90 percent accuracy, Gorman said. Motorists will be alerted to potential problems through electronic signage on the highways.

“We do have the ability to prevent congestion disruption,” Gorman said.

I can only imagine that the system is meant to be primarily of use in the very northern part of the state, since south of Brunswick all the exits on the Turnpike and the Garden State are a good 20 miles apart and ten minutes’ extra notice of a snarl wouldn’t be worth a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys.

On the other hand, if you are the average out-of-stater like me (and a lot of the traffic on those roads is out of state), the idea of bailing on the turnpike around Newark in order to avoid congestion would be positively terrifying and you wouldn’t be likely to do it no matter how much warning you got.

So in the end, $652K seems like a lot of dosh to be blowing on bells and whistles of minimal utility.

SNAKE! Oh, wait….SQUIRREL!

Squirrels douse themselves with rattlesnake scent as a safety measure, scientists suggest, and likely have done so for at least 18 million years.

“Recently, two squirrel species were discovered to anoint their bodies with rattlesnake scent as a means of concealing their odour from these chemosensory predators,” begins the study in the current Journal of Evolutionary Biology. It was written by a team led by Barbara Clucas of the University of Washington in Seattle.

The two ground squirrel species chew up shed snake skins and lick their fur to acquire the scent of their predators.

Yes, I should think the scent of chewed up snakeskin and squirrel slobber would deter a predator.  Puts the kybosh on my appetite at any rate.

I really dislike Tuesdays.  Far, far more than any other day of the week.  They’re just so…..characterless.

- As regular port-swillers may know, I have taken to dropping off the eldest gel at St. Rita of the Misunderstood Adolescence in the mornings.  The drop zone is managed by 5th graders (I believe), complete with those orange belts and sashes.  Not only do they direct traffic, open doors and assist kids getting their backpacks out, they also pointedly make eye contact with the driver, smile and say, “Have a great day.”  I love that.

- There is talk of the 10 year old’s class at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method going up to Noo Yawk next spring to participate in a mock U.N. assembly.  The gel is so excited at the prospect that I don’t yet have the heart to tell her what I think of the real U.N.

-  I am currently reading Hilaire Belloc’s Essays of a Catholic.  I must say that while they are both interesting and informative, I find myself starting to feel that I should see the book through more out of a sense of duty than anything else.  Belloc seems a bit too cranky-pantsed about things for my taste, self preferring something more along the lines of the big, joyous energy of a Chesterton or the cozy warmth of a Lewis.   I simply don’t know that much about Belloc’s writing.  Would there be something else of his I ought to be reading instead? (And don’t cite his Cautionary Tales for Children.)

- Dude! What are you putting in my Rainforest Crunch?  Hippy pretentions take a hit.

- The stink bug plague proceeds apace.  I must admit that it is sometimes soothing to go about knocking them on the head with a quick flick of the thumb and forefinger. (We average maybe half a dozen of them in the kitchen and library at any one time.  Apparently, some other folks get them far worse.)

- A lexicon of ancient Greek names.  Well worth a read.  The article speaks not just of ancient Greek, but also of Anglo-Saxon and other naming traditions.  And speaking of the Saxons, today is the anniversary of the landing of William the Conqueror and his Normans in England in 1066.  (The Battle of Hastings would be fought a couple weeks later.  At this point, poor old Harold Godwinson was still in the north, where he had just defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, but exhausted his army doing it.)

- Since I mentioned the other two gels, it’s only fair to brief you on the eight year old as well.  Her latest trick is to insist on getting into and out of my Jeep by climbing over the back end.  Honestly, if every there was anyone who could out-Harpo Harpo Marx, it’s this kid.

Well, that’s about it.

Would be me.

Very sleepy.

I tried to recharge myself with a couple of afternoon naps this weekend, curled up on the little sofa in the port-swiller library.  Unfortunately, every time  I dozed off I would be jerked back out of my slumbers by a series of severe foot cramps. (I have very high arches and have been a martyr to these outbursts forever.)  I’m not sure that these episodes didn’t wind up contributing to the problem rayther that alleviating it.

The name of this concerto “Die Relinge” means “the frogs.”  You’ll quickly see why.  This whimsical little piece always reminds me of cool, wet late spring evenings when the woods behind the port-swiller residence are filled with the sounds of croaking.

This YouTube features Musica Antiqua Coln with Reinhart Goebel, who are my general go-to group for All Things Telemann.  However, if you’re ever looking for a CD of this particular piece to buy, I own a recording by the New London Consort and Philip Pickett which I believe is just a leetle bit better.  (It also features a performance of Telemann’s Wassermusick, but in that case I think Reinhart and the boys did a better job.)

Garn! Discussing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with the eldest gel this morning, she having polished off his “The Devil’s Foot” for school, I mentioned that I believed he had invented a kind of mini-sextant device that could be attached to a rifle and used to calculate the angle for delivery of a dropping fire into an enemy trench.  I also mentioned that I thought he had tried to sell the British Army on using it to fight against the Boers, but couldn’t drum up any interest.

A look around the intertubes doesn’t seem to confirm my belief.  Pondering further, I wonder if I meant Kipling, instead?  Churchill, maybe?  I’m pretty sure it was one of those Edwardian literary wallahs. 

Does this tale sound familiar to any of my fellow port-swillers, or am I just losing my mind?

Recently, I have been making my way via Netflix through the old James Burke series Connections.

When this series first aired on PBS in the late 70’s, I positively adored it as only a thirteen year old geek could.  Each week, I would catch not only the original airing, which was (I  believe) on Friday night, but  the rerun on Saturday morning as well.   I was absolutely mesmerized by the stories of invention and interconnection and the blended paths of science and history.

I find on reviewing them, however, that back in the day I was so focused on the meat of the programs, I totally overlooked certain political pieties that pervade Burke’s presentation.  Modern Society a technological trap devised by ruthless Capitalists.  Europeans backwards, barbaric and exploitative.  Church little more than voodoo.  Behold the enlightenment of the Islamic Middle Ages!  That sort of thing.  Burke has to talk fast and present a tremendous amount of information in a very few words, and I find his thumbnail sketches to be heavily biased.  One suspects that he reads a lot of Eric Hobsbawm.

I don’t think I like the series quite as much now as I used to.

Bonhomme.jpg

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Flamborough Head in 1779, in which the Bonhomme Richard, under the command of John Paul Jones, defeated H.M.S. Serapis under the command of Captain Richard Pearson. Here is an account of the battle. The Serapis could both outsail and outgun the Richard.  Jones won the battle by getting close enough to lay his ship along side his opponent and then hang on like grim death. Unfortunately, it appears that Jones never actually uttered the expression of defiance now ascribed to him, although there is absolutely no doubt about the heroism of his tenacity.

Some time ago I read Evan Thomas’ biography of Jones. The impression I came away with was one of sadly wasted talent – Jones spent a great deal of the war on the beach, squabbling with various fellow officers and government officials. His action against the Serapis proved to be his one real moment to shine.

I still remember a ballad about the battle, although I don’t know much about its origins.  (It was among the selections on a record of purported Revolutionary War songs put out by National Geographic a good 35 or 40 years ago.)  It goes:

An American frigate, called Richard by name,
Mounting guns forty-four, from New York she came,
For a cruise in the channel of Old England’s fame,
With a noble commander, Paul Jones was his name.

We hadn’t sailed far when some ships we did spy,
A stout forty-four and a twenty likewise,
And forty bold shipping all laden with store,
And that convoy stood in for the old Yorkshire shore.

Then Paul Jones did speak and to his men did say,
“Let every man fight a good battle today.
We’ll take that bold convoy in the height of her pride,
Or the Richard shall flounder and sink in the tide.”

The battle rolled on until bold Pearson cried,
“Have you yet struck your colors? Then come along side!”
But so far from thinking that the battle was won,
Brave Paul Jones replied, “I have not yet begun!”

We fought them eight glasses, eight glasses so hot,
That seventy bold seamen lay dead on the spot.
The shot flew so hot that they couldn’t stand it long,
And the brave British colors came finally down.

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