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Friends of the decanter, your humble host is slipping.  Why? Because yesterday was Battle of Britain Day and ol’ Robbo failed to post about it.

Mea culpa.

By way of making it up to the history boffins amongst you, I will offer two things.

First this:  In Derek Robinson’s Piece of Cake, a novel about the RAF’s first year of WWII, he puts in one of his character’s mouth the argument that Hitler simply could not have invaded Britain because, despite the Luftwaffe’s air superiority over the Channel in 1940, the Royal Navy still would have blown an invasion armada to flinders.  Therefore, Goering went to a terror campaign (the Blitz) to bomb the Brits into submission and Churchill responded by, well, putting on a brave face regarding the RAF’s ability to fight it off (not that this in any way cheapened the heroism of teh RAF pilots and crew who took part in the defense).  And in switching from bombing the bejayzus out of the RAF’s forward infrastructure to hitting London, the Nazis made the mistake of allowing the RAF to regroup and to fulfill the part given them in Winnie’s propaganda narrative.

Second this:  I give you a long time port-swiller favorite yootoob clip:

 

Scottish-flagGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Being mighty near pure Scots himself on his father’s side, Ol’ Robbo has been watching the build up to the referendum on Scotland’s independence from Great Britain with some interest.

Frankly, I’ve thought it a bad idea from the beginning simply based on what I believe to be unsurmountable economic realities.  (Very broadly speaking, these boil down to the fact that some enormously large portion of Scotland’s population is now pure economic deadweight – on the dole, in state housing, deadbeat.  GB as a whole has enough resources to carry them, at least for the moment.  Scotland, on her own, wouldn’t.)

Now, having read this article in the Telegraph profiling a group of “Yes” voters,  I’m convinced that it’s a bad idea.  Why?  Because it’s obvious that there is no one vision of what an Independent Scotland will actually mean, but instead a jumbled collection of alternate ideas, many of them extremely contradictory to each other and some quite separated from reality.  Frankly, the thing smells like a cult movement to me.  And by now I think we all know how political cults work out.

Friends of teh decanter might argue that this is something for teh Scots to sort out for themselves and that an independent, localized debate is surely the best way to do it.  Well, if the biznay were merely an academic exercise devoid of real world consequences, I might agree.   The trouble is that it wouldn’t be, and my fear is that when people realize that they’re not, in fact, getting William Wallace riding in at the head of  a herd of rainbow-colored unicorns, things will get ugly.

The West is crumbling already.  Why speed up?

UPDATE:  Over at NRO, Andrew Stuttaford has a round up of the doings of what might be called the MacJacobins of the “Yes” side.  This is a what I mean about things getting ugly.

 

storkGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, still without cable service with which to watch his beloved Nats try to put the kybosh on the hated Braves of Atlanta, ol’ Robbo found himself pulling a rayther unusual entry out of the ol’ Netflix queue, a 2001 movie titled “Winged Migration“.

The film is a documentary, shot over three years, tracking the travels of several kinds of birds (mostly ducks, geese, cranes and storks) from their winter grounds in various parts of the world to their summah residences nearer the Poles.

Frankly, it’s beautifully done – amazingly detailed shots of tight formations of birds winging their way over breath-taking landscapes that would make Stephen Maturin swoon- and the producers have every right to proudly note at the beginning that none of this was CGI special effects, but was instead genuine film footage.  (In the “Making Of” track, we see how the producers trained the subject birds from chickhood to “imprint” on some Johnny in an ultralight, so that when they grew up they had no problem whatever in flying about with said ultralight in their midst, camera rolling.  I seem to recall reading something about this at the time.)

And yet…..and yet….well, after an hour and a half of mostly just watching birds fly around, I found myself thinking “This is it?”

You see, the film is almost nothing but said footage, accompanied by Enya-like New Age yodeling (or so I would suppose based on what a friend has told me about Enya albums).

Yes, there are a few captions of the “Species Such-and-Such migrates so many miles from its winter grounds in Whereverland to the Arctic.”  One of these referred to the “central american plains”, which caused ol’ Robbo some consternation, considering there are no plains in Central America.  It was only after a minute that he realized the caption was referring to the central United States, specifically the Platte River, which he knew to be the winter grounds of the Sandhill Crane.

Yes, there is the occasional narration ( by a Frenchman in a voice that reminded me of that NSA agent in “True Lies” who helps Der Ahnold set up Helen for her fake op with his “Do eet ducimo…Do eet verrah slowly “), but the comments are few and far between and generally of a platitudinal variety, as in “Weeth de onset of weenter, de birds must haid south, their wan objecteeve, survivail.”   

Early Sunday evenings in Robbo’s misspent yoot usually involved Marlin “I’ll stand downstream while Jim wrestles the tiger to the ground” Perkins and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom“.  Since then, he always has had an interest in good quality nature documentaries and series, and has learned a great deal from them.   So as an aficionado, I have to say that I found this film vastly lacking in substance.   Where were the maps?  Where was the narration about feeding and mating habits?  About predators?  About the damned geographical and meteorological logistics of those jaw-dropingly long flight patterns?   (Aaaand, not to be pedantic, but the film was broad to the point of sloppiness about some of its basic premises.  First, not all birds migrate.  Second, even among species that do – for example, the Canadian Goose and American Bald Eagle cited in the movie – only a given percentage of the population migrates, while others stay year-round in certain locations.)  It seems to me that this movie was long on the surface but very, very short on the depth and complexity of Nature’s wonder.   And for that, despite the whiz-bang cinematography, it’s really not all that good.

Then again, the film was released in 2001 in the last days of the post-Cold War False Peace.  Among the obligatory shots of the birds interacting with Man (usually to the former’s detriment), we get a clip of a group of geese winging their way along the East River in Manhattan, the Twin Towers looming up on their right.  I’m really not trying to make a direct connection between a lack of quality theatrical presentation of ornithological information and the Collapse of the West, but…..you know?

Anyhoo, two glasses of port out of five.

 

peasant2

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

After sorting out the gels’ various traffic-control homework issues (which, I suspect, are going to be a major theme this school year), Ol’ Robbo found himself listening this evening to the Monty Python album “Matching Tie & Handkerchief“, into which I have not dipped for several years now.

One of the tracks on this album that, so far as I know, was never replicated on teevee or in the movies was the skit about the Background to History that featured the Open Field Farming songs, and its follow-on bit about the fellah at the record store who wishes to hear a track from “The Ronettes Sing Medieval Agrarian History“.

This little throwaway has long made Robbo laugh and laugh, not only because of its absurdity but also because of its erudition.  This is what I’ve always loved most about the Pythons, that they were able to come up with, for lack of a better description, educated crass humor.  (I believe Terry Jones is the medievalist amongst them, but I know that most of the others had particular fields of learning on which to draw.)

Did I ever mention the Chaucer class I took in college? Wonderful stuff taught wonderfully by a wonderful professor who was not the slightest bit interested in post-modern critical-theory deconstruction of the texts, but instead was passionately concerned to get us young idjits to appreciate them, in their style and content, for what they actually were.  (Yes, back in the day such profs could be found even at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown.  I also had this prof for several Tudor and Stuart lit courses.  His readings of Prospero from “The Tempest” were pure magic.  Betcher you couldn’t find his ilk there now.)

Conversely, my Real Property course in law school, which started with a very thorough examination of feudal Norman land rights regarding, among other things,  transfer and inheritance,  was taught by a card-carrying Marxist who evidently thought the whole system contemptible.

Somehow, when I revisit this particular Python sketch, both of those contrary memories come back to me.  And perhaps, in a weird way, they increase my appreciation of the humor of the thing.

 

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  Via the Puppy-Blender, ol’ Robbo found himself reading this fascinating article today:  The Kennewick Man Finally Freed To Share His Secrets.

Remember Kennewick Man?  He was a 9000 year old skeleton that turned up on the banks of the Columbia River during the Bubba Clinton years.  When the remains were first discovered, they produced a good deal of consternation among forensic anthropologists because he didn’t seem to look anything like the usual ancestral “Native” American.  The Army Corp of Engineers and several local tribes sought to get him put right back in the ground P.D.Q. without further study, but the scientists who got their mitts on him pushed back.

The kerfluffle, about which I read a couple articles in the WSJ at the time,  sank beneath the surface after a short while and I had more or less forgot about it myself, but it seems that the scientists actually won.  And get this:  Kennewick Man looked different because he was different:

As work progressed, a portrait of Kennewick Man emerged. He does not belong to any living human population. Who, then, are his closest living relatives? Judging from the shape of his skull and bones, his closest living relatives appear to be the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, a remote archipelago 420 miles southeast of New Zealand, as well as the mysterious Ainu people of Japan.

“Just think of Polynesians,” said [anthropologist Douglas] Owsley, [of the Smithsonian Institution].

Not that Kennewick Man himself was Polynesian. This is not Kon-Tiki in reverse; humans had not reached the Pacific Islands in his time period. Rather, he was descended from the same group of people who would later spread out over the Pacific and give rise to modern-day Polynesians. These people were maritime hunter-gatherers of the north Pacific coast; among them were the ancient Jōmon, the original inhabitants of the Japanese Islands. The present-day Ainu people of Japan are thought to be descendants of the Jōmon. Nineteenth-century photographs of the Ainu show individuals with light skin, heavy beards and sometimes light-colored eyes.

Jōmon culture first arose in Japan at least 12,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 16,000 years ago, when the landmasses were still connected to the mainland. These seafarers built boats out of sewn planks of wood. Outstanding mariners and deep-water fishermen, they were among the first people to make fired pottery.

The discovery of Kennewick Man adds a major piece of evidence to an alternative view of the peopling of North America. It, along with other evidence, suggests that the Jōmon or related peoples were the original settlers of the New World. If correct, the conclusion upends the traditional view that the first Americans came through central Asia and walked across the Bering Land Bridge and down through an ice-free corridor into North America.

Sometime around 15,000 years ago, the new theory goes, coastal Asian groups began working their way along the shoreline of ancient Beringia—the sea was much lower then—from Japan and Kamchatka Peninsula to Alaska and beyond. This is not as crazy a journey as it sounds. As long as the voyagers were hugging the coast, they would have plenty of fresh water and food. Cold-climate coasts furnish a variety of animals, from seals and birds to fish and shellfish, as well as driftwood, to make fires. The thousands of islands and their inlets would have provided security and shelter. To show that such a sea journey was possible, in 1999 and 2000 an American named Jon Turk paddled a kayak from Japan to Alaska following the route of the presumed Jōmon migration. Anthropologists have nicknamed this route the “Kelp Highway.”

“I believe these Asian coastal migrations were the first,” said Owsley. “Then you’ve got a later wave of the people who give rise to Indians as we know them today.”

He goes on to theorize that these early migrants, never large in number, were possibly swamped by the later, larger waves of immigrants coming over the Bering Land Bridge.

How cool is that?

We have no problem with theorizing about waves of emigration into Europe and Asia out of Africa, or even with speculation about the relations between Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal.  Why should early human migration into the Americas be any less mosaic?

Read the whole thing for a discussion of teh research and a history of the attempts of the Powers That Be to repress it.  As you might imagine, it’s a story of politicks poisoning science.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Rain and fog all day today allowed ol’ Robbo to duck his usual Saturday task of laboring in the demesne with a clear conscience, that and the detritus of basement reconstruction scattered over so much of it.  So instead, I spent the day lounging in the hammock and rereading a couple of old favorites.

Uncle FredOne was P.G. Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred In The Springtime, which I believe to be the first full-length novel (although he had appeared in at least one earlier short story) concerning the exploits of Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton, Fifth Earl of Ickenham who, although mature in years, continues to maintain the outlook “of a slightly inebriate undergraduate”.  The book was published in 1938 and I have often argued that Plum was at the very top of his form in the 30’s and early 40’s.  Not only is this one from that period, but so are such standouts as Hot Water, Heavy Weather, The Code of teh Woosters (the best Bertie and Jeeves story, IMHO) and Money In The Bank.

BelisariusThe other was Robert Graves’ Count Belisarius, which tells the story of the famous Byzantine general who won back great chunks of the Roman Empire under Justinian the Great, only to be blinded and beggared at the end of his life.  It’s very well written and the campaigns are quite exciting, but the court intrigue gets to be a bit much and Graves also seems to take a grim pleasure in sneering at Christianity as it struggles to sort out orthodoxy from the various heresies that plagued the age, suggesting that most of the True Believers involved were either hypocrites or lunatics or both.  (Graves, in many of his writings, was very keen on the notion that Christianity stole many of its elements and symbols from older and somehow more “authentic” pagan worship, particularly that of an all-encompassing three-in-one White Goddess native to the Eastern Mediterranean.)

So there was that.

On a different note, because our basement is still all ahoo, we still don’t have cable in the house.  This has been causing some consternation on the part of the Middle Gel because this evening is the premiere episode of the newest incarnation of the Doctor and the gel has this year become an almost rabid Whovian.   However, being the resourceful type that she is, she solved this problem by diplomatically getting herself and Mrs. Robbo invited to a friend’s house for pizza and the big screening.  (It was diplomatic because, prior to the gel working her Big Magic, I don’t believe the friend was even aware of being a Dr. Who fan.  On the other hand, teh gel has been showing Mrs. R reruns in an effort to, ah, indoctrinate her.  I don’t know how successful this effort has been.)

Me, since I’ve been being cultured and stuff all day, I think I’m just going to hold the fort here at Port Swiller Manor and probably indulge in some “Arrested Development” reruns.

 

 

 

 

 

Well, well!  It looks like there’s a new meme in this little corner of the innertoobz, as both Zoopraxiscopean Don and GorT have alighted on a Popular Mechanics article about the 50 “greatest” Sci-Fi teevee shows.  As they did, I will offer my two cents on those shows about which I have any thoughts and or memories:

49.  “Land of the Lost” – Of course I watched this as a kid.  Grumpy the T-Rex gave me the willies.  After a while I lost interest because the story arc about the Sleestax just kept getting weirder and weirder and to have less and less to do with, you know, dinosaurs. (I seem to recall an animated series about a family that gets swept into a dinosaur-infested valley that ran about the same time as well.  Can’t recall its name.)

48.  “Space: 1999″ – I recall watching it only because it was on locally before “Star Trek: TOS”.  I didn’t think it bad, but it never took root in the Robbo braim.

47.  “The Six-Million Dollar Man” – Classic stuff.  When one goes into slow motion and starts saying, “NUH,nuh,nuh,nuh, nuh…..”, everybody of teh right age will know exactly why.  I also had the Steve Austin doll  action figure, complete with bionic eye.

45.  “Knight Rider” – Ooh, watch out for that mean-looking truck, Michael!

36.  “Buck Rodgers In The 25th Century” – Col. Deering.  Mmmmm…..Col. Deering.  (One of my first blog experiences was a bitter debate over the relative merits of Wilma Deering and Princess Ardala.)

32.  “Star Trek: Voyager” – A lot of Trekkies claim this was the worst of all the series.  I’m not really sure why, as it was usually entertaining/exciting enough when I dropped in.  Plus, three words:  Seven Of Nine.

31.  “Lost In Space” – I think it was from this series that I first learned what “camp” means in the entertainment context.  And to this day, I still sometimes flail my arms about chanting, “Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!”  Oh, and young “Johnny” Williams stole quotes straight out of Mussorsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” for some of the incidental musick.

30.  “Battlestar Galactica” (1978-1979) – I loved this show and everything about it (except Boxy and the Daggitt).  Required viewing for me.  I bought and built models of a Colonial Viper and a Cylon ship.  I even bought the soundtrack album and played it over and over again.  That’s how into it I was.

29.  “Futurama” – Another favorite.  My eldest gel in particular cannot understand how something so well done can continue to get cancelled for lack of audience ratings.  In this, she is getting her first lesson in the difference between what is good quality and what is merely popular.

13.  “V” (1983-1985) - Like “Battlestar Galactica”, another Humanity Overcoming Attempts At Oppression story, only this time set on Earth.  I don’t remember much anymore, but liked it a lot at the time, perhaps in part because of the cat-fighting alien leader chicks.  (Robbo is really a pretty simple fellah when it comes down to it.)

11.  “Firefly” – I came to this late (long after it had been cancelled), but liked it enough to buy the DVD box set and run through it every couple of months or so.  I thought the series superior to the movie (“Serenity”).

6.  “Star Trek: TOS” – One of the major influences on my misspent yoot.  I’d say that a lot of the “messaging” in TOS probably went rocketing right over my young head, as I was more in love just with the concept of the Enterprise traveling across the heavens.  Oh, and let me be clear about something here:  There is only one James Tiberius Kirk.  When I become emperor of the world, “reboots” will constitute a flogging offense.

3.  “Star Trek: NG” – I will give the series credit.  After its first few seasons going over the top trying to establish its liberal creds, it eventually calmed down and got somewhat better.  (It remained rooted in progressivist utopian fantasy, of course, but stopped beating teh drum so damned hard.)  You can follow Troi’s costume as a kind of barometer of this transformation.  In the early shows, she sported that home-spun hippy looking body suit.  Eventually, they put her back in a regulation uniform (and focused less on what she was “sensing” of everybody’s “feelings”).  Of the movies, I think “First Contact” was probably the best.

1.  “Dr. Who” – Well, yes.  I was a pretty big Tom Baker fan back in the day, but haven’t paid any attention in years.  Meanwhile, teh Middle Gel has become an outright fanatic.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, the renovation of the flooded basement at Port Swiller Manor has now achieved official “Port-o-John on the Driveway” status, which in an odd way makes ol’ Robbo feel like a grown-up.

They’ve taken out all the flooring and drywall now, plus clipped off the bottom part of the framing (which, we found, was built with non-pressure treated wood by our old handyman) and dug a hole in teh floor for the sump pump.  They’ve also dug a trench outside parts of the house to come at the non-exposed exterior walls in order to repair them.  With a certain amount of imagination,  it looks something like a moat.  At least it would work as a serviceable defense against the Underpants Gnomes.

Hopefully, they’ll be ready to start actually building things shortly.

BosworthAnd speaking of medieval military practices, I note that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field, fought this day in 1485.  I must say that for all I know of the battle’s political importance, I am almost completely ignorant of its actual tactical unfolding.  If memory serves, the recent exhumation and autopsy of Richard III revealed that he had died of blunt trauma to the skull and also suffered several other wounds, suggesting that he was in the thick of the fighting as a good king ought to have been in those days.  (C.S. Lewis, in The Horse and His Boy, has one of his characters remark that the King should be first in the charge and last in the retreat.)  Anybody know any good sources on this battle in particular and/or on 15th Century warfare in general?

By the way, the word “medieval” nowadays of course has negative connotations, suggesting that which is ignorant, crude, superstitious and cruel.  I’m increasingly of the opinion championed by Lewis and others that the High Middle Ages were far, far better times than now commonly supposed in terms of sophistication of thought, richness of life and spiritual balance and health, and that the negative slur comes from those Enlightenment Humanists and their modern spawn who thought and think they could build an earthly Paradise based on Reason only.

Take a good, hard, honest look at the state of Western Civilization and tell me there’s not something to this.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Amidst the stories of spreading domestic and international collapse that seem to be saturating the nooz these days, trust ol’ Robbo to come up with some little bits of historickal trivia to go along with the port and Stilton here.  (I didn’t coin my byline for nothing, after all.)  Oddly, two items that caught the Port-Swiller eye today both came from the Smithsonian.

Richard IIIThe first one will be especially appreciated by our Maximum Leader.  According to recent forensic pathology, Richard III drank like a fish and indulged in exotic meals:

After he became king, the scientists found, his diet changed significantly. Now he was eating freshwater fish and wild birds. If Richard III’s banquets were anything like other medieval feasts researchers know about, Phys.org adds, then those festivities most likely included wild birds such as swans, cranes, herons and egrets.

Hey, why not.  “It’s good to be da king!” **

Somewhere or other I recently saw a headline asking why Richard has been so vilified in art and history (not that anybody these days really even knows who the hell he was, of course).  Well, I think Maxy will agree with me that it was all a matter of Renaissance politicks and propaganda.  Our primary picture of Richard – the last of the Plantagenets, the only legitimate English Royal family – comes, of course, from the pen of ol’ Will Shakespeare.  Will was writing during the reign of Elizabeth I, the grand-daughter of the fellah who overthrew Richard, Henry Tudor.  The legal grounds for Henry’s actions were, shall we say, a tad shaky.  So ol’ Will, who was no fool, turned Richard into the literal Embodiment of Eeeeeevil in order to keep on the good side of the Tudors.

Yes, I am gradually coming around to the Richard III Society view of things.

The second was an announcement of a new display about Grant and Lee down the National Portrait Gallery which I very much wish to see.  Among other art and artifacts, the NPS apparently has got hold of Winslow Homer’s painting, “Skirmish in the Wilderness”, which illustrates the confusion and claustrophobia of the first great clash between Grant and Lee in 1864:

Winslow Homer, "Skirmish in the Wilderness", 1864

Winslow Homer, “Skirmish in the Wilderness”, 1864

I’ve only ever seen this reproduced in various books (with varying levels of detail and lighting) and look forward to viewing the real thing.

grantLeeAnyhoo, as a teaser, the article asks the question:  Which General was Better, Grant or Lee?

The more I think about it, the more useless this question strikes me, simply because it’s an apples and oranges comparison.  Yes, Grant beat Lee, so you could go by that, but there are such vast differences in their respective assets, authorities, support, strategic and tactical goals, and, for want of a better way of putting it, their fortunes of war, that I simply can’t come up with an honest head-to-head comparison of their talents and abilities.  After all, it’s not as if they were standing side by side on a free-throw line.

On the other hand, if you judge the question not by its substantive merits but by its goal – to attract attention – it is far from useless.  After all, it’s snagged at least one viewer for the exhibit……

 

** Spot the quote.

GRATUITOUS OFF-DAY UPDATE:

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I’ve got nothing new tonight, or at least nothing coherent.  So I will instead follow up on the excellent Richard III discussion here by reposting an old favorite which crosses many, many streams.  Enjoy!

 

N.C. Wyeth, "One More Step, Mr. Hands" - Illustration for Treasure Island.

N.C. Wyeth, “One More Step, Mr. Hands” – Illustration for Treasure Island.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Recently, ol’ Robbo found himself with a hankering for some straight-from-the-shoulder adventure books.  To this end, he absolutely devoured P.C. Wren’s French Foreign Legion trilogy, Beau Geste, Beau Sabreur and Beau Ideal (together with numerous short stories relating to the Family Geste), as well as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

I admit that in my nearly fifty years on this earth I had read none of these books before this current summah.  And yes, I denounce myself.

What fun! What absolute fun!  On the other hand, what an almost pathetic sense of nostalgia for a former time, for an era in which Western Civilization – and specifically, Anglo-Saxon Western Civilization – was unapologetically muscular and self-confident.  Ironical, ain’t it, that I’m just now coming to them in the last embers of said civilization.  Rayther like a mid-5th Century Roman stumbling across the works of Virgil and Horace and Livy, I suppose.

Anyhoo,  what can one do but play the hand one is dealt?  I am indulging myself further with Stevenson’s Kidnapped and its sequel, Catriona, and would be delighted with any other suggestions for similar works that any friends of the decanter may care to offer.  (I should note that any recommendations of the works of James Fenimore Cooper will be met with cold but polite silence.)

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