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Whilst watching “Air Disasters” on the Smithsonian Channel this evening (okay, while generally decrying teevee I admit that I’m a sucker for this show), ol’ Robbo saw an ad for the upcoming movie The Theory of Everything, which purports to look at “the relationship between the famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.” The clips shown were from the early days before Hawking was confined to his signature wheelchair and electronic voice-box and seemed to be of the usual infatuation/disillusionment/hate/love cycle variety, with a heavy side of Scientist-Geek thrown in.
“Hmmmm,” I said to myself. “Without looking it up, didn’t Mr. Hawking, within the past few years, chuck the Missus in favor of his nurse? That would rayther put a damper on any ‘message’ about his earlier courtship of Mrs. H, wouldn’t it? Plus, from all that I’ve gleaned, the fellah is something of a first-class shite to deal with.”
Well, I still haven’t looked it up. Maybe (indeed, hopefully) I’m wrong in my recollection. If so, apologies all around.
Nonetheless, I am no fan of Mr. Hawking and have no intention of seeing this flick. Why? Because he has fallen into the trap of believing that because he has (very real) insights into the physical mechanics of the Universe, he is thereby qualified to make theological pronouncements about it (to wit, essentially, asserting that there is no such thing as an originating God), and has made something of a media whore out of himself doing so.
The publicity game aside, let me put it in simple terms: Science, meaning the quantifiable observations of the physical world around us, can at best answer questions associated with the What and the How of our Universe. It cannot answer questions regarding the Why of said Universe, nor can it answer any question regarding either that which is beyond it or the relationship between it and that which is beyond.
One of the many myths about Holy Mother Church is that she hates and condemns Science. This is wrong. (Indeed, the oldest functioning astronomical telescope in the world is, I believe, owned by the Vatican.) What she actually condemns is scientists who use their observations/discoveries of the physical world as a basis for their own amateur theological pronouncements. And if there is one thing ol’ Robbo has come to despise in his religious pilgrimage over the years, it’s amateur theology.
Anyhoo, as much as I might admire Mr. Hawking for overcoming the tremendous physical hurdles thrown in his path and for his contributions to actual science, I am very, very leery of this latest effort to bolster his pop icon status.
UPDATE: Okay, I peeked into Mr. H’s bio. It’s more screwed up than I recalled. Message stands.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
No, no storm here as such, but we are seeing our first really significant cold snap of the season – the high tomorrow in the Port Swiller neighborhood isn’t supposed to get very much north of the freezing mark.
I will say this in Cold Miser’s favor: His advent has the same effect on both the mosquitoes and the tourons, in that it causes them to vanish. That’s good for a fifteen to twenty minute savings on my evening commute time. (Yes, they – the tourons – reappear briefly in a Christmas-time hatch, but vanish again right after New Year’s.) I’ll take it.
UPDATE: Speaking of Cold Miser, ol’ Robbo spent this evening watching Into the White, a recent flick recommended to him by somebody or other – either here or over on FB. It tells the story of two crews of airmen – one of them Luftwaffe, the other RAF – shot down over the wilds of Norway in 1940 and, by a trick of fate, forced to come together in order to survive.
Weeeeel…..I hate to say it, but the movie rayther disappointed me. The set up, especially teh visuals, was superb even though I kept expecting Han Solo to ride up on a tauntaun. But as the plot developed, my Hallmark Moment “bonding” sensors started buzzing something fierce, and I’m afraid I lost sympathy with the flick, as the characters settled into the same ol’ same ‘ol – They fought, they laughed, they cried, they bonded.
UPDATE DEUX: I should have mentioned that this flick was a Norwegian production, so the credits were in (what?) Norse with English subtitles. I half-expected said subtitles to suddenly start talking about visiting the lovely fjords and how their sister was bitten by a moose.
Looking back on life so far, I would say that one of the few regrets I have is that I never served in the military. I registered for the draft, of course, but by then (’80 or ’82) it had long since been suspended (do they still require registration anymore?) and, at the time, the idea of volunteering simply never occurred to me. Might have done me a power of good between high school and college.
It seems to me that there’s something to be said for a couple years’ compulsory service. OTOH, it’s my understanding that the military itself really doesn’t want this, as it prefers not to be saddled with deadweight absent some pressing need for mass mobilization.
Anyhoo, when I come to think about it, rayther a lot of the Family Robbo have been in uniform at one time or another.
The Old Gentleman did his four years in the Army Medical Corp. (I’ve still got his old field jacket somewhere.) I don’t think he contributed much directly to fighting the Cong, but his posting to Fort Sam Houston was directly responsible for my misspent yoot in South Texas.
The Mothe’s brother was the rear-seater in a Navy fighter-bomber in Korea. They blew up a Nork ammo train one time. On the other hand, he was also shot down once (he was wounded bailing out).
A great uncle on the Old Gentleman’s side was a Commander in Naval Intelligence in WWII. Don’t know if he spent any time at sea, but he wound up at the Pentagon and later served in the Ike administration. I also recently found out that I am related to a fighter ace who flew in the European theatre (P-51’s, I believe). Mrs. Robbo’s grandfather also flew a B-24 there, dropping supplies to the Resistance behind German lines.
So far as I know, nobody in my family participated directly in WWI.
As I’ve mentioned here before, my great-great grandfather was a Union artillery officer who fought in the Atlanta Campaign.
Finally, although I don’t have the information directly in front of me, I know of at least three ancestors from the Revolutionary War – one was in the Continental Army, one in a state militia and one had horses commandeered for military service.
So here’s a glass to all of them and to all others who have served. Thank you!
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
I draw your attention to a very good article by Jonah Goldberg from yesterday on the transformation of the idea of “integrity” from the pursuit of Objective Good to the pursuit of Whatever Floats Yer Boat. Money graff:
Such saccharine codswallop overturns millennia of moral teaching. It takes the idea that we must apply reason to nature and our consciences in order to discover what is moral and replaces it with the idea that if it feels right, just do it, baby. Which, by the by, is exactly how Lex Luthor sees the world. Übermenschy passion is now everyone’s lodestar. As Reese Witherspoon says in Legally Blonde, “On our very first day at Harvard, a very wise professor quoted Aristotle: ‘The law is reason free from passion.’ Well, no offense to Aristotle, but in my three years at Harvard I have come to find that passion is a key ingredient to the study and practice of law — and of life.” Well, that solves that. Nietzsche-Witherspoon 1, Aristotle 0.
Read the whole thing, as they say.
The G-Man talks a lot about Nietzsche, and undoubtedly the latter is one of the main culprits (along with Freud) to provide ersatz intellectual cover for this attitude, but the Storm Troopers who actually took it out of the faculty lounges and imposed it on the culture at large in practical form were the goddam Baby Boomers, who for the last forty years have held the high ground in academia, politicks and popular media. As a matter of fact, the “Newseum” in Dee Cee currently is running a self-congradulatory exhibition of portraits entitled “The Boomer List”, consisting of nineteen photos of prominent Boomers, one from each year of the era. With the exception of 1959’s Ronnie Lott, who so far as I know is a blameless and decent man who was an excellent football player, the lot of them fill me with contempt. (Yes, yes, I know that some of you are of that generation – I only missed it by less than a month myself. But I’m guessing that most friends of the decanter constitute the exception to the rule.)
When I look about me at the level of rot and debasement to which these people have brought us, all in pursuit of their own selfish, hedonistic ends, I begin to twitch and foam at the mouth. (It’s everywhere, but Goldberg illustrates his point primarily through cable teevee series. He mentions “Dexter”, the gratuitous slasher show about a homicidal maniac who’s actually okay because, get this, he only kills other homicidal maniacs, do you see? Mrs. Robbo started watching that series early on, but after a few episodes I asked her – as a personal favor to me – to stop. She did.)
See, this is the thing: If these people acted the way they do in an isolation chamber, I’d be much more inclined simply to dismiss them. Perhaps sorrowfully, if I thought about it, but still – I’d probably chuckle in the same way that I do while perusing The Darwin Awards. However, it’s the effect they have had and are having on the world in which my children and their children will have to live that so enrages me. (I have taken to using the adjective “soul-destroying” recently to describe things and ideas I want them to stay away from. List seems to be getting longer all the time.) Furthermore, not only are teh gels finding and having to deal with the fact that the traditional morality they’ve been taught at home all these years doesn’t seem to jibe with what they find on the Outside, where they are considered weirdos or even Haters, there’s also the fact that this Übermenschy worldview, when put in practice, simply is unsustainable as a whole over more than a few years. Here’s some more from Jonah:
How’s this new morality going to work out for us all? I’m reminded of the time when an entrepreneur announced he was going to release a new line of beer laced with Viagra. Some wag immediately quipped, “What could possibly go wrong?” Which is pretty much where we are today. It’s impossible to predict what Integrity 2.0 will yield — because no society in the history of Western civilization has so energetically and deliberately torn down its classical ideal and replaced it with do-it-yourself morality. But a betting man would probably wager that this won’t end well.
I suspect that before long we’ll be pining for the good old days, when, no matter how often people failed to uphold the standards of integrity, those standards actually meant something.
Yep. God help us all.
And nicely apropos, I just became aware of a new book by one of my favorite authors, John Zmirak (along with Jason Scott Jones) entitled The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom and a Culture of Life. Sayeth the ad copy:
In The Race to Save Our Century, human rights activist Jason Jones and political/economic scholar John Zmirak, combine to issue a stark warning to the West, and to call on readers to embrace and promote five core principles of a Culture of Life: . The innate dignity of every human person, regardless of race, age, or handicap. . The existence of a transcendent moral order, by which we judge the justice of all laws and policies. The need for a humane economy that embraces freedom in a context of social responsibility. . The crucial importance of decentralized, responsive government that preserves civil society and freedom. . The need for solidarity, for a sense of fellow feeling and common obligation toward each and every member of the human race.
I’ve just now ordered a copy from the devil’s website and will let you know what I think of it.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
For those two or three of you who occasionally forgather round the decanter, ol’ Robbo will be away for the bulk of the coming week, as he must fly out at the crack of dawn tomorrow on biznay for Vegas. (Vegas, beyotches!)
Actually, there’s a certain irony in this. Ol’ Robbo is hardly a Puritan, but the fact of the matter is that the sorts of vice readily on offer out there really have no appeal to him, and without temptation there is no virtue in avoidance. Indeed, thinking it out I realized that the greatest sin I face in “Sin City” is that of Pride, looking down on the cretins around me engaged in all manner of naughtiness and thinking myself better than them.
Tricky thing, Christian morality. If the devil can’t hit you on the right, don’t be surprised if he tries a Stonewall Jackson-like flank march to hit you on the left.
Anyhoo, this is only my second trip to Vegas and I hope it is considerably better than my first. That occurred 20-odd years ago and was a total disaster: I was booked in at the last minute to speak at a bar conference and, in the age before the Internet, found myself allotted a hotel waaay off the Strip, the very name of which shocked my cabbie when I emerged from teh airport. He advised me to be in before dark and to keep my door locked at all times. (Then again, he also advised that if I wanted, erm, “company”, that I should dial up one of the escort services, as the street talent all had STD’s and would lift my wallet. So there’s that.)
I spent virtually all my off-duty time barricaded in my room, reading Patrick O’Brian’s The Mauritius Command. To this day, whenever I read it, I still have associations with the sunsets across the desert hills that I could see from my room back then.
So. Because I’ll be away from the decanter for a few days and because I’ve been promising it for so long, I leave you with some pics taken this evening of the Great Basement Restoration about which I have been gassing for the past couple months. Two things to note off the bat: First, all pics courtesy of the Middle Gel, who knows far more about the tech side of this sort of thing than I do. Second, when Mrs. R saw what we were up to, she asked me to emphasize that we really haven’t got anything like the full compliment of books, doodads, pictures and whatnot in yet. So what you’re seeing really is the bare bones.
So, with that, first I give you the “main” room:
This is looking from the bottom of the stairs toward the French doors on to the patio. The red thing on the sofa in front is the teevee waiting to be rehung on the wall out of view to the right. I don’t have before and after pics, so I will just tell you that the biggest difference here is the fact that this room, pre-flood, featured a grey carpet.
Second, I give you the “addition”:
This pic was taken from the same position as the last, only swung around over the left shoulder. All of this, pre-flood, was cinderblock and exposed ceiling beams. (Indeed, it was the breach of the original wall on the left -which is underground – which lead to the flood in the first place.) And although it was nominally a “workshop”, it actually functioned as a junkroom. The bathroom at the end contains, to the right, a new shower and potty. The closet on the right in the pic contains access to the sump pump and shelving for storage.
Third, I give you the “study”:
In his earliest Utopian plans, this was Robbo’s Man Cave. It’s not that much different than it was pre-flood, except there now is a door into the new bathroom covered up here by the (empty) bookcase on the left. The desk where the computer on which Robbo usually submits his bloggy offerings is to the right in this pic. The laundry basket you can see contains a large chunk of Robbo’s CD collection, which he is hesitant to start repatriating to the shelves in teh background until the contractor can explain (and fix) the lack of power in teh outlets immediately behind them that renders Robbo’s stereo defunct.
Oh, you will note the funky ceiling. Port Swiller Manor was built some 40+ years ago without a finished basement but with the option to finish it. Evidently, this option did not extend to excavating deep enough into the hillside to allow for uniform basement ceilings high enough to enclose the plumbing from the floor above. When we came to finishing this room, we decided to box in all the various pipes and add molding as and where we could. The effect is quirky, I’ll grant you, but I think it’s pretty nice, too.
Oh, and because teh Gel was shooting things, I give you kittehs:
Main room from the doors to the study. That’s Fiona in front and Ginger to the rear.
So there you are.
I’ll be back, God willing, on Halloween. In the meantime, help yourselves to the port. The walnuts are on the table and the Stilton stands on the sideboard.
* Spot the reference. And I’d be very interested in commentary on the source from which it comes, because I have very mixed feelings about it.
Well, how do I put this subtly? No.
I vaguely recall reading something about this theory a couple years ago. Although it got laughed at, it seems to have raised its head once again.
At least according to the article, the only “proof” that Anna Magdalena Bach, a known copiest and musically intelligent herself, is that (get this) some of Bach’s manuscripts appear in her hand and at certain points she seems to have fiddled with them a bit.
Iron. Clad. Case.
But of course, in the world of modern academics, which thrives on adolescent-level emotion, sensationalism and identity-driven politicks, inconveniences such as the need for objectivity and lack of proof simply get tossed aside.
Then there is the “impact” of this supposed revelation:
[Sally] Beamish [a British composer who will be presenting a documentary on this “discovery” in the near future] said the theory raised important questions about female composers, and had huge implications that could “transform” the confidence of young women hoping to make it today.
“What I found fascinating is the questions it raises about the assumptions we make: that music is always written by one person and all the great masters were male by definition,” she said.
I simply cannot conceive how wretched it must be to have a mind that occupies itself with such hobgoblins. Is Mizz Beamish really so insecure that she can’t contemplate the transcendence of musick by, for example, Bach and Mozart without worrying about such “assumptions”? Can she not appreciate said musick for what it is in itself without raising such questions?
Cor lumme, stone the crows.
And as for “huge implications”, as regular friends of the decanter will know, teh Middle Gel is a young woman who has very real aspirations to “make it” in the musick business some day. I can promise Mizz Beamish that teh gel has no need of such half-penny sociological twaddle in order to achieve the confidence that she has. Instead, she’s got to where she is through talent, dedication and hard work.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo has duly noted all day that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, one of the most decisive engagements of the Napoleonic Wars. Obligatory illustration:
I’ve not much to say this year except to urge my fellow port swillers to raise your glasses to Lord Nelson and the stout British Tars who believed in him. Three times three and no heel taps, Ladies and Gentlemen!
And for those of you of a somewhat more pious bent, I give you Papa Haydn’s “Nelson Mass“:
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Pray allow ol’ Robbo to draw the attention of all you Revolutionary War geeks out there to the fact that on this date in 1777, British General Burgoyne surrendered to American General Gates after the Battle of Saratoga, and on this same date in 1781 Lord Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at teh Siege of Yorktown.
I don’t have much specifically to say about either fight, really. I just like the coincidence. Plus, I’m a fan of the works of John Trumbull and like having an excuse for putting up a couple of them.
Oh, and just to add a bit more, it is said that at Yorktown the Brit fifers played a tune called “The World Turned Upside Down” to show what they thought of the biznay. Here’s a rendition snapped up more or less at random:
When ol’ Robbo was a lad, his grandmother gave him a collection of Revolutionary War songs put out by, I think, National Geographic. (I still sing a few of them in the shower.) One was a more folksy version of TWTUD (in point of fact, it was a different tune altogether from this) and had lyrics that went, IIRC:
“If buttercups buzzed after the bees/If boats were on land and churches on seas/If ponies road men and the grass ate the cows/If cats should be chased into holes by the mouz/If mammas sold their babies to gypsies for half a crown/If summer were spring, t’other way round/Then all the world would be upside down.”
I know nothing about these lyrics except they were what the man sang on the record.
*Verified by the CDC.
I noted this morning the Puppy-Blender’s recommendation of Samuel Eliot Morrison’s outstanding Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. Indeed, I believe it was his recommendation of this book a year or two ago that prompted me to buy and read it. You should, too.
This afternoon, while she was driving me up to the store, teh Eldest Gel asked me why so many people seem to treat Columbus Day as a Bad Thing. “Because they’re uneducated, preening morons,” I cheerfully replied.
What else is there to say? Ol’ Robbo is sick and tired of the idiocy.
(Actually, I did say a bit more, explaining to her the myth of the Noble Savage and the corrosive effect its false sentimentalization has on historickal clarity. I think she got it.)
By the bye, I have a map of the United States in my office (on which I mark cities to which I’ve travelled for biznay with pins). Way down in the lower right corner sits the island of San Salvador, where Columbus first landed. I always feel a little bit of an historickal shiver when I look at it and contemplate his fleet coming in from off the edge of the map.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well, on further reflection ol’ Robbo doesn’t have much to say about his beloved Nats’ elimination in teh first round of the playoffs. He could point out that each of our three losses to the Giants was by a single run and that two of them arguably were the direct result of rookie manager pitching decision mistakes (the first one questionable, the second one insane). He also could point out that the Nats had the best National League record during the regular season, and could argue that a team’s results over 162 games are far more demonstrative of its quality than said team’s results over any four games. But nobody would listen. All anybody cares about post-season (and, arguably, for any given season) is who advances and who goes home. At this point? I really don’t even care anymore, but am thinking ahead to what is likely to happen over the off-season and into next spring. (My prediction? Not much. LaRoche is likely done at 1st so that we can bring Ryan Zimmerman back into the starting lineup, Soriano is gone, but most of the rest of the team stays, I think, pretty much as it is. Oh, and I’m calling it Right Now: We win next year.)
Regular friends of the decanter will tolerate ol’ Robbo going through the math here because they understand that this is only the second post-season venture in his nearly 50 years in which he’s had a genuine vested interest. (I grew up in a non-baseball town and could never consider myself more than an interested sympathizer for any team until the Nats came to Dee Cee in ’05. How lucky are the Gels, by the bye, that they get to experience all of this in their yoot.) I must say that I find the experience…….bittersweet.
Anyhoo, it’s over and done and I now can turn my attention to other things, such as the fact that the Great Post-Flood Port Swiller Manor Basement Renovation of 2014 is almost complete! (A mere two months after the original disaster, but who’s counting?) Flooring (Pergo or its equivalent) went in yesterday, baseboards were tacked on today and now pretty much all that’s left is the bathroom fixtures and some wiring. In fact, the Former Llama Military Correspondent and his lovely family are coming in this weekend for an overnight stay and I had been fretting the past week or so about where on earth we were going to put them all. Thanks to this week’s work, the basement is now at least habitable. This gives ol’ Robbo a happy.
If you’d like me to post pics of the finished product, let me know. (I’ve never been able to decide whether that sort of thing is looked on favorably by readers or is considered showing away.)
Final observation: Last evening I watched Enemy at the Gates, the 2001 dramatization of the duel between a Russian and a German sniper (based somewhat, I believe, on “actual events”) during the Battle of Stalingrad, that I almost automatically think of as Saving Private Ivan. I’ve seen this movie maybe three or four times and still cannot quite put my finger on what makes it an okay flick but not really a good one (even though it features the lovely and talented Rachel Weisz, which fact alone ought to carry it).
One positive thing I forget each time and am delighted to rediscover is Bob Hoskins as Khrushchev. I love how he continually refers to Stalin as “duh Boss”. This is exactly right. Uncle Joe was as much as or even more of a thug than was Hitler. Appallingly, the typical Modern, to the extent they have even heard of WWII, thinks the Soviets and the Nazis were diametric opposites. The truth, of course, is the reverse. Fascism and Communism (and, I may add, Progressivism and, for that matter, the Mafia) are close cousins, all of which argue for the sacrifice of individual freedoms to the alter of collective, centralized authority and for the elimination of said individuals who either can’t or won’t comport with the Plan.
This reminds me that I’ve never read Solzhenitsyn but have been meaning to the past few years. Any friends of the decanter have any suggestions on the best place to start? Ol’ Robbo would appreciate such tips greatly. From what I gather, it’s not so much of a stretch to call the man a Saint. And yet, after all he’d been through under the Soviet regime and all the effort he had put forth to speak (if I may) Truth to Power, he is these days a hissing and a byword among those who claim to champion liberalism. (This is just one of the million and one reasons, or perhaps more accurately one of the million and one pieces of evidence of the general reason, why ol’ Robbo detests Leftists.)