You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Literary Musings’ category.

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.

RaceAnd 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!

Mrs. Robbo informed me this morning that I’m not allowed to do yard work today since I’ve been down this week with the stomach bug, so I’m just having a cup o’ joe and noodling around here.

♦   As a matter of fact, I feel considerably better.  Yesterday I had a massive headache all day, which was actually good news because that always seems to be one of the last stages of these things for me.  Indeed, I like to imagine them in terms of  nor’easters that first form off Cape Hatteras (my stomach) and then roll up the East Coast (shoulders, neck, head) before heading on out to sea.

Yes, I’m a weirdo.

♦   Speaking of nor’easters, hello Polar Vortex!  (The Port Swiller thermometer hit 32 degrees for the first time this morning, but the kerpow is scheduled for later next week here.)  AlGore could not be reached for comment – I understand he has a hot new lead on the whereabouts of ManBearPig.

♦   Speaking of seasonal changes, we got all the ferns and potted palms moved in off the porch last week.  They look so nice inside I think we’re going to keep them here and just get new ones for outdoors next spring.

♦   RIP Tom Magliozzi of NPR’s “Car Talk”.  I used to listen to him and his brother Ray every Saturday morning, especially back in school, and regularly found myself rolling on the floor in laughter.   Indeed, his stock “Aww, Jeez” has become a staple of the Port Swiller lexicon.   (As a matter of fact, I stopped listening to Click and Clack out of protest when they got on the “SUV’s are Global Warminz!! Eleventy!!!” bandwagon, but I still remember the old days fondly.)

♦   Speaking of people in the nooz, just who the hell is this Lena Dunham person?  (I’ll take pathetically spoiled, hyper-politicized narcissists for a thousand, Alex.)  As the father of three daughters, I simply cannot conceive how any one of them would wish to grow up emulating that.

♦  Speaking of pathetically spoiled, hyper-politicized narcissists, it may just be my imagination coupled with wishful thinking, but I’m beginning to get the impression that people have had just about enough of that sort of thing and that the tide may be beginning to turn.  I hope so.  I hope so.

♦   Somewhat related, Scott Hahn, the popular Catholic convert and apologist, writes very insightfully and I’ve learned a great deal from him, but the fact of the matter is that his over-use of exclamation points and catch-phrases puts me off his books.

♦   Finally, speaking of books, I’ve started through the Charles Portis cycle for the umpteenth time.  (If you don’t read Portis, you’re really, really missing out.)  Allow me to quote a small piece from the beginning of his first novel, Norwood:

Norwood and Vernell did not live right in Ralph but just the other side of Ralph.  Mr. Pratt had always enjoyed living on the edge of places or between places, even when he had a choice.  He was an alcoholic auto mechanic.  Before his death they had moved a lot, back and forth along U.S. Highway 82 in the oil fields and cotton patches between Stamps, Arkansas, and Hooks, Texas.  There was something Mr. Pratt dearly loved about that section of interstate concrete.  They clung to its banks like river rats.  Once, near Stamps, they lived in a house between a Tastee-Freez stand and a cinder-block holiness church.  There had been a colorful poster on one side of the house that said ROYAL AMERICAN SHOWS OCT. 6-12 ARKANSAS LIVESTOCK EXPOSITION LITTLE ROCK.  On the other side of the house somebody with a big brush and a can of Sherwin-Williams flat white had painted ACTS 2:38.

I just love that.  Love the style, love the substance, love the little quirks.  Portis is from the Ark-La-Tex area and captures its details lovingly, not snarkily.

There really is a Hooks, Texas and a Stamps, Arkansas – they’re a few miles the opposite sides of Texarkana.  And U.S. 82 really does run through them.  Alas, I cannot find a Ralph, Texas.  I think it must be a stand-in for either Leary or Nash, both of which are between Hooks and Texarkana.  (If you’re into this sort of geekery, you can read Portis’s True Grit with google-map open at your side and very easily trace Mattie Ross’s journey from Yell County, Arkansas into the Eastern Oklahoma badlands, and in fact to the mountain hideout of Lucky Ned Pepper, which I believe is a state park now.)

Acts 2:38, by the way, reads: Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Good advice for anyone.

UPDATE:  Well, I got one home-improvement project done anyway, namely running the cables behind the basement wall between the teevee and the Verizon box.  I used a fish tape to bull up through the insulation between the two holes, then ran a loop of line through, splicing the heads of the various cables to it and pulling them through more or less on the capstan principle.  Turned out to be rayther more difficult than I had anticipated, at least so far as getting at the tape head the first time.  Luckily, I have small hands so was eventually able to grapple it and get it out.  I even had the sense to leave the line in place (the end discretely coiled behind the teevee) in case the gels need another one of their infernal video contraptions hooked up.

A small matter, but nonetheless something from which I can draw satisfaction.

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:

Basement 1

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”:

Basement 2

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”:

Basement 3

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:

Basement 4

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.

 

While he was flipping through the local fish wrapper this afternoon, ol’ Robbo’s eye fell on this item from the public safety notes:

A resident living in the 600th block of Oak Street told Portville police on October 6 at 4:45 pm that he had received a telephone message from someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service.

The resident, knowing this to be a scam, returned the telephone call in an attempt to gain information from the caller.  However, he only was able to obtain the caller’s name and return telephone number.  The resident did not provide any money to the caller, police said.

Police remind local residents to be on the alert if they receive a call from someone who claims to be employed by the IRS and states that they have committed tax fraud or filed improper tax returns.  Such callers usually imply that the victims will be arrested unless they send a Western Union payment or provide money using a prepaid debit card, police said.

This type of call is a scam and residents never should send a payment unless they have verified the caller’s validity, police said. 

I pass this on because just this week we received such a message at Port Swiller Manor.  The caller, who had a vaguely Subcontinental accent but used a very vanilla American name, said he was calling regarding action against us by the U.S. Treasury.  He also said that if we ignored the message, we would be subject to a contempt ruling by a magistrate judge and possible grand jury indictment.  He finished with some line about us calling as soon as possible so he could help us to help ourselves.

We ignored the threat.

Curiously, a day or two later somebody reported a similar incident in a FB group to which I belong, so it seems to be trending.

Thinking about it, I found myself chuckling because the message reminded me of that passage in Douglas Adams’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe when the waiter at Milliways informs Zaphod Beeblebrox that he has a phone call:

“Maybe somebody here tipped off the Galactic Police,” said Trillian.  “Everyone saw you come in here.”

“You mean they want to arrest me over the phone?” said Zaphod.  “Could be.  I’m a pretty dangerous dude when I’m cornered.”

“Yeah,” said a voice from under the table, “you go to pieces so fast people get hit by the shrapnel.”

“Hey, what is this, Judgement Day?” snapped Zaphod.

“Do we get to see that as well?” asked Arthur nervously. 

Heh.

Anyhoo, if you get a call like this, either ignore it or let the police know.  We’re not at the point where Uncle reaches out and touches someone over the phone like that.  Not yet, anyway.

*Verified by Chip “Remain calm! All is WELL!!” Diller.

 

IrishRM-picPg136-BGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Long time friends of the decanter may recall in the past ol’ Robbo going on from time to time about his fondness for the three volumes of short stories by E.O. Somerville and Martin Ross, Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. (1899), Further Experiences of an Irish R.M. (1908) and In Mr. Knox’s Country (1915), now known collectively as The Irish R.M.  They tell the story of Major Sinclair Yeats, ex-British Army, who takes up a position as a Resident Magistrate in the wilds of Southwestern Ireland around the turn of the 20th Century and finds himself dealing with the idiosyncrasies of the locals.  Much hilarity ensues.  Indeed, Somerville and Ross, members of the Anglo-Irish gentry themselves, delighted in noting the contrasts between their class and the native culture, often with much sympathy towards the latter.

I’ve read these stories dozens of times and never get tired of them.  In preparation for tackling the gloom and doom of Solzhenitsyn, I thought I would run through them again just by way of cleaning my palate.  This time around, though, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I find myself not only enjoying the stories but also doing a bit of what one might call geographical detective work, too, trying to figure out specifically where some of them might have taken place.

Well, okay, I’ve simply been messing around with Google Earth.  But I think I’ve figured out a thing or two.

For instance, I’m almost positive that the principle town in the stories, called Skebawn, is actually a place called Skibbereen, the farthest southwest town of any size in County Cork.  (I’m not the first to draw this conclusion, by the way.)

Major Yeats and his family live in Shreelane, a country house which we know is within bicycling distance of Skebawn.  We also know that the shimmer of the sea can be seen behind the hills when one stands on the roof of Shreelane.  We further know that one can hear the Fastnet gun away to the southwest warning off shipping during foggy weather.   So I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere to the south of Skebawn, perhaps in the Curravally district.  (There is a Curranhilty district which plays a part in some of the stories which may be a play on this name, by the bye.)  Another clue is that it is within walking distance of what is called Corran Lake in the stories and what I think is really Lough Hyne.  Not only is said lough connected with the sea like Corran Lake, it also holds a small island (two, in fact) that would account for said lake’s Holy Island in the story of that name.

Speaking of the story “Holy Island”, it tells of a shipwreck on what is called Yokahn Point and of the anarchy that breaks out as the result of barrels of rum being washed ashore on Tralalough Strand.  I believe these places are modeled on the real-life Gokane Point and Tragumna Strand.  They’re both immediately to the east of Lough Hyne and within carriage-driving distance of where Shreelane would stand.

Speaking of Shreelane, there actually is a Shreelane district to the east-northeast of Skibbereen, from which I’m sure Somerville and Ross borrowed the name for the house, but which is too far away from the sea to fit with the narrative description.  On the other hand, it might be the location of Temple Braney House, seat of the horrible McRory family.  I say this because there is a series of small, interconnected lakes associated with Temple Braney in one of the stories and this district sports just such an aquatic feature, the Shreelane Lakes.

I haven’t placed other important points so far.  Tory Lodge, home of Mr. Florence McCarthy “Flurry” Knox, is said to be an hour or two’s walk over teh hills from Shreelane and the sea is visible from its terrace.  Aussolas Castle, home of Flurry’s grandmother Mrs. Knox, is some little distance away, but it’s unclear which direction.  Castle Knox, home of Flurry’s distant cousins the Sir Valentine Knoxes, is near enough to Aussolas that a fox can be chased from one to the other in a morning’s hunt.   I also can’t place Drumcurran, a secondary town in the Curranhilty country in which some scenes are played.

Later, if I’m able to get a reliable map in my head, I may strike out further afield and try to track down the secluded lair of Lord and Lady Derryclare, the chicken-farm of Meg Longmuir and Dr. Cathy Fraser and the Lug-Na-Coppal copper-mines formerly presided over by the late Mr. Harrington.

Anyhoo, I know that Somerville and Ross were just liberally borrowing rayther than trying to give accurate if disguised portrayals.  Still, it’s lots of fun to try and figure out what they were thinking when they put together the geographical boundaries of Major Yeats’ stage.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Nats HatWell, 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).

hoskins krushchevOne 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.

 

10420This 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.)

 

 

 

davebarry03Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sorry for the light posting this week.  The bug that has been wandering around Port Swiller Manor recently finally decided to pay me a personal call.  It’s an odd one this time.  One minute you say to yourself, “Self, I think I’m getting better!”  The next, your head suddenly feels ten pounds too heavy, your entire body aches, you break out in a sweat and your knees threaten to fold the wrong way.

Rinse and repeat.

Anyhoo, I’ve spent most of the past 56 hours, at least the ones in which I’ve been awake, rereading a stack of old Dave Barry books, of which I have 6 or 7.  (Today it was Dave Barry Turns 50 and Dave Barry in Cyberspace.) It’s been a while since I last clapped eyes on any of them and, while it might just be the ‘flu talking, I must say that while I’ve always liked his stuff, ol’ Dave is a hell of a lot funnier than I remember.

Just thought I’d throw that out there.

By the way, Wandering Bug would be a pretty good name for a rock band.

UPDATE:  Long-time friend of the decanter Cap’n Ned brings up an important (and I suppose apropos, given the pic of Dave I chose) issue,  that of appropriate bathroom reading.

This is a subject to which ol’ Robbo has dedicated some study over the years.  What is it that makes a given book appropriate to the library of the loo, the bibliotheca of the bog, the repository of the depository, the athenaeum of the ass-can?  (I’m so very sorry about that last one but I needed a closer.  If you imagine Robin Leach saying it, it’s not so bad.)

Well, I’ll tell you.  Said book must be both granule and lightweight.  It must be something on which you can nibble at will, taking it and leaving it as suits your biznay.  At the same time, it must be something for which less than full concentration is required, IYKWIMAITYD.   So both War and Peace and Quotations of Chairman Mao are right out.

Of course, the downstairs W/C at Port Swiller Manor has its own basket of reading materials.

As a sort of substratum, said basket always contains the latest alumni magazines from our various schools, together with copies of the local fish-wrapper and of Modern Luxury: DC magazine, which continues to show up in our mailbox despite the fact that we’ve never subscribed, much less shown any interest in it.

The real meat, though, is in the books.

Before sitting down to type out this update, I stepped into the downstairs W/C and rummaged around the reading basked in order to ascertain the current Port Swiller reading list and see if it complies with ol’ Robbo’s criteria.  It includes:

- Two compendia of Calvin & Hobbes cartoons;

- Two compendia of FoxTrot cartoons;

- Several volumes of Down East humor by noted Down East humorist John McDonald, including his Maine Trivia: A Storyteller’s Useful Guid To Useless Information; his A Moose and a Lobster Walk Into A Bar; and his Maine Dictionary (also the Boston Dictionary by John Powers, the success of which caused the publishers to hustle McDonald into producing the Maine version);

- The Devious Book for Cats, which styles itself as a parody but which is actually too close to the truth to be funny and is really rayther depressing;

- An evolution of the Darwin Awards; and

- James Lileks’ Mommy Knows Worst.  

I may admit that the last one is my current favorite, and it surprises me that no one has asked any questions about why Dad is locked in the loo, giggling, snerking and snorting.

Now certainly, as Ned suggests, Dave Barry would qualify for inclusion in a reading list of this sort based on substance.  The problem is that the guy is prolific, having something north of forty titles to his name.   Were I to introduce one or two of his books to the loo basket, pretty soon it would be three or four.  And then six or eight.  And then a round dozen.  At that point,  I’d start talking about a need for more space, perhaps a series of shelves, in which to deposit all of Dave’s words.  And in a bathroom?  That’s too weird for me.

No, at least at Port Swiller Manor, Barry gets confined to what I call the Bookcases of Misfit Authors.   These are the ones down the basement to which ol’ Robbo bans books that he deems not appropriate for his “library proper”.  At the moment they’re all sitting in stacks scattered about the house and awaiting the post-flood restoration of said basement which the contractor promises is less than two weeks out now, but once that’s done, they’re going back downstairs where they belong.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The passing this week of Debo, Dowager Dutchess of Devonshire and last of the Mitford sisters prompts this article in today’s UK Telegraph:  The Mitfords and the Kardashians: class vs trash.  

They dazzled, outraged and added immeasurably to the gaiety of the nation; only a churl could fail to shed a nostalgic tear for the passing of Debo Mitford. The death, aged 94, of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, the last of the glamorously posh, gloriously eccentric Mitford Girls, marks the end of an era. And the beginning of a new one.

Times change, modern mores evolve, and if it is true that every generation gets the celebrity dynasty it deserves, then we must (however reluctantly) pass the baton on to another clan of strong women. Yes, Kardashians, it is your time to shine.

Most of the rest of the article really boils down to comparative trivia.

Apart from the headline (which she probably didn’t write) and the second paragraph quoted above, the author remains fairly ambiguous about whether this change is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.  Needless to say, ol’ Robbo thinks it a perfectly Horrid Thing, even while he believes the author to be spot on.   “Evolve” is misused here, however, because to the average person it implies to get better.  I’d have said metastasized.  Show me the evidence that things – politics, culture, morals, civility et al. – have got better.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Know what this reminds me of?  The evolution (there’s that word again!) of the Official Preppy Handbook.  The original was a (very gently snarky) compendium of rock-solid Old Guard New England Upper and Upper-Middle values and standards.    The new one is an abomination of post-modern nouveau chic (a lot of which, come to think of it, applying to the Kardashians).

I don’t really know what else to say about it other than Gawd help us.

UPDATE:  Apropos musickal riff, inspired by RBJ.  Enjoy!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Regular friends of the decanter may recall that ol’ Robbo has developed a new interest in what one might call Ripping Yarns this year and, to this end, has started in on a series of authors he really should have read more when he was a kid – P.C. Wren, Robert Louis Stevenson and Conan-Doyle to name but three.

Well, pursuant to that design, I thought I would mention a couple of pairs of books here, offering a substantive observation about the first and a purchaser’s caution on the second.

kidnappedRecently, ol’ Robbo finished both R,L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped, together with its sequel Catriona.  The first is simply an outstanding adventure story, as the hero David Balfour and the hugely entertaining Alan Breck, after escaping kidnapping and shipwreck,  make their dangerous way across the Scottish Highlands of 1751, chased by rival clans and Redcoats.  The second, which RLS wrote many years later and which takes up the story immediately where Kidnapped left off, is not nearly as good, seemingly more plodding and taken up with legal intrigue and David’s mooing over women.  I will say, without giving away any spoilers, that when Alan Breck reappears toward the end, the book brightens right back up and comes near to Kidnapped quality.

The_White_CompanyHaving polished off those, I leapt immediately into Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The White Company, in which sturdy English yeomen of the reign of Edward III take their longbows off to the Continent to beat up on various enemies and load themselves down with plunder.  I’m in the early stages, in which the nucleus of the company is being formed, but I already enjoy it.  People forget that ACD was a writer of tremendous range (I believe he even dabbled in science-fiction) and a very solid story-teller to boot.

Anyhoo, when fooling about at the devil’s website, I found that the book comes in two volumes but that I couldn’t find any complete set put out by the same publisher.  So I simply picked two at random.  This, my friends, was where ol’ Robbo made something of a mistake.  Volume One does not even give a publisher name, simply stating that it was printed at Lexington, KY on August 19, 2014.  In other words, right around the date I ordered it.  I wouldn’t care about this in itself, but what I mind mightily is the fact that the whole thing is printed in about 8-point font, making it basically a 171 page footnote.  My poor old eyes simply can’t take much of it at any one time.  Stupid fly-by-night publishers!  But what are you going to do when you’re looking for rayther obscure works that the big houses simply don’t bother with?

On the other hand, the second volume that I picked up was put out by an outfit called Accessible Publishing Systems.  I didn’t notice, when I ordered it, that the thing is an “EasyRead Large Bold Edition” featuring 16-point font.  I don’t know if this was because I was inattentive or because the devil’s website didn’t choose to mention it.   I offer this as a cautionary tale.

(Oh, and yes, these are both illustrations by the greatly under-rated N.C. Wyeth.)

In a prefatory note to her husband’s novel Kidnapped, Fanny Van de Grift Stevenson copies out some samples of records from a murder trial used by him as background in constructing the story.  One of these passages says, in part,

“Duncan Campbell, change-keeper at Annat, aged thirty-five years, married, witness cited, sworn, purged and examined ut supra, depones, That in the month of April last, the deponent met with Alan Breck Stewart….”

I’ve been familiar with legal terms since I started studying them in 1988, but I have never in all that time come across the verb “to depone”.  But when you think about it, what else would a deponent be doing?

And is there a linguistic relationship between depone and depose?  A sort of yin and yang capturing the interrelation between witness and advocate as the latter seeks to draw evidence from the former?  Merriam-Webster on-line gives the history of depone thusly:  Middle English, from Medieval Latin deponere, from Latin, to put down, from de- + ponere to put.  It also says that “depose” comes from the same root, so this seems likely.

I must say that the word tickles my fancy.  Perhaps I’ll figure out a way to start working it into my vocabulary.  As it happens, I’m prepping for some depositions coming up in a couple weeks, so I ought to have some opportunities.

Blog Stats

  • 401,861 hits
November 2014
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.