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Ol’ Robbo is currently reading Samuel Eliot Morison’s Pulitzer-winning book, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus. (I picked it up based on a tip from the Puppy-Blender back in October, but am only now getting around to it.)
I won’t get into a detailed discussion of the substance, as I am currently only about halfway through. So far, I would say that while Morison obviously admires Columbus tremendously, he recognizes the man’s flaws, too. Morison also tackles the issues raised by the European discovery of the Americas (specifically, the treatment of the Indians), firmly but fairly and in the context of the times as they actually were, not as we would have liked them to be. While he certainly condemns the general Spanish colonial policy of stripping everything of value and enslaving the natives, the book was written in the early 40′s, so there is none of that wretched post hoc self-flagellation that is bringing Western Civilization to its knees these days. Further, Morison has absolutely no use for the myth of the Noble Savage.
The style reminds me very much of the great Francis Parkman (one of ol’ Robbo’s favorites). For one thing, it is a combination of learned analysis of available data, intelligent opinion and personal anecdote, all deliberately keyed for a non-specialist readership. (I will say, however, that I am glad I’ve spent so many years sailing with Jack Aubrey or I might have got lost among some of the nautical jargon.) For another, Morison, like Parkman, was a doer. The latter, in order to get a feel for frontier history, actually hiked the Oregon Trail and spent time living with the Sioux. The former and his mates obtained a sailboat of approximately the same tonnage as a Spanish caravel of the late 15th Century and sailed Columbus’ routes across the Atlantic and round the Caribbean to better understand what he found himself facing. The application of personal experience to historickal analysis certainly raises both writers’ works above the level of armchair punditry.
Curiously, as I read of the great Age of Discovery, of bold adventurers setting out from Portugal and Spain, England and France to go see what was over the horizon, I find myself grumbling in frustration that we moderns don’t seem to be able to show the same spirit when it comes to our own exploration of Space. In those days, the monarchies recognized and exploited the tremendous motivating power of self-interest and private enterprise. Now? Top-heavy, sluggish bureaucracy producing useless programs like the Shuttle. I’d say that NASA ought to abandon the mechanics of space travel altogether, transform itself into a charter agency and then get the hell out of the way. You’d see Moon and Martian colonies, asteroid mining and God knows what else pretty damn quick, I’ll bet.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
I suppose it behooves ol’ Robbo to say a word or two about the
apotheosis passing of Nelson Mandela this weekend.
Back in the mid ’80′s, when ol’ Robbo was in college at the Glorious People’s Soviet of Middletown CT, Apartheid was one of the perennial fashionable politickal causes. We had our little “shanty town” out on the front lawn. We had our bands of
student radicals hippy punks who sought to break up Board of Trustee meetings in protest. The word “divest” was on everyone’s lips. The morality of abolishing white minority rule in South Africa seemed, if you’ll forgive me, so very black and white. Just do it, man….
Ol’ Robbo, and the few other conservatives who dared to out themselves on campus, suggested to our fellow scholars that, as awful as Apartheid was (and there was no moral argument there, at least by Western lights, to be sure), replacing the old system with something more genuinely representative was not, perhaps, quite so simple and equitable as all that.
Indeed, we attempted to point out a few uncomfortable truths about the whole biznay. For one thing, the African National Congress, the chief opposition movement at the time, was little better than a Brute Squad, dealing with its enemies not by reason or persuasion but by putting tires full of gasoline around their necks and setting them alight. For another, said ANC was governed by a group of committed tinpot Marxists who, given the chance to gain power, would sail right past any notion of rule of law and representative democracy and go straight on to establishing a glorious people’s paradise. (And we all know how well those turn out.) For a third, the Soviets were still very much at play on the international chessboard in those days, and just itching for a tinpot Marxists dictatorship to set itself up in South Africa: In exchange for the usual money, material subsidies and technical and politickal expertise, Ivan would have loved to have got his hands on a naval base at the Cape. For us, that would have been a Very Bad Thing.
So there was all that. As to Mandela himself, already very much the face of the Movement, we hadn’t much to say except to point out that he had not been jailed all those years for engaging in Gandhi-like hunger strikes. He’d been jailed because of his activity in organizing the ANC’s terror wing in general, and in his yootful habit of blowing up people and things in particular. We also noted that whether he himself was a Communist or not, he certainly was a sympathizer. We further noted that his wife Winnie was demonstrably a stone-cold monster who needed to be kept as far away from the levers of power as possible.
In short, we argued that South Africa was a very complex and delicate matter, not readily amenable to knee-jerk solutions but needing careful, balanced consideration. Even then, we suggested, there might not be any really good options or answers. Leave things in status quo? Morally reprehensible. (Ah, the days of innocence viz-a-viz Nation Building!) Deliberately crash their economy to force immediate change? Radical elements most likely take over with all the usual slaughter and misery and, as I mention, Ivan probably ends up controlling the South Atlantic sea-lanes.
Almost needless to say, our arguments were not well received. Indeed, I drew a cartoon for the conservative paper on campus trying to illustrate the conundrum, and got quite a few threats and insults as a result. (In fact, it was the second scariest experience for me in my entire undergraduate career. The worst was perhaps the night of the Mondale slaughter in ’84. A very large and vehement Lefty – Alessandro by name, after watching the results come in, proclaimed he was going to hunt me down and break my nose. Fortunately, according to reports, he was so drunk that he merely passed out instead. As a matter of fact, the fellah was a mere bruiser. I’m fairly sure that with my lithesome quickness, I could have taken him down if necessary.)
Anyhoo, at the time, I thought my concerns perfectly justifiable. Looking back over the years and taking off the 20/20 hindsight glasses, I still think they were reasonable. And here is where I give Mandela credit: Whatever his villainous past, he managed to pull off a miracle of sorts. In the post-Apartheid era, he could have unleashed the more radical elements of the ANC to put their enemies to the sword but he didn’t. (And lest you think this meant only the Afrikaners and Brits, you’re mistaken. Tribal politicks played a role here, too. The ANC is comprised largely of Xhosas. Had the knives come out, they would have used them to wipe out the Zulus, whom they hate. Rwanda, anyone? Prince Buthelezi, leader of the Zulus, was always opposed to radical, precipitous Western meddling, including sanctions.) He could have pronounced himself President for Life, nationalized the entire economy and caused South Africa to plunge head-first into the impoverished, kleptocratic cesspit that is most of Sub-Saharan Africa but he didn’t. Instead, he made every effort at reconciliation and comity among all the various factions and, so far as I gather, preservation of the rule of law.
Why did he do it? Genuine personal nobility or calculation that he couldn’t have got away with it? I dunno. Nonetheless, I think it fitting to praise him for his restraint.
Mind you, I see Mandela’s magnanimity as a delaying action. As I say, he stopped South Africa from stage-diving into the usual Sub-Saharan cesspit, but from what I read, it is still nonetheless sliding down the slope toward said pit. The difference, I suppose, is that a gradual slide is somewhat easier to stop than a headlong plunge. For this, if for nothing else, we ought to honor the man.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
In teh comments to the post immediately below, Cap’n Ned, long time friend of the decanter, alerts me to a flash-mob prank pulled off by the United States Air Force Band at the Air n’ Space Museum a couple days ago. Starting with a solo cello appearing out of nowhere, the band broke into Bach’s “Jesu, joy of Man’s desiring”, gradually segueing into Handel’s “Joy to the World”, much to the wonder of the tourons wandering around the place. Teh Anchoress has the video, so go on over if you’d like to see it for yourselves.
I suppose I should look on this as a good and joyful thing, but my cynical side jumps in with three observations:
First, experience and observation of teh clip inclines me to believe that 9/10 of the audience hadn’t the faintest notion that the first part of the performance was Bach’s great statement on Man’s hunger for God and hadn’t the faintest idea what this “Jesu” about which some of them were singing actually is. All most of them probably knew was that some people in military uniform suddenly appeared and started playing this holidayish musick and that somebody was probably capturing it on vid. So I’m guessing it was the presentation rayther than the substance that got their attention.
Second, the shift to “Joy To The World”. Even though the musick is attributed originally to Handel, we happens to hate that particular carol because I think it one of the very few instances of a bad setting of one of Isaac Watts’ hymns. The line “While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains” in the second verse always makes me shudder in particular.
Third, I can’t help wondering how far up the chain of command the decision to stage this went and what kind of consequences might be in store for whoever approved it in case somebody makes a stink.
I know, I know. Single candles and cursing darkness and all that…..
Oh, I should add that my use of the term “X-mas” in the title of this post is deliberate. X-mas, as I see it, is that modern, squishy, non-sectarian mid-winter holiday in which we all fight each other tooth-and-nail for the best “deals” in teh stores, assume an artificially heightened level of cheeriness at our office parties and spend Christmas Day tearing open wrapping paper, fighting with family, stuffing ourselves with food and drink and dialing in the most interesting bowl games. I have gone so far as to start slipping the term into my conversation here and there. So far, nobody seems to have gotten it.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
It would seem that Peej O’Rourke has got a new book coming out in which he examines the Baby Boom generation in that calm, mild, subtle, caring manner we’ve come to expect. The WSJ printed an article-lenght excerpt the other day which brought a slight smile to my lips and a gentle lift to my eyebrow. A sample for you, in case you haven’t seen it already:
We are the generation that changed everything. Of all the eras and epochs of Americans, ours is the one that made the biggest impression—on ourselves. That’s an important accomplishment, because we’re the generation that created the self, made the firmament of the self, divided the light of the self from the darkness of the self, and said, “Let there be self.” If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you may have noticed this yourself.
That’s not to say we’re a selfish generation. Selfish means “too concerned with the self,” and we’re not. Self isn’t something we’re just, you know, concerned with. We are self.
Before us, self was without form and void, like our parents in their dumpy clothes and vague ideas. Then we came along. Now the personal is the political. The personal is the socioeconomic. The personal is the religious and the secular, science and the arts. The personal is everything that creepeth upon the earth after his (and, let us hasten to add, her) kind. If the baby boom has done one thing, it’s to beget a personal universe. (Our apologies for anyone who personally happens to be a jerk.)
Okay, I fibbed a bit just now. I actually collapsed into howls of derisive laughter, Bruce. Not only do I delight in the riff on Genesis in this passage for its evident theological erudition, I also feel my general derision for these people flaring up again because Peej has Absolutely. Got. It. In. One.
Go read the rest. I’ll wait. Shifting away somewhat from the imagery quoted above, Peej goes on to break down the Boomers into four classes – senior, junior, sophomore and freshman – and gives an impressive summary of the shaping environments, experiences, goals and expectations of each, citing famous class members to illustrate his points. It’s all teh funny and it’s all teh awful truth. And I say “awful” because I’ve an idea this Universe of the Self is about to enter the Burning Times. And to quote ol’ Fred:
But back to the article. While it’s is only a small sample of the larger tome, it reminds me of Peej’s Glory Days back in the 90′s. (I still think All The Trouble In The World is his finest book.) He’s been somewhat, well, inconsistent the past few years, but I’ve a feeling this latest book may recapture some of the earlier vitriolic goodiness.
Anyhoo, it’s certainly worth twenty bucks to take a chance, so why don’t you do like me and nip on over to the devil’s website and pre-order your copy of the book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way…And It Wasn’t My Fault…And I’ll Never Do It Again.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo had been toying with the composition of a long screed on this apparent new fad of posting “selfies”, that is lewd (or at least provocative) photos of oneself, out there for all teh world to see on various electronic gadgets and networks. I first noticed the trend amongst teh Beyootiful Peoplez from reading the Yahoo! “news” headlines from time to time during the day while checking up on the markets and my email account, and it’s become one of those irritants that starts small but gets more and more aggravating each time I see it.
But now that I come to write it, I ask myself: Why bother? Regular friends of the decanter know already what I’m going to say about malignant narcissism and the death of self-respect and the continued drowning of our so-called “culchah” in dehumanized and commodified sexuality. And I’m guessing that said regular friends will already agree with my sentiments.
Anyhoo, I’ll tell you about something else that you are much less likely to have expected. This year, I am knocking off the gargle for Advent. I have noticed in past dry bouts that this practice has quite an impact on my sleep. The cycles get much shallower and I tend to spend most of the night drifting along in a sort of semi-hemi-demi-conscious stage. I also have bizarre and sometimes unrepeatable dreams.
Last evening produced a classic (a bizarre one, I mean, not an unmentionable). In it, I had a pet wombat and was trying to take it to a baseball game. I seemed to be part of some kind of group and somebody handed me a special pass to a VIP section at the park. The pass was in the form of one of those “Hello, my name is _______” labels, but as I tried to peal it off and put it on my shirt with one hand, while cradling the wombat with the other, I managed to drop the label. After rooting around on the floor a bit I found it again, but somehow all the lettering had faded or fallen off. I didn’t think it right to try to get into the VIP section without the correct credentials, even though I was supposed to be there, so I took my wombat and started for home. All this time, by the bye, said wombat seemed to be getting bigger and heavier.
And then, as they say, I woke up.
Damme if I know what that one meant, but it was quite vivid.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
I hope each and every one of you, after stopping to reflect and give heartfelt thanks for all the blessings in your lives yesterday, proceeded to stuff yourselves to the gunn’l's with food and drink and sink without a trace. I can report that despite the alarums and excursions at Port Swiller Manor reported below, we managed to achieve this up to a point, Lord Copper, and that all appears to be well again.
As for today, when Robbo becomes Emperor of the World, one of his very first reforms will be to make use of the term “Black Friday” a flogging offense. From a religious point of view, I find the crass commercialization of what ought to to be the beginning of a season of preparation, purification and anticipation to be loathsome. From an aesthetic point of view, teh very idea of teh nightmarish squash around teh malls is appalling, as are the media ad blitzes. As Han Solo said, “No reward is worth this.”
So I pretty much spent the day loafing about, reading, drinking tea, fooling with the cats and dozing in front of the fire.
* A non-sequitor nod to a ridiculous teevee moovie that caused so much stir in the lib world in anticipation of its airing that “crisis counselors” were on stand-by lest people were so traumatized by the premise that they might be thinking about taking their own lives. At the time of its broadcast, I was a freshman at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown, CT. There had been much pre-showing ballyhoo on campus among the usual bed-wetting suspects, but all I know is that, by about 45 minutes in, the crowd in the lounge in which I was watching had grown bored and were starting to laugh, cat-call and critique.
* Also a nod to the fact that I particularly cannot stand the employment of the word “after” as a dangling preposition. I’m always reminded of Judy Holliday testifying about her no-account husband in Adam’s Rib: ”So I asked him, ‘Aintcha comin’ home aftah?’” Dunno why, but that usage always causes my gears to grind.
I will not dip into the perennial debate over what constituted the “real” first Thanksgiving celebrated in the Americas this year, instead letting the Plymouth dog lie. I can’t help noting my intense amusement, however, in learning that Squanto, savior of the Puritan colonists, was in fact a Catholic.
Anyhoo, no posties for the next few days, as the Family Robbo piles into our Honda Juggernaut® at day-break to go visit my brother and his family (together with the Mothe and my widowed cousin). There will be the usual food and drink, grumbling about the God-forsaken state of the world, perhaps some college fu’ball watching (although watching the Longhorns play Tech will never be the same thing as their rivalry with the Aggies), and maybe even a hike up in the Blue Ridge. Good times, good times.
Oh, by the way, we did indeed get snow at Port Swiller Manor today. Not many flakes and they didn’t stick at all, but it definitely was the white stuff. The last time we got snow at Thanksgiving, I believe we got hammered later on when the right season started. Just saying.
So here’s to a very happy and bounteous Thanksgiving Day to you all, with three times three!
UPDATE: D’OH! A month or two back, Mrs. Robbo (while, I believe, practicing bootlegger turns although she denies it) sideswiped a pole in a parking lot, caving in the rim of the right-rear wheel well. The damage seemed cosmetic only and Mrs. R didn’t report any trouble, so I didn’t give it much thought beyond saying kiss-my-hand to the lease deposit. Well this morning, when all five of us plus our luggage piled in (for the first time since Mrs. R’s ding), I quickly discovered that the extra weight meant every time we went over a bump, the rim would scrape against the tire. I tried redistributing the gels to put less of a load on that corner, but it only helped a little bit.
We started out nonetheless, but by the time we got to Haymarket, my nerves were beginning to frazzle at each new “SCCCRNCHH!!” I pulled off the road and had a dekko. Sure enough, the edge of the tread where the rim had been rubbing it was starting to shred. No way in the world was I going to try taking that on a six hour drive across Virginny and North Carolina, so we turned around and limped home.
I suppose we might have rented something, but the closest place I could even imagine being open would have been Dulles. Maybe. And assuming we could find a suitable substitute, by the time we got there, got it, got home and transferred all our gear, it would be way late to set out. Ol’ Robbo has a very low “Oh, to hell with it!” threshold, and that would have been too much for so short a trip.
My sister-in-law suggested I try banging the rim back out with a hammer. I had actually thought about that and even took a few tentative pokes at it. But I don’t know anything about getting a body panel off a car. And I was afraid that if I tried to lever it in situ, I would only manage to tear it, thus putting a shiv directly over the tire. No, thankee.
So no Port Swiller Family Meet-Up this year.
Fortunately, some friends who found out about it immediately invited us to join them for dins this afternoon. So at least there’s that.
UPDATE DEUX: Yeah, about that. In the midst of our frolic the eldest gel was struck down by sharp abdominal pains and had to be taken to teh ER. Kidney stones, apparently. What a day.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
On his drive home this evening through the Storm of the Century of the Week, ol’ Robbo heard Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” played over the airwaves by the local classkickal station.
In all fairness, the spinning of said CD was actually a function of the station’s annual classickal countdown, a survey of listeners’ 100 faves that runs this week and finishes up on Thanksgiving night. Nonetheless, the reminder that, so far as the current so-called cultchah is concerned, we are now entering into the “Xmas” season was enough to cause ol’ Robbo to sprout fangs and hair all over his face and start baying at the moon, wherever she might have been behind the fog, rain and cloud.
You see, I know what’s going to happen. I listen to said station both during my commute and during my regular work day down the shop. Starting on Friday, teh station is going to start slipping a few Xmas toons into its rotation. Gradually, over what is supposed to be the season of Advent, they’re going to increase the flow, until round about December 23 or so, when it’s going to be wall-to-wall Xmas musick, most of the tracks having been played some tens if not hundreds of times already. And at that point, should I choose to listen, I’m going to be Absolutely. Sick. To. Death. Of. All. Of. It.
And the punch line? at 12:01 ack emma on December 26, the second day of the actual twelve days of the Feast of Christmas when, you know, such musick is actually appropriate? ”We now resume our regular programming.”
People don’t get it. They just damn don’t get it.
Well this year, I am not going to succumb. I won’t go so far as to cut out all musick from my work day (as I do during Lent), but I am going to forgo the radio and instead rely on a rotation of my own CD’s brought in from home. I know this is a very small and perhaps futile gesture, but it’s what I’ve got.
Amidst all the lamentation over the 50th anniversary of the death of St. Jack of the Blessed Bay of Pigs FUBAR, I feel it important to note that another man who died, albeit under very different circumstances, on the same day was Clive Staples (“Jack”) Lewis.
Regular friends of the decanter used to ol’ Robbo’s religious pretensions may be surprised to know that, until I was a first year law student way back in the winter of 1988, I’d never even heard of C.S. Lewis. But that Christmas, my then-girlfriend (from a solidly conservative South Texas Catholic family) gave me a copy of The Essential C.S. Lewis.
Well. Flipping through this book, I came across, for the first time, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, after which I immediately had to gobble up the rest of the Narnia series, reading them over and over again because I loved each and every new story. I also read Perelandra, the middle book of Lewis’s sic-fi trilogy, which I thought pretty cool but rather weird. (I still do after many readings of the entire trilogy.) But beyond that? Eh, at first, I didn’t really explore much.
A few years later, even perhaps after Mrs. R and I had tied the knot, something compelled me to fish out this volume and peruse it more deeply. To that end, I found myself sampling some of Lewis’s apologetics. At that point in my misspent young adulthood, I seem to remember a general dissatisfaction with the world as I found it. So shallow, so empty. So upon revisiting Lewis, my reaction (to quote Ted “Theodore” Logan) was an emphatic, “Whoa.”
Here was a fellah for whom Christianity emphatically was not just a matter of being nice to people and going to church on Sundays when one felt like it. This was real meat. This was real Christian substance. This was not the proverbial counting of angels dancing on the head of a pin (which for some reason always especially irritated the Old Gentleman any time the subject of organized religion came up), but instead bloody dispatches from the Front in the perpetual war between Good and Evil. I especially grew to love Lewis’s obvious WWII analogy of Jesus as an agent parachuted into occupied territory in order to prepare and organize the Resistance in advance of the main Allied invasion landing.
I’d had none of that kind of teaching up to this point in my life. What with one thing and another, I grew up with a vague (and sad) sense of Church history as battles fought long ago and far away, but of no real relevance to the here and now, what I have long called the Uncle Owen attitude (“It’s all such a long way from here.”). To me, Lewis said, “No! Not true! The battle goes on, and you’re in it whether you like it or not! To arms! To arms!”
Over the following years, I tried to apply Lewis’s call to arms in the context of my cradle Episcopalianism. Once Mrs. R and I found a Palie church we both liked, I tried to set about fighting the good fight under its banner in the way that Lewis had outlined. It took a few years of denial, apology and explanation, but eventually I could not resist acknowledging the fact that, carrying on the WWII metaphor, the army I had thought myself fighting for on the side of Goodness was, in fact, Vichy.
It was this realization, more than anything else, that prompted me to jump into the Tiber and swim across to the true Resistance.
So I was amused today to read this article over at Aleteia about Lewis being a “gateway drug” to Catholicism. I think the piece makes the same point I do, but I also think
my Lewis’s own imagery is preferable.
So God bless you, Jack, and may you rest in peace.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
So tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. Well, not to speak ill of the dead, but I will tell you plainly that I have no particular sympathy for the hoopla that has been building up to it over the past week or two among teh Elites.
Of course it was an awful tragedy. Of course it was an act of pure evil. Of course it knocked the Nation for six. But all this “The Event That Changed The Course Of History For Evah” stuff? Well, in my humble opinion that’s just Boomer jacking o-……um, hrrmph, well, never mind (you know what I mean), and I am of neither the age nor the temperament to feel any inclination to participate. Next April marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Lincoln, an event which arguably had a greater influence on the course of American history by several orders of magnitude. Let’s see how high the fires of homage are piled by this lot then. My guess? Not so much.
Oh, and the rhetoric being bandied about (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) concerning what a hide-bound, reactionary nest of hate-filled conservative whacko-birds Dallas was at the time? Let’s remember the simple truth of the matter: Oswald, in addition to being a crackpot, was a Communist. A Fellow Traveler with his visa stamps all up to date. A goddam Red. Nuff said.
Oh, and as for the whole “Camelot” thing? I still recall the day I suddenly realized that the imagery had nothing to do with Sir Thomas Malory or Geoffrey of Monmouth, but instead with Lerner and Loewe. At first I was dumbfounded. It had always been bad enough to me to believe that the Arthurian Legend, which I cherish even more now than I did back then, had been so outrageously hijacked by the Kennedy PR machine. But that they were in fact bent on co-opting a modern musickal? Well, that actually began to make sense, albeit in a sad way. Tinsel Age play-acting frippery and all that.
Sorry, but the older I get and the more I see, the greater my loathing for politicks. And tomorrow is all about teh politicks.