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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!
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!
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!
Well, teh Eldest Gel certainly had an interesting evening yesterday.
Driving along one of the major downtown arteries on the way to pick up teh Middle Gel from choir, she suddenly heard an almighty bang (like a bomb, she said) almost directly behind her. Glancing in her mirror, she saw a car just behind her suddenly hit the curb, flip over and slide into a tree. Evidently, the driver had tried to cut somebody off changing lanes and failed – the other car clipped him and flipped him.
Of course, the gel immediately stopped. Mrs. R (who was riding with her) called 911 and the both of them, together with several other onlookers, stayed with the two occupants of the flipped car until the police showed up. Evidently, they were shaken, even stirred, but did not suffer any major injuries.
In telling the story to me, the gel remarked that it’s one thing to see those driver ed movies meant to scare newbies. It’s something completely different to see the Real Thing happen.
But what really impressed me was that the Gel also said that, when she first got out and didn’t know the status of the people in the flipped car, she prayed for them.
Ol’ Robbo was both stunned and delighted by this demonstration of Christian charity and piety. Teh gel is not known for her sympathetic nature in general, and I have frequently worried that, although she calls herself a Christian, she doesn’t really get what this implies in terms of doing unto others.
I am terribly grateful that my worries may perhaps have been misplaced.
We shall see what happens.
An interesting anecdote that may or may not be of any particular significance: The Repubby seeking to fill our House seat (upon the incumbent’s retirement) happens to be a member of my parish – I see her at Mass from time to time – and is well known for her social conservatism. So the Donk challenger decided to run with a full-bore War on Wimminz campaign against her this fall, stuffing the port swiller mailbox with daily fliers about how she wants to return to the bad old days when all wimminz were forced to barefooted pregnancy.
Of course, ol’ Robbo himself is immune to this sort of thing. What was interesting was Mrs. R’s reaction. She’s not anywhere near as orthodox in her views on social issues as is ol’ Robbo, nor does she pay anywhere near as much attention to politicks. Yet every time she saw one of these screeds, she would shake her head and say, “With all the terrible things going on these days, why is he picking a fight about that?”
Of the senate race in Our Fair Commonwealth, I have no idea what to say, as both campaigns have been virtually invisible to me.
There were a couple of other issues on the ballot. One involved an exemption from state property taxes for the surviving spouses of military KIA’s. Ol’ Robbo is always glad to do what he can for those who serve in uniform. There was also a bond issue that involved a dollar amount with a whooooole lot of zeros. Ol’ Robbo almost invariably votes against bond proposals on the principle that one does not give more whiskey to an alcoholic just because he wants it.
As I say, we shall see what happens. Every time I promise myself that I am not going to spend the evening obsessing over returns, and every time I wind up breaking that promise. I may not even bother making it today.
Oh, and here’s a scary thought: The next time we go through this? The Eldest Gel will be old enough to vote. Yikes!
UPDATE: Just a reminder – If your shadenboner lasts more than four hours, contact a physician. I believe “self-loathing electorate” is the funniest post-mortem spin I’ve seen so far this morning.
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.
Whelp, tomorrow is the anniversary of 9/11.
I can’t give you specific details, but ol’ Robbo’s concern monitor is beeping more this year than it has in the past.
Maybe I’m foolish, maybe I’m prescient. I dunno. What I do know is this: whatever may or may not happen, St. Michael, ora pro nobis.
I’ll raise a glass of wine with you on the other side…..
UPDATE: Well, apparently nothing happened. Deo gratis. But, despite my general inclination not to comment on politicks these days, I will say this about teh Administration’s public response to the ISIS threat over the past 48 hours: What the @(@*#*(@&(%&!!! Are you deliberately advertising yourselves as the weaker horse? Are you deliberately bending over? Or is it just working out that way?
God help us all.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy
Labor Irony Day!
Ol’ Robbo thinks little of this particular holiday. On the one hand, although I am willing to admit the argument that the Labor Movement served a useful and humane role in the early days of industrialization, these days unions are nothing more that wretched hives of scum and villainy. (As to the matter of honest and honorable labor itself, I prefer to ask St. Joseph the Worker to pray for us.) On the other, despite the name, ol’ Robbo doesn’t plan to do a damned thing today except lie back and listen to the sweet, sweet lamentations of his women-folk over having to go back to school tomorrow.
In the meantime, here’s some News You Can Use:
Uncle Sam’s Big Brother’s tips on roasting marshmallows. Yes, your betters have been doing some extensive research into this topic. Not only are they amazed that you cretins haven’t let your children go up in flames from standing too close to the fire, they’ve also determined that you’re placing an undue burden on the health care system by poisoning yourselves with s’mores. Changes will be made at once!
[T]here are some innovative ways to roast the little white treats that can help cut down on the amount of sugar intake by the kids, thus making bedtime a little more doable.
Even if the kids – including us older ones – insist on more traditional s’mores, there are some healthy tricks. Grill thin slices of pineapple and substitute chocolate for the sweet, warm fruit. You will still get a tasty treat but by substituting with fruit, it is healthier – as long as you watch the amount of marshmallows used. If you want to cut down even more on calories, try using slices of angel food cake instead of graham crackers.
You can also get a little inventive and move away from s’mores.
Grab a small bag of chocolate or peanut butter chips – or a combination of the two. Take a banana and slice one side open, exposing the fruit but leaving the peel intact. Slice the banana, add a few chocolate chips then top with tiny marshmallows. Or substitute the chips for blueberries from the local farmer’s market. Place the banana in aluminum foil and wrap tightly. Place the foil-wrapped fruit next to but not on the flames. Wait five to 10 minutes or enough time for the chips and marshmallows to melt. Open and enjoy with a spoon.
Your tax money at work. (Apart from everything else, ol’ Robbo can’t help noting that the author of this piece appears not to understand the proper use of the word “substitute”. Nor does she seem to know the difference between “amount” and “number”. And in going for extra credit with the gratuitous plug for local farmers’ markets, I would suggest she misplaced the apostrophe, since one must assume more than one farmer would be selling there. But never mind.)
My advice to friends of the decanter is to print out this article. Learn it. Live it. Why? Well, remember that the Forest Service is as heavily weaponized as most other gub’mint agencies these days. Failure to adhere to these, ah, suggestions might very well get you an armored personnel carrier crashing into your campsite. Remember, it’s all for your own good.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
In teh past few weeks, ol’ Robbo can’t help but have noticed seeing a number of videos on the Innertoobs of various people – not just celebs, pols, athletes and whatnot, but real people he actually knows – having buckets of ice water poured on their heads.
Yesterday, teh youngest gel came home from her friend’s house, grinning ear to ear and carrying on her iWhateveritis a film of her friend pouring a bucket of ice water over her head.
“Okay, look,” I said, “Just what the heck is all this about anyway?”
“Um,” she said, “Well, there’s like this guuuy? And he’s really rich? And he, like, is challenging people to film themselves, like, pouring iced water on their heads? And, like, if you post the video and he, like, sees it? He’ll give $100 to study some disease nobody’s ever heard of!”
(On further review, I see she got it about half right.)
“Well,” I said, “If he wants to give a lot of money to some worthy charity, why doesn’t he just do it instead of asking people to make fools of themselves in public?”
“DAAAA-aaad!” she replied, “That’s not the way it works these days!”
Now there she was spot on. (I couldn’t help thinking of an old Bill Cosby bit in which he said, “Can you BELIEVE ‘Let’s Make A Deal?’ And that the people on that program are AMERICANS?” Yes, yes I can.)
Iced water on the head is just the latest notch up, but in fact I’ve never been much of a fan of what one might call “public displays of charity” – the ribbons and the t-shirts and the this and that showing one’s concern for some cause or other. Indeed, I seem to recall that a Certain Somebody didn’t think much of such displays either.
I know my viewpoint is in the minority these days, but I’m certainly not alone: