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 France is to be taken to the European Court of Justice for failing to protect the Alsace hamster, a cuddly rodent threatened with extension in its native eastern France.

The European Commission had long warned France it could face a multi-million pound fine if it failed to do more to save its hamsters from extinction.

But French authorities refused all attempts by the commission to protect the diminutive mammal, also known as the European hamster, according to an official linked to the proceedings.

 According to the EU’s executive body, the rodent requires around 600,000 acres of protected land to thrive, but now has less than 8,500 acres in eastern France in which to roam and feed.

Once considered vermin, the Alsace hamster (Cricetus cricetus) has been all but wiped out by rat poison, traps and farmers flooding its burrows.

According to the Commission, its numbers in Alsace plummeted from 1,167 in 2001 to 161 in 2007, and have continued to decline over the past two years.

The population needs to reach 1,500 to remain stable.

The hamster, which has distinctive beige fur, white stripes and a black belly, hibernates for six months and its staple is cabbage, onions and beetroot. However, farmers in Alsace have for years mainly grown maize, which is not ripe when it awakens in March.

Just imagine if the EC had been around in 1940.  Hitler wouldn’t have dared to launch a Blitzkrieg through the Ardenne had he been warned about the Alsace hamsters.  (And I’ll bet they’d have held the Maginot Line better, too.)

The local classickal station has been featuring an “American Musick” theme this month which it intends to run all the way through the July 4 weekend.

On the one hand, this has been beneficial in that I’ve been able to sample pieces by composers I’ve never heard of before.

On the other hand, well, it turns out there’s a pretty good reason why I’ve never heard of them.  Once one gets past Barber (whom I dislike), Copeland (whom I find tedious) and Gershwin (whose “Rhapsody in Blue” has been beaten to death), the bench turns out to be awefully shallow.   Frankly, I think the station over-reached somewhat.

I don’t believe this is a particular bad reflection on America per se.  Rayther, I think it’s just a result of unfortunate timing.  America being such a young nation, the Arts in this country were just starting to come up when classickal musick as a whole was starting to come off the rails.  Most recognized American composers are from the 20th Century and, well, that just isn’t a very good place to be in terms of serious musick.

By way of comparison and to prove my point, I would also note that the 20th Century was a good place to be in terms of more popular kinds of musick.  Think swing and big band.  Think Broadway musicals.  There it’s arguable that American talent in fact dominated.   And the truth of the matter is that I’d much rayther listen to Rodgers and Hart or Cole Porter than, say, Howard Hanson.

The blueberries at the port-swiller residence are ripening fast this week.  (We have half a dozen bushes.  Granted, they’re high-bush, which I know is downright heretical to some people, but they’re very yummy nonetheless.)

Last weekend, before we drove off to camp, the eldest gel and I were out grazing on the earliest arrivals.  I remarked that it was a shame she was going to be gone for the two weeks of prime berry time, and that I guessed I would have no choice but to eat all of them without her.

“Isn’t that a shame,” I said.

Daaaaaaaad!” she replied, and poked me heavily in the rib cage.

I laughed.

She laughed.

A simple tale of father/daughter bonding based on a little gentle teasing, no?  And yet, I’ve told this story to half a dozen people this week and received not a smile or a laugh, but a look of “How could you be so mean?” incredulity.  Granted, the people I’ve told have tended either to be childless or else to have only babies or toddlers, and all of them are much more Liberal than I am, but nonetheless I find their reaction worrisome. 

I’d have thought – well, I do think – that teasing among family members, so long as it is good natured and not designed to be ugly, is an extremely healthy thing.   It teaches the kiddies not to be thin-skinned and it acts as a harmless escape valve to blow off pressure between the grown-ups that might otherwise build to an explosive level if they spent their lives tip-toeing around one another.  Is this no longer acceptable among the Enlightened?

I would estimate that between our internal systems at work and all the courts across the country where I file documents electronically, I have to use at least a dozen different passwords and user names, several of which must be changed periodically.  On top of that, there are all the electronic accounts we keep at home – banking, on-line shopping and the like.  And, of course, there are the keys to this place as well as Llama Central.

Because I had to go round and get checked in for a new security badge yesterday, something suddenly occured to me:  Sooner or later, those Big Guv’mint types who have been yearning for citizen identity cards and a centralized national database are going to make the pitch that such a system would allow us to do away with all these pesky different ID’s and passwords, thereby eliminating the need to keep track of all of them and the headache of losing them.  Indeed, I can even see the argument that a subcutanious microchip implant with a unique identifier, coupled with a universal scanner attached to all electronic devices, would eliminate the need for remembering any user ID or password.

And we, rayther than rising up in wrathful defense of our civil liberties, are instead going to be grateful for the convenience and will go along quite cheerfully.

See if we don’t.

SouthparkKitty Regular port-swillers will know that I’m baching it this week, Mrs. R having gone up to Connecticut to visit family and the gels being away at camp.  Said regulars will also be aware both that two cats reside at the port-swiller residence and that I am not overly fond of cats.

For all the years I’ve had to endure feline company, we’ve fed the little brutes dry food.  Unfortunately, within the past month or two Mrs. R became convinced that we should introduce some wet food into their diets as well.  “Oh,” she said, “It’s just a supplement now and again.”

Uh, huh.

Gradually but speedily, the cats decided that wet food was all they cared about.  Dry, in a word, just wasn’t good enough anymore.

And so we came to this week’s diaspora.  I’ve had nothing to do with the wet food up until now, and I made abundantly clear to Mrs. R that I would not do so going forward, the stuff being thoroughly disgusting to the smell and also a great ant magnet.

Mrs. R just shrugged when I threw down.  The cats? That’s a different matter.  Earlier this week it was nothing but meaningful looks.  After a few days, their concern became verbal, manifesting itself in a loud yowling every time I went anywhere near the kitchen.  My refusal to capitulate in the face of such protest has now been challenged by Bella, the younger and more active of the pair, who showed her displeasure today by raiding the kitchen garbage, something she’s never done before.

Well.  As the Lord said to Job, thus far and no farther.  I’ll be damned if I let a pair of those little bastards bully me around.  I actually found myself this evening staring at them and stirring up their bowl of dry, saying in my sternest tone, “This. Is. It.”

The look they shot back at me was as much as to say, “Dry? We don’t need no stinkin’ dry!”

Thank Heaven they aren’t heavily-armed banditos, or I’d be in a world of hurt.

For whatever reason, it seems that I can no longer get at the WordPress dashboard from my work station.

Whether this is just some kind of technical glitch or a concerted effort on the part of the Powers That Be, I don’t know.  All for the best perhaps, in either case, since I ought not to be goofing off on the job.

Anyhoo, the point is that as a result I probably shall be confining my postings here on out (plus comment approval and the like) to thoughts that occur to me later on in the evening.

Suffice to say, you have now been warned.  In vino veritas, and all that.

In fact, I  had dinner with fellow-Llama Steve-O a few months back.  He let fall that he comes over to Port Swillers’ Central from time to time himself.  Indeed, he  floated the metaphor that TPSAYE was Robbo’s back room, the one behind the leather curtain, the one where you go to get “the good stuff”.

You may make of that what you will.   I dunno if the stuff will be “good”, but it certainly will be, well, Prime Robbo.


I owe one of my regular port-swillers – and I just can’t think who it is – an enormous thank you for recommending G.K. Chesterton’s Manalive.

Based on a post or a comment I had seen somewhere containing that recommendation, a few weeks back I nipped over and bought a copy at the devil’s website.  Upon its arrival, the book sat about for some time on a table in my library, well back in the queue of things-I-meant-to-read.

Yesterday morning, I confess that I was in a pretty grumpy mood, my grumpiness being the product of a general frustration with the disappointments and drudgery of day- to -day living that seizes me from time to time.   Almost at random, I picked up Manalive and dropped it into my briefcase to begin on my metro ride into town.  Imagine, then, the effect of reading Chesterton’s opening description of the wind that blows no one any ill and its effect on the denizens of Beacon House, also trapped in the disappointments and drudgeries of day to day life!  I won’t say that I began to physically sing and dance out on the metro platform, but I can report with absolute honesty that I certainly did so within heart and soul.

And then there is Innocent Smith, the central character of the story so hy-lariously blown over the wall of Beacon House by the wind.  What amazed me at first is the fact that although I generally loathe the Idiot-Savant figgah in fiction, I was willing to take to him at once.  The reason? Well, I think it’s because the “truth” that Smith represents is the Real Truth.  “Oh, Lawd,” I hear you say, “Here we go.”  Well, yes, but look:  For years and years and years I knew that That Truth was out there, and every now and again I was able to get somewhat near to it.  These days, after *ahem* having swum the Tiber,  I find that not only am I more and more aware of it, but I am able to get closer and closer to it.   The effect is still overwhelming.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I can describe it adequately.  If I could, I suppose I would be writing books like….Manalive.

(By the way, I realize that those of you who have not read the book will not have the faintest idea what I’m talking about, and I apologize for this.  My advice is to go pick up a copy.  As for those of you who have read the book and still don’t know what I’m talking about, well, all I can say is that I pity you.)

Oh, and I’m afraid I have to report some less good news.  In my researches, I discovered that the President of the American Chesterton Society is the producer of a movie version of Manalive scheduled to come out later this year.  The story has been “updated” and set in modern Charleston, S.C.   Here’s the trailer:


Not that I pay any more attention to Father’s Day than to Mother’s Day, but I couldn’t help smiling at the thought that I spent the bulk of yesterday getting rid of two of the gels for two weeks.  That’s your comic irony right there.

Yes, yesterday began the now-annual jaunt up to Summer’s Best Two Weeks, or “SB2W” as the cogniscenti call it.  We, in our lighter moments, also often refer to it as Bible-Thumpers’ Camp, because it was founded by the Presbyterians and its stated mission is “building Christian character through competitive athletics”.  Most of the camp counselors are kids from solid evangelical schools like Grove City College.  Every one of the campers is placed on either the “Roman” or the “Galatian” team, on whose behalf they spend the two weeks going head to head.  There also is daily Bible-study and prayer.  You get the idea.

(Now before anyone gets riled up, let me reassure that we kid because we love.  The motto of the place is “God first, others second, self third” and they put it into practice in just about every aspect of the program.  Who on earth can have any objection to that?)

Of course, it’s also plain, old-school camp.  The place sits on a lake way out in the middle of nowhere.  The campers bunk 12 to a cabin in fairly primitive conditions.  There’s sailing and kayaking and swimming, zip-lines, crafts, campfires and all the rest of it.  I never did camp when I was a kid, but I must say it looks like an awful lot of fun.

Oh, and another nice thing is that “helicopter parents” need not apply to this place.  No email, no telephone, no mid-term visits.  Once you help the kiddies stow their gear, you are very politely but very firmly made aware that your presence is no longer required.

As I staggered in under the weight of their duffels (Mrs. R packs the gels off under the assumption that neither of them is going to do any laundry the entire term), I had to smile a bit.  The eleven year old, who rules the roost at home, had a look of vague apprehension on her face because she didn’t know any of her cabin-mates.  I was quite touched with pity and simply sat with her for a bit without really saying anything.  After a while she assured me that she would be alright and I could leave, but I know it will take her a couple days to come out of her shell.  The nine year old, meanwhile,  who seems to know practically everyone, settled in happy as a clam, glomming on to several old friends and, when I left, busily usurping the bunk assignments in her cabin so as to arrange herself and her friends in what she considered the optimal order.

We took the seven year old along for the ride and to let her check the place out.  She starts next summah.  God help them all.

I suppose this is the song of the day:

Why, because June 19 is now the O-fficial Happiest Day of the Year, at least according to a rayther complicated formula worked out by a Brit psychologist based on communing with nature, social interaction and a little Proustian memory of times past.

I don’t know about all that.  What I do know is that today also happens to be the 16th wedding anniversary for Mrs. R and Self.

Not that we’re doing much about it today, as we are right in the middle of the end-of-school-year-beginning-of-summer-activities change over, and things are a bit hectic.  BUT…..on Sunday, we drive the two elder gels up to Bible-Thumper Camp in Pennsylvania for two weeks.  The following weekend we unload the youngest gel on Brownie Camp for a week.  Thus, we’ll have the house absolutely to ourselves for the week before the 4th.

We’ve already planned numerous celebratory activities, but truth be told we’re a little bit apprehensive about being on our own for so long.  What does one talk about?

Yes, this evening Mrs. R and I took the gels to see Huey Lewis and the News at Wolftrap, and, yes, you can sneer all you want, but we had a great time.

We packed a picnic dinner and sat out on the lawn.  After all the storms that rolled through here today, it turned out to be a perfect evening, a bit humid but nice and cool.  The gels have not been to a concert of this sort since their “Wiggles” days, and positively ate it up.  The highlight of the evening was the attention the seven year old grabbed by jumping up on the cooler and “surfing” to the beat of the songs.

And of course, everyone sang along.  Said the 11 year old of Huey, “Boy, for a 60 year old guy, he sure has a lot of enthusiasm!”

The only downside was the group of extremely drunk kids who sat directly behind us and who would not shut up the entire time.  On the theory of turning lemons into lemonade, rayther than trying to shield the gels from them, I pointed out for their edification how idiotic drunkeness makes one look.  I’m happy to say that the lesson went straight home.


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June 2009