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♦  Well, here we are at the start of another Holy Week.  I think I’m just about Martha’d out in terms of getting the Port-Swiller residence cleaned up, and am going to go into a more Mary-like mode.

♦  I missed the calendar anniversary the other day, but the coming Easter Vigil will mark the second anniversary of my reception into HMC.   I happened to exchange emails with one of my RCIA classmates recently.  She asked how things were going and I replied that either I am seriously overlooking something, or else the fit is absolutely natural.  I’m inclined to believe the latter.

♦  Speaking of the Church, I’ve nothing much to say on the subject of the current hatchet job aimed at the Pope except that I think the timing of it after the Church’s heavy anti-abortion lobbying in the health care debate is no accident.

♦  On a lighter note, one of these days I’m going to need to learn how to bend a palm frond around and make it into a cross.  I still have last year’s frond, by the way.  It somehow ended up in my closet.  I now use it to tickle the cat.

♦  I will be getting down to sorting out the Easter menu this week.  Mrs. P has promised to post a lamb recipe for me.  There is some division in the Port-Swiller household on the subject of lamb.  Those who enjoy it will (I hope) be well pleased.  Those who don’t are going to be offered hamburger-helper instead.

♦  I understand that the gels are all off to the beach down in Flahrdah today.  It’s interesting how even when I’m at the point of wishing to strangle the lot of them just before their departure on these little trips, within 24 hours I find myself mooning around quite out of sorts.  Robbo’s been too thoroughly domesticated to get much pleasure out of baching it anymore.

♦  Speaking of which, the twelve year old asked me yesterday if she could get her ears pierced while she was down there.  Closing my eyes against the oncoming tide, I said fine, go ahead.   However, shortly thereafter she changed her mind, as somebody had warned her about having to stay out of the water for a while.  The plan now, I gather, is to get it done once swimming season is over.   So that’s a bit of a reprieve.  

♦  Spring hasn’t quite sproing here just yet, but yesterday I saw the first goldfinch completely rigged out it its summah plummage.  We have a thistle-feeder on the back porch that they positively adore – I’ve counted fourteen of them on or around it at once, blazing away in their yellow splendor.

♦  Speaking of blazing birds, you may be interested to know that part of Mr. Cardinal’s wooing consists of tilting his body sideways and fanning out his tail at Mrs. Cardinal.  I think the idea is to make her say, “hubba, hubba!”  However, the look I saw on Mrs. Cardinal’s face suggested something more along the lines of, “Oh, for Heaven’s sake, don’t you ever think about anything else?”

♦  Speaking of non-blazing birds, I’m afraid the cowbirds have returned.  I hate cowbirds – ugly, greedy brutes who routinely clean out the feeders.  On the other hand, no sign of the catbirds yet.  I love catbirds, although sometimes they seem to get themselves so worked up in their “Eeeeeaa….Eeeeeaaa!!!”   that I want to say, “What? What’s bothering you?”

♦  Well, off to see about food, I suppose.  Mrs. R left me with a big ol’ package of chicken breasts that I’ve had marinating overnight – half in a herb garlic concoction, half in a mesquite and lime.  I got the brilliant idea to grill the lot of them this evening and feed on them for lunch and din-dins through the rest of the week.

♦  Don’t know how much more posting I’ll be doing before Easter itself.   While everyone’s still gone, I plan to spend a goodish bit of time at Church (including the Tenebrae – surely the altar boys’ favorite Mass, given that they get free reign to kick the pews as hard as they can for the strepidus), and then relatives will start rolling in (Mrs. R, the gels and the Mothe on Thursday and my brother and his family on Friday), so my time will be pretty well taken up.

Robbo just received the following note from some unknown bargee styling him or herself “Noimmiptiodum”:

Earth Hour 2010 occurs on Saturday 27 March and is really a global call to action to each and every human being, each and every company and each one local community throughout the world.

It is really a call to stand up, taking accountability, to get engaged and steer the way toward a environmentally friendly future.

May you get involved?

My dear “Noimmiptiodum”, please feel free to get stuffed.

For those of you unacquainted with “earth hour”, I quote from what appears to be its o-fficial website:

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million homes and businesses turned their lights off for one hour to make their stand against climate change. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries participating. Global landmarks such as the, Sydney Harbour Bridge, The CN Tower in Toronto, The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum, all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.

As a practical matter, all I can say is that I hope flipping off the lights on these various landmarks does not include dousing their aviation beacons.  God help the pilot who wanders anywhere near them otherwise.

On a more philosophical level, I hardly know where to begin.  By now, even the mainstream media are beginning to admit that the whole “anthropic climate change” doomsday meme has about as much credibility as Piltdown Man, Margaret Mead’s field research on the Samoans or the Martian landing at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.  Personally, I believe that the fraud goes even deeper than has been admitted by anyone to date. 

Having said that, of course I don’t believe that Mankind should simply run riot over the environment.  After all, we all have a God-given duty of stewardship that goes right back to Genesis:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

(Genesis 1: 26-28)

With dominion comes responsibility, of course.  Or “taking accountability”, as Noimmiptiodum rayther awkwardly puts it.  But that’s a function of day-to-day modesty and restraint, not of silly public stunts.  May I quote again?

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

(Matthew 6: 1-8)

By the bye, forget all the talk about devils and perpetual torment:  This passage, with Jesus’ subtle warning, is the one that literally scares the hell out of me more than any other.

But where was I?  Oh, yes, infantile public stunts purporting to show “engagement” or heeding “a call to stand up”.  Pah.  As Jesus notes, these things have very little to do with actual substantive responsibility and everything to do with narcissism.  Let me quote you another author on the matter:

Fretting makes us important.  Say you’re an adult male and you’re skipping down the street whistling “Last Train to Clarksville.”  People will call you a fool.  But lean over to the person next to you on a subway and say, “How can you smile while innocents are dying in Tibet?”  You’ll acquire a reputation for great seriousness and also more room to sit down.

Tragedy is better than comedy for self-dramatization, as every teenager knows.  Think how little attention we pay to a teen who’s bustling around the house with a big smile on his face, greeting parents and siblings with cheery salutations…….Actually, we’d pay a lot of attention and rush him to the drug detox center, post haste.  But you know what I mean.  Would you rather star in Hamlet or Three’s Company?

Beeing gloomy is easier than being cheerful.  Anybody can say “I’ve got cancer” and get a rise out of a crowd.  But how many of us can do five minutes of good stand-up comedy?

And worrying is less work than doing something to fix the worry.  This is especially true if we’re careful to pick the biggest possible problems to worry about.  Everybody wants to save the earth:  nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.

P.J. O’Rourke, All The Trouble In The World

So no, my dear Noimmiptiodum, I’m afraid I must decline your invitation.  I had thought, like Damian Thompson, to switch on all the Port-Swiller lights by way of  demonstrating my contempt.  On further reflection, however, I believe I shall put a smile on my face, go about my biznay and simply ignore the whole silly thing.

Mrs. R and the gels headed off to Flahr-duh for a spring break visit to grandparents this morning and won’t be back until Holy Thursday.  (I didn’t mention it to them, but thank Heaven I wasn’t going, as there’s a howling wind that I’m sure produced the kind of take-off that typically knocks a good couple months off my lifespan.)

Thus, I plan to spend the next few days giving the Port-Swiller residence a scrub from clew to earring.  I’d been hoping I could open all the windows and air the place out, plus take the rugs outside and give them a good beating, but the weather has turned rainy and chilly again so I’ll have to content myself with dusting and mopping without.  Nonetheless, at least I’ll be able to do so unhindered.  Aaand the place should be in good shape for the advent of various family members for the Easter festivities.

Regular port-swillers will recall that by way of a breather in my Lenten reading cycle, I decided to go back to Patrick O’Brian’s earliest sea novels, The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore.  Both books tell the story of the remarkable voyage round the world by Commodore Anson in 1740. 

 The former tells the tale of one Peter Palafox, a (ficticious) midshipman aboard Anson’s flagship HMS Centurion which, after rounding Cape Horn, preyed upon Spanish shipping and shore installations, eventually capturing the Manila galleon which carried better than a million pieces o’ eight.   The latter relates the adventures of Jack Byron, a (very real) midshipman serving aboard HMS Wager, a converted Indiaman that was part of Anson’s squadron.  Upon entering the Pacific, she wound up wrecked upon the rocks of an island in Patagonia.  (It is still called Wager Island and you can find it on Google Earth.  I tried to post the image but don’t know how.  It’s located on the south side of a large, round bay, the first serious bay on the shore of Chile as you go north from the Straits of Magellan.)  Eventually, Byron and a few other survivors made it back to England, but only after a harrowing time of it, indeed.

I believe I have only read The Unknown Shore once before, and that quite some time ago.  Thus, I had totally forgotten not only a good deal of the plot, but also how much more a precursor it is of the Aubrey/Maturin novels than is The Golden Ocean.  Not only is Jack in many ways a young Jack Aubrey, and not only does he have an eccentric young medical friend (Surgeon’s Mate Tobias Barrow) who could be Stephen Maturin’s little brother, but the whole style of the book – its turns of phrase, its humor, its pacing – illustrates the Old Sheep of the Lake District’s gag about the child being the father of the man.

Also, the story of the wreck of the Wager is not fiction (well, neither is the story of Anson and the Centurion, for that matter), but like many most all (as far as I know) of O’Brian’s sea tales, is based on historickal accounts.  Here, he doesn’t even bother changing things very much (except for adding Tobias and some unimportant domestic matters at the beginning and end), but instead lifts most of his tale straight out of Byron’s own account.  And a quick perusal of the devil’s website shewed, much to my delight, that the original is very much available in the form of  The Loss of the Wager: The Narratives of John Bulkeley and the Hon. John Byron, which book even now is winging its way to join the list of Robbo’s nautical library.  (John Bulkeley, by the way, was a member of the crew of the Wager.  After she struck and largely due to the poor command skills of Captain Cheap, he and some of the other survivors mutinied and made off.  Cheap, Byron and the small party of loyalists, aided by local Indians, eventually headed north and into the hands of the Spanish.  Bulkeley and his crew went south.  I don’t yet know the details, but somehow at least some of them got back round the Horn and made it home.)  I shall be very interested to read this book, not only for its own sake but also with an eye to how faithful O’Brian was to his source.  (Pretty faithful, if his later work is anything to go by.)

Oh, and I mentioned that Jack Byron (or more properly, the Hon. John Byron) was a real person?  Indeed.  He went on to have a full naval career, commanding in both the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution, and rose to the rank of Vice Admiral.  And yes, he was the grandfather of that libertine swine, the poet Byron, a footnote not lost in O’Brian’s story.  I suppose that says something about bloodlines petering out or going bad.  (Sorry, but I just can’t stick Lord Byron.)

So now that I’ve finished these stories, I can feel the salt water flowing in my veins again and am looking forward to boarding O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin stories once again after Easter, this time posting about them as I go along.  So stand by to hoist the Blue Peter!

It’s still a week until April Fool’s Day, but I’m nonetheless hoping that this is all some kind of terrible hoax:

LONDON – Princess Diana’s former home, Kensington Palace, will be rebranded “The Enchanted Palace” Friday to lure tourists from other popular London sights, like Madame Tussauds waxworks and the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are displayed (behind very thick glass).

In this interactive age, it’s not enough for a stately palace to offer royal art, staid banquet rooms, and roped-off thrones, so curators have opted for fashion, performance art, and a bit of Alice in Wonderland fantasy. The exhibit, meant to draw viewers into the lives of past palace residents, uses intense lighting, actors and musicians to set the mood. One man even coaxes sound from a saw with a violin bow.

The tone is set by the Room of Royal Sorrows. No, it’s not about Diana and her fractured fairytale marriage to Prince Charles; it’s a dramatization of the emotional torment of Queen Mary II as she tried in vain a produce an heir. It is set in her bedchamber, giving the display an unsettling authenticity. On the bed is a figure of the queen, dressed in blue, face hidden.

“The first time you walk into the room, it has an aura of sadness, but also incredible beauty,” said designer Marcus Wilmont, part of the team that decorated the room and came up with the outfit worn by the mannequin representing Queen Mary. “She tried really hard, but she had many miscarriages. She was a very loved queen, and we wanted to try to capture her spirit.”

The somber tone is set by dozens of antique glass bottles known as “tear catchers.” In times of mourning, tears were put in the bottles “to catch the sorrow” even though they would soon evaporate, Wilmont said

Visitors are given a chance to leave a handwritten note stating the last time they cried.

Not every display is laced with tragedy. One of Diana’s elegant ball gowns is on display, and Vivienne Westwood, one of Britain’s most revered designers, came up with a fanciful — and fantastic — dress designed to be worn by a rebellious princess.

The room where British kings met with advisers, foreign diplomats and occasionally the public has also been redone, with a colorful new throne that visitors are encouraged to try out. A Room of Enlightenment features a bust of Isaac Newton topped by a Stephen Jones hat that includes a mock red apple, covered with rhinestones, to commemorate Newton’s moment of illumination.

The exhibit also includes The Room of Royal Secrets and the Rooms of Lost Childhood, all to evoke the bittersweet nature of real royal life as lived, not imagined. Many royals are portrayed as lonely and isolated despite the magnificent sweeping views of Kensington Gardens and the multimillion dollar art collection that lines the interior palace walls.

“We really wanted to try something completely different that gave us a way to take a fresh look at the palace’s history and the lives of the people who lived here,” said Alexandra Kim, one of the curators of the two-year show. “We want people to connect with the emotions.”

In other words, the House of Windsor, already subjected to the tragedy of getting itself mixed up with that train-wreck of a Spencer woman (Kensington isn’t even “her” home, dammit), is now to be subjected to the farce of Disneyfication.

I begin to think that maybe the Jacobites were right and God really did abandon the monarchy when the Stuarts were pitched out, although He took His time about it.

Erm…..From the Department of Dubious Ideas, Silly Stunts Division comes 3-D Catholic TV:

BOSTON (AP) — Avatars and Mad Hatters are already performing before American audiences in 3-D, and Shrek is coming soon. Now, a national Catholic television network is throwing priests into the mix.

CatholicTV debuted 3-D programs Tuesday in an effort to reach younger people and to make the faith message more vivid. The network posted several 3-D shows on the Internet, released its monthly magazine in 3-D – complete with glasses – and said it will eventually broadcast some programs in 3-D.

CatholicTV’s director, the Rev. Robert Reed, said he’d been planning to introduce 3-D well before the success of James Cameron’s movie “Avatar” or the 3-D “Alice in Wonderland.”

“It’s a way for us to show that we believe the message we have is relevant, and we’re going to use every possible avenue to bring that message to people,” said Reed, whose network reaches 5 million to 6 million homes nationwide through various cable providers.

Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, applauded CatholicTV for taking a risk with technology to attract a broader, younger audience. Evangelical Christians are typically far more adept at that outreach, he said.

But if the 3-D shows aren’t compelling, he said, it could backfire by reinforcing the notion that the Catholic Church is out of touch.

“In some ways, it’s better to look like retro 2-D than bad 3-D,” he said. “Hip is a moving target. James Cameron is up more on that than Pope Benedict.”

CatholicTV, based in Watertown, Mass., is jumping into 3-D in a year when an unprecedented 19 3-D movies are scheduled for release, including the latest Shrek sequel. This month, 3-D went small screen when Samsung and Panasonic began selling their first 3-D television sets for about $3,000 each.

“It’s just a hot technology,” Reed said. “So I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t use it for the purpose of connecting with younger people.”

I tend to agree with Prof. Prothero.  Far better for the Church to concentrate on bolstering orthodoxy than to squander its energy on fly-by-night trends trying to be more “relevant”.  (See Dance, Liturgical.  See, also, Episcopal Church, Decline and Fall Thereof.)   And as for the hip, new technology angle, I’ve got a baaaaaad feeling that the results will bear a very close resemblance to SCTV’s Dr. Tongue:

“Would you like some more…..Body and Blood??!!”

Really scary, huh, kids?

Staring out the kitchen window this morning, I noticed the forsythiae blooming in the garden.  As has been the case for the past six or seven years at least, rather than the big blaze of color one hopes for, they have come out again in rayther half-hearted, anemic handfuls of yellow flowers.

My fellow port-swillers, I tell you truly that I am sick and tired of this hedge.  I know all about how forsythia blooms on new wood.  I have tried hogging it back in mid-spring, I have tried leaving it alone.  I have tried feeding it and I have tried not feeding it.  It’s not that the plants themselves aren’t healthy – they regularly grow to twelve feet and leaf out very thickly.   It’s just that come spring they just don’t seem to feel like putting any effort into flowering.

Bloody welfare cheats.

Pondering this lack of enthusiasm, I resolved that I am going to take sterner measures this year.  Usually, I’ve cut them back to a height of about four feet or so after they’ve finished blooming.  Evidently, this is not enough, so this time around I’m going to raze them right down to within a foot or two of their lazy-behinded root systems.

See if I don’t.

I don’t know how to say “I’m luvin’ it” in Ancient Greek, but that was my reaction upon discovering that Radio Beeb is currently running a series called Acropolis Now, billed as “a sitcom set in Ancient Greece”.

Currently on offer: Episode 5, War -“Xanthippe’s luck is in as the war-like, sex-mad Spartans arrive in Ancient Athens.”

Coming up: Episode 6, Sheep – “Socrates and friends enter the Intellectual Olympics, but Heraclitus is side-tracked.”

I’ve got to set some time aside soon to check these out.

A glass of wine with Scufulans hirsutus.

**Spot the quote.  Another of my favorite Ancient Greek humor bits, but only worth 1.5 points because it’s so easy.

UPDATE: Oh, what the heck.  Here you go:

(I love it when the streams cross.)  Enjoy!

Now that the gels’ softball season has started, on several days of the week I have to head in to the office early in order to be able to get out in time for practices, games and whatnot.  What with daylight savings and all, my commute is in the pre-dawn, when the sky in the east is just starting to change color from black to dismal gray.

It’s a dank, dead thing, the fag-end of the night, and not an especially pleasant time to be oot and aboot.  On the other hand, it always brings about fond memories of my yoot, when I was dragged out of bed well before sun-up to go hunting or fishing with the Old Gentleman.  By the time the trees and buildings were just beginning to show in sillouette against the sky, we would already be well on our way to the deer stand, the duck blind or the first marker toward the bay where we fished.

It’s been, oh, well over twenty five years since I did anything like that.  Nonetheless, in my still half-asleep condition on my commute, especially when I smell cigarette smoke (the old boy smoked like a chimney back then), I sometimes almost fancy that I’m heading off on another one of these expeditions and not just to my desk.

In the coming days there will be many nooz articles about state revolts against the new guv’mint health regime.

Note to reporters and pundits: It’s “attorneys general” not “attorney generals”.

Thank you.


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March 2010