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Greetings, my fellow port-swillers! I hope your Christmas continues to be merry.  A word of advice about today’s seven swans a-swimming:  The bathtub probably just won’t do.  Also, swans are even more bad-tempered than geese.  Bigger, too.  Good luck!

My sneaking suspicion that Mrs. Robbo was planning to turn what I hoped would be a quiet New Year’s Eve spent with just our oldest friends into a full-blown party has turned out to be completely justified, as Mrs. R has finally unmasked her batteries.  All day she has been saying things like, “Oops! I forgot to tell you that the So-and-So’s are stopping by, too” to the point where I have lost count.  And although she tries to soften the blow by promising that this or that attendee is “only staying for one drink,” it has become perfectly plain to me that I am going to be forced to….entertain.   

Geh.  I’d better go take a nap.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers! I hope your Christmas festivities continue apace.  A word about those geese a-laying for today: they’re evil-tempered creatures and they bite.  You’ve been warned.

Those following what has become the on-going plumbing saga at the port-swiller residence will be interested to know that when the contractor to whom we usually turn for this sort of thing came in to fix up the ceiling of the breakfast room this morning, he noticed not only that the beams and whatnot were still too damp in order to complete such repair, but also that another section of the pipes a bit further on from those just replaced shows every sign of getting ready to spring leaks, too.  He estimated that within the year we’d be having exactly the same trouble again.  So in the ounce of prevention spirit, he’s going to come back next week, replace the offending section of pipe and seal the whole back up again.

So bang goes the chance of turning tomorrow night’s festivities into a painting party.  However, there is a big, green slab of drywall temporarily screwed in to the ceiling by way of patch.  Perhaps we could have a contest to see who can put their footprints on it instead.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!  I hope your Christmas Feast continues with good cheer.  A word of advice about those five golden rings you got this morning: Watch out for creepy horsemen dressed all in black and mumbling about Mordor.  They’re bad news.  They’re also kind of stupid, so don’t try to explain, just run!

Those of you idly wondering about the aftermath of last week’s post on the leaky upstairs plumbing at la casa de los port-swillers may be interested to note ol’ Robbo’s handling of the matter.  Well, as I couldn’t get away from work to deal with it prior to the hols, and as the leak was not so severe that I could justify to myself dragging some poor plumber out over the weekend and ruining his Christmas, I simply placed a bucket or two under the drips and waited for the return of Mrs. Robbo and gels from their jaunt down to Flahrduh.

Upon her return, Mrs. R took the matter in hand in her efficient way and had the plumber out yesterday.  Whereupon it was discovered that we had not one, but three leaks in the same pipe, all in a section that had not been replaced previously.  While the plumber initially recommended that we get the whole upstairs works replaced, Mrs. R’s explanation of all the nickel-and-diming we had done to date subsequently convinced him that this might be a sensible alternative after all, whereupon he switched out the offending section.   We must be pretty close to done up there by now, but I’m sure we haven’t seen the end of the problem just yet.

The only remaining problem is that we have a three by four foot hole in the breakfast room ceiling now, and what I had thought was going to be a casual New Year’s Eve with Very Old Friends is rapidly morphing itself into a much larger bean-o.  Myself, I would probably just let the thing go, laughing it off lightly if remarked upon by our guests.  However, Mrs. R does not work that way: I believe she’s having the hole patched today or tomorrow, and I have a very clear vision of Self with paintbrush in hand tidying the bits up a couple hours before the party.

Rounding out their month-long celebration of Beethoven’s birthday, the local classickal station has been running pairings this week of his symphonies with piano transcriptions of them done by Franz Liszt.

I may say that it is an interesting exercise, but I find that I am not greatly moved by the keyboard versions.  And it occurs to me off-handedly that this kind of transposition probably is more effective going the other way, that is, arrangements of original keyboard works for orchestra.  (Here I’m thinking of Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorski’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” or Berlioz’s version of Weber’s “Invitation to the Dance”.  There are exceptions to this, I suppose, such as Leopold Stokowski’s orchestral murder of Bach’s keyboard musick, which I wouldn’t wish on anybody.)

I can only think of a few other piano transcriptions of orchestral musick, mostly in the context of variations based on themes from Mozart’s operas and the like, but there again, I usually don’t much care for them.  If there are better examples of the craft that I don’t know about, I’d be interested to learn.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers! I hope that your Christmas continues to be joyful.  A word about those four calling birds that arrived today, though: Keep a close eye on them if you don’t want a heart attack with your next phone bill.


Speaking of such things, it seems scientists have discovered that setting up a bird feeder in your back yard transforms the local avian population from hard-working, go-getting singers and procreators into fat, lazy, ennui-ridden lumps:

Scientists have discovered that the growing trend of providing wild birds with food such as sunflower seeds and fat balls is changing their behaviour.

As well as causing songbirds to delay the dawn chorus by 20 minutes, or skip it altogether, the extra food could have a major impact on male mating chances.

“Dawn singing is used to show off to females and keep away competitors, so delaying or skipping song at dawn may have detrimental effects on male chances of paternity,” says Dr Valentin Amrhein of the Zoological Institute at the University of Basel, Switzerland, who led the study.

“Our advice is to keep feeding birds in gardens during the winter when it can save lives, but stop feeding by the end of March to avoid the breeding season.”

So come this March, I guess I’m going to have to hang a sign on my feeder that says, “Get a job!”


Here’s a nifty little stocking-stuffer of the kind that ol’ Robbo enjoys: CIA decodes Civil War message in a bottle after 147 years.

A message in a bottle sent to a Confederate general during the Siege of Vicksburg, one of the key turning points of the American Civil War, has finally been deciphered after 147 years.

The glass vial stopped with a cork contained a coded missive to Lt Gen John C Pemberton, who was besieged in the Mississippi city by Union forces led by Ulysses S Grant.

After nearly six weeks people in Vicksburg had resorted to eating cats, dogs and leather, and making soup from wallpaper paste.

The encrypted, six line message was dated July 4, 1863, the date of Pemberton’s surrender, and would have offered no hope to him. It said: “You can expect no help from this side of the river.”

The source of the message is thought to have been Maj Gen John G. Walker, of the Texas Division.

Pemberton had also held out hope that General Joseph E Johnston, and his 32,000 Confederate troops camped south of Vicksburg, would eventually come to his aid, but Walker’s message made clear that was not going to happen.

Not to get all pedantic about it, but  Joe Johnston was never camped south of Vicksburg – Grant had dropped south of Vicksburg on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi and crossed the river below the city, driving Pemberton’s forces north and east.  Johnston was sent to Jackson to try and save the situation, where he promptly got whipped on May 14 and retired to the north.  Grant then  turned on Pemberton’s remaining forces to the west, defeating him at Champion Hill on May 16 and driving him back into the Vicksburg fortifications, which Grant settled down to besiege two days later.  Johnston continued to hover around Canton, which is north of Jackson (and northeast of Vicksburg), but Grant detailed a force to keep an eye on him and pounce if he tried to relieve the seige.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!  I hope you are all having a very merry Christmas and that everyone received their three French hens this morning.

I have two thoughts on musick for you today, both of them somewhat cranky.  (There’s a surprise, what?)

The first is to note the irony in the fact that all Christmas musick has vanished from the local classickal station’s playlist now that we are actually into the Feast itself.  I’m somewhat torn about it, since on the one hand such tracks would be more appropriate now than they were between  Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, but on the other hand I’m sick to death of them.  (This is but another restatement of my gripe about playing such musick before Christmas even starts.)

The second involves the Midnight Mass I attended Friday night. (And when we say “midnight” in my parish, me buck-o, we mean it – I didn’t get home until past 2 ack emma Saturday morning.)  Normally, the musickal selections at my church are, well, heavenly.  This time, however, for some inexplicable reason we were served up a mass setting by…..Ralph Vaughn Williams.   Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that the work was absolute rubbish – melodramatic, shrill, self-absorbed and a complete distraction from the doings rayther than a compliment to them.  Can’t imagine what the musickal director thought he was playing at.

1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

 2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

 6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

 8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

-Luke 2:1-14

May all of my fellow port-swillers have a very merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.  God bless you all.

(The Nativity with Donors and Saints Jerome and Leonard, ca. 1510–15
Gerard David (ca. 1455–1523)

R.R. Reno on the Incarnation at First Things:

It’s easy to step back and denounce the excesses of the Christmas season: the orgy of spending, too much food, too much drink, too many parties, and expensive ski vacations that bring aching credit card hangovers. Easy, but mistaken.

I’m not in favor of spending a lot to finance fantasies of Christmas perfection, nor do I endorse the sort of gluttony and the psychological overload of “special moments” that makes us feel as though Christmas is a celebratory marathon to recover from rather than savor. Yet, the basic impulse toward excess is not wrongheaded. In fact, given the theological meaning of Christmas, it’s altogether fitting in its way.

Think about it. The incarnate Son of God is light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, and of one substance with the Father. God himself comes to us in the newly born child. Mary’s womb, a human vessel of life, has been made full, and not just with a new life, but with the very source of light and life (John 1:4). This, surely, is an excess beyond all excesses. God goes on a redemptive bender, as it were.

As the next paragraph makes clear, Reno is talking about an intramural debate among Christians over the proper attitude toward Christmas, not condoning holiday binging that has no spiritual basis.  (I would still argue that the secular, consumerist-driven gluttony that so pervades the season these days is a bad thing.)

Go read the rest.  I think his “this-even-more” explanation of divine love is particularly good: I have found that when I meditate on the subject at any length, I often feel that I can literally sense the Universe lurch with the wonder of it.

Over the past day or two, ol’ Robbo has been cringing in anticipation at the beginning of each new bit played on the local classickal station, wondering in the manner of someone about to pull the trigger in a game of Russian roulette which tune was going to emerge from the shlocky opening fanfare.

The really disturbing part is that I’m almost beginning to enjoy this little game.


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December 2010