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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  Seeing as it is Sunday and a bye day from Lenten disciplines, ol’ Robbo decided to crank up some tunes (Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, to be exact) and step out into the intertubes.  (Although, from the port-swiller traffic meter, it doesn’t seem to matter much of a damn whether Robbo is here or not. Eh.) 

So how does one go about doing a bit of Sunday Random in this season? Well, I reckoned I would borrow a theme used by Debussy, among others, starting off with thoughts of a Sacred nature and then moving on to the Profane:

♦  My Lenten reading this year, although starting off with some Chesterton, has  veered heavily toward C.S. Lewis.  As has sometimes been the case in the past, I read Screwtape and The Great Divorce in rapid succession, thereby giving myself an extended case of the creeps and some mighty strange dreams.  Also in the Lewis canon, I went through both the Ransom trilogy and the Narniad on the grounds that although they were fiction, they were at the same time powerful discussions of theological ideas.  Following up on this, I am now rereading Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, an absolutely breath-taking critical analysis of what Ward calls the “donegality” of these various stories based on the Ptolemaic solar system together with other Medieval Christian ideas.  Doing so has caused in me a firm resolve to delve into Chaucer, Dante and Boethius, all of whom heavily influenced Lewis’s thinking and writing.  (I had thought I had a copy of the latter’s Consolation of Philosophy, but apparently not.  Can anyone recommend a good translation?)

♦  This is not to say that I’m not also reading some more, ah, direct materials.  At the moment, I am tackling again B-16’s Jesus of Nazareth.  The last time I went through it, I made a point of highlighting what I though to be important passages and insights regarding the Gospel accounts of Jesus.  I see this time around that I more or less underlined the entire text.  You do the math.

♦  The punch-line is that after engaging in all of this intense examination of Christianity in all its profundity, I found myself in the Adult Forum at RFEC this morning listening to a parishioner assert that the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well was a message that we should embrace all Abrahamic traditions (including, by implication, Islam) as equally legitimate.  Head? Meet desktop!  It’s only the fact that I don’t consider the RFEC to be my sandbox anymore (and therefore that my own input at such fora would be rude) that keeps me from jumping up and howling when this kind of do-it-yourself theology is offered.  We don’t let laymen operate on the body.  Why should we let them do so on the soul?

♦ On a more positive note, two Sundays ago I was out in Peoria, Illinois preparing for a jury trial.  That morning, I toddled over to the Church of the Sacred Heart for Mass.  The place is run by a Franciscan order and demonstrates that even the Novus Ordo can be performed with dignity and solemnity when the local powers that be have the will.  What I found to be particularly gratifying was the fact that this parish uses the St. Michael Hymnal, the only post-Vatican II hymnal that, IMHO, has the faintest idea about appropriate hymnody, perhaps because much of the musick is lifted straight from the Anglican tradition.  (I still maintain that nobody, nobody, understands hymnody like the Anglicans.)   Apart from my own parish, this is the only place I have ever found it used, most of the others wallowing in awful New Age bilge with names like “Gatherings”.   Musick is, of course, not the center of worship, but it counts.  

♦  For those of you rad-trads asking, “Tom, where does hymnody even have a place in the Tridentine?” I will answer that my own parish has grafted on a Processional and Recessional to bookend the traditional Mass, an innovation of which I heartily approve.  And the choice of musick for such hop-ons makes all the difference.

♦ Speaking of my parish, I will note that this Easter marks the third anniversary of my swim across the Tiber.  I now feel that I can chuck my pledge beenie.  Indeed, having now got thoroughly settled in, I increasingly find myself asking the question: Now what?  Back at the RFEC, the main outreach mission seemed to have been geared to the Perfectibility of Mankind, as witnessed by the whole Millenium Development Goals (aka, “Buy a goat for Jesus”) program, which strikes me as at once too remote and at the same time built on a false premise.  No, I recognize that my range of influence is much shorter than that, and at the same time is filled with issues and problems that can’t be made to go away simply by writing a check.   The most ticklish biznay is within my relationships with my own family.  But at least that is self-contained (and is, pace, not suitable for discussion here).  The more publick question is what I can be doing beyond them.  To where do I turn my energies? This morning I made sammiches for a local shelter, but that was under the aegis of the RFEC, and that only happens once a month.  Surely there’s a use for me somewhere else as well? 

Basta! Enough of the Sacred! I’m on the clock here, and what of the profane?

♦ Well, now.  Last evening  Mrs. R and I went to see a local production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie.  I must say that the whole thing, which I had not read since high school, put me off mightily, despite the fact that it was very well acted.  As I get older, I grow increasingly unsympathetic to individuals, whether fictional or real, who behave badly and then whine about it (as does the narrator, Tom (an autobiographical character), in this play).   I simply cannot embrace what C.S. Lewis (there he is again!) would call the Saturnine influence, instead embracing the Jovian character of jollity, hardihood and resilience in the face of whatever may come.

♦ Okay, religious themes aside.  Recently I ran off a DVD series from PBS called The War That Made America, a dramatization of the French and Indian War.  On the whole, I suppose, it was a moderately decent attempt to boil seven years’ worth of war down to four hour-long programs.  Obviously, much had to be condensed.  Nonetheless, I found some glaring errors, both large and small, in its delivery.  To wit:

–  The program was heavily tilted toward the guerilla conflict on the western borders of the British colonies.  But the fact was that the intensity of this conflict was – because based almost entirely on Indian enthusiasm which, in turn, tended to blow with the wind – a direct function of the progress of the more formal war in the East, which was largely downplayed in the programme.  This was a  calculus that got almost no attention. Wolfe’s siege and conquest of Quebec got all of  fifteen minutes,  Amherst’s advance up Champlain, barely a nod.  And the whole earlier, sordid, story of Acadia was not mentioned at all.

– A central premise of the program was that the war was a direct result of George Washington’s bumbling  actions at Jumonville Glen in 1754, and, more specifically, that the war was a result of Washington’s rashness and inexperience there.  I believe this to be a simplified mischaracterization:  It was already apparent that control of the Ohio Valley was a matter of life and death to both the British and the French colonies in North America, a fact that had been known on both sides for a number of years.  Washington’s attack certainly was the flashpoint, but the conflict was bound to have broken out anyway.

– Oh, and special mention was made of the idea, floated in letters between Lord Jeffrey Amherst and his front-line commander, Colonel Henri Boquet, that perhaps small-pox infected blankets might be used against the Indians.  Never mind that these letters were a) written at the height of Pontiac’s Rebellion during a time of particular British frustration with the situation and, b) never, according to any available evidence, actually put into practice. 

–  Oh, and by the bye.  The whole “Indian” position was overly simplified and also softballed.  Despite the fact that Graham Greene, identified as a member of the Iroquois Nation, narrated the series, almost nothing was said about the radical difference in political positions among the various Indian tribes vis a viz the French and the British.   Specifically, there was near silence about the Iroquois hatred of the French stretching back to Champlain’s day, and the effect of Iroquois influence on the balance of Indian power within the overall political calculus.

– Also, the series attempts to minimize the ugliness of the Indian campaign against the settler frontiers and the more general Indian attitude towards warfare.   In the first instance, much is made of the fact that “some” settlers were not butchered, but were instead “adopted” into Indian tribes.  While this is true, the fact is that most of the settlers who fell into the Indians’ clutches faced a bloody and gruesome death.  In the second, the programme puts forth the preposterous assertion that only fifteen men were actually killed at the massacre of Fort William-Henry.  While the actual number of fatalities is a matter of keen historickal debate, in reality “fifteen” represents the most unrealistically rosy end of the scale of estimates.  The actual number of deaths, including men, women and children, is probably somewhere in the hundreds.

– No, the truth is that Indian warfare could aptly be described as “blood-thirsty”.  I see no reason to disguise this.

– You tell me how a hypothetical blanket full of small-pox is worse than an actual hatchet ripping the scalp off some poor fellah who still happens to be alive.

– Finally, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the Indian warriors in the reenactments sported very modern beer-guts.  This is nothing against Indian reenactors in particular – instead, it is a phenomenon I have noticed often amongst those folk who amuse themselves by spending weekends pretending to be historickal figgahs.   Just sayin’.

♦   Deep breath.

♦   Also, in the same vein, I watched Drums Along the Mohawk, a John Ford western which happened to be set in 1776 in upstate New York.   Henry Fonda played the upright young settler.  Claudette Cobert played his wife.  The whole thing was preposterous.  I had added it to my Netflix queue believing it to be another movie about colonial times that I had seen before.  Evidently, I was mistaken, as this was in color while the other was black and white.  Also, this one had an anti-Brit tilt, while my memory of t’other was that it was pro-Crown.

♦   What else? The back yard was full of robins today.  I recently read somewhere that robins aren’t “really” listening for worms when they tilt their heads like that.  Feh!  I don’t care: even if this is true (although it’s probably Communist propaganda), I prefer to believe that they really are listening for their din-dins.

♦   Well, speaking of early worms and incentives, ol’ Robbo went for his physical last week, and the news is that he has to go back to “consult” with his doc because his PSA has “changed” since his last test.  As of yet, I have no idea what this means, but the hint is that I will need to go chat with a urologist.   Meh.  Given that the Old Gentleman was carted off due to prostate troubles, I will, of course, seek all proper advice and take all appropriate actions.  Far be it from me to believe that my problems are all, ah, behind me……

Thank You!

♦  To end on a completely random note? This week, I got an upgraded computer at work.  It’s one of those lap-top-cum-docking-station jobs which, if I can actually get the durned thing to work, will be very handy for accessing files and email on the road.  (A very big “if”.)  It also came with a 24″ digital screen which, IMHO, is utterly ridiculous for purposes of office work.  The thing makes me feel like I’m watching tee-vee and gives me a headache.

♦Anyhoo, I only mention this because the advent of a new terminal prompted ol’ Robbo to search about for a new mouse-pad.  And here it is:

I dunno why, but I am very pleased by this little grace note to the ordinary hum-drum.

The accompanying copy claims that the pad is a direct reproduction of an original Persian, the specific kind of which I cannot recall at the moment.  The Old Gentleman used to collect these things, and was downright encyclopedic in his knowledge.  While I have a fairly generous sampling of his collection strewn about the port-swiller residence, I have never yet undertaken the research to determine exactly what the heck I’ve got.  I suppose it would cause the old buster to spin in his grave if I were actually motivated to do so based on the acquisition of a computer mouse pad.  

♦ Well, anyway, I suppose it is time to rig for silent running again and to plunge back into my Lenten duties.   One thing I had not contemplated when I vowed to give up tee vee is the fact that Easter is way late this year, meaning that Lent runs well into the  beginning of baseball season.  Is the decision whether to forego the first couple weeks of the ’11 Nats a function of religious scruple or else of just tom-fool calculation?   I have not yet decided.

That is all….

Today is the anniversary of the birth in 1702 of Dread Pirate Anne Bonny.


It seems to me about high time for a big, action-packed Pirate Chicks movie to come out.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!  Looks like it’s time to drain our glasses and eat up the last of the Stilton.  Thinking it over, I’m pretty sure that I’m going to go on a bloggy hiatus this Lent, so this may be the last chance for some silliness this side of Easter.

And speaking of silliness, I wanted to play with the font color to mark the day, but I know that yellow text is very difficult to read against a white background.  What to do? Well, when I was a little boy, one of my favorite things to do when visiting the zoo was to get the white-faced gibbons cranked up by imitating their calls.  I was pretty good at it, too.  Therefore, the yellow entries will be white-faced gibbon calls, so you needn’t worry about reading them too closely.

*  This past Sunday was “Jazz Sunday” at RFEC.  All of the hymns during the service were Spirituals, and were accompanied by a jazz combo up at the altar, the rector sitting in at the drums.  I’m sorry, but every year I find myself thinking the same thing, namely that for a congregation as rich and white as this one to be singing this kind of music (and attempting to clap and sway) is in pretty poor taste.

* Speaking of such things, I was helping the eldest gel with her vocabulary prep last evening.  One of the words was “stodgy”.  I told her just to think of me when she got that word and all would be well.  She found that a pretty amusing trick.

* Oooooooooo-OOH! Ooooooooooooooooo-Ooh-OOOOH!!!!

* Read Willa Cather’s Shadows on the Rock yesterday, about life in colonial Quebec in the 1690’s.  Another almost pointillist depiction of day-to-day existence with not that much emphasis on narrative drive.  Are all of Cather’s works of this bent?  I must say that I found many of the details quite fascinating.  I also warmly approved of her obviously pro-Frontenac attitude.  On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed with Cècile, the apothecary’s young daughter.  Too precocious, and then not very nice when visiting the farm family on the Ile D’Orleans.

* Had a very interesting family discussion about the term “best friends” last evening.  Mrs. R and I were saying how with our generation, such an expression is usually reserved for one or two people, while kids these days seem to spray it all over the place.  (The nine year old, by her own count, has about twenty “BFF”‘s.)  There was definitely an intergenerational disconnect at work.


*Playing with the fonts reminds me of Mardi Gras my first year in law school. I had a classmate from Noo Awluns who fixed up a big ol’ jambalaya dinner, afterwards leading us all down to the local bar.  There we got the bartender to create a drink of green, purple and yellow layered liquors (God knows what they were).  Since this was Dubyuhnell, we christened the drink the “Generals’ Crewe”.  I wonder if it’s still on the books there?

*Of course, the next morning I got called on in crim pro by the most feared prof in the entire school.  I carry the scars to this day.  There’s a lesson there, somewhere.


*Managed to hook up the new study tee vee to both the cable box and teh DVD player.  (The old one finally gave up the ghost after about eighteen years’ worth of service.)  That is just about the maximum extent of my tech prowess.  It says something that the gels had to explain to me how to use the remotes.

*Well, that’s about enough for now.  Hope you have some good King Cake lined up for tonight!


UPDATE:  Wow, the yellow script is even worse than I imagined.  But I promised gibbon calls, didn’t I?  Here ya go:

Mrs. Robbo and Self attended a Mardi Gras gala Saturday evening, in preparation for which I made the disturbing discovery that I have forgotten how to tie a bow tie. 

Before the word flies round the clubs, accompanied by much hissing and sniggering, I had best get back this skill.

You know, there are times when I truly wish there was a little less Felix Ungar in my personality and a little more Oscar Madison.

The truth, though, is that uncleanliness gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies.  Not clutter, mind you.  I rayther like some clutter about the place – books overflowing out the cases and stacked up on odd surfaces, knick-knacks and doo-dads all about – that sort of thing.  But I just can’t abide dirt and trash and food stains and empty cartons and boxes and a full kitty litter and piled up dishes and heaps of laundry and unscrubbed potties.

I sometimes….sometimes…suspect that, as everyone else in the port-swiller household is aware of this trait, there is a certain temptation to slack off, knowing full well that eventually ol’ Dad will clean things up himself.

Just by way of connecting the previous two posts, I am of the ever-increasing opinion that nobody, nobody has ever come anywhere near as close to expressing this divinely-inspired order of the Universe, at least in musickal terms, as did ol’ Johann Sebastian.

UPDATE: Oh, why not….Here’s the lovely 3rd Movement Allegro for you, too..Enjoy!

Because Mrs. Robbo is in the biznay of teaching science to the yoot of St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method, the reading rack in the downstairs loo is often stocked with publications that go considerably further afield than the most recent copies of Washingtonian or Vanity Fair.  (As an aside, I don’t know why we get the latter – it just keeps showing up.)

Anyhoo, I recenly found myself flipping through a copy of Astronomy.  Not only was it chock-a-block with incredible images snapped by Hubble and other eyes on the sky, it also contained a fascinating article on Bode’s Law, which posits that the distances between orbital paths of the planets in our solar system can be predicted by the mathematical formula a = n + 4, where the value of n is sequentially doubled, e.g., 3, 6, 12, 24, 48….(Go read the wiki if you want a better explanation.  Explaining math is not my strong suit.)

Alas, the theory has long been discredited because it doesn’t explain Neptune.  Nonetheless, as I read about it I still had that sensation of the awful majesty of the heavens and the resulting strong urge to shut the bedroom door, turn on all the lights and hide under the covers.

The article got me thinking again about the Musick of the Spheres, too, a philosophical concept of which regular port swillers will know ol’ Robbo is passionately fond.

It all connects, from the very expanse of the Universe right down to the smallest sub-atomic level, and it does so on purpose.  I am quite convinced of this. 

 We can’t see the thought behind it all, or can only sense it imperfectly at umpteen removes, because we are only human, but I know it’s there.  You may dismiss me as either a fuzzy-headed English major or a religious crackpot or both, but that’s how I feel.

The local classickal musick station has kicked off a month long “Bach Celebration”,  this being the month of the great Johann Sebastian’s birthday. 

This is all well and good, but I can’t help noticing that they seem to be selecting some pretty uninspiring recordings of his works.  Much of the playlist seems to be of pre-Period Instrument movement vintage, which in my experience has a singular power to suck the very life’s blood out of ol’  Johnny Bach’s musick. 

Is this a conspiracy?  A back-handed effort to, as it were, damn Bach with faint praise so that everyone will listen to Tchaikovsky instead?

I begin to have my suspicions.

Happy birthday, Marie-Madeleine Jarrett de Verchères, born this day in 1678.  Madeleine was the plucky French Canadian gel who, at the age of fourteen and in the absence of her parents, rallied her two little brothers and a hand-full of terrified retainers to successfully beat off an Iroquois attack against her father’s fort on the St. Lawrence.  A few months back, I posted Parkman’s account of this extraordinary young lady’s exploits which, as I pointed out at the time, made Laura Ingalls’ look like a day at the spa.  

I couldn’t resist posting this picture of her monument again because her pose is so charming and yet moving: Something about the tilt of her chin and the resolute body language, which goes very much with her character as related by Parkman.  I should very much like to go see it some time.

Oh, speaking of Parkman, I finished up his history of France and England in North America, taking in The Conspiracy of Pontiac for good measure, and am now rereading, since I still have the book out, his Oregon Trail, in which he gives an account of his own trip along that trail in the 1840’s, a trip taken not for the same reasons as most of the other trappers and emigrants of the time, but apparently solely for the hell of it (and to see the Indians, of course).  

I’ve only read this particular book the once, and I was a bit surprised upon picking it up again to realize how much material George Macdonald Fraser lifted out of it for his Flashman and the Redskins.  Among other things, Parkman, too, visited Bent’s Fort.


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March 2011