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Scientists are mapping the habits of brain cells that take a powder when they think nobody will notice:

Researchers discovered that contrary to popular opinion the brain is not always entirely asleep or awake but parts of it can go “offline”.

This they claim accounts for the feeling of being “half asleep” which causes forgetfulness and small errors such as misplacing keys or putting the milk in the cupboard or the cereal in the fridge.

The team at the University of Wisconsin, who measured electrical waves in the brain, discovered that some nerve cells in tired yet awake individuals can briefly go “offline”.

Professor Chiara Cirelli, a psychiatrist and author of the study, said: “Even before you feel fatigued, there are signs in the brain that you should stop certain activities that may require alertness.

“Specific groups of neurons may be falling asleep, with negative consequences on performance.”

I would say that this makes me feel a bit better about my own practice of walking around in a perpetual haze, except that I forgot what I was going to say.

Might explain Anton Chekov’s problems, too:

Ol’ Robbo can’t help but noticing that more and more of the blogs he reads seem to be quietly sliding under the table.  (In fact, it’s high time to update the port-swiller blogroll to reflect the latest members to sink beneath the surface.)

Fortunately, no matter what else happens, there will still be at least one spirit out there still willing to stick with his cups:

I intend to maintain this foolish blog whether anybody reads the contents or not. In that respect I shall be like an ancient scribe on Lindisfarne, painstakingly illuminating the first letter of my treasured gospel, yet well aware that its probable fate is to be Viking toilet paper. My fellow monks have already mostly departed for Facebookland with St Cuthbert’s bones wrapped in a thin tweet, but I still keep the blog candle burning in this lonely chapel window, however low the flame may be.

A glass of wine with you, sir!

Terry Teachout on the fiscal woes in the world of  High Cultchah:

High-culture unions that fight to hang on to an untenable status quo are shooting themselves in the head. Labor leaders invariably respond to managerial cries of disaster-around-the-corner by arguing that their members should not be made to suffer today for the managerial mistakes of the past. But in the end, it doesn’t matter who made the first blunder. Everybody in the culture business, union leaders included, has been guilty of chronic myopia when it comes to outmoded business models. The point is that there is no longer any alternative to root-and-branch fiscal reform. What’s more, managers and board members now know this. Increasingly, they’re willing to shut up shop altogether–or, like the Philadelphia Orchestra, declare bankruptcy–rather than purchase short-term labor peace, as they did in the past, by agreeing to contracts that they can no longer afford….

Seems to me that one could transpose this analysis to just about any branch of the economy or guv’mint these days.

Fellow Tory curmudgeons marking the day by fretting for the future of Great Britain may take some solace in the fact that this is the anniversary of the birth, in 1769, of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.  Along with Pitt the Younger, Churchill and Thatcher, the Iron Dook ranks in ol’ Robbo’s mind as one of the outstanding figgahs in Brit military and political history.

All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called “guessing what was at the other side of the hill.”  Now that’s the stuff to give ’em.  Or, if you prefer, “Publish and be damned!”

It’s been a bit since I last read Elizabeth, Lady Longford’s double biography, Wellington: The Years of the Sword and Wellington: Pillar of  State.  It seems to me that the grumbles which the Royal Wedding seem to be producing in me are a sign that it’s high time to dip into them again.

In answer to the question everyone is asking this morning, no, I did not watch the WillsKate (or whatever they’re calling it) Wedding.  Really not much interested in all the “People’s Princess v. 2” ballyhoo.

Regular port-swillers might be somewhat surprised by this.  After all, anyone paying the slightest attention to my ramblings over the years might deduce (correctly) that I am both an Anglophile and a royalist.  So, what gives?

Well, I’ll tell you:  It’s more out of sadness at the current state of things than anything else.  The fact of the matter is that I am extremely gloomy about the future of the Sceptred Isle.   A pair of world wars and sixty-odd years of socialism kicked the stuffing out of her, and I am afraid that modern cultural nihilism and virulent, radicalized immigration will prove to be her death-knell.   As for the House of Windsor, I begin to think of its post-Elizabeth generations as being about as relevant as the last Emperors of Rome in the days before the Goths dissolved the Imperium.

Of course, I wish Prince William and Catherine all the best. (Indeed, I am far more interested in the actual marriage than I am in the wedding.)   And of course, I sincerely hope that I am quite wrong about the fate of the Kingdom.  In truth, I know next to nothing about William, apart from the fact that his father has permanently beclowned himself and his mother was a lunatic.   And I know nothing about Kate apart from the fact that in most photos she seems to be wearing too much mascara.  I certainly detest that plucky-middle-class-gal-to-shake-up-stuffy-royals meme floating about the intertoobs.   And I think that if the pair give into the temptation to try and cast themselves as the new, hip, relevant, 21st Century face of the Brit monarchy (living together all those years certainly doesn’t help), well, you may as well sell Buck House to the Hilton chain here and now, because that will be the end of things.

If Britain really wishes to survive, in my humble opinion, the first thing she has to do is to start believing in herself again.   And as the living embodiment of the Kingdom, the Monarchy has to do the same thing, not by blowing hither and yon in populist or multi-culti winds, but by returning to its core values: tradition, decorum, solidity.   Whether, when William eventually ascends, this pair can do so remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Your Quote of the Day:

Those who imagine that a politician would make a better figurehead than a hereditary monarch might perhaps make the acquaintance of more politicians.

– Margaret Thatcher

Take that, you Jacobin dogs!

Yesterday turns out to have been “Take Our Childs To Work” Day.

By a total fluke of timing resulting from the fact that she is on spring break and we didn’t really know what else to do with her, it so happens that I did take the eldest gel in with me to the shop.  (And why, for the love of God, I neglected to have her bring along her iPod or some similar electronic device, I haven’t the foggiest.  Watching the Pater edit briefs gets mighty boring after a while.)

Throughout the course of the day, I had occasion to introduce the gel to various colleagues.  The introductions usually went something like this:

Self:  “Gel, this is my friend Mr. Smith.  Mr. Smith, this is my oldest daughter, Gel.”

Gel (sotto voce): “Hullo.”

Colleague: “Hi! Oh, please call me John.”

Upon which I would fix my colleague with an icy, indignant glare.

Not really, of course.  However, I certainly felt like it.  I strongly disapprove of this kind of familiarity between the young and their elders.   And I get especially irritated when it is encouraged in the face of my very clear signals that I don’t want it to be.

I see where today is the anniversary of the birth of Ulysses S. Grant in 1822.

Every now and again I like to read Grant’s Memoirs (which he wrote while dying at the urging of Sam Clemens), together with Bruce Catton’s Grant Takes Command and Grant Moves South.   And I must say that there is much about Grant that I find admirable – not only in his tenacity on the battlefield, but also in his personal modesty, plain-spokenness and honorable character.  (The corruption that marred his two presidential terms occurred among his political appointees.  While Grant’s judgment might be questioned, there is no evidence that I’ve ever seen of his taking a piece of the action himself.)

I don’t believe that I have mentioned here before the fact that the middle gel’s class at St. Marie of the Blesséd Educational Method took a jaunt up to New York a couple weeks ago to participate in the Model U.N. program.

I must confess that I had some deep misgivings about the biznay.  On the practical side of things, a week in the Big Apple, even when partially subsidized through fund-raising, is a mighty expensive proposition.  For another, given that Mrs. Robbo went along as well,  taking care of the other two gels and my job at the same time proved to be quite the logistical challenge. (Full disclosure: Mrs. R arranged for said logistics ahead of time.  All I actually had to do was follow through on her instructions.  Worked like a charm.)

On the more philosophical side, Ol’ Robbo takes a mighty dim view of the United Nations, not just because of its rampant corruption, monstrous expense, villainous politics and legendary ineptitude, but also because, in my humble opinion,  the only realistic international law is comprised of enforceable bi- and multilateral treaties amongst nation-states with mutual common interests.  The concept of a “world government” based on a globally-shared understanding of human rights is, to me, farcical.

However, yesterday I received a link to this video (sorry, but it won’t embed for some reason).  If you clicky over and scroll to about the 52 second mark, I believe you’ll understand why those objections and misgivings have suddenly shrunk away to irrelevance in Robbo’s mind, overwhelmed as they are by delight in his gel.

The Aflac Duck has a new voice.  (Clicky the link to hear the new guy, who actually isn’t all that bad.)

For those of you unfamiliar with what I will call Quackergate, the Duck used to be voiced by comedian Gilbert Gottfried, whose entire shtick consists of  his harsh, braying vocal quality and crude humor.  When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March, Gottfried made some bad taste joke or other about them on Twitter.  Aflac promptly gave him the boot, and the search was on for a worthy successor.

The only reason any of this stuck in my brain is that I was mildly, well, disturbed by Gottfried’s canning.  Not really because I thought Aflac was being all that unreasonable – it’s got a product to flog and an image to maintain, and when it pays somebody a lot of money for those purposes, I suppose it puts lots of language in the contract to the effect that they have to keep their noses clean. (Although, on second thoughts, one wonders how reasonable Aflac was in believing Gottfried could do so.)

Rayther, I remember thinking more generally how inconsistent disjointed psychotic our system of social taboos has become.  We seem to be hyper-sensitive about some things while at the same time utterly crass and nihilistic about others, and there doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason between them.  Unless you believe, as I do, that modern “morality” is something that is being made up as we go along.

Well, then.  How about a little Tuesday Random to loosen up?

♦  Ol’ Robbo had lunch yesterday with a long-lost cousin who is mad-keen on geneology, about whom I believe I posted here some time last summah.  Among other things, I learned that I have three ancestors who fought in the Revolution (one in the Virginny militia, another in a Pennsylvania regiment and a third who sought compensation for the loss of a horse in service).  I also found out that much of my extended family tree were Abolitionists who migrated from the Carolinas and Georgia to Ohio in the 1840’s and 50’s, and that one of my grandsires owned a mill that was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad.   Aaaaand, I appear to have had a great-uncle who was a pilot shot down early in WWII and spent most of the war in a stalag.  All very nifty bits of information.  Alas, nothing about gilt-edged securities or diamonds buried under the third head-stone to the left in the family cemetary, but I’ll take what I can get.

♦  First iced latte of the season today.  Nectar. Of. The. Gods.

♦  Yesterday, after the tumult and the shouting had died down, the captains and the kings departed, my hand fell across a copy of the complete works of Josephus that I had purchased on impulse God-only-knows when.  Idly glancing at it at first, I soon found myself greedily reading his Jewish Wars, his account of the 1st Century Judeian Revolt against Rome that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus in 70 A.D.  The book is very well written, even discounting Josephus’ nakedly self-serving slants and suck-ups. (He had been a leader of the Revolt himself but changed sides after being captured, shrewdly predicting that Vespasian – who was conducting the campaign at the time – would become Emperor, to be followed by his sons Titus and Domitian.  Josephus ended his career living pretty high on the hog in Rome.)  This got me remembering a tee-vee mini-series of long ago about the war called “Masada” in which, if memory serves, Peter O’Toole played Titus, and wondering if it might be Netflix-worthy.  But it also got me eager to plunge into his (Josephus’, not O’Toole’s) Antiquities, which gives an account of early Jewish history which I think would be useful in better understanding the Old Testament.

♦  Thus is illustrated the benefit of Robbo’s maxim that one should always buy a book when moved to do so.

♦  Had some absolutely lovely lamb for Easter din-dins.  I strongly suspect, however, that one could cook an old boot in olive oil, garlic and rosemary and it would come out tasting pretty good.

♦  Speaking of books, at random this morning I selected for my commuter reading Plum Wodehouse’s The Luck of the Bodkins, and was pleasantly reminded that it contains one of the great opening lines in English literature:  “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”

Perhaps that’s enough for now.  Oh, but let me finish with a bleg:  As I went to tidy up the port-swiller acreage last week, I discovered that my weed-whacker had given up the ghost over the winter.  (More specifically, I discovered that somebody had knocked it off its peg and smashed the throttle mechanism.)  Also, from the sinister buzz-saw sounds it has suddenly started making, I strongly suspect that the dryer is about to follow suit in departing for the mechanical netherworld.  If anyone has any suggestions for replacement makes and models, I would appreciate hearing about them.

UPDATE: Homer nods.  Great-great-great-etc.-granddad was in a battalion (the 6th PA,  in fact), not a regiment.  Also, in “Masada” Peter O’Toole plays Flavius Silva, the local commander on the ground, not Titus.  The siege of Masada was the last of a mopping-up operation and the big dogs had already left the field.


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April 2011