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German city of Bonn taxes prostitutes with meter.

The German city of Bonn has installed a meter to tax prostitutes for soliciting on its streets at a rate of six euros (£5.30; $8.70) per night.

Those who fail to pay face fines or even a ban, and 264 euros were found in the meter when it was first emptied, according to AFP news agency.

Tax has been levied on prostitutes elsewhere but Bonn is the first city to use a meter, a spokeswoman said.

But a prostitutes’ rights activist said the scheme amounted to double taxation.

Prostitutes are expected to pay the flat rate, regardless of earnings.

The machine, which looks like an ordinary parking meter, has been installed in an industrial area near the city centre which favoured by prostitutes and their clients.

Insert your own “keep the meter running” jokes here.  And if you think I’m trying to be funny, get a load of this line:

Bonn has also erected “consummation areas”, or wooden garages clients may use to visit prostitutes.

Erected? That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

An encouraging article about the fact that the Phillies’ roster, for all their current viggah,  is heading for AARP eligibility quickly:

Philadelphia’s hitters are getting old all at once. In 2007, when this batch of Phillies first made the playoffs, the average age  of the offense was 28.8 years old. Three years later, the average age of the Phillies’ offense was … exactly three years older. At 31.8 years old, the 2010 Phillies had one of the 10 oldest lineups in NL history. This year, their hitters are just a tick younger — 31.5. Only a handful of teams in history have fielded an offense this old in back-to-back seasons, and almost all of them paid a price.

Philly can get away with it because they’ve got such outstanding pitching at the moment.  But that can’t last forever.  (MWAAAA-HAHAHAHAAAA!!)  Also, according to the article, Philly is flirting with a dangerously tapped-out farm system.  My favorite part of the article, though? The faint sound of Nemesis’ footsteps to be heard in the background:

Meanwhile, the rest of the division isn’t standing still. Thanks to a spectacularly timed pair of 100-loss seasons, the Washington Nationals signed two of the most hyped prospects of all time in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. This year, they drafted Anthony Rendon, the best college hitter in America. Add those three to a core of Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Wilson Ramos, Jordan Zimmermann, Drew Storen, and Tyler Clippard — all 26 or younger — and something interesting is brewing in the nation’s capital.

Oh, you betcha! Regular port swillers will know that I have been beating this particular drum vigorously for some time.  I shall continue to do so until either my arm falls off or Rubin Amaro’s eardrums burst.


(A glass of wine with Jason Epstein in Right Field.)


On our jaunt up tah Maine earlier this month, the Family Robbo put in for a night at the home of Mrs. R’s sister and family.  Whilst there, Mrs. R’s brother-in-law adamantly pressed into Robbo’s hands a copy of Gavin Menzies’ 1421: The Year China Discovered America and insisted that I would be blown away by its revelations.

Perhaps the man’s equal enthusiasm for a 9/11 truther youtube video he’d been watching should have given me more warning.  In any event, the thing has sat around in Robbo’s library since then, and I suppose out of a sense of guilt, I picked it up the other day just to see how cringe-making it might really be.


For those of you unaware, Menzies is a retired Royal Navy sub driver who apparently never had any formal education.  The premise of this book, dreamed up as he supposedly contemplated the contours of a nautical chart one afternoon,  is that in 1421 the Ming Dynasty sent out multiple squadrons of gigantic junks and attendant vessels with the instruction to map all the oceans of the world and make contact with any civilization worthy of China’s notice, bringing said nations into the imperial tribute system.   According to Menzies, these squadrons did just that, rounding the Cape of Good Hope and then disbursing hither and yon.  One crossed the Atlantic to South America, passed the Straits of Magellan, turned south to explore Antarctica and then went east to western Australia.  Another fleet rounded the Horn and went north up the Chilean Cordillera, then west to eastern Australia.  It then passed China again and went all the way round the northern half of the Pacific, visiting western North and Central America before heading home.  The third went to the Caribbean before proceeding up the Atlantic seaboard, north about Greenland and then, after snubbing Europe, across northern Russia before dropping down through the Baring Straits.   During this time, the Chinese sailors perfected their astral navigation techniques and made pinpoint nautical charts of all the areas they had visited.  Upon their return, much of the data they had collected was destroyed by order of the Chinese government which, since the time they had departed, had undergone a violent change in foreign policy from encouraging international commerce to manic xenophobia.  But this didn’t stop a renegado Portuguese who had tagged along for the ride from, with the aid of the Vatican (!), getting some of this valuable nautical information to that rat-bastard Henry the Navigator, who passed it on to Gama, Magellan, Columbus and others, so that when they went on their later voyages of exploration, they knew exactly what to expect.  In other words, everything you ever read about the history of Western maritime exploration is WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!!

Menzies buttresses these claims with long explanations of comparative cartography, astral navigation, and prevailing winds and tides and their effects on the sailing qualities of flat-bottomed, square-rigged vessels.  He also claims archeological and DNA evidence proving not only that the Chinese heavily influenced Mayan culture, but that they set up colonies in such diverse places as Northwestern Australia, San Francisco Bay and Newport, Rhode Island.

In blistering terms, Menzies declares that only those academics with a vested interest in the Settled Narrative would DARE to challenge his thesis that the Chinese discovered America 70 years before Columbus and that we backward, knuckle-dragging Westerners haven’t got anything at all about which to boast.


It would seem that this book caused a considerable uproar when it was first published back in 2003.  A quick google-search will turn up multiple academic and non-academic websites chock-a-block with articles arguing what a moronic hack Menzies is, how he doesn’t seem to understand the first principles of many of the subject matters he broaches, how he selectively cites dubious sources to bolster his arguments and so on.   I don’t for an instance pretend to be an expert in anything, but I’ve been round the block enough times to know when shoddy history is being properly shredded, and ladies and gentlemen, that seems to me to be the case here.

All I can say is that I guess I’ll never get those 630-odd pages back.

The sad thing is that there was considerable trade across the Indian Ocean during the early Ming period, with much back and forth between China, Korea, Vietnam, the Spice Islands, India, Arabia and East Africa.  It would be interesting to read a sensible account of the technological and scientific factors that went into making that trade possible.  But as Ford Prefect once said of the supposed wealth stored on the legendary planet Magrathea, isn’t it enough to say that a garden is beautiful without also having to believe  that there are faeries at the bottom of it?

I cannot let this day pass without noting that it is the anniversary of the birth, in 1870, of Dr. Maria Montessori, better known to friends of the decanter as St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method.

My fellow port-swillers may or may not know that I originally coined that title as a gentle joke about Mrs. R’s fervent devotion to her career as a Montessori teacher.  I must have first started using it nearly 20 years ago.  To this day, Mrs. R still doesn’t think it’s s’damn funny.

I’m just amusing myself, of course.

School starts up again next Tuesday for the younger gels, both of whom will be in the “upper elementary” program this year.  This is the middle gel’s final year and she will be the oldest gel in the school by two grade levels.  In her quiet, subtly ambitious way, she is thrilled at the prospect of getting to be Queen Bee of the school this year, with visions of fat parts in the school play and concerts, newspaper editorship, fundraising chairs and all-around student leadership.

The youngest gel will be starting her first year of the three year upper-el program.  Fortunately, the teacher is made of stern stuff.  He’s also well aware of the gel’s reputation as a motor-mouthed dynamo, so I have every confidence that he will be able to channel all that energy productively.  We should be careful, however, because if that one’s incandescence ever gets focused like a laser beam, somebody’s going to get scorched.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  Ol’ Robbo had rayther a strange dream last night.

In this dream, I was standing in an idealized English country railway station, seeking to buy a train ticket.  The station was full of people who, uncharacteristically for the English, would not queue up but instead kept trying to mob the ticket counter.  Every now and again, an official would come out from behind the counter and shoo them back into line.

In any event, I eventually found myself facing the ticket gel.  I wanted to buy a ticket for a town in Wales, but the name was so full of L’s and Y’s and C’s that I couldn’t possibly pronounce it.  Therefore, I handed the gel an itinerary I was carrying and said, “Please send me there.  I don’t know how to say it.”  She laughed and gave me my ticket, although she first started teasing me about my Amex card because the register was having a hard time reading it.  (This is based on real life, btw – my Amex does have problems getting itself read.)

It seems that the reason I wanted to go to this town in Wales was to attend some kind of family “function.”  To this end, I was carrying a very large and cumbersome binder (full of activity schedules and brochures, I think) together with several bouquets of flowers, which I kept dropping.

After I got out of the ticket office, I found myself on a garden path which, I supposed, led to the platform.  As I walked along the path, I passed two people sitting in wicker chairs and discussing international events.  I recognized one of them as the actor Joss Ackland in his role as the Soviet ambassador in The Hunt For Red October.  Go figure.

Eventually, I began to suspect that I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because it occurred to me that the platform should have been right next to the ticket office.  I was just about to turn around when a new thought flashed into my mind: “Hey, you dope! What about your luggage? You forgot to pack!”

With that, I woke up.

Amateur forensic psychologists may make of this what they will.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!  I trust and hope that those of you on the East Coast came through the big blow safe and sound?  And by “big blow” I, of course, mean the Weather Channel’s Jim “Mimbo” Cantore who, broadcasting Friday afternoon from lower Manhattan, was practically swallowing his tongue at the thought of the approaching Perfect Storm (his words).

♦  As for our neck of the woods, there were a lot of branches down, together with a few trees.  Actually, the port-swiller residence even suffered some damage:  a large branch fell right on top of the hammock, smashing one of the wood crosspieces, and another one knocked one of the rails off the garden fence.  Somebody call the Mimbo!

♦  Dropped off the eldest gel for her first day of 8th grade at St. Rita of the Misunderstood Adolescence this morning.  It was nice that she was so organized, so eager to get out of bed and make herself some breakfast, so cheerful and excited to get to school.  We’ll see how long that lasts.

♦  You remember that bit in “300” where Leonidas kicks the Persian herald down the well?  According to Herodotus, that really happened (although the heralds, two of them, were from Darius, not Xerxes).  Later, in order to pay for the violation of international law, two Spartans volunteered to deliver themselves to the Persians to receive whatever punishment the Persians thought fit.  Xerxes (Darius had died by this time) was so impressed that he let them go free.

♦  Okay, that one was really random.

♦  How nice that summah is almost over!  It’s so pleasant this week that I am actually able to resume wearing coat and tie, much to the irritation of my colleagues.  (Living the counter-culture, man!)

♦  Speaking of which, Mrs. R recently tried a new dry-cleaners that advertises itself as using an “organic” cleaning process.  Whatever that method may be, it produces a very peculiar odor on the costume.  My instructions for the future are to go back to our old cleaners and be damned to the planet.

♦  So it turns out that our elder cat has been suffering for some time from ocular herpes, which causes the eyes to become red and cloudy and, evidently, is fairly painful.  Who knew there was such a thing?  The tramp.  The good news is that the new medicine given her by the vet seems to be clearing things up very quickly.

♦ Well, my beloved Nats have managed to lose six straight, and now have a sizable hole to fill if they want to get back to .500.  I suppose the good news is that even to be talking about .500 ball as we roll into September is to be doing far better than I ever expected this year.  Mark Robbo’s words, my fellow port-swillers:  The Nats are going to break out a lot sooner than many people might think.


Well, my fellow port-swillers, I will be off line for the next few days, so no hurricane blogging this weekend.  (Not that I don’t want to, but the port-swiller home computer is currently out of action and I am in the process of determining whether to fix it or simply take it out back and shoot it.)  In any event, it would seem as if the port-swiller residence is right on the knife-edge in terms of what comes next.  Depending on which way the storm track jigs, we’ll either need a lifeboat in the basement, or else will come out high and dry.  I’ve given up trying to guess which, although my hunch is that we’ll get a few rain bands but nothing blog-worthy.

For those of you living closer to the ocean and farther up the East Coast, stay safe and we’ll see you on the other side.


One of the many meteorological websites among which I’ve been flipping over the past few days (I’ve unfortunately forgotten which link it was) tossed out a nifty little factoid of which I had not been aware:  The reason the sky looks so especially blue after a hurricane has come through is the abundance of more oxygenated air that the storm scoops up from lower down and tosses into the upper atmosphere.

I’ve noticed the phenomenon myself numerous times, but never really stopped to think about the cause.  Pretty cool.

For some reason, I don’t seem able to generate any strato-ideas at the moment.  Instead, they all seem to be about the size of a man’s hand.  Anyway:

♦  Apparently there was a 4.something aftershock last night from Tuesday’s quake, but I seem to have slept right through it.

♦  On the Storm of the Century of the Week front, however, the “latest models” are now predicting Irene will swing back west a bit, perhaps coming right up I-95.  Saturday night and Sunday morning could be a lot windier and rainier than previously indicated.  We’re all stocked up with vino and non-perishable foodstuffs, so let ‘er rip.

♦  Weather permitting (which seems unlikely), the fall softball season kicks off this evening.  The youngest gel, much to her indignation, will be playing AA again this fall, while the middle gel will get her first taste of the game at the AAA level.  As always, I will be helping out with what limited coaching skills I possess.

♦  Every few years, I pull out my Aubrey de Selincourt translation of Herodotus’ Histories.  Not for close study, you understand, but instead just for the pleasure of the man’s storytelling.  I am always amused at his indignant assertion that no intelligent person could possibly believe the annual flooding of the Nile is caused by melting snows.

♦  It is hard to believe that the eldest gel is starting 8th grade this fall on Monday.   The other two don’t start until the Tuesday after Labor Day, as St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method follows the public school schedule, and the Great Commonwealth of Virginny is governed by what is known as the King’s Dominion law, a piece of legislative whimsy that I find rayther amusing.

♦  Just who the hell is Kim Kardashian?

So it seems as if Ma Nature isn’t going for the double-tap on the port-swiller residence after yesterday’s earthquake.  According to the latest predictions, looks like nothing more than an inch or two of rain and a few gusts.  In other words, typical summah thunderstorm conditions.

However, it’s now looking like our part of the Maine coast is going to get pasted.  I sincerely hope that the Mothe and Sistah are making appropriate arrangements.  Curiously, the Mothe and I were daydreaming out loud about the cottage getting washed over the cliff (so we could rebuild) when I was up on hols.  Looks like we might get the opportunity after all!


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August 2011