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Oddly enough, this is almost exactly my approach to child-rearing.

From Jonah’s latest G-File:  “The Hoover myth endures for a simple reason — it has to.  Because otherwise the FDR myth will tip over.”


Mrs. Robbo is away to visit her family this weekend, leaving Ol’ Robbo to hold the fort.  Not alone, of course.  Instead, badly outnumbered.  The dawning realization of the tactical situation always produces the same effect, however.

Of course, the mission is very much different than it used to be.  Back in the day when the gels were but wee ones, it was all about diapers and naps, playtime and baths and all that sort of thing.  Nowadays, with a household of teens and tweens, my role is no longer that of Nanny, but of Provost Marshall:  nagging about homework; driving them to pick up their laundry and shovel out their tornado-struck rooms; insisting that yes you do need to shower today; finding an endless trail of lost but critical items; “I said turn off that damned television right now!”;  breaking up skirmishes.  It’s just as exhausting as it used to be, although nowadays it’s more a test of moral determination and willpower and not so physical.  (Well, that’s not completely true:  All the trips up and down the stairs that these tasks involve get to my knees after a while.)

And then there is the whole question of logistics and transportation, given that all of the gels often seem to need to be in about half a dozen places simultaneously.  Fortunately, this is a pretty light weekend in terms of activities.  Also, Mrs. R, bless her heart, arranged as many lifts from other parents as possible before she left.  So, as they say, I’ve got that going for me.

Once more unto the breach, I guess.

Three cheers for Murrland Publick Television for airing the first episode of Fr. Robert Barron’s series Catholicism last evening!  I caught about the last half hour or so and was positively gob-smacked that a program so unabashedly, even exuberantly, well, Christian would be seen anywhere outside of EWTN, much less on PBS.   That’s something akin to Pravda publishing the Federalist Papers.  (I notice, however, that WETA doesn’t seem to be carrying it, no doubt because it deems the program nekulturny.)

Oh, and from what I’ve seen (and read) so far, the show is more than DVD-worthy.  (Perhaps as a nice family Christmas present.  I’ll have seen most, if not all of it by then.) Fr. Barron appears to be one of those enthusiastic johnnies who gets so caught up in things that he begins to bubble and fizz after a while.  As I watched him tracing Paul’s route round about the eastern Med, it occurred to me again that Paul himself was probably of the same temperament.  (At least that’s how I’ve always tried to explain to myself some of the more incoherent passages in his letters.)

Well, I’m certainly intrigued to see where Fr. Barron goes with this.  At the moment, he’s setting up the foundations of the Church, both structural and spiritual.  What he plans to do with such pleasant topics as schism, creeping secularism, abuse and modern moral nihilism remains to be seen.  I don’t know anything about Fr. Barron himself – whether, for example, he’s a traditionalist or a modernist – and that will make all the difference in the world.

It would seem that today is National Coffee Day.  To mark the occasion, some local chains are offering free or cut-rate cuppas.  Not Starbucks, of course, the baysturds.

Wish I’d known this before I plunked for my usual venti latte.

Well, anyway, what better way to celebrate than to trot out ol’ J.S. Bach’s Coffee Cantata?

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

Ol’ Robbo would like to propose a toast to his beloved Washington Nationals, who finished up their season yesterday afternoon in style, with a series-clinching win over the Fish featuring a  string of ten strike outs by Stephen “Strasmas” Strasburg.

With that victory, the Nats finish the season with 80 wins, just a half game under .500 and in solid control of third place in the NL East.  That’s eleven games better than last season’s regrouping effort, and of course much, much better than the prior two triple-digit loss “Nat’nals” seasons.

But what’s really been the most gratifying aspect of this season is that the team has been… to watch.  They’re young, they’re talented and they’re excited.  In past years, one watched a Nats game wondering constantly how they were going to manage to blow it this time.   The vibe this year has been utterly the opposite: The Nats went into every game expecting to win it.  And even though they obviously didn’t meet this expectation as often as one could wish, the fact of the matter is that I never, ever saw them simply give up and roll over.

So what can we expect in the future? Well, there’s no room here for a detailed analysis, but I will say that it seems to me everything is flowing in the right direction, at least as far as pitching and defense go.  Batting needs to improve, but once we get our RISP numbers up, we’re going to win an awful lot more games.  I will also make a prediction right here and now:  If the Nats pick up next April where they left off yesterday, they’re going to be serious wild-card contenders.  Mark my words.  UPDATE: Oh, my other fearless prediction?  Opening day at Nats Park, Teddy wins.

And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, pray charge your glasses, gunn’ls under.  Here’s to the 2011 Washington Nationals with three times three! Bottoms up and no heel-taps!

Because I haven’t done one of these things in a long, long time:

1. Favorite childhood book?
  Rascal by Sterling North because we had a pet raccoon for a short time ourselves.  I cried every time at the end when Rascal returns to the wild.  Oh, and I had the American Heritage Junior Library volume Carrier War In The Pacific practically memorized.

2. What are you reading right now? Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
 I haven’t set foot in a library since school.  On the other hand, the gels seem to be providing a large part of the County’s budget through all the overdue fees we seem to keep racking up.

4. Bad book habit?
 Reading too fast the first time through.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? See #3.

6. Do you have an e-reader? Neeeeeeeeevahhhhh!!!!

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? I usually have one book for commuting and another for dinner, which I often eat alone on weeknights.  When baseball season is over, I usually also have a third book for evening reading.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
 Only insofar as I sometimes flag a particular passage for posting and commentary here, and I often follow up on recommendations by other bloggers.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far)? 1421, The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies.  I’m still kicking myself over being lured into even starting it.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
  I assume this means favorite new book?  Because I have a habit of reading the same stable of authors over and over and over again.  I can’t think what my favorite new book has been so far, but I thoroughly enjoyed Joseph Ellis’  His Excellency: George Washington.  UPDATE: Oh, and now that I think on it, it was only recently that I discovered the joys of Willa Cather, of course.  And let me not forget Conan-Doyle’s Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard, as well as John Zmirak’s Bad Catholic Guide series.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? I don’t know what that means.  There are a great many books that I avoid, not because they’re outside of my “comfort zone” but because life is too short and I consider them to be a waste of time.

12. What is your reading comfort zone? See above.

13. Can you read on the bus?
  I read all the time on the metro.

14. Favorite place to read?
 My comfy chair in the library.  It’s next to the fireplace and has a view of the bird feeder.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
  Nobody ever asks except the Mothe.  We have a mutual borrowing/lending system that is closer to an exchange of hostages between barbarian courts than anything else.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books? Yeah, I do.  And I know it’s a bad habit.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?  I never have since school.

18. Not even with text books?
 See above.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?  I’m only capable of the one, really.

20. What makes you love a book?
   Depends.  With some, it’s the subject matter and/or point of view.  With others, it’s the style.  The best combine all of these.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?  Well, I have to like it first.  Then I have to believe that whoever is at the receiving end of the recommendation might have some interest as well.

22. Favorite genre?
 History, probably.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?  Mysteries.  I try Sayers and Christie and even Conan-Doyle from time to time, but simply can’t get that interested.

24. Favorite biography?  Probably Elizabeth Longford’s double volume on Wellington.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book? Nope.  I think they’re mostly bunkum and snake-oil.

26. Favorite cookbook?
 Don’t cook much.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
  Well, I’ve been reading a lot of theological books, which surely are inspirational to me.

28. Favorite reading snack?
 As I say, I often eat dinner alone on weekdays because I get home rayther late-ish.  But I don’t snack whilst reading.  The cup of coffee or tea, or the glass of wine is, however, compulsory.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
   I have an allergic reaction to hype, so tend to avoid the sort of book that receives a lot of it in the first place.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
  The only time I can recall paying any attention to criticism involved Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C.S. Lewis, a book I adore.  There, I thought a lot of the bad criticism was the result of reviewers missing the point, thinking Ward was trying to reveal some kind of metaphysical “code” when he was really just pointing out what amounted to a decorative scheme.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? Regular port-swillers will know that ol’ Robbo has no trouble pulling the trigger.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
 Ancient Greek.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? I’ve taken a couple whacks at Aquinas’ Summa, and I confess that it makes me feel like a gibbering idiot.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
 I keep meaning to read War and Peace, just because I think it’s one of those works with which anyone interested in literature ought to be familiar.   It doesn’t exactly intimidate me, but contemplation of the shear length trips my mañana circuit.

35. Favorite poet?
  Can’t say that I really have one, because I’m not all that much of a reader.  I suppose that the poetry which really “speaks” to me the most is that of Kipling.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?  As I say, I don’t check out books.  But the gels sometimes seem to have thousands.

37. How often have you returned a book to the library unread? See above.

38. Favorite fictional character?
   Oh, probably Guy Crouchback, as I’ve mentioned here before, although I feel a certain affinity for all of Waugh’s anti-heroes.

39. Favorite fictional villain? Hmmm…. I suppose Harry Flashman is more rogue than outright villain.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
  Actually, I try to bring a mix of books, generally broken down into the categories of history, theology and trash.  That way, I’m prepared for any circumstances and any frame of mind.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
  Yeesh.  I read every day and simply can’t remember not doing so.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
  I gave up on Noel Mostert’s The Line upon a Wind, An Intimate History of The Last and Greatest War Fought At Sea Under Sail, 1793-1815, because the prose was so clunky as to be fatally distracting.  For reasons I have yet to figure out, I am also having a terrible time struggling with Timothy Wood’s Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World.   

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
 Alas, everything.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
  Regular friends of the decanter know all about Robbo’s aversion to film adaptations.  The best one to my mind – and it is, indeed, very, very good – is still A Room With A View.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?  I’m too jaded to allow myself to put any hope in such projects, so although I am very often disgusted, I am never actually disappointed.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time? Oh, probably somewhere between $100 and $200, I would guess.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
 I don’t, unless my habit of reading fast the first go around actually constitutes a form of, shall we say, heavy skimming.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through?
 Once I start a book, I feel honor-bound to do my best to finish.  I noted a couple of exceptions above.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?  My library has two sets of floor to ceiling shelves on opposite walls.  I keep the non-fiction/history on one side, in as nearly chronological order as possible.  Theology and fiction are on the other side (not that there’s any connection).  I try to keep them organized by genre and period, but I confess that they’re not as orderly.  On the other hand, the books covering the coffee table are a complete mish-mash, as are those kept in the bookcases in the basement and on Mrs. R’s and my night tables.  And don’t even ask about the gels’ collections.  Altogether, I would estimate that the Port Swiller residence contains something like 1300 to 1500 books, give or take.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
 Four words: My. Cold. Dead. Fingers.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? The Old Gentleman used to give me books about or by famous lawyers and “the System,” I suppose to encourage me to become a big-time legal muckety-muck.  Other people have given me various political screeds.  I really don’t read any of them, because I find the subjects to be somewhere on a scale between uninteresting and revolting.  On the other hand, as I can’t abide throwing books away, they all occupy a sort of Black Hole of Calcutta shelf behind my comfy chair.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
  Angry at who or what?  The author? Or the subject matter?  As a general rule, I most despise books used as platforms for the author to show us his or her contempt for Western Civilization.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
 The Mothe, in an outburst of Kremlinphilia, eventually persuaded me to read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.  I didn’t expect to dislike it, but I didn’t think I would reach the same level of enthusiasm as she did.  Well, I still don’t think I did, but I got an awful lot closer to it than I had expected.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?  The above-mentioned naval history by Noel Mostert.  Also come to mind the collective satirical novels of Christopher Buckley, most of which start out with hilarious set-ups, but none of which come through with a really satisfying punch.  And, I’m sorry to say, I believe Peej O’Rourke is over the hill.  His last couple have been, shall we say, pretty flat.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
 Guilt free? Wodehouse, of course.  But I confess to the guilty pleasure of occasionally dipping into Tom Clancy and Bernard Cornwall, too, the literary equivalent of playing Cowboys and Indians.

Woof! That’s a lot of questions!

A glass of wine with Terry Teachout.

The local classickal station rebroadcast the recent National Symphony Orchestra season opener this morning.  One of the featured works on the programme was Ravel’s “Bolero.”  According to the commentator, the audience leaped to their collective hind legs at the end of the piece.

My fellow port-swillers, don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise: The “Bolero” is musickal hokum, the musickal equivalent of repeating, “Neener, Neener, Neeeee-ner” for ten minutes or so, a calculated piece of impudence without any actual artistic merit that served no other purpose than to jerk the collective chains of Ravel’s own audiences.  In this day and age, when anything goes, it doesn’t even do that.

When I become Emperor of the World, I shall take steps about this.

Greetings, my fellow port-swillers!

Surely if we can pass legislation outlawing bad weather, we ought to be able to do the same thing about Tuesdays?

As we were getting ready to roll out the door this morning, Mrs. R and I suddenly both noticed that the eldest gel has grown again and is now almost as tall as me.  Scary how these things sneak up on you.

You may think me odd (well, you probably think so anyway), but whenever I receive mail from my old college, even after all these years there’s still a little voice inside my head wondering whether it’s a notice that they’ve changed their minds and would like the diploma back, please.

Actually, yesterday’s correspondence was an invitation to submit an entry for an album to be issued as part of our 25th reunion coming up next May.  You know, the sort of “what I’m doing now/what memories I have of the Old Days” thing.  The divil is whispering that I should send in something outrageous just to spike them.  It’s what I used to do when I was a smart-mouthed undergrad making fun of pretentious campus politics and I suppose old habits die hard.

Between last month’s earthquake and the monsoon-like conditions we’ve had since, I notice that the Port-Swiller residence seems to have shifted summut.  Certain doors are noticeably more difficult to get open and closed and there’s a new set of creaks and groans in the flooring, especially upstairs.

I certainly hope we don’t get another damned Yankees-Phils Series this year.   I think I’m going to cheer on the Brewers.  In the meantime, there’s pretty general agreement in Natstown that we don’t want the season to end because we’re having so much fun right now.  Behold the awesome power of Michael Morse in beast-mode!

I have embarked on a rereading of Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music of Time, which I first read about two years ago.  I’ve a bad habit of galloping through a book my first time around and only beginning to soak it in through subsequent perusals, so let the soaking process begin!  Somebody a while back asked the question: With whom would you rayther dine – Pamela Widmerpool or Brenda Last?

Millions of virtual monkeys have almost typed out the entire works of Shakespeare by bashing random keys on simulated typewriters.

The virtual monkeys, created by an American programmer, have already typed up the whole of the poem A Lover’s Complaint and are 99.99 per cent of the way through the Bard’s complete works.

The experiment attempts to prove the theory that an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of typewriters would eventually reproduce the works of Shakespeare by chance.

Jesse Anderson, the programmer behind the project, said he was inspired by an episode of The Simpsons which spoofs the famous problem.

Mr Anderson set up millions of small computer programmes, or virtual monkeys, using Amazon’s SC2 cloud computing system, and programmed them to churn out random sequences of nine characters.

If the nine-letter sequence appears anywhere in one of Shakespeare’s writings, it is matched against the relevant passage in a copy of the Bard’s complete works, and is checked off the list.

Hang on, though, that’s cheating, innit?

I always understood the infinite monkeys theory to be that eventually they would produce all of Shakespeare’s works as written.  In other words, there is one complete sequence of typewriter keypunches, out of all the jillions of possibilities, which if entered will give you the whole of Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet or whatever else.   This experiment sounds more like flinging random chunks of monkey poo at a wall until it’s completely covered.

Reminds me of the old Bob Newhart routine: “Yeah, Jerry, I’m gonna go down and check on No. 92.  I think he might have something.  Lessee….’To be, or not to be.  That is the rackafratz.'”

UPDATE:  Whoops, perhaps I should have read below the fold, because the Telegraph is way ahead of me:

But the experiment is an imperfect reproduction of the infinite monkey theorem because it saves correct sections of text while discarding future wrong guesses, experts said.

Dr Ian Steward, emeritus professor of mathematics at Warwick University, said that for the monkeys to type up the complete works in the correct order without mistakes would take much longer than the age of the universe.

He told the BBC: “Along the way there would be untold numbers of attempts with one character wrong; even more with two wrong, and so on.

“Almost all other books, being shorter, would appear (countless times) before Shakespeare did.”

The fellah running the thing seems to be aware of his own weakness.

Writing on his blog, Mr Anderson said: “This is the largest work ever randomly reproduced. It is one small step for a monkey, one giant leap for virtual primates everywhere.

“I understand the definition of infinite and infinite monkey theorem and I realise that this project does not have infinite resources.

“No monkeys were harmed during the making of this code. This project is my attempt to find a creative way to attain an answer without infinite resources.”

Which of course, given that it’s a question of infinity, is an impossibility.  Sounds to me more like an attempt to find a creative way to screw around.  Who’s paying for all this?

And speaking of monkey poo:

In 2003 the Arts Council for England paid £2,000 for a real-life test of the theorem involving six Sulawesi crested macaques, but the trial was abandoned after a month.

The monkeys produced five pages of text, mainly composed of the letter S, but failed to type anything close to a word of English, broke the computer and used the keyboard as a lavatory.

I find that last mental image infinitely amusing.


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September 2011