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“Are you a humanist?” he asked.

“No,” I replied. “I know too many human beings.”

(From The Confidence Man, by Herman Melville)

The post linkied above was prompted by the resurfacing of faked-moon-landing conspiracy theories following on the recent death of Neil Armstrong, but it seems to me this sentiment applies to virtually any aspect of human existence.  I think so.  I think so.

A glass of wine with Don!

I noticed this little op-ed nugget in the Telegraph yesterday:

The crisis in the eurozone may threaten to wreck our economy; but the EU also has the wherewithal to destroy something far more precious: our gardens. According to a warning issued by the Royal Horticultural Society, many of the home-made remedies intended to counter the plague of slugs that has bedeviled this sodden summer fall foul of European regulations . The use of organic deterrents, such as coffee grounds, may carry a heavy fine, whereas chemical killers such as slug pellets are acceptable because they have been approved by Brussels. Anything that has not been through the regulatory system is illegal to use as a pesticide, however safe the material is perceived to be. Does that include orange peel to deter cats, or jam and water to drown wasps? Who is going to check? The RHS says it all sounds “rather daft”. Barmy, more like.

Three things about it.

First, what is that line often used about utopian pipe dreams to the effect that in the Brave New World everything not forbidden will be compulsory?  This gets at the same notion, albeit backwards.

Second, I notice that some of the commenters refer to the EU as the EUSSR.  Heh.  Hadn’t heard of that before.  I like it.

Third, I did not know that coffee grounds were a slug deterrent.  (I happened to be chatting with a checkout clerk recently who was praising said grounds as a fertilizer for her various herbs, so perhaps this is a double goody.)  As a matter of fact, I have seen very little sign of slug damage in the Port Swiller garden this year, perhaps because they’re not much interested in what I’ve got growing.  If they do make themselves a nuisance, the good Lord knows I go through enough grounds.  It would give me even more pleasure to sprinkle them about while thinking of the EUSSR, perhaps all the while making rude gestures in the direction of Brussels.

I note that today is the sesquicentennial anniversary of the first day of the Second Battle of Bull Run (or Second Manassas to the more southern-minded among my fellow port swillers).  I invite you to nip over to the Civil War Daily Gazette for a detailed description of this fight, which I have remarked here more than once does not seem to get the same kind of attention as, say, Antietam or Gettysburg or Fredericksburg.   Odd, that, considering that it was Lee’s first major offensive battle and, in my humble opinion, perhaps his most solid tactical victory.

I also invite you again, if you’re interested in these things, to read John J. Hennessy’s Return To Bull Run: The Campaign and Battle of Second Manassas, a very thorough but eminently readable account of the matter.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

His beloved Nats being off last evening, ol’ Robbo dipped into his stack of Netflix releases and pulled up a movie he’s never seen before, a 1959 Brit film titled Northwest Frontier.  And he was very pleasantly surprised by it.

The story is set in 1905 in northwestern colonial India.  [Ed. – Go figure.] Moslem rebels seek to strengthen their insurgence and dishearten Hindu resistance by murdering the local prince and his five year old son.  The rebels storm the palace, kill the prince and burn the place to the ground, but the boy is spirited away at the last instant by his governess and a British army captain and escort.  The rebels pursue this party to the closest British administrative post and lay siege.  The Brits realize the critical importance of getting the boy to safety, but the only way to get him down to the lowlands is via a dilapidated old railway engine and a single carriage.  The party that eventually bursts out of the besieged city aboard this train includes the boy, his governess, the Brit captain, the colonial administrator’s wife and his elderly aide-de-camp,  a slightly hysterical arms merchant, a cynical newspaper man, a couple of guards and an affable engineer wallah.  The bulk of the movie concerns the chase across hostile territory, complicated by the fact that one of the party aboard the train is both a Moslem and involved in (or at least sympathetic to) the plot to kill the princeling.   (I won’t give away any spoilers, but I can safely tell you it’s not the colonial administrator’s wife.)

As I say, the movie was quite enjoyable.  For one thing, it was simply a solid action film in the frontier tradition:  The hordes constantly coming down from the skyline and sabotaging the tracks could just as easily have been Apaches, Dervishes or Visigoths (assuming the Visigoths were able to time-travel and arm themselves with Lee-Enfield rifles, that is), and John Wayne could have been captaining the train rigged out in a cavalry uniform.  For another, I think it was meant to be something of a dig at Pakistan, which in 1959 had recently thrown off the last of Britain’s influence and quickly gone from Islamic republic to military dictatorship.  While many rhetorical questions were asked by various characters about Empire and Freedom and other Capitalized Words, the overall suggestion (graphically illustrated when the party come across a Hindu refugee train that had been ambushed) was that the rebels were a lot of bloody minded bastards who’d cut everyone’s throat if the Brits so much as blinked.  (One certainly couldn’t make a film like this in what’s left of modern G.B.  Indeed, I expect the publick showing of Northwest Frontier nowadays would constitute some kind of hate-crime in that wretched shell of a nation.)

But my favorite bit in the movie was when somebody or other tried to bait the Brit captain into opining on the terrible odds he was facing in trying to spirit away the princeling.  The captain simply shrugged and quoted the end of that most moving stanza from Kipling’s “The Young British Soldier“:

When first under fire an’ you’re wishful to duck,
Don’t look nor take ‘eed at the man that is struck,
Be thankful you’re livin’, and trust to your luck
         And march to your front like a soldier.

I’ve not much of an ear for poetry, but even I can appreciate the gold here.  That closer always gives me chills.

As to the cast, the Brit captain was played by a fellah named Kenneth More, of whom I know nothing but apparently was something of a heart-throb back in the day.  He actually struck me as the least interesting of the lot.  The governess was played by Lauren Bacall of all people, who I usually don’t care for (too flinty) but was somewhat more sympathetic here.  The cynical newspaper man was Herbert Lom, who I only wish I hadn’t first seen as Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther movies because I always think he’s about to start twitching and giggling.   And the aide-de-camp was played by dear old Wilfrid Hyde-White, one of the most delightful old buffers I know of in film.

So there you have it.  Not the greatest film in the world but certainly Netflix-worthy, especially if you’re Kipling-minded.  [Ed. – I wouldn’t know, I’ve never kipled.  Ba-BUMP-dah!]


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August 2012