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The Capital Weather Gang remind me that today is the 1st anniversary of the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Mineral, Virginny.

As it happens, when the quake hit I was sitting where I’m sitting right now.   After the fact, I had this to say:


That was pretty wild, I must say.

I’m four floors up in an 10 story building.  At first, like almost everyone else, I thought somebody was just moving some furniture around upstairs.  But then my door started swinging open and shut, some pictures fell over and the floor started rocking back and forth.  The whole building suddenly felt as if it were made out of cardboard.  Very sick-making.  I finally understand why people report earthquakes making them nauseous.

So that was a quake, that was.

Anyhoo, not much more to tell.  We all scrambled out and stood around for a while wondering if and when there would be an aftershock.

UPDATE: Spoke to Mrs. Robbo at home and all is well.  At first, she thought it was just the gels raising hell.

Well, okay.  Not exactly one of my more scintillating posts, but the truth is that I really was feeling pretty queasy all afternoon.

Meanwhile, they’re still putting the National Cathedral back together again.   What with the middle gel’s choristering and all, I’ve been over there a number of times this past year and have had to fight off the utterly unreasonable fear, when inside, that there might still be some structural damage of which nobody is aware that could suddenly choose to manifest itself by dropping something on the Robbo head from a height.

UPDATE:  Heh.  From regular friend of the decanter Mike F:

Father Z, in a post today on liturgical puppets, includes a quote that goes right to Robbo’s heart:

“We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.”

— Hilaire Belloc, This That and the Other (1912)


I think friends of the decanter will agree that this neatly captures the essence of many of Robbo’s screeds about the barbarism of our so-called modern culchah here.  (At least I hope so.  Otherwise, my writing is even poorer than I thought.)

Now, you may snarf your hot beverage at this assertion, but the fact of the matter is that I’m neither a prig nor a snob.   Really.   The point of the matter is that from my studies and observations, I’m simply very aware of the enervating effect of Belloc’s  sitting by and watching and the devastating consequences of such moral enervation so often illustrated over the course of history.

In other words, I see those large, awful, unsmiling faces pretty clearly.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, after watching his beloved Nationals foozle their attempted sweep of the Braves (how the hell do you walk the opposing pitcher on four balls in a row?), Robbo found himself a bit too steamed up to go directly to bed.  So he flipped over to the History Channel for a little bit just to see what was going on.


The first show, of which I caught about the last twenty minutes or so, was about Custer and Little Big Horn.   The program was all about the forensic work that has gone in to trying to figure out the actual positions of the men involved in the fighting by means of locating and identifying spent shells and slugs and other bits of flotsam and jetsam.  Apparently, a pretty clear picture of the details of battle is being built up, right down to the tracking of individual paths and firing positions.  The thing that at first puzzled and then downright irritated me, though, was an insistent theme that this research was “exploding the myth” of “Custer’s Last Stand”.  Now as I say, I didn’t see the beginning of the show, but I have to ask:  What myth?  The evidence I saw pretty much supported what I had understood to have happened already from various books on the topic – that after Custer blundered across a far larger and more well-organized enemy than he had anticipated and tried to beat a retreat, his small force was gradually eaten up as it struggled spun out across Greasy Grass attempting to reach some high ground cover to the north.   Does anybody really still believe the old idea of a solid ring of heroically determined dismantled cavalry all dying together under the Sioux assault?  Did anyone to begin with?  The whole tone of the program seemed to be that this was the Big Lie that has been foisted on us all these years and is only now being torn down by fearless Truth Tellers.  Hmmph.  I knew Custer had blonde hair, but I didn’t know the rest of him was made out of straw.

The second show was about Gettysburg, and specifically about Pickett’s Charge.   It started off with the premise that the Union center was on the verge of collapse and that the Charge came within a hair’s-breadth of success.  This so inflamed me that I turned the teevee off in utter disgust.  I invite my fellow port swillers to read Earl Hess’s Pickett’s Charge: The Last Attack At Gettysburg, which painstakingly, almost painfully, tracks the movements of both Confederate and Union units on the third day.  The truth of the matter is that, bar complete and irrational panic on the part of the Federals, the thing wasn’t and never would have been even close.   The three Confederate divisions that went in had virtually zero artillery support after the initial bombardment, and there seemed to be no plan for any coordinated troop movements on the wings either.  On the other hand, the Federals were able to flood the zone both in front and on the flanks.  Granted, Armistead got to the wall, but it’s not enough to just reach a position, however romantic a picture it makes.  You’ve got to be able to take it and hold it with sufficient force, and the Confederates simply couldn’t handle the massive Federal reinforcements coming up.  Game over.   But again, I suppose that doesn’t make very compelling teevee.

Feh.  Granted that Robbo was in a pretty jaundiced mood after the game to begin with, but he was pretty appalled at the quality of the stuff being served up as “history” here.

UPDATE:  Speaking of Little Big Horn, even with changes in the historickal narrative swirling all about, I am at least glad that one piece of trivia lodged into Robbo’s brain at a tender age (thank yew, Disney!) is true:  That the only known survivor of the battle on the U.S. Cavalry’s side was Captain Keogh’s horse Comanche:

Headquarters Seventh United States Cavalry, Fort A. Lincoln, D. T., April 10th, 1878. General Orders No. 7.

(1.) The horse known as ‘Comanche,’ being the only living representative of the bloody tragedy of the Little Big Horn, June 25th, 1876, his kind treatment and comfort shall be a matter of special pride and solicitude on the part of every member of the Seventh Cavalry to the end that his life be preserved to the utmost limit. Wounded and scarred as he is, his very existence speaks in terms more eloquent than words, of the desperate struggle against overwhelming numbers of the hopeless conflict and the heroic manner in which all went down on that fatal day.

(2.) The commanding officer of Company I will see that a special and comfortable stable is fitted up for him, and he will not be ridden by any person whatsoever, under any circumstances, nor will he be put to any kind of work.

(3.) Hereafter, upon all occasions of ceremony of mounted regimental formation, ‘Comanche,’ saddled, bridled, and draped in mourning, and led by a mounted trooper of Company I, will be paraded with the regiment.

– – By command of Col. Sturgis, E. A. Garlington, First Lieutenant and Adjutant, Seventh Cavalry.

I note that today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field and the demise of Richard III.

No doubt you are saying to yourself, “Self, what gift can I give our Maximum Leader by way of consolation, especially given his status as a main pillar of the Richard III Reputation Restoration (RIII³) movement?”

Well, how about one of these:

I’m sure Maxy would appreciate the thought.

Surely it is the Prime Directive of any parent to ensure that their children are given the best possible education, are exposed to the best culchah and are all-around solidly grounded in their outlook on the world?

I think so.  I think so.

So imagine my consternation, nay shock, at my own near-failure to adhere to this directive upon my discovery last evening that none of the gels had ever seen an episode of Fawlty Towers and had, at best, only teh vague idea that it was an old teevee show with John Cleese in it.  Horribile dictu!  

Apart from the fact that the series is one of the best ever produced for tee vee and is still astoundingly hylarious 40-odd years later, the fact of the matter is that I have incorporated so many words, phrases and references from it into my own day-to-day lexicon, it’s a wonder that without this exposure the gels have the slightest idea what I’m talking about half the time.

It’s not that we don’t own Flowery Tarts at Port Swiller Manor.  It’s just that we only have it on videotape (remember that?) and despite the fact that our old tape player conked some years back, we’ve never got round to upgrading to DVD.  Someone had blundered, indeed.

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending.  Upon discovering my lapse, I immediately swept off to the Devil’s Website, there to purchase the de-luxe DVD set, complete with digital remastering, commentary, interviews and outtakes.  (Have I mentioned that when Robbo becomes Emperor of the World, an outtakes feature will be mandatory for all DVDs?)

So we are now (or soon will be) set to go.  And in celebration of the averting of this educational disaster, here’s one of my favorite clips, from which Robbo frequently draws inspiration when dealing with the gels:


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

For those of you keeping score at home, I would note that today is the sesquicentennial of the birth of French composer Claude Debussy, born this day in 1862.  The local classickal station is, as you might imagine, going bananas with afternoons of fauns and seas and moonlight and whatnot.

Ol’ Robbo is not fond of Debussy’s musick.  Indeed, I’d go so far as to say, as I used to as a small lad, “no yikee”.  In part, I don’t like the way he messed about with traditional tone and harmonics in pursuit of mood and coloring in and of itself, in part I don’t like the fact that he opened the floodgates for modern composers to chuck such structures altogether.  (I’ve long argued that musick, more than any other art form, is self-referential.  If you don’t have a firmly understood structure on which to base your musickal ideas, then they’re really just so much noise.)

Mansoor Debussy provoked something of a conflict between Robbo and his piano teacher during his (Robbo’s) misspent yoot.    Mr. Sags (the teacher) was a firm Romantick himself and didn’t much appreciate Robbo’s constant desire to study Baroque and Classickal pieces.  Finally, he insisted that if we were going to do a Bach e minor toccata, then dammit, we were going to do some Debussy, too.

Grudgingly, I gritted my teeth, gave in an agreed to play this one, Debussy’s La Serenade Interrompue:

It was only palatable to me because of its obvious Spanish flair.  Otherwise, it gave me the guts-ache.

Ol’ Robbo was perusing the Telegraph when he came across this article about plans to turn Hadrian’s Wall into “the world’s longest artwork”:

Hadrian’s Wall is to be turned into what organisers claim will be the world’s longest artwork, an installation spanning 73 miles.

Connecting Light will consists of 450 giant balloons fitted with LED lights, hovering above the Roman structure in locations from Wallsend to Bowness-on-Solway.

The balloons will transmit ‘messages’ to each other that translate into different colours. As the messages move from one balloon to another, the installation will become a line of pulsating colours stretching into the distance.

The project is part of the London 2012 Festival and is the brainchild of New York-based digital arts collective YesYesNo.

Well, I thought, the lights strung out all along the Wall might look pretty cool in and of themselves, and might perhaps also be reminiscent of signal beacons flashing all along its length back in the day in the defense of the Empire against Pictish incursion.

Then I read on to what the indecisively-named arts collective brainchilding the project meant to be the message:

According to the collective, the installation will transform the 2,000-year-old wall into “a bridge not a barrier”.


Somebody call 911!  We’ve got a visualized whirled peas overdose here that needs medical attention stat!

Rereading the statement, I started to try and figure out what it’s actually supposed to mean, but found myself stumped.

It certainly can’t be commentary specific to Hadrian’s Wall itself, can it?  There’s plenty of debate surrounding the actual purpose and the military and economic wisdom of building the thing in the first place,  but I’m pretty sure that nobody has suggested that better communications between the Picts and the Romano-Britains would have been possible but for the erection of a barrier by a meddling Imperial government.   What would have been possible was more cattle-raiding and other forms of armed intrusion.

It surely can’t be a blanket statement that all bridges are good and all barriers are bad, can it?  Even what little history is still taught in schools these days, and indeed simple common sense, quickly puts paid to such an idiotic notion as that.  If YesNoWaitMaybe, or whoever they are, want to make a statement about truly bad barriers, I suggest they take their lighted balloons to, say,  the North Korean side of the DMZ.   (See where that will get them.)

Is the effect instead meant to be purely aesthetic, a sort of Escheresque inversion of perspective?  Like looking at a silhouette of a candlestick and suddenly seeing the profiles of two faces?

Or has that old stick-in-the-mud Robbo simply fallen into the trap of believing that a piece of art is supposed to have an actual, recognizable point about it?  (I’m assuming here that it isn’t simply a matter of ars artis gratia, because even I know that this is downright heresy among Modern Artistes.  Anyway, WellUmErUh started it by going on about barriers and bridges in the first place.)

Indeed, is not a work that in fact invites a wide variety of interpretations an actual “bridge” in itself because it brings all the interpreters together?  (Whoa, that would be profound.)

As I say, beats me.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I see that today is the anniversary of the birth, in 1754, of General Sir Banastre Tarleton, notorious leader of British Dragoons during the American Revolution.

I mention this because I was musing t’other day on our iconic revolutionary figures (one gets these whims), and specifically on the ones I dislike the most.  It was Tarleton who lead the raid on Charlottesville, Virginny in March, 1781 in an effort to capture members of the Virginny legislature, together with Governor Thomas “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants” Jefferson.   When Jefferson got word of Tarleton’s rapid approach to Monticello, rayther than considering the possible refreshment of the tree of liberty with his own blood, he high-tailed it into the forest and hid.

The image of Tom making a run for it, which I am sure I have reduced to something near caricature in my mind’s eye, has always been a source of grim amusement to me, because he really stands out at the top of Robbo’s list of said disliked figgahs, being, as he was, the equivalent of a limousine liberal.

So that’s that.

(In case friends of the decanter are interested in other members of Robbo’s dislike list, I’ll just say briefly that I think Tom Paine a loathsome rabble-rousing blowhard and Ben Franklin a somewhat-too-slippery fish for my taste.  However, so far as I’m aware, Tarleton never chased either of them, so they’re somewhat outside the scope of this post.)

UPDATE:  The Mothe mentions the salacious doin’s between Tarleton and “Perdita” aka Mary Darby Robinson in the comments.

Here is the print to which she (the Mothe) is referring – by the young James Gillray, no less, one of ol’ Robbo’s favorites.  And here is a nice little summary of the Ban and Mary show.

Regular friend of the decanter Mike F recently dropped a linkie in the old Llama Tasty Bits (TM) Mail Sack to gCaptain, a site devoted to all things maritime and offshore.  He particularly noted Maritime Mondays as a nice way to start the week.

I’ve added the link to the port swiller blogroll and note it for the benefit of anyone who has the urge to go down to the sea.

A glass of wine with you!

Regular friends of the decanter may recall my mentioning before, with some bitterness, the ironic juxtaposition of the facts that a) of all the members of the Port Swiller household, ol’ Robbo is probably least fond of cats, and b) of all the members of the Port Swiller household, ol’ Robbo is the one who usually gets saddled with the responsibility of taking care of our pair of felines.

The cats themselves understand this arrangement perfectly well.  (Indeed, I am not altogether sure that they didn’t have a paw in engineering it.  Just the sort of thing a cat would think amusing.)  One manifestation of this understanding is the increasing frequency and intensity with which the younger of the two, Bella, pesters me to feed her.

It’s not that food isn’t always available to her.  It is.  But I only keep the bowl of dry food topped up.  What she wants is the wet stuff, which we give her once a day and which she generally has hoovered up within ten or fifteen minutes.  (She is also in the habit of trying to snarf as much of her elderly companion’s ration as possible.  The way she slurps up the gravy is downright revolting.)

To this end, there are times when I feel positively persecuted by Bella.  She follows me about, mewling pitifully.  She sits on the arm of my comfy chair while I’m reading and tries to hypnotize me into opening up a can.  In the morning, when I am feeding her, she does her level best to get tangled up in my legs while I’m trying to dish the stuff out.   It is not unusual for me, when she tracks me down in the kitchen and starts in, to shake my finger at her bowl and yell, “You’ve got food, you unspeakably gluttonous villain!”   (The look she gives me in response would be difficult to render into a written description.)

I used to think that Bella was just greedy.  However, according to this article from the Telegraph, she’s actually psychotic:

Cats that pester for food could be suffering from psychological condition

Cat owners see it as a sign of hunger and affection — their pet miaowing and rubbing against their ankles as dinner time approaches.

But according to a group of vets, it is a sign of a creature whose obsession with food has driven it to the edge of insanity.

They claimed that cats that show too much eagerness to be fed could be suffering from the newly-diagnosed condition of “psychogenic abnormal feeding behaviour”.

And the attention-seeking behaviour is a symptom called “excessive solicitation of interspecific interactions”.

According to the researchers, who set out their findings in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, other symptoms can include “food-related aggressiveness” — taking food from other cats’ bowls — and “context-specific excessive appetite” — jumping on the table to eat from the owner’s plate.

I will say that Bella doesn’t jump on table.   Lucky for her, because the first time she did would be the last.

So what does one do with a cat affected by PAFB syndrome?  Become an enabler and give in to her constant demands?  Seek counseling?  Intervention?  Maybe a support group?  (“Hi, my name’s Bella and I have psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior.”  “Hi, Bella!”)  Cut her off cold and sleep with a cosh under my pillow in case she goes postal?

UPDATE:  Dr. Boli presents an advert for the very thing to let your cat indulge in its excessive solicitation of interspecific interactions.


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August 2012