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A little nooz blurb from Reuterville, no doubt connected to the fact that this week marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg:

Confederate General Robert E. Lee was “virtually blind” to the superior positions held by Union troops hidden by rolling hills and valleys, which contributed to his downfall at the pivotal battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War, researchers said on Friday.

 Lee’s ill-fated combat decisions and ultimate defeat likely stemmed from bad reconnaissance reports, his forces spread too thinly across 7 miles, and an inability to see the more compact and elevated Union forces, according to geographers and cartographers who synthesized old maps, text and data into a digital model of the three-day Pennsylvania battle in 1863.

 “We know that Confederate General Robert E. Lee was virtually blind at Gettysburg,” Anne Kelly Knowles, a geography professor at Middlebury College, wrote in the article accompanying the interactive map on smithsonianmag.com.

“Altogether, our mapping reveals that Lee never had a clear view of enemy forces … In addition, Lee did not grasp – or acknowledge – just how advantageous the Union’s position was,” Knowles wrote.

 I seem to remember reading about this mapping project a year or two ago.  I also have a vague recollection that, although I thought the project rayther neat, I also thought its findings about the lie of the land scored pretty high on the “Well, duh” meter.

On the other hand, I’m not sure I would agree that Lee didn’t grasp the situation.  He knew perfectly well how big the Army of the Potomac was.  He also knew it was concentrated and dug in.  I think he decided to throw down anyway.  Perhaps overconfidence following the string of Southern victories over the prior year and a half factored into it, but I think it most likely that Lee recognized he had no real choice in the matter.  Withdrawal in the face of Meade’s army – especially after the first day’s fighting on Seminary Ridge – would be both tactically risky and psychologically devastating.  Maneuvering around to try and come at the Union forces from a different angle would again be risky and also would be too time-consuming.  I’m not sure what else Lee could have done on the second day than try the attacks against the Round Tops on the right,  Culp’s Hill on the left (Why doesn’t the Culp’s Hill attack get more publicity?  The Rebs damn near broke through there, too)  and Cemetery Ridge between them.

As to Pickett’s Charge on the third day, I think Lee probably knew the risks, too.  This was a straight gamble and he lost it.   Personally, I would have withdrawn after the second day and slunk back to Virginny, but then again, I ain’t no Bobby Lee.

Curiously, Meade hadn’t wanted to fight at Gettysburg, either.  He had in mind a fortified position at a place called Plum Creek (IIRC) a few miles to the southeast.  However, after the first day, his generals – led by Reynolds – convinced him to stay put on Cemetery Ridge and fight it out.

 

Nats HatGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, ol’ Robbo settled down to watch his beloved Nats take on the Metropolitans of Noo Yawk up at Sit-tay Field.  The game was billed to be a real pitcher’s duel, with the Nats’ Ross Detwiler (aka “National Det”) taking on the Mets’ hot-shot ace Matt Harvey.  And through the first five innings, the game proved to be as advertised, with each team scoring but a single run.  However, by the bottom of the 7th, the wheels had started coming off for Det, leaving the Mets up 4-1.

Last year, Robbo’s beloved Nats specialized in come-from-behind victories.  No one ever knew what was going to happen until the last strike of the last inning.  This year?  Not so much.

Therefore, feeling in no mood to watch what he thought a likely defeat, Robbo…..turned off the game.  Instead, he popped in his Netflix copy of Rio Grande, in which the Dook looks broody and Maureen O’Hara looks sulky.

Imagine my surprise, then, when after the movie was over and I was preparing to get in a spot of knitting up the jolly old ravell’d sleave of care, I happened to check on the innertoobs about the game and discovered…….the Nats had rallied back in the late innings to win!

I went to bed feeling somewhat ashamed of myself.  What kind of penance d’you suppose the Baseball Gods demand for this sort of fair-weather fandom?

Other than, of course, saying

GO, NATS!!

Cool:  Russian meteor shock wave went round the world twice.

Ol’ Robbo loves reading about this sort of thing for the same reason he loves to read about geologickal history and meteorological phenomena.  It gives one a delightfully difference sense of perspective.

By way of comparison, if I recall correctly without looking it up, the shock wave from the explosion of Krakatoa back in the 1880’s (?) circled the globe somewhere in the neighborhood of ten times.

Yes, I try to observe Friday abstinence, but this is just too funny not to steal today:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=lVD0_qNsjVY

G’wan over to Maetenloch’s overnight post at Ace’s place for more Psycho-Nazi Vegan goodiness.

UPDATE:  Sorry – dunno why the yootube didn’t embed.  See what happens when I bad-mouth Mac?

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

What with Mrs. R and the eldest gel having left to visit Mrs. R’s parents in Conneckticut on Wednesday and the younger gels having been deposited at Bible-thumper camp last Sunday, ol’ Robbo finds himself starting his annual bachelor blowout week.  Bring on the wine, musick and dancing girls!

Actually, despite my griping about the general noise and mayhem around Port Swiller Manor the other fifty-one weeks of the year, I notice that the novelty of peace and quiet wears off after the first twenty-four hours or so and I start to get listless and fidgety.

Last year Robbo spent most of the week hiding from the heat in the basement, thanks to El Derecho knocking out our power for four days.    Oddly enough, this year, what with the bathrooms being worked on, Robbo is spending most of the week….hiding in the basement from the workmen and the mess.

You can’t win.  You really can’t.

Well, what a tumultuous few days it’s been.  We had some very sad domestic news that I can’t discuss yet because I haven’t broken it to the gels and the middle gel sometimes drops in here.  And of course, there were the big headlines, which I also can’t discuss for fear of accidental/on-purpose drone strikes.  Suffice to say that I’ve spent a good bit of time reminding myself about rendering unto Caesar and being in this world but not of it.  And smiling quietly and enigmatically.  People hate that.

In the meantime, how about some random?

*   It’s been a good year in the garden so far, but I had some trouble with slugs getting at my Joe Pye-weed a couple weeks ago.  Fortunately, I still had some poison in stock.  Is it wrong of me, after spreading said poison, to rejoice in finding the little corpora doubled over in apparent agony?  Probably, but I can’t help myself.

*   A young black bear was spotted very near Port Swiller Manor this week and (probably) the same one caught just the other side of the river a day or two later.  I’ve never heard of them pushing so far in before.  Next thing you know, it’ll be wolves and moose.  (But vat about Squirrel?)

*   Speaking of Naytchuh, the lightning bugs and the bats are back.  As for the former, I pity those friends of the decanter out west who don’t get to see ’em.  As to the latter, Mrs. R is scared to death of bats but I love watching them flitter about in the evening.

*   Speaking of bats, Robbo’s beloved Nats had better find some if they expect to be contenders this year.  I think, I think that they are starting to turn things around.  Thank Heaven the rest of the division has been so meh so far.

*   Never again will I be fool enough to take the ol’ Wrangler to the dealership for her state inspection.  (I had to this year because something had banged loose on the frame and needed fixing.)  The techs seized on her like a school of piranhas on a wounded capybara and it was only after I had been skinned good and proper that I managed to get her back.  “Tightened safety regulations” my left eyeball!

*   Oh, speaking of fish, those of you who delight in Truly Bad Films should mark your calendars for July 11, on which date the SciFi channel is debuting a new movie: “Sharknado”.  To quote the ad copy, “Enough said”.  (You’ll have to google it yourselves.  This goddam Mac won’t let me scroll up to the tool bar once I get deep enough into a post, so no linky.)

*   Speaking of this goddam Mac, have I mentioned how much I hate it?  As I say, I can’t get at the toolbar after writing a certain amount.  Scrolling is problematic.  Downloading pics is impossible.  Screens up and vanish for no apparent reason and others appear without my asking.  Plus, with no disk drive, my Age of Empires CDrom is useless.  Grrrr.

Well, that’s about it for the moment.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A few weeks ago, when I mentioned the current renovations to Port Swiller Manor to Sistah of which regular friends of the decanter are no doubt aware, she remarked based on her own experience that she refused ever again to live in a house that was being remodeled.

Without going into all the details which would only bore you, I will say that based on my own experience of the past few weeks I heartily agree.

Will no one rid me these turbulent workers?

I kid, I kid. The end product will be good.   Still, we hates disruption, and disruption is what we’ve got in spades.

Speaking of such things, a couple days ago in circumstances it would be too complex to explain, I found myself in a position to quote Shakespeare regarding offspring to someone who doubtlessly considers himself one of our educated elite:

I will do such things — what they are yet I know not — but they shall be the terrors of the earth!”

Not only did he miss the quote itself (Lear, Act II, scene iv), he missed the point that this was such an empty threat.

Sigh.

What with all the hubbub around Port Swiller Manor and intermittent access to bloggy world, I didn’t get the chance to mention here that this past Wednesday was the 20th anniversary of the day on which Mrs. Robbo was fool enough to say, “I do”.

By way of innertoob celebration, I posted a quote by somebody named Paul Sweeney over on FB:  “A wedding anniversary is the celebration of love, trust, partnership, tolerance and tenacity.  The order varies for any given year.”

I find this quote to be quite droll, especially said with an Irish accent.  But it’s also  quite accurate.

By way of real life celebration, Mrs. R and I went out to dins at L’Auberge Chez Francois, a swank local French place where as a rule we only dine if somebody else is paying for it.  This time, however, we decided to toss economy to the wind and have a real feast.  And heavens was it worth it!  I started out with fois gras served on toast with pear slices and a glass of late-harvest wine that I can still taste, before going on to a large main course that involved lamb, veal and lobstah tail.

Sitting on the other side of the room was a woman I took to be Arianne Huffington.  However, either she’s got a doppleganger or else that Greek accent is fake.

Chez Francois, by the way, specializes in Alsatian fare, which means that there’s a Teutonic influence.  Sauerkraut lurks on the menu like Arminius in the Teutoburg Forest, ready to spring on the unwary.   Mulling this, I was overcome with the urge to yell, “Varus! Where are my EAGLES!!??”

Anyhoo, here’s to  the next twenty…….

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This afternoon, ol’ Robbo finished off the latest literary recommendation from the Mothe, “renowned presidential biographer” H.W. Brands’ The Man Who Saved The Union:  Ulysses Grant in War and Peace.  All in all, I am inclined to think it well worth a read for anyone who, like Robbo, is interested in and/or admires Sam Grant.

The first part of the book deals with Grant’s misspent yoot and astonishing blossoming as a professional soldier.  Since much of the material about his early years is drawn directly from Grant’s own memoirs, which I’ve read numerous times, I didn’t really learn much, although I appreciated some of the additional citations, including a journal kept by a slave of Julia Dent’s in which some notes of Grant’s courtship were preserved.   As to Brands’ description of the Civil War, it’s a pretty good overview, although again, I’ve read numerous much more detailed accounts of the War in general and Grant’s actions in particular, including (to name a few) the memoirs of Grant, Sherman and Sheridan and the great two-part opus of Bruce Catton (which, unless I missed it, Brands does not cite or reference a single time.  Heresy!)  My only beef would be the uneven treatment of campaigns and battles in which Grant did not participate directly.  The Red River and Mobile Bay, for example, are ignored completely.  On the other hand, Brands devotes far too much ink to Pickett’s Charge and seems to fall for the romantic notion that the Confederacy was this close to achieving final victory at the stone wall.  (I have argued before that it really wasn’t that close.  Yes, there was some panic among some of the Federal units, but Pickett had no support and Union reinforcements were coming in from all over the field.)

The second part of the book deals with Grant’s political life.  Most people today, if asked to summarize Grant’s presidency, would say, “Huh? Who?”  Most people possessed of some basic knowledge of American history would most likely say, “bedeviled by scandal and corruption that Grant himself was too inept to stop”.  Here is where Brands’ work is most valuable, at least to me.  His argument is that yes, the scandals occurred, but there were others that Grant did break up.  Furthermore, Grant achieved the overarching goal of his presidency, which was to prevent the Union from sliding back into the sectarian strife from which it had just emerged.  To this end, he did everything in his power to integrate southern blacks – and repentant southern whites – into the political process, including sending Federal troops to deal with the Klan, passing and enforcing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and other real politick and legal efforts.  (Grant’s opinion of  blacks themselves has always struck me as a bit ambivalent.  However, he was absolutely – and I think correctly – convinced that if slavery and its attendant attitudes were not completely rooted out, the two sections of the country would be right back at each other’s throats.)  One thing of which I had been unaware was Grant’s later active campaigning on behalf of James Garfield in 1880 in order to ensure the Republicans held the White House at least four more years in order to stave off Democratic efforts to undo Reconstruction.   While in the end he did not succeed completely,  it is very much arguable that he did, as the title suggests, save the Union a second time.

The political section also deals with some other aspects of Grant’s administration, including his attempt to treat the Indians humanely as the country expanded westward, an abortive effort to annex what is now the Dominican Republic (eagerly sought by the Dominicans themselves), his policy of expanded trade with Mexico and his continual effort to get the United States back to the gold standard.   Here, I think the book is a bit uneven.  The discussions of Indian and trade policies rayther fizzle a bit, the Dominican effort was fascinating but in the end irrelevant, and I’m afraid I suffered something of a MEGO when reading about the currency battles.  Monetary policy is, of course, important, but that doesn’t mean it’s actually interesting.

Brands finishes up with a discussion of Grant’s post-presidential activities, his tours around the world, his above-mentioned canvassing, his sudden financial plight owing to the machinations of a slippery Wall Street fraud and his resultant work with Sam Clemens to write his memoirs and raise money for his family, and his death from throat cancer.  Throughout this section, Grant’s enormous popularity is emphasized again and again, the good will coming from both friends and former enemies.  Considering his relative political obscurity now, this is quite surprising.

So what happened?  Brands argues that both Northern and Southern political interests in the late 19th Century took a turn in a direction which necessitated the sweeping of Reconstruction and its great hero under the historickal rug.  To this end, all the old slanders about Grant – his drinking, his political ineptitude, the scandals and cronyism – came to the fore, shoving his achievements into the background.  I am very satisfied with Brands’ effort to rehabilitate Grant’s reputation.

I have just a couple minor nits with the book.  For covering such an immense amount of territory, I think it is probably a bit too short and superficial, especially, as I mention, about the War.  I understand that this is just an overview, but perhaps it would have been better to break the subject down into two books.  Also,  Brands dabbles a bit in pop-psychology, particularly regarding Grant’s relationship with his father, which was never all that good.  I’m not fond of this kind of mental speculation, but I wish that if Brands was going to do it, he would at least do it more thoroughly.  The last we hear of old Jesse is when he’s trying to trade on General Grant’s name to get in on illicit southern cotton importation during the War.  After that, he simply vanishes from the text and nothing more is ever said of Grant’s attitudes about him.    Finally, there are some annoying glitches in the text – a misuse of the words upstream and downstream suggesting a lack of knowledge of which direction the Tennessee River flows, the information that two of Grant’s pallbearers were Phil Sherman and William Sheridan – which indicate some sloppy editing.

All in all, though, a satisfying study.  I would give it, say, four glasses out of five.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

My apologies for my recent lack of posts.  The free feast of bloggy reason and flow of pixel soul is rayther difficult when your fortress of solitude has been breached by the Real World (my work PC seems no longer inclined to accept WordPress and my home study is now temporarily the de facto mawster bedroom)  and your stream of consciousness has been diverted by the boulders of familial contact  (as I type, Mrs. R is but a very short stone’s throw away on the fold-out basement sofa-bed, one eye on her book, the other on my fingers…) .

Another couple weeks and we, hopefully, will get the insides of Port Swiller Manor sorted out and everyone back to their allotted spheres of influence.

In the meantime…..

Ol’ Robbo spent several hours today trying to get his employer I.D. synced with the latest security upgrades.  This involved multiple trips up and down stairs, plentiful DMV-like waiting around, several re-iterations of canned pre-determined protocols and, in the end, one of the IT guys finally coming to Robbo’s desk to practice his incomprehensible magic.

My impression of this exercise?

Eh.

“Security” be damned.  I’m guessing that the whole thing was designed to give teh FBI hard, real-time  GPS targets for their drone launches once the purges are declared.  Y’all might want to grab the decanter and take a few steps back from me.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ah, the twenty-something hipster-doofas unemployable liberal arts major lifestyle!  Except that instead of living in our parents’ basement, Mrs. R and I find ourselves currently living in our own, our bedroom temporarily covered over in plastick sheeting as the contractor and his crew swarm the mawster bawthroom.

As a matter of fact, the study down here is rayther snug, comfy and quiet.  Years ago when we first moved in, ol’ Robbo had dreams of making this room his fortress of solitude.   That idea lasted all of about twenty minutes.  One can still have the room to oneself from time to time, but it’s more a system of right of first possession than any kind of paterfamilial precedence.   I can throw the gels out but I can’t budge Mrs. R when she’s deep in her scrapbooking and CSI reruns.

Anyhoo, even as I type, the plumbers are here messing about with piping.  All the framing and underflooring (except where the plumbers are working) have been done and they say they can start laying tile on Monday.   Unfortunately, they’ve temporarily shut off the water.  I say unfortunately because I’ve been working in the garden and yard all day and was really hoping to rinse off and make myself a very tall glass of iced coffee.  But here I am instead wasting my time and yours blogging about it.

Actually, not so much a waste of time.  Staring out the window just now, I suddenly remembered that one of the things I wanted to do today is poison some more of that damned wild grape vine that gets into everything ’round here.  I would have been quite crabby had I recalled that after I’d got cleaned up.  So there you go.

And speaking of cleaning up, the other day I read Graham Greene’s The Power And The Glory, the story of the hunting of a Catholic priest by the revolutionary government of Mexico in the 1920’s.  Much food for thought there about the nature of piety and the relationship between God and Man that would have gone rocketing right over my head not that many years ago.

In the story, the nameless priest is pursued primarily by a zealous police lieutenant, a man hell-bent on wiping out all remnants of the old order and replacing it with the Brave New World.  I had heard or known that this lieutenant was something of a monster.  What I hadn’t expected was that he was so very convinced that what he was about – even where it involved torture, brutality and murder – was good.  Not “good” in the Emperor Palpatine seducing Luke to the Dark Side “Good…..Goooooood!” sense, but “good” as in noble and leading to a better life for the people.

And it occurs to me that this is the kind of behavior that really gets the devil rolling around on the floor in fits of diabolical laughter.   There are plenty of Truly Bad People in teh world, but they’re relatively cheap and uninteresting.  How much more juicy for him must those people be who mistakenly think they’re doing good while, in reality, actually are committing sin.   And, because they think they’re doing good, therefore never feel they need to repent.

Enough to make your flesh creep.  It really is.

Oh, speaking of which, I had quite the odd dream last evening.  In it, I was wandering around a Metro station trying to find a fare machine that took credit cards.  As I passed up and down seemingly endless stairs and went through countless doors, the station looked less and less like a Metro station and more and more like the inside of some grand house.  Suddenly, as I passed through a swing door, I found myself not in house but in the National Cathedral.  The staff was busy preparing for some particular Sunday celebration I’d never heard of – something like Up In The Sky Sunday.  The walls were covered with all kinds of art work, among which I particularly recognized a poster of Tweety-Bird.  Somebody was rehearsing at the lectern and throwing flower petals about her as she spoke.  As I stood looking around, an enormously tall priestess came by talking to somebody else.  I overheard her say that this Sunday was her favorite of the year and that she was really looking forward to it.  I scowled and she, spotting me, glared back.  And then, as they say, I woke up.

Make of that what you will.   In the meantime, I’m going to go kill me dead some grape vine.

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