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newmarketGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

My apologies for the lack of posts the past few days:  Ol’ Robbo has been somewhat under the weather, perhaps due to his recent physical exertions  in re digging out (which see below), perhaps due to subsequent flu-like symptoms which have plagued him because (according to his family’s collective harping) he skipped this year’s flu shot.

Anyhoo, this evening ol’ Robbo finally got around to watching the movie “Field of Lost Shoes“, the story of the Virginia Military Institute cadets who fought in the Confederate victory at the Battle of New Market on May 15, 1864.

I will tell you here and now (those of you who don’t know) that VMI to this very day is damned proud of those boys.  And so she should be.

Overall, I thought it a reasonably good movie in the tradition of buddies-forged-in-the-fire-of-war films.  It was fairly small in scope, apropos  the relatively small scale of the battle and the units who fought in it.   Also, I would rank it fairly high in the recent spate of Civil War pictures spawned by the success of “Gettysburg” in terms of battlefield depictions and strategic commentary.

I recall that when this pic came out, there was a good deal of po0-pooing from the usual suspects owing to its alleged ambiguous treatment of the overriding moral issues involved.  Frankly, ol’ Robbo didn’t see what the bloviating was about: Slavery was depicted categorically as a Bad Thing throughout, doomed by most (North and South) as ending sooner or later anyway.  Yes, there were a number of other issues – family, honor, duty, tradition – superimposed across this, but I fail to see why this should come in for criticism.  (Of course, ol’ Robbo is the kind of fool who still believes that people in 1864 should be judged by the standards of, oh, 1864, and not by those of 2014.  Hindsight is not only a bitch, she’s a blind one, too.  He’s also the kind of fool who believes that logic should play any role in professional grievance-mongering.  Silly o’ Robbo.)

Now for my own geeky criticisms of the film:

Casting:  I know nothing of the actual Keydets involved, so can say nothing about their characters.  I also know next to nothing about John C. Breckinridge, the Confederate commander, so can offer nothing much about the casting of Jason Isaacs to play him.  Werner Daehn as Union General Franz Sigel? Well, maybe, although from what I have read, Sigel’s actual German accent was much worse than portrayed here, even if his incompetency was not.   But Tom Skerritt as Sam Grant?  I. Don’t. Think. So.

Historick Story:  As I mentioned above, this is a fairly small-scale movie about a relatively small-scale battle.  Nonetheless, the movie itself presents New Market as a “pivotal” battle of the Civil War.  Okay, I understand marketing and all that, but no, New Market was not that pivotal.  Yes, Grant envisioned the Eastern Campaign  in terms of getting Lee into a clinch somewhere along the Washington/Richmond line and then kidney-punching him down the Shenandoah Valley.  Yes, Sigel’s inept failure at New Market was a set back to that plan.  But the thing about the imbalance of forces in the War was that the Union could afford such losses and still come back for more, sticking to its strategy through superiority of manpower and materiel.   After Sigel’s inept handing, Grant tasked “Little” Phil Sheridan with the job of wiping out the Shenandoah, which Sheridan did with ruthless efficiency.  Bottom line: It would have happened one way or another.

Also, the Battle of New Market, including the indisputably gallant charge of the Keydets, occurred in large part during a violent thunderstorm, a thing not at all uncommon in the Valley in May.  Why did not the producers take advantage of this fact in order to emphasize the drama?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Port Swiller Manor after the  Initial Driveway Cleanup

Port Swiller Manor after the Initial Driveway Cleanup

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, the Family Robbo survived Snowzilla intact.  Indeed, we didn’t even lose power this time around, owing to the lightness and dryness of the snow. Deo gratias.

Dulles recorded 29″ while they got 22″ downtown.  I think we probably split the baby here.

In any case, I’ve spent the last three days heaving snow off the Port Swiller driveway and my arms and shoulders ache something fierce as a result. (I also think I pulled something in my abs today.)  But the real story of the cleanup was the Eldest Gel.  I had mentioned casually to her a couple days before the storm that I expected her to help shovel out, given that her own car was involved in the matter.  Nonetheless, I had envisioned that when push came to shove she would balk, finding some excuse for weaseling out and leaving the whole job to ol’ Robbo (who, quite frankly, is getting a bit old to deal with this sort of thing all by his lonesome.)

Well, was I pleasantly surprised.  Both yesterday and today, the gel was actually on station and shoveling away even before I even got out of bed.  Plus, not a single word of complaint the entire time, indeed, the closest she came was to say, “I hate this, but I know it needs to be done.”  Instead, we chatted and listened to her iThingy playlist of classic rock.

Musick to ol’ Robbo’s ears.  That the gel is thinking like a responsible adult is something I’ve been praying for, for a very long time indeed.  Also, although I suppose we could have hired somebody to come and dig us out, ol’ Robbo was brought up with the idea that hard work (including manual labor) is important to character development.  The gel felt damned proud of herself for pitching in, and so she should have.  (And get this: She also asked if she could borrow my copy of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, as she has felt the need recently to shore up the underpinnings of her faith in the face of all the hostility she gets about it from some of the kids at her school.)

Oh, speaking of musick, at one point I was at the top of the drive while she was working closer to the garage.  “Bohemian Rhapsody” turned up on her phone, and even though I was some distance from her, at the appropriate point I went into “Wayne’s World” head-banger mode.  The gel laughed and laughed.

Good times.  Good times.

 

 

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Image filched from the Capital Weather Gang (which see link)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, from the midst of Snowzilla!

Yes, it set in around 1:45 pm yesterday and has been snowing like dammit ever since.  Tough to eyeball accurately, but I’d say we’re already well north of a foot at Port Swiller Manor, with a forecast of continued white stuff well into tonight.

Ol’ Robbo was actually surprised to wake up this morning and find that the power had not gone out overnight.  That means at least one more hot pot of coffee for me, so for the moment all is well.  The wind hasn’t really been an issue yet and I think, I think, we might just dodge that particular bullet.

Of course, I could be mis-

No, no.  Just kidding.

If the power holds up today, I plan to watch a 1981 production of Othello that I stumbled across in the Netflix library.  Bob Hoskins plays Iago, so it has some potential.  I’ll let you know what I think.

If not, I’ve started in again on Anthony Powell’s A Dance To The Music Of Time.  I’m not sure if this is my second or third reading but I’m already getting much more out of it than last time.  How I could have missed a line like “He’s so wet you could shoot snipe off of him” previously is beyond me.

The Big Dig starts tomorrow.  Despite the fact that the Bishop has already granted dispensation to stay home, I would like to have gone to Mass.  Unfortunately, I just don’t think I’ll be able to get the driveway cleared in time to make it.  Oh, well.  At least I’m guaranteed some good exercise.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Whelp, here she comes – they’re still calling for a total of a couple feet starting this afternoon, together with howling winds and whiteout conditions.

If you don’t hear from me in the next few days, it’ll be because the power is out.  (Yeah, it seems I should have bought that generator now, but this is still too rare an event to quite justify it to me.)

Picking up on the comments below, we’ve lost power before in the winter, of course, but I don’t recall the outages lasting more than a day or so.  The longest blackouts that I remember at Port Swiller Manor came in the wake of Hurricane Isabel in ’03 and the big Derecho in 2012, each one lasting four or five days.  Those were miserable times.  In winter, if you have enough firewood, blankets, and adult beverages, all you have to do is snuggle in.  But in summah?  The house gets progressively hotter and more disgusting and there’s not much relief other than to hide in the basement.

Or, as Mrs. R is wont to do, flee to a hotel.

Anyhoo, we’ll see what happens.

I’ll catch up with you all on the other side, perhaps with pictures.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Whelp, the local weather wallahs are becoming increasingly convinced that the area around Port Swiller Manor is about to be clocked by a serious blizzard.

Eh.  Although we face the real likelihood of a power outage as a result of this storm, Port Swiller Manor is adequately packed with wine, firewood, gas-range cookables. T.P., and birdfood** to tough it out.  Plus, ol’ Robbo’s order of 40 pounds of driveway melt arrived on schedule this evening, and his garage now boasts not one but two snow shovels.

We’ll do fine.

What the experts like to call this latest “snow event” brings to the fore again a perpetual question: Should ol’ Robbo plunk for a generator?

On the one hand, power outages around here tend to be fairly rare, brief, and hardly life-threatening.   Plus, said generators ain’t exactly cheap. (As I explain to the gels, one does not “get” a generator, one “buys” one.  Yuuuge difference.)

On the other…well, I frankly can’t see any arguments myself.  My family, OTOH, are vociferous in their argument that we need one in order to maintain collective body and soul.  Because comfort.

Somehow, I doubt John Wayne would have thought much of such self-indulgence, so I guess I’ll stick with the Duke on that one.

Anyhoo, the next couple days should prove interesting.  If you don’t hear from ol’ Robbo during that time, you’ll know in advance why.

 

* I mentioned this name to the Eldest and she laughed heartily.  We have a whole, complex protocol for naming storms ’round here that has nothing to do with Jim “Mimbo” Cantore and those self-aggrandizing bozos as the Weather Channel.

** Ol’ Robbo has long been a keen bird watcher and keeps two (three during the humming bird season) feeders going off his back porch for the locals’ benefit.  This said, I feel a heightened obligation toward the local fowl when extreme weather strikes.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Snow finally arrived in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor yesterday:  A gentle dusting that lasted a couple hours across midday.  It didn’t stick but it was very pretty to watch.

Next up, it seems that a major storm is now shaping to hit the Mid-Atlantic some time toward the end of the week.  Depending on which forecaster/models you follow, we’re either going to get some freezing rain or else a major Snowmageddon-like blizzard.

Oddly enough, ol’ Robbo would be happy if this one misses.  Eldest Gel and Mrs. R are supposed to travel down to her college for an overnight orientation thing Sunday night and I really want her to go.

Also, after many bitter years of disappointment, I’ve finally learned not to buy into the pre-storm hype, but simply to wait and see what happens.  As Carol Burnett said in one of her bag lady skits, “I been hurt a lot.”

UPDATE:  Okay, nooz of the impending weather did finally compel me to order up a 40 pound bucket o’ driveway melt, but I’d meant to do that anyway.  Also, I mentioned to Eldest Gel the other day that since she’s now driving and parking in my driveway, she can help me shovel it out as needed.  Look on her face was priceless.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

By now I imagine all three or four of you have read the news that the Anglican Communion this week put the Episcopal Church on a three year suspension over the issue of ghey marriage, with the instructions to get back in line or risk being chucked permanently.  ECUSA immediately responded by playing the defiant victim card.  Frankly, ol’ Robbo was astonished.  For years the attitude of ECUSA was that Canterbury would never take punitive steps in response to its creeping progressivism because it basically bankrolls the Communion.  I guess the African and South American Bishops, who have become the real theological leaders, finally have had enough.

It’s possible that one side or the other will blink eventually, but this sure looks like the beginning of a final and permanent schism to me.  If that happens, I suspect that most if not all of the remaining traditionalists within ECUSA will bail – going to the North American Anglicans, some other Protestant denomination and maybe Rome herself.  The rump, finally free of all adult supervision, will then crumble further into fringe Unitarian obscurity.

This news aggravates a long-standing sore in ol’ Robbo’s conscience, since, as regular friends of the decanter know, when I swam the Tiber myself eight years ago, I left my family on the other, Palie, shore.  Mrs. R has no interest whatsoever in following me, and the gels are all caught in teenaged limbo – too old to remold but not quite old enough to make up their own minds (at least while still under Mrs. R’s roof).  I pray for their conversions (and those of the rest of my family) daily and try to set an example and drop gentle hints, but so far, no joy.  I’m not sure what else, if anything, I can do, but I still worry that I haven’t exerted myself enough to get them off the Titanic before it finally goes down.

Perhaps this sudden new in-gushing of ice water will motivate them to take stock anew.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Over the past couple weeks, ol’ Robbo has found himself reading several books new to him.  Some brief impressions [Spoiler Alert!] re each:

UnbrokenThe first is Unbroken:  A Word War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, a copy of which was loaned to me at New Year’s by the Former Llama Military Correspondent, which means he probably never will see it again.  (I’m as bad as Hugo Bracegirdle about returning books.)  It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, Troubled Yoot Extraodinaire, who discovers a talent and drive for competitive running which leads him to shatter all kinds of scholastic records and lands him a spot in the ’36 Olympics in Berlin.   Before he can make a return appearance, war breaks out.  Zamperini is drafted into the Army Air Corp and finds himself bombardier on a B-24 in the Pacific Theatre.  After some early success, he is one of only three survivors when his plane crashes into the ocean.  These three (one of whom dies) then spend the next 40+ days adrift in a small life raft with no food or water but what the occasional fish, bird and rainstorm can provide, surrounded by hungry sharks, subject to extremes of sun and wind, and once even strafed by a passing Japanese bomber.  Eventually, the two survivors get picked up by the Japanese and sent to POW camps.  Then the real hardship begins:  Beatings, starvation, torture, slave labor, exposure.  Zamperini falls victim to a particularly sadistic Japanese corporal known as The Bird, who beats him senseless daily.  Somehow or other, they manage to endure several years of this until the War ends and they are liberated.  Liberation is pure joy.  Once back in the States, however, Zamperini discovers that the War is not, in fact, over – at least in his own head.  He quickly goes into a power-dive of self-destructive behavior and it is only when his wife drags him to a Billy Graham sermon that he finds redemption and gets himself back together.  The rest of his life is remarkably peaceful, rewarding, and spiritual.

The book is meticulously detailed and clearly, if rayther dryly, written, but I have a few things.  First, the title.  Zamperini wasn’t “unbroken”.  Even according to the text itself, he was most thoroughly broken by his torture within the Japanese camps by The Bird and took that brokenness with him back home.  (He nearly strangles his wife in his sleep, thinking in a dream that she is The Bird.)  As for his redemption, it should be noted that Zamperini, while floating in the life raft, promised God that if He delivered him, Zamperini would devote the rest of his life to Him.  He also reported, during that same period, several times hearing choirs of angels around him.  Well, we hear nothing more of this until the remembrance of that promise seems to come back to him at the Graham sermon, where it’s presented awfully cut and dry:

1.) Graham – “You need to get with God.”

2.)  Zamperini – ” Oh. ‘Kay.”

3.)  ???

4.)  Spiritual Profit!

I’m over-simplifying a bit, of course, but I wish that aspect of things had been unpacked more thoroughly, because it seems to me the key point of the entire narrative.  (I’m reminded of what Mattie Ross says in Charles Portis’s True Grit about how nothing in life is free except the Grace of God and that none of us deserve it.)  Oh, well.  At least it’s better than the recent movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, which, according to my sources, pretty much ignores the whole God thing altogether.

PrincessBrideSecond is The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, “abridged” by William Goldman.  For some years I’d been meaning to read this, fond as I was of the movie version, so recently I bought both the book and the DVD to add to my collection.  (An aside: Robin Wright appears in some of the extra features commentary and is quite RCBfA-worthy, IYKWIMAITYD.)  This particular edition of the book is a special “30th Anniversary” one, containing both a 30th Anniversary and the 25th Anniversary author’s prefaces.  The “abridgment” consists of Goldman (who wrote the movie’s screenplay as well as a bunch of other famous ones such as “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, “All The President’s Men”, “The Stepford Wives”, and “A Bridge Too Far” (aka, “A Movie Too Long”)) putting together all the “good parts”, i.e., the action sequences, and summarizing and commenting upon long, useless, cranky, Melville-like asides by Morgenstern in between.  From the preface, I learned that the whole Fred Savage/Peter Falk reading biznay in the movie was based on Goldman’s recollection of his own father’s reading the book to him when he was a kid sick in bed.  I also learned some of the historick background of both the story and of Morgenstern, and of the apparent ongoing legal squabbles between Goldman, his publishers, and Morgenstern’s estate over the publication of all these materials.

Then I did a little background check and discovered that the whole “Morgenstern” thing – together with what Goldman let fall about his childhood, his marriage, his reading to his own son and his research travels – was a hoax.  Goldman wrote the whole damned thing himself.

Bastard.  Ol’ Robbo hates getting pawned.

I’m sure you remember in the movie when Vizinni says the “Greatest Mistake” is getting involved in a land war in Asia?  I’d always thought of that as a bit of stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam, perhaps gratuitously introduced by the director, Rob “Meathead” Reiner.

When I first came across the line in the book, however, still thinking Morgenstern was For Realz, I thought, “Hmm…Could the original author have been making a cranky reference to Alexander teh Great’s foolish attempt to conquer India?  The various wars between Rome and Persia that went so badly for some Emperors?  Even the ill-fated Song Dynasty resistance to the Mongol invasion of China?”

When I realized what was afoot, however, I went back to my first conclusion:  Stoopid Baby Boomer snark about Vietnam.

It’s a helluva fun read, nonetheless.

GreatestKnightFinally, I’ve just started a book picked up for me by Mrs. Robbo as a small token of my upcoming mumbledy-mumble birthday:  The Greatest Knight:  The Remarkable Life of William Marshall, The Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge.  Marshall, who first rose in the service of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II, became a sort of early 13th Century equivalent of the Very Model of a Modern Major General and was deeply involved in the rise of the Knightly Class as well as the history of the English Throne during the reigns of Richard the Lionheart, Wicked King John and those immediately around them, particularly Henry II’s first son, Henry.  The text is based in part on a valedictory biography of Marshall penned shortly after his death, but also supported and damped by other available contemporary references.

I can’t say that much about the book yet except that Asbridge goes to great pains to make sure his readers understand the difference between judging Marshall according to his own time and judging him according to modern sensibilities.  This is increasingly important in our own godawful age, in which it is becoming all the more common to attempt to simply “disappear” people and events which don’t fit in with the current narrative.  Nonetheless, Asbridge slips a bit now and again.  At one point, he remarks that toys given to medieval boys and girls were often “gender-normed”.  In other words, little boys were given toy soldiers and little girls were given dolls.  [P.C. Police:  Get….OUT!!!  Me:  So, what?]  Also, he has the annoying habit of using C.E. (“Common Era”) for dates instead of A.D. (“Anno Domini”).  This may be the academic standard now but it grates on ol’ Robbo’s soul mightily.  Back in the day, the ol’ Jacobins tried to chuck the calendar completely and start with a brand new one.   It seems their modern equivalents have got wise enough to appropriate and assimilate their target rayther than obliterating it.

Anyhoo, so far quite an interesting exploration of an era of which I don’t know much beyond a few facts about the main players.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yes, ol’ Robbo is still around, although I confess that I have yet to finish the bottle of port I got in for the Christmas festivities.  (Some reveler I am.)

Anyhoo, I may have missed some regime change, but why will Safari and iMac suddenly not let me copy and paste Innernet links or YooToob videos?  (I was going to do a retrospective on the late David Bowie’s song “Changes” and ol’ Robbo’s varsity crew winter training at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown, CT back in the day, but the ability to insert links suddenly seems to have disappeared from my screen.)

What gives?

UPDATE: Oh, I think I see.  Whereas previously the link to a specific page at, say, Amazon automatically appeared in the, er, linkie bar, now it just says “amazon.com” and you have to click again to get the specific page address.  Or something.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers, and happy Epiphany!

Yes, today marks the O-ficcial end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and – practically speaking – all those lords, ladies, maids, partridges, rings, et al are invited to get off my lawn.

Seriously, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is, in my humble opinion, one of the most tedious and un-rescuable of all the Christmas standard carols, despite the fact that some people think it’ s some kind of Catholic code.

EpiphanyAnyhoo,  the point of the day is to mark the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem, there to worship and adore the Baby Jesus, thereby heralding His ministry amongst the Gentiles.

I try to wrap my brain around this encounter.  According to Matthew:

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

I love that “another way” language.  Clearly, the Magi got wind of what Herod (not a man to be crossed0 intended and wanted no part of it.  But what was the timing? What was the protocol?  I’m fine with the idea that the Magi were not”Three Kings” but were something more like astrologers or “wise men without portfolio”.  But what were the temporal obligations of their visit? What were the security protocols? How did it end?

Inquiring (and yet, perhaps, useless) minds want to know.

 

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