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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Owing to the road closures associated with today’s lighting of the White House Christmas Tree, ol’ Robbo had to take the metro in for the first time in quite a while.


In the end it didn’t prove to be too bad an ordeal, actually, but it got me thinking again about a looming future conundrum:  My office is moving to a new building some time in 2019.  It’s about two miles farther away from home than my present digs, and in a less-desirable section of Your Nation’s Capital.  At this point, I’ve no idea what I’m going to do about the new commute.  Assuming I’ll even have access to a decent parking lot, the extra travel along DC’s downtown streets is going to be a major pain.  On the other hand, getting there by metro would involve changing trains in addition to all the other drawbacks to mass transit, and will be of an equally major pain.

(Well, I do know one thing: When we make the big jump I’m finally going to sign up for our telework option, which would allow me to go in only three days a week instead of five.  I’ve avoided it so far because of all the bureaucratic hoops one has to jump through in terms of set up and terms of use, but I think the move will finally make such jumping worthwhile.)

Speaking of the Metro, I see where the Archdiocese of Washington is taking a slap at it over Metro’s refusal to carry their holiday-season ad campaign.  Apparently, Metro now has guidelines rejecting “advertisements that promote or oppose any religion, religious practice, or belief”.  This is sort of funny, because Ol’ Robbo recalls that in the not-too-distant past, the Militant Atheists would run their own yearly ad campaign in the system round about now.  I expect the current policy is the WMATA’s way of saying “leave us the hell out of all this”.  (I also assume that the Atheists would get turned down if they tried to place such ads this year, too.)


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, Ol’ Robbo popped in the DVD of “Barabbas” (1961).  This wasn’t part of my Hollywood History of the World campaign.  Rayther, I had caught about ten minutes of it on one of the movie channels last Easter and was intrigued enough to make a note to circle back to it.

The premise is an interesting one:  What happened to Barabbas after Pilate let him go instead of Jesus?

Alas, the actual execution is pretty flat.  *SPOILER ALERT** Barabbas has some kind of crisis of conscience at being spared.  In the meantime, he gets arrested again, transported to a sulphur mine in Sicily, survives that, and winds up in Rome performing in the Colosseum.  (Joey, do you like movies about…gladiators?”) Eventually, haunted by mental images of Jesus, he winds up becoming Christian himself.

In practice, most of the movie is nothing much more than Anthony Quinn standing around looking baffled and resentful.

There are a couple of nice little gracenotes featuring the underground nature of Early Christianity – a wink here, a secret symbol there – and the stoning to death of Barabbas’ Jesus-loving gal-pal is pretty grim.  And I will say that whoever wrote the score was well-acquainted with Gregorian Chant and put it to very effective and appropriate use.

As I say, Quinn is Barabbas.  Anthony Kennedy, one of the oiliest-looking actors of the time (I know him as the gun-slinger who double-crosses Jimmuh Stewart in the western “Bend of the River”), plays Pilate.  Ernest Borgnine has a bit part (and he was actually not bad looking in those days), and Jack Palance plays a psychotic bully-boy among the gladiators.  (There’s a surprise casting job!)

I’ll give it, say, four sips out of ten.

Next up, a 1954 version of “Ulysses”, starring Kirk Douglas as the Homeric hero.  I intend to laugh heartily……

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Know what’s beginning to really get on my nerves these days?  The use and overuse of the word “passion”.

I don’t mean in the Biblical sense (as in the Passion of the Christ) or in the romantic sense.  I mean when people claim to have a “passion” for their causes or their jobs or whatever consumer product they may be flogging.  The word seems to be everywhere these days.

In part, it’s simply stupid virtue-signaling, designed to give the speaker the moral high ground.  “I have a passion for Social Justice! How dare you question my policies or proposals,  or my condemnation of you and your backwards, knuckle-dragging ways!”

In part, it’s also a tell that the speaker is coming at something more through their feelz than through their head, and that suggests instability.

To counter-act this, I have a little card up on my bulletin board quoting Alec Guinness’s Prince Feisal from Lawrence of Arabia: “For Lawrence, mercy is a passion.  For me, it is simply good manners.  You may judge which is the more reliable motive.”


Anyway, I wish people would cut it out.

UPDATE:  Speaking of “P” words, it seems the MSM have their knickers in a bunch this evening because, during a White House reception for some WWII Navajo Wind-Talkers today, the Donald referred to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” due to her years of trading on her unproven Native American ancestry in her climbs through the ranks of Academia and Big Gubmint.

For once, Ol’ ‘Robbo agrees with the MSM.  Get your memes right, Mr. President! The correct usage is “Fauxcahontas”, with “Liawatha” as an acceptable substitute.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo didn’t get the chance to do so in advance, but post-facto I hope all you friends of the decanter were able to get together with family and friends for Thanksgiving Day, that you stuffed yourselves silly on turkey and all the traditional fixin’s, that you avoided the malls like the plague on Black Friday, that your favorite college team won its football game, and that you are not now nor will be stuck in horrendous traffick trying to get home.

Ol’ Robbo’s Black Friday Madness

As for myself, I don’t think I’ve ever known a smoother nor a more harmonious Turkey Day.  The Port Swiller family went down to my brother’s house in North Carolina as per usual on Wednesday, only this time the Eldest Gel insisted on taking her own wheels so that she could have greater flexibility in her comings and goings.  Whelp, after initial strenuous objection on Ol’ Robbo’s part, I was eventually beaten down to grudging consent, and the Gel convoyed on down with me.  As it proved, the arrangement worked perfectly.  Eldest, Mrs. R and I stayed at a hotel, while the Younger Gels bunked in with their cousins.  The freedom of movement really paid off.

Thanksgiving Day proved its usual self, with Brother and Ol’ Robbo standing around the barbeque and fiddling with the coals to make sure the turkey was properly roasted.  This was less to ensure the quality of the bird (if you leave it in long enough, it’s pretty hard to screw up a turkey), as to have an excuse to stand around in private with an adult beverage and jaw.

Friday, the Gels were insane enough to actually go to the malls.  I was shocked, shocked to learn on their return that it had been like being caught in a school of starving piranhas.  Meanwhile, Brother and I slipped off and did about seven miles’ worth of hiking up down and around Stone Mountain State Park.  (I’m still stiff and sore.)

We hit the road early this morning, encountered minimal holiday traffic (I’d been dreading Charlottesville in particular because of the UVA/Tech game, but it turns out that was played last evening), and got home early enough that I can spend the shank of the day today (AND tomorrow!) unwinding.

As I say, good times, good times.  Nobody fought, the Gels have got very close with their cousins recently and had a blast, and we’re home safe and sound.

UPDATE:  Looking it over again, Ol’ Robbo fears that this post sounds a leetle too like one of those awful Family Nooz Letters that people put out this time of year.  “Dear [Address Field 2], the Port Swiller Family had a fabulous 2017!  Allow me to share some of our superlative moments….”   In fact, it was written in the first flush of homecoming after Mrs. R and I shared a look of dizzy incredulity that things had gone so smoothly in comparison to many a prior holiday trek, and also what Might Have Been this year.  Indeed, last Wednesday morning, prior to our setting out, Ol’ Robbo was full of portents of doom.  They simply didn’t come true.  Go figure.

On the other hand, I would like to puff just a bit, in that the pic here is indeed of Ol’ Robbo’s legs and boots.  I finally figured out humbled myself and asked Mrs. R how to transfer photos from my phone-thingy to my laptop.





Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo has, from time to time, spoken here of his fondness for the three sets of short stories of E.E. Somerville and Martin Ross known collectively as “The Irish RM”.  They are first-person accounts of the adventures of Anglo-Irish Major Sinclair Yates in his role as Resident Magistrate in the southwest of Ireland round about the turn of the 20th Century.  In Ol’ Robbo’s humble opinion, they are comic masterpieces.  (They are also said to have been some of Queen Victoria’s favorite travel reading.)

Ol’ Robbo first became acquainted with these stories back in the mid 80’s, when his then-girlfriend gave him a copy of a newly-printed paperback collected edition that came out in conjunction with a teevee dramatization of them by the Beeb, starring the great Peter Bowles as Major Yates.  (I will say nothing here about the teevee series except to reiterate my firmly-held belief that one cannot really successfully dramatize a first-person narrative because the value is not just in the story itself, but also in how the speaker tells it.  (See also Wooster, Bertie.)

Anyhoo, I picked up the book again this week.  The cover has long since fallen away, the spine is broken, and chunks of pages are now coming loose.  Nipping over to the devil’s website, I found that new copies of this same edition are now available where they had not been before.  The only trouble?  They cost fifty bucks a throw.

I gulped a bit, but eventually hit the “place order” button.  Yes, I’m that much of a fan.

Incidentally, I’ve also been doing a bit of detective work this week.  The fictional town closest to Shreelane, Major Yates’ house in the books, is called Skebawn.  I’m reasonably certain, based on various geographical clues let drop here and there, that it is modeled on the actual town of Skibbereen, County Cork.  One of Ol’ Robbo’s once-I-retire-and-have-the-time projects will be to try and further suss out other connections between Somerville and Ross’s fictional settings and actual ones.

Anyway, if you haven’t read these stories, I heartily recommend them.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Mrs. Robbo and I had a long, but very pleasant day yesterday as we travelled down to The Homestead resort to hear Middle Gel perform with her All-State Senior Honors Choir, which I bragged about her auditioning into a few weeks back.  (Yes, this is going to be one of those Proud Dad posts.)

The Homestead, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a big place situated way down yonder near the West Virginia border and absolutely inconvenient to get to from just about any other point in the Great Commonwealth of Virginny.  After slogging through several hours of interstate traffic, you’ve still got another hour plus of mountainy backroads in order to get there.  It’s very scenic, but still…..

Actually, Mrs. R and I had been there once before.  Nearly twenty-five years ago and just a couple months before our wedding, we spent the weekend attending a state bar conference (back when I thought such things important).  My only recollection of that earlier trip was of Mrs. R humiliating me on the tennis court when we found ourselves on opposites sides of the net during a mixed doubles tourney she had talked me into.  (I was a mere weekend duffer.  She was varsity captain in college.)  Nonetheless, it definitely felt odd returning after all that time to see Middle Gel do her thing.

As for the concert, it was presided over by an egomaniacal little sparkplug of a man who spooled the thing out to about twice its length otherwise with a series of autobiographical anecdotes, one-liners, and crowd-participation exercises.  As time went on, I could see the smiles on the choristers’ faces definitely beginning to become rayther frozen.

The musick, though extremely well done, really wasn’t the sort Ol’ Robbo enjoys.  They started with Moses Hogan’s “Every Time I Feel The Spirit”, to which Ol’ Robbo usually adds sotto voce, “I Want To Slit My Wrists”.  Next was a bit by Britten, whom the Gel likes a lot but I’ve always put in the “Meh” category.  (I have a theory that there’s a different scale, as it were, of enjoyment between performing a work and just listening to it.)  Then we got “Father William” by Irving Fine.  It’s a setting of text from Alice in Wonderland, and I actually found it rather amusing.  UPDATE: The gel informs me that I am mistaken about Britten.  She likes his “Festival of Carols” but thinks a lot of his other work is “weird”.

This was followed by the Randall Thompson “Alleluia”, which is actually a favorite of the Gel’s from back in her Cathedral days.  Before they began, however, the Sparkplug went into a long, gooshy monologue about lost loved ones, and invited the audience to call out anyone’s name for whom they thought the “Alleluia” would be an appropriate tribute.  Ol’ Robbo hates this sort of thing.  I came near to saying, “All the souls in Purgatory” just to spike him, but thought better of it at the last moment.

Then it was the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.  Ol’ Robbo loathes Bernstein on all levels, personal and musickal.  (I thought Tom Wolfe got him absolutely bang-o right in his essay “Radical Chic”.)  The Sparkplug, on the other hand, was practically drooling, as were many audience members.  That tells you quite a bit.  (There’s a boy soprano part, by the bye, for which they got some young middle school kid, who was scared out of his wits but quite game.  It was nice to see how fondly the choristers looked at him as he did his stuff.)

The last two selections were by somebody named Healey Willan of whom I’ve never heard, and by the Sparkplug himself.  I don’t remember much of them, frankly, except that the text of the Sparkplug’s piece was inane.

When it was over, everyone leaped spontaneously to their feet, as was really right and proper here because the kids did an outstanding job, especially considering that there were about 130 of them, they all only came together for the first time on Thursday, and some of the pieces were really quite tricky.  I’m only a hack sight-reader at the piano myself, and I continually marvel at the caliber of this performance-grade talent and how quickly and expertly they can bring it all together.  Well done, indeed.

As for the Gel, she had an absolute ball, being immersed in a group that was on the one hand so dedicated to what they were doing, and on the other so immediately and extremely friendly with each other.  It helped that five other kids from her school were there, but I gather that even singletons were quickly made to felt at home.  She was very reluctant to leave when all was over and done.

So in a couple of weeks, the Gel’s school madrigals group is going to do their annual Renaissance Feaste, a mock-Elizabethan Christmas dinner with costumes, props, and silly dialogue, but also with musick much more to Ol’ Robbo’s liking: 20 voices performing 16th and 17th Century madrigals, rounds, and carols in mostly four and five part close polyphony.  That’s the stuff!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo’s latest cinematic treat this week was “The General” (1926), the classic Buster Keaton silent film in which he plays a Southern train engineer during the Civil War.   When Yankee spies slip into Georgia and steal a train with which they plan to cause mayhem behind the lines in support of a Union advance, Keaton’s patriotic character (actually named Johnnie Gray), although previously rejected by the Confederate Army (and his girl) because of the importance of his civilian work, nonetheless single-handedly takes off in pursuit with another locomotive and thwarts the Yankee plot.  Of course, I’m probably violating all sorts of Socialist Juicebox Wanker taboos just watching a film that has a sympathetic Southerner as its hero, much less commenting on it.

Without looking it up because I’m being lazy and because I couldn’t link it anyway due to WordPress’s continued cussedness, I’ve an idea that this film is loosely based on an actual Great Locomotive Chase that occurred during the War, although I can’t now recall which side did the original stealing, who chased whom, or what the eventual outcome was.  For some reason, I believe the locomotive involved in that one was called the “Texas”. UPDATE:  The lovely and talented Diane looked it up.  So did I.  She is correct that the stolen locomotive was, in fact, called The “General”, and that the Yankees were the thiefs.  The “Texas” was one of the locomotives the Confederates used in the chase.  Indeed, she was on the southbound tracks and the Rebs ran her backwards in pursuit.  Somewhere or other, Ol’ Robbo still has an old National Geographic book on the War that includes a painting of this backward pursuit.  That’s what was lurking in the recesses of my braims when I wrote this paragraph.

Anyhoo, I haven’t seen this film since I was about thirteen, when the Mothe took me to see it at the old Olmos Theatre in San Antonio as part of a “classics” series that also featured such greats as the Marx Brothers, the “Pink Panther” movies, Hitchcock, and others.  Of course here, Keaton is the film, and the pleasure comes in watching the combination of his deadpan face and the facility with which he did all his own stunts. (His very last film, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum” (1966), is a huge favorite of Ol’ Robbo’s, in no small part because his character of Erronius – “a befuddled old man” – is really a loving tribute to Keaton’s skills.)

Alas, the version of “The General” owned by Netflix is seriously marred by the soundtrack that accompanies it, which is nothing more than a series of standard orchestral pieces by such composers as Elgar, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and Glazunov strung together one after another and having absolutely no relationship whatsoever to what is happening on the screen.  I may as well have been listening to the damned radio.  After a while, I hit the mute button out of pure, distracted frustration, but of course that creates its own problems:  Not only is a completely silent film  jarring in and of itself, one is also left listening to all those ambient background noises that one started watching the film to escape in the first place:  skirmishing cats; the dog barking at her own shadow; Youngest Gel on the phone in her room two floors above, yacking with her friends at the top of her very considerable voice.  Grrr…..

The film’s mismatched soundtrack also reminded me of an experience I had with an airing of “Nosferatu” on PBS a few years ago.  Friends of the decanter of a certain age may remember an electronics toy of some years back.  It consisted of a battery-powered board on which were embedded various circuits, transistors, diodes, and other do-hickeys.  With the provided wires, you linked them up by various schematic diagrams in the book accompanying the toy, thereby creating a variety of audio and visual devices.  Well, this “Nosferatu” was accompanied by a score which sounded like nothing so much as a kid messing about with this toy – a random series of pings, grunts, clicks, and wah-wahs that again had absolutely nothing to do with the picture. Infuriating.

(By the bye, Eldest watched “Nosferatu” for the first time recently as part of an English class she’s taking on literary monsters.  She simply couldn’t believe it when I told her that there were numerous instances, among its original audiences, of viewers fainting and having hysterics because they were so frightened.)

Anyway, there you are.  Next time, I might just hit the mute button again, steal Middle Gel’s electronic keyboard, and accompany the damned thing myself.

And speaking of silent, next up on Robbo’s movie list is the 1925 version of “Ben Hur”, which I’ve never seen before.  The blurb on the Netflix envelope says that it is accompanied by a score from Hollywood composer Carl Davis, so hopefully this time there will be a little more sympathy between audio and visual.  I’ll let you know.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

On the way home to Port Swiller Manor this evening, Ol’ Robbo swears he found himself stuck behind someone who was watching teevee while he was driving.  Seriously – I could see his iThingy up on his dashboard with what looked like some guy doing stand-up on the screen.  We were stopping and starting, and this doofus driver kept letting large gaps open up in front of him before he’d notice and then scurry to catch up.


Have people really gone that absolutely bat-shite insane? Have they really become so completely self-absorbed that their personal entertainment trumps all other considerations? Have they become so utterly beholden to their little rectangular electronic gods that they can’t tear themselves away from adoration even for a moment?  (Don’t answer – these are rhetorical questions.  Of course they have.)

It’s almost superfluous to add that the car had Murrland plates on it.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was listening to the local classickal station on the way home this evening when the deejay put in a plug for an upcoming production at one of the local venues of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.  Even though it’s Mozart, it’s an opera Ol’ Robbo does not really know at all.  (I won’t go into my general dislike of all but a few pre-Romantic operas and absolutely all Romantic and Post-Romantic ones.  Suffice to say that my taste in Mozart’s contributions to the genre is confined to his three great collaborations with Lorenzo Da Ponte, as well as his earlier Die Entführung aus dem Serail. )

I do know, however, that La Clemenza is set during the reign of the Roman Emperor Titus (reigned 79-81 A.D.), and that it has to do with high-level politickal intrigue during his reign.

Anyhoo, what grabbed my attention was the deejay’s pronunciation of the name “Titus” when she said basically the same thing regarding the plot that I’m writing here.  She said, “TEE-tus”.  I’ve always thought the English pronunciation is “TIE-tus”.

There are several possibilities here.  One, the deejay simply is ignorant.  Two, that the deejay was trying to show off her Latin creds.  Three, that there is more than one acceptable Anglicized pronunciations of the name.  Four, that she was just reading copy rayther hurridly and didn’t have time to recognize the name before she spoke it.

I dismiss the first possibility out of hand.  I happen to know that this deejay is well educated and well travelled, and that she speaks at least French fluently.

I also dismiss the second possibility because if she was going for the Latin she would have said “TEE-TOOS” instead of “TEE-tus”.

I bring up the third possibility because of a memory of watching a program somewhere on the Byzantine Empire.  I’ve always pronounced Byzantine as “BIZZ-un-teen”, but the program narrator, a Brit, kept saying, “BYE-ZAN-teen”.  If “TEE-tus” is a Brit thing (and I honestly don’t know), it’s possible the deejay picked that up somewhere and was using it.

As to the fourth possibility? I’m guessing that’s the real answer.  This particular deejay has time-management issues, and frequently has to stomp on the end of a piece she’s playing because she’s run up against the top of the hour and has to cut out for the Nihilist Propaganda Nooz update.

The world wonders.

(Actually, the world probably doesn’t give a pair of dingo’s kidneys, but this kind of thing always grabs Ol’ Robbo’s attention.)



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I would imagine that some friends of the decanter (especially those who are still here from the old “meaty, woolly, snippy” Llama Days), particularly after reading a goofy, aimless post like the one immediately below, sometimes ask themselves, “Self? Whatever happened to the old Robbo who was so caustic about the continual cultural and politickal slide into the slime?”

(And as an aside, how was that for a Hardyesque cracker of a sentence?)

Well, I suppose there are a couple of reasons for my steering away from that sort of thing these days.

The first is prudential.  As you know I work in The Swamp.  My first obligation is to support the Port Swiller Family, and it doesn’t seem particularly responsible to endanger my career and their livelihood so that I can indulge in unfettered gratuitous ranting here.  (Not that I would expect a genuine friend of the decanter to rat me out, but what happens if some random Socialist Juicebox Wanker stumbles in here and decides to come after me?  Better wait until I’m retired to say what I really think.)

The second is simple time and energy.  While I keep up with the individual waypoints of this slide – the current Hollywood unmaskings, the NFL debacle, the Roy Moore witch-hunt, etc., – very keenly, frankly, by the end of the day (when I have time to post), there’s nothing much left to say that somebody like Ace or Insty hasn’t already said.  Plus, to be honest, I’m bloody sick and tired of it.  It’s only where I think I have some specific, first-hand knowledge or insight that I feel the urge to put in my two cents.  But then,  see point one.

Most importantly, although, as I say, I keep up with it all, I find myself increasingly detached from the whole awful biznay because I recognize its ultimate meaninglessness in relation to, ah, Higher Priorities.   So you can imagine with what resonance and empathy Ol’ Robbo savored part of yesterday’s reading at Mass from Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:

19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

– Philippians 3:17-21  (Yes, I quote the KJV here.  Got a problem with that?)

I can’t think of a plainer or more accurate description of the people who dominate the headlines these days than those “whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.”

And I want nothing to do with it.


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November 2017