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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This week Youngest Gel started evening swim practices in anticipation of her high school team getting under way in about a month or so.  (This will be her third year on the varsity, he mentioned gratuitously.)

As we drove home after I picked her up, she began talking about how lovely the moon was up in the sky in front of us.  This led to a discussion about sunlight and starlight, and eventually about how light travels.  (What was it Douglas Adams said? It travels so fast that it takes most civilizations thousands of years to realize that it travels at all?)

Eventually, I got round to reeling off what I remember of the speed of light: 12 million miles a minute; it takes about six minutes or so to travel from the Sun to Earth; measuring distances in space by light-years; etc.

“What is a light-year, anyway?” the Gel asked.

“Well,” I said, “It’s the distance light travels in one year.  Remember how I said 12 million miles a minute?  So multiply that by sixty to get miles per hour, then multiply that by twenty-four to get miles per day, and multiply that by three hundred sixty-five to get an approximation of the distance of a light year.  I don’t know the exact number, but I do know it’s awfully big.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her lips moving as she did a quick and dirty calculation in her head, her eyes steadily widening.

“Well, okay.  How far away are the stars, then?” she asked.

“That varies, of course, ” I replied.  “Alpha Centauri is our nearest neighbor at about two light-years’ distance.  On the other hand, Betelgeuse, the left shoulder of the constellation of Orion, is 500 light years off.  Others are at different distances, some very much farther than that.”

“Five hundred!” she exclaimed.  “Are you telling me that the light I see on Orion’s shoulder left it 500 years ago? Like when Columbus had just arrived in the Americas?”

“Yippers,” I said. “And for all we know, it could have gone supernova or even disappeared altogether any time between then and now and we wouldn’t even know it until the effects got here.”

The Gel huddled herself together, an awe-struck look on her face.

“This is seriously freaking me out,” she said.

Ol’ Robbo, for one, is glad that the Gel had this reaction.  Not only am I pleased at her grasp of the physical concepts (and math) involved, I also believe it demonstrates a proper sense of humility.

It’s also one that I happen to share.  When looking about God’s Creation, I can’t think of anything more humbling than contemplating interstellar distances (unless it’s geological time, another of my favorite things to noodle).

Oh, and obligatory (not because I like the movie – I don’t much – but because I often sing it in the shower and it’s also my chief reference for quick and dirty facts of this sort):



“Walking the Plank” by Howard Pyle

Avast, ye grog-swilling lubbers! And will ye be raising a glass to International Talk Like A Pirate Day, now? N’yar, indeed!


Sorry, I can’t keep up the accent very long.

In any event, it is quite fitting that, today of all days, Ol’ Robbo finished reading for the first time Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood. (The Penguin Classics edition features this Pyle painting on its cover.)

What fun! Nobody would ever mistake it for “literature”, but it’s a damned well-written adventure story, crisp, quick, and to the point.  And it is perfectly evident that Sabatini did his homework on nautical lore in general, and on the doings of the Dons, the Brethren of the Coast, and the other powers at play in the Caribbean Basin in the 1680’s in particular.  (The introduction to the Penguin edition by Gary Hoppenstand, once you get past all the P.C. virtue-signaling about Sabatini writing for a sexist, racist, homophobic, blah, blah, blah, market, has a fascinating discussion of how much historickal material the author pinched from the exploits of Henry Morgan.)  What one would call a “ripping good yarn” and well worth inclusion in my collection of similar historickal fiction by authors such as P.C. Wren, Rider Haggard, Conon-Doyle, Kipling, and George Macdonald Fraser.  (I don’t include Patrick O’Brian in this list, because in his case I would argue his writing does rise up to the level of “literature”.)

And because I knew it before I read the book, I can’t help referring here to the Errol Flynn movie of the same name.  Here, I was pleasantly surprised.  The movie simplifies the story considerably, but whoever wrote the screenplay was evidently a fan of the novel because they got the characters – appearance, mode of speech, and all – bang right.  Flynn is Blood.  Basil Rathbone is Levasseur. Even Lionel Atwill is Col. Bishop.  (I’d say the lovely and talented Olivia DeHavilland is Arabella Bishop, but as far as Ol’ Robbo is concerned, she can be whatever she wants, wherever she wants, and she’ll still get my stamp of approval.)

Anyhoo, in my recent book-buying outburst I also picked up Sabatini’s The Sea HawkI’ll tackle that one soon and am eager to also compare it to the corresponding Flynn movie, which features the unlovely but strangely attractive Flora Robson as Elizabeth I.  Should I be equally pleased, I will push on to other Sabatini works as well.

Oh, and because ITLAP Day is as good a time as any, may I just say here that Ol’ Robbo has never, ever, been able to make it all the way through any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies without dozing off?  S’true.

At any rate, Yo-Ho, ye scurvy dogs!


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

So am I to understand correctly that the fellah at the wheel of the Honda Pilot in front of me this afternoon was smart enough to attend UVA, Princeton, and Harvard, but not smart enough to realize that placing their respective college decals on the inside of a tinted rear window renders them nearly invisible? Inquiring minds want to know.

As the days start to draw in a bit, Ol’ Robbo is beginning to encounter again that dawn/dusk twilight phenomenon, the yo-yo who doesn’t think he has to turn on his headlights because he can see well enough without them.  (They come out in the rain and fog, too.)  How is it that such morons inevitably drive gray or dark blue cars?

The return to twilight driving also reminds me that half the dashboard lights in La Wrangler are burned out and that I can’t see my speedometer anymore.  I had the idea of replacing them myself last winter, and even went so far as to buy a new set, but after doing some on-line research, I concluded that this is a task which is probably just a wee bit beyond my limited auto mechanic skillz, and that perhaps I’d be better off just taking the new bulbs down to the corner gas station and asking them to switch them in.  (I don’t dare go to the dealership – Heaven only knows what other major issues they’d “find” if they got La Wrangler in their clutches again.  Last time I had her in to cure the “Death Wobble“, I’m pretty sure they deliberately sabotaged the rear differential, thus requiring me to bring her back and spend beaucoup more bucks to rebuild the damned thing.)

The Death of Stalin (2017)

Greatings, fellow port swillers!

I had wanted to see this film since the promos first came out last year, but had been unable until Netflx delivered it this weekend.

A solid, solid dark comedy about the ghastliness of the Soviet Union and the in-fighting at the top of the regime that occurred upon the death of “Uncle Joe” Stalin.  Steve Buscemi as Krushchev with Michael Palin as Molotov and Timothy Dalton as Zhukov.  Simon Russell Beale was especially sinister as Beria.

What’s really frightening about the movie is that although there are a number of historickal anomalies, mostly viz who held what position when (although Stalin really did lie comatose in a puddle of his own piss for many hours because everyone was too afraid to touch him – and served the bastard right), very few of its tonal qualities are made up:  Life under Stalin wasn’t worth a ruble; if you got on the wrong side of the regime, even for the most trivial of reasons, you were gone; and, everyone knew it and went about their lives in complete terror.  Indeed, the interactions up and down the chain of command, as well as those between the regime and the poor slaves it ruled, remind me very much of C.S. Lewis’s descriptions of the workings of hell in the Screwtape Letters.

Well worth a look.

But then I made the mistake of looking at the extra features.  In them, one of the actors went with the Trump = Stalin line in order to pitch the movie’s relevance. You know what, buddy? Fook you and the horse you rode in on. 

Do these people have even the remotest sense of actual history? The Soviets under Stalin murdered somewhere between 20 and 40 million of their own people, all in the name of secular utopianism.  Look, I’m as aware of the Donald’s flaws as much as anyone else, and can respect an honest disagreement with his personality and policies, but this kind of hyperbolic comparison is simply grotesque.  Furthermore, it’s an insult to all those who suffered and died under the Real Thing.

And on that note, I read a poll in the last week in which a majority of millennials report they would rather live under a Socialist, Communist, or Fascist state than a free-market one.  Given that collectivist totalitarianism in its various manifestations was responsible for the deaths of north of 100 million people during the 20th Century, plus the enslavement and impoverishment of countless millions more, I have to assume that these numbers are based on pure pig-ignorance of history and a misbegotten belief that the State, if properly worshipped, will hand out to everyone all the rainbows, unicorns, free pot, and free sex they could want, while making somebody else pay for it.  (Said ignorance and beliefs are not accidental, of course, but are the deliberate outcome of a generation of brainwashing at the hands of the education establishment.)

Thank Heaven none of my gels has fallen for it.  (Just the other day, Eldest was carrying on about what an idiot Marx was and how Engels’ whole worldview was dominated by his daddy-issues.)  But what are three against a mob of cultural-Marxist zombies?

Oh, and going back to “Uncle Joe”, I’d give the movie four and a half glasses out of five.  Also, if you’re interested in a much more sober look at the life and death of Stalin, I cannot recommend highly enough Simon Montefiore’s Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

First, I’m happy to report that both Elder Gels made it safely back to school today.  I was especially worried about Eldest since she was by herself and headed for central North Carolina where there’s still plenty of weather to deal with, but she had no trouble.  I don’t know if my invoking St. Christopher had anything to do with it, but it surely didn’t hurt.

A friend with whom I was chatting before Mass today referred to Francis as “a lame-duck Pope”.  I think that’s about right: Especially after he lashed out at those of us genuinely outraged and horror-struck this week, I can’t say that I have any real respect left for him outside that mandated by the rank he holds.  Thank Heaven I live in a really strong diocese with good men and women in charge, and that my own Padre is a truly holy man.

On a different note, you will probably recall the passage in the NT in which Jesus scolds the Pharisees about their hypocrisy, saying any one of them would pull an ox out of a pit if it fell in on the Sabbath?  Well, Ol’ Robbo was thinking of that this afternoon as I scrubbed out my kitchen garbage can that had somehow got covered in both sticky foodstuffs AND ants.  I’m sure He would understand.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Juuuust dry enough to mow the lawn this morning, what with Flo giving us the miss, but it was still wet enough that Ol’ Robbo slipped and slid a goodish bit as he made his way back and forth across the back yard slope with his trusty push-mower.  I always carry a short-handled weeding tool around in my back pocket for cleaning out the blade well when it gets clogged with trimmings.  (It’s a rear-mounted bagger but I don’t have the patience to stop every five minutes to empty the thing, so I just mulch the clippings back in. This works fine when the grass is dry, but it’s a pain when wet.)  It occurs to me that one of these days I’m going to slip and fall backwards and probably shank myself in the kidney.  What a way to go that would be.

I noticed today a significant increase in the number of spider webs around – another sure sign that autumn is approaching.  Indeed, I blundered straight into several of them, something I particularly dislike as I would just as soon keep the creepy-crawlies at a distance.

I had been thinking about putting in a couple azaleas this fall, together with attempting a new rhododendron.  The latter move has long had a psychological side for me.  When we first bought Port Swiller Manor, I took a walk around the yard with the seller, going over various points.  (He was a gardener, and I think one of the reasons he was so patient with us was that he knew I would carry on his interests.)  At that time, there was a big rhodi on the north corner of the house.  “That’s the only place where I’ve ever been able to get one to grow,” I remember him saying.

Well, that rhodi did fine until we had a very bad drought a couple years later.  It survived initially, but went into a gradual but steady decline, and eventually died.  I took this loss personally, and felt guilty about it, as if I had somehow let the side down.  And for a long time I was actually scared to try again, especially given the previous owner’s remarks.

Now that I’m older and wiser, however, I realize this is all nonsense. For one thing, there are plenty of rhodis in our neighborhood that do perfectly well, so I can’t see why I can’t have them too.  For another, a number of the old owner’s other projects also came unraveled (I’ve completely done over the foundation plantings out front), making me think that perhaps he just wasn’t all that hot a gardener himself.

So I’m going to try it again, this time along a shaded slope along the southeast side of the house that is just crying out for such a planting.

In fact, if I want to get the thing(s) established this fall, I really ought to be out this weekend or next doing it, but what with the Gels unexpectedly coming home and plans we already have for next week, it just isn’t happening.   So unless I get some indication that we’re going to have another of those long, lingering, warm autumns this year – and the spider webs would suggest otherwise – I now may just let it go until the spring.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

As Ol’ Robbo continues to watch the movements of Hurricane Tropical Storm Florence, his eye becomes more and more jaundiced.

In particular, I just love the switch over in the MSM’s narrative from, “OhMuhGod! Cat Five, people, CAT FIIIIIVE!!!” to, “Never mind the Saffir-Simpson Scale, you idiots.  Everyone knows that weaker storms are broader and therefore even mooooore destructive!!”

I further love the taken-for-granted position that “hurricanes are becoming more frequent and powerful because Glowbull Enwarmening”.  I’ve yet to see a nooz report that actually, you know, backs this up with any kind of evidence.

And of course, the MSM has been straining at the leash to release the “Trump’s Katrina” meme.  So far, at least, not even they have mustered the gall to do so, however.

Hence Robbo’s cynicism.

For all that, prayers up for all those in Florence’s path.  We’ll see what we shall see.

As for the Family Robbo, not a drop have we received so far here at Port Swiller Manor.  As it turns out, Middle Gel could have stayed put comfortably, and probably Eldest as well.  It’s been a nice couple days having them home, however, and the lack of rain means I can actually mow the lawn tomorrow, so I’m not complaining.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

A few days ago Ol’ Robbo received a package from Sistah consisting of a great many photographs she culled from the Mothe’s albums, which she thought I would like to have.  They seem to cover every part of my misspent yoot from infancy up to my graduation from law school, and include the famous shots of me, four years old with flaming ginger hair, buck naked and drinking out of the garden hose.  Most of them were quite familiar, although it’s been years since I’d seen them, and it was genuinely pleasant to go through them again.

Naturally, because such things attract them like catnip, the Gels immediately descended on the photos, and have pretty much been rolling about on the floor, laughing their heads off since then.

Okay, maybe I was an über-dweeb for much of my yoot and adolescence.  Okay, maybe my college girlfriend did have crazy eyes. Okay, maybe that law school Halloween costume was….poorly chosen.  But I’m still Dad, dammit, and entitled to some respect.

Furthermore, I know where all the photos of their misspent yoots are kept, too, and if they don’t knock it off, it’ll be a dark day for them indeed when they bring their young gentleman friends home to meet us.

These things work both ways, you know.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Old and Busted: Trump colluded with the Russians.

New Hotness: Trump is colluding with Hurricane Florence!

(It must be true, because Pravda on the Potomac says so.)


I sincerely hope (and strongly suspect) that the vast majority of normal people who don’t dwell in the Dee Cee/Manhattan fever swamps have got thoroughly tired of this sort of nonsense and are now simply ignoring it.

As for the storm itself, not much else to say at this point.  Looks like we will see little effect here.  God only knows what will happen farther south.

Oh, and both Elder Gels made it home safe and sound.  Ol’ Robbo wasn’t all that crazy about Eldest driving six hours by herself, but it still looks like clearing out of central North Carolina probably was the prudent thing to do.

If You Are Of A Certain Age, You Will Understand This Picture. Otherwise, Get Off My Lawn.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, as you all no doubt know by now Hurricane Florence is teed up to hit somewhere along the Carolina coast later this week.

Port Swiller Manor itself, being north of the main strike zone, is likely to get little more than some unneeded extra rain.  Of more immediate concern to us is the fact that the Elder Gels are in school on or near the storm’s path.

Middle Gel is in the Tidewater, and we are waiting around to see if her school goes ahead and orders an evacuation.  If so, she’s already arranged to give rides to several classmates who live in our area.  (I feel better that she would not be driving home all by herself.)

Eldest is in central North Carolina which, if some of the computer models pan out, may get a serious extended dump of rain – much more than coastal Virginny.  Right now, her school doesn’t seem to be planning to send the kids home.  But that could change, and she’s already making noise about bringing one or more of her roommates with her if she comes home.

Ol’ Robbo could find himself with a very full house indeed next weekend.

UPDATE: Bug out orders issued – mandatory for Middle Gel, voluntary for Eldest.  They’re both on the way home, the former arriving this evening and the latter tomorrow.

The good news is that nobody else will be crashing with us after all.


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