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troy_sack_19232_mdGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo may or may not have mentioned it here already, but Eldest Gel is participating in her school’s fall theatre production (which we will be going to see in the near future).  They’re doing “The Trojan Women” by Euripides.  The Gel is one of the Chorus, so she spends the entire production on stage.

It so happens that Ol’ Robbo read this particular play many years ago, and that it stuck somewhat to his braims because it was Euripides’s commentary on Athens’ savage treatment of the little colony of Melos in the run up to the Peloponnesian War.  (The Melian Dialogue, as set out by ol’ Thick-Sides, was a study of mine several times during the course of my undergrad and graduate education.  The last time was in a rhetoric class I took my third year of law school.  For the final, I argued that the episode illustrated the limitations of persuasive argument insofar as it didn’t matter buppkiss how well the Melians stated their case for being excused service in the War since the Athenians were holding a metaphorical gun to their heads.  Realpolitik, so to speak.  My prof was not amused.)

Anyhoo, in the course of a chat this afternoon, I asked the Gel something or other about the dialogue between Poseidon and Athena that opens the play.

“The what?” she said.

“Poseidon and Athena.  You know, where they discuss the appropriate punishment of the Greek army because, during the sack of Troy, Cassandra is dragged away from a statue of Athena and raped by one of the Greek commanders.”

Huh? That’s not in the play.  It’s all about Queen Hecuba of Troy and her family and what happens to them when they’re prisoners.  What are you talking about?”

“Yes, that’s the main body, but Poseidon and Athena come first.  She’s outraged over the violation of her sanctuary by the Greeks and is seeking appropriate vengeance.”

“Well, it’s not in the version we’re doing…..”

“Crimminy, it must have been cut from your script.  But that’s the whole point!  The Ancient Greeks, actually (I believe) stumbling across the Seven Deadly Sins without realizing it, were keenly aware that violation of taboos (like sanctuary) tended to bring about Divine Retribution.  Euripides was using the Greeks’ beastliness to the Trojans as a warning to his contemporaries not to let the war against Sparta get out of hand.  And later on, Thucydides and others ascribed the eventual crushing of Athens by Sparta as the Divine result of Athens’ exceeding the proper bounds of civilized warfare, specifically including its treatment of Melos.”

“Well, how was the play a warning?”

“Because a number of the Greek leaders at Troy eventually came to very nasty ends because of their behavior there, specifically including their treatment of Queen Hecuba and her surviving family.  For example, Agamemnon was murdered by his wife Clytemnestra when he returned to Mycene because he brought along Cassandra as a slave-concubine.”

“Well, there’s nothing about that in the play.”

“No, but any member of Euripides’ audience would be perfectly acquainted with Homeric tradition and would know that already.  Didn’t anyone explain any of this?”

“No.  All we know is that we’re a group of “refugees” being maltreated by the Patriarchy or someone because they’re mean.  Your explanation is a lot more interesting.”

Yeah, it is.  Sigh.  But why get into all this  yucky objective Eternal Verities and God-talk in a 2500+ year old historickal context when you can reduce the point to one about non-sectarian feelz over Hatey McHate-Hates who Hate?  And wymmyn?

Incidentally, they’re doing the show in modern dress.  The Gel also told me that her costume makes her look so much like Little Orphan Annie that she went around rehearsal this afternoon singing “It’s the Hard-Knock Life” until she was summarily told to shut it.


** Spot the quote

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo  decided to spare you his usual Columbus Day rant about the absurdity of virtue-signalling to which this day has become increasingly subject in recent years.

I will also say up front that I most emphatically did not watch the debate last night.  Nope, nope, and nope.  Instead, I got about half way through “The Longest Day” before dozing off.  (I think I may have a cold coming on.)  And as a general matter of policy, I’m not going to say a single word here about the elections until after they’re done.  (Well, okay, just one:  Yeesh!)

Instead, I’ll just toss out a couple comments on things near and dear to me at the moment.

urn-1First, I may have mentioned it here before a week or two ago, but I sat down this morning to try and puzzle out what to do about winterizing the two boxwood urns out on the Port Swiller patio.  (This is a picture of the one.  And the other is like unto it.)  It would seem that my idea of wrapping them in some kind of insulation has some merit to it.  So my plan is, in the next couple weeks, to drag them into a corner out of the wind and surround them with a double layer of bubblewrap and burlap.

Nats HatSecond, how about ol’ Robbo’s beloved Nats?  Ladies and Gentlemen, we’ve got ourselves a series now!  The Family Robbo will be glued to Game 3 later on this afternoon, praying that Gio can keep it together and that Jayson Werth is right about the monkey.

What else is there to say except:


UPDATE: FWAAAAAH!!  A hellevah good game! Two shots to go to make it to the NLS.  What possibly else is there to say but:


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Filched from Wiki

Filched from Wiki

As I’m sure some of the more history-nerdy friends of the decanter are aware, today is the 445th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, the pivotal Renaissance sea battle in which a combined fleet of Spanish, Venitian, and Papal warships beat the living daylights out of a far larger Ottoman fleet, thereby saving the Med from a Muslim takeover.

In honor of the day, I recently started reading Niccolo Capponi’s Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto.  These days, most people (who have actually even heard of the battle, that is)  seem to believe that the “miracle” associated with Lepanto was the actual victory itself.  Me?  Reading this book about the hot mess that was 16th Century European politicks, I think the real miracle was that the Spanish, the Venitians, the Genoans, and the Holy See managed to cobble together a fleet in teh first place, and that said fleet was able to operate efficiently and cooperatively. (Capponi is very cynical about the horse-trading surrounding this combination.  To his credit, though, he is unflinching in his respect for St. Pius V, the Pope who put it all together.)

And largely based on this victory, today is also the Feast of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  On his lunchtime walk, ol’ Robbo stumbled across a group of somewhere between 150 and 175 people praying the Rosary.  It was gratifying to toss in a couple decades myself as I circled round them.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Second and final day of ol’ Robbo’s employment “retreat” and it was about what I had expected, maybe even worse.  (I won’t go into details, lest I find myself posted to the happy fun reeducation camps quam celereme.  Let’s just say that, according to several speakers at least, I am a very, very bad person.)

Anyhoo, what else is there to do but come home and flush it all out with some serious sound:

I’ve read various bits and pieces on the Great 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, the upshot of which is that by the time they got to this song, Benny and the Boys were in the Zone and just going flat out.  Certainly, none of the studio versions of it I’ve heard are quite the same.

By the bye, no offense to drummer Gene Krupa, but I like to imagine Animal on the skins here.  I may have mentioned it here before, but Mrs. R and I got married at Sweet Briar College, the service being in the school chapel and the reception in the campus center.  For the reception, we hired out a 13 piece big band run by one of the Science Department professors of the day, and the place absolutely jumped.   I ardently tried to get them to finish up with “Sing, Sing, Sing”, but they wouldn’t do it.  Possibly this was because they didn’t know the song.  Alternatively, it might have been because I kept requesting it in Animal Voice.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Labor Day!  (Ol’ Robbo celebrated in his traditional manner by spending the day in the ol’ hammock.  Marxist/Collectivist class-warfare “holidays” give me the pip.  Besides, today was the last day of my summah hols.)

Anyhoo, this morning I learned that the Middle Gel had got a gig with a friend of hers today helping out as chaperones/baby-sitters at a 6 y.o.’s birthday party here in our part of the suburbs of Your Imperial City.

She got back four hours later to announce that not only had the family brought in a giant water slide (which caused several injuries, apparently), but that they had also hired out a petting zoo for the celebration.

A petting zoo.  Hired out.  At your own home.

Any friends of the decanter hear of this sort of kiddy birthday entertainment before?

I just googled “petting zoo parties at home” and got something north of 2 million hits so it must be a thing, but such an entertainment option is certainly news to me.  Back in the day we had a few magicians and one-man-bands drop by Port Swiller Manor for various Gel birthdays, but it simply never occurred to me to put a couple cages of rabbits and chickens, plus a staked goat and sheep or two, out on the grounds.

I’m reminded by all this of a friend of my misspent yoot back in South Texas.  His father was a veterinarian and he was big in 4-H.  Their suburban lot was basically a farm yard, with flocks of sheep, herds of goats, and hutches full of rabbits.  (I think he even had a calf at one point.)  My friend would often come to school with long, hideous scratches down his forearms from where the rabbits had got him and big, ugly bruises on his legs from kicks and butts by the goats.   I know he’d been hard at work tending these various beasts since he was a small lad and, although he appreciated them from an animal husbandry standpoint, had no illusions whatsoever about their cuteness or cuddliness.

Wonder what my old friend would make of this kind of entertainment?



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Eldest Gel called to chat with ol’ Robbo yesterday.  She’s taking a medieval history course called something like “Myths and Legends” in which the class compares the popular notions of various historickal figures with what is actually known about them.  Among said figures, I believe the Gel mentioned Charlemagne, St. Joan of Arc, El Cid, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Genghis Khan and Saladin.  The prof, apparently, has already made clear that the last of this group is her favorite, so I warned the Gel to stand by for mischief.  (I also already know exactly what is going to be said about El Cid – that he was nothing more than a blood-thirsty hooligan terrorizing Spain while the Moors studied the higher philosophies and maths in their lovely civilization at Cordoba.  Bank on it.)


Anyhoo, they’re apparently starting out with King Arthur and what the Gel wanted to know is if I thought he was a real person.  I told her that I like to believe he did indeed exist.  Not the Grail Quest or the knights-errant-slaying-ogres Arthur, which was obviously a Middle Ages invention, but something more like a 5th or 6th Century warlord, probably Romanized, possibly Christian, who united the Britons and drove back the Saxon invasion for a brief period.  I’ve no idea what the Scholarship says these days, but I’ve always loved this notion of the last brief holdout of Civilization before the Dark Ages set in.  I also have a very hard time believing that with all the myths and legends that were piled on him over the centuries, there wasn’t actually a historickal Arthur underneath.

I’ll be interested to hear the class’s take on this.

sbc sealGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo ran the Eldest Gel down to Sweet Briar College yesterday for an “accepted applicants weekend” fandango.  (Sorry, Mothe, this is why I didn’t have the chance to call you per the usual.)

I’m not sure which was the stranger experience: Seeing teh Eldest taking her first steps into a wider academic universe as a bona fide collegiate newbie, or running into a couple of faculty again who I knew 25 or so years ago when I was a law student at Dubyanell dating Mrs. R in her undergrad days at SBC.

One thing I am sure of: As part of the weekend, we took a campus tour.  The smells (of the dorms, the academic buildings, of the grounds) haven’t changed a single bit.

And this, to me, is a Good Thing.

Holla, Holla, Holla!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Mardi Gras!

Ol’ Robbo celebrated the evening by killing off his current box o’ wine (I’m giving up the grape for Lent – prayers appreciated) and watching some Monty Python.

I must say that, although said Python was a definite influence on my misspent yoot, the older I get, the more apparent becomes the distinction between the gold and the dross.  At times, the Team still seem to me to be absolutely transcendent in terms of their humor, but the hackery of some of their other bits also becomes more apparent.

How lovely to possess the DVD technology to bleep right through the tedious bits and get on to the keepers. 

Which are your favorite Python items?  And, relatedly, which are your favorite presentations of them: TeeVee, film or record?  

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?







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.


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