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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Sorry for the lack of posts, but ol’ Robbo’s been on his back the last couple days with that bug that starts in your stomach and then debones you completely. Bloggy creativity simply was beyond my feeble powers (not that I have much to go on to begin with).
I’m feeling better today, thanks, and can see myself slipping back into the ol’ routine in the very near future.
In the meantime, whilst flopped on my back, I managed to get through Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (the abridged version, anyway*) for the very first time and am about half way through F.A. Hayek’s The Road To Serfdom, again for the first time. Given the news these days, I find both of these books to be very timely, if depressing, reading.
I mentioned not long ago that I had recently read A.S.’s Ivan Denisovitch for the first time and was simply blown away by the raw power and dignity of his writing. I get the same sensation reading Gulag. Even when he’s being sarcastic, even when he loses his literary temper, or perhaps especially when in such mood, A.S. has about him a moral weight which simply flattens everything in its path. An amazing experience.
As for the facts and figures, what on earth can one say? The Middle Gel happens to have just finished a research paper on the Holocaust. As awful as that was, the fact is that Stalin made Hitler look like Mr. Rogers in comparison. And yet people in the West covered up, prevaricated, lied about “Uncle Joe” and his hellish system (which, in fact, went right on back to Lenin and his crew. And so far as I know, ol’ Vlad may very well be using the same system to this day in order to get rid of his own particular set of enemies.). How sick is that? It’s no wonder A.S. saves his most acidic comments for them. (I still remember an argument back in the mid 80’s at the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown over Dr. Seuss’s Butter-Battle Book, my antagonist insisting that, like the question of which side of teh bread to butter, there was no real difference between the Western tradition and the Soviet system. That was about as close as I ever came to abandoning logic and reason and belting someone in the mouth for being such an idiot.)
As far as Hayek goes, somebody said that one’s reaction to his writing is a pretty good indicator of one’s own ingrained mindset. Well, to me the man is arguing nothing more than Common Sense. Those who think central (i.e., government) “planning” is the answer to all of Society’s ills overlook one tiny problem with it: It doesn’t work.** It can’t work, simply because there are too many variables floating about for any one person or group of persons to take in all at once. In all of history, only the Market has proven capable of handling such a flood of ever-changing data. Of course, one can greatly decrease those variables if one…..simply turns the population into a uniform group of robot slaves, although it still doesn’t work and a lot of people wind up dead, starving or in prison. Hayek gives the benefit of the doubt to good-hearted collectivists who genuinely seek the betterment of everyone, but history suggests to me that there really are not so many of such ilk, and that the vast majority of said collectivists are enamored more of the centralized power in and of itself than any benefits it might produce.
Could all of that – Institution of a Collectivist State with an appended gulag system – ever happen here? Eight years ago, I’d have said absolutely not. But the Progressives have had control of much societal high ground – the Academy, the Media, Hollywood and the Bureaucracy – for some time now and with their capture of the Executive I think they’ve had a very hard try at establishing the foundation for one. A lot of people simply don’t notice because they’re happy with their Starbucks and Kardashians. In the end, however, because of elements of our national nature and condition too complicated to go into here, I still don’t think the collectivists are going to succeed, but as the Iron Dook said, it’ll be a damned near-run thing.
*Abridged by permission and in cooperation with the author. The full version of Gulag is divided into three volumes and it was noticed that although sales of the first one continued very strong, sales of the second and third tailed off, suggesting people weren’t being exposed to them at the same rate. This was a bad thing, since many of A.S.’s most powerful statements about the dignity of the individual and the power of the human (and Divine) spirit come in the last volume. So the thing was cut back somewhat and presented in one volume. Having read it, I think I need to go back and get the full three-volume monty.
**Hayek is not the laissez-faire libertarian his critics paint him to be, however. He never said there is no situation where state planning is important. That’s just a straw man. What he said was that the market and other private arrangements should have pride of place and that the state should only step in when these didn’t work. (Thus, prevention of monopolies or oligarchies, for example.) He also warned against the corrosive effect of a general welfare state. You need not read far into the headlines to see the wisdom of that warning.
Yesterday afternoon, as we sat in traffic together, the Eldest Gel started contemplating the Fort McHenry commemorative license plate on the car from Murrland in front of us.
“Why doesn’t D.C. have a War of 1812 license plate?” she suddenly asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “What would they put on it? A burning White House?”
“Sure, why not?”
Sat out on the porch this evening to watch the lightning flicker around the northern horizon and to listen to the frogs. I hadn’t been there more than a few moments when I spotted my first couple fireflies of the season noodling about against the tree line. It’ll be another week or two before they’re going all out, but as I say, shiny!
O’ Robbo loves fireflies, especially when associated with summah lightning. Indeed, one of my fondest memories is of an evening back in the summah of 1989. It was after my first year of law school and I was working on the Hill and staying with my godparents outside of Fredericksburg, Virginny. Now, Fred-Vegas (as we insiders call it) gets hammered something fierce by thunderstorms during the warmer months, and is particularly susceptible to lightning ground-strikes. Somebody once told me this has something to do with the high iron content of the soil in the immediate area. I don’t know if I believe this, but I do know from years of observation that they catch it pretty hard there.
Anyhoo, one evening in this summah of ’89, we had a typical Fred-Vegas pounding – 45 minutes or so of the Apocalypse followed by a sudden hush as the storm rolled east. For some reason, I had to go outside just after it had passed. The air was still very warm and soggy, there was an absolute hush all around, lightning still flickered in the distance….and the hedge that bordered the back driveway was absolutely covered in fireflies. I’m talking Christmas tree light concentration.
I just stood there for a few moments, taking it all in. In my fancy, I almost thought I could hear a faint pah! pah! as the fireflies did their stuff.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Those friends of the decanter who have some passing familiarity with antiquity and the arts will quickly recognize this sculpture as the Augustus of Prima Porta, a likely posthumous and somewhat artificially-hulkified tribute to the first, and arguably greatest, of the Roman Emperors. The piece is one of the two or three most recognizable bits of sculpture to come down to us from classickal civilization. (In fact, I had a framed poster of it on my walls all through high school and college.)
Recently, it came to ol’ Robbo’s attention that a “street artist” calling himself “Gaia” has incorporated an image of this statue into a big mural that adorns one end of some new Mediterranean restaurant in Dee Cee called Pinea. (You can go here to check the thing out. I won’t try to repaste it here because of copyright, and besides, I’m sure the restaurant people wouldn’t mind the clicks. For those of you who don’t make the jump, suffice to say ol’ Octavian is depicted in vibrant colors with a string of citrus slices around his neck and various items of Italian cuisine in the background. Childish, but ultimately harmless, and at least it ties in with the place.)
Ol’ Robbo only happens to have learned about this work because of a monthly glossy called “Modern Luxury DC” that shows up, quite un-asked for, in the Port Swiller mailbox. This mag purports to be the arbiter hipsterium of Your Nation’s Capital, carrying a variety of articles about coo-el new art exhibits, designer clothing, fashionable watering holes, “edgy” architecture, and up-and-coming Bright Young Things and Politicos. (To give but one example of the latter, the latest issue featured an article on Mother’s Day with a photo of the current First Lady and her children. The headline reads “Queen Mother”. Note to Modern Luxury DC: Yeah, about that? No.)
Anyhoo, each issue of said mag goes straight to the basket in the downstairs loo, where Robbo flips through it just to keep up with exactly how awful things are out there in HipsterLand, until he is thoroughly disgusted and tosses it. Perusing the latest, I came across an “On the Scene” item about the unveiling of “Gaia’s” new mural at a private cocktail party (which see the link above). And what did “Modern Luxury DC” have to say about this piece of art? “The new mural features a 14.5 foot tall Roman soldier.”
A “Roman soldier”, eh? As I say above, the Prima Porta is a famous icon depicting one of the greatest figures of classickal history. And all this hipster-doofus rag can come up with to describe it is “a Roman soldier“?
Cor lumme, stone the crows.
This got me wondering how they would treat some other giants of the cultural and politickal history on which their Neo-Tinsel Age is built:
Perhaps I over-react, but is there nobody, nobody in the chain from artist to writer to editor who could do any better than “a Roman soldier”?
It’s bad enough that these people don’t know what they’re talking about, but I fear that they also just don’t care, which is much, much worse.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Ol’ Robbo spent a very pleasant Friday lunch hour today by strolling down to the National Mall to watch the Arsenal of Democracy Capitol Flyover marking the 70th anniversary of V.E. Day.
It was a very nice event. The weather was warm and a bit sultry but not too oppressive. There were considerably more people on hand than I had anticipated, many of them putting on dog about their expertise in WWII history and aircraft specifications, as well as making jokes about taking the opportunity of so many warbirds over Your Nation’s Capitol to maybe take out some of its more obnoxious institutions and residents.
In carefully-organized groups designed to plot the aerial history of the War, the nineteen-odd different types of planes came down the Potomac, swung east just past the Jefferson Memorial, cruised down the south side of the Mall at about 600 ft or so to roughly the height of the Capitol and then split off to return to their fields. (A friend of mine was among a group of watchers who assembled at Great Falls Park upstream to see them pass over. Another friend reported that the George Washington Parkway – which runs down the river – was at a standstill as people got out of their cars to watch.)
You can say what you like about the benefits of modern jet-propulsion, but there’s nothing really to match the aesthetic beauty of the meaty growl of a high-HP prop engine pulling its bird along.
Many of the folks around me seemed to be very intent on their iThingies or printed programs, scrambling to keep up with the data therein as the parade went by. Me, I just reveled in the here and the now. When I was a kid, I was a bit of a nerd (shut up) and spent most of my time either reading about WWII or building 1/48 scale models of the Allied aircraft involved. Before I left home for college, I had models of most of the American Army Air Corp and Air Force involved, aside from scouts, trainers, the Catalina flying-boat, and, for some reason, the B-24 Liberator. As an aside, if I may say so, I got quite good at detailing them – salt stains on the carrier-based planes, appropriate paint jobs, battle damage, exhaust and gun streaks. (Yeah, I didn’t date much in high school. Again, shut up.)
My one regret was that I didn’t think to bring along my bird-watching binocs. Even with corrective lenses, I have rotten eyesight. The heavies and the more distinctive single-props were very easy to identify, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite I.D. all of the fighters the way I should have, despite my intense, ah, squinting.
Nonetheless, I was able to simply stand and admire as the successive waves of birds made their way down the parade route. And while many of the folks around me seemed to lose interest in each wave as soon as it passed our station (I was standing on 7th street on the north side of the Mall), I made a point of watching all of them finish their runs. (The organizers, either out of safety concerns or for the benefit of the onlookers, spaced the flights to make this completely possible.) Why should a vintage aircraft be any less beautiful because it’s flying away from one rayther than towards one?
One thing I saw: Just after a flight of three Navy Helldivers swung around to start their run up the Mall, one of them suddenly broke formation and headed off to the southwest. I wondered about this greatly, but nobody around me seemed to notice. Turns out the bird was suffering some kind of mechanical problem and had to put down at Reagan Airport (which, fortunately, was less than two minutes away). Everything turned out fine in the end.
Even in these miserably dark days, the whole affair was most encouraging.
Of course, these guys were all stooging along in their Sunday-go-to-meetings. How about a little pron?
Curious thing. I love everything about flying except, you know, actually flying, of which regular friends of the decanter know ol’ Robbo is quite frightened. Go figure.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy May Day!
An off Friday for ol’ Robbo and my one goal for the day is to plant some wisteria against the porch pillars to replace the jasmine that didn’t survive this winter’s global warming. I’ve already got a hedge of the stuff along one side of the back fence, so it will all compliment nicely.
The great thing about wisteria is that, once established, it is virtually indestructible. And apart from whacking it back every now and again to keep it from consuming all around it, it’s virtually maintenance-free.
The older I get, the more I like that combination.
UPDATE: Done and done. Meadow Farms was selling nice, big, three gallon container specimens with hearty root systems and good budding. (Somebody told me long ago that one must never buy a wisteria unless one sees flowers on it. Otherwise you might get stuck with a dud.)
Sigh…even as I went to pull out the jasmine, I still cherished a hope that it might just be pining for the fjords. Nope. It was, indeed, ex-jasmine.
Whelp, now that that job is over with, the garden is a solid mass of weeds and the lawn needs mowing again, but I’m not going to bother with those today.
UPDATE DEUX: By the bye, when I said happy May Day, I meant the traditional holiday, not the rat-bastard Communist one. As a matter of fact, today is also the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, established in the mid-50’s to emphasize the dignity associated with honest labor that the Church felt was lost under Marxist regimes. The difference between it and the Commie May Day is that Christianity is first and last about the salvation of each and every individual soul. Honest labor contributes to that salvation. On the other hand, to the Commies, the “worker” is nothing more than a faceless number, simply part of an overall politickal calculus, and utterly meaningless in and of himself. Indeed, that whole “worker’s paradise” line was nothing more than bait designed to get the mob to do what the elites wanted. (Spits.)
Just so we have that sorted out.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and Happy
Earth Punch A Hippy Day! (Holly Maddox could not be reached for comment.)
Ol’ Robbo had to laugh when he learned that President Boyfriend chose to mark the occasion by taking a completely unnecessary and apparently un-ironic joy-ride on Air Force One down to the Everglades in order to harangue us all about our wasteful ways. 9000 gallons of aviation fuel, I believe, to say nothing of all the limos and suburbans involved in the security details. The Puppy Blender is right: I don’t want to hear one goddam word about my “carbon footprint”. I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who are telling me it’s a crisis start acting like it’s a crisis. (And that goes for AlGore, too.)
The Youngest Gel has been coming home from school with various bits of agitprop about the perils of
global warming climate change whatever-the-hell they’re calling it now, which I have been trying gently but firmly to debunk. (The older two, happily, are maturing nicely into skeptics. The Youngest still has a way to go, bless her heart.) It occurred to me that the starting point of my explanation is like that regarding so many other topics these days: “First of all, this has nothing to do with [substantive issue] and everything to do with politics.” And as Peej O’Rourke once noted, politics is the business of obtaining status and power without merit.
We hates politics.
Look, I firmly believe in responsible stewardship. It’s in the Bible and the Catechism, after all. And I don’t doubt that there are lots of fellow travelers out there who get a warm fuzzy from driving their
electric coal-powered cars, putting in mercury-leaking lightbulbs and only flushing once a day. But I’m convinced that all the senior ring-leaders are fully aware that this biznay is – and always has been – nothing more than another authoritarian power-grabbing scam designed to more easily control and manipulate us kulaks.
I think this evening I might reread the chapter on glowbull warminj in Peej’s All The Trouble In The World (which I continue to believe was his very best book.) Even though it came out in the 90’s, it’s still as fresh and on point today as it was back then. Watermelons, after all, have a long shelf life.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
No, I’m not talking about that wretched post-WWII generation who currently are raping the Republic of all the wealth on which they can lay their mitts before they die off and who are, also, directly responsible for the rise of a generation of Millennials who are in the process of establishing a reign of Precious Snowflake Fascist Terror that will eventually come to a painful, violent end when the Gods of the Copybook Headings return.*
Instead, I’m talking about good, old-fashioned, thunderstorms, some of which came a-calling in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor this evening. First time this season.
Ol’ Robbo used to be quite frightened of thunder and lightning. I recall distinctly an incident in my misspent yoot in San Antonio. My bedroom window looked out on a hackberry tree in our back yard, maybe 50 yards or so from the house. One evening during a storm (I think when I was in high school), I walked in and looked out just in time to see the poor tree hit by a lightning bolt. (You can always tell that you’re close to a strike because you can hear a distinct vzzzzzt!! before you hear the thunder.) I hit the deck completely by instinct, all my fears of my earlier yoot very much reenforced. (I believe that same poor tree got knocked down by either a microburst or an F0 tornado a few years later when I was away at college.)
Anyhoo, I gradually overcame said fear, to the point where I now quite enjoy watching a storm in all its fury. To sit out on the deck this evening and watch the cell scud past us to the east while the bats flitted about overhead was very delightful.
A little game I like to play in this season is Beat The Storm. My office is about 14 miles southeast of Port Swiller Manor. When conditions are stormy, I take a good, hard look at the radar just before I leave work. If there are storms about, the game is to decide whether to slap the sides up on La Wrangler or to see if I can just beat them home bare-sided. In some cases, I have cut this close enough that the deluge has hit literally between the time I got into my garage and the time I tried to go back out to the mailbox to retrieve the evening bills. Very gratifying when I get it right.
And lest you think Ol’ Robbo is delusional on this point, let me just note that others play the same game. A couple years back, I was on a late-afternoon flight from Dee Cee to Cleveland when the captain announced we were going to take off a couple minutes ahead of schedule. I didn’t think much of it until, during our descent, the sky suddenly got awfully dark (and the plane suddenly got awfully quiet). We came down smoothly enough, but by the time we were taxiing to the gate, the heavens had opened up and the tempest was crashing down all round us. That sum’bitch pilot had beat it in with seconds to spare.
Once I retrieved my jangled nerves, I tipped my metaphorical hat to the fellah.
*No, but it felt damned good to get that off my chest.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Got our tax docs back from the accountant wallahs this evening. For the past umpteen years, we’ve always expected a modest refund. This year, it would seem we actually owe a not-inconsiderable wodge of dosh. Grrrrrrr…….
This is the thing. It’s not so much the amount of the check itself, it’s the perception of value for money. I could write a whole damn book on this subject, but in short, I don’t think we’re getting all that much. Double grrrrrr……
Speaking of owing reminds me of an episode back in the early days of married life, 20-odd years ago. What with one thing and another, I had been slow about putting together our returns, and the upshot was that Mrs. R and I had to make a run for the closest open Postal Service facility on the evening of April 15th in order to get our return properly post-marked.
There was a blazing thunderstorm and torrential rain that evening. Nonetheless, the anti-tax protesters were out in force at the mail center and I tooted my horn in solidarity with them most enthusiastically. (I love the idea, by the way, of scheduling elections round about the same time as taxes are due. Goes right to the whole value-for-money thing.)
Anyhoo, we got the forms into the mail well before midnight, with much grumbling, and started on our way back to our apartment. Coming up on an important intersection, we found that there had been an accident and that the cops were on the scene to direct traffic around the mess.
I will never forget this. Having just had Uncle take a big bite out of my not-very-considerable income, I was sitting in a downpour, lightning all over the place, when I suddenly became aware of a County policeman knocking on my windshield with his flashlight and pointing at my inspection sticker. It had expired the month before.
Ol’ Robbo is not and has never been an Ayn Rand libertarian type. But at that moment, I wanted to cold-cock the cop, strip him of his weapons and equipment, and light out for the hills.
For all of Ol’ Robbo’s interest in historickal matters, I readily admit that I have been woefully remiss about tracking the last year and a half or so of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. My apologies. However, I certainly am not going to allow the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox Court House to go by without some mention here.
Chiefly, I like to think that the surrender showed the best of both men. Grant’s relentless pursuit finally won him the complete victory he deserved, and yet with his enemy completely at his mercy he was more than generous and humane in his conquest. Lee, recognizing check-mate, conceded like a true gentleman. One wonders what would have happened had Lee been able to make it to Danville or Lynchburg, resupply and slip away down the rail line to join up with Joe Johnson somewhere in North Carolina. Of course, Grant and Sherman eventually would have caught and crushed their combined force, but it would have meant more time and more blood and one wonders how much patience the North would have had with such an additional price.
Oh, speaking of which, I saw a number of posters on Facebook and elsewhere calling this day the “end of the war”. Not true. Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. Joe Johnson didn’t surrender to Sherman in North Carolina until a couple weeks later. The last official battle of the war, at Palmito Ranch near Brownsville, Texas, wasn’t fought until May 12. Various units of the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi didn’t surrender until late June, at which time the northern naval blockade of southern ports was finally lifted. President Johnson didn’t declare the complete official end of the “insurrection” until August, 1866.
So I reckon I’ve actually got another year and a half or so of being able to use the word “sesquicentennial” about the Civil War.
Anyhoo, what I really wanted to talk about was this: Ol’ Robbo began taking daily lunchtime walks last fall because his doc kept yelling at him about his lack of exercise. Generally, I have been doing a loop on the National Mall from about the height of the Air & Space Museum west to 14th Street (just short of the Washington Monument). Coupled with the distance from my office to the Mall, it’s two miles and change – a nice little circuit if walked briskly enough.
Well, that section of the Mall is now being dug up as part of a general refurbishing of pipes and drainage and things and is really not that pleasant a jaunt anymore. So last week, I turned the other way and started a loop from 7th Street east down to the Grant Memorial.
Almost twenty-five years of lurking around Your Nation’s Capital and I’d never even seen said memorial before. Perhaps this was just as well, because having spent the last ten or fifteen years reading and rereading Grant’s Memoirs and Bruce Catton’s definitive studies of the man’s campaigns, I was all the more delighted with Henry Shrady’s statue of the man. (All images from here on down stolen from Wiki.)
You can get it somewhat from this pic, that sense of Grant’s solid, stolid, unflappable calm, coupled with his near self-depricating modesty and reserve. The slouched hat, the lowered chin and the raised collar and cape make him look almost like a turtle snugging down in its shell. Even from a long way up the Mall, if you know anything about the man, you look at that statue and say, “Yup, that’s Sam Grant all right.”
This is a wintery depiction, what with the bundling up and the wind at his back, so it makes me think of both the Battle of Fort Donelson and the relief of Chattanooga. The former was Grant’s first really serious taste of big time battle. The latter was a brilliant (but largely unsung) piece of tactical and logistical generalship which, I would argue, rivaled anything done by Bobby Lee. In these fights, as in all his others, Grant’s key to success was the same as that popular expression flying about the innertoobs these days: He kept calm and he carried on.
By the way, some people like to dismiss Grant by arguing that he had the North’s huge advantage in manpower and material at his back, so of course he was going to win. Yeah, ask George McClellan how that worked out for him.
As you can tell, I am an enormous admirer of Grant, not just for his prowess in battle, but also for his character as a whole. In addition to the books I mention above, another good one is H.W. Brands’ The Man Who Saved The Union: Ulysses Grant In War And Peace. If you read Grant himself and Catton, you probably can skip the first part of this book because it’s just a condensed version of them. The second part, though, is an informative study of Grant’s presidency and his efforts to impose Reconstruction on the South. Grant is maligned for the corruption that characterized his administration but this is really unfair. He did his best to fight it, but he simply wasn’t a politician. As for Reconstruction, considering the bad blood and teh forces (cough, Southern Democrats, cough) fighting against it, he really did about as good a job as one could hope for.
Oh, back to the Memorial. As I say, I love the statue of Grant. I also love the contrasting, highly dramatic statues of the cavalry charge and the artillery team that flank it. However, I think I don’t especially care for the overall effect. The flanking groups are done on a smaller scale. Also, I think they’re spaced too far apart from Grant’s statue. The overall effect is to make the thing too wide and, in my opinion, disjointed, the whole idea of Grant’s calm above the chaos being lost a bit through distillation.
Of course, what the heck do I know about sculpture. Also, most days when I walk by, I’m busy trying to navigate shoals of high school tourons, so perhaps this causes me to become a tad jaundiced.