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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.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

augustus-pp-statueThose 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:

An Early SparksNotes Contributor

An Early SparksNotes Contributor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Musician.  His Stare Is Kind Of Micro-Aggressive.

Some Musician. His Stare Is Kind Of Micro-Aggressive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Short, French Dude From History Class

The Short, French Dude From History Class

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

This evening, teh Eldest Gel informed me that her latest English assignment is to read Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye.

Gel: What’s it about?

Self: No offense, but it’s all about a teenaged hipster-doofus whining over his disillusioning encounters with the so-called Real World, which he discovers to be largely fake.  Your classmates are going to love it.

Gel: Really?

Self: Yes, really.

Gel: But…. we go through this all the time ourselves and I hate it!  I  already know we’re self-absorbed and ignorant!  I already know that eventually I’ll grow up and get a better perspective!  I already know that Christianity says all these earthly things are irrelevant! Why would I want to read some guy’s self-absorbed ranting about it?

Self: Because that’s the assignment.

Gel: Yeah.  But what a loser.

Heh.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the vast majority of those friends of the decanter who have had or cared for small children have spent numerous hours  reading to the little “blessings” at bed-time.  I know I have, starting out with “‘C’ is for Clown” and “There’s A Monster at the End of this Book” (I can do a kick-ass Grover voice) and working up through Seuss and the Berenstain Bears (gack!) to Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia Chronicles.

Well, guess what?  Apparently, this makes you and me Haters.   Because Social Justice or something:

“Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?” asks a story on the ABC’s website.

“Should parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring?”

The story was followed by a broadcast on the ABC’s Radio National that also tackled the apparently divisive issue of bedtime reading.

“Evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t — the difference in their life chances — is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,” British academic Adam Swift told ABC presenter Joe Gelonesi.

Gelonesi responded online: “This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion that perhaps — in the interests of levelling the playing field — bedtime stories should also be restricted.”

Let that one sink in for a few moments.  Go on, I’ll wait.  Imagine getting fined or thrown into the hoosegow for spending a cozy half hour reading “Madeline” to your daughter because it might give her a leg up in the world.

I mentioned the article to Mrs. Robbo this evening and she simply couldn’t believe it.  But this is yet another marker of where dying Western Civilisation stands at the moment, even if most of us are still too fat and happy to see it.  Granted, the piece comes from Australia and the “academic” involved is a Brit,  but I’ll bet you it wouldn’t take me long to find some Progressivista here in teh States nodding at the “wisdom” of such a proposal.

They’d say, of course, that it’s “for the children” and the promotion of “fairness”, but that, if I may say so, would be a God-damned lie.  The real motivation, as is always the case with statists, has nothing to do with empowerment or equal chances, and is instead the beating down of all individualism, self-improvement, personal responsibility, and reward for hard work and merit, and the replacement of a free association of autonomous citizens with an army of mindless drones slaves serving the collective.

Swift said parents should be mindful of the advantage provided by bedtime reading.

“I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally,” he said.

Yeah, right.  By this reasoning, it could be argued that I also “unfairly disadvantage” other people’s children by staying faithful to my wife, working hard at my job, providing the gels with a roof over their heads, food, clothing, religious grounding, and the best education we can manage, and trying to instill in them the same set of values and skill sets that my parents hammered into me and which have allowed me to do these other things for them.

Maybe I ought to knock off all of that, too?

Gelonesi is absolutely right in one thing: “Devilish” is exactly the right word.  God help us all.

UPDATE: Fun fact for you that I have long cherished.  Baltimore, the city that has been so much in the nooz lately, poster child for 50 years of Big State gub’mint, is tagged routinely as having the highest illiteracy rate of any major U.S. city.  In the late 80’s, the then-mayor decided to adopt a new motto for the place – “Baltimore – the City that Reads”.  Did so with a completely straight face, too.  By the bye, that little campaign is now dead, Jim.

UPDATE DEUX:  In response to some of the comments, yes, a few years ago I would have thought this article to be Onion-bait.  Not now.  Instead, I believe the forces of darkness, like the King of the Nazgul before the crumpled defenses of Minas Tirith,  are launching a full frontal assault all along the line.

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!

Well, Spring is finally getting her act together in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor.

Late last evening, ol’ Robbo found himself loitering around the parking lot of the St. Albans School waiting around for Middle Gel to come out of the school play she’d gone to see. (A steampunk version of The Tempest, in case you’re interested.  With this particular play, given its majickal character, I’d argue that one can get away with this sort of thing so long as it doesn’t swamp the rest of the production values.)  The school is sited on a hill (Mount St. Albans, in fact) that affords a fine view southeast across downtown Dee Cee.  As I sat there, I got to watch lightning for the first time this year – a small storm way off on the horizon.  Very pretty.  (As a boy, I was terrified of thunderstorms.  Now I love them.)

A few weeks ago, perhaps a bit prematurely, I posted here about some of the signs of spring in the Port Swiller garden.  Well, I’m afraid I have to revise my earlier optimism just a bit:  The knockout rose on the porch stairs did not, in fact, make it, but appears to be dead, dead, dead.  Oh, well.  If we get another, we’ll bring it inside for the winters from now on.

In addition, I am now about 85% sure that my poor jasmine didn’t survive.  (One has what might be a single new stem coming up from the roots.  The others, nothing.)  So much for AlGore’s Globull Warminj.  I’m going to give them a couple more weeks to produce new shoots, then fall back to Plan B and replace them with wisteria which, once established, is practically indestructible.

Now for some genuine good news:  Long time friends of the decanter will know that ol’ Robbo has been griping about the poor flowering of his forsythias for years and years now.  Well, last spring, after an especially anemic showing, I went out and razed those baddies to a height of no more than twelve to fifteen inches.  This spring?  A pleasantly respectable flowering!  The one mistake I made was not doing a secondary cut in August or September to even out some of the longer and stringier branches, but I will remember to do that this summah.

And if you’ve read this far, you may be amused to know that last year I also put in a couple of new clematis by the patio.  (A variety with lovely indigo leaves and a golden center.)  Unfortunately, they’re very near the bird feeder, and in their bottom-feeding activities, the damned squirrels exposed the roots of both plants. I thought they were gonners, but each one has got new growth on it this spring.  (Tough plant, the clem.)  I’ve since put chicken wire around each one, so hopefully the tree-rat problem has been solved.  (You might wonder why I don’t just move the feeder.  Well, it is just where I can watch it from my library comfy chair.)

 

 

appomattox-surrenderGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

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.

300px-Monument_to_GrantAlmost 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.

Grant_Memorial - cavalrygrant memorial - artilleryOh, 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

primaveraGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, it’s the first full day of Spring 2015, and ol’ Robbo would love to be out in the grounds this morning doing yard work.  However, it’s still awfully soggy out there from yesterday’s snow and it’s still pretty chilly and Robbo isn’t quite the young man he used to be, so instead I am parked in front of the keyboard with a cup of kawfee.  (I am looking out the window, however.)

♦   Speaking of kawfee, the G-Man has an excellent take on Starbucks’ plan to have its baristas hector their customers over race relations.  (I don’t much go to Starbucks anymore because of the cost.)  As Jonah correctly notes, it’s not the subject matter itself but instead the creeping politicization of every corner of public life, something I have been bewailing for years.  (Who was it who talked about the fundamental right just to be left alone?)  Anyhoo, for all the publicity,  I’m guessing that any actual attempts to indoctrinate caffeine-starved customers at seven ack emma will go…..poorly.

♦   And speaking of indoctrination, when She Who Must Not Be Named starts talking about adult camps – even if she’s joking, even if she says “fun” camps, even if she’s just drunk – I get a cold, cold chill down my spine.

♦  Speaking of spring, I should note again that this is a March Madness-Free Blog®.  I’ve no interest in basketball, whatsoever.  And while I can understand the whole school spirit thing, my education was all at Division III institutions (NESCAC and ODAC) and it just isn’t the same thing.

♦   OTOH, I didn’t realize until the other day that this is the 10th season of Robbo’s Beloved Nats in Dee Cee.  Where does the time go?

♦  Oh, speaking of schools, may I trumpet here the fact that my nephew has just been accepted to Virginia Tech?  I don’t know if he’s going, since it’s damned expensive for out-of-staters and he has another program lined up also, but I’m still pretty proud of him.

♦   And speaking of school,  I have managed to convince the Eldest that Woodrow Wilson was personally responsible for the disastrous end of WWI and the rise of both Lenin and the Communists, and Hitler and the Nazis.   I think my work is done here.

♦  Reread GKC’s The Man Who Was Thursday this week.  This has to be the single craziest adventure story I know.  And I love it.

♦  Speaking of reading, got a subscription plea in the mail this week from “Teen Vogue”.  Gawd.  It was addressed to “Miss To The Port Swiller Family”, came in a violently pink envelope and even promised a student discount.  Thanks, but no.

♦   Also got a solicitation from the local publick teevee station threatening that if I don’t slip it some coin, it won’t be able to bring All New Episodes of Downton Abbey.  Well, I’ve never watched it, nor do I intend to, so this would be no great loss.   Back in my misspent yoot, I used to love period dramas, but what with all of the rampant politicization going on these days (which see above), I simply don’t trust ’em for historickal accuracy anymore.

♦  OH! Speaking of art and history, do not forget that today is the 330th anniversary of the birth of the Greatest Musickal Genius of all time!  Be sure and listen to some of his output today if you can.  (Teh Middle Gel and her cohort are in the middle of rehearsals for a presentation of his St. John Passion down the Cathedral next weekend.)

Well, I hear the stirring of various gels, so I suppose I ought to leave off here and go reassert my paternalistic hegemony.  Or something.

UPDATE:  Mid-afternoon and sunny.  I went out and discovered new growth buds all over the clematis on the side of the garage. (It faces southwest and is sheltered, and thus is always the first thing to get busy in springtime.)  Happy, happy, happy!

Speaking of signs of spring, I see that Scott’s is starting to run their grass-seed/feed ads.  I don’t mind the Scots fellah they use, but it’s too bad they couldn’t have done a deal with Groundskeeper Willie:

UPDATE DEUX:  Looks like all the foundation plants we put in out front last summah after repairs to teh flooded basement also made it.  And my climbing rose by the front door is about ready to explode.  It’s an improved Blaze, and after it was done blooming last summah I cut it back to about four feet or so.  It seemed to like this and I even got a few second-growth flowers.

UPDATE TROIS:  Wow – We have a knockout rose in a bucket inside a large ceramic pot on the upstairs landing to the back porch that I thought was absolute toast this winter, being in such an exposed position.  It’s taken some battle damage, but the thing’s actually got growth buds on it.

UPDATE QUATRE:  Juuust warm enough to have dinner on the porch in celebration of the day.   Very nice.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Welp, it’s official.  As of the conclusion of her last behind-the-wheel lesson yesterday, teh Eldest Gel was granted her provisional driver’s license.**

This morning, ol’ Robbo watched teh gel sail out of the Port Swiller Manor driveway on the way to school – in the dark and the fog – on her first ever solo flight.  Mission accomplished, she later celebrated by taking her friend to the mall and a park, and then driving herself to her tutor and stopping to pick up some dinner on the way home.

Watching her tail lights fade into the gloom, I tried to recall my own first solo.  Truth be told, I can’t.  Searching back, I recall very clearly how the Old Gentleman taught me to drive stick on the mountain trails of a ranch in northwest Bexar County when I was about twelve.  I also recall the deadly boring driver’s ed program I went through in the summah between my sophomore and junior years of high school.  Heck, I even still remember the test I had to go through with the state DMV before I got my license in January, eh, 1982?  But I don’t recall the first time I was behind the wheel all by myself.

Maybe I was so used to the idea already that it didn’t register.  I’m guessing things will be a bit different for teh gel.

One thing that is sinking in with us, albeit slowly:  Now that teh Eldest has wheels, we can, at least in terms of logistics, finally after all these years switch back from zone coverage to man.  Robbo likey.

Dahl Solo* A blatant reference to Roald Dahl’s autobiography of the same name.   You should read it if you haven’t.  Dahl entered the world just in time to witness the last gasps of teh British Empire.  His descriptions of Kiplingeque characters in East Africa are quite informative and amusing.  On the other hand, his tales of encounters with green mamba snakes there have firmly resolved ol’ Robbo never ever to set foot on that continent for any reason whatsoever.   And Dahl wound up as a fighter pilot in the RAF covering the Brit evacuation of Greece in the early days of the War.  Fascinating stuff.

**According to local rules, she doesn’t get her O-Ficially license until she (and we) appear before the local state magistrate in a hearing at which he or she makes it so.  Frankly, I approve of this kind of formality, as I think it hammers into teh kids’ heads the gravity of their new-won responsibilities.  More on this as it unfolds.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  As noted below, ol’ Robbo is back from his latest travels.  A few random thoughts, firstly travel-related:

♦   Going through airport security, I was submitted both times to the full TSA Grope Special.  In each instance, they claimed that they needed to check out something on the front of my pants picked up by the body scan.   Hey, Einsteins!  It’s called a “fly” and it’s made of metal!  (Either that or the rosary I always carry in my pocket is radioactive and left some kind of signature after I pulled it out.)  Baysterds didn’t even give me flowers or buy me breakfast afterwards.

♦   Perhaps in my bemusement over getting an unexpected hand in my crotch, or perhaps because I hadn’t yet had any coffee, on my way out Wednesday morning I managed to lose my driver’s license going through security at Reagan National.  Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this loss until I got to the car rental counter at my final destination.   Not being able to get a car proved to be a nuisance, but at least one that I was able to work round via taxis and bumming rides from people.

♦   The good news is that the airport folks not only found my license, they also called about it and then mailed it to me with a very polite cover letter.  I got it back this evening.

♦  By the bye, Ol’ Robbo has resolved that he is never again going to fly on Ash Wednesday with the expectation that he will get to Mass at the other end.  Even when I plan it all out in advance, I’m so frazzled by the time I arrive that I just can’t make myself do it, especially, as noted above, when I don’t have wheels of my own.

♦  Oddly enough, in all my years this was the first time I’ve ever flown Southwest.  I must say that their open-seat boarding policy confused me mightily at first.  On further consideration, it still doesn’t make that much sense to me:  All the early boarders naturally are going to take up the aisle and window seats.  When the tail of the line (the despised “Group C”) comes on board, there’s still going to be a lot of confusion and aisle-crowding as they seek to insert themselves into the middle seats.  I don’t see how this is superior to assigned seating with more controlled boarding groups.   (Oh, and I put Southwest’s policy of offering to put you among the “Group A” borders for an extra fee at the same contemptible level as Disney’s policy of letting you pay more to jump to the head of the ride line.)

♦  Oh, and this trip was to Texas, where regular friends of the decanter know ol’ Robbo spent the bulk of his misspent yoot.  It’s remarkable how much at ease you can put a Texan of a certain age you’re interviewing by saying, “Oh, sure I remember Cody Carlson from high school!  He was just a year ahead of me!”

And a few non-travel thoughts:

♦  Remember when we were all told that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism” and that we should “Question Authority”?  Me, too.  Good times, good times.  I certainly prefer it to “Shut your whore mouthes, you rubes!”

♦  Per my previous dose of random below,  teh youngest gel got her braces slapped on today.  I have to admit that I can barely suppress my amusement at the way all her “s’s” have transmogrified into “th’s”.   And the Middle Gel, who got hers off last fall, evidently couldn’t suppress her urge to taunt her younger sister over what’s in store for her the next two years.

♦   Meanwhile, it looks as if Mrs. R and I are headed up to Harrisburg, PA this weekend to check out a used Honda CR-V for the Eldest.  It’s two years old, single owner, 30K miles, clean bill of health, moderate whistles and bells, balance of extended warranty and a pretty reasonable price.

♦  Braces and another car, all in the same week.  Siiiigh.  I suppose I could set up as a cocaine wholesaler.  Or perhaps run guns.

♦  Of course, we’re now in Lent.  I plan to do a considerable amount of new reading, and have already started in on a series of sermons by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, recently recommended to me by a member of a Catholic FB group where I like to hang out.   However, while I am delving into the serious stuff, I am also permitting myself to take breaks with lighter reading fare, so long as it has some Christian-based theme or sensibility.  As a practical matter, this means the fiction of Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.  At the moment, I am running through the former’s Father Brown mysteries.

Guinnes Father BrownI have the ability sometimes when reading to hear in my mind specific voices for specific characters.  In the case of Father Brown, I derive infinite satisfaction from imagining his voice (and his appearance and movements) to be that of Sir Alec Guinness.  I’ve never actually seen his portrayal of the padre, but it is evident, almost obvious to me that he was absolutely perfect for the part.  (Without looking it up, I recall reading somewhere that his work on this project was one of the key factors behind Guinness’s swim across the Tiber.)

♦  Finally, my latest Star Trek: TOS comment (which may be the last until after Easter):  The Corbomite Maneuver.   A classic.  First totally space-based episode.  First battle of wits between ship’s commanders.  First gratuitous shirtless Jim Kirk shot.  And to this day my brother and I refer to adult beverages as “tranya”.

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