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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As I see from a quick dekko at sitemeter, it seems the demand for the return of Robbo from his summah hols has been astronomical. Well, my friends, your wait is over, as I am most definitely back.
As I mentioned, the Family Robbo met up with the Former Llama Military Correspondent and his brood at a lakeside retreat this year. More specifically, it was Lake Anna, nestled in the heart of the Great Commonwealth of Virginny and also sporting its own nuke plant a couple miles up the shore from us, the wastewater discharge from which kept our part of the lake at a temperature somewhere in the mid-80’s. Indeed, splashing about in it was not unlike taking a bath and, frankly, wasn’t all that refreshing.
As a matter of fact, ol’ Robbo spent very little time actually swimming and much of his time kayaking. I would roll out of bed earlyish in the morning and put in an hour and a half to two hours of industrious paddling about, then go for another round later in the afternoon. It was most soothing. As it happens, I have the kind of body that, with any kind of regular exercise, buffs up quite quickly, so I am also feeling quite fit at the moment, although my arms are still killing me.
In between bouts of rowing, I found time to get in a goodish bit of reading, too. My list included the following:
A Map of Life: A Simple Study of the Catholic Faith by Frank Sheed. This book is not an argument but rayther, as its title implies, a simple statement of the Faith. Here is what we believe. Here is why we believe it. Here is what we do and don’t do as a result of these beliefs. Here are what we think are the consequences of following and not following them. Easy, logical, lucid prose without all that heavy breathing you get from somebody like Scott Hahn.
Frémont’s First Impressions: The Original Report of His Exploring Expeditions of 1842-1844. I picked this up because of my recent visit to Wyoming and views of the Oregon Trail Fremont’s first expedition in 1842 was to map said Trail as far as South Pass. I was delighted to recognize the area he describes in and around Ft. Laramie. The second took him all the way to near what is now Portland, down across the Sierra Nevadas (in the dead of winter) into the Sacramento River valley, around the souther Sierras through Arizona and New Mexico, back up into Colorado and then hey for home. The book is very well written and “The Pathfinder” obviously knew what he was about: exact scientific measurements and observations; good judgment of terrain; (mostly) careful travel with the occasional calculated risk; an instant grasp of the strategic importance of the Columbia River and San Francisco Bay to the rapidly expanding United States; and genuine curiosity about that area of the Intermountain West known as “The Great Basin”. Unfortunately, for some reason this edition does not contain any of the maps, drawings or appendices attached to the original reports. Also, it is fronted by a somewhat condescending introduction by some modern academic who is quick to point out what a racist/imperialist/white male aggressor Fremont was, and that, of course, we aren’t like that now. Sheesh.
The End of the Battle by Evelyn Waugh. I won’t say anything about it here. Waugh is one of my very favorite authors and the Sword of Honor trilogy (of which this is the third book) is probably my very favorite Waugh. I’ve read this book many, many times. One question that occurs to me, though: Why do references to J.H. Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish keep popping up in Waugh’s novels? It is usually found in officers’ messes, masters’ common rooms and elsewhere and I can’t help thinking that Mr. Wu is getting in a little dig for his own amusement although I don’t quite get the joke.
Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton. A swashbuckler set in the reign of Charles II featuring a dashing privateer taking a whack at the Dons in the Caribbean. I’ve never read any Crichton before although I’ve heard of his good reputation. Frankly, I don’t understand it, if this book is any example of his writing. It might have made a good screenplay, but the prose and characters have a Tom Clancy-like cardboard quality about them. Also, Crichton doesn’t seem to grasp some basics of nautical terminology. He uses “ground” when he means “deck” and he persistently refers to ships (including a galleon) as “boats”. He also describes a gunnery trick used by the hero to elude his pursuing enemies that is patently absurd. (I also started out on Crichton’s Sphere but ran out of time and only got about a quarter of the way in – the book belonged to teh rental house. Just as well, really, because the prose was as bad as in P.L and was beginning to irk me.
And why was I able to get so much reading done? Because the house turned out to be quite big and roomy enough for the ten of us not to suffer that ghastly feeling of being on top of each other all the time and I was quite able during the mid-day hours to snuggle into a corner relatively undisturbed, apart from some bouts of door-slamming and children running about that reminded me of something out of “Arsenic and Old Lace”.
All in all, a good week, leaving ol’ Robbo tanned, ready and rested.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers! A rainy Saturday morning at Port Swiller Manor allows me to duck mowing the lawn and instead bore those two or three who still gather over the decanter with my first impressions of the great state of Wyoming, or at least of its south-easternmost parts. (Ol’ Robbo was taken camping in Yellowstone as a toddler, but that hardly counts.)
This area is pure High Prairie, the westernmost part of teh Great Plains lapping up against the Rockies, and resembles, in large part, nothing so much as the Ocean. George Armstrong Custer puts it rayther well in the early part of his “My Life on the Plains”:
Starting from almost any point near the central portion of the Plains, and moving in any direction, one seems to encounter a series of undulations at a more or less remote distance from each other, but constantly in view. Comparing the surface of the country to that of the ocean, a comparison often indulged in by those who have seen both, it does not require a very great stretch of the imagination, when viewing this boundless ocean of beautiful living verdure, to picture these successive undulations as gigantic waves, not wildly chasing each other to or from the shore, but standing silent and immovable, and by their silent immobility adding to the impressive grandeur of the scene. These undulations, varying in height from fifty to five hundred feet, are sometimes formed of a light, sandy soil, but often of different varieties of rock, producing at a distance the most picturesque effect.
The constant recurrence of these waves, if they may be so termed, is quite puzzling to the inexperienced plainsman. He imagines, and very naturally, too, judging from appearances, that when he ascends to the crest he can overlook the surrounding country. After a weary walk or ride of perhaps several miles, which appeared at starting not more than one or two, he finds himself at the desired point, but discovers that directly beyond in the direction he desires to go rises a second wave, but slightly higher than the first, and from the crest of which he must certainly be able to scan the country as far as the eye can reach. Thither he pursues his course, and after a ride of from five to ten miles, although the distance did not seem half so great before starting, he finds himself on the crest, or, as it is invariably termed, the “divide”, but again only to discover that another and apparently higher divide rises in his front, and at about the same distance. Hundreds, yes, thousands of miles may be journeyed over, and this same effect witnessed every few hours.
In fact, thanks to modern speed (80 mph speed limit, baybee!), these “gigantic waves” do seem to chase each other wildly. I’ve been on the Plains before, mostly in Illinois and Iowa. I’ve driven between Omaha and Lincoln. Because I flew in and out of Denver on this trip, I got a chunk of Northern Colorado, too. But it was only once I got into Wyoming, especially north of Cheyenne, that I really got the full effect, most of these other areas being either urbanized or else thoroughly tamed farmland. It was absolutely humbling – wave after wave after wave of land, all under an enormous sky. However, it was not all plain sailing, because these hills are also broken up by a succession of creeks and rivers.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Re an item in the post immediately below, no fencing for Port Swiller Manor today after all: It’s been raining steadily since last night, sometimes quite heavily. (In fact, looking at the radar, it appears the last big burst of the storm is going to hit us in a little while.)
I had been thinking before today’s monsoon struck that this might have been a good weekend to cut back the forsythia. Some years ago, I would have sallied forth to do so regardless of the weather. More recently, I would have refrained but fumed about it all day. Now? I simply said meh and have spent most of the day reading Evelyn Waugh.
Progress, I like to think.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Fathers’ Day!
Ironically enough, what with Mrs. R taking teh younger gels to camp today and teh eldest jaunting down to King’s Dominion, after Mass ol’ Robbo spent most of the day more or less just mooching around Port Swiller Manor on his own. One can argue that a break from teenagers can be a rayther nice Fathers’ Day gift in and of itself, but it also wears pretty thin pretty fast.
Anyhoo, somebody recently asked me, “Tom, how go things with teh new doggeh?”
Well, she certainly doesn’t avoid me anymore but at the same time she does not seem to have gained complete trust and confidence in me as she has the female members of the Port Swiller family. Indeed, she reminds me at this point very much of Ben Bolt’s Alice:
DON’T you remember sweet Alice, Ben Bolt,—
Sweet Alice whose hair was so brown,
Who wept with delight when you gave her a smile,
And trembled with fear at your frown?
She likes it when I pet her (indeed, she seeks it out), but she mostly still goes stock-still when I do so. Also, if I so much as look at her squiggle-eyed, she…well, what the poem says.
It’s a shame, really, and makes me wonder what kind of Alpha Male she had to deal with in her earlier life. Sooner or later, I’m sure she’ll come round.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
One of ol’ Robbo’s most fundamental virtues (or defects, depending upon your view) is his dyed-in-the-wool conservatism. By this I don’t necessarily mean anything politickal. Rayther, I mean to say that I love the tried and true, the time-honoured, the routine, the predictable. In this way, I suppose I am very hobbit-like. What was it Prof. Tolkien said of Bagginses? That one knew the answer they would give to a given question without bothering to ask it?
Anyhoo, I mention this because I have been wrestling again recently with this virtue/flaw in the context of my personal reading list.
You see, ol’ Robbo has a rayther substantial shelf of books which he loves to read over and over again. Were time not a factor, nor some of the authors on the list less, ah, worthy,¹ this would not be a problem. However, every time I start in yet again on a favorite author/book/series, a voice in the back of my head starts to nag that I really ought to be trying other undiscovered countries. Memento mori and all that.
I believe that said nag has a legitimate point. On the other hand, I can’t help admitting that I also get new insights every time I reread even the oldest of my stable.² (That’s the definition of a classic after all, isn’t it?)
What to do?
Is there a magic formula? One new book out of every three read, for example? Is there a temporal solution? Nothing but new books for a month or six weeks? I simply don’t know.
All this becomes acute because my membership in an FB Aubrey/Maturin appreciation group is tempting me to set sail again for yet another cruise through the canon, while my first viewing of the rayther lame “The Charge of the Light Brigade” last evening strongly tempts me to plunge yet again into the Flashman papers.
That’s thirty-three books between the two series, each of which I’ve read at least a dozen times. By my math, that’s 396 books. As I say, I gain more and more each time I reread them, but at the same time, that’s nearly 400 other books I also could digest.
As I say, what to do?
¹ These include Tom Clancy, Bernard Cornwell and Jeff Shaara, all of whom I consider to be creators of entertaining trash.
² The sole exception here is the Harvard Lampoon’s “Bored of the Ring“. It’s still tear-inducing funny, tho’.
Ol’ Robbo apologizes for the lack of posting this past week – this and that have imposed themselves upon his limited free time.
However, since the Nats dropped a winnable game to the Yanks rayther early this evening, I at least have a few minutes to get in a little gratuitous Aubrey/Maturin posting now. (For those of you who know what this means, read on. For those of you who don’t, pray follow the link, read up on things, and then visit the devil’s website to order up your copy of Master and Commander, the first book of the series. You won’t regret it.)
Firsto, I should mention that I have been a member of an Aubrey-Maturin Appreciation Society over on teh FaceBooks for some time now, much to my edification and satisfaction. A few months back, one of my fellow members (who happens to be a professional historickal artist) began offering our crew a bumper sticker. I have not received permission to post a screen-shot of it, but I can describe it: Against a background of the Royal Navy flag, it says in bold “AUBREY/MATURIN ’16” with an underlying text of “There’s not a moment to lose, for all love…” I slapped said sticker on the back of La Wrangler a couple days ago, and the puzzled expressions that I’ve seen in my rear-view mirror since then have been priceless.
Secundo, I should mention that in the summah I generally drive with all the back panels off said (soft top) Wrangler, since she has no A/C.
Anyhoo, yesterday, as I left teh office, a violent thunderstorm was bearing down on my particular corner of Your Nation’s Capital. In order to get from my garage to teh route out of town toward Port Swiller Manor, I first have to travel about half a block east before swinging about to pick up the primary westward artery. I did this just as the main blast of teh storm hit, which meant that for a couple moments solid packets of rain were being blown straight in through the backside of La Wrangler, dousing the dashboard, the inside of the windshield, and the back of my head and arms.
My only response? A shrug and a muttered, “Yes, a right dirty commute, mate.”
Eh, I amuse me.
Speaking of which, another source of amusement that will only make sense to local friends: That “primary westward artery” of which I speak is Constitution Avenue, which, of course, eventually empties out on to the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge. The ramp for the northbound George Washington Parkway (which I need to take) is on the far side of said TR Bridge, but in order to get to it from Constitution, one must merge over to the right several lanes. This is a major pain at rush hour. In order to avoid it, I have found it makes sense to break off from Constitution just past the White House on Virginia Avenue, take Virginia up past GWU, hit the I-66 on-ramp just opposite the Watergate, and run in on the TR already in the far-righty lane.
Constitution runs due west to the TR. So in order to take my alternate route, I literally run northwest and then southwest. At the critical point where I swing round to pick up the highway over teh bridge, I always say “helm hard over“.
Yes, I amuse me more. But it’s harmless.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well, ol’ Robbo hasn’t much postie material to work with this evening. Historickally speaking, particularly for Royal Navy sharks, this is the anniversary both of the Glorious First of June in 1794 and of the celebrated frigate action between USS Chesapeake and HMS Shannon in 1813, but I’ve done those before and am not feeling ready to recycle them.
In re current events, much of today’s nooz cycle was taken up with the Supremes’ decision in the case of the Muslim gel who was denied a job at Abercrombie because of her head-scarf. Alas, although I have a very deep professional interest in that decision, I can’t possibly talk about it here. (And my opinion might not be what you think.)
Additionally, the ball game scheduled for this evening between Robbo’s beloved Nats and the Blue Jays of Toronto was postponed due to the monsoon-like conditions that descended on the Dee Cee area this evening and resulted in a right drenching on my commute home.
HOWEVER, for the benefit of those of you stationed about the decanter, now that a dog has joined the strength of the Port Swiller Manor establishment, I have a terrific, automatic fallback whenever I need something about which to write. I mean, who doesn’t like posts about dogs, amirite?
First, she went to the vet this week for a check-up. The vet thinks she’s actually younger than the seven years we were told by the rescue people. Perhaps five or six. Teeth good, ears good, eyes good, heart and lungs good, she’s in fine shape.
Second, she definitely has warmed up to me. Indeed, I spent much of this evening rereading my McAuslan with Daisy flopped out on my lap. I don’t know her actual weight but I would guess it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 lbs. Thus, she’s on the heavy, but still plausible, end of lap-dogdom. She certainly thinks so at any rate.
Third, from our walks together I have noticed that she has an interest in and hatred of Jacobin squirrels that would receive the stamp of approval from Jonah Goldberg’s late, lamented Cosmo. One needs to be careful to keep a firm grip on the leash whenever she gets the idea that these secular-Utopianist tree-rats might be in the immediate area.
Fourth, speaking of walks, in my yoot in the South Texas exurbs, the idea of picking up one’s dog’s, er, output would have been met with howls of derisive laughter. (Of course, we didn’t really “walk” our dogs. Our yard was a couple acres and they mostly did their biznay along the tree-line at the edge. When they dropped closer in, well, you just remembered it and avoided the spot until Ma Nature had disposed of it.) I have not yet got used to this task.
Fifth, the other morning I had my first dog-walking social encounter, spending ten minute chatting with a complete stranger as our pooches got to know each other. I can well see why college boys keep dogs when they can.
Sixth, I am delighted at the way Mrs. R and Daisy have come together. The whole reason I have been without doggy companionship since the early 90’s is that Mrs. Robbo insisted she was not a “dog person”. Daisy has, I think, been an eye-opener for her. Granted, starting from scratch with a puppy is a whole different ball-game, but I already can see that this “starter dog” biznay, i.e., dealing with one that has already been broken in, was the right initial step.
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!
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!
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.
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.