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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Because Ol’ Robbo always strives to make sure you friends of the decanter get what you pay for, he thought he’d slap up just a few pre-weekend thoughts:

♦  After three-plus months of working from home and no end of it in the foreseeable future, I’m thinking of investing in a real home office chair.  Surprisingly, Mrs. R agrees.  One of her friends suggested a bungee chair, of which I’d never heard.  I dunno, it seems to me such a chair might stretch out prematurely.  Any thoughts?

♦  Glancing at the latest Brave Stroke Against Amerikkka headlines, I hadn’t even realized the Dixie Chicks were still together.

♦   On the local wildlife front, Ol’ Robbo was delighted to see what I believe to be two fairly mature fox kits horsing around near the vixen’s den yesterday morning.  (I now keep a pair of binoculars at my back porch work station.)

♦   Ol’ Robbo has been on a George MacDonald Fraser jag (again) as of late, to the extent that I even watched “Octopussy” last evening. GMF wrote the screenplay.  Once one knows that and knows his work, one can see GMF’s fingerprints all over it.  (He relates that when he first pitched putting Bond in a gorilla costume to Cubby Broccoli, Broccoli almost died from conniptions.)  Oh, and that airplane fight at the end always makes me queasy.

♦   On a more serious artistic note, Ol’ Robbo was introduced this week to a new-to-me period-instrument orchestra, Ensemble Resonanz, under the direction of Riccardo Minasi.  The local classickal station has been showcasing their recording of Mozart’s final three symphonies, and I must say that the performances are brilliant.  Go check ’em out.

♦   Third time around, I am deliberately staying off the parents’ FacePlant page for Youngest’s college class.  From what Mrs. R relates, the place is a fever-swamp of paranoia about whether and how the school is going to operate this fall.  We’ve come round to a simple philosophy:  We’re paying the full out-of-state ride.  If we don’t get full service in return, we’re gone.

So there you have it.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo’s main gardening task this Saturday before Memorial Day is to give the lawn a weed n’ feed treatment and, honestly, I can’t bring myself to inflict a post on you just about that.

Instead, a little Hollywood History of the World musing.

Last evening Ol’ Robbo watched “The 300 Spartans” (1962).  For a war movie, it seemed to me fairly bland and wooden, but appeared to be a reasonably accurate (at least according to tradition) depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae and the run-up to it.  I guess Richard Egan (Leonidas) was something of a minor beefcake back in the day but I found him sleazy-looking.  (UPDATE DEUX:  No, that’s the wrong adjective.  Sorry.  What I mean is that he just didn’t project Ancient Greek royalty to me.  He looks more the hard-bitten sergeant in a WWII film, or perhaps the bad-guy hired gun in a western.)  I also suppose poor Ralph Richardson (Themistocles) just needed the money.  David Farrar (Xerxes) looked too much like Vincent Price to really be taken seriously.

Here’s the thing:  The film makes much of the alliance and dalliance between Xerxes and Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus (the lovely and talented Anne Wakefield).  As the story develops, it becomes increasingly clear that while outwardly supporting him, she is actually trying to manipulate Xerxes into calling off his invasion of Greece.  Indeed, according to the movie, she had just persuaded him, after his forces’ initial defeats, to turn around and go home when news of the secret goat track to the rear of the Spartans’ position came in, causing Xerxes renewed hope of Persian victory.  The show goes on after all and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s been a while, but I don’t remember this from my historickal readings.  That Artemisia (in good faith) warned Xerxes not to commit his naval fleet to battle at Salamis and then saved her own neck in that fight by pretending to turn traitor and then escaping, yes.  But I don’t recall her coming into the tactical story of Thermopylae.

Ol’ Robbo needs to pull out his Herodotus again, I guess.  Not that I mind:  I reread him probably every three or four years and evidently this is a sign it’s time to do so again.


Ol’ Robbo mentioned last week that he might be able to give you some foxgloves today.  Over the years I’ve encouraged them to seed themselves in one corner of my garden, with various results.  The past few years have been rather lean, but for some reason, possibly the very mild winter we had, this spring they’ve really taken off.  Ol’ Robbo truly loves foxglove, and hopes you do, too.  Enjoy!


I believe there are a couple of yellow ones on the way up as well.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Happy news in Ol’ Robbo’s corner of the world as late this week Bishop Burbridge announced our Diocese will begin reinstituting public worship on a limited basis next week.  No news yet from my own parish about how it will go about implementing this, but I expect Father will let us know soon.  Given that there simply aren’t all that many people at the Mass I attend in the first place, there is a very real chance that we could finally get back to something approaching normal relatively quickly.  Huzzah! Huzzay!

Speaking of such, Video Meliora has up an excerpt from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal which is well worth a read.  Ol’ Robbo has long meant to dive deeper into her writings than the quotes, excerpts, and few short stories he has read heretofore.  But to be honest, I can’t think of a single other author who actually intimidates me as much as she does.  A laser-beam intelligence, profound religious wisdom and insight, and a penchant for not suffering fools gladly, I couldn’t bring myself to read her without anything less than the utmost literary rigor.  The idea of reading her casually is, frankly, appalling.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I see today that Our Betters are starting to beat the drum that we should be treating glowbull enwarmening and coronapalooza at the same time and in the same way.

By a staggering coincidence, I already happen to be doing just that thing.

Maybe not the way they’d like, but hey, at least it’s something, right?

UPDATE:  The lovely and talented Sleepy Beth drops a comment on the “Oooh, but economic lockdown is sooo wunnerful for The Environment!!” watermelon** shibboleth.  This happened to come up at dins last evening.  One of the Gels mentioned the (apparently fake) story about dolphins returning to the canals of Venice, to which another immediately replied, “Well, at least the Italians will have something to eat.”

Another Gel remarked that although the folks in India may starve to death, at least they’ll have a nice view of the Himalayas while doing so.

(Heh.  Ol’ Robbo is at least comforted that the apples did not fall very far from his tree.)

Peej O’Rourke, alas, has in the last few years completely lost his mind.  But in what I still consider to be his best book, All The Trouble In The World, he put this biznay very succinctly:  “Communists worship Satan.  Socialists believe perdition is a good system run by bad people.  And liberals think we should go to hell because it’s warm there in the winter.”


Oh, and on the subject of Lefty talking points, we were also discussing the dread Second Wave which apparently is lurking around the corner, waiting to pounce if we dare go back to making a living.  Even Mrs. R, who has been far more cautious than I about things, said. “Look, we’ll just have to man up and trust to heard immunity at that point.”


**Watermelon. Green on the outside.  Red on the inside.

UPDATE DEUX:  Did somebody in the comments mention Metro’s capacity for inconveniencing and irritating people?  Well word breaks this morning that they’re now planning to shut down the whole damn system in my neck of the woods for the entire summah, the better to move forward their revitalization plans.  That’s all well and good while we’re all still under house arrest and there are only a handful of riders, but what the blue blazes do they think will happen when we all get whistled back in to town?  Ol’ Robbo has been itching to break quarantine.  Now?  Not so much.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

How about a few odds and ends not related to The End Of The World As You Know It?

♦  Happy Birthday to HRH Queen Elizabeth II!  She’s a good Sheila, Bruce, and not a’tall stuck up.

♦  Today is the traditional anniversary of the founding of Rome by Romulus in 753 B.C.

♦  Somebody on a comment thread somewhere yesterday made mention of the fact that “Ctrl +” will enbiggen your computer screen.  I had not known that.  My tired old  eyes have been thankful ever since.

♦  Speaking of computers, I become increasingly convinced that my work Skype is spying on me.  Sure, I’ve got a piece of duct tape over the camera lens, but how do you shut off the mic?

♦  Of course, the only thing it would hear, mostly, is my streaming of the local classickal musick station.  The past day or two, I’ve had Schubert’s Symphony No. 6 (the “Little C-major”) running through my braims.  I’m reasonably positive that the “Da-Da-Da-Dum” motif he uses in the 3rd movement Presto (especially at the section closes) is a direct nod to Ol’ Ludwig Van.

♦  I must confess that I’ve been indulging in Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe series of late.  This is a sort of masochistic exercise for me, as I consider his characters to be cardboard and his style sensationalist.  But he’s so very, very good at describing Napoleonic battle maneuvers…..

So I’ve got that going for me.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Friends of the decanter, especially those couple of you who have actually met me in meatspace, may be interested to know that Ol’ Robbo crossed the Rubicon today with respect to his plague beard by going over to the devil’s website and investing in an electric trimmer kit.  It’s got to the point where I need either to clean the thing up or to get rid of it, so I decided to go all in.  “YOLO”, as the Boomers like to say.  (They’re more right than they realize, by the bye, only not in the way they think.)

Now it just may be a cowinkidink, or it may be one of those tiny, gossamer threads in the Great Plan, but while I was at said website, I noticed a book served up on my recommendations list: On Faith: Lessons From An American Believer by Antonin Scalia.  I’ve learned to act on these little promptings (or, if you want to put it that way, am easily subject to temptation), so I immediately snapped it up.

Justice Scalia and I attended the same Mass for almost ten years, and while I never spoke to him one on one, I did sometimes hang about in post-Mass circles when he hobnobbed with the Padre.  I’d no idea he’d written a book about it all, but I can’t say I’m particularly surprised.  I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve read it.  (As an aside, I may say here that I find myself dancing with frustration every time the Scalia-Was-Murdered meme bubbles up on the comment boards I follow.  The man was in obviously declining health towards the end and I used to marvel that he still managed to keep himself going when I saw him.)

I notice that the book comes with a forward by Scalia’s son, Fr. Paul Scalia.  He was our parish priest for a while and still subs now and again.  One of my fondest memories is of the time he thoroughly spiked Eldest, who was a middle-schooler (in every vile sense of the word) at the parish academy and thought she saw an opening to get me.  We were talking together (I forget what occasion) when the Gel suddenly blurted out, “Faaaather! My dad says there are Baseball Gods!”

Without missing a beat, Fr. Paul said, “Of course there are Baseball Gods.”

The look on the Gel’s face was priceless.  Heh.

Anyhoo, as I say, I’ll let you know what I think of the book.

UPDATED:  Well, I cancelled the trimmer, as the devil’s website informed me it would take a month to get here and I anticipate returning to the office before then.  I’ll just go pick one up at Tarjay or somewhere.  The book will take a month, too, but I can wait on that.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers and Happy Birthday to Young Frederick!

When Ol’ Robbo actually does remember Leap Day, he almost invariably thinks back to Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, and specifically to the Pirate King’s Chant explaining the paradox of Frederick’s birthday:

For some ridiculous reason, to which, however, I’ve no desire to be disloyal,
Some person in authority, I don’t know who, very likely the Astronomer Royal,
Has decided that, although for such a beastly month as February,
twenty-eight days as a rule are plenty,
One year in every four his days shall be reckoned as nine and twenty.
Through some singular coincidence – I shouldn’t be surprised if it were owing to the agency of an ill-natured fairy –
You are the victim of this clumsy arrangement, having been born in leap-year, on the twenty-ninth of February;
And so, by a simple arithmetical process, you’ll easily discover,
That though you’ve lived twenty-one years, yet, if we go by birthdays,
you’re only five,
and a little bit over!

That right there is some very clever writing and makes me smile whenever it wanders across my braims, especially in the somber, ecclesiastic intonations of the King in the old Doyle-Carte Company production which is Ol’ Robbo’s gold standard.

It is, of course, very shortly after they’ve had a laugh over this that the Pirate King points out to Frederick he had been apprenticed to the pirate band until he reached not his twenty-first year but in fact his twenty-first birthday and that rather than being released from his bond that day as they’d all at first thought, he actually had rather a lot of time left to go.

Later, Frederick tells his grief-stricken Mabel that he won’t reach his twenty-first birthday until the year 1940.  If my math is right, that would make today his forty-first.  Salute!


And while I’m on the subject of G&S in general and Pirates in particular, just about every production I’ve ever seen of it couldn’t resist the urge to camp things up.  Further, since the advent of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, every Pirate King seems to mimic Johnny Depp.  When Ol’ Robbo becomes Emperor of the World, these practices will cease.  For wit and humor, res ipsa loquitur and there is no need for either rubber chickens, slurred delivery, or drunken choreography.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Over the weekend Mrs. Robbo and I entertained my cousin to dinner at Port Swiller Manor.  This was was a make-up date, as we had cancelled Christmas Dinner on her (to which she usually comes) after finding one of our kittehs dead that morning.

Since it was “Christmas”, we duly exchanged the presents we had previously got for each other.

Cousin’s gift to me was a copy of David McCullough’s The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West.  From the book’s O-fficial website:

As part of the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain recognized the new United States of America, Britain ceded the land that comprised the immense Northwest Territory, a wilderness empire northwest of the Ohio River containing the future states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. A Massachusetts minister named Manasseh Cutler was instrumental in opening this vast territory to veterans of the Revolutionary War and their families for settlement. Included in the Northwest Ordinance were three remarkable conditions: freedom of religion, free universal education, and most importantly, the prohibition of slavery. In 1788 the first band of pioneers set out from New England for the Northwest Territory under the leadership of Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam. They settled in what is now Marietta on the banks of the Ohio River.

Certainly an interesting read about a chunk of American history that rarely gets any notice.  And from what I’ve read by McCullough in the past, I truly look forward to it.

But this wasn’t enough in and of itself.  I have mentioned a time or two here that this cousin is a genealogy shark.  She’s got stacks and stacks of documents, photographs, and memorabilia in her house, the product of years and years of research.  And it so happens that my father’s family was a part of the very movement described in the book.  (Scotch-Irish Presbyterian abolitionists on all sides.)  So what did she do?  She went through and heavily annotated my copy by hand, filling in family-specific information around the general narrative.  (My great-great-great-grandfather was in Ohio by at least 1810.)  She included a copy of her application to the D.A.R. (She applied many, many years ago based on one ancestor who was in the Sixth Pennsylvania Regiment.  Since then, she’s found a couple others in different units.)  And because she’s now working her way from the other end, so to speak, digging up our roots in the Old Country and making the critical connection, she included a map showing the locations of various feeder branches in Scotland and Ireland.  (My main tree goes through Cumberland County, PA in about 1750.  She hasn’t quite got the jump from Ireland to there sussed out yet, but she’s working on it.  Evidently, Ol’ Robbo might be related to the Paxton Boys.  Yikes.)

Now all of this is wonderful, but it comes with a price due to the monomaniacal strain that infests some of my paternal family:  You see, there will be an exam.   My cousin will be back here for Easter Dinner, and while I won’t be expected to have it all letter-perfect by then, I know darn well that I’m going to have to make a mighty strong showing of initial progress if I don’t want to disappoint/offend her.

Better go hit the book!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The other evening while at loose ends, Ol’ Robbo found himself watching a show on the Military Channel.  It was about Joshua’s prowess as a great warrior at the battles of Jericho and Ai.

The show itself, which featured a lot of cheesy, cut-rate, 300-style semi-animation, was a disappointment, albeit not surprisingly.  But it prompted Ol’ Robbo to remember a book he bought long ago and squirreled away somewhere unread, Battles of the Bible by Chaim Herzog and Mordechai Gichon.  My curiosity piqued, I dug it out and cracked it open.

I’m very glad I did.  And props to the MC at least for leading me to do so.

Ol’ Robbo has now and again had a go at reading the historickal books of the Old Testament – Judges, Samuel, Chronicles, Kings, and so forth – but I always get lost and bogged. Battles takes all of that and sets it down in a clear, concise, and illuminating style.

The first part by Gichon begins with an overview of the ancient Middle East.  It discusses the strategic geological importance of the land bridge between Africa and Asia, as well as the topography of the region and its effect on everything from travel to fighting style (e.g., the coastal plains’ suitability for chariot warfare vs. a mountainous interior that favored ambush and the sword), to agriculture and sustainability. It then lays out the general geopolitical struggle between Egypt, on the one hand, and the various Asian Powers on the other for control of the region.  It also speaks to the early Semitic migrations including Abraham’s removal from the north and the appearance of Joseph and others in Egypt, as well as to the gradual formation of various groups and tribes into a coherent people recognizable as The Jews. (I’d never really thought about where the Philistines actually came from before, either.)

After quickly coming down through Moses and the Exodus to the eve of the Jewish invasion of Canaan, it then plunges into detailed discussions of the various campaigns of the Old Testament, from Joshua, Deborah’s defeat of Sisera, and Gideon’s battles against the Midianites through the wars of Saul and David, Solomon’s infrastructure, the division of the Kingdom into Israel and Judah, the Assyrian conquests, the last defenses of Judah, and finally the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple.  The constant, constant fighting and maneuvering of this historickal arc is downright exhausting.

The second, shorter part by Herzog is an account of the Maccabee Revolt against the Hellenistic Seleucids in the 160’s B.C.  Finally, finally after all these years, Ol’ Robbo gets the full meaning of Hanukkah and the rededication of the Second Temple after its Greek defilement. (And while the book doesn’t cover it, I was impressed at how similar this episode is to the later Jewish Revolt against the Romans put down by Vespasian and Titus in 68-70 A.D.)

In the course of its narrative, the book is also a history of the politics, culture, social structure, and economy of the Jews (and their neighbors) during this period, since these are all relevant to not only the why of the battles, but also to the who, what, how, and where.  As for the religious aspect, it stays away from what one might call the miraculous side of things (i.e., whether God stopped the sunrise for Joshua at Ai) and only discusses Judaic Monotheism as a cultural identity bond and a motivating factor in the fierceness of their military campaigns of both conquest and defense.  It also mentions several of the Prophets, but only in the context of their contribution to the strategic debate.  While obviously relying much on Old Testament narrative, it also looks to contemporary accounts from Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, as well as archeological evidence.

The book is extremely well written in its clarity of explanation, dispelling virtually all of the fog I encounter when attempting to read the OT descriptions myself.  And the multiple strategic and tactical maps included in it are invaluable.  It’s unlikely Ol’ Robbo will ever make it to the Holy Land himself, but I feel like I know it a whole lot better now.

And the really chilling thing?  As you read it, you become increasingly aware of the fact that hardly a single thing has really changed in that part of the world in all these thousands of years.

So if you’re interested in Ancient Jewish military history – and just who the heck isn’t? – I’d heartily recommend reading this book.


Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Sorry about the dearth of posties here recently.  I seem to have some kind of mild but slow-rolling bug that’s left me rather fatigued and mush-minded.

(Somebody suggested the other day that it might be “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, but Ol’ Robbo doesn’t do disorders.  Or syndromes.)

So by way of making up, how about some quick thoughts?

♦  Ol’ Robbo did not watch the Oscars last evening.  I just don’t care.  I haven’t seen a single one of this year’s movies and I have no interest in being lectured about today’s “issues” by a pack of self-absorbed tinsel-heads.

♦  Pitchers and catchers report Wednesday.  Now that I’m excited about!  What else is there to say except “GO, NATS!!!

♦  Mrs. R loves the sound of Decanter Dog snoring, as do I.  But when I snore? I get banished.  Does that seem right to you?

♦  I know I’m repeating myself but this happened again on a biznay trip last week.  The problem with eating with vegans is that all they ever talk about is their veganism.  Shut up about it already!

♦  Ditto drivers of hybrid cars who leave their virtue signal on continuously.  (Did you see what I did there?)

♦  It’s getting time to replace my electronic porch thermometer, as the readout control buttons are starting to wear out.  I have the simplest La Crosse Technologies model now, but would like to upgrade to something a little fancier.  (Specifically, I’d like something that shows actual barometric pressure.)  Anybody have any recommendations?

♦  The expression “lying, dog-faced pony soldier” seems to be making the rounds of the innerwebz at the moment.  I’ve seen the term “pony soldier” on the lips of Indians in books and film and simply meaning “U.S. Cavalry”.  What I wonder is whether this is just the stuff of modern writers or is it authentic frontier gibberish.

♦  It occurs to me that I haven’t grilled out in months.  (I had thought of setting up a good lighting system on the porch but never got around to it.)  Happily, it’s just another few weeks until, at least on a clear evening, I ought to be able to get back to it. Exciting.  One simply can’t do justice to a really good steak except over an open flame.

♦  Which reminds me that I must take a machete to the wisteria next weekend.  I have it all over the back fence and the porch pillars.  Ol’ Robbo seeks that classic look of thick, bare trunks with a fine profusion of growth just along the top of the fence.  My wisteria have other ideas.  Gorram hippies!

♦  Finally, regular friends of the decanter will recall that we lost one of the Port Swiller kittehs to heart disease Christmas morning.  I’ve been watching the other one very carefully since for signs of excessive grief or loneliness.  Fortunately, it appears I need not worry.  She seems quite content with the new dynamic.  Which is just as well, because I’m convinced Decanter Dog would absolutely not tolerate the introduction of another kitteh into the house.  She accepted all of the current occupants when she herself was a newcomer, but now? NYET!!

Well, there you go…..






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July 2020