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“Walking the Plank” by Howard Pyle

Avast, ye grog-swilling lubbers! And will ye be raising a glass to International Talk Like A Pirate Day, now? N’yar, indeed!

*Cough*

Sorry, I can’t keep up the accent very long.

In any event, it is quite fitting that, today of all days, Ol’ Robbo finished reading for the first time Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood. (The Penguin Classics edition features this Pyle painting on its cover.)

What fun! Nobody would ever mistake it for “literature”, but it’s a damned well-written adventure story, crisp, quick, and to the point.  And it is perfectly evident that Sabatini did his homework on nautical lore in general, and on the doings of the Dons, the Brethren of the Coast, and the other powers at play in the Caribbean Basin in the 1680’s in particular.  (The introduction to the Penguin edition by Gary Hoppenstand, once you get past all the P.C. virtue-signaling about Sabatini writing for a sexist, racist, homophobic, blah, blah, blah, market, has a fascinating discussion of how much historickal material the author pinched from the exploits of Henry Morgan.)  What one would call a “ripping good yarn” and well worth inclusion in my collection of similar historickal fiction by authors such as P.C. Wren, Rider Haggard, Conon-Doyle, Kipling, and George Macdonald Fraser.  (I don’t include Patrick O’Brian in this list, because in his case I would argue his writing does rise up to the level of “literature”.)

And because I knew it before I read the book, I can’t help referring here to the Errol Flynn movie of the same name.  Here, I was pleasantly surprised.  The movie simplifies the story considerably, but whoever wrote the screenplay was evidently a fan of the novel because they got the characters – appearance, mode of speech, and all – bang right.  Flynn is Blood.  Basil Rathbone is Levasseur. Even Lionel Atwill is Col. Bishop.  (I’d say the lovely and talented Olivia DeHavilland is Arabella Bishop, but as far as Ol’ Robbo is concerned, she can be whatever she wants, wherever she wants, and she’ll still get my stamp of approval.)

Anyhoo, in my recent book-buying outburst I also picked up Sabatini’s The Sea HawkI’ll tackle that one soon and am eager to also compare it to the corresponding Flynn movie, which features the unlovely but strangely attractive Flora Robson as Elizabeth I.  Should I be equally pleased, I will push on to other Sabatini works as well.

Oh, and because ITLAP Day is as good a time as any, may I just say here that Ol’ Robbo has never, ever, been able to make it all the way through any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies without dozing off?  S’true.

At any rate, Yo-Ho, ye scurvy dogs!

 

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The Death of Stalin (2017)

Greatings, fellow port swillers!

I had wanted to see this film since the promos first came out last year, but had been unable until Netflx delivered it this weekend.

A solid, solid dark comedy about the ghastliness of the Soviet Union and the in-fighting at the top of the regime that occurred upon the death of “Uncle Joe” Stalin.  Steve Buscemi as Krushchev with Michael Palin as Molotov and Timothy Dalton as Zhukov.  Simon Russell Beale was especially sinister as Beria.

What’s really frightening about the movie is that although there are a number of historickal anomalies, mostly viz who held what position when (although Stalin really did lie comatose in a puddle of his own piss for many hours because everyone was too afraid to touch him – and served the bastard right), very few of its tonal qualities are made up:  Life under Stalin wasn’t worth a ruble; if you got on the wrong side of the regime, even for the most trivial of reasons, you were gone; and, everyone knew it and went about their lives in complete terror.  Indeed, the interactions up and down the chain of command, as well as those between the regime and the poor slaves it ruled, remind me very much of C.S. Lewis’s descriptions of the workings of hell in the Screwtape Letters.

Well worth a look.

But then I made the mistake of looking at the extra features.  In them, one of the actors went with the Trump = Stalin line in order to pitch the movie’s relevance. You know what, buddy? Fook you and the horse you rode in on. 

Do these people have even the remotest sense of actual history? The Soviets under Stalin murdered somewhere between 20 and 40 million of their own people, all in the name of secular utopianism.  Look, I’m as aware of the Donald’s flaws as much as anyone else, and can respect an honest disagreement with his personality and policies, but this kind of hyperbolic comparison is simply grotesque.  Furthermore, it’s an insult to all those who suffered and died under the Real Thing.

And on that note, I read a poll in the last week in which a majority of millennials report they would rather live under a Socialist, Communist, or Fascist state than a free-market one.  Given that collectivist totalitarianism in its various manifestations was responsible for the deaths of north of 100 million people during the 20th Century, plus the enslavement and impoverishment of countless millions more, I have to assume that these numbers are based on pure pig-ignorance of history and a misbegotten belief that the State, if properly worshipped, will hand out to everyone all the rainbows, unicorns, free pot, and free sex they could want, while making somebody else pay for it.  (Said ignorance and beliefs are not accidental, of course, but are the deliberate outcome of a generation of brainwashing at the hands of the education establishment.)

Thank Heaven none of my gels has fallen for it.  (Just the other day, Eldest was carrying on about what an idiot Marx was and how Engels’ whole worldview was dominated by his daddy-issues.)  But what are three against a mob of cultural-Marxist zombies?

Oh, and going back to “Uncle Joe”, I’d give the movie four and a half glasses out of five.  Also, if you’re interested in a much more sober look at the life and death of Stalin, I cannot recommend highly enough Simon Montefiore’s Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Youngest Gel, now a high school junior, was signed up to take a class on geosystems this year in order to satisfy her science requirement.  This class is a sort of hodge-podge of environmental studies and sociology and is widely regarded as a joke at her school.

Well, after a week of it she was so completely bored that today she shifted over to physics instead.

I hope she likes the change.  I took physics myself as a HS junior and really enjoyed it – of all the hard sciences, it was the one that made the most intuitive sense to me.

In fact, I’m doubly glad she’s out of geosystems, because this evening I found the textbook for the class that she’d left on the kitchen counter, The Cultural Landscape: An Introduction To Human Geography, AP Edition, by James M. Rubenstein (11th Ed.).  Opening it idly, I came across a section that deals with human action and sustainability.  One subsection is titled “Sustainability’s Critics” and begins:

“Some environmentally oriented critics have argued that it is too late to discuss sustainability. The World Wildlife Fund, for example, claims that the world surpassed its sustainability level around 1980.”

Gawd.  Paul Ehrlich’s population bomb rides again.

To be fair, the next paragraph summarizes the counter-argument that there is no maximum to resource availability because definitions of such change over time with the development of new technologies and shifting priorities.  (Whalebone corset stays, anybody?) Fair enough, but the final paragraph in the section reads:

“Critics and defenders of sustainable development agree that one important recommendation of the UN report [1987’s Our Common Future] has not been implemented – increased international cooperation to reduce the gap between more developed and less developed countries.  Only if resources are distributed in a more equitable manner can poorer countries reduce the gap with richer countries.”

Shorter version: Gimme a dollar.

Ol’ Robbo doesn’t remember agreeing to this proposition.  You want to know how poorer countries can “reduce the gap with richer countries”?  Rule of law, private property rights, and education. That’s how.  Without these basic building blocks, Third World kleptocracies will never be anything other than shite-holes no matter how much the UN tinkers with “equitable distribution of resources”.

A further skimming reveals other sections with titles such as “Sustainability and Inequality in our Global Village” – which seems to discuss the Trail of Tears for some reason, and “Why Is Access to Folk and Popular Culture Unequal?” – which seems to argue that it’s because the First World owns all the teevees.

As I say, I’m mighty glad she dropped all this nonsense and is plunging instead into the real world of matter, energy, and force.

UPDATE: Oh, let me just plug Peej O’ Rourke’s All The Trouble In The World here as an antidote.  In my humble opinion, it was his best book.  Alas, he’s gone quite off his rocker lately, but this analysis of the global economy from the 90’s remains ever fresh.

Anyhoo, back to the Gel, Mrs. Robbo reported that when she got home this afternoon, she found her …….doing her homework at the kitchen table.

Yikes!

“Of course, she just wants a car,” Mrs. R said, “But at this point, I don’t care what motivates her so long as she’s putting in the effort.”

Yup.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo cannot now recall whether some friend of the decanter recommended them to him or not, but I’ve been trying out the Beeb’s recent “Father Brown Mysteries” with Mark Williams in the title role.

I have to confess that after watching the first three episodes, I’m not really all that impressed.  I don’t hate the show, mind you, but I don’t feel much desire to whistle up the next DVD from Netflix, either.

For one thing, there is of course the total impossibility of translating GKC’s extremely lush writing style into a screenplay.  (The way he describes a scene is every bit as important as the substance of the scene itself.  Want a perfect example? Read his description of the arrival of Innocent Smith at Beacon House in Manalive.  It’s overwhelming.)  There’s also GKC’s overriding theme that Faith and Reason are not antithetical, but in fact are allies because God Himself is the ultimate Reason.  It’s not that the shows seem disrespectful, exactly, but that they seem to scootch past this as quickly as possible to get on with the sleuthing.  (Perhaps this was just an early hook to pull in viewers and these deeper issues get more treatment in later episodes.  I just don’t know.)

Discounting that, however, I have some other nits as well.  For instance, the show seems to not include M. Hercule Flambeau, a reformed French mastermind of thievery and Father Brown’s usual companion, at all.  In the books, Brown often delivers his piercing observations on human nature and the eternal battle between Good and Evil in his discussions with Flambeau, but here he obviously can’t.   Instead, to the extent he says anything at all, Brown’s conversation seems to be directed toward a regular cast of side characters, including a nosey church secretary, an outrageous village flirt, some kind of Eastern European maid, and a snarky chauffer, none of whom I recall from the original stories.  Then there’s the local inspector, who I’d swear had the same lines in all three episodes I watched: “I’ve got motive and opportunity, and that’s enough,” and, “I’m placing you under arrest for suspicion of the murder of [X]”.

And that’s another thing.  In the GKC stories, Father Brown (and M. Flambeau) find themselves in various locales around GB and the Continent.  All the action in the shows seems to take place in the same small village, which would lead one to think the place must be awash in blood and to wonder just how long it can last with all of its denizens being snuffed out one after another.

All that said, I don’t think Williams is especially bad in the role of Father B, although I think he’s too physically large for the part.  (Brown is supposed to be a little, unnoticeable man.)  No doubt he was cast because of his ability to bug his eyes out and purse his lips in distracted contemplation.

And on that note, I would still love to see Alec Guinness’s turn in the role.  I should think he would have been perfect.  And if I am not mistaken, I believe I read somewhere that the exposure to the Faith that Guinness received through his playing of Father Brown was a big factor in his decision to swim the Tiber himself.  (When I went to the devil’s website to find this film, I saw it was only a couple bucks.  So why not?  Guess I will see it.)

Anyhoo, I think I’d give this series two glasses of port (and maybe an extra sip) out of five.

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo must be feeling better about life these days, because I find that my zeal for acquiring new books is returned with a vengeance.

Following up on my remarks below about The Prisoner of Zenda, which I continue to enjoy, I was prompted by a discussion in an Aubrey/Maturin FacePlant group to which I belong to finally check out the works of Raphael Sabatini, to which end this evening I picked up copies of his Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk.  I chose these two title largely because I am a fan of the Errol Flynn movie versions of both.  Curiously, for all my usual crankiness about book/movie crossovers, I feel it really won’t bother me much if the novels are different from the films here. (I’ve never claimed to be consistent in my prejudices.)

While I was at it, I also picked up a copy of my first John Buchan work, The Leithen Stories: The Power-House; John Macnab; The Dancing Floor; Sick Heart River. I did this largely because every time I write a post like this one about classic adventure stories, some friend of the decanter invariably comments, “Tom, you really need to try some John Buchan.”  Whelp, here I go….

Finally, I circled back round to H. Rider Haggard and discovered that the devil’s website offers his complete Allan Quartermain series.  I picked up Volume 1 (King Solomon’s Mines – which I own in a stand-alone already – and Allan Quartermain) and Volume 2 (Allan’s Wife, Maiwa’s Revenge, and Marie).  There are something like seven volumes in all, and I plan to work my way through all of them.

This was enough impulse-buying for one go, but I also plan this fall to start expanding my collections of the works of both Kipling and Conan-Doyle, as well.

(Yes, when the Terror descends and the Antifa thugs break down the door of Port Swiller Manor and haul me away in the middle of the night, there will be ample evidence at my Anti-Revolutionary Justice and Reconciliation Tribunal to warrant a swift bullet to the back of my head.  Eh, so be it.)

Incidentally, and at least apropos of the Sabatini books, I am slightly over half-way through the trilogy of works by Hugh Thomas on the Spanish Empire:  Rivers of Gold, The Rise of the Spanish Empire from Columbus to MagellanThe Golden Empire – Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America; and, World Without End – Spain, Phillip II, and The First Global Empire.  These books were very kindly sent to Ol’ Robbo by long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory.  I must say that they are fascinating but exhausting.  Thomas is a fanatic for details, one quickly gets lost in a sea of names, and sometimes the prose goes a bit squint.  But I’m loving them and learning a great deal, since most of my prior reading regarding Colonial America focuses on the French and British, with the Spanish only making an appearance on the fringes, as it were.

One thing Thomas notes:  It seems that there is no evidence available that either the Mexica or the Inca peoples – even prior to their contacts with Europeans – had any sense of humor.  I don’t know why this struck me, except that it makes me rather sad.  It’s what happens when the individual means nothing, I suppose.  Eldest is taking a pre-Columbian Mexico/South America history course this semester as part of her major requirement.  I must remember to bring this point up with her and see if she has any insights into it.

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, Ol’ Robbo happened to catch “The Prisoner of Zenda” (1952), with Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, and James Mason, on TCM.  It was, like every other Granger movie I’ve seen, okay, if not exactly overwhelming. (Further, Kerr has never done much for me, either.  Mason, on the other hand, is one of those actors you enjoy watching no matter how good or bad the film is.)

I mention this because it immediately brought to mind the novel Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser.**  Not that I dislike it, but this is probably one of my least favorite of the Flashman Papers largely because it is so derivative of the novel The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, on which the movie is based.  (GMF gets around this by claiming Flashy told Hope about his adventure, thus inspiring Hope to write his novel.  Clever, but still…...)

Anyhoo, this convergence prompted Ol’ Robbo to nip over to the devil’s website and buy a copy of Hope’s novel, which I have been meaning to read for some years now because of the GMF connection.  I’ll let you know what I think.

**Yes, there’s a movie version of this, too, with Malcolm McDowell.  GMF did the screenplay himself, but I can’t recommend the film.

UPDATE: The lovely and talented Sleepy Beth has a post up about an unexpectedly good experience with a screen version of one of her favorite books, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  Unfortunately, Blogsplat’s anti-bot comment guard is fritzing again so I couldn’t respond over at her place.  This is what I tried to say:

I’m happy for you [Beth] that you found a good crossover. (I’m unfamiliar with this particular book.) You’ve hung around my blog long enough to know my general opinion of that sort of thing! ; )

On that front, I still maintain that the single best screen adaptation of a novel I’m aware of is the Merchant/Ivory treatment of A Room With A View. (Granted, I only read Forster’s novel once or twice, so am not exactly a “fan”, but he has a pretty straight-forward descriptive style which seems to lend itself to screenplay adaptation.)

The Coen Brothers would have beat that in my estimation with their adaptation of Charles Portis’s True Grit (of which I AM a fan) IF they had stuck to the novel. They got the tone, the characters, the language, and the overall feel absolutely bang-right. But for reasons beyond me, they felt compelled to add some frivolous bits and pieces of their own (Mattie cutting down a hanged man; the weird fellah with the bear head hat), and to gratuitously re-do one of the show-down scenes. I can accept (grudgingly) that concessions must be made when changing media, but I don’t accept non-necessary ones.  Grrrrrr.

And circling back round to the initial topic of this post, the devil’s website promptly delivered a copy of The Prisoner of Zenda to Port Swiller Manor this afternoon.  Ol’ Robbo read the first chapter over his din-dins this evening (Mrs. R being absent) and I can definitely say that somebody like David Niven would have been far better than Granger in the movie adaptation: the hero is immediately established as a polished, blasé, smart-ass.

Oh, and as long as I’m on this subject, let me recommend to you (perhaps again) the Beeb’s 1978 teevee production of “Much Ado About Nothing” with Cherie Lunghi and Robert Lindsay as Beatrice and Benedict.  I’m not saying Thompson and Branagh ripped it off and then put it over the top to boost ticket sales but, well, yes I am…..

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, I suppose this is the last day of Ol’ Robbo’s bachelor stay-at-home week, as the ladies of the house start returning to Port Swiller Manor tomorrow.  Some odds and ends, then:

♦  I really wanted to devote this week to getting back into some serious exercise, and I’m happy to report that I’ve been good about it. I’ve been alternating daily between an hour’s routine on the treadmill that involves hand-weights as well, and a half-hour on the rowing machine.  Not only have I felt an immediate effect in muscle-tone, I’m also rediscovering the sweet, sweet rush known to endorphin junkies.  The big challenge will be maintaining this once I go back to work. (It’s tough to keep motivated after an hour’s hot commute home in the evening.)

♦  Related, I suppose, I finally broke down and bought some new khakis and dress shirts for the office.  I really dislike clothes-shopping for some reason and generally wear my old things until they disintegrate or else Mrs. R gets disgusted and throws them away behind my back.  (This what I might call “disgust event horizon” has been a topic of some occasional controversy between us over the years.)

♦  I’ve also spent a good bit of time this week reading.  Currently I am a little over half way through Rivers of Gold: The Rise of the Spanish Empire by Hugh Thomas, kindly sent to me by long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory.  It goes far deeper into the Spanish conquests in the Americas (and elsewhere) than Ol’ Robbo has previously studied, discussing in considerable (I should at times say too much) detail not just the voyages of people like Columbus and Magellan, and the routes of the conquistadores such as Balboa, Ponce de Leon, and Cortez, but also the treatment of the natives, the bureaucracy of Caribbean colonization, its relationship to Old Spain, and the historickal context of the whole shebang.  (Fun fact: Mrs. Robbo’s father’s family were Sephardic Jews who were chucked out of Spain during the Inquisition.) And much to his credit, although Thomas is a modern author, he lays it all out pretty objectively: There is very, very little 21st Century virtue-signaling.

And that’s about it for this week, apart from watching movies and ballgames (and, of course, ministering to attention-craving cats and dog).  Next weekend the Elder Gels are off to college, so Ol’ Robbo really wanted nothing more than to relax and take a deep, long breath, so to speak, before that happens.

Oh, I should add that I have paid almost no attention to the nooz this week, not even to most of my go-to blogs like Ace and Insty. It’s been mighty refreshing!

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Last evening, Ol’ Robbo watched an early ’80’s Beeb production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

This particular version – and I’ve never seen a good one on screen although I’ve seen several good stage productions – is pretty meh.   The Beeb’s attempts at Ye Faerie Lande sound and light effects are distracting without being effective, and there’s a wee bit too much grabby-hands going on between Oberon and Puck.  On the other hand, the Rude Mechanicals are pretty amusing, and it does feature the shmokin’ young Helen Mirren as Titania, so by law cannot be a complete loss.

Anyhoo, I found myself chuckling with delight over a passage I had not fully appreciated before.   As you recall, Helena, in the story, is besotted with Demetrius, who himself doesn’t care much for her one way or the other.  In throwing herself at him as he tries to elude her, at one point she pleads:

And even for that [Demetrius’s scorn] do I love you the more. I am your spaniel. And, Demetrius, The more you beat me, I will fawn on you. Use me but as your spaniel—spurn me, strike me, Neglect me, lose me. Only give me leave, Unworthy as I am, to follow you. What worser place can I beg in your love—

As it happened, the Port Swiller family spaniel was right beside me on the sofa when Helena spoke this line, even then eagerly seeking attention at any price her own self.

Hence my amusement.

Ours is the first spaniel I’ve ever really known.  Her passive-aggressive fawning is a standing family joke.  (As is her limited intelligence – the cats are far smarter than she is.) Evidently she’s not unique to her breed in this, or Ol’ Will never would have gone with the metaphor.  I appreciate it all the more now from my own experiences.

 

 

 

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

This past Sunday marked the first anniversary of the death of my mother.

As regular friends of the decanter might have noticed, losing the Mothe hit Ol’ Robbo very hard indeed, as we were extremely close.  (It was nothing like this when the Old Gentleman shuffled off eleven years ago, as we were more distant.)  Also, the circumstances were such that I didn’t get a chance to have that last talk with her that I’d been counting on.  As a result, I’ve spent a good chunk of the last year in a state of grief bordering, I suppose, on clinical depression – withdrawn, disinterested, physically exhausted, all that sort of thing.  It was more or less constant at first, and although by this spring it became a more occasional thing, when the blue devils hit, they still hit hard.

Mrs. R suggested a few times that I ought to go “see somebody”, but I always resisted.  In the first place, I already knew perfectly well what the trouble was.  In the second, I knew that any trick-cyclist I consulted would probably try to put me on happy pills, and Ol’ Robbo wants none of that, thank you very much.  (I prefer to deal with my sorrows the old-fashioned way – by drowning them.)

No, instead I relied on what both my godfather (who deals with geriatric issues in his medical practice) and my priest (who lost his mother two or three years ago) said: Grief is perfectly natural, the first year is the hardest, and things will get better. “Time, the Great Healer” and all that.

Nonetheless, I felt a distinct dread as the anniversary approached that I’d be wracked by a fresh outburst.

But you know what?  As the day progressed, I instead started getting the unexpected feeling that a corner had finally been turned. I hate the expression “move on”, but I could really feel something inside saying that I had mourned long enough and that it was now okay to allow myself to get back into the swing of things.  And I did just that: I prayed harder at Mass than I have in a long time; I spent the afternoon terrifying myself by reading Karl Keating; I had a really good workout on the treadmill; and then in the evening I watched an opera on DVD (Mozart’s “Abduction” – a Covent Gardens performance with Solti conducting and Kurt Moll thoroughly chewing up the part of Osmin) for the first time in I don’t know how long.

Does this mean the blue devils are gone for good? Probably not.  But I really do feel that the worst of it is finally over.

It’s a good thing, too, not just for me but for the Family Robbo as well.  It certainly hasn’t been easy for Mrs. R and the Gels to have me moping about all this time, and they’ve certainly had their work cut out for them by trying to be supportive while keeping their distance (I am a querulous patient when ill and generally wish to be left alone).  Hopefully, they can now put aside their worrying about me.

Anyhoo, here we are.  (Sorry to spout.  Ol’ Robbo doesn’t generally like to use this place to spill his guts but I just felt I had to get this one out there.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo found an odd spam comment in his filter this morning that read, in part, “Janice rolled her eyes and groaned, fought to regulate her temper then stabbed her forefinger at Musica.”

By a remarkable coincidence, I had just been groaning, fighting to regulate my temper, and stabbing my finger, too, although I was stabbing it at my checkbook as I completed putting together amended tax returns for 2016.  (It turns out somebody had muffed a withholding on a payout, and Uncle spotted the discrepancy.)

Anyhoo, once the returns were sealed up, I toddled over to our local branch post office to mail them out.  It features one of those touch-screen do-it-yourself scale and stamp-generator contraptions, and when I had finished weighing things and buying the postage, its screen lit up with the words, “Thank you.  It has been a pleasure serving you today.”

Who knew the USPO had contracted with the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation?  (I wouldn’t have been the least surprised if it had murmured “Share and Enjoy” as it spit out my stamps.)  At least it didn’t try to serve me a small plastic cup containing a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

Still irked at having Uncle dip his hand into the Robbo pockets again, I said, “Go stick your head in a pig.”

The fellah in line behind me looked…..distinctly alarmed.

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