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For all of Ol’ Robbo’s interest in historickal matters, I readily admit that I have been woefully remiss about tracking the last year and a half or so of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. My apologies. However, I certainly am not going to allow the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Lee to Grant at Appomattox Court House to go by without some mention here.
Chiefly, I like to think that the surrender showed the best of both men. Grant’s relentless pursuit finally won him the complete victory he deserved, and yet with his enemy completely at his mercy he was more than generous and humane in his conquest. Lee, recognizing check-mate, conceded like a true gentleman. One wonders what would have happened had Lee been able to make it to Danville or Lynchburg, resupply and slip away down the rail line to join up with Joe Johnson somewhere in North Carolina. Of course, Grant and Sherman eventually would have caught and crushed their combined force, but it would have meant more time and more blood and one wonders how much patience the North would have had with such an additional price.
Oh, speaking of which, I saw a number of posters on Facebook and elsewhere calling this day the “end of the war”. Not true. Lee only surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia. Joe Johnson didn’t surrender to Sherman in North Carolina until a couple weeks later. The last official battle of the war, at Palmito Ranch near Brownsville, Texas, wasn’t fought until May 12. Various units of the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi didn’t surrender until late June, at which time the northern naval blockade of southern ports was finally lifted. President Johnson didn’t declare the complete official end of the “insurrection” until August, 1866.
So I reckon I’ve actually got another year and a half or so of being able to use the word “sesquicentennial” about the Civil War.
Anyhoo, what I really wanted to talk about was this: Ol’ Robbo began taking daily lunchtime walks last fall because his doc kept yelling at him about his lack of exercise. Generally, I have been doing a loop on the National Mall from about the height of the Air & Space Museum west to 14th Street (just short of the Washington Monument). Coupled with the distance from my office to the Mall, it’s two miles and change – a nice little circuit if walked briskly enough.
Well, that section of the Mall is now being dug up as part of a general refurbishing of pipes and drainage and things and is really not that pleasant a jaunt anymore. So last week, I turned the other way and started a loop from 7th Street east down to the Grant Memorial.
Almost twenty-five years of lurking around Your Nation’s Capital and I’d never even seen said memorial before. Perhaps this was just as well, because having spent the last ten or fifteen years reading and rereading Grant’s Memoirs and Bruce Catton’s definitive studies of the man’s campaigns, I was all the more delighted with Henry Shrady’s statue of the man. (All images from here on down stolen from Wiki.)
You can get it somewhat from this pic, that sense of Grant’s solid, stolid, unflappable calm, coupled with his near self-depricating modesty and reserve. The slouched hat, the lowered chin and the raised collar and cape make him look almost like a turtle snugging down in its shell. Even from a long way up the Mall, if you know anything about the man, you look at that statue and say, “Yup, that’s Sam Grant all right.”
This is a wintery depiction, what with the bundling up and the wind at his back, so it makes me think of both the Battle of Fort Donelson and the relief of Chattanooga. The former was Grant’s first really serious taste of big time battle. The latter was a brilliant (but largely unsung) piece of tactical and logistical generalship which, I would argue, rivaled anything done by Bobby Lee. In these fights, as in all his others, Grant’s key to success was the same as that popular expression flying about the innertoobs these days: He kept calm and he carried on.
By the way, some people like to dismiss Grant by arguing that he had the North’s huge advantage in manpower and material at his back, so of course he was going to win. Yeah, ask George McClellan how that worked out for him.
As you can tell, I am an enormous admirer of Grant, not just for his prowess in battle, but also for his character as a whole. In addition to the books I mention above, another good one is H.W. Brands’ The Man Who Saved The Union: Ulysses Grant In War And Peace. If you read Grant himself and Catton, you probably can skip the first part of this book because it’s just a condensed version of them. The second part, though, is an informative study of Grant’s presidency and his efforts to impose Reconstruction on the South. Grant is maligned for the corruption that characterized his administration but this is really unfair. He did his best to fight it, but he simply wasn’t a politician. As for Reconstruction, considering the bad blood and teh forces (cough, Southern Democrats, cough) fighting against it, he really did about as good a job as one could hope for.
Oh, back to the Memorial. As I say, I love the statue of Grant. I also love the contrasting, highly dramatic statues of the cavalry charge and the artillery team that flank it. However, I think I don’t especially care for the overall effect. The flanking groups are done on a smaller scale. Also, I think they’re spaced too far apart from Grant’s statue. The overall effect is to make the thing too wide and, in my opinion, disjointed, the whole idea of Grant’s calm above the chaos being lost a bit through distillation.
Of course, what the heck do I know about sculpture. Also, most days when I walk by, I’m busy trying to navigate shoals of high school tourons, so perhaps this causes me to become a tad jaundiced.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers! A toast, if you please, to the memory of actor James Best, whose death at the age of 88 was announced today. Requiescat in pace.
Best is, ah, best known for his portrayal of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane in the teevee series The Dukes of Hazzard, but anyone who spends any time at all watching old westerns will also remember that back in the day he seemed to have had an awful lot of minor parts in them, always playing one of the bad guy’s henchmen or a member of the posse or a ranch hand. From what I know, Best never had much by way of dialogue, but he was a predictable part of the ensemble. Frankly, I admire workaday actors of that sort much more than I do the sooperstar snowflake types.
As a matter of fact, I never much bought Best as one of the baddies. He always came across as so…..nice. Which is why I think he worked so well as Sheriff Roscoe, who was bumbling and corrupted, but ultimately good-hearted.
And yes, I watched them Duke boys loyally in my misspent yoot. And no, I didn’t just watch so to see Daisy sporting cut-offs. (That was a mere bonus.) Got a problem with that? Remember: For all ol’ Robbo’s crankiness about matters of High Art, he also has an earthier side free of condescension and snobbery. After all, for all I am on about Bach and Handel, Mozart and Haydn, I also derive great pleasure singing along to Joe Diffie’s “Pickup Man”.
Eh. As Popeye says, I ams what I ams, and that’s what I ams.
Speaking of Sheriff Roscoe, a bit of Duke Boy trivia for you: John “Bo Duke” Schneider bought the house my parents built in the (then) exurbs of San Antonio. Not from them, but (I think) from the people who bought it from the ‘rents when the Old Gentleman retired and they moved away.
* Those who know will know.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Last evening while I was chatting with the Eldest Gel, she said apropos her new driving privileges, “Now that I’m seventeen, I can see any movie I want!”
“No you can’t,” I replied, “Legally you can see R-rated movies now, but just because something’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right and I don’t want you filling yourself up on a lot the trash that’s out there these days. It rots the soul. You know my standards: If I find out you’ve snuck off to something inappropriate, I’ll take your keys.”
She looked at me like Cortez’s men with a wild surmise for a few moments, and then went into her latest rant to the effect that she believes I’m really a vampire born in the 18th Century who refuses to conform to the modern world.
Well, it’s certainly a theory……
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Recently, ol’ Robbo has been making his way through the extra features of the Netflix copy of “Young Frankenstein“, one of my perpetual favorites. Among said extras are a set of outtakes, a feature that, should ol’ Robbo ever become Emperor of the World, would be mandatory for all movie distributions.
Anyhoo, while watching said outtakes, I was again reminded of one of Robbo’s Iron Rules: There is nothing, nothing, funnier than watching people trying not to laugh. I don’t know why, but there it is.
Now, I will go out on a limb here, reputation-wise, to support my assertion. One of Robbo’s guilty pleasures is the movie “Porky’s“. Not because of the T&A. Not because of the crudity. Instead, because the people who put this movie together get this Rule. I give you, as Exhibit A, the scene in the principal’s office (back-story probably not required):
There are several more such scenes, equally crude I’ll allow, but also as effective.
As I say, I don’t know why this sort of thing is teh funny. All I know is that, well, it is.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Well, I don’t know if this counts as an attack of bad luck or not, but it wasn’t until after ol’ Robbo got to his office this morning that he discovered he was supposed to have today off. D’oh! However, now that he’s back home at Port Swiller Manor, a few odds and ends for you:
♦ Idly flipping through an alumni magazine, I came across this opening paragraph: “When I was growing up and a student at [Skool], the word “disruptive” would have had negative connotations. Disruptive people were troublemakers: they acted in unruly and disorderly ways. Now its meaning in business and technology has taken a 360-degree turn. Being disruptive signifies creating innovations that improve the existing order, typically in unexpected ways.”
Growing up in Texas, I heard a lot of Aggie jokes. One of my favorites (well, among those suitable to a family-friendly blog) was about the two Aggies who get caught in a violent thunderstorm while flying a small plane to College Station. As the plane gets tossed about, one of the Aggies turns to the other and yells, “Let’s do a 360 and get the hell out of here!”
♦ Michael Strain has a note on Dee Cee bike lanes and the law of unintended consequences. All that he says is very true, but I still prefer having the damned cyclists off to one side instead of clogging up the travel lanes, which they do constantly and, IMHO, deliberately. Arrogant wankers, the lot of ’em.
♦ It would seem that I’m a real man. Good to know. Which reminds me: When I went in for my physical last week and was chatting with my doc, I mentioned that all the gels are teenagers now. She immediately said, “Wow, do you need a man cave!” So the next time Mrs. Robbo gives me any grief about hiding out here, I’ve got my “Doctor’s orders” defense nicely teed up.
♦ Because it’s gotten to be a thing here, two more Star Trek:TOS episodes –
“Miri” – An adult-killing plague caused by scientists trying to prevent aging. First use of the Alt-Earth scheme, although the crew seems surprisingly unsurprised to find an exact duplicate of early 60’s Earth at the other end of the Galaxy. Also the first use of the gang of feral kids and their special words (“grups and onlies”) theme. And I believe the first instance of Bones saying something snide about Spock’s green blood. The title character was played by Kim Darby, who was also Mattie Ross in the John Wayne version of “True Grit” where she was, unfortunately, rayther a weak link with her gosh-darn perkiness. (Hailee Stenfield, OTOH, gets Mattie absolutely bang right in the remake, a movie I would love if the Coen brothers hadn’t felt compelled to muck about with the plot.)
“Dagger of the Mind” – Supposedly enlightened warden of a penal colony turns out to be a maniac playing God with his prisoners’ minds. James Gregory, the warden, will always be Inspector Luger to me, no matter what movie or show he’s in. And Marianna Hill, as a member of the Enterprise’s medical staff, is quite the cupcake. (Which see.)
I’m finding these shows to be pretty well-written, each setting up a discrete dilemma and then deftly solving it, although the assumptions and values displayed therein seem almost archaic 50 years on and are proving to be a stark and sobering reminder of how far we’ve slid into the pit as a culture.
♦ Oh, speaking of which, I suppose tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Feh.
♦ Finally, I’m having entirely too much fun being enigmatic about whether or not eldest gel gets a car for her upcoming 17th birthday. MWAAAA-HAHAHA!!!!!
Whelp, that’s it for the moment. Here’s hoping it’s going to be warmer this weekend wherever you are than it will be here!
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Let me start this post by assuring you again that ol’ Robbo is not a geek!
Having said that, on a whim a few weeks back I tossed Star Trek: TOS into the ol’ Netflix queue. The first of them showed up in the Port Swiller mailbox this afternoon.
Ol’ Robbo’s first encounter with ST:TOS was in elementary school in the mid 70’s, where he watched it in reruns on weekday afternoons in the school cafeteria while waiting of the bus to show up. Suffice to say, he was enamored of the whole space-exploration genre in general and of the adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise in particular. Hey, you can’t blame a kid for dreaming of the stars.
I watched the series again in high school, when it ran on a late night weekend scify program on one of our local broadcast stations, (obviously, I didn’t date much back then.) and enjoyed it again, with much the same reaction.
Anyhoo, this is the first time I’m going through the series as anything approaching an adult. And the new perspective, well, interests me.
As to “The Man Trap”: I had not before realized that this was the very first episode. Back in the day, the salt monster scared the willies out of me. Now? Well, I rayther see her way of thinking. If I had suction claws, I’d be all over the local supply, too. Indeed, I like the cut of her jib and would subscribe to her newsletter.
As to “Charlie X”: Jesus. Mary. Joseph. My own dealings with a dumbass, headstrong 17 y.o. (but I repeat myself) have been bad enough. Were she equipped with cosmic powers? Yeek! As Count Floyd would say, “Really scary, huh kids?”
So there’s that. More observations as the series progresses.
Oh, I should mention also that the Netflix DVD’s are of the cleaned-up series, not the original broadcast. Frankly, I think this is cheating. Not quite akin to the whole Han Shot First thing, but of the same nature.
My post below touching on the Star Trek movie I happened to have chosen to watch the evening I unexpectedly met Mrs. Robbo generated a fair bit of “wow, how did you dodge that bullet” commentary with respect to my choice, so I thought I would follow up with a completely gratuitous post summarizing my opinion of the franchise as a whole.
Mind you, I am NOT a “Trekkie”. Yes, along with many others of my age, in my misspent yoot I spent a lot of weekday afternoons watching and loving reruns of the original series. Yes, certain words and phrases from the series have made it into the Robbo lexicon. Yes, I built a model or two of the Enterprise. (For what it’s worth, I also had models of the Galactica, a Colonial Viper, an X-Wing and a TIE-Fighter. I also built 1/48 scale models of most of the Allied fighters and bombers of WWII and hung them from my bedroom ceiling.) Yes, I was excited that the teevee series made it on to the big screen. And yes, I know all about the Kobayashi Maru test.
But that’s it. Totes serially. I never owned a costume. I never sought an autograph. I never went to a convention. I have never owned a “Star Fleet Academy” rear-window decal. I never sought to learn how to speak Klingon. And I never, ever, believed that the United Federation of Planets was any kind of political model for the real world.
I’m normal. NORMAL, I tell you!
Which is all to say that the following rankings are both completely subjective and probably shallow and ill-informed as well. I don’t care.
Anyhoo, here we go:
The Original Series Movies
1st – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. A no-brainer, amirite? A perfectly balanced film bringing out all the TOS tropes while also encapsulating the glories of space travel (the scene where the Enterprise leaves space dock always chokes me up) and setting up a classic submarine chess match between Kirk and Khan. I like this film so much that I don’t even snicker at Scotty’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” on the pipes toward the end. Without looking it up, I believe that even the late Prog New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael described it as “wonderful, dumb fun”.
2nd (tie) – Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Two very different films with two very different sets of strengths and weaknesses which balance each other out in my mind. ST4-TVH has a lot of anti-Reagan platitudes and hippy-dippy nature cant, but it holds up in terms of the chemistry among the main characters. ST6-TUC would have been a much better film, but it spends too much time in dry, tedious Sherlock Holmes-like questing for clues surrounding its central mystery. (I say nothing of the fact that its main theme musick was a complete rip-off of “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Gustov Holst’s The Planets.)
4th (tie) – Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Two films that, in my mind at least, shared the same fatal flaw in that both were so arch about themselves and the Universe they portrayed as to cross the border into camp. The plot of STIII-SFS was reasonably sound and could have been done quite well, but was squandered in its execution – the whole disabling of the Excelsior, for example. STV-TFF, on the other hand, while also carrying a not-unreasonable plot, was just….well, bad all around.
6th – Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Yep, sucked. By golly, unless you weren’t there yourself, you don’t know the disappointment felt by a 14 y.o. boy of my previous Trek experience when this dog of a film hit the big screen, Bald Babe notwithstanding. Personally, I blame Jimmy Carter.
The Next Generation Movies
Before getting to the films, I will say that I hated the first season or two of ST:TNG on teevee because it bent all over itself to show how politically correct it was: Psychiatric counselor (in homespun body suit) on the bridge; Model U.N. -type captain; nary a shot fired in anger; constant apologies for Mankind’s perceived past transgressions against Mother Universe. However, after a while, the show seemed to calm down and turn its attention to teh stars out there instead of gazing at its own navel. (Well, okay, there was a good bit of the multiple personalities of Data and the, ah, doings of Riker on the holideck, but you know what I mean.)
Anyhoo, I never cared as much about any of the TNG films as I did of teh TOS ones, probably because I never totally accepted the TNG premise. Nonetheless, here we go:
1st – Star Trek TNG: First Contact. I always thought the Borg, the ultimate sci-fi manifestation of Collective Progressivism, was the single greatest idea to come out of the minds of the TNG writers, however ironically. I also liked the film’s easy treatment of the personalities and relationships that had evolved among the TNG Enterprise’s crew over the prior teevee seasons. Instead of having to prove themselves, the characters seemed to be having fun.
2nd – Star Trek TNG: Generations. Weeeeell, it was okay, and I suppose a reasonably good hand-over, although I always laugh at the scene in which Kirk is cooking an omelet and directing Picard to fetch him various spices. What bothers me is TMW – Too Much Whoopie. (I could never stand her Guinan character.)
3rd (tie) – Star Trek TNG: Insurrection and Star Trek TNG: Nemesis. Whelp, I admit I don’t recall much of either film. One had to do with a planet of Enlightened Vegan, Free-Range Baby-boom Volvo Drivers. The other had to do with some kind of Evil Picard Clone doing Bad Things. Frankly, it was all pretty dull.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
As many of you probably know, yesterday was the anniversary of the birth, in 1756, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Last week, as part of its month-long celebration of Mozart’s birth, the local classickal station chose as its CD “pick of the week” a recording that included a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, various movements of which received multiple plays during the course of the week.
This made ol’ Robbo smile because of a certain passage in Patrick O’Brian’s The Letter of Marque. (WARNING: If you are not an aficionado of the Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin canon, the rest of this post won’t make much sense to you. I can only suggest that you drop whatever else you’re doing and go start in on these books right now. Right. Now.) In it, Jack and Stephen are talking in the cabin of the Surprise when Jack suddenly breaks his train of thought about other matters and exclaims, “….Surely that is not the “Marseillaise” you are picking out?”
Stephen had his ‘cello between his knees and for some time now he had been very quietly stroking two or three phrases with variations upon them – a half-conscious playing that interrupted neither his talk nor his listening. ‘It is not,’ he said. ‘It is, or rather it is meant to be, the Mozart piece that was no doubt lurking somewhere in the Frenchman’s mind when he wrote it. Yet something eludes me…..”
‘Stephen,’ cried Jack. ‘Not another note, I beg. I have it exactly, if only it don’t fly away.’ He whipped the cloth off his violin-case, tuned roughly, and swept straight into the true line. After a while, Stephen joined him, and when they were thoroughly satisfied they stopped, tuned very exactly, passed the rosin to and fro and so returned to the direct statement, to variations upon it, inversions, embroideries, first one setting out a flight of improvisations while the other filled in and then the other doing the same, playing on and on until a lee-lurch half-flung Stephen from his seat, so that his ‘cello gave a dismal screech.
I smiled because the Mozart to which Stephen referred was, in fact, one of the secondary themes of the first movement of this particular concerto. I give it you here. The orchestra first states it in the minor at about 1:34, then repeats in the major at 1:42 and 1:48. The piano gets in on the act at 6:53 and makes a full, triumphant statement of the theme at 7:32. It never really goes away for the rest of the movement. Enjoy!
You must admit that it is quite engaging, and readily capable of earwig-like lurking once installed in one’s head. (And before anybody starts pointing out the differences between this theme and that of the “Marseillaise”, bear in mind that Stephen specifically states that the former is “lurking” in the Frenchman’s mind. It’s an influence, not a direct match.)
I must confess that there are times, when reading O’Brian’s magnum opus, that I am not altogether sure he really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to musick. But this one is a safe and pleasant bet.
*A reference to another literary work. 10 points for spotting it and The Mothe is disqualified from playing because it would be a gimme for her.
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Poking about in Wiki, ol’ Robbo noticed that today is the anniversary of the birth (in 1919) of long-time Hollywood stalwart Robert Stack.
My first exposure to Stack (and to Leslie Nielsen) was the 1980 disaster movie lampoon “Airplane!”, which I thought so damned funny that I literally fell out of my seat at the theater laughing. (35 years and umpteen viewings later, I still think it’s hy-larious.) But it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I first saw the John Wayne movie “The High and the Mighty”, in which Stack played a pilot who cracked under pressure, that I realized his performance in “Airplane” was largely a riff on that role. Although I’m pretty sure I wasn’t meant to, I also found myself rolling on the floor and laughing while watching Stack in “THATM” as a result.
Chronology has consequences.
I mention Nielson in this context because I experience the same sensation whenever I come across his earlier work. For instance, he was the ship’s captain in “The Poseidon Adventure”, as well as the commander in “Forbidden Planet” – which was an important forerunner of the Roddenberry/Lucas/Spielberg line of outer space flicks. As serious as these roles were supposed to be, I couldn’t help expecting him to suddenly say, “And don’t call me Shirley” and fart.
Interestingly, I do not have these feelings with respect to Peter Graves and Lloyd Bridges, who also did some self-parody in “Airplane!” I can only suppose this is because I had already seen them in other roles, so was inoculated against the effect.
Stack died a few years back, but I’m sure he must have been aware that a whole generation of movie-goers would only remember him for his self-parody, instead of the underlying body of his work on which it was based. If he was teh pro that I believe he was, I suppose his reaction would be to shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, that show-biz. And don’t call me Shirley.”
UPDATE: Regular friend of the decanter NOVACurmudgeon calls me out for failing to mention Stack’s work as Eliot Ness. Fair enough, although this was not directly related to the flying link. In fact, I will go so far as to say that Stack IS Ness, IS the actor who defined the character on screen.
Old hands here will know that this is a favorite hare of ol’ Robbo’s. There are simply some connections of actors and characters that cannot be broken. In addition to Stack/Ness, I give you some other examples:
Adam West IS Batman.
Bill Shatner IS James Tiberius Kirk.
As fond as I am of Peter Ustinov, David Sachet IS Hercule Poirot.
As fond as I am of Basil Rathbone, Jeremy Brett IS Sherlock Holmes.
Margaret Hamilton IS the Wicked Witch of the West.
And so on. Some chemistry, some combination of factors, sets the mold, which must then be broken. And ol’ Robbo will have no truck with reboots, retreads or Johnny-come-lately wannabes who attempt to put it back together again.
*Thumps table. Glares all around.*
Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
Last evening the boys and girls down the Cathedral put on their annual Lessons and Carols Festivus and this year the thing was live streamed and YooToobed. Teh Middle Gel and her crew do their stuff starting at about 51:30. She is in the second row, third from the right. (Co-incidentally, the soloist was a classmate of teh Eldest Gel in middle school at Robbo’s parish.)
I put this up here mainly for the benefit of the Mothe, who lives too far away to see teh Gel in action in person, but I have to confess that I also am motivated by my immense pride in what she is doing. I can only ask your indulgence and hope that, at least amongst the longer-standing friends of the decanter, you understand the combination of my intense love of musick and my sincere delight in my offsprings’ achievements that compels me, and do not come away with the impression that ol’ Robbo is simply sticking on side.
(For what it’s worth, BTW, I’m told that none of the choir particularly liked the piece they sang. But that’s showbiz.)