savesweetbriarGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Well, earlier today Mrs. Robbo and teh Eldest Gel, along with Mrs. Former Llama Military Correspondent and teh Middle Gel’s godmother, joined some 600-odd other alumnae to descend on Sweet Briar College and welcome the undergrads returning from spring break.   You can go here to see some vid of the event, and here to see some pics.  I would have posted some pics here myself, but apparently, “Now be sure to send them to my email account because I can’t copy them on to the blog otherwise” is some kind of weirdo moon-man language to my bride and offspring.   (Perhaps I will be able to update.)

Anyhoo, Mrs. R and teh Eldest report that the event went off very well.  The undergrads seemed truly moved by the show of support and I think the message to the Nazgul board and president that the Vixens mean business was duly reenforced.

In the meantime, it was reported today that the Saving Sweet Briar pledges have now topped $3 million.  This evening, Mrs. R told me that something even bigger is afoot, but she couldn’t give details about it.  (Fact is, I couldn’t have reported them anyway.  Mrs. R will never believe me that I simply can’t understand her when she’s using speakerphone in her car.)  Stand by for more news on this front this week.

Also, I heard this morning regarding the elderly retired dining hall employee I mentioned below who is being thrown out of her on-campus cottage, that a number of alumnae have volunteered to step up and ensure that, if she can’t in the end stay there, they will take care of her and ensure that she’s not left out on the street.

Perhaps not altogether by coincidence, Father McA’s homily at Mass today centered on the felix culpa, the “happy fault”.  Wiki has a pretty good explanation of this:

The Latin expression felix culpa derives from the writings of St. Augustine regarding the Fall of Man, the source of original sin: “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” (in Latin: Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere.)  The phrase appears in lyric form sung annually in the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil: “O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem,” “O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.” The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas cited this line when he explained how the principle that “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom” underlies the causal relation between original sin and the Divine Redeemer’s Incarnation, thus concluding that a higher state is not inhibited by sin. The Catholic saint Ambrose also speaks of the fortunate ruin of Adam in the Garden of Eden in that his sin brought more good to humanity than if he had stayed perfectly innocent.

 (Just as an aside, anything that cites Augustine, Aquinas and Ambrose is almost automatically going to get ol’ Robbo’s hearty endorsement.)

That these alumnae are (reportedly) willing to step up and help out the poor dining hall lady is, I believe, an illustration of this principle.  So, too, in a different way, has been the threatened closure of the school on teh Eldest Gel.  This is one of the first serious blows in her life, and she’s learned from it a thing or two about rolling with the punches.  Also, she’s never gotten actively involved in a movement like this before, so the lesson in civic participation is a good one.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, from our conversations about it I’m convinced that she truly understands she’s not just in this thing for her own future, but also for all the other alumnae, undergrads and potential Vixens out there.

Felix culpa, indeed.



UPDATE:  Reportedly, the number of participants was closer to a thousand.  Nice teevee piece in the link.

Pi_pie2Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy 3.14.15!

Teh gels celebrated the curious date by having some pie with breakfast.

I, not caring much for pie in the morning, instead went out in the garden in the rain and cut back my butterfly bushes, (known around here as teh Children of Kong) while Mrs. R stood on the porch sounding like Estelle Costanza.  (“Georgie! What are you doing?”)

Not really a celebration, of course, more just something that needed to be done.  Buddleia is supposed to be cut back in late winter but it’s been so cold and snowy this year that I haven’t had a chance before today.  And given that it’s already mid-March, there’s more than a decent possibility that the growing season is going to come on eftsoons and without warning here in the great Commonwealth of Virginny.

Sweet Briar Update:  I’ll have more to say on this tomorrow hopefully (see below), but things are starting to get warmer and warmer.  This morning’s Roanoke Times is calling for the school’s Board to resign.  There’s a lot of interesting new financials, but here’s the money quote:

College President James Jones has said: “To save Sweet Briar we would need $250 million into the permanent endowment tomorrow morning.”


To put that figure in context: Hollins University has an endowment of $180 million and seems to be doing just fine. Ferrum College has an endowment of only $50 million and it’s been increasing enrollment — which also seems to run counter to Jones’ other assertion that small colleges in rural areas are having trouble attracting students. He also said the nearest Starbucks was 30 minutes away and that was a problem in recruiting; it’s really about 20 minutes.

You know who does have an endowment of $250 million? The University of Maryland.

Does it really take a Maryland-sized endowment to save a school of 500 or so students when the rest of the balance sheet doesn’t look completely out of whack?

If the Sweet Briar trustees are so absolutely convinced that closing is the only responsible option, here’s what they could do: Resign.

Sweet Briar’s alumnae are now actively engaged in trying to raise money to save the school. Let them take over. If the existing board is right, then a new board would surely come to the same, sobering conclusion.

At worst, a new board would spend down some more of the endowment, but at the rate things have been going, the college’s overall net value might still increase as it has in the past year.

But if the existing board is wrong, well, there is that risk of being proven wrong.

Read the whole thing.  It dovetails nicely with that Powerline article Capt. Ed dropped in the comments here yesterday, especially with respect to the role of interim president Jim Jones:

But of course Jones is your typical mediocre liberal. This fragment from the Slate story gives away the whole game in one compact sentence:

Speaking with IHE, Sweet Briar College President James F. Jones Jr. lamented the closing of the college as a part of a broader change in “the diversity of American higher education.” Jones added, “The landscape is changing and becoming more vanilla.”

“Becoming more vanilla”? This is beyond idiotic even by the low standards of college presidents. When Jones offers the telltale magic incantation “diversity of American higher education,” he means of course exactly the opposite: ritual conformity to the stifling doctrines of campus PC. If he wanted true “diversity” for Sweet Briar, he’d have broken from the crowd, and offered a different flavor than vanilla.

Yep.  I learned what “diversity” really meant to a leftist within 15 minutes of first setting foot on the campus of the People’s Glorious Soviet of Middletown, CT back in August, 1983.

Again, read it all, especially about the intriguing rebranding possibilities.

The narrative that seems to be emerging is of an incompetent board that sputtered along for a few years without really knowing what it was doing and too afraid to let on to anyone about it.  Along came Jones, with a record as a hatchet-man, who rather than looking beyond the blinkers of his own worldview, instead bullied the board into liquidation.


Oh, and speaking of which, regular friends of the decanter may recall ol’ Robbo mentioning the impact that closure would have not just on students and faculty, but also on staff and the surrounding community.  There is a rumor breaking on FB this morning concerning an elderly lady (around 80) who spent her entire career working in the SBC dining hall.  She retired six or seven years ago and lives alone in a small cottage on campus.  The arrangement had been that, in gratitude to her devotion to the school, she could remain in the cottage for the rest of her life.  Apparently, she was handed an eviction notice this week.

Because Progress!

Anyhoo, Mrs. R and the elder gels are headed down to SBC tomorrow for the first major public alumnae demonstration to save Sweet Briar.  The undergrads are coming back from Spring Break and the alumnae plan to line the driveway and cheer them on.  Mrs. R promises to try and send me some photos, which I will post here along with her report.


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

My brother-in-law posted this up over at FaceBook and I thought it too silly not to share:


I seem to recall a story that Winston Churchill once had an idea about training seagulls to poop on U-boat periscope lenses.  Doesn’t seem so far-fetched if a toucan will go after a traffic camera, now, does it.

By the way, it may just be wishful thinking, but the goldfinches at Port Swiller Manor seem to be getting just the earliest hint of their summah plumage.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

vixensIn case you haven’t been keeping up with the on-going struggle to save Sweet Briar College,  I must say that I am finding recent developments to be quite impressive.  The Resistance, having lawyered up, has established its own Board and filed for 501(c)(3) status.  Rumor says that even though we’ve already hit $2.6 million in pledges, a considerably larger sum of alumnae money out there is just waiting for the grant of non-profit status before it starts rolling in.  Assuming the group hasn’t somehow wound up on the President’s IRS enemies list, I hope this will happen fairly soon.  Meanwhile, current professors are starting to speak out, pols are starting to ask questions and enthusiastic alumnae foot-soldiers continue to make waves in the press.

Well done, Vixens! Holla! Holla! Holla!

hampden-sydney-college_200x200Meanwhile, in another development the gentlemen of Hamster-Squidney Hampden-Sydney College, realizing that the loss of SBC would negatively impact them, are also rallying to the flag.   (Somebody today said that the two schools ought to merge, keeping their separate identities under one management structure.  Conceptually, I think this is an intriguing idea.)

Even though I’m an alum of Dubyanell, HSC’s traditional rival, I can’t rag too much on the Squidneys here because I was only a law student there and really not much mixed up in undergrad squabbles.  However, I can relate an amusing anecdote:

Mrs. Robbo was born on Lawn-Guyland and grew up in Connect-Ti-Cutt (State motto: “Left Lane Closed Next 30 Miles”).  Prior to coming down to Sweet Briar, she had absolutely no knowledge of Southern sensibilities whatsoever.

Anyhoo, in her early undergrad days before she met ol’ Robbo and was thereby made an honest woman (I keed!), Mrs. R ventured over to HSC a few times with some of her fellow Vixens in order to frolic with teh Squids.  Apparently,  one evening she found herself at a party in some good ol’ boys’ dorm room, one with Confederate battle flags draped all over the place.  As the beer flowed and the night grew older, talk apparently circled ’round to the War (which in those parts is always short for “The War of Northern Aggression”).   Although I wasn’t a witness, I can guess well enough the major themes:  Popular misunderstanding of the real Southern cause, history books written by the damned Yankees, strategic and/or tactical decisions that could have Turned the Tide, etc., etc.….

Anyhoo, the story goes that after these themes had been hashed out for a not inconsiderable time, Mrs. R in all her sheltered, New England innocence, suddenly blurted out, “I don’t understand why you all talk about the war so much.  I mean, you lost.”

Dead. Silence.

Looking back, Mrs. R still wonders how she made it out of that room in one piece.

UPDATE:  The Roanoke Time runs a pretty good editorial pointing out the eerie parallels between the current situation and the attempted closure of Wilson College back in 1979 and suggesting that teh Vixens adopt a battle plan similar to that which eventually saved Wilson.  I’ve heard a good bit of chatter along these lines and don’t doubt that something of the same nature is probably in the works.  What I worry about, however, is whether there’s enough time and up-front money to implement it.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ol’ Robbo was parked in his favorite comfy chair in front of the fire in the Port Swiller Manor library late this afternoon, rereading C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, when he suddenly became aware that Bella, the eldest of the household cats, was fooling about with something with more than her usual energy.

At first I thought she was just on a catnip high and was playing with one of her toys.  After a moment, though, I noticed that whatever she was batting around appeared to be able to move under its own steam.  Furthermore, as she repeatedly pounced on it, it seemed to make a high, squeaky noise.

“Ah,” I thought to myself, “a mouse.  Well, that’s her job, isn’t it.”  I registered a note to dispose of the corpse once she was done playing it and went back to my book.

(Incidentally, in terms of pure, anthropomorphic cruelty, there is nothing, nothing, in nature to match a cat dealing with its prey.   I know they don’t have any such actual thoughts, but they sure as hell look as if they’re enjoying torturing their victims.)

carolina-wren-wikipediaHowever, as she continued to chase the thing about, I suddenly became aware that it wasn’t a mouse, but in fact was a bird.  A Carolina wren, to be exact.  How the heck it got into the house, I still don’t know, but there it was.

Ol’ Robbo loves wrens, both for their stubby appearance and also for their bold demeanor.  He couldn’t let this one succumb.  So, after shooing Bella away, he set about to catch it and put it outside himself.

This proved…..difficult.  Some years ago, a bat managed to make its way into Robbo’s bedroom.  Opening a window and whisking it out with the aid of a tennis racket was really fairly easy, because bats prefer open air and this one spent all its time swooping around near the ceiling.  Wrens, on the other hand, are denizens of the ground and of brush.  This one displayed such character trait by repeatedly getting under sofas and chairs and hiding behind various kitchen appliances.

Eventually, however, I managed to lay hands on the thing and to take it back outside.  Upon release, it made straight for the hedge, where I hope it is now bedded down for some much needed rest.

Bella was…displeased.

UPDATE:  I’ve seen the male in and out of the feeder today but not the female (which was the one that got in).  I hope the poor thing didn’t succumb to shock.

UPDATE DEUX:  Saw her this afternoon at the feeder looking none the worse for wear.  Huzzay!

calm vixensGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

A solid seven or eight inches of global warming here yesterday, meaning a four day weekend for the gels.  (Well, and for me, too.)  I am patting myself on the back that I got out and shoveled the Port Swiller Manor driveway last evening when the temperature was still in the upper 20’s, rayther than waiting for this morning when it’s in the lower teens.

My apologies for harping on this topic (if you read the posts below, you’ll know that it is dear to the Port Swiller family), but the resistance to the closure of Sweet Briar College is growing exponentially.  Mrs. R has been on teh electronics with her fellow alums more or less non-stop and they’re all positively furious.  Latest I’ve heard is that we’re lawyering up, and that there are plans in the works for each alum class to adopt a residential dorm and shower its inmates with support and outreach.   I wouldn’t expect any friends of the decanter who don’t have some connection with the school to consider ponying up some coin for the campaign, but I would ask that you all at least sign the petition and tell your friends about it.   Making as big a to-do as possible about all this is positively critical.

There are basically three goals here.

1.  Stop the closing.  If the thing goes through, restarting the school would be well-nigh unpossible.   On the other hand, getting the board to reconsider has precedence.

2.  Find out just what the hell happened.  The “whither all-female colleges in the 21st Century?” talk I’ve seen bandied about is a perfectly legitimate question, but in this instance I continue to believe it’s being used as so much eyewash to cover what seems to be a case of gross mismanagement.   How did the school get into such a financial hole? To whom does it owe all these millions?  Why wasn’t anyone tipped off to this earlier?  Last financials I saw (for FY2012 and FY2013) showed the school more or less breaking even.  Nobody thought we were riding high, but (again) nobody knew how deep in the doodoo we were.  Also, the interim president, Jim Jones, was thought to be just a seat-warmer until a permanent replacement could be brought in.  Seems now he was really a hatchet-man.  On further digging, it also has been discovered that he comes with a lot of baggage.

3.  Fix the problem.  Other girls’ schools in the area seem to have managed it using some form of limited or open male acceptance.  Hollins has a coed grad program while maintaining an all-girl undergrad base.  Its endowment is nearly half again larger than SBC’s and it has no debt.  I’m sure there is some way to manage.  (Stringing up the current board on lamp-posts would, of course, be just a first step.)

Somebody here mentioned the size of the college labor force in one of the earlier posts.  This is actually an important point, too.  SBC is the largest employer in Amherst County – there’s not much else there.  Many families have worked there literally for generations.  A lot of them live in on-campus housing, too.  If the school goes, all that goes with it and these people will be out on the streets.

One positive note:  I am amazed and excited at how rapid and energetic the response from the SBC community and alumnae has been, and am increasingly optimistic that we may be able to turn this thing.  Vixen power, bay bee!


Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  A regular pajama day here at Port Swiller Manor, as we’re expecting 5 to 8 inches of global warming over the course of the day in what will most likely be our most significant snowfall of the year.

However, ol’ Robbo is stocked up on wine, coffee and TP and “A Bridge Too Far” showed up in the mailbox just last evening, so it’s all good.

Ironically, the one person in teh family who is not happy about the snow is Teh Eldest Gel.  Normally, she adores school-cancelling weather.  However, at the moment she is within just a couple hours’ road work of receiving her provisional driver’s license and she really, really wants the thing.   This storm will probably keep her off the road at least until Saturday, and maybe even into early next week, and she’s not a-tall happy about it.

HA, ha!

Speaking of Teh Eldest, I continue to be impressed with her handling of the news about Sweet Briar going belly-up.   Heretofore, she has not always rolled with life’s punches very well and I was expecting some serious lashing out.  But, no.  After her initial shock she simply said, “Okay, what’s the next move?”  Also, we had a very good talk last evening about what she needs to do in terms of her present grades, tests, etc., now that she’s lost her legacy card.  I think she has a very good idea of how things stand.

Growing up I think she may be.

As for all that, we’re now turning our attention to smaller schools in Virginny and perhaps North Carolina.   We’ve already scheduled a trip to Roanoke College and are also planning to touch on Randolph Macon and Christopher Newport.   I was only joking when I said she should apply to Hampden-Sydney and then sue them when they refused her.

UPDATE:  Ugh! Checking voicemail just now, I came across one from the Sweet Briar admissions office canceling an overnight stay we had arranged for Teh Gel next month.  The poor woman could barely contain herself.  At least the faculty have a couple month’s warning, but I bet they’re chucking a lot of folks almost immediately.  Now I’m all angry again.

UPDATE DEUX:  Vixens Unite!  Looks like the alumnae are rallying to try and save SBC.  Nearly 400K raised in the first, what, 24 hours.  I was dubious about this when I first heard of it yesterday, but stranger things have happened.

sbc sealGreetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo’s world was rocked by the thunderbolt announcement this morning that Sweet Briar College is shutting its doors at the end of this academic year.  Done. Finito.  Seniors will graduate, undergrads will have to transfer elsewhere.

Many people first learned the news from a Facebook post.  The immediate, overwhelming reaction was that somebody must have hacked SBC’s account and be playing a cruel hoax, but apparently not.  According to the official release, the Board of Directors decided the school, despite holding a $94 million endowment, was rapidly running out of money.  Rather than trying to extend its life, they voted this past weekend just to put a bullet in their collective brainpan.

This is especially astonishing given that the school finished a massive renovation of its library literally within the past month.  And it was only a couple years ago that the athletic center was revamped and expanded.  So far as I know, there has been not a single note, not one, of such dire financial danger in anything made available to parents, students or alums up until this morning.  Nada. Zip.

One rumor I heard this evening was that there was some bad mismanagement of the school’s investment portfolio a few years back which has finally come to bite them in the behind.  But some commenters at this Forbes article smell a rat.  We shall see.

This is doubly sad for us.  As many friends of the decanter probably recall, Mrs. Robbo is a Sweet Briar alum.  (Indeed, we were married in the chapel there.)  So is Robbo’s sistah, as are several Port Swiller family godmothers.   And one of my oldest friends is on the faculty.  It’s bad enough for them. [UPDATE – I should mention that I also know a number of people, real and pixilated, who have daughters there.  My condolences to all of you.]

Worse, the Eldest Gel had been planning to apply early decision this fall and had really set her heart on following in her mother’s footsteps.  I haven’t spoken to her since the nooz came out.  She’s out with Mrs. Robbo right now, who is no doubt breaking it to her as gently as some P.F. Chang’s can make it.  [UPDATE DEUX: She took the news remarkably calmly.  Teenagers.  Go figure.]

Sigh.  Guess we’re looking at Hollins now.  At least while it’s still there.  [UPDATE TROIS:  She’s not interested. Looks like we’ll be doing the Spring Break college road show after all.]

UPDATE QUART:  There were conference calls Tuesday evening with the president of the board for alums and parents.  I understand they went very badly, as the fellah couldn’t understand why people are so angry and got very defensive.  Jerk.  Also, there is a rumor swirling around that the actual purpose of all the recent construction was not to make the school more competitive, but to make it a more attractive buy.  If so, this is bad.  Very bad.  Further, I’ve heard at least two people suggest that Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s joint, might pick it up.   Falwell once famously referred to Sweet Briar girls as those “Harlots on the Hill”, so irony if this is true.


*Spot the reference

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.

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