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Sorry about the lack of a post last night. I actually posted one, and WordPress disappeared it. It vanished into the ether, like a childhood friend of Stalin. I don’t know what my sin was.
Let’s see if this one stays up.
Last night’s post wasn’t anything you’ll miss much, just a reminiscence from my childhood. Not even very dramatic. Maybe I’ll write about it again someday.
One of today’s big news stories is that President Trump, apparently, would like the US to purchase Greenland.
It ain’t gonna happen, according to the Danes. They have no need, or wish, to part with one of the very few remnants of their once-extensive empire.
And after all, people live in Greenland. I would hope they’d have a say in the matter.
Still, it’s an intriguing thought. It occurs to me that Donald Trump and Erik the Red, settler of Greenland, are kindred souls.
Both are larger-than-life characters, combative, practiced in self-promotion. The saga famously says that Erik called his country Greenland “because people would be more inclined to move there if it had a pleasant name.”
Thus he’s been called the first real estate developer.
I like to think that if Erik and Donald could meet, they’d take to one another right off. Sit down over some mead (though I understand Pres. Trump doesn’t drink) and talk deals.
I suspect Erik could have been talked out of Greenland, for a sweet enough offer.
OK, the picture above isn’t really from my place. But it expresses my personal truth.
I actually took a picture of my front yard for you, but then I thought, “Why give my enemies another clue about where to find me?”
In fact, the big snowstorm wasn’t that big. Six inches or so of heavy, wet snow. But on top of all the rest, it amounts to a lot of meringue.
I’d decided not to worry about ice dams this year – those little walls of ice that build up over the gutters, which freeze at night and often force ice up under your shingles – because my attic isn’t heated. But I talked to my neighbor the other day, and he pointed to the actual, existing ice dams on my house. He suggested I might want to do something about them. I should have gone to work with my roof rake that day, but I had a bad cold, and wanted to postpone it.
This morning I still had the cold, but decided I’d better get on it. My efforts proved ineffectual – the whole, thick layer of snow on top of my roof is hard as a glacier now, and I was only able to rake off the layer that fell over the weekend.
But I had further advice from my neighbor. “Those salt pucks work,” he said.
Salt pucks are pieces of salt you can toss onto your roof. They melt in place, and reduce the pressure overall (I guess).
I set out in search of salt pucks this morning. I thought, “I’ll bet everybody’s sold out.”
I was correct. (For a change.) But the local hardware store says they’re getting some tomorrow.
I tossed some sidewalk salt on the roof, and am hoping for the best.
Today was a nice day to be out and about, though. The temperature was still below freezing, but the sun is strong at last – like the mighty eagles at the climax of The Lord of the Rings – and thawing is going on wherever it shines.
Tomorrow will be warm, and the day after will be cold again.
It is not the end. But it is the beginning of the end.
It be our fashion to honor “Talk Like a Pirate Day” here at Brandywine Books, and I’d be a Dutchman if I failed in my bounden duties in that regard. So here’s a tale for ye, mateys, from a book called The Pirates, by Douglas Botting, published in 1978 by Time-Life Books:
The lead-up: In August 1720, an East Indiaman called the Cassandra (an ill-fated name if ever I heard one) was set upon by two pirate vessels commanded by Edward England and John Taylor, off the island of Johanna near Madagascar. The Cassandra’s skipper was James Macrae. Macrae ran his ship aground to escape the attackers, and after ten days in hiding returned to try to negotiate with the freebooters. The pirates were divided in their opinions as to whether to kill the captain or to spare him on account of his bravery.
At a critical moment a fierce-looking, heavily whiskered pirate seaman, with a wooden leg and a belt stuffed with pistols, stomped up the deck swearing like a parrot; taking Macrae by the hand he swore that he knew the captain, he had sailed with him once, and was very glad to see him. “Shew me the man that offers to hurt Captain Macrae,” he roared, “and I’ll stand to him, for an honester fellow I never sailed with.” This unnamed member of Taylor’s crew was to gain immortality many years later as the inspiration for Treasure Island’s Long John Silver.
The pirates allowed Macrae to go free….
Captain Macrae’s savior, however, was not the sole inspiration for “Barbecue” Silver (who used a crutch, not a wooden leg). Author Robert Louis Stevenson told the poet and editor William Ernest Henley, author of “Invictus” (who had one leg), that he was the original.
September 19 is Talk like a Pirate Day, so here’s a selection of dialogue from Walter Scott’s The Pirate.
“The lads,” he said, “all knew Cleveland, and could trust his seamanship, as well as his courage; besides, he never let the grog get quite uppermost, and was always in proper trim, either to sail the ship, or to fight the ship, whereby she was never without some one to keep her course when he was on board. — And as for the noble Captain Goffe,” continued the mediator, “he is as stout a heart as ever broke biscuit, and that I will uphold him; but then, when he has his grog aboard — I speak to his face — he is so d—d funny with his cranks and his jests, that there is no living with him. You all remember how nigh he had run the ship on that cursed Horse of Copinsha, as they call it, just by way of frolic; and then you know how he fired off his pistol under the table, when we were at the great council, and shot Jack Jenkins in the knee, and cost the poor devil his leg, with his pleasantry.”1
“Jack Jenkins was not a chip the worse,” said the carpenter; “I took the leg off with my saw as well as any loblolly-boy in the land could have done — heated my broad axe, and seared the stump — ay, by — ! and made a jury-leg that he shambles about with as well as ever he did — for Jack could never cut a feather.”2
“You are a clever fellow, carpenter,” replied the boatswain, ” a d—d clever fellow! but I had rather you tried your saw and red-hot axe upon the ship’s knee-timbers than on mine, sink me!
From the brilliant BBC series of Jeeves and Wooster adaptations, starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. This moment stands in literary fame along with Johnson meeting Boswell, Holmes meeting Watson, and Ailill meeting Erling.
Actor George Arliss with a monocle. Credit: George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress
Lent is a time for confessing sins, and I must confess I have committed a social sin. I bought a monocle. And I use it.
It’s been a long time since the monocle enjoyed any kind of welcome in our culture. It was done in, I suppose, by the combination of snooty intellectuals and movie Nazis. I recently saw a photo of some leader of the alt-Right (I don’t remember his name and don’t care) who’d had himself photographed in dramatic black and white, with a monocle in his eye. Semiotically (that’s a fancy word for the symbolic meanings of everyday stuff. I know this because I’m the kind of guy who wears a monocle) the monocle is a red flag waved at egalitarian society. I can’t actually think of any beloved character, in the real world or any fictional one, who wears a monocle. Except for Lord Peter Wimsey. And he wore it so criminals would think him a fool and underestimate him.
The trouble is, I find my monocle extremely convenient and useful. It comes with a lanyard, which means I don’t have to worry about losing it. I only need vision correction (for reading) in one eye. So the monocle is just what the doctor ordered (Almost literally. When my eye doctor told me, during my last visit, that I might try wearing reading glasses with one lens removed, I asked him about monocles and he laughed. Then I checked to see if I could buy one on Amazon, and behold, they sell them there. It was the work of but a moment for me to get one all my own).
I do have the grace to be discreet about it, though. I don’t walk around wearing it all the time. I pull it out when I need to read small print, and put it away when it’s no longer needed.
Also, I work at an institution of higher learning. I consider it a solemn duty of the staff at any school to try to be as eccentric as possible, in order to create stories and legends to be recalled at class reunions. This is one of the foundations of institutional loyalty. Eccentricity at the universities made England the world’s greatest empire at one time.
I’ll let you know when I acquire a valet to complement my eyewear.
Why is this the best time of year? Because when I’m reading a long book, as I am now, I can share wonderful musical moments like this in lieu of a review. It’s a precious memory from my childhood, from a kid’s show called “Lunch With Casey,” broadcast in the Twin Cities in the 1960s. I’ve shared it before, but I’m doing it again because I know how much it means to you.
I have very few fond memories of the time – decades ago – when I used to watch the 60 Minutes TV program. But one of them is (I think, it might possibly have been a different show) a segment on the Portsmouth Sinfonia, “the worst orchestra in the world.” Atlas Obscura has an article about it:
The original Sinfonia consisted of 13 members, mostly students who had little to no musical experience. The “scratch” orchestra was meant as a one-off joke, part of a larger collection of silly acts. And they didn’t win the contest. Still, their playful irreverence hit a nerve. Spurred on by an outpouring of enthusiasm for their initial performance, the Sinfonia continued to play, growing in size over the next several years. Their policy was that anyone, of any skill level, could join, with the exception being that skilled musicians could not join and simply play poorly on purpose. Another rule was that all members had to show up for practice.
For a while they attracted large crowds, and they even cut a couple albums. People (like me) were charmed by the blatant effrontery of the thing. It was a sort of an embodiment of Chesterton’s maxim, in his essay on amateurism, that “anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
The concept is fun, but it seems to me there’s a serious side too. The pleasures of bad music, like other pleasures of the flesh, are fleeting. In the end, quality counts. There’s a difference between enthusiasm and virtuosity, and virtuosity has staying power. It’s worth preserving.
Which brings me to this link, from Legal Insurrection, about protests at very liberal Reed College, Portland, Oregon. A number of students are angry that the school’s Humanities 110 course, a core course in the freshman curriculum, concentrates on western civilization.
I’m gonna go ahead and say it. Western civilization is the best civilization the world has ever seen. The very anger of the course’s opponents is a symptom of their cognitive dissonance, a refusal to accept the evidence of history, science, and their own senses.
It be “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” ye lubbers, and this here be a stub from what’s to my mind the most squared away and Bristol fashion version of Treasure Island ever filmed, the 1990 TV version starring Charlton Heston as Long John Silver, and a young Christian Bale as Jack Hawkins.
You can’t say fairer than that; ye has me affy-davy on it.
Last night was a memorable one in the never-ending, pulse-pounding drama that is my life. I was briefly mistaken for another man.
I had an appointment to get a dental filling replaced. When I came into the office, the receptionist greeted me happily, but – and here’s where the conductor should cue the ominous double note from the horns – she didn’t greet me by name. I said hello and sat down with my Kindle to wait. She said the doctor was running a little behind.
A few minutes later the (very beautiful) dental hygienist came out and said they were ready for me, but again (bum BUUUM) without saying my name. I was a little surprised that she was assisting with a filling, but I went along (frankly, I’d follow her anywhere). I sat down in the Comfy Chair, and she put the bib around my neck. She asked if I’d taken the antibiotics required after my hip replacements. I said my doctor had rescinded that order, and that I’d had them fax an affidavit to that effect to the dentist’s office. The dentist, from the other side of the partition, yelled, “Yes, I got that!” So the hygienist changed the record on the screen suspended just to my left.
“OK,” she said then. “Just a cleaning and check-up tonight, right?” she said.
No, I answered. I came to get a tooth filled.
A few moments of confusion followed, until we established that she’d been expecting a guy whose name sounds kind of like mine. So I retired to the waiting room again. The receptionist laughed (with some embarrassment). Apparently she’d mistaken me for this guy with the similar-sounding name who, she said, had a gray beard like me, looked kind of like me, and wore a hat. And also had had his hips replaced. I told the hygienist she’d probably better change the guy’s record back on the antibiotics thing.
And a few minutes later, in walked a guy who did look kind of like a taller version of me. Limping slightly. And he was wearing a hat. (A cowboy hat, but you get the idea.) In order to explain our laughter, I explained to him that he’d nearly gotten my tooth filling.
So if I disappear suddenly, somebody should check this guy out to see if he faked his death. I know from my mystery reading that that sort of thing happens all the time.
Tonight I am wracked with existential angst. I am contemplating changing my very way of life; of crossing a cultural divide and becoming, after long resistance, One of Them.
I’ve decided to get a smart phone.
Not a really smart phone, of course. An Android, first of all, because I refuse to be roped into the religion of the iPhone. That would be like joining a mainline Protestant church.
OK, not really. It just feels that way, when you’re an old men being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century. Or the end of the 20th Century, depending on how old a phone version I decide on. Can’t get the latest one. That would be like buying a new car – sudden and irrevocable depreciation being the wages of the sin of purchasing a time share in Vanity Fair (the town in Pilgrim’s Progress, not the magazine). Last year’s model was good enough for last year’s people, and is probably twenty years better than what I need.
What happened was I developed brake problems on Miss Ingebretsen, my PT Cruiser. Knowing I’d be without internal combustion capability tomorrow, I asked someone at work about getting a ride. He graciously agreed to do it, but mentioned Uber and Lyft. I answered, shame-faced, that I have no smart phone, and so am reduced to begging rides, like we used to do in the old days, long before he was born.
“Enough,” I said to myself. “It’s time you got some kind of smart phone. Preferably one that’s slow and prone to locking up. Like your knees.”
I tried calling my (cheap) provider after work tonight, but they said it would be a 15 minute wait, so I hung up. Who do they think they are, making me wait for 15 minutes?
I insist on at least 20. If I wanted convenience and speed, I’d get an iPhone.
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The great Dave Lull sends a link to an interview with Anne Kennedy on The Eric Metaxas Show. Anne is the author of the devotional book Nailed It, which I reviewed here.
And our friend Ori Pomerantz recommends this link to the Federalist, where John Ehrett imagines the “hot takes” (a new term to me, I’ll admit) that might have been published if C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books had been published today.
Reason: “Narnia Doesn’t Need Kings”
In “Prince Caspian,” the Telmarines were on the cusp of transforming Narnia into a successfully modern state that would’ve created job opportunities for everyone. Aslan’s violent return destroyed valuable capital and plunged the regime back into a preindustrial dark age. The GDP losses are incalculable. For shame, Aslan.