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Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World

Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.

PotzWallyWorld

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(The Macellum of Classical Puteoli, now know as Pozzuoli. It isn’t always just launching aircraft and stumbling around ashore on cruise. Sometimes you have to experience culture. In February of 1990 we happened to be in Naples and I hooked up with my Pal, The Judge, who exposed me to some high culture and local affairs. Pozzuoli is sort of an eerie place. In the early 1980s the city experienced hundreds of tremors which reached a peak in 1983, damaging 8,000 buildings in the city center and dislocating 36,000 people, many permanently. The events raised the sea bottom, rendering the Bay of Pozzuoli too shallow for large craft. Join Vic in Naples for a cultural adventure).

We were at the Naval Support Activity outside of Naples when The Judge pulled up in the battered red Fiat he uses as a low-profile security and transportation device. He was heading up the Naval Legal Support Office for the Theater and was living in a gated compound on the Amalfi Coast. He invited me down to take a break from shipboard lunacy while we were in port Naples I threw my bag in the back and noted that the car had lost the external mirrors. It did not seem to bother The Judge, and off we flew toward greater Pozzouli.

First stop was the Buffalo Cheese Ranch. I don’t know when I have even tasted better Mozzarella Cheese, but Rick swerved into a roadside market that had a large buffalo on the front. The Judge claimed they made the stuff there, and at times out in this neck of the woods you could see the water buffalo standing by the roadside, looking at the traffic go by with stolid oriental acceptance.

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The Signore behind the counter piled about a half kilo of mozzarella on top of a fresh little baguette of bread, wrapped it up and handed me my lunch. I had a suspicion this visit was going to be OK.

The Judge had an ambitious touring agenda mapped out. The first thing we were going to do was get me situated showered and changed and then we were going to head off to Baia, the home of the classical Roman ruins of Baia. Then through what the ancients believed was the entrance to Hades at Lago di Avorno, then back to classical Puteoli to see the third largest surviving Ampitheatre from Roman times..

Then drinks and dinner.

It was an ambitious plan, but one which we attacked with gusto. The Judge’s wife Judy had a class to attend and so we started down the agenda as a flight of two.

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First to the Casa Judge; the complications of an Italian shower and then British beers and a subsequent road trip to the magnificent ruins of Baia. I carry the cooler. There is a roadside attraction: an excavated Roman Bath, or Thermae. I asked the Judge why they had built a bath out here in the middle of nothing, and he gestured at the gentle terrace of the slope. I hit me suddenly that this had been a completely developed neighborhood and was thunderstruck. Under every bush, under every modern building old Rome is still there.

You see the masonry protruding from newer walls, and the odd heroic fragment like the Temple of Venus or the colossal half-dome that still towers over the modern city. On the underside of an arch you find the plaster still intact, the faun and the satyr still as fresh as they were a century ago when the rich lounged in these baths and drank wine and felt for the comely thigh of the noble lady beside them.

The stairs and chambers and intricate tunnels that link it all together, and outside the Scavi you see the lumps beneath the vegetation that say there is more and more and more. The guidebook says that in the days of the Empire men who owned-provinces could barely afford an acre in Baia.

The air is clear and you can see Capri and across the Bay of Naples looms Vesuvius. It is a gorgeous and special day and The Judge says we should take the road to Hell.

Or Hades, anyway. I ask if the trees along the road are Good Intentions.

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We drive to the Lago di Averno to see the mouth of Hades but can’t quite find it. The Lago is not at all superstitious; it was a Naval Base at one time during the Civil War and Agrippa commissioned a huge tunnel to be dug from the fortification at Cumae under the valley and through the ridge to this base.

At the end of the lake is a massive structure in nearly complete decay. It lies at the end of a rutted dirt road. It towers over the underbrush; two mighty windows remain in a quarter of a great dome. The walls are perhaps ten feet thick and mighty portions are strewn across the floor of what the Judge says is the Temple of Apollo.

The complex of buildings that once comprised the place is equally massive. I want to explore but the Judge knows he is risking having the car broken into and I content myself with touching one of the piers of the mighty fallen building. Trees sprout from cracks in the flooring and bushes grow from the tops of the shattered walls. The ruins have thrown me into some sort of trance. The Old Ones are there; they must be. How can this all coexist with the current inhabitants?

When was the last service in this mighty hall? Do the Old Ones sleep deep, or do they still walk these crumbled corridors?

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Then on to the third largest remaining amphitheater of the classic age. It is in downtown Pozzuoli and in some ways more a treat than the Coliseum in Rome. Here you can see the pits for lifting the beasts simultaneously to fight the poor sods convicted to the arena and get the feeling of the 35,000 shouting for their blood. Perhaps tailgating after the chariot ride over from Baiae.

Enough is enough for today. We return to the Casa and drink and chat in the kitchen until Judy returns from class. Her back is out and she tries a series of innovative positions on the couch with a heating pad to relieve the discomfort.

The Judge decided to change the mood, announcing that it is time to go get Road Chicken and Pizza and off we go again. He drops me at a little glass-fronted shop with an enormous stainless steel rotisserie that features about eighty chickens being skewered by a little Italian man. There is a hungry crowd of about twenty civilians waiting for the chickens, which are cooked over hickory and stuffed with Basil and Garlic and the smell is outrageously good.

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It is me versus the Paesanos to get our Chicken and it is quite a wait and jockeying match to get ours but we do. Nothing counts in the contest for these birds but loudness and position and it all works out. This hard working bunch also bakes Sunday bread, and Rick assures me we will be back in the morning to sample the freshest. Loaded with ham and artichoke pizzas and two Road Chickens we return for a fabulous dinner that no one had to cook.

I wash my sheets in the machine downstairs and we watch a VHS reprise of the 15th anniversary of Saturday Night Live. Into a giant double bed by 2345 and dreamland in PozWallyWorld.

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In the morning we are up by 0844 to jog briskly through town and out to the country where we pick up a Roman Via still intact after 2,000 years. We follow it past the wellゥpreserved Necropolis (City of the Dead) and return to the Casa in time to hustle out for fresh bread and steaming mugs of the Judge’s custom Expresso/Brazilian blend coffee. Then pack the cooler, because it is off to Classical Cumae of Magna Grecia, and Agrippa and the Roman Civil Wars.

We wind along the narrow roads past the Baia peninsula and suddenly come to a cut in the tall ridge. It is bridged by a massive archway that narrows the road to a single lane of ancient Roman paving. We pass through and see Cumae’s hill a kilometer off over the fields.

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We examine the great walls; the Via Sacra; the Temples of Apollo and Jupiter and magnificent views both North and South. Coming down the hill again we enter the cave of the Sibyl and site of the oracles mentioned in Virgil. Wandering through the huge carved tunnels until we discover to our wonder and amazement the giant Galleria of Agrippa. We peer down into the open skylight into a vast subterranean highway thirty feet across and one hundred feet high, perfectly preserved and as though the masons had only stepped out to lunch. I have never seen anything the like of this and the attraction to scramble over the fence and find the entrance is almost overwhelming.

Good sense gets the better of us and we have a picnic lunch in the parking lot. We offer a tip to the elderly Capo who has watched the car. We ask him where the tunnel comes out and he explains it is very profundo- deep- and leads to Lago di Averno. You can’t find it, he says with a grimace, because the Germans blew up the other end in the War. Funny how you can’t get away from those rascally Germans, particularly in this year of the reunion of the DDR and the FRG.

We share our repast with the old man, which he enjoys but disparages the wine, which the Judge explains was purchased at the recommendation of the Colonel of the Caribinieri.

The old man is unimpressed.

Lunch complete, it is time to get the tourist back to the ship and the Schiff’s back to their busy affairs. We motor back to NSA and they drop me at the gate. They would have driven me back to the Fleet Landing, you understand, but there has been a day of great experiment in Naples. They have banned private automobiles in the City today to see what the effect might be like.

Riding back on one of the Navy contract Eurobuses, the effect is eerie and startling, as though someone had exploded neutron weapons on the city and killed all the people and left the buildings quite untouched. There was a garbage strike in progress, which I understand is a routine occurrence, so there were papers blowing everywhere and the net effect was like the concluding scenes to the film “On the Beach.”

To liven things up, our driver finds another bus and they road-race through the empty streets. The usual forty-five minute trip back to Fleet Landing takes about fifteen minutes. This experiment could have something going for it. I have never seen Naples free of the cloud of exhaust fumes.

Back to the ship, where no one has missed me. The Deputy has taken Toad and CAGMO and gone on a road trip to Salerno, Amalfi and Sorrento. Lutt-man, Mark and Moose are getting restive and bored. It is starting to rain and it is getting dark. It is clearly the right time to go over to the pier and have a pressed ham and cheese sandwich from the cart and a green grenade- a 155ml bottle of icy-cold Heinekens. Or four.

Things are changing in the Navy. Women have now been assigned to afloat units. We see the amazing spectacle as two logistic support ships are in port- Mount Baker and Yosemite- and they have hundreds of women assigned to the ship’s company.

The parade is most entertaining. One girl goes by muttering into a pocket tape recorder, no doubt documenting the low moral standards of the Fleet. Another girl walks by with shaven scalp and dippity-doo spikes on top. Yet another is wearing a Harley-Davidson shirt and is heard to observe: “What’s a matter with my F++king shirt? I F++king like・F++king Harleys!”

You can’t take the Fleet out of the gal, I suppose. We head back to the ship in the rain and the gangway falls off the water taxi and it is generally a fun night……

……because other things are happening which will enter the lore of this Med Cruise. Ensign Murph returns from the AFSOUTH Club and leaps from the seawall down to the embarkation brow of the O Boat. He gets a little gear down to port, overゥcorrects, then slowly and majestically pirouettes into Naples Harbor.

He is taken immediately to Sick Bay and given many powerful injections to battle the imminent infections. Doc Riley observes he should be required to wear a float coat with the uniform at all times.

A kid playing full contact touch football gets knocked out cold and has to be medevaced to the Air Force Hospital in Germany.

One of the famous 105th Attack and Twilight Pursuit pilots gets thrown out of the Florida Club not once but three times. After some discussion of the issue of his conduct with the Carabinieri, he attacks one and winds up with rifle butts helping him to see the error of his ways. It is the understanding of the Wing as a whole that Pete won’t have to worry about Liberty for the remainder of the cruise.

Sixty days to go.

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Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Winter Solstice (and Fire Sticks)

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(Stonehenge in Snow. Picture courtesy Paul Robinson via BBC).

This is the fourth attempt at a story this morning. The first one was a polemic about something really important I won’t bore you with; the second another polemic about something else that bothers me intensely about the PC thugs; the third a fun romp through something I don’t want to put in the public domain, but which is completely legal. Really.

So that, unfortunately, leaves me down a quart on options. I have a nice story from Point Loma, but I am keeping that in reserve for some morning when I have to be someplace early; I could recycle a liberty story from some other decade when the world made more sense; or I could run something that would just irritate people. Wrong season for that, not that it seems to be stopping anyone else.

The problem with having so many things we are supposed to not notice is growing. And the number of wildly improbable things we are supposed to accept just because someone says so is frankly bewildering.

For example, I always irritate Old Jim when I note the arrival of the Winter Solstice tomorrow, shortly after five PM. Jim doesn’t have a problem with orbital mechanics or any of that, he just is precise in his grammar. When I start out with noting it is the “shortest day of the year” he fulminates that it is not the shortest day of anything.

“The Winter Solstice is the day when there is less daylight and more darkness!” he says with authority, and of course he is completely correct, though even the encyclopedia makes the same mistake. Jim is a stickler for precision, and I don’t blame him.

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See, the axial tilt of the globe and the gyroscopic effect of the earth’s rotation keep the axis of rotation pointed at the same point in the heavens. As the Earth follows the orbit around the Solar giant the same hemisphere that faced away from the Sun, experiencing winter, will, in only half a year, face towards the Sun and experience summer.

So after cocktail hour tomorrow night we start that long march back into the sunlight and warmth, which coincidentally is the reason for the season. It is, of course, also about the birth of the Christ Child, even if there is some controversy over whether the Savior was actually born on the 25th of December.

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(Emperor Constantine on a good day. Photo courtesy digitalapoptosis.com).

That day was not selected for the observance until 336 AD (I am not going to dignify that “CE” nonsense) in the time of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. It happened to coincide with the pagan mid-winter festivities the human animal requires to steel itself against the cold and dark, and the “Saturnalia” and “Dies Natalis Solis Invicti” (Literally, “the birthday of the unconquered sun”) and I will let you draw your own conclusions.

I am not one of those to bash the Christian Faith when there are so many others that need a good reformation, so I will leave it at that. Merry Christmas.

But this time of year is still the bottom of the well, daylight-wise, and with the encroaching darkness, I have been watching a little more television than I normally do. As you may have gathered, my television nemesis isn’t the programming these days, but the means by which it is delivered.

Comcast Cable is my sworn enemy. Lousy customer service, unexplained outages, monolithic inefficiency sort of start the litany of grievance, and I was burned too many times to ever trust them again. When the Verizon people wired Big Pink for fiber-optic cable, I was among the first to leap at the chance to shit-can the cable giant and go FiOS.

I have been generally happy with the service, and the reliability has been excellent. I am not too crazy about the channel line-up- you know, 500 channels and nothing on- and as part of the frustration with Comcast, I bought a flat-screen television that was internet aware.

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I imagine we are getting close to SkyNet coming self-aware and wiping us out like in the Terminator movies, but I will accept the inevitability of the extinction of our species if it lets me avoid network programming by streaming stuff direct from the internet.

Anyway, I had a Roku box that was kind of neat to get Netflix and Hulu Prime, which constitutes the bulk of the non-sports stuff I watch. Others have cracked into that market segment- and the latest of them showed up at my door yesterday. It had been advertised on Amazon as part of their campaign to rule the world (before SkyNet does) and I took a chance and pre-ordered one. It arrived in the morning and I am knocked out. I un-boxed the components, plugged two things in, and was up and running in about five minutes.

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“The Fire Stick connects to your TV’s HDMI port! It’s an easy way to enjoy Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu Plus, YouTube.com, music, and much more!”

And actually, it does. The other promotional material claims it has four time the storage and twice the memory of the device from Google, the Chromcast. What attracted me was the massive selection of content. Amazon claims they have over 200,000 movies and television shows, millions of songs and hundreds of games on which to fritter away what remains of the rest of my life.

They tell me I can download an app for my phone that allows me to use it as the remote control, and use voice commands to navigate and search, something that really made me cranky on the stupid million-button remotes.

In fact- I think I am going to leave it at that for now and go to the app store and do battle with that. It is a good way to while away and almost winter day, you know? Can’t start the holiday cheers for hours yet, anyway.

Oh, and with Amazon Prime free two-day delivery, you can still get them as stocking stuffers.

You know, it occurs to me that maybe Amazon actually is Skynet.

Merry Christmas!

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Walls Come Tumbling Down

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There is plenty we could talk about this morning. We could talk about the apparent surrender to cyberhackers of the North Korean Army, who have succeeded in vanquishing the American First Amendment, and to which I have seen no credible response. Nor any to the Chinese who are merrily penetrating every computer network in the country.

I am staying away from social issues. Those are too weird to deal with. Iraq? There was a another brutal ISIS massacre yesterday, but I am not hearing anything about it. I guess we don’t care.

I could fulminate about the normalization of relations with Cuba, but on the whole I agree with trying something different. The state of siege has been going on all my life it seems, and I have been trying to go to the island (legally) for quite a while. The Cuba that is not GTMO, that is. I don’t mind the place, but it feels sort of- well- claustrophobic.

I am willing to bet that there is some fine print we have not been told about yet, so I will reserve judgment. It might be a “two-fer;” normalization of relations and the end of Camp X-Ray with the turn-over of the US Naval base.

That got me thinking about the Navy again, and the impending collapse of Russia’s currency. Mr. Putin has constructed his economy around petro-chemicals, and thought he was quite clever in holding Europe over a barrel, so to speak. As a general matter, we called the post-Soviet state as “Upper Volta with Rockets.” Today, it is “Upper Volta with new rockets, troops in Ukraine and a fever of desperation.”

I am leery of them, and what they might do. Our SECSTATE has done the usual conciliatory statements about helping, but Mr. Putin needs an external threat and we are the designee for that. Their expertise in cyber-war is world-class and they have been hacking our Government and Commercial networks for decade.

This is not the first time I have been a little jittery about the collapse of a Russian government, and thought perhaps I would share a day when we heard that they were going to pull out of Germany, unilaterally. We were in Italy, in gritty but fun Naples, about halfway through a Med deployment when the Wall Came Down and no one knew what it was going to mean.

03 FEB 90: Bella Napoli
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Up at 0800, then down to planning for the Ops O meeting at 0900. All the boys get in their places around the two long tables and have few public concerns. Scooter keeps it down to exactly 56 minutes. I get caught up in trying to build FITREP shells on my twelve ducklings and miss lunch in the wardroom. Lutt-man calls.

I bilged him on lunch, but he says that is OK because the plan has changed. CAG is going ashore at 1230 and we have identified an emerging requirement to be in the car with him on the way to Bagnoli.

I immediately cancel plans to do anything constructive. I change and am on station to hang around CAG admin as we coordinate the Staff departure en masse. There are entirely too many of us to all go in CAG’s car, so we join up with the CARGRU bubba’s.

Then we wait for the Admiral’s barge to get off the ship. And wait. We watch the tail end of a fabulously sexy film called “Blame it on Rio” with Michael Caine and an unidentified young lady with the most spectacular scenery this side of the pyramids.

Per usual, we are about an hour late when we wind up on a utility boat (not the Barge because it is broken) for the three-minute ride to the Fleet Landing.

It is a magnificent day and even grimy old Naples looks good.

There is enough haze that I can’t see the top of Vesuvius but the sun shines warm and the castle on the hill lends a certain raffish majesty to the city.

Once ashore we find the CARGRU van and CDR Ed Dicey takes command. He even gets the thing started on the fifth try (why does this van have two ignition keys?) and we start the roll out the gates into the cheerful anarchy of Italian traffic. Ed is magnificent and fearless behind the wheel.

He pulls out with abandon and refuses to make eye contact with the competition; as in Japan, if you acknowledge the presence of other traffic you have ceded the right of way. We blast out past the castle, through the tunnel that has been under construction since 1910, through the bustle of the city and finally out to the NATO AFSOUTH compound.

The good CDR is moving a little fast past the Carabinari check point and the turret operator starts to track on our foreheads; no shots are fired, however, and at exactly 1357 we are deposited on the steps of the Allied Officer’s Club. The van roars off and we discover to our horror that everything is closed. The bar doesn’t open until 1700; the stereo store closes at 1400 (the minute before we find it) and the concessions are just shutting their doors for nap-time.

We wait for the shuttle bus for about twenty minutes until we figure out that it either isn’t going to get here, or if it does it is going to be full, and all that we are doing is cheating ourselves out of some decent exercise. We stride forthrightly out the gate and start pounding our way down Hooker Hill.

There isn’t anything interesting to look at, unless you count the disquieting number of used condoms that litter the street. At this hour only Humpty Dumpty’s Daughter is out and she is acting as sidewalk superintendent to a group of ditch-diggers who are installing a cable beneath the pavement. Humpty Junior is about fifty pounds overweight, twenty years of hard living showing and wearing a bizarre costume which features large portions of her thighs bulging out above tight parti-colored stockings.

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We turn the corner and amble past the checkpoint to the Naval Support Activity- NSA, the other one- and are thoroughly checked before being allowed into this part of Italy that is forever America. Place is jammed with the Airwing, Ship and people assigned to Naples. We wind up at The Cube, the NSA version of a hot dog cart, which is selling delightful draft beers in large paper cups. We join CAG and a large component of the Embarked Staff. We are on a large patio and the sun is pleasant and the newspapers are current.

We are reading of the strange developments in this craziest of years. The Russians are proposing a vote on the reunification of Germany! The speculation is incredible. Someone points out that the FID was on station in the North Arabian Sea to end the Iran-Iraq unpleasantness, and we deploy this year and the Warsaw Pact crumbles and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself is quivering.

They had better not make us mad!

Two beers and we leap in the bus for the Opening of the Allied O Club. The results are predictable. We teach Chop how to roll dice for drinks. CAG starts on Martinis, which is clearly the drink of choice and within about two hours the entire Air Wing is bellied up to the bar. The decibel level is increasing in direct proportion to the lack of coherence. DCAG finally announces that hunger is setting in and he has got the perfect restaurant for us to try up the coast. Clearly it is time for a road trip. The Staff divides into two cars; Dad has one and Mom takes the lead to get us there. Me, Lutt-man, Mark and Toad ride with Mom. Dad has Scooter, CAGMO, Gunner and Chop.

You must remember that CAG HATES to follow, and there are no clear directions, so there is a fair amount of pandemonium on the road. We are traffic jammed and stuck, flying around blind corners and heading into the confusion of Nighttime Napoli. The muttering in the backseat about “How lost IS the Deputy?” was just getting to the audible stage when DCAG cuts boldly across traffic on a red light and we arrive at the marvelous little bistro La Placienta overlooking the Bay. It is all whitewashed stone and wood and glass and a perfectly delightful place.

Dinner is great; we start with an antipasto that consists of several unidentifiable items (pickled peas? Eggplant sauté?). The Deputy digs into a giant mound of real mozzarella and prosciutto. The wine is wonderful and the pasta course about finishes us off. The conversation is loud and fun and the brandy and coffee are superb. By the time we are finished the place is full. It is eleven o’clock and the Italians are just getting on a roll. It is time for us to roll home, though, so we once more pile into the rental cars for the race home.

Now all players have at least a general idea of where we are, so the fight is on. CAG gets the lead, we are scrambling around and through slower moving traffic, ignoring the lights and generally having a ball. We get stuck in traffic down near the castle and a staff officer who shall remain nameless demonstrates his contempt for the junior occupants of the other car by pressing his nude hams out the window. He couldn’t have been pointing that thang at the CAG, could he?

At length we roll into the pier complex and save for the three minute ride to the ship, we are done for the evening. Home by 0100. Not bad. A day of relative moderation. Lutt-man is off to France tomorrow for the Exercise Harmonie Sud-west debrief with the French, and he is escorting Skipper Hoff Lewis from VA-56.

He has to get up at 0730. I’m glad it’s not me!
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Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

The Interview

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(Lobby poster in Socialist Realist style promoting the new Seth Rogan film which apparently irritated some people. The Sony Pouters Corporation has the copyright on that, just like they did everything else they owned. Image Sony Pictures).

I had one of the new hundred dollar bills in my wallet and paid for lunch with it. It was a Thai place, and the staff was pleasant and the food was delicious. My former co-worker had not seen one, all fancy with metallic strip and see-through portraits and other new security features

I mentioned that the c-note is the most often counterfeited currency on earth, and that there was a special unit of the army in North Korea that specialized in producing them as an additional source of income for the Hermit Kingdom.

The new bill is pretty flashy, though it still features a picture of Ben Franklin. The new bills have all sorts of unique features, and will doubtless cause some minor headaches until the Koreans figure it out. That topic naturally led to a discussion of the remarkable Sony Pictures hacking.

“They can’t be sure it is the Northerners who are responsible, though some of the code used to penetrate the firewalls seems to have components of the Korean language,” I said. “Attribution, as you know, is the most difficult aspect of cyber operations. It is possible that the attack was the work of an insider- in fact, I suspect that like the StuxNet worm that penetrated the stand-alone control systems of the Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges it had a human intelligent component. But the scope and destructive nature of the massive data breach suggests a malicious intent with state backing in resources.”

“Didn’t the Koreans demand that the President stop the release of that movie?” asked my pal.

“Yeah, and I think the release of Seth Rogan’s film “The Interview” is the proximate cause,” I said. “The premise of the movie is that a couple goof-ball journalists get an exclusive the CIA tries to use it as an opportunity to assassinate Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. There has got to be a connection.”

“The scope of the attack was breathtaking, literally. Way beyond those idiotic e-mails about what sorts of movies President Obama would like to see.”

“No shit. They got everything: personal information on movie stars, payroll information, social security numbers, the intellectual property contained in five new theatrical productions. Those were passed directly to the black market film distributors. Then, to add insult to injury, Sony’s PSP 3 game console network was hi-jacked and used to distribute the stuff all over the web.”

“What did Sony think was gong to happen when you mess with the most secretive and paranoid government in the world?”

“I think like a lot us, we assume that our computer security people are on the case.”

“Even after what happened to Home Depot and Target and Chase?”

“Yeah. Fool’s paradise. But I heard it was Anonymous, or some group called the Guardians of Peace, and they are hacking for revenge. There was a guy who was selling jailbreaks for PSP 3 but got caught by Sony and he got sued. Now they are doing something like operation revenge.”

“Like I said, attribution is a hard problem. They could also be taking credit for something done by a nation-state with a big chip on their shoulder.”

“You would think Cybercommand or NSA would have provided some strategic warning to Sony security after the DPRK demanded that the US Government do something to stop the release of the picture.”

“That is precisely the problem with all this. The private sector is where all the cyber infrastructure resides, and the Government has no authority. And when the companies get hacked, the last thing they want to talk about their vulnerabilities.”

“Yeah, but I heard it was kinetic now.. The Guardians said they were going to hit the theaters where the movie was going to paly and they cancelled the premier, and Rogen and Franco have clammed up and are giving no interviews.”

“Well, getting threatened with death can have a chilling affect on a promotional tour, I am sure.”

“No shit. This has a level of malevolence that is pretty striking, which is why I think the Koreans are behind it. The massive data breaches at Chase nailed 75 million consumers, probably including the both of us. They keep it quiet since those hackers have a commercial incentive to keep the information to themselves and sell it to third-party scammers.”

“We seem to be in a sort of post-national environment that we don’t fully understand.”

“Well, I would be surprised if anyone over the age of 30 really understands it. It is the ultimate in geek-dom.”

“Yeah, but geeks with our credit cards.”

“Don’t use cards.”

“Yeah, but when you go to the bank to get your cash there might not be anything there.”

“Ugh. I am glad I got change back from the Franklin.”

“Yeah,” said my pal. “We might be needing it.”

“What you mean “we,” Kimo Sabe? I am going to put it aside for a trip to Cuba”

“Cuba? Shoot, we can’t travel to Cuba. They are as loony as the Koreans.”

“We tried to kill Castro a few times. Everyone is entitled to a little paranoia, you know?”

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Rabbit Holes

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There were no significant adventures yesterday- sorry, I was on a roll there for a couple days. I made it back up north from the farm, it was a great day for a drive, the sky blue, temperatures in the fifties and nice and sunny. The car handled well, and life was good, if uneventful. I was enveloped in the Sydney Hostage crisis, which overnight morphed into the Peshawar school massacre. The two have nothing in common except for one thing, but I won’t belabor the point. We have to be inclusive, right?

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(Library of Congress image of Porto Bello, which although in the National Register of Historic Places, is totally off limits).

Since I tried to digest that, I dove down a rabbit hole on the matter of one of the great colonial houses of Virginia you will never see, Porto Bello, the hunting lodge and last local residence of John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, and the last Royal Governor of Virginia. That is problematic because of where it is, and how I got to see it, and that is a matter best left alone. But in starting to talk about the great houses, I ran across the story that Martha Custis Washington, wife of the Father of Our Country had a half-sister who was born a slave; which in turn meant plunging into the legal doctrine of Partus sequitur ventrem, a legal doctrine then being in force in the Colonies.

The words mean literally “that which is brought forth follows the womb,” and were used to justify the enslavement of children of Masters and their slaves. Too weird.

Once I got there, I started to think about the whole peculiar institution thing, which was so related to walk on the grounds of Montpelier, and having come full circle round to the great houses and the politics of Revolution, I lurched down another rabbit hole. This one was about the sinking of the Bismark-Class battleship Tirpitz in a Norwegian fjord in 1944, a matter raised by an old shipmate and was inspired because an oil company just found one of the British bombers shot down in one of the several attacks the Royal Air Force mounted against the German ship. Then I discovered that you can actually buy high-quality folding knives manufactured from the battleship’s Wotan [Odin] steel armor.

That is all good, but talking about oil companies and exploration made my ears prick up when I heard the price of oil at the opening of the markets this morning. I have been gratified that the price of the hi-test that the Panzer guzzles has been coming down of late, but there are some ramifications that I had not considered. The premium grade at the pump yesterday was $3.40 a gallon, and the smart people are saying the market is apparently headed for $50 a barrel.

The collapse of the oil market is about to do all sorts of things. There are so many branches and sequels to all this that I won’t even bother to do more- but check these figures from the Deutsche Bank. They represent the break-even point for the production of crude oil. What this does to the fracking industry is the topic for another discussion. The impact on the world economy is significant: draw the line at $50 and you can see who is in big trouble:

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Both Brent Crude and West Texas flavors are floating downward as of this morning in the mid-$50 dollars a barrel range. Two nations that I am interested in are not on the chart- so I looked some more. Here are the break-even prices over the last two years as reported by APICORP Research:

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You will note that at these prices, some of the world’s nastiest regimes are hurting for certain. At these prices, no one is going to make a cent in the Big Oil world. Word this morning (another rabbit hole) is that Russia’s ruble is in the process of collapse, and Mr. Putin is going to be hard pressed to continue his military sabre rattling on IOUs.

Ditto for the plucky Socialists in Venezuela, not to mention Iran.

So what is going to happen? Is the U.S. oil boom curtailed? Once the oil in the commodity pipeline is depleted, prices will undoubtedly rise again, but where will prices stabilize? How many bills are going to have to be paid by those who are up against the wall as it is? The FED and interest rates? What the hell does it mean?

That is a rabbit hole that we are all going to jump down. I am interested in whether or not we will get to see the White Rabbit on the way.

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

Montpelier in the Dirt

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(Archeologist Matt Greer points out the yellow and green flags that represent positive and negative hits from metal detectors operated by volunteers with thirty years experience. Matt is once of the resident interns at Montpelier and the son of an old shipmate and a great young man. He has completed his master’s degree in the archeological study of slavery. He will start his PhD program at Syracuse in the fall, so a chance to walk the grounds of the estate with someone who has played in the dirt drew us back to the plantation on a magnificent Virginia day. I asked him what they dug up about slavery in New York State, and he shrugged. “They don’t have many good programs in the South. I don’t think they like to talk about it,” he said.)

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Matt waked us through the fruit of previous archeological digs conducted since the 1990s. The skeletons of the structures represent the outlines of the original slave quarters, smoke houses and kitchen literally outside Mother Madison’s private quarters.

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The wooden chimneys are an authentic feature of the slave quarters, tiny duplex structures that may represent James Madison’s attempt to put a humane face on the peculiar institution. Our guide opined that guests from Europe and the North visiting Thomas Jefferson’s magnificent Monticello often later complained about the harsh treatment of the chattel residents of Jefferson’s estate.

It is possible that the placement and design of the structures adjacent to Montpelier was an attempt to show how slave management could be benign for those subject to bondage- a sort of slave Potemkin Village. Behind the cabin is the former stable complex, now completely gone but revealed by concentrations of nails and other building material below the grass.

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This brickwork, unearthed by the archeological team, and currently covered by a protective tarp, was part of a drain that ran through the slave quarters and was possibly connected to a cistern fed by a pipeline routed from a bubbling spring north of the garden patch, now replaced by Marion DuPont’s formal garden. There are plans for a return in the spring when the Virginia soil erupts with new growth.

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This exquisite life-sized statue of President Madison and his lovely wife Dolley is a feature of the yard immediately behind the rear portico of the mansion. The tour was surreal. I took the mansion tour last Sunday, a day as beautiful as this, and the emphasis was on the former First Family, their life and times, and the restoration of the place from the splendor of the DuPont century to something that approximates 1830, when the Madisons were in retirement at Montpelier.

Looking at the bones of the bones left under the soil, and archeological survey has a larger focus- on the entirely of the plantation experience. By all accounts, Madison was a fair master and administered discipline through private counseling. Yet the contrast between the high rhetoric of the Father of the Constitution and the stark reality of the institution that made his Montpelier possible results in a sense of cognitive dissonance.

I looked from behind to see what James was reading to Dolley. I know it is only a sculpture, but the page is blank metal.

As part of the program of excavations, identification of slave graves, and general public sentiment about digging in the dirt resulted in outreach to African American descendants of the Montpelier slave family. A reporter from one of the local mullet-wrappers approached an older African-American man at his small farm. He looked up expectantly, saying “You’ve come about the owl, haven’t you?”

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He went on to explain that President Madison had appeared on his property in the incarnation of an owl, and roosted in his barn. He opined that he had no problems with Montpelier or anyone digging on it. He did say that he didn’t think anyone should stay in the mansion at night, since the “click, click, click” of Dolley Madison’s heels on the wooden floors would keep them awake.

Matt the archeologist believed that conveyed the communal memory about who wielded the discipline in the Madison household.

There was almost too much to absorb. We toured the cellars- the “back of the house” of Montpelier, with the poured clay floors, concealed floor compartments to store valuable ash for the making of soap, and the secure store rooms for the valuable spices and wine. And the holes in the floor where a bottle of wine might be slipped under the wall to be retrieved later, when Dolley wasn’t looking.

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Outside again, we walked across the spot where the west-side kitchen outbuilding had stood, and down to the ice-house, a 19-foot deep underground storage facility capped by a graceful Doric temple structure. Matt commented that it was intended to convey the high civilization and soaring freedom of the classical age.

“Built by slaves, right?” I asked. Matt nodded.

Matt took us down the hill and pointed at a valley a bit wistfully. “We call that Dolley’s Midden. It is where all the trash and garbage where thrown in the Madison years. We have only excavated a fraction of it. There is all sorts of stuff- pottery, animal bones- from the time of her occupancy. I would like to get permission to dig there again.”

Then we strolled past some DuPont-era structures that included a power-plant to run the electrical lights on the plantation after they took possession of the estate in 1901. Montpelier was the first electrically lit place in the County, and was completely independent on any power grid. Money is a cool thing. There is a DuPont bowling alley in the complex, which young Matt thinks should get his historical attention.

Then we were ushered further down the hill and into the Archeological Laboratory, housed in . A couple young women were rinsing dirt from gravel and possible artifacts on the porch, and inside was a host of reconstructed bottles, china and artifacts from the Civil War days at the plantation, which Stonewall Jackson occupied as winter quarters in the winter of 1863-64.

We had been walking and talking for hours, and the shadows were starting to lengthen. We bade farwell at the lab and trudged back up the hill, behind the mansion, through the slave village, the stable complex and back to the Visitor’s Center to saddle up in the Panzer.

“One last thing I would like to see- Madison’s grave,” I said, and Mattski and Natasha agreed. We parked by the side of the gravel lane and walked up the pasture to the Madison Graveyard.

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“The DuPonts were kind of amazing,” said Mattski. “They bought the remains of the fourth President of the United States.”

“And his whole family,” I said. I took some pictures of the faded inscriptions and the imposing but pare obelisk that marks the president’s grave. Dolley’s is much more modest, and dutifully to the President’s side.

It was a great tour of Montpelier’s dirt, and the secrets that it conceals so well.

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

The complete photo shoot is at my Facebook page. Montpelier is worth a visit- the formal history in the residence, and the completely informal history that rests with James and Dolley Madison under the soil.

Wreaths Across America

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(This was the picture that changed everything. The annual tribute- decorating the graves at Arlington National Cemetery- was a quiet affair, and used unsold wreaths from the Worcester Wreath Company to decorate some of the older graves in the cemetery that were not visited as frequently as when the stones, and the memories, were new. This poignant image of the graves at Arlington, adorned with wreaths and covered in snow, went viral. Suddenly, the project received national attention. Thousands of requests poured in from all over the country from people wanting to help with the Arlington decoration project. Others wanted to emulate the Arlington project at their National and State cemeteries, or to simply share their stories and thank Morrill Worcester for honoring our nation’s heroes. This year, the project decided to decorate all the 300,000+ graves in the 635-acre reservation. 27,000 people showed up to help. O’Sullivan’s in Clarendon offers a superb bloody mary to help get warmed up after placing a few dozen wreaths. Photo Worcester Wreath Company).

Helpful tips: when 27,000 volunteers show up at the same time to place wreaths, don’t expect to use your Arlington Pass to drive on. Arrive early. Tailgate the night before. A pole can be used to carry fifteen or twenty wreaths between two volunteers. Insist on getting multiple wreaths from the volunteers- some of them thought it was one-to-a-customer. The object is to get them out there. Parking is a challenge. Plan on doing some walking. The Fort Myer side might be the best way to attack the problem. Make sure you fluff the red bow on the wreaths before rendering a hand salute and moving on. You will be moved, guaranteed.

The power of crowd sourcing made Wreaths Across America into a social media phenomenon. I heard about it through the company email, since my former employer decided to sponsor the decoration of one of the sections down on the flat land below Arlington House and President Kennedy’s grave. I never got down there- traffic was bottlenecked at the Fort Myer gate, and I considered myself lucky to find a parking place on the base near the stable complex.

It was a hike to get to the cemetery, and the light-bulb came on when I realized that work was work, find a truck and start hauling wreaths. I was part of a army of scouts, active military and assorted men and women, kids, black and white, all with smiles and all waiting in line to get armloads of green wreaths. For all the bad news flying around these days, it was refreshing to see the real America just get on with something the way we always have. It was inspirational- and I was frankly weepy all morning and did not care.

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Walking by Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s former mansion, a woman dressed as Mary Custis Lee, gray haired under bonnet and in hoop skirt, called out that they were open for visitors. A group of women, also in costume, were playing carols on hand bells. The Hall was stately- the ceilings must be fourteen or fifteen feet, and I marveled to walk the same floors that had been trod by the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, and which will be my eventual home (life is uncertain, but that is the plan) until the bluffs of the cemetery crumble into the Potomac.

It is an amazing story. Morrill Worcester, owner of Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, was a 12 year old paper boy for the Bangor, Maine, Daily News when he won a trip to Washington D.C. I remember those contests and never got close to qualifying- he has been a go-getter since he was a lad. Morrill’s trip to Your Nation’s Capital was one he would never forget: Arlington National Cemetery made an especially indelible impression on him. This experience followed him throughout his life and successful career in business, reminding him that his good fortune was due, in large part, to the values of this nation and the Veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their Country.

How is that for a contrast with the usual “news and traffic on the eights, and when it breaks?”

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In 1992, Worcester Wreath found themselves with a surplus of wreaths nearing the end of the holiday season. He recalled later how this began, saying:

“I started Worcester Wreath Co. in 1971. That first year I sold 500 wreaths. Over the past 37 years with the help from my family, our business has grown to sales of over 500,000 wreaths.”

Remembering his boyhood experience at Arlington, Worcester realized he had an opportunity to honor our country’s Veterans. With the help of Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, arrangements were made for the wreaths to be placed at Arlington.

As plans were underway, a number of other individuals and organizations stepped up to help. James Prout, owner of local trucking company Blue Bird Ranch, Inc., generously provided transportation all the way to Virginia. Volunteers from the local American Legion and VFW Posts gathered with members of the community to decorate each wreath with traditional red, hand-tied bows. Members of the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. helped to organize the wreath-laying, which included a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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You can see what the convoy from Maine to Arlington looked like here:
https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10203346574487590&pnref=story

The annual trip to Arlington and the groups of volunteers eager to participate in Worcester’s simple wreath-laying event grew each year until it became clear the desire to remember and honor our country’s fallen heroes was bigger than Arlington, and bigger than this one company.

Morrill has a mission statement on the Wreaths Across America website:
Remember. Honor. Teach.

I don’t think I have been so moved in years. If you want to help next year, now that I know how it works, let me know and we will make a weekend of it. If you can’t make it, you can support by sending donations to:

Wreaths Across America
PO Box 256
Harrington, ME 04643
www.wreathsacrossamerica.org

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Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

 

Kicking the Bucket

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As my time in Washington starts to diminish, I have established a sort of modified bucket list. There are not a lot of items on it- I have been fairly diligent about getting things done that seemed to be worth doing, but this latest installment really kicked off the holiday season.

It was tricky. The master distillers at the reconstructed Mount Vernon Distillery, located on the site of the one that former president George Washington operated in retirement on his plantation on the Potomac.

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George’s rye whiskey made the bucket list for a reason: it is one of the ultimate small-batch whiskey runs in the country, and the only one that is distilled in copper over wood fires, just as it was done in 1797. They only bottled 1200 of them on this run, and word gets around: in order to fairly accommodate demand, a voucher system was implemented.

A couple nice ladies from the Mount Vernon Ladies Association that operates the plantation are there to hand out certificates- up to ten per customer- reserving the real product for sale during regular operating hours at The Shops at Mount Vernon.

Scotch Whisky

It worked like a charm, and I had my whiskey by mid-day, in time to start another adventure. I would tell you about that, but I have to get over to Arlington National Cemetery and help decorate the graves of the fallen with wreaths for the season.

I may get to tell you about that tomorrow, but I fully intend to have a sip of the other thing I bought on impulse, the Peach Eau De Vie:
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It is a little pricey for daily drinking, but perfect for a special occasion. I am putting a bottle of Rye down for my grandson to sip on his 21st birthday. I don’t now if I will be there to see it, but I can hope. There are times that life along the Potomac is just fine. Happy Holidays!

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.icsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303

People of Montpelier

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(Marion DuPont Scott, owner of Montpelier for 55 years, longer than any other).

The DuPont Family owned the house for nearly a century, and they made massive, though unobtrusive alterations to the existing Montpelier mansion. That dwelling had been sanitized with the demolition of the slave quarters off the right wing of the structure and the addition of a regulation track for thoroughbred racing, and a sweeping steeplechase course every bit as grand as the one to the north at Great Meadow.

There is a private train station out by Rt. 20- Montpelier must have been grand indeed when the DuPonts ran the place. William DuPont would commute from to his chemical company in Delaware each Friday and Monday morning, and the train would stop just to pick him up.

After the deaths of her mother in 1927 and her father in 1928, Marion kept most of the home the way her parents had decorated it. The docent on the tour- the one who had part of his lunch still on his face- mentioned the Art Deco-inspired Red Room that featured photographs of her champion horses, and the indoor weather vane, which he said was to help determine where to ride to the hounds.

Marion was responsible for the racetracks and the equestrian center, and was renouned as the first women to compete astride her steed, rather than riding in a ladylike side-saddle. Her celebrated horse Battleship cantered out to become the first American horse to win the 1938 British Grand National steeplechase race.

Of course, the historic nature of the estate is what the Preservationists were interested in, not the upgrades of the 20th Century, so when the property was transferred on the death of Marion DuPont, the provisions of the bequest directed the National Trust restore the house to its appearance and furnishings in the times of James Madison.

The Madison family had the place for three generations. In 1723, James Madison’s grandfather Ambrose received a patent for 4,675 acres of land in the Piedmont of Virginia. Ambrose, his wife Frances Madison, and their three children moved to the plantation in 1732, naming it Mount Pleasant. Ambrose died six months later; according to court records, he was poisoned by three enslaved blacks.

Montpelier Mansion started as a boxy colonial structure erected by the President’s Grandfather, and later upgraded with a neo-Palladian columned porch and two lower wings on each end.

Along the way in her eight decades in the house, Marion had two marriages but no children. She died in 1983. In her will, she transferred Montpelier to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, noting that it was “appropriate … to restore the mansion house in such a manner as to conform as nearly as possible with the architectural pattern which existed when said property was owned and occupied by President Madison.”

That is the place you see today, as former President Madison would have known it when he left office in 1817 and returned to the estate, which had been struggling under the inept management of Dolly’s son by her first marriage, whom Madison had adopted.

The life and times of James Madison are extraordinary. There is so much for which he was directly responsible; service in the Commonwealth House of Burgesses, the Continental Congress, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Louisiana Purchase (as Jefferson’s Secretary of State) and then two terms as President.

A slight man, shortest of all the Presidents, he still cast a giant shadow. And so did his wife. Dolley was 49 when they returned to the country. In Washington, she had invented the concept of the First Lady, standing in as the entertainment czarina for President Jefferson, and then presiding at table for the two terms of her husband’s Administration.

Quite unlike today, Madison left office with less money that when he arrived. It was quite a different world then, when legislators and statesmen did not parley their offices into vast personal fortunes.

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(Portrait of Madison, age 82, c.1833)

Some historians speculate that Madison’s mounting debt was one of the chief reasons why he refused to allow his notes on the Constitutional Convention, or its official records which he possessed, to be published in his lifetime.

He knew the value of his notes, and wanted them to bring money to his estate for Dolley’s use as his plantation failed—he was hoping for one hundred thousand dollars from the sale of his papers, of which the notes were the crown jewels.

He could not sell the papers for anything like that in Philadelphia or New York. Eventually, Congress authorized $30,000 to be paid to his widow. Madison’s financial troubles weighed on him, and deteriorating mental and physical health would haunt him through his last days.

At one point, Montpelier had 108 slaves on the property, and Madison made no effort to free them due to his fiscal problems. One of the featured narratives of the great house is the relationship with his enslaved manservant, Paul Jennings, who was with Madison in 1836 when the last of the Framers passed.

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(Madison’s slave and valet Paul Jennings at Montpelier).

Paul Jennings had been born into slavery and served the future President all his life. He served in the White House and continued to serve Madison as his valet at Montpelier. Jennings married Fanny, a slave held on another plantation, and they had five children, who lived with their mother.

Jennings got Sundays off, and walked the sixteen miles to and from the plantation where Fanny was held every week.

In 1837, Dolley took Jennings with her when she returned to Washington, DC. Jenner was forced to leave his family behind, though he was permitted to visit them occasionally. In 1841, she wrote her will, which would free Jennings after her death, the only slave whom she freed in her will, though it ultimately did not work out that way..

In Washington as an adult, Jennings saw a much broader community. Among its many free blacks at the time were descendants of slaves of the former presidents Washington, Jefferson, and Madison.

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(Dolley Madison in better times. Upon her death, her body stayed in the “visiting” tomb at Congressional Cemetery in the District before eventually being interred with her husband at Montpelier).

Struggling financially, in 1844 Dolley Madison sold Montpelier and all its property, including its slaves, to raise money on which to live. That year Fanny died, and the following year, Dolley Madison hired out Jennings to one of my favorite Presidents, James K. Polk. Often, in such arrangements, slaves got to keep a portion of their earnings, but she kept it all, being desperate for cash.

Fearing for his future, Jennings tried to arrange a purchase price with Madison, but she sold him to an insurance agent for $200 in 1846. Six months later, Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster intervened to buy him from the new owner for $120 and gave Jennings his freedom, for which he paid the Senator in work.

At that time, Jennings entered the large free black community of Washington, which outnumbered slaves by three to one at the time. His signal accomplishment came in 1865, when he wrote the first memoir about life inside the White House, A Colored Man’s Reminiscences of James Madison.

Of all the larger-than-life people who lived in that house in Orange, Paul Jennings might be considered the most interesting.

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(Madison’s tombstone, Montpelier. Dolley eventually made it there, too).

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twittere: @jayare303

Narratives

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(Jimmy and Dolly’s Montpelier estate in Orange, VA. Photo courtesy Montpelier/Peggy Harrison).

I was going to write about Jimmy and Dolly Madison’s house this morning, but that got derailed by facts. The stop at the legendary Montpelier Estate is worth an extended commentary, particularly with the Constitution so prominently in the news these days.

Jimmy was Father of the Bill of Rights, and much of the work was done in the magnificent first floor office, and the second floor library jam-packed with books. It was nothing short of surreal to stand by the chair by the window in the salon converted to bedchamber where the former president died, and see the vista that was the last thing Madison saw in this world.

So I was going to yammer about that, and how cool it is to have a gem of neo-Palladian architecture just down the road from Refuge Farm, and the amazing nature of the rolling hills and superb views of the Blue Ridge from the upstairs master chamber that Jimmy and Dolly shared before the President’s arthritis got too bad for him to walk up the stairs unassisted.

The reason that story is delayed is fortuitous. An old shipmate’s son is actually a resident archeologist at Montpelier, conducting excavations on the property to identify the places that the history the DuPont family did not wish to showcase. It is frankly amazing that the slave village was so closely located to the main mansion.

Anyway, I have arranged to have a behind-the-scenes look at the estate this Sunday, so I will be back, and there is no point in trying to tell a story that I will shortly know a lot more about than I do at the moment.

I have been reminded that there is nothing new under the sun, and that was painfully true in the short video that visitors are subjected to prior to the tour with the rotund docent with the food flecks on his chin. The slick production reminded us about the greatness and enduring qualities of our Constitution, and the simple, direct and unambiguous nature of the Bill of Rights.

I had to stifle a chuckle. It is always interesting to run into Narratives. This one is similar to those that I have known from boyhood- you know, the onward march of Western Civilization and all that, civilization refined through the wisdom of the Framers into an enduring Constitutional Republic with liberty and justice for all.

I take a certain amount of comfort in that sort of thing, and actually believe some of it. But of course that is not the Narrative that is being jammed into our brains these days. I am not so callow as to think that journalism ever had a golden age of objectivity; the reporters have always had their agendas, naturally, and the most sanctimonious partisans have always had axes to grind.

But these days it appears that even a casual relationship with objective fact appears to have vanished.

You know what I mean, if you pay even a modicum of attention to the continuing media circus, and the tyranny of the news cycle. I don’t have to point out the stories that are running now about college culture, or the relationship between the police and the policed.

I am not going to beat those particular dead horses further, except to note that my favorite publically-funded news outlet featured an earnest talking head who opined, apparently sincerely, that just because the facts were wrong and innocent people slandered, the fabricated story was more important in its higher truth than the actual facts.

I was stunned and amazed, and there are, within easy reach, at least four or five of those manufactured Narratives still playing out on cable television and in the streets.

The one that held my attention- most recently and briefly- was the Senate Report on Enhanced Interrogation. It even got me and Jim riled up at each other at Willow last night. My emotion surprised me, and I think I used my outdoor voice when I said that the people who were abused had just participated in the mass murder of 3,000 of my fellow citizens, and who, given the opportunity, would cheerfully kill me and everyone else I know.

Having been there for some of this, I am absolutely appalled that The Narrative requires that this disturbing and unbalanced report needed to be issued right now, while we still have forces in the field.

But to those who peddle narratives, that little matter is completely irrelevant.

Copyright 2014 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com
Twitter: @jayare303