Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Trip to the Mall

For my weekend constitutional, I made a two-hour walk to the mall this afternoon. My plan was to take pictures representing countries that were contiguous in Europe, starting with Greece and then going on to Italy (okay, not contiguous, but only a short sea voyage away) and then France and Germany. A Greek church began the series. A pizza place would serve for Italy. I would have to keep a sharp eye out for France and then Germany.

Unfortunately, my camera battery gave out after four shots. The plan was kaput. I kept marching on to the mall but my heart was low.

Happily, the mall was a cheerful place, aswarm with shoppers. Nuts to the recession, say the consumers! I found a quiet table in the food court and sat to rest my tired feet. Across from me, the Cajun Grill was doing slow business, so the young Chinese girl at the counter was offering free samples. She looked at me and waved a spicy morsel on a toothpick. I smiled and shook my head no. I thought to myself, "This is an asian Cajun occasion."

I amused myself with this little tongue-twister of a phrase all the way home on the lightrail.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Volvo music

I was driving home last night. When I turned off the highway, a sudden noise – bright and clear like a siren – blared ahead of me. Surprised, I instantly looked around for a police car or a firetruck but saw nothing. I slowed my old Volvo and the noise fell in pitch; I sped up and the noise grew high and shrill. It was a strangely musical sound, very like bagpipes. Had I run over a Scotsman?

The song continued as I traveled the two blocks to my townhouse and then died away to a faint whine as I parked the Volvo under my carport. A quick check around the Volvo's front and under the hood revealed nothing, not even a scrap of plaid (in contrast to the fantasy picture above).

I rose early this morning to take my musical Volvo into the shop for a mechanical diagnosis. But no matter how I sped up or slowed down, the Volvo refused to sing. I abandoned my trip to the shop and went on to work.

When I returned home from work tonight, I listened intently for any peep, but the Volvo remained mute. Perplexing.

Fortunately, in a few days I will be receiving a timely library book that I put on hold: The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides. I hope that it has a chapter on car repair.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sprites Revisited

Last August, I made some notes for a science-fiction story but never got around to writing it. However, I did post an appealing picture of a lava lamp, which was meant to represent an alien spacecraft.

In the interest of closure, I have gone back and added the notes to this August 2008 blog entry.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Six ways of traveling through life

I have been reading An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin, an Oxford historian. His method is to interview people and then use his findings to comment about modern life. Or, as he explains in his preface: "Each of my chapters begins with the portrait of a living person who has desires and regrets in which you may perhaps recognise something of yourself, but who is also restrained by attitudes inherited from origins long forgotten."

I can wholeheartedly endorse neither Zeldin's methods nor his conclusions. His selection of interviews seems to skew toward lament and decay. And there is too much of the sensitive historian recording the sighs of wounded creatures. But, given the material he has chosen, Zeldin's conclusions are usually sound. I was especially impressed with Chapter 23, "How people choose a way of life, and how it does not wholly satisfy them." He writes about six very different women. Then he summarizes what he has learned about them in describing six different ways of traveling through life. I have extracted his topic sentences:

"Humans have so far distilled six lessons from their attempts to find the best way of surviving with the minimum of pain. They seem to have concluded that there are six ways of traveling through life, six forms of transport.

The first way is to obey, to defer to the wisdom of others, to accept life as it is. In the past, probably the majority of humans traveled by this method, often because they were forced to, but no less because it promises peace of mind and the reassurance of being in harmony with one's neighbors.

The second method of traveling is as a negotiator, bargaining to get the best possible deal out of life.

The third option is to cultivate one's garden, to shut leaders, rivals and prying neighbors out of one's world and to concentrate on private life.

The fourth way is to search for knowledge.

The fifth way is to talk, to pour out one's opinions, to reveal oneself to others, to get rid of one's gloom by bringing out all ones' secrets, memories, fantasies, conscious and unconscious, advancing by smashing hypocrisy and decorum.

These five methods of transport through life retain their attractions, despite their disappointments. There remains a sixth which has been tried much less, called 'being creative', which is like travel by rocket."

Not bad for a British intellectual, writing a stylish tour de force for other intellectuals. But surely there are other methods of transport.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lots of Gluck

My mood has been listless of late. I had diagnosed the cause as insufficient sleep or sluggish bowels. But after attending yesterday's HD movie showing of the Metropolitan Opera production of Christoph Willibald von Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, I saw my true problem: I have been lacking a sense of of late-baroque Viennese nobility.

My spirit is flat and tepid compared to that of Orfeo, who in just 90 minutes anguishes over his lost wife, defies the underworld, quiets the Furies with his sweet laments, triumphs in rescuing his wife from the Elysian Fields, grows suicidal with remorse at losing her again, and then finds peace when Amor, the god of love, rigs up a happy ending to close the play. My emotional range is a mere speed bump compared to the colossal Six Flags roller-coaster of emotions felt by Orfeo.

The part of Orfeo was played by the mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, the Met being fresh out of castrati. Orfeo's wife Euridice was played by a young soprano Danielle de Niese, who did a good job of being dead, then alive, then dead again, and at last alive again, just in time to take a bow at the end of the play. The third main character was Amor, the god of love, quirkily played by Heidi Grant Murphy, who descends upon wires as an angel wearing a pink shirt, tan slacks, and angel's wings too small to get a pelican airborne, much less a plump middle-aged woman.

Dancers from the Metropolitan Ballet company are variously used as the mourners (swaying and moping around the stage) in Act 1 , as the Furies (running about and jerking their arms) and the dead Elysian heroes (making stately hops in a great circle) in Act 2, and as nymphs and shepherds (doing a sort of sideways jitterbug) at the end of Act 3. It is a fine thing to have dancers in an opera. Watching them, I regretted not taking up ballet myself. But, alas, now I am too old (and have always been too awkward and too stiff and too lazy).

Singers in the chorus were perched in a pair of triple-decker bleachers and represented the Illustrious Dead observing Orfeo's plight. The Illustrious Dead were costumed as a wild assortment of historical figures. I picked out Abraham Lincoln, Truman Capote, Princess Di, Henry the Eighth, and Jimi Hendrix.

In my view, any opera that combines beautiful baroque music, dancers, a sense of Viennese nobility, and Jimi Hendrix has to be a winner!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Middle Eastern ramble

I have received comments from my faithful readership (that is to say, both of them) that the blog has been deficient in pictures lately. I had supposed that the brilliance of the prose had diminished the need for decoration. Oh, well.

To punch up the picture ratio, this afternoon I took a 4-hour walk to the used book stores downtown and brought my digital camera along to record the scenery. Unfortunately, I took the wrong trail, got lost, and wasted most of the daylight hours. I even seem to have wandered into the Middle East for a time. I noticed some signs in Arabic and discovered that I was in Syria.

I continued walking and noticed a tower that looked vaguely Jordanian. First Syria, then Jordan. Could Israel be next?


Friday, January 23, 2009

Conversational strategies

I just finished reading Catherine Blyth's book, The Art of Conversation, a snappy guide for the typical reader (inarticulate boob that he is), who needs to be tutored in communicating with his fellow humans. Ms. Blyth, an exasperatingly clever British woman, has done her homework or at least has given her search engine a thorough workout. She peppers her text with quotes from antiquity, from literature, from Hollywood, from science, from politics, and from chat-show hosts. One of the more pretentious examples, from Cardinal Richelieu:

Obscure Sciences and great Affairs must have a less share in their discourses than agreeableness and diversion.

Designed as a handbook, the book devotes chapters to various kinds of talk: small talk, funny talk, pillow talk, shop talk, lies, and flattery. Each chapter sets the rules to observe in achieving conversational mastery. Lists of rules seem bracing at first, but one eventually grows weary of this paint-by-numbers structure. (Are there still hobbyists that paint pictures by the numbers? I labored over my last one in the early 1960s - a clown with a disturbing complexion problem.) Hopes of conversational mastery dissipated as I found myself skimming the later chapters; and by the time I laid Ms. Blyth's tome back among the books piled beside my couch, all her rules had leaked from my memory except for one.

Here is the leak-resistant rule from her Chapter 6: Into the Groove - Steering Controls:

-> Rule three: Exercise editorial rights in your reactions.

Ms. Blyth explains that a listener, through careful responses, can cause the conversation to spin in a new direction by adding new material to be developed (green light), continue on the same topic (amber light), or sputter to a halt (red light). Her example responses:

Green: "Fred, eh? Fearless for his height."
Amber: "Poor Fred."
Red: Yawn. "Uh-huh."

This was illuminating to me, a longtime practitioner of the amber response. (My favorites: "Wow." "Really?" "Why's that?" "No kidding.") As an amber conversationalist, I am continually in demand as a pliant audience for monologists and other windbags. (However, my offspring might attest that I occasionally succumb to windbaggery myself.) But, according to Ms. Blyth, I can green up my conversational skills by giving longer, more thoughtful responses. Wow.

A second technique she endorses is to actively select topics by responding to what interests you. Say that your conversational partner is going on about the fine gas mileage of his new hybrid car. He might say: "I drove to Cheyenne and back last weekend and got 52 miles per gallon. This is about the best I've done. The dealer told me to expect between 44 and 46 miles per gallon. But I've always done better than that. Even when I went to the mountains I averaged nearly 48 miles per gallon."

You can divert this flow of blather at a number of points. If you think that Cheyenne might be more interesting than gas mileage, you can pull the ripcord immediately by interjecting "Why Cheyenne?" If discussing faulty dealer predictions seems less tedious than gas mileage, you can offer a skeptical comment on the credibility of car dealers. Or, if you decide to take your chances on hearing stories of mountain vacations, you can ask "Where in the mountains?" This is verbal judo. You can throw the conversation onto a more pleasing course by deftly pivoting on a passing topic.

Fortified by Ms. Blyth's advice, I am now ready for invitations to cocktail parties or salons.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Empathy for the Clintons

Last month, the United Airlines Mileage Plus frequent flier program awarded me Premier status for logging more than 30,000 miles during 2008. This mileage, mainly consisting of round-trip business travel between Denver and L.A., translates to about 95 hours of being wedged into Economy seats, typically at the back of the plane adjacent to the lavatory.

Three weeks later, I was surprised to see my status elevated again, up a notch to Premier Executive, which is normally reserved for those traveling more than 50,000 miles during a year. I don't know whether my new Premier Exec status is due to United's largess or to a clerical error somewhere. But deserving or not, I have quickly become accustomed to the prestige and perquisites.

The advantages or Premier Exec status begin at check-in. I now stroll blithely past the line of ordinary travelers en route to the prestige check-in lane, where the guard lady confirms the PR EXEC on my boarding pass. Even though Premier Exec only qualifies as lesser nobility – there are even more exalted ranks, culminating in the great princes of Global Services - the lady favors me with a smile and an approving nod as she waves me onward to the prestige check-in podium. I walk briskly, avoiding eye contact with the shuffling herd.

Premier Exec status allows me to board the airplane early, right after the higher nobility. However, I am not permitted to use the boarding lane with the red carpet. Instead, the Premier Exec travelers and all the rest are shunted off to the boarding lane with regular carpet. This seems unfair to me. Why should I be lumped with the commoners and denied the red carpet?

Premier Exec status also provides me seating benefits. I get a free upgrade to Economy Plus seating toward the front of the plane. No more seats back near the lavatory for me! The Economy Plus seats have four more inches of leg room than the crammed-tight Economy seats. And the Economy Plus passengers are generally more stylish.

No doubt the reader can detect that my Premier Exec status has begun to undermine my virtue. Truly, pride and vainglory are fed by a sudden boost in prestige. Yet, despite these failings and foolishness, some wisdom has been given to me. Now, as a consequence of my own moral deterioration, I am able to empathize with the Clintons. If an upgrade in Mileage Plus status is sufficient to damage my character, what damage must inevitably result from rising from relative obscurity in Arkansas to the tremendous prestige of flying the world over in Air Force One?

And how will President Obama face the danger of his own exaltation?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

3.2 Beer

During a visit to my neighborhood vintner, I noticed the newspaper clippings taped to his counter. "What's this?" I asked.

His customary smile faded. "They're trying to pass a bill allowing supermarkets to sell full-strength beer," he replied. "There are only six states left, including Colorado, that restrict supermarkets to selling 3.2 beer. Colorado law allows the minor exception of permitting a supermarket chain to license one single store location in the state. That's why you have one Target store in Colorado that sells beer, wine, and liquor. Anyway, big money from the supermarket chains is backing the bill. It's going to pass."

I went home and did some quick internet research. The vintner appeared to have his facts straight. The six states that still restrict supermarkets to selling only 3.2 beer are Colorado, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Kansas, Utah, and Montana. Even my beloved Iowa has joined the ranks of the booze grocers.

I learned that the history of 3.2 beer began in 1933 during the repeal of Prohibition. While the repeal amendment was being ratified, Congress gave a concession to the thirsty populace by redefining "intoxicating liquors" to only apply to drinks with an alcohol content greater than 3.2% by weight. Presto, beer with alcohol content of 3.2% or less was now "non-intoxicating," despite obvious contrary evidence, such as college student drunkenness. The subsequent Colorado Liquor Code of 1935 restricted the sale of this "non-intoxicating" 3.2 beer to grocery stores. In effect, 3.2 beer was treated as food, not alcohol.

Most 3.2 beer is made by watering down full-strength beer, although some full-strength beers have alcohol contents that barely exceed that of 3.2 beer. For instance, Coors Light and Bud Light in liquor stores have only about 3.4% alcohol by weight (and taste pretty watery themselves).

So, what does the future hold? I predict that Wal-Mart and its fellow national chains will carry the day. All 3.2 beer will disappear from the supermarket shelves and be replaced by full-strength beer. The mom-and-pop liquor stores, which rely on beer sales for a significant fraction of their profits, will suffer, as my vintner fears. And there will be reduced opportunities for small brewers unless they can make marketing deals with the big chains.

I am not much of a beer or wine aficionado, but I am annoyed that my choices will likely be determined by some Wal-Mart inventory manager in Arkansas.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Day at the Opera

I attended the movie theater presentation of the Metropolitan Opera production of Puccini's La Rondine (The Swallow). La Rondine tells the lighthearted (and lightweight) story of Magda, courtesan who falls for a young man from the country. Magda leaves the rich old banker that is keeping her and runs off with her young beau for a merry fling until the money runs out. Then Magda assesses her future and decides that she is too impure to marry the young man. Much weeping ensues and Magda returns, swallowlike, to the rich banker.

I was quite put off by the opera's unfair treatment of the rich banker. He seemed like a decent old fellow, deserving of more respect. He patiently put up with Magda's featherheaded impulses. He was a solid businessman: after all, it's no easy matter to gather sufficient wealth to keep a Parisian mistress. And he had a good, strong bass voice. From my perspective, the rich banker was a much better catch than some callow and insolvent bumpkin from the country.

My perspective finds support from business writer and humorist Stanley Bing, who wrote:

"Retirement is a prime opportunity to bang the gong and get it on. Have an affair with your yoga instructor! Strike up an acquaintance with that dental hygienist you've had an eye on since the time you had teeth! Younger people are often attracted to affluent older individuals who look even marginally acceptable. I put that in boldface because it's a key insight. You may now be able to nab someone you had no right to when you were 30."


Saturday, January 10, 2009

Corporate gibberish

My company is composed of sectors. Currently, the company has seven sectors, but is consolidating into five sectors. Corporations really only know two tricks: consolidation and fragmentation. Neither trick makes much difference, but change is exciting and careers can be advanced by leading the change. One president gets a bonus for consolidating sectors in the interest of efficiency and responsiveness to the customer. After a few years, when the consolidation proves to a disappointment, the next president will get a bonus for reversing course and breaking the organization into more sectors, again in the interest of efficiency and responsiveness to the customer. Join together, pull apart, join together, pull apart -- and so it goes.

My own sector will be combined with another sector. Strangers will be declared comrades, redundant management jobs will be eliminated, new stationary will be ordered. My sector's vice president, despite taking the helm less than a year ago to great fanfare, evidently lost the coin flip. His retirement has been announced. The victorious vice president from the other sector, a cheerful-looking lady in her late 50s, will soon take charge.

This new vice president sent a greeting memo to us, her new workers. The greeting is written in corporate English, a lingo of the boardroom that somehow manages to be both stilted and perky.

"Dear Colleagues, [more graceful than, say, Dear Subordinates]

The creation of our combined sector is an extraordinary opportunity to leverage our significant strengths and synergies [The modern heptathlon record for a leveraged synergy is 77.4 meters.], creating a more competitive business with so many exciting opportunities taking us into the future -- ones that we individually might not have been able to even imagine. I am excited to be leading this powerful, vibrant business [Vibrant? Given the grave economic conditions and the uncertainty of the government procurements with the new Obama administration, the thousands of anxious nerds that compose this new sector are atremble with fear and dread. Perhaps the word she sought was "vibrating."] and can see so much potential for us in our information technology markets. With my years with the parent sectors, I have a first-hand appreciation for the talent, skills and dedication of our employees, our technologies and our competitive differentiators. [Some of us differentiate, some of us integrate. I'm fairly competitive, and hope to get a letter sweater when I join the varsity.] I have been, and continue to be, impressed with the individual achievements of both our parent sectors....

"To quickly achieve synergies [What! Synergies again?], we have established a transition team to expedite the process of integrating these two vibrant sectors [with their vibrating workers] together seamlessly and cohesively. Our goal is minimal disruption to our business areas and to make this transition as smooth as possible for you, our customers, suppliers and others [except, of course, the vice president you beat out for the job]...."

Never a dull moment in the technology biz.

Baroque Music

My composer son and I attended a concert by a local baroque chamber orchestra. The venue was a small Episcopalian church of traditional design. It seemed very fitting to me to hear music of centuries past as we sat at the front of the nave surrounded by stone arches that would have seemed familiar to Telemann or Handel. We sat in the second row of pews, close enough to hear every articulation of the strings, recorder, baroque flute (traverso), harpsichord, and baroque bassoon.

The baroque bassoon was a special delight. The instrument produced a sweeter, softer tone than its modern counterpart, although it could emit a yelp or a throaty growl as needed. The craftsmanship was impressive. The baroque bassoon resembled an elegantly sculpted bedpost with a peculiar brass tube projecting out. A convenient place to hang one's shirt before climbing into bed perhaps.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Night at the Opera

I attended a movie theater showing of the Metropolitan Opera production of Thaïs. This is the story of a fanatical Cenobite monk, Athanaël, who browbeats the famed Alexandrian courtesan, Thaïs, into converting to Christianity. Her pivotal "dark night of the soul" happens off-stage while the pit orchestra is playing the wondrous Meditation piece. Athanaël, his hairshirt no defense against Cupid's arrows, suffers his own dark night in the form of repressed desire for the saucy courtesan (charmingly played by the radiant Renee Fleming).

Athanaël grumpily orders Thaïs to renounce her past life of pleasure by burning down her palace with all its finery and then marches her across the burning desert sands to a convent. A few tender moments occur at an oasis along the way, where Athanaël momentarily softens with pity upon seeing her bloody feet. But he shrugs off these feelings and deposits her in the convent.

However, worldly love has the last laugh on Athanaël. Back in the company of his Cenobite brothers, he is haunted by her beauty. He sighs and mopes and staggers about, lovesick. Finally, in a dream it is revealed to him that Thaïs is dying. He rushes to the convent. But, alas, there is no time to save her, as he has frittered away Act 3 and the opera is almost over. Thaïs sings a few ecstatic visions of Heaven and expires. Athanaël is left bereft.

I enjoyed the voices (although the baritone Thomas Hampson who played Athanaël had little to work with except gruff harangues), the orchestra (especially the concertmaster David Chan playing the Meditation violin solo), the costumes, and the stage settings. However, much of the drama was lost on me. Not sharing the Roman Catholic appreciation for convents, I felt that poor Thaïs was rescued from one kind of bondage only to be subjected to another. And her death at the end of the opera from excessive penance troubled me in a way that the composer Massenet, who wished to explore the contrast between sacred and worldly love, surely did not intend.

As usual, I was one of the youngest members of the audience, despite my nearly three score years. All present were AARP eligible except for two young couples. Gazing down the dimly lit rows of stadium seats at the white hair and the bald heads, I was put in mind of cotton balls and marbles scattered upon folds of black velvet.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Advice to Investors

Advice from Robert Benchley (Pluck and Luck, 1925):

"Bringing the whole thing down to cold facts, it becomes obvious that the wise investor will put his money in some good safe mortgage bonds paying a cool 3 per cent. and then take up his music again. Never neglect your music, and bring your children up to be musical."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Career dangers for a musician

Georg Philipp Telemann showed his musical talent early, composing the opera Sigismundo at the age of twelve. The resulting acclaim provoked an unfortunate reaction, as Telemann described afterward: "...ach! But what a lot of trouble I caused myself with this opera! A multitude of musical enemies came to my mother to tell her that I would become a conjurer, tightrope walker, minstrel, or trainer of guinea pigs etc., if I didn't put an end to my music soon. Thus said, thus done! My music and instruments were taken from me, and thus half my life."

To protect Telemann from the dangers of a musical career, Telemann's family directed him toward the law. He dutifully began his legal studies at the University of Leipzig in 1701. However, before long he was slipping away to compose cantatas for the Leipzig opera. By 1704, he had made a name for himself as a composer and was appointed chapelmaster at the court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz in Sorau. To the relief of his family, Telemann went from success to success throughout his musical career and avoided the degrading sidelines that some unfortunate composers must pursue to keep bread on the table between commissions.

This account of the young Telemann captured my interest, because my son the composer has recently taken a number of jobs that are perilously close to minstrelsy. I keep a wary eye out for signs of guinea pigs.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Macaulay's History of England

I am currently reading the five volume set of Thomas Macaulay's brilliant History of England from the Accession of James the Second.

Macaulay, a master stylist with a genius for irony and sarcasm, appropriates the techniques of the novelist to enliven his history. In contrast to the modern historian, who purports to be dispassionate and objective, Macaulay revels in applying his personal perspective as a cultured Englishman to make sense of the past and to distill history into striking judgements and descriptions. The force of his personality and his Whig convictions are evident on every page. The following excerpts illustrate his approach.

Macaulay applies the stilletto to those he deems worthy of disapprobation. Consider his description of Princess Anne, later Queen Anne, last of the Stuart monarchs:

"The King and Queen [William and Mary] had never, since the commencement of their reign, been on very good terms with their sister Anne. That William should have been disliked by a woman who had just sense enough to perceive that his temper was sour and his manners repulsive, and who was utterly incapable of appreciating his higher qualities, is not extraordinary. But Mary was made to be loved. So lively and intelligent a woman could not indeed derive much pleasure from the society of Anne, who, when in good humour, was meekly stupid, and, when in bad humour, was sulkily stupid."

Macaulay gives a blistering assessment of the dissolute Admiral Torrington:

"We cannot justly blame William for having a high opinion of Torrington. For Torrington was generally regarded as one of the bravest and most skilful officers in the navy. He had been promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral of England by King James, who, if he understood any thing, understood maritime affairs. That place and other lucrative places Torrington had relinquished when he found that he could retain them only by submitting to be a tool of the Jesuitical cabal. No man had taken a more active, a more hazardous, or a more useful part in effecting the Revolution. It seemed, therefore, that no man had fairer pretensions to be put at the head of the naval administration. Yet no man could be more unfit for such a post.

His morals had always been loose, so loose indeed that the firmness with which in the late reign he had adhered to his religion had excited much surprise. His glorious disgrace indeed seemed to have produced a salutary effect on his character. In poverty and exile he rose from a voluptuary into a hero. But, as soon as prosperity returned, the hero sank again into a voluptuary; and the lapse was deep and hopeless. The nerves of his mind, which had been during a short time braced to a firm tone, were now so much relaxed by vice that he was utterly incapable of selfdenial or of strenuous exertion. The vulgar courage of a foremast man he still retained. But both as Admiral and as First Lord of the Admiralty he was utterly inefficient.

Month after month the fleet which should have been the terror of the seas lay in harbour while he was diverting himself in London. The sailors, punning upon his new title, gave him the name of Lord Tarry-in-town. When he came on shipboard he was accompanied by a bevy of courtesans. There was scarcely an hour of the day or of the night when he was not under the influence of claret. Being insatiable of pleasure, he necessarily became insatiable of wealth. Yet he loved flattery almost as much as either wealth or pleasure. He had long been in the habit of exacting the most abject homage from those who were under his command. His flagship was a little Versailles. He expected his captains to attend him to his cabin when he went to bed, and to assemble every morning at his levee. He even suffered them to dress him. One of them combed his flowing wig; another stood ready with the embroidered coat.

Under such a chief there could be no discipline. His tars passed their time in rioting among the rabble of Portsmouth. Those officers who won his favour by servility and adulation easily obtained leave of absence, and spent weeks in London, revelling in taverns, scouring the streets, or making love to the masked ladies in the pit of the theatre. The victuallers soon found out with whom they had to deal, and sent down to the fleet casks of meat which dogs would not touch, and barrels of beer which smelt worse than bilge water. Meanwhile the British Channel seemed to be abandoned to French rovers. Our merchantmen were boarded in sight of the ramparts of Plymouth. The sugar fleet from the West Indies lost seven ships. The whole value of the prizes taken by the cruisers of the enemy in the immediate neighbourhood of our island, while Torrington was engaged with his bottle and his harem, was estimated at six hundred thousand pounds. So difficult was it to obtain the convoy of a man of war, except by giving immense bribes, that our traders were forced to hire the services of Dutch privateers, and found these foreign mercenaries much more useful and much less greedy than the officers of our own royal navy."

The Irish inspire Macaulay to his grandest flights of invective. Macaulay offers this description of the early life of Richard Talbot, later to become the leader of the Irish army opposing the English troops under King William:

"Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnel, the fiercest and most uncompromising of all those who hated the liberties and religion of England, arrived at court from Dublin. Talbot was descended from an old Norman family which had been long settled in Leinster, which had there sunk into degeneracy, which had adopted the manners of the Celts, which had, like the Celts, adhered to the old religion, and which had taken part with the Celts in the rebellion of 1641. In his youth he had been one of the most noted sharpers and bullies of London. He had been introduced to Charles and James when they were exiles in Flanders, as a man fit and ready for the infamous service of assassinating the Protector.

Soon after the Restoration, Talbot attempted to obtain the favour of the royal family by a service more infamous still. A plea was wanted which might justify James Duke of York [later King James the Second] in breaking that promise of marriage by which he had obtained from Anne Hyde the last proof of female affection. Such a plea Talbot, in concert with some of his dissolute companions, undertook to furnish. They agreed to describe the poor young lady as a creature without virtue, shame, or delicacy, and made up long romances about tender interviews and stolen favours. Talbot in particular related how, in one of his secret visits to her, he had unluckily overturned the Chancellor's inkstand upon a pile of papers, and how cleverly she had averted a discovery by laying the blame of the accident on her monkey. These stories, which, if they had been true, would never have passed the lips of any but the basest of mankind, were pure inventions. Talbot was soon forced to own that they were so; and he owned it without a blush. The injured lady became Duchess of York. Had her husband been a man really upright and honourable, he would have driven from his presence with indignation and contempt the wretches who had slandered her. But one of the peculiarities of James's character was that no act, however wicked and shameful, which had been prompted by a desire to gain his favour, ever seemed to him deserving of disapprobation.

Talbot continued to frequent the court, appeared daily with brazen front before the princess whose ruin he had plotted, and was installed into the lucrative post of chief pandar to her husband. In no long time Whitehall was thrown into confusion by the news that Dick Talbot, as he was commonly called, had laid a plan to murder the Duke of Ormond. The bravo was sent to the Tower: but in a few days he was again swaggering about the galleries, and carrying billets backward and forward between his patron and the ugliest maids of honour. It was in vain that old and discreet counsellors implored the royal brothers not to countenance this bad man, who had nothing to recommend him except his fine person and his taste in dress. Talbot was not only welcome at the palace when the bottle or the dicebox was going round, but was heard with attention on matters of business. He affected the character of an Irish patriot, and pleaded, with great audacity, and sometimes with success, the cause of his countrymen whose estates had been confiscated. He took care, however, to be well paid for his services, and succeeded in acquiring, partly by the sale of his influence, partly by gambling, and partly by pimping, an estate of three thousand pounds a year. For under an outward show of levity, profusion, improvidence, and eccentric impudence, he was in truth one of the most mercenary and crafty of mankind. He was now no longer young, and was expiating by severe sufferings the dissoluteness of his youth: but age and disease had made no essential change in his character and manners. He still, whenever he opened his mouth, ranted, cursed and swore with such frantic violence that superficial observers set him down for the wildest of libertines. The multitude was unable to conceive that a man who, even when sober, was more furious and boastful than others when they were drunk, and who seemed utterly incapable of disguising any emotion or keeping any secret, could really be a coldhearted, farsighted, scheming sycophant. Yet such a man was Talbot.

In truth his hypocrisy was of a far higher and rarer sort than the hypocrisy which had flourished in Barebone's Parliament. For the consummate hypocrite is not he who conceals vice behind the semblance of virtue, but he who makes the vice which he has no objection to show a stalking horse to cover darker and more profitable vice which it is for his interest to hide."

The discipline and training of the rebel Irish army supporting the deposed James the Second against King William are frequent targets of Macaulay's scorn:

"James, standing on the defensive, behind entrenchments, with a river before him, had the stronger position; but his troops were inferior both in number and in quality to those which were opposed to him. He probably had thirty thousand men. About a third part of this force consisted of excellent French infantry and excellent Irish cavalry. But the rest of his army was the scoff of all Europe. The Irish dragoons were bad; the Irish infantry worse. It was said that their ordinary way of fighting was to discharge their pieces once, and then to run away bawling "Quarter" and "Murder." Their inefficiency was, in that age, commonly imputed, both by their enemies and by their allies, to natural poltroonery. How little ground there was for such an imputation has since been signally proved by many heroic achievements in every part of the globe. It ought, indeed, even in the seventeenth century, to have occurred to reasonable men, that a race which furnished some of the best horse soldiers in the world would certainly, with judicious training, furnish good foot soldiers. But the Irish foot soldiers had not merely not been well trained; they had been elaborately ill trained."

Finally, consider the withering appraisal of Irish towns that Macaulay includes in his faint praise of Belfast:

"Other Irish towns may present more picturesque forms to the eye. But Belfast is the only large Irish town in which the traveller is not disgusted by the loathsome aspect and odour of long lines of human dens far inferior in comfort and cleanliness to the dwellings which, in happier countries, are provided for cattle."