Monday, November 24, 2014

Obama – The Man Who Would Be Caesar

Obama’s lawless immigration decree is outrageous and ominous, but sadly, entirely predictable given the distain shown the Constitution and proper legal process by Obama and his supporters.  Obama is also, as he often does, testing limits, to see what he and his fellow control masters can get away with. 

A de facto amnesty affecting millions of illegal aliens, contrary to established law and the will of elected federal representatives, is far beyond anything this Republic has yet seen.  There are existing immigration laws that, like all laws, should be enforced until they are changed.  If they need to be changed they should be changed, but until such time they are the laws of the land.  The doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, heretofore a limited, practical prioritization of cases by prosecutors with limited resources, is now being used to justify an executive action involving many millions.  Furthermore, however tenuous the Obama rationalization is in invoking prosecutorial discretion on a massive scale, what he cannot do, but has said he will do, is confer on those he is essentially pardoning positive legal rights such as work permits not permitted under existing law.     
The supporters of this dictate gleefully argue that it’s a good idea, a very good idea indeed according to their self-regarded superior and virtuous minds, and therefore it should be done, and can be done, by whatever means necessary.  The puppet-masters of the Democrat Party are manipulating their gullible and malleable dependents and acolytes by essentially declaring that there is an unwritten “Gridlock Clause” lurking somewhere in the penumbras and emanations of the United States Constitution that makes the President a dictator if “Congress doesn’t act” in a way he sees fit on any law he himself deems "broken".  As Benjamin Franklin said to the American people, you have a Republic – if you can keep it.

Impeachment and removal is the simple Constitutional remedy for Presidential lawlessness, though certainly the Republicans will not muster up for that fight.  And even if they tried, the vice-like grip that radical liberals have on the levers of culture and media will thwart with vicious force the undoubtedly hesitant, bumbling, and contradictory moves Republicans would make.  Patriots who seek to preserve this system of government, this Great Experiment, will seek other avenues of action – through the purse and through the courts.    

Obama’s latest outrage is consistent with the strategic principles of the modern Democrat Party, which are: (1) remember that the ends justify the means; (2) collapse the system upon itself and grab more power in the disarray; (3) distract and fool the foolable by relentlessly smearing any and all opponents as racist, sexist, homophobic, and selfish dimwits; and (4) ever expand the mass of people dependent on government for welfare and for jobs, creating these modern-day serfs who will faithfully vote for the Democrat party puppet masters (who, as one wag has put it, regard illegal aliens as “undocumented Democrats”) no matter what is happening to the fabric of the Republic.     

This Republic, which few at the beginning thought could last this long, exists on a shared set of values and beliefs.  When it ends, if it ends, it will not likely end in one fell blow, but rather will die of many cuts, over time, until there is no blood left to sustain its life.  This cut was deep.  The American body politic has shown great healing powers, so we shall see what comes of this latest gash.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera

Il Trovatore sign, in flames
The other day we took in a grand performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore at the Lyric in Chicago's Loop.  It’s a familiar story in opera: tenor good boy meets girl, baritone bad boy meets girl.  Boys are rivals, boys are enemies.  The bad boy is powerful, the good boy is oppressed.  Both love to sing and sing often about their love for the lady (the soprano of course) and about their hatred for one another (and about some other things).  The twist here is that the boys are brothers but don’t know it, and Verdi throws in for good measure a gypsy foster mother out for revenge, thundering hammers, a deep family secret, and the disturbing visage of a woman and a baby consumed by flames.

 Il Trovatore’s appeal is emotional and visual and aural, not intellectual.  Yes, it’s an Italian melodrama filled with themes of vengeance and superstition, and loaded with passionate characters spending lots of time passionate about their passion.  But it’s also filled with beautiful music, some of the finest Verdi ever wrote.  It has one of the most rousing and memorable choruses in all opera – the Anvil Chorus; in the performance I saw, no one with one of those giant hammers missed a pounding beat.  In the Lyric Opera Companion’s essay on Il Trovatore, Stephanie von Buchau writes that, however intellectually pedestrian the libretto may be, in all of opera Il Trovatore is “the 19th century’s most impressive and beloved example of romantic melodrama.”  In The New Criterion, music critic Jay Nordlinger said “Il Trovatore is a combination of bel canto and blood-and-guts grand opera.”

The Main Hall at the Civic Opera House of Chicago
The program guide tells us that this production premiered at the Lyric Opera of Chicago before going on to the Metropolitan and San Francisco Opera, and is now back home.  The setting is Spain, and on the Lyric’s curtain was a reproduction of Goya’s jarring “Pilgrimage to the Hermitage of St. Isadore”, which hangs in the Prado.  One year in college a roommate and I had a Goya drawing, almost as disturbing, in our dorm room on loan through an art program, but that’s another story.

The Goya Main Screen at Il Trovatore
The Lyric’s first Leonora was Maria Callas (in 1955) – how about that?  This time around, two principals, soprano Amber Wagner as Leonora and baritone Quinn Kelsey as the bad Count di Luna, are alumni of the Lyric’s own renowned training program – the Ryan Opera Center.  Also in the cast are tenor Yonghoon Lee as the hero Manrico and mezzo Stephanie Blythe as Azucena the gypsy.  The Lyric’s program guide asserts that “of all the Verdi operas, there is none more formidable vocally than Il Trovatore”, containing, among other highlights, “the most harrowing five minutes ever composed for operatic mezzo-soprano” and “the most exhilarating of Verdi’s soprano/baritone duets”; I would add the rousing tenor aria “Di Quella Pira” and, in the final moments, the beautiful and touching tenor/mezzo duet “Ai Nostri Monti”.  Caruso is said to have said that all that is need to make Il Trovatore work is “the four greatest singers in the world.”  It certainly worked for me the other night.

R Balsamo

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Four

On our recent drive into northern Michigan, we made an overnight stop in Traverse City, which sits at the base of Grand Traverse Bay, a huge inlet from Lake Michigan that is bisected by the long, narrow Old Mission Peninsula.  We had been looking forward to touring the area and walking around the compact downtown, but we awoke to a cold, blustery, and rainy day.  After driving around a bit we decided to run out the rain by continuing northward.    

Old Mission Peninsula, Looking Westward from the East Arm of Grand Traverse Bay
We traveled north on US31 and reached Charlevoix in less than an hour.  The city sits on an isthmus between Lake Michigan and small Round Lake, which is sort of an ante-lake to the much bigger Lake Charlevoix which lies just out of sight to the east.  We did manage to find the lakeside neighborhood with the little English hobbit-house-like cottages.  After lunch and a walk around town, we continued north to the Petoskey area.

Petoskey sits on the southeastern shore of Little Traverse Bay, a large inlet of Lake Michigan.  The town is full of neat old buildings in a thriving downtown.  Its growth at the turn of the 20th Century was fueled by summer residents coming up north from Chicago and Detroit.  Nearby is the Chautauqua-like settlement of Bay View, which I suspect was one of the attractions, along with the woods, streams, and inland lakes, that drew people like Earnest Hemingway’s parents to summer in this particular area of northern Michigan.  The summer people first came by lake steamer, then by train, and now by automobile and airplane.

Little Traverse Bay from the Southern Shore near Petoskey, Looking Northwest out to Lake Michigan
We stayed a few days in the area and enjoyed the sights and Lake sounds.  We had some nice dinners, and stopped for drinks in the bar of the historic Perry Hotel.  I bought a few Petoskey stones, those polished-smooth, stone-like pieces of ancient coral found on the shore of Lake Michigan – where better to buy them but in Petoskey?  The area is Hemingway country:  he would occasionally get into Petoskey during his many summers in the area, and would actually live there for some months around age 20, although he spent his time primarily just south of town at his family’s cottage (and later small farm) on Walloon Lake and in the small nearby town of Horton Bay on neighboring Lake Charlevoix.    

The Petoskey Marina on Little Traverse Bay
One day we drove north about an hour to Mackinaw City, where we boarded a ferry for the short ride to Mackinac Island, which lies just off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the Lake Huron side of the Straits of Mackinac.  From the boat we had great views of the enormous Mackinac Bridge that connects the lower and upper peninsulas.  Travelers disembark on piers jutting out from the one small town on the island.  Without motorized vehicles, horses all around, and well-preserved 19th Century (and earlier) buildings, the island evokes a simpler, slower bygone moment in time.  We spent hours walking about, on yet another day of record-setting mid-September cold.  

Mackinac Bridge, with a Cargo Ship in the Distance, Looking Westward on a Calm Day
One particular highlight was our walking tour of the Grand Hotel, a vibrant scene of by-gone elegance decorated with lots of bright reds and greens.  Understated it is not.  The famous front porch affords great views of the surrounding grounds and the fraying pool area, and in the distance, Lake Huron and the Bridge crossing the Straight.   

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island 
In town I confess that we did stop in a fudge shop or two.  We missed visiting Fort Mackinac, as time constraints, cold, and drizzle conspired against us.  We shivered in our light jackets waiting for the return ferry; I think we later heard that it was about 20 degrees below average for that day of the year.   
The Main Street on Mackinac Island
We drove back to Petoskey for one more night, then headed south the next day for home.  On our first day back at the southern end of Lake Michigan, the weather cleared and rose 15 degrees back to average.  On our next drive Up North, we’re hoping for a taste of that “global warming” we’re still waiting for around these parts.

R Balsamo

The entire series is here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The US CDC Ebola Guidelines in Plain English

The United States Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Ebola Guidelines in plain English:

·       Although we have been spending most of our ample time and buckets of money at the CDC worrying about traffic light safety, size of helpings at McDonald’s, obesity in lesbians, and sedentary lifestyles, we have found a few people in the basement back by the service entrance who keep an eye now and then on communicable disease and we have consulted with them.

·       Listen to us because we are trained professionals and we know what we’re talking about.

·       You cannot catch Ebola sitting next to someone on a bus, unless you’re in West Africa where the person next to you might actually have Ebola.

·       There is no reason to avoid public transportation in the US, because you cannot catch Ebola on a bus or a plane.

·       If someone on a bus or plane sneezes or coughs near you, we’d look at your situation.

·       If you have Ebola or have been exposed, do not travel on a bus or a plane.

·       The nurse who cared for the Liberian Ebola patient should not have traveled on an airplane before she got sick.

·       We do not recommend travel restrictions because it will not matter if more people with Ebola enter this country.

·       Stopping more people from coming to this country from Ebola hot zones won’t completely protect all Americans, so it is not worth doing.

·       Restricting travelers from Ebola hot zones from entering this country would prevent us from sending aid to those countries since all medical aid from the US to the Ebola countries must be balanced by Ebola-infected people entering the US.

·       Restricting travelers from Ebola hot zones from entering this country might hurt the economies of those countries, so we should not interfere with the free movement of people even if they have Ebola.

·       Restricting travelers from Ebola hot zones from entering this country would be racist since the Ebola outbreak is in Africa, so we should not interfere with the free movement of people even if they have Ebola.

·       Listen to us because we are trained professionals and we know what we’re talking about.

·       Our personal protection protocol for Ebola health care workers is 100% effective.

·       Ebola is a hard disease to catch, unless you’re a highly-trained nurse following our personal protection protocol.

·       The nurses who followed our protocol but who nevertheless contracted Ebola must have breached protocol.

·       We don’t know how the nurses breached protocol.

·       We really just know that our protocol is 100%.

·       Even though our protocol is really, really 100% effective, we’ll now look at improving it.

·       Ebola is a very hard disease to catch and trust us, we are trained professionals and we know what we’re talking about.  We have top men, top men, working on this.  After all, why would we fudge the truth?

R Balsamo

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Three: Hemingway Country

On our recent trip Up North in Michigan, we spent a few days in Petoskey, a fine little town on Lake Michigan's Little Traverse Bay which, among other things, sits in Hemmingway country.

I grew up near Hemingway’s boyhood home in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, and I went to high school there as well (though at a different school than Hemingway's).  Because of his particular local fame I have had a passing interest in his life and writing, although I am not especially partial to his style which I find excessively sparse and metaphorical.  I have though enjoyed his semi-autobiographical (which of his work is not, for that matter) Nick Adams short stories, about a sometimes barely-fictionalized boy and young man growing up in northern Michigan. 

On this trip we did not make it over to the Walloon Lake – Horton Bay area, a short distance outside Petoskey.  Hemingway spent twenty one or twenty two summers there starting when he was practically a newborn.  Early on he stayed with his family at their summer cottage on Walloon Lake.  Later his parents bought additional property on the opposite shore and developed a truck farm there that Hemingway worked for a few years as a teenager.  He would rough it in a tent on that side of Walloon Lake, and gravitated for meals and company to nearby Horton Bay, a small settlement a few miles west down the road on neighboring Lake Charlevoix.  Later on at 20 years old, after his return from his WWI experience in Italy, he spent one autumn and early winter in a Petoskey boarding house, as the cottage was too cold and he chose not to return to Oak Park to stay with his parents.    

At Horton Bay Hemingway met three siblings named Smith who would figure large in his life.  They were from St Louis but spent some summers in the area with a rich aunt.   He would have an affair with Kate Smith, a beautiful girl who would go on to introduce him to two of her girlfriends who would become his first two wives and the mothers of his three sons.  Bill Smith became a close friend.  Later, Hemingway would live for a while on Chicago’s near north side in the apartment of the oldest Smith sibling, Kenley, who would introduce him to some literary figures who would set him off on his career.  One of these was Sherwood Anderson, who entranced Hemingway with stories of his recent time in Paris among the “Lost Generation” and encouraged the young man to move there (which of course he soon did).  As an aside, some years later, after Hemingway was married to his second wife and living in Key West, Kate Smith came to visit both her friends and there met Hemingway’s pal and fellow writer John Dos Passos, whom she soon married.

Hemingway married his first wife in a small church on the shore of Lake Charlevoix in Horton Bay.  After their honeymoon at his family's cottage on Walloon Lake, the couple left to live in Chicago near Kenley Smith.  Less than a year later they moved to Paris.  Although his experiences in northern Michigan with family, friends, lovers, and the outdoors would loom large in his writings, Hemingway returned to the area only once more in his life, for a short time when he was about 50 years old.    

I have particularly enjoyed the biography of Hemingway’s early life – "Along With Youth" by Peter Griffin.  I have also read parts of, and relied upon, "Hemingway: A Biography" by Jeffrey Meyers.

R Balsamo

Part One here; Part Two here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part Two

Heading north from Crystal Lake we quickly entered the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the large, sprawling federally-protected area of coastal dunes stretching for miles along the shoreline.  Although large sand dunes can be found all over the Great Lakes, they are particularly prominent along the southern and eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  We in fact began our trip not far from another great stretch of dunes, those in Indiana at the southern tip of the Lake, where much of them are now enclosed in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  The most majestic of all the Great Lakes dunes are said to line the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan. 

We took a short detour off M-22 to find a special area called the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a federal park with a seven-mile paved lane that winds through the woods atop a stretch of high dunes.  The scenic overlooks are stunning – Lake Michigan is on one side and inland Glen Lake is close-by on the other.  At the entrance to the park visitors must stop at a small booth to pay an admission fee.  We were greeted there by a very friendly park ranger.  He was so friendly in fact that we waited about five minutes while he engaged in a seemingly quite pleasant chit chat with the folks in the car ahead.  We later saw that those people were an elderly couple, with plates from an eastern state, so apparently both parties had much to talk about.  The wait was well worth it.

An inland lake -- Glen Lake -- in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
The Sleeping Bear Dunes is a rolling landscape of very high sand dunes, one section of which, to Indians and early explorers alike, looked from out in the Lake like a giant recumbent bear. 

Trees, grasses, and other plants surprisingly can grow in the dunes by sending roots far down for water and anchorage.  Here a clump of trees stand tall in the sand against the winds:

I had been there once before, as a boy on a car trip around Lake Michigan with my parents and brother.  I remember being awestruck by the height of the dunes.  My brother and I found them irresistible and so slid and tumbled all the way down to the bottom far below.  Once at the water’s edge, I remember looking back up and wondering how the heck we were going to get back to the top.  It took a while.

From high atop a great dune, South and North Manitou Islands are clearly visible:

South (left) and North Manitou Islands
Reluctantly we left the national park, regained Highway M-22, and continued north into the Leelanau Peninsula (the little finger of Michigan’s mitten-shaped lower peninsula).  We passed through Glen Arbor and other scenic lakeside towns and finally stopped in Leland, which is the terminus of the ferry to the Manitou Islands.  Leland was a great place to stretch our legs, order fresh Lake Michigan whitefish, and sample wines at the tasting room of a Leelanau winery.  We had had a first visit just last year when we met up with friends who had boated across the Lake from Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin, out way over the horizon.  

The distance to the Manitou Islands is almost 18 miles.  An old friend tells me that as a younger man he kayaked from Leland to South Manitou Island.  I suppose I believe him. 

Leland; the ferry terminal is the small brown building in the left center
We continued on M-22, first north further into the Leelanau peninsula, then inland for a short while until we hit Grand Traverse Bay at the other side of the peninsula, where the road then took us south, with the beautiful Bay on our left, into Traverse City where we spent the night.
[Part 1 is here.]

R Balsamo

Monday, September 29, 2014

Cruising Up North in Michigan – Part One

The time was right for a leisurely drive Up North, so a couple of weeks ago we headed out from New Buffalo, at the extreme southwest tip of the state of Michigan, on a meander up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.  We eventually reached the very top of the state’s lower peninsula, Mackinaw City, where we hopped a ferry for a day trip to storied Mackinac Island.  We encountered unseasonably cool weather, at times 20 degrees or more below average with frequently overcast skies and the occasional drizzle, but it stayed just warm enough to allow for an enjoyable cruise.    

We passed through towns large and small, some thriving, some struggling, and some half-abandoned.  In all though, the coastal area seems to be doing better than many parts of inland America, as the sightseeing, recreation, and industry supported by the Lake bring people and money.

At Grand Haven we left the highway and toured around the town.  We found a lively, orderly city with a downtown filled with shops and businesses, a marina on the Grand River for boaters, and of course a beautiful stretch of lakeshore.  The public beach is wide and clean, with a pier and lighthouse a little off to the north and tree-covered high sand dunes spreading out to the south, with spacious Queen Anne houses overlooking it all from a great bluff.

Looking South from the Lakeshore at Grand Haven
We were struck by the number of large, inland lakes so close to the Big Lake, some separated by distances measured in yards rather than miles.  Residents can enjoy the majesty of Lake Michigan but retreat to a smaller, inland lake for swimming and boating in water warmer and calmer.  We stopped briefly at Onekama on Portage Lake, which actually communicates with Lake Michigan.   Like so many other towns along the Lake, hidden from the main road, down small, winding roads, are summer houses and inns.  Petoskey and Walloon Lake further north may have Hemingway, but Onekama had its own famous annual summer resident up from Chicago – Paul Harris, an attorney who founded the service organization Rotary International.

Portage Lake, Michigan, on an Overcast Day Looking Toward Lake Michigan
Just north of Manistee begins M-22, the fittingly fishhook-shaped scenic highway that hugs the coast up to and around the Leelanau peninsula and then heads back south along the western shore of Great Traverse Bay to end in Traverse City.  It passes through scenic lakeside towns and one of the most beautiful places on the Great Lakes – the Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Just north of Arcadia there is a scenic turnout worth stopping at:
Looking South from the Scenic Turnout Just North of Arcadia on M-22
M-22 took us by one more large inland lake, Crystal Lake, before entering the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  We stopped near a row of small, neat houses lining the small strip of land between M-22 and the water:

Crystal Lake, Michigan, from its Northern Shore
Partway along the northern shore of Crystal Lake, M-22 takes a sharp northward turn away from the water and heads into the remarkable Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  For my next post.  

R Balsamo

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

A few days ago the Lyric Opera of Chicago put on its annual Stars of the Lyric free concert in Millennium Park to kick off its new season.  The audience was under the stars, but the performers were sheltered beneath the Gehry-designed bandshell that bursts out in a cacophony of curvilinear silver shards and folds.  It was a great night for outdoor music, clear and dry, with just the faintest breeze off the lake.  

Three of the six selections were taken from operas in the upcoming season: the overture from Tannhauser; the Te Deum from Tosca; and the final scene from Don Giovanni.  There were also scenes from Verdi’s operas Rigoletto and Macbeth, plus a not-often-heard piece from Mascagni's Iris. 

The Don Giovanni performers included Ana Maria Martinez, whom I saw last year sing Mimi in La Boheme at the Lyric.  Once I was invited to a dress rehearsal of Don Giovanni at the Lyric and for the first time there sat in box seats, which are very cool for anyone who likes moveable chairs with extra leg room.  Not a bad way to listen to Mozart.  The offering from Rigoletto, a tale of what-one-sends-around can come back around – with a vengeance, was the complete Act III, which includes a particular favorite of mine – the quartet. 
Macbeth undoubtedly carries lots of memories for people – who didn’t read it in high school?  And what a story – out damned spot and from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.  As I sat there, I recalled that Macbeth is the only opera I have seen at the Met in New York, and, aside from the great spectacle of it, I remember thinking how incredibly comfortable the seats were there compared to those at the Civic Opera House, where the Lyric performs.  Of course, hard to beat is enjoying the music and voices of Macbeth from the comfort of a spacious canvas folding chair while working on a bottle of pinot noir under a beautiful night sky.    

R Balsamo
Related Posts:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Kitty Genovese Murder -- 50 Years Later

Catherine "Kitty" Genovese
Today is the 50th anniversary of the horrible murder in New York City of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. Amidst hundreds of murders that year, in NYC and elsewhere, that particular one became famous because of the New York Times coverage. As the published story went, a young woman returning home late at night was attacked on the street in front of her large apartment building, and her screams were ignored by scores of her neighbors, who, as the narrative went, did nothing out of fear and apathy. The story made national news as a sign of a developing social pathology.

I remember the event. I was in 6th grade at the time, in a Chicago suburb. My teacher told us the story, and led many discussions about it, and the topic came up in class discussions for some years. It is one of the very few single events I can remember being discussed in those early years of mine, that’s how big a national story it was.

Now, years later, we know the media narrative was a lie. In fact, only a few people heard her screams, which were hard to differentiate from the background din of raucous city life in a rough neighborhood, and in fact at least one resident did call the police and at least one yelled out the window. The real story is one of a young woman walking alone late at night to her apartment building who was attacked by a mentally ill psychopath on the prowl for a victim. The murderer was, in fact, initially scared off by shouts from the apartment building but only hid nearby, returning to the still-alive victim when the police failed to arrive. The New York Times needed a sensational story to sell papers, and then as now loved a story angle that put average Americans in a bad light.

Thus the myth of the 38 apathetic bystanders was born. And it was all a lie, from the same NY Times that some years earlier suppressed the truth about Stalin’s mass starvation of millions of farmers in the Soviet Union out of sympathy for his socialistic intentions, a disgrace the newspaper to this day has not even acknowledged let alone apologized for. Among the many real truths of the Kitty Genovese story is that the liberal media in general and the New York Times in particular cannot be trusted to tell the truth.

J Greco

One revisionist look:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

From the Annals of Inanities – Feminists Tackle Excessive Female Injuries on Unisex Olympic Slopes

At the winter Olympic Games, women are getting injured on the unisex ski slopes way more than men.  Apparently, usually in competitions the runs for women are easier than those for men (how sexist!), but at the Olympics they are unisex (equality!).  Once again, feminists attempt to hold two completely incompatible positions at the same time.  Heather Mac Donald reports (link):

How to properly respond to the female crash tally, however, is difficult.  Ordinarily, anything bad happening to females is a sure sign that they are being victimized by sexism.  So the default feminist reaction to the female wipe-outs is to blame the course designers.  Kim Lamarre, a Canadian bronze medalist in slope style skiing, is happy to oblige: “Most of the courses are built for the big show, for the men,” she told the Times.  “I think they could do more to make it safer for women.” [....] 

Uh-oh! Gender-studies red flag!  “Making it safer for women,” as in: recognizing female difference and adopting a chivalric attitude towards the female sex?  Big, big problem.  The Olympics’ history of “trying to protect women from the perils of some sports” by creating easier ski courses is “sexist, perhaps,” agonizes the Times’ reporter.  [....] 

The true feminist will blithely have it both ways, indifferent to the contradiction: The unisex course is sexist because it injures women and trying to protect [especially] women from injury is sexist.  ....Likewise, feminists toggle at will between [1] the position that there should be gender quotas for women in political positions, say, because females bring a special sensibility to political problems, and [2] the position that men and women are identical in every way and thus that any disparities in outcomes — whether in advanced math and physics attainment or in the predilection for public debate — must be the result of sexism.   

Here’s a key point at issue: 

As injuries build up for female combat soldiers [or if for policewomen or firewomen or female construction workers], expect to see the same confused thinking.  The Army will be blamed for not doing enough to protect females while also being pressured to pretend that females are the absolute [physical] equal of men and thus need no [special] protection. 

When are the gals going to start lifting the guys in ice dancing, and will they be able to carry wounded comrades off a battlefield under fire?

“I can do anything you can do better, I can do anything better than you” – Annie Oakley

“I can do anything you can do better, I can do anything better than you, as long as you men make it safe for me with special accommodations and separate standards” – modern American feminist

Monday, February 17, 2014

Banjo Patterson & Waltzing Matilda

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Andrew Barton "Banjo" Patterson (link), the man who in 1895 wrote the lyrics to Waltzing Matilda, a song often regarded as the unofficial national anthem of Australia and one I first heard as a boy in the early 1960s at the Boy Scout Camp Shin-Go-Beek in central Wisconsin.  There were a few hundred of us at a time at those annual summer camps, and I think we sang this song, and a few others, every day at lunch and dinner; interestingly though, Waltzing Matilda is the only one I can specifically remember.  Of course, I had no idea then what any of the nouns meant – swagman, billabong, coolibah tree, billy, jumbuck, tucker-bag – they seemed borrowed from a foreign language.  As it turns out, they were – Australian!

Patterson was quite a fellow.  He grew up in the Australian outback and, although becoming a lawyer, is best known as a writer – he wrote lyrics, penning the words to Waltzing Matilda; poetry, including The Man from Snowy River (which was later twice made into a movie); novels; sports reports; and finally dispatches from the front, serving as a war correspondent during the Second Boer War in southern Africa and the Boxer Rebellion in China.  He also served in WWI first as an ambulance driver and later as an officer in the Australian Army, with which he was wounded in France.  He eventually settled down as a farmer in later years and died in 1941, during WWII, at age 76. 

I’ve heard many versions of Waltzing Matilda over the years, but perhaps the best (despite omitting the third verse), slowly paced with a wistful, melancholy air, is one by the late Tom Dundee, from a town far from Down Under – Chicago.  I’ll almost certainly never learn if he first heard the song deep in the Wisconsin woods, but his version is available on iTunes, where I discovered it and bought it some years ago.

R Balsamo

Friday, February 14, 2014

Islam Intimidates the West – the Rushdie Murder Contract 25 Years Ago Today

Award-winning "Piss Christ" "artwork"
Twenty five years ago today Islamic Iran’s top religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini ordered (link) Muslims to kill Muslim author Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, a recently-published novel that Khomeini and many other Muslims felt insulted Islam.  This murder order, a type of “fatwa”, sent Rushdie into hiding and split the Western world into those who condemned the murder order outright and those who, while not explicitly endorsing it, criticized Rushdie for hurting the sensitive feelings of Muslims.  Muslims all over the world took notice of the response in the West, in the Judeo-Christian world.  This public, world-wide murder contract served to put the Western world on notice that death, any place at any time, might be the penalty for any perceived insult to Islam, and served as a very successful preemptive gag order on public Western thought.

Those moderns apologetic about Western culture, known as liberals in America, generally give Muslims a pass on behaviors they, the liberals, claim to care deeply about, such as women’s rights (but wearing a full body bag is liberating, and it’s not really genital mutilation but rather a ritual, symbolic “nick”), freedom of speech (but we need to be especially sensitive when we talk about religion, except for Christianity of course), freedom of religion (but we need to be culturally sensitive when Muslims kill Muslims who want to leave Islam for another religion), freedom of sexual expression (but we really need to be culturally sensitive when Muslims kill homosexuals), and freedom to not be blown up (but we must look inward to understand why we have made them so angry at us, and then change ourselves).  These practices not uncommon in the Muslim world are not really problems, and to the extent they might be it’s really all our fault, but damn those troglodyte, medieval American Christians who want to ban third trimester abortions!   

Liberals working in movies, TV, theater, on stage, and in the arts make fun of Christianity and Christian religious figures all the time.  Christianity is fair game for attacks by haters – the award-winning piece of "art" called “Piss Christ” (link) is a perfect case in point, consisting of a crucifix, a representation of the crucified Jesus Christ, placed in a jar of the “artist’s” urine, funded by American taxpayers and defended and celebrated by liberals everywhere (freedom of speech!).  Academics also love to whack Christianity  – remember the "Stomp on Jesus" college class exercise (link)?; I'm still waiting for the "Stomp on Muhammad", but not holding my breath.  But in a rare, unplanned candid moment, an entertainer or artist may admit that Islam is off limits because, after all, who wants to be killed for a novel or a joke or a movie or a picture of Muhammad in a jar of urine; and anyways, Christians are such soft targets since they turn the other cheek, but those Muslims, well, better not mess with them.          

Even Jimmy Carter, a Democrat American president, urged a show of sensitivity to the hurt feelings of Muslims over Rushdie’s book and held Rushdie partially responsible (in a variation of the long-recognized "Blame America First" mind-set).  Per Wikipedia (link): 

Former United States president Jimmy Carter, while condemning the threats and fatwā against Rushdie, stated, "we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated and are suffering in restrained silence the added embarrassment of the Ayatollah's irresponsibility".  He also held that Rushdie must have been aware of the response his book would evoke: "The author, a well-versed analyst of Moslem beliefs, must have anticipated a horrified reaction throughout the Islamic world".  He saw a need to be "sensitive to the concern and anger" of Muslims....

"Sensitive to the anger of Muslims" – an endorsement of the heckler's veto (link; incidentally, a term coined by a UChicago professor).  Well, I'm offended by "Piss Christ" and its funding by the American government, but so far I haven't heard Jimmy Carter express concern about my feelings and chastise the "artist".  Carter’s public spinelessness, and that of so many others in the West, communicated a lot to the Muslim world (to wit, Osama bin Laden’s obliquely calling America and the West a “weak horse” [link]) and encouraged many true believers in it to continue to test limits against Western values.  Such testing continues today, and although it arguably started with the Suez crisis it gathered steam with the seizure of the American Embassy in Iran and long mistreatment of the Americans captured there, two events which then-President Carter was too weak and too conflicted to handle.  As wags have suggested somewhat tongue-in-cheek, perhaps if Christians took a cue from their Muslim fellow humans and occasionally set off a bomb or lopped off a head, they would be accorded some of the respect and deference Western liberals have long given Muslims.  Can Popes issue murder fatwas?

Monday, January 27, 2014

The P-38 Lightning at 75 – "The Sweetest-Flying Plane in the Sky"

One of my most enjoyable pleasures as a kid was building, from kits, scale models of planes and ships.  Sometimes I think I can still smell that “airplane” glue – it seems I wanted my creations to be as hard to destroy as the originals and so invariably I used too much of it.  The machines’ technology combined with the immense courage and skill required to operate them has always fascinated me.  Unfortunately, my models did not survive the years, and exactly why has been lost to time. 

"P-38 in the Pacific" by Charles Smith (link), noted painter of trains, ships, and planes.  From author's collection.  
One of my favorite planes was the World War II-era Lockheed P-38, nicknamed the “Lightning” by the British.  Its key features were an unusual double boom design, to carry two powerful engines, and a streamlined, curvy look.  General Jimmy Doolittle personally flew one and called it "the sweetest-flying plane in the sky", letting us non-aviators know the P-38 was as beautiful to fly as it was to look at.  The plane's beautiful lines and twin fins are said to have inspired General Motors design chief Harley Earl to develop the curvy tailfins that first appeared on the 1948 Cadillac and soon spread to most other American auto nameplates, becoming the iconic look of the 1950s.   

Well, today is the 75th anniversary of the P-38’s first flight. Many versions were eventually produced, each one an incremental improvement, and, notably, the P-38 was the only American fighter in production throughout American involvement in WWII.  The plane was land-based and used primarily as fighter, but also saw action in reconnaissance and as a light bomber.  The P-38’s armament was in its nose rather than on its wings, meaning that the plane would shoot straight and far, avoiding the problem of having the narrower range of effectiveness that came from criss-crossing bullet paths from wing-mounted guns.   

Every fighter plane in the war had advantages and disadvantages relative to every other one.  As it turned out, the Lightning matched up better against Japanese fighters than German ones, so the P-38 saw most of its action in the Pacific theater.  Compared to Japanese fighters, principally the Zero, the P-38 was faster, had better armament, was better at climbing, and performed much better at high altitudes, although it was not as agile as the lighter and more maneuverable Japanese planes.  The P-38’s unusual twin boom design accommodated two large supercharged engines that were the key to its superior performance at high altitudes, and the wider wingspan that was supported by the booms also helped high up as well.  The P-38 also had great range, extended by use of dropped fuel tanks, which, along with having two engines in the event one failed, made it well-adapted to the long distances, much of that over water, in the Pacific Theater. 

The top two WWII American aces both flew P-38s against Japan.  Because of its performance and long-range, the P-38 was chosen as the plane to use in the April, 1943, long-distance attack behind Japanese lines to shoot down the plane carrying Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, the master-planner of the Pearl Harbor attack and one of Japan’s best military minds.  The P-38 saw more limited and niche action in the European Theater.  As it was, the first American pilot to shoot down a German aircraft in WWII was flying a P-38.  Of historical note, famous aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, whose work included The Little Prince, was killed just off the southern coast of France in July 1944 when he went down flying a P-38 on a photo reconnaissance mission for the Free French Air Force.

Curiously, there were only a few other planes with a double boom design ever produced, and soon they as well as all other successful aircraft were made obsolete by the development of jet planes, which appeared even before the end of the war.  The days of human-scaled, sweet-flying propeller planes were over.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Now 50 Years Into It, the Democrat Party “War on Poverty” Has Been a Rip-Roaring Success

To distract the American public’s mind away from all the Obama scandals and failures – the economy, Obamacare, illegal IRS abuse of power, unconstitutional government spying, etc., etc. – Obama and the Democrat brain trust propagandists have decided to start talking about income inequality and the poor in America, as if it were still 1913 or 1933, or, hey, even 1964, when the “War on Poverty” began fifty years ago today. 

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation writes (link) about “How the War on Poverty Was Lost – Fifty years and $20 trillion later, LBJ's goal to help the poor become self-supporting has failed.” 

Some of the points Rector makes; all quotes from his piece:

·         On January 8, 1964, Democrat President Lyndon B. Johnson used his State of the Union address to announce an ambitious government undertaking.  "This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America."

·         Fifty years later, we're losing that war.  Fifteen percent of Americans still live in poverty, according to the official census poverty report for 2012, unchanged since the mid-1960s. 

·         The original goal [of the War on Poverty], as LBJ stated it half a century ago: "to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities."

·         The federal government currently runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans.  Government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012 alone, and roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient.  Federal and state welfare spending, adjusted for inflation, is 16 times greater than it was in 1964.  If converted to cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all official poverty in the U.S.

·         The official poverty rate persists with little improvement .... in part because the government's poverty figures are misleading.  Census defines a family as poor based on income level but doesn't count welfare benefits as a form of income. 

·         Current poverty [as defined by the federal government] has little resemblance to poverty 50 years ago.  According to a variety of government sources ... the typical American living below the poverty level in 2013 lives in a house or apartment that is in good repair, equipped with air conditioning and cable TV.  His home is larger than the home of the average non-poor French, German or English man.  He has a car, multiple color TVs and a DVD player.  More than half the poor have computers and a third have wide, flat-screen TVs.  The overwhelming majority of poor Americans are not undernourished and did not suffer from hunger for even one day of the previous year.

·         ... LBJ's original aim .... sought to give poor Americans "opportunity not doles," planning to shrink welfare dependence not expand it.  In his vision, the war on poverty would strengthen poor Americans' capacity to support themselves....  By that standard, the war on poverty has been a catastrophe....  A large segment of the population is now less capable of self-sufficiency than when the war on poverty began.

·         The collapse of marriage in low-income communities has played a substantial role in the declining capacity for self-support.  In 1963, 6% of American children were born out of wedlock.  Today the number stands at 41% [and, not mentioned in Rector's piece, the figure among blacks is about 70%].  As benefits swelled, welfare increasingly served as a substitute for a bread-winning husband in the home. ....  According to the Heritage Foundation's analysis, children raised in the growing number of single-parent homes are four times more likely to be living in poverty than children reared by married parents of the same education level. 

If one properly and correctly understands that the central aim of the Democrat Party puppet-masters running the so-called “anti-poverty” programs was to create and maintain a large number of people dependent on and beholden to the Democrats as the party of government benefits, people who all would vote for Democrats as they in fact do, and as well to create tens of thousands of welfare program-related government jobs to be handed out by Democrats as patronage to workers beholden to the Democrat Party, jobsters who all would vote for Democrats as they in fact do, then the so-called “War on Poverty” has been a rip-roaring success.  A success, that is, for the liberal elites and the patronage army of the Democrat Party, but certainly not, tragically and predictably, for those utterly dependent and truly hopeless people in the now-permanent underclass,  created by and ever-entangled by the Democrat dependency strategy, which, to be successful, had to destroy the family structure and normalize the pathologies of the slum culture.      

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address at 150 -- The Lighter Side

Today is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.  At one point I had it committed to mind, all 271 or so (depending on the version) words.  Time has frayed my memory, although I think I can still do a mite better than Barney Fife trying to recite from his memory the Preamble to the Constitution:

As for Lincoln himself, here's Bob Newhart's playing a modern advertising man preping a somewhat befuddled Lincoln for the Gettysburg Address, in what I think is his best bit (link):