Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit All About?

What is the meaning of Brexit?  This from Theodore Dalrymple, a British writer, critic, and retired physician:

For a long time, Britons who wanted their country to leave the European Union were regarded almost as mentally ill by those who wanted it to stay.  The leavers didn’t have an opinion; they had a pathology. Since one doesn’t argue with pathology, it wasn’t necessary for the remainers to answer the leavers with more than sneers and derision.

Even after the vote, the attitude persists.  Those who voted to leave are described as, ipso facto, small-minded, xenophobic, and fearful of the future.  Those who voted to stay are described as, ipso facto, open-minded, cosmopolitan, and forward-looking. 

This from Megan McCardle, an American commentator and currently a Bloomberg columnist, said to be of a libertarian (small “L”) bent (although she supported Obama at least once, so consistency may not be her strong suit):

The inability of those elites to grapple with the rich world’s populist moment was in full display on social media last night. Journalists and academics seemed to feel that they had not made it sufficiently clear that people who oppose open borders are a bunch of racist rubes who couldn’t count to 20 with their shoes on, and hence will believe any daft thing they’re told. Given how badly this strategy had just failed, this seemed a strange time to be doubling down….  [P]erhaps they were just unable to grasp … that nationalism and place still matter, and that elites forget this at their peril. A lot people do not view their country the way some elites do: as though the nation were something like a rental apartment -- a nice place to live, but if there are problems, or you just fancy a change, you’ll happily swap it for a new one.

In many ways, members of the global professional class have started to identify more with each other than they have with the fellow residents of their own countries. Witness the emotional meltdown many American journalists have been having over Brexit.  [….]  …[T]he dominant tone framed [by journalists about Brexit was] as a blow against the enlightened “us” and the beautiful world we are building, struck by a plague of morlocks who had crawled out of their hellish subterranean world to attack our impending utopia.

Whether Brexit will in fact lead to economic damage for Britain (or for anyone else) in the intermediate to long term is of course entirely speculative, and it seems that one could make a high-level argument that it could be of lasting benefit.  Brexit offers to me a sliver of hope for a reversal, through a spreading true-reformist counter-revolution, of the heretofore seemingly inexorable economic and cultural decline of Europe specifically and the West generally.  In the West, the cultural gulf between the elites and the hoi polloi they seek to control seems greater now than it has been in generations, if not centuries.  And of course as well, the cosmopolitan, sophisticated, bien-pensant transnational-minded elites will try to reverse the effects of this vote – after all, the morlocks cannot have their way.

R. Balsamo

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hemingway’s Collected Letters

Ernest Hemingway wrote a great many letters in his lifetime.  They were usually very informal, often full of strong enthusiasms, coarse language, and unbridled emotion.  They were not written as works of literature, or anything close to that.  They were spontaneous and of the moment.  They reveal a great deal about the man, less about the writer.

Hemingway’s letters are scattered all over the world, some in libraries and some in private hands.  After Hemingway’s death, Carlos Baker sifted through what was then available to him and in 1969 published a collection of letters he though were the best.  But they were just a small fraction of the entire corpus.  Now, a group of scholars is in the process of publishing a multi-volume collection of every known Hemingway letter in existence, fulsomely annotated and carefully documented – The Letters of Ernest Hemingway.  The first volume was published in 2011 and three volumes of an anticipated twelve have been published so far, in beautifully-bound editions by Cambridge University Press.  The letters are being published in chronological order, and the editors supplement them with copious introductions, notes, chronologies, glossaries, maps, and indexes.      

Bruce Bawer reviewed (link) the first three volumes in the February, 2016, issue of The New Criterion, a terrific journal of criticism and commentary to which I subscribe.  He is not very enamored with the letters he has read thus far.  Bawer finds them for the most part uninteresting, often casually written, and not indicative of the great writer’s literary talent.  Bawer sees in the letters a very human, flawed man  – he sees the man behind the curtain and doesn’t like what he finds.

Having now read many Hemingway biographies, most of the letters in the Baker collection, and all the letters in the first two volumes in this new collection, my view is different from Bawer’s.  Although Bawer’s points are well taken, and valid to a point, I find Hemingway the man fascinating, and his letters flesh out that man more than any other source.     

In his letters we see how Hemingway approached his life and his writing.  He may have been economical with words in his serious writing, but he was garrulous in his letters.  We see how his relationships with family and friends (such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Archibald MacLeish) grew, blossomed, and deteriorated.   We see his need to be surrounded by friends, with himself as the center of attention, in his frequent urgings to friends to come and stay with him to fish and hunt and travel.  The letters are often emotional, frequently gossipy, and occasionally petty.  There’s bluster, and passion, and anger.  He was very numeric – we see a man continually aware of his finances and his productivity (page counts of works in progress are frequently conveyed to friends and editors), a man who kept detailed logs of fish caught and animals shot, of miles driven and expenses incurred.  He could be very kind and considerate, or a total jerk, and he was definitely not a family man, mostly neglecting his three sons, four wives, and others in his orbit.  We see a man whose friends and family and women are cast off one-by-one along the way, and wonder why.  Hemingway was funny and inquisitive, and very competitive, always exploring, thinking, pushing limits.  He was a man full of vim and enthusiasm, who could not stay in one place (or with the same people) for very long.   

The plan for the series is to publish only letters from Hemingway himself, and not those of his correspondents, providing explanatory notes to help with context.  About 85% of the letters have never been published before, and a great deal of effort seems to have gone into tracking them down all over the world.  At the time of the first volume, letters had been collected from almost 250 sources, not only libraries and similar institutions but from over 175 dealers, private collectors, and individual Hemingway correspondents.  Hemingway himself had saved some material – early drafts and some copies, whole or in part.  He seems never to have thrown out even a scrap of paper with writing on it, perhaps learning the value of saving material from his mother, who meticulously kept detailed scrapbooks on each of her children, filling six large volumes on her son Earnest’s activities through his involvement in the First World War.  Hemingway, by the way, saved a great many lists, from shopping items to camping trip needs, and, like his father, organized himself through them.

Hemingway’s letters in a very real sense constitute his autobiography, however unintended.  He took life his way with passion and vigor, and though the picture is not always pretty, there’s much to be taken away in his letters by those of us more inclined to quiet reading and quiet times.


R Balsamo

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nobody Talks To a Horse Of Course

Alan Young, Wil...burrrrrrrr to his fans, has passed away at age 96.

From memory, after all these years (maybe we should put the stuff we really want to remember to music, in rhyme):


A horse is a horse of course of course
And nobody talks to a horse of course
Unless of course that talking horse
Is the famous Mr. Ed

Go right to the source and ask the horse
He'll give you an answer that you'll endorse
He's always on a steady course
Talk to Mr. Ed 

I've carried this jingle around in my head almost my entire life, through countless courses and exams on a myriad of topics.  And it never got lost in the shuffle; exactly how and why I do not know.

A funny show then through the eyes of a kid, and a funny show still today.  Comedy is hard, but they got it right.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Illinois State Workers, the Highest Paid in America. And the Happiest? – Not

So today I drove over to the state Dept of Motor Vehicles to get a new license plate sticker for my car.  My current sticker was expired – two months ago, which I noticed just the other day.  In the past, the Illinois Secretary of State sent out reminder post cards about the need to renew one’s 12-month plate sticker.  But due to a budget crisis in Illinois, as I now have learned, the Secretary of State is no longer does that.  One more thing to keep track of. 

Quite coincidentally, just this morning I read a brief report from the Illinois Policy Institute, a good-government watchdog organization.  Here’s a part of that message:

For years, Illinois taxpayers haven't been represented at the bargaining table between Illinois' largest government union and the state.  Illinois' former governors cared more about appeasing the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees than protecting the taxpayers the governors were supposed to represent.  That's how AFSCME workers have become some the highest-compensated state workers in the nation.
    
AFSCME wants to remove the governor from contract negotiations because union officials know [Gov.] Rauner will not agree to [their] outrageous demands.  Union leaders are demanding $3 billion in additional salary and benefits for union members in a new contract.  They're seeking four-year raises ranging from 11.5 to 29 percent, overtime after 37.5 hours of work per week, five weeks of vacation and enhanced health care coverage.  Those additional demands would come on top of the costly benefits that AFSCME workers already receive.

Here are four facts about [Illinois] state-worker compensation the union doesn’t want taxpayers to know:

1. Illinois state workers are the highest-paid state workers in the country [when compensation is adjusted for the cost of living]
2. AFSCME workers receive Cadillac health care benefits
3. Most state workers receive free retiree health insurance
4. Career state retirees on average receive $1.6 million in pension benefits. [O]ver half of state workers end up retiring in their 50s.

State of Illinois workers should be the happiest on earth.  Every Illinois state government facility should be filled with beaming, cheerful workers that would put Disney World, the erstwhile “Happiest Place on Earth,” to shame.  But for some reason, when at the Illinois DMV today it was clear I wasn’t at Disney World.

By the way, the State of Illinois is functionally bankrupt, as are the City of Chicago and the Chicago Public School System, all long-controlled by Democrats and all of which are kept afloat through financial chicanery and legerdemain.  But, as the saying goes, they have all finally run out of other people’s money, and the slight-of-hand isn’t working any longer.  But don’t try to tell that to the Democrat government worker unions.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

At the Jesuit Church in Palermo One Day

The Jesuit Church in Palermo, Sicily
When in Sicily last month we sought out the Jesuit church in Palermo, the Chiesa del Gesu.  We discovered a magnificent space, filled with figures and patterns of stunning craftsmanship carved in white marble.  It is perhaps the most ornately decorated church I have ever seen. 

Inside a wedding was taking place.  From the back we could see the ceremony way up front in the distance.  There was movement and talking.  The priest spoke, in Italian of course.  Then a woman rose and began singing, in a clear, strong voice.  The melody jarred me for a moment, as I recognized it as the hauntingly beautiful wordless vocals used as a leitmotif for the character Jill, the prostitute yearning for a better life, in Sergio Leone's masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West (long one of my favorites).  The composer was the great Ennio Morricone.

The melody is first heard as Jill arrives in a very unfamiliar place to attend her wedding reception and start a new life.  As beautiful as the music is, it is sad and melancholic, the most penetrating Morricone melody I have heard.  There's a wistfulness as well, all befitting the emotional state of the character Jill, played by the Sicilian actress Claudia Cardinale.   The film is a story of vengeful justice and the banality of evil, all played out in a most violent way in the old American West.  And Jill is caught in the middle of it all.  But she is a remarkably strong and resilient woman amidst great tragedies and dangers.  

So there it was, in a remarkable church on a sunny April afternoon in ancient Palermo, Jill's Theme, sung strong and clear echoing though the ornate, very Italian space.  A curious choice, perhaps, but certainly a perceptive and assertive one ... befitting no doubt a strong woman, like Jill, arriving to start a new married life.

R Balsamo

Here is a montage of scenes with Claudia Cardinale from Once Upon a Time in the West, with voice-over vocals of Jill's Theme by Patricia Janeckova.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Democrat’s War on Cheap-Energy Coal Claims Another Scalp

It is now apparent that many of Obama’s promises were lies he never intended to keep, or didn’t care if he would keep.  Most have come with an expiration date, as Glenn Reynolds quips.  Consider, for example, “if you like your health care plan you can keep it.  Period;” or “One of the first things I’ll do as president is close the Guantanamo detention camp for terrorists;” or, “my administration will be the most transparent in history.”  But here’s one promise he’s keeping that I wish he wasn’t – putting the American coal companies out of business.

Obama’s plan to destroy the coal companies took a step forward yesterday when the largest American coal producer, Peabody Energy, filed for reorganization bankruptcy.  It’s just the latest coal company to do so.    

The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal.  True, some coal is relatively more polluting than natural gas or oil, but when burned with emission pollution scrubbers, already commonplace, the pollution is almost entirely eliminated.  So why the hate on coal from Obama and the Democrats?  It’s because it represents the cheapest source of energy for Americans.  The world-wide condemnation of coal is a tactic by global authoritarian elites, operating under the ruse of socialistic benevolence, to redistribute wealth from the Unites States to the Third World by making American energy more expensive.  But what people everywhere need, especially those in underdeveloped countries, is cheaper energy, and coal, burned with pollution scrubbers, can provide lots of that.   

Meanwhile, as they also harass the frackers who are making America oil-independent, Obama and the Democrats have poured taxpayer money into “green” energy companies, often run by connected, big Obama money-men and other Democrat cronies; some of those outfits, like Solyndra, have turned out to be over-hyped scams for profit.  And remember that not too long ago Al Gore, on the surface the anti-fossil-fuel crusader, sold his never-profitable, short-lived small cable TV operation for hundreds of millions to Saudi oil interests; the Saudis ran it a while as a show, then recently closed it down.  Well, who has a greater interest than the Saudis (and other Third-World oil producers like Obama’s socialist pals in Venezuela) in seeing the use of cheap coal in the US shut down?  As wise men and women know, whether looking at Al Gore or the Clinton Foundation, which rakes in scores of millions from dark-moneyed interests around the world – just follow the money. 

It’s all one big ruse, and a lot of rubes are still fooled.  

R Balsamo

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Decline and Fall of Us – Dispatch from Peggy Noonan

Ms. Noonan has gotten lots of things wrong in recent years, particularly her infamous support for Obama in 2008 after she became infatuated by the mirage of a man she had concocted of her own fantasies.  Recently she sobered up to write the following trenchant piece pointing out that modern intolerant progressives have pushed regular Americans to their limit, and have no idea of what the reaction might be:

There is something increasingly unappeasable in the left.  This is something conservatives and others have come to fear, that progressives now accept no limits.  We can’t just have court-ordered legalized abortion across the land, we have to have it up to the point of birth, and taxpayers have to pay for it.  It’s not enough to win same-sex marriage, you’ve got to personally approve of it and if you publicly resist you’ll be ruined.  It’s not enough that we have publicly funded contraceptives, the nuns have to provide them.  This unappeasable spirit always turns to the courts to have its way.

If progressives were wise they would step back, accept their victories, take a breath and turn to the idea of solidifying gains, of heroic patience, of being peaceable.  Don’t make them bake the cake. ... Leave the nuns alone.

Progressives have no idea how fragile it all is.  That’s why they feel free to be unappeasable.  They don’t know what they’re grinding down.   They think America has endless give.  But America is composed of humans, and they do not have endless give.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Decline and Fall of Us – Dispatches from the Front Lines

Laugh or cry – or both?  At Indiana University, some students freak out when they mistake a Dominican priest in his white robes and long rosary for a KKK Klansman with a whip.  They don’t know what a priest and a rosary look like – ignorant enough of culture, religion, and history to be supporters of socialist Bernie Sanders.  The Dominican priest serves at the on-campus St. Paul Catholic Center, IU’s Catholic Church and student center.


There's no money in toilets.  Online payment-processor PayPal is cancelling a planned expansion in North Carolina because that state has a new law that basically says a person must use the toilet and shower room that corresponds to his or her genitalia, to prevent exposed adult males mixing with young girls, teens, and adult women who might not fully appreciate such a display.  Paypal standing up for the rights of transvestites to bare their genitals to members of the opposite sex!  Otherwise, discrimination!  Meanwhile, in what will be no surprise to any sentient being who's been paying attention, Paypal (like Apple [which is led by a gay man]) has centers in many countries that execute homosexuals (see link).  To sum up:  According to Paypal executing homosexuals is OK, but males have a right to be naked in girls’ locker rooms.  

Learning from the masters.  The California Attorney General is a supporter of and donator to Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States.  She has now sent "investigators" to raid and harass a film maker who recently helped expose Planned Parenthood’s practice of selling body parts from aborted babies to biotech research firms.  As one PP staffer said to one undercover filmmaker, livers are in real demand and will cost extra.  The AG has learned from the master, when Obama sent the FBI to arrest a Coptic Christian film maker who had made a short video critical of Islam on some pretense so he and Hillary had someone to blame for the muslim terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.    

Woman or man – what's the diff, really? (see above.)  Liberal Time Magazine, thinking it can fool the hoi polloi into thinking it’s an intelligent and high-brow source, proclaims Evelyn Waugh as one of the most-read female writers among college students.  Personally, I’ve much enjoyed his Brideshead Revisited, and the great miniseries film of it that made Jeremy Irons a star.

R Balsamo

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Fighting African Elephants at the Field


On display in the Great Hall of Chicago's Field Museum since 1921.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Like Chick-fil-A Cows, Muslims Migrants in Italy Riot for Chiken

A number of mostly Muslim migrants hosted in a hotel in the northern Italian town of Chioggia [on the south end of the Venetian lagoon] ripped down the Italian flag in protest of an Easter meal of pasta in place of their usual chicken and french fries.  The menu change triggered the anger of the migrants, who then staged a protest. “No pasta, it’s a disgrace. We want our chicken and french fries,” they reportedly shouted.  Some of the migrants then grabbed hold of the Italian flag hanging in one of the common rooms and ripped it down in protest.  The police were called in and sent three patrol cars to restore the calm, finally convincing the migrants to eat their pasta. According to reports, the migrants’ anger may have been ignited by the commemoration of Easter as a holiday more than just the corresponding change of menu, since almost all of them are Muslims.

So far this year, the Italian interior ministry has documented 16,075 migrants crossing to its shores, compared to just over 10,000 during the same period in 2015....  [Since the recent effective] closing [of] the so-called “Balkan route” north from Greece into Europe ... traffickers have been scrambling to devise new routes to bring prospective migrants into the continent, primarily through Italy....  [As] borders have been closed along migrant routes, Italy may be now forced to hold on to the majority of people landing on its shores.....  Italy has struggled to expand its capacity to receive and process migrants. In March 2014, it was hosting 29,000 asylum seekers; by 2015 the number had increased to 67,000, and this March the number has risen to 106,000. This number is sure to increase dramatically in the next several months.

A report from Libya claims there are at least 800,000 migrants on the coast waiting for the right moment to cross the sea to Italy.

The times, they are a-changing.

R Balsamo

h/t: Ed Driscoll

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Twilight of Chicago and the Democrat Model of Government

The days of reckoning draw near for the effectively bankrupt City of Chicago, after more than 50 years of financial corruption by the ruling Democrat Party.  Two baleful news items about the city hit the wires today.

First, the Illinois Supreme Court today declared unconstitutional, under the state constitution, a plan by the desperate Chicago Democrat mayor to reduce some public employee pension payments.  The major driver of Chicago’s financial disaster is the massive annual payment required to fund the current pension plan for retired and active employees.  The mayor’s plan runs afoul of the public employees pension protection provision of the Illinois constitution, says the high court, a provision snuck in by Democrats when the state constitution was rewritten in 1970.  Now those generous pensions – far better than those in the private sector, aggrandized by various abuses such as the notorious and common practices of “pension spiking” and “double dipping,” and underfunded for years by the Democrats themselves who spent the money on other stuff for themselves – have bankrupted the city (as well as the state and many of its cities and other units of government).  To raise cash, Chicago Democrats last year enacted a massive property tax hike, and after today more such increases are likely to follow as the Democrat takers squeeze more and more cash from the producers.  But a greedy parasite that kills the host off which it lives ultimately causes its own death as well.  Chicago and Illinois Democrats have been doing that in slow motion, having learned nothing from the smoldering ruins of the Democrat Party paradise of Detroit. 

Second news item – the top headline today at the website of the now ultraliberal, Democrat-friendly Chicago Tribune:  “Chicago area sees greatest population loss of any major U.S. city, region in 2015.”  Just one more piece of evidence that Democrats have yet to realize that many tax-paying citizens and businesses can simply move away when they have had enough.   More and more workers are work-at-home and thus can live anywhere, and retirees can also pack up and leave for states with less corruption and lower taxes.  And all that is happening.        

The lesson that Democrat takers have yet to learn is that they must control their greed and corruption, since the producers, the people who work to support them in their corrupt excesses, can move away, and a city left with only Democrats trying to live off each other soon collapses. 

R Balsamo

Friday, March 18, 2016

Remembering Edward Everett Horton

Has there ever been anyone funnier in film than Edward Everett Horton?   I first met him, or met his voice that is, early on – he was the narrator of the Fractured Fairy Tales series that was a regular part of the animated Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  Growing older I’ve come to enjoy his every film appearance.  He excelled in playing cheerful though slightly befuddled and often exasperated characters and was a master of the delayed double-take.  Three favorites:  Holiday, Springtime in the Rockies, and Arsenic and Old Lace.

Then there are his Astaire/Rogers pictures, three of the best, in which he practically steals every scene he’s in:  The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, and Shall We Dance.  His scenes with the daffy, screwball Alice Brady in The Gay Divorcee are alone worth the price of admission, and as a bonus he has the Let's K-nock K-nees dance number with Betty Grable no less.  The Gay Divorcee, incidentally, features the then new song The Continental in a 20-minute song and dance extravaganza (here's a part); it later won the very first Academy Award for best original song, back in the good old days when such awards were merit-based.  His scenes (link; link) with Eric Blore are priceless.

Per Wikipedia, the New York Times, and other sources, Horton was born one hundred thirty years ago today in Brooklyn to parents of Scottish extraction.  Horton’s grandfather was writer Edward Everett Hale, who was a nephew of Edward Everett, the orator and statesman, and a grandnephew of Nathan Hale, the martyred spy of the American Revolution.  He attended college for a while at Oberlin, until, showing an early theatrical bent, he was “asked to leave” after climbing to the top of a building, and after gathering a crowd below, threw off a dummy the audience mistook for him.  He moved back to New York City, attended Columbia University for a time, and began his performing career in acting and singing.

He started in silent pictures in 1918, and from then on was based on the West Coast.  His first talkie was the 1931 version of The Front Page.  He was an entrepreneur as well – he would lease a theater and produce a play in which he would star; in 1932 he leased the Hollywood Playhouse for a year and put on Springtime for Henry, in which over his lifetime he would appear more than 3,000 times.  From all this he earned enough to spring for a summer home on Lake George in the Adirondacks in upstate New York.

After finding success in Hollywood, he bought 23 acres of land in the Encino section of Los Angeles and established a compound of houses where he, his mother, his sister, and his brother lived with their families.  He was an avid antique collector, acquiring a valuable collection over the years.  Horton died in Encino in 1970 at the age of 84 and is buried in Forest Lawn, the cemetery of the stars.  His work, fortunately for us, lives on.

R Balsamo

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Organized Mob Action Disrupts Trump in Chicago; Cruz Goes Off the Rails

Yesterday evening, an organized mob action disrupted, with some minor violence, a planned rally in Chicago for leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.  The disruption was promoted via social media.  It is politely being called a “protest” by its defenders, but it was nothing of the sort.  Many Trump haters were inside the building and began their disruption there; they were not just peacefully protesting outside.  People have a right to peaceful protest, but not a right to disrupt and prevent others from speaking.  This was massive criminal behavior that the Chicago police seemingly did little to stop.  Watching this on TV one could see among the protesters sombreros, “Muslims Against Trump” t-shirts, Mexican flags, and Bernie Sanders posters, among other things.    

Trump haters say this was democracy in action, and that Trump brought this on himself by his condoning of violence against his opponents.  But that is a lie.  Rightly or wrongly, he has only condoned violence, on a few occasions with off-hand remarks in the heat of the moment, against violent disrupters at his rallies who are assaulting and attacking his supporters.  That is self-defense.  He has not suggested or encouraged his supporters to roam the streets causing trouble for others.  Trump holds rallies, and the anti-Trump mob comes to him, to prevent him from speaking and to assault his supporters.  These neo-fascists are attacking him, not vice versa.  Conservatives and Republicans do not do that to their opponents, they have not disrupted Clinton and Sanders rallies, and they are tired of others doing it to them.  Disruption, intimidation, assault, and battery are tactics increasingly used by neo-fascist leftist groups such as Code Pink, Occupy, and Black Lives Matter.  Of course, they are only following the guidance of Barack Obama, who famously urged his supporters to "get in the faces" of their opponents and "punch back twice as hard."  But most Americans I suspect have had enough of this.   

To blame Trump and his supporters for defending themselves inside their own rallies against violent agitators who come to disrupt their events is too much.  But that is the liberal smear right now.  Even worse, I am very, very disappointed to see that Ted Cruz has joined in that very smear, desperately seeking to score cheap political points by siding with those who hate free speech and who seek to silence their political opponents. 

This anti-democratic mob action to deprive the leading Republican presidential contender of his right to speak to his own supporters at his own rallies will likely only help Trump in public opinion and hurt the anti-democratic liberal fascists.  I have not been a Trump supporter, but after years if not decades of failed Republican Party leadership I very much understand his appeal on some specific positions as well on his apparent willingness to politically fight hard for his convictions.  

And all this should hurt Ted Cruz as well, whom I have supported for president, who should know better than to side with the neo-fascist mob.  Who will stand up with him when the mob next comes for him?    

R Balsamo               

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Weak Horse Romney Attacks Strong Horse Trump

Today Republican Mitt Romney made a big speech denouncing his party’s leading presidential candidate Donald Trump as a “phony and a fraud.”  Of all people to deliver that message!  Mitt Romney had his chance but showed the very weakness before vicious smears and attacks that Trump, to the delight of many long-suffering Republican voters, repudiates.  If Romney were nearly this forceful against Obama four years ago he would be president.  As bin Laden once said, when people see a strong horse and a weak horse they are naturally drawn to the former.  And nothing is more revolting than Republicans like Romney, who, like the presidential nominee before him John McCain, are forceful only when attacking other Republicans while they cower before Democrats.   

After seeing the Trump phenomenon these last six months, about strength and confidence and attitude as much as anything else, how can Republican leaders be so clueless as to think Romney, of all people, is the one to take down Trump?  Romney, the guy who let Democrat operative Candy Crowley, masquerading as a TV journalist, push him around when she jumped into a debate to defend Obama (with misinformation to boot).  Romney let it happen, but Trump never would have.  Moreover, Crowley never would have tried that with Trump because she would have known that Trump would rip her apart.  Weakness, as they say, is a provocation.

If Republican leaders are really serious about stopping Trump, they would induce Rubio to drop out and coalesce behind Cruz.  Rubio’s betrayal on amnesty and illegal immigration still infuriates a large segment of Republican base and caps his upside.  Moreover, he seems too young, too unseasoned, and doesn’t have the intellectual heft that Cruz has – he showed he can be rolled by fast-talking Democrats like Chuck Schumer.  I’m for Cruz.  I know he isn’t a perfect candidate – way too much of that Southern Baptist preacher shtick for one thing.  Yes, Republican leaders hate him because he doesn’t play their go along – get along insider Washington game, but nevertheless their choice is Cruz or Trump if they want a shot to win in November, or rig the convention against Trump and destroy the party.

R Balsamo         

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Liberal Political Correctness & Weak Republican Leadership Continue to Strengthen Trump

In this presidential election cycle, I’m for Ted Cruz.  Nevertheless, I understand full well the appeal of Donald Trump, and how his candidacy has been created by the serial spinelessness, foolishness, and unfaithfulness of Republican Party national leaders.  Even more than his specific stance against open borders, an American wage killer and Democrat vote generator loved by the elites in both major parties, it is Trump’s projection of strength that has propelled his rise.  He refuses to apologize for American success and traditional American sensibilities.  He lets no one kick sand in his face.  Imagine, for example, if Democrat operative Candy Crowley, masquerading as a TV debate “journalist,” improperly intervened in a presidential candidate debate, with misinformation to boot, to protect Obama against Trump.  Unlike the weak Romney, Trump would have ripped her apart.  But she would have known his strength beforehand, and wouldn’t even have tried.  As the saying goes, weakness is a provocation.   

Now some kook allegedly in the KKK, which historically has been the militant wing of the Democrat Party and whose notable leaders through the years have all been Democrats, supposedly “endorsed” Trump.  Thus the liberal media is all atwitter demanding that Trump say nasty things about the KKK.  The tactic is obvious – make an association between the KKK and the Republican Party in the minds of fools and the foolable, and keep peppering Trump, and other Republican candidates, with this “issue” as a distraction and a smear.  No one really thinks Donald Trump cares about the handful of Democrats in what’s left of the KKK.  But new Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, perhaps the greatest and fastest political disappointment in a generation and BFF with the nasty, open-border Hispanic racist politician Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, taking his cue from Democrats now demands Trump and other Republicans denounce all bigoted groups, as if Republicans were somehow connected with them and responsible for them.  One of Trump’s most appealing characteristics is that he aggressively rejects biased premises.  Here, the Democrat smear is that many Republicans are crypto-bigots, so their leaders must publicly denounce any and all bigots; Trump rejects the premise, while Ryan accepts it.  Ryan is a foolish man, and a lousy retail politician.  Challenge Trump on issues and on character, not with smears – it just makes him more sympathetic and stronger.  Next Ryan will demand Trump denounce Adolph Hitler (who in reality was a socialist).  If Ryan was this forceful with his Democrat buddies the Republican Party wouldn’t be in the mess it’s now in.  The end result of all this Democrat-driven nonsense is more votes for Trump.        

Seeing the Democrats about to nominate Hillary Clinton, patently the most corrupt major politician in American history, whose party has weaponized government against conservatives, makes me despair for the Republic.  Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.  If the American experiment devolves and the era of the strongman is upon us, I certainly would prefer Trump to Clinton, any time and place.

R Balsamo

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lands’ End Clothiers Enters the Culture Wars – Gushingly Celebrates Radical Democrat Feminist Gloria Steinem

Lands’ End, the clothing provider that started out in Chicago in nautical equipment and whose headquarters is now in Wisconsin, just entered the Culture Wars big time.  

Its new catalog has just arrived at our house.  It has an enormous, worshipful spread to radical “feminist” Gloria Steinem, who, among other things, is a Democrat Party activist and an abortion radical, supporting even partial-birth abortion.  She’s famous for popularizing the phrase “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  I have been significant Lands’ End shopper for over 40 years, starting with its first outlet store on Chicago’s near north side (on Clyburn or Elston, as I recall) and I have been looking at its catalogs for at least as long.  The same can be said of my wife.  Before this we have never seen Lands’ End take a political stand, ever.  I don’t think it will be able to get this genie back in the bottle for a long time.     

This is almost certainly the end of our patronage of Lands’ End.  Why oh why would a major national retailer, which given the type of clothing it sells probably does much, much more business among conservatives than liberals, take a side in the Culture Wars at all, let alone side with the extreme left-wing?  Perhaps some Madison Avenue advertising/catalog consulting firm thought nothing of it.  After all, doesn’t everyone who counts support partial birth abortion and the killing of infants born alive after botched, late-term abortions?  Actually, those two "procedures" are disturbing and beyond the pale even for some pro-choice people I know.

It seems ultraliberals wake up every morning wondering about what new non-political space they can politicize.  Lands’ End, a public company with shareholders, is free to enter the Culture Wars if it wants to, but why would it alienate most of its customers?  This is a massive error in management judgement, and heads should roll.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see shareholder lawsuits if sales drop off. 

R Balsamo

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Trump Effect Penetrates the Stupid Party, Finally; On Supreme Court Vacancy, Republicans Finally Say No to Obama

Donald Trump is more than anything else a protest candidate against the weak and false front so many Republican politicians have put up against the baleful Democrat tidal wave in politics and culture.  Although his main, popular substantive issue is stopping illegal immigration and its downward effect on wages for American working men and women, more than that his candidacy is about strength and attitude.  Most Republican voters feel that the Democrats have been kicking sand in their faces for decades, and that their elected Republicans for the most part acquiesce and often willingly join in on that humiliation.  Just to take a recent example in politics:  new Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pledged regular order and other reforms, but immediately rolled over to endorse and strong arm the passage of an irregular “cromnibus” funding bill that, among other things, fully funded Obamacare and body-part-selling Planned Parenthood, two programs that most Republican voters want defunded and that most Congressional Republican politicians claimed to oppose.  Republicans in Washington are always pledging to fight the good fight tomorrow while rolling over today.  Trump, however an imperfect vessel he is, and he certainly is that, is a strong protest vote against decades of dishonest, pushover Republicans.

Nowhere has the Republican dishonesty and weakness been greater than in the realm of federal court appointments.  Democrats commonly block Republican nominees (see the history of George W. Bush’s DC Court of Appeals nominees) and intimidate Republican presidents into nominating “moderates” who often turn out to be partisan, political Democrats underneath their judicial robes.  Republicans, on the other hand, enthusiastically and overwhelmingly support radical Democrat court nominees (e.g., Ginsberg and the Wise Latina).  After the disgraceful “Borking” of Republican Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, Republicans rolled over to overwhelmingly support subsequent radical Democrat nominees, only later to have, once again, Republican nominees strongly opposed by Democrats (Example: Obama filibustered the Alito nomination).  The sordid history of the recent one-sided Supreme Court nomination fights is linked below.  Not for nothing is the Republican Party known as the Stupid Party, even among its frustrated supporters let alone smirking Democrats.

Now Justice Scalia’s untimely death has created an opening on the Supreme Court.  The Republican leadership in the Senate now declares they will not even hold a hearing on any nominee sent their way by lame duck Obama.  This strong stand is completely uncharacteristic of Republicans but is exactly what Democrats, based on their past behavior and words, would be doing in their shoes.  Republican voters and the rest of the American people can thank Donald Trump for this newfound Republican backbone.  Republican politicians might finally be realizing that strength is a virtue and weakness is a provocation, and, to coin a phrase, that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they are naturally drawn to the former.

R Balsamo

Thursday, February 18, 2016

This Dim, Dangerous Pope

The new Pope condemns capitalism as he simultaneously urges the “rich” capitalist countries of Western Civilization, particularly the United States, to open their borders even more to accept any and all migrants from failed socialist and other authoritarian regimes.  The Pope praises the façade of socialism – radical equality – that camouflages the naked power held by masters who rule for their own nefarious benefit.  This new Pope does not seem smart enough to realize the absurdity he advances – that countries based on a political system he views as morally-corrupt, countries free and wealthy and plenty-generous already, must rescue the rest of the world from, in his mind, morally superior socialism – a system which he tacitly admits cannot properly feed its own people let alone provide sufficient jobs, safety, education, and the rule of a fair law equally applied.  The Pope is admitting the success, and the superiority, of free enterprise, classic liberalism (or, what I like to call libertyism), and the Protestant Work Ethic.

This Pope, by the way, just held a Mass at the Mexican-American border for those migrants who have died trying to sneak into the United States.  But while visiting Cuba recently and having a splendid time with Fidel and the other brutal socialist murders, this Pope did not say Mass for all those murdered by Cuban socialism and all those still tortured in jail there.  In fact, between hugs and smiles with the Castro brothers, he barely mentioned those unpleasantries.  Now, in an election year in America, this Pope says Donald Trump is not a Christian because of his intent to limit U.S. immigration, but says nothing to condemn the murderous dictators in Cuba and elsewhere in his Latin America homeland (the Vatican, by the way, is said to have the most restrictive immigration policies in the world).  All this is disgraceful.

All the poor people from Central America, from South America, from Africa, from the Near East, from the Middle East, from Central Asia, from East Asia, and from the Pacific Islands cannot fit into the United States and be supported by its people.  The solution is not for the whole world to move to North America, the solution is for the rest of the world to make their countries better.  The American people have been helping toward that end for over a hundred years, with open arms and with blood and with treasure, and they continue to do so today.  Never have so few done so much for so many.  But Americans cannot do it alone.  People elsewhere must help themselves as well.  If their rulers and their systems stink, they must change them.  The Catholic Church and the related Iberian culture deserve most of the blame for the tragic, long-standing economic and cultural failures of Latin America, from which so many migrants are fleeing.  The Pope needs to look much, much closer to home for his devils and his saviors. 

I wonder if there’s a recall provision in Canon law.  I’m very sure I’m not the first to do so.

R Balsamo

Monday, February 15, 2016

Our Republic – Can We Keep It?

Despite the socialist horrors of the last century, and scores of millions of miserable deaths later, in the United States we now have an openly socialist candidate running, strongly, for the nomination for president, one indication of a broad, baleful shift in Western sensibilities mirrored by the new socialist Pope.  He preaches a “democratic” socialism pronounced free of all corruptions, but which has tenuously existed only for a few years in a few small, ethnically homogeneous countries, an illusory thin veneer of success betrayed by reality and protected by and indirectly subsidized by the American people.  If he has his way, who will protect and subsidize Americans? 

He is rivaled by a Peron-style liberal fascist (an HG Wells term) who is patently the most corrupt major politician in American history and an archetypical pay-to-play corruptocrat.  Her appeal, almost unfathomable, seems based on the will to power by the “progressive” left who expect she will be ruthless enough to destroy their political opponents and the Western culture they defend, based as it is on the equal application of the rule of fair law, the true protection of civil liberties, and the restraint of government power.  Surely no educated and sentient supporter actually thinks her honest and fair and true, but great is the siren-call of power unconstrained by morality.  We still have a Republic, but can we keep it? 

R Balsamo

Friday, February 5, 2016

Nabucco at the Lyric Opera

Nabucco is the opera that made Verdi’s name, first performed when the composer was just 29 years old.  Generally regarded as Italy’s, if not the world’s, greatest opera composer, and certainly its most popular, Verdi was born into a family of modest means in northern Italy and had his first music lessons as a boy from his local parish priest.  His talent was noticed and he eventually found his way to Milan.  His early life, though, was not a straight line of success and happiness.  Although his first opera was a modest success, his second was a complete flop.  By that point his two young children both had died, soon followed by his 26 year old wife.  Devastated, he put composing aside, perhaps wondering if he could ever write again.  Eventually he was convinced to try his hand at another opera.  He later recalled, per Wikipedia, how he slowly started his work with "this verse today, tomorrow that, here a note, there a whole phrase, and little by little [it] was written."  The opera was well-received at its first performance in 1842 at La Scala.  It was Nabucco.  I was fortunate to attend a performance the other day at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

It’s easy for a wonderful work like Nabucco to get lost amidst the great riches of Italian opera.  An example:  The Lyric Opera Companion is a collection of essays on 90 operas – the “world’s greatest” says the cover.  It includes 14 operas by Verdi, but Nabucco is not one of them.  I think that says more about Verdi’s body of work than it does about Nabucco.  It also says more about the collection, one that excludes, for example, the Bellini masterpiece Norma while including Twentieth Century smash hits like The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe and Philip Glass’s Satyagraha (boy it's hard to stop humming those Glass tunes). 

Nabucco's story line seems a curious one for Verdi, in his grief, to tackle, but the impresario of La Scala pressed him to undertake it.  The libretto is based on biblical stories of the trials and tribulations of the Hebrews in Jerusalem as they are attacked and conquered by the Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar II (shortened to Nabucco) from Babylon, who after destroying their great Temple hauls them off to Babylon as slaves.  That part is historical.  The libretto adds a love triangle between a Hebrew soldier of royal blood and Nabucco’s two daughters who both desire the young man.  The rejected sister vows vengeance, and eventually usurps the throne intending to kill the Hebrew captives.  Great melodrama ensues.      

Although it has grand musical moments, apart from one piece Nabucco’s music is rarely featured on compilation albums.  One reason may be that despite many wonderful ensemble sections, the tenor role is minimal – the solos and most of the male singing are for the bass and the baritone.  In fact, the bass has a great deal of solo singing, though too much of that low, low register for my taste.  Certainly a band or an orchestra needs a double bass fiddle, but not front and center carrying the melody.  Nevertheless, there is some beautiful music.  Notable is the moving second act quartet, which blends into a moving ensemble as more singers join in.  The one well-known number is the melodic and stirring "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves," sung by a downtrodden group of Hebrew slaves toiling along the Euphrates who sing the hopeful “Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate” ("Fly, thought, on golden wings").  In fact, when Nabucco premiered some feared the piece would remind northern Italians of their subjugation by their then Austrian rulers and thus enflame political passions.

This is the recording I have been enjoying;
Domingo sings the relatively-small tenor role
Lyric's major singers are a bunch of Verdians.  Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan returned to the Lyric in the lead role of the spurned and vengeful daughter Abigaille.  She was terrific.  I enjoyed her last year in the lead role in Tosca and thought (link) her “a great actress with a great voice.”  About that performance, Lawrence A. Johnson wrote (link) that Serjan “vocally was beyond reproach, her gleaming lyric-dramatic instrument communicating a wide range of intense emotions as touchingly as her expressive face.”  Music critic Jay Nordlinger caught Serjan a few years ago in Verdi’s Macbeth at the Salzburg Festival and praised her performance, writing that she “smoked, smoldered, and scalded her way through the role.  She could not have been darker, and she was wonderfully effective.  Her soft high notes ... were astounding.” 

Serbian baritone Željko Lucic was strong as the king Nabucco, coming alive in the second half.  He has a warm, powerful voice.  He is a regular at the Met, having sung two roles just last fall – Iago in Otello and Scarpia in Tosca.  Rounding out the all-Slav cast in the three major roles was Russian bass Dmitry Belosselskiy, strong in his part as Zaccaria, the High Priest of the Hebrews.  His bass sound is as forceful and vibrating as I think I have ever heard.  He opened the current season at La Scala alongside Anna Netrebko in Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco.  Reviewing Belosselskiy’s performance last year in Verdi’s Ernani, Nordlinger wrote that “he owns a beautiful instrument.”  The actual lovers in the story, who set many of the events in motion, have small roles – the Hebrew soldier Ismaele was Russian tenor Sergei Skorokhodov and Nabucco’s daughter Fenena was American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong.  The Lyric snuck one Italian into the production in the form of conductor Carlo Rizzi.  

The Lyric set was striking in its vivid coloring, though excessively stark and spare in design.  Props were de minimus.  Here budget constraints melded with minimalist Ikea sensibilities.  As for costumes, the suffering Hebrews were all in mourning black, the slaughtering and arsonist Babylonians all in flame red.  Many of the backgrounds were in a deep, rich blue, perhaps to recall the blue used on the traditional Jewish prayer shawls worn at synagogue, a reminder of the great Temple just lost.

The libretto’s story of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity is broadly based on historical fact.  In the opera, though, Nabucco, the Nebuchadnezzar of Hanging Gardens and Ishtar Gate fame (link), proclaims himself a god and is promptly struck mad by the true Hebrew God.  Fortunately, he eventually recognizes the true God just in time to regain his senses and save his daughter Fenena, Ismaele, and the other Hebrew captives from execution at the hands of the vengeful Abigaille.  The operatic, fictional Nabucco is a composite of a number of historical characters, one of which is Cyrus, the Persian king who eventually freed the captives and allowed them to return to Judea.  The real history was not so easy on the Hebrews, but filled with such grand spectacle and beautiful music, we’re happy to let Verdi and his librettist take the liberties needed to produce such a wonderful musical story. 

R Balsamo