Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Reflections on Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway at age 24
A trip late last summer into Northern Michigan’s Hemingway country rekindled an old interest of mine in his life story.  I grew up not far from his hometown of Oak Park in suburban Chicago, and his boyhood there was of course well-known in the area.  As a boy, Hemingway fished and hunted in the “prairie” west of the Des Plaines River near his home; years later houses were built on that land and I grew up in one of them.  My interest has been not so much in his fiction but rather in his person, why he wrote and how he wrote about his life's adventures.  It has always struck me that his public persona of the great adventurer, full of vim and at times reckless vigor, was at odds with the themes of death and violence that he so often employed.  I wanted to know more about him, to see whether this was true.  And that terse writing style – perhaps I might find some insight as to why I have trouble stopping a sentence while he strained to keep one going.  Since his fiction was semi-autobiographical anyway, why not read the real stuff. 

Hemingway’s life is remarkably well documented.  He was a prodigious letter writer and many memoirs have been written by family, friends, and associates.  He saved a wealth of papers, some involving the most mundane aspects of his life.  His literary importance and the amount of personal material have led to numerous biographies.  I have been reading a bunch of material: memoirs, biographies, letters, stories.  I’ve moved through many of them simultaneously, taking each phase of his life in turn, and it has been a valuable comparative exercise.  It’s been quite interesting to see what each biographer feels is important, what he covers, and the things one of them omits that another dwells on. 

Some observations:

·       He had a most remarkable, oversized personality.  Men and women were drawn to him like flies around a bright night light.  I’ve jotted down lots of adjectives as I moved through the story of his life:  passionate, adventuresome, narcissistic, mean, kind, energetic, envious, competitive, thoughtful, bombastic, self-absorbed.  He had a commanding personality, who, as his friend the poet Archibald MacLeish once said, would suck all the oxygen out of the room when he walked in.  Friends would flock to be around him – to Northern Michigan, Chicago, Paris, Spain, Key West, Bimini, Wyoming/Idaho, Cuba – wherever he was, wherever he was going, they wanted to be there with him.  It is truly remarkable how many people, over so many years, traveled long distances to spend time with him, once there often in the company of other friends of his they had never met, forming a sort of gang in orbit around him, and typically doing something they may never have done by themselves and didn’t always particularly like – fishing and hunting.         

·       When Hemingway was in his late teens and early twenties, beginning to make his place in the world, it is remarkable how many of his close friends and associates were much older than he.  His two most important Michigan friends, the siblings Bill and Kate Smith, were four and seven years older.  As an aside, there’s reasonably suggestive evidence that he had a romantic relationship of some kind with Kate, who years later would marry the author John Dos Passos, another friend of Hemingway’s whom she met when they were both visiting him in Key West.  His first great love, the Red Cross nurse Agnes in Italy, was seven years his senior.  His first wife Hadley was eight years older, and his second wife Pauline four.  His best friend from his Red Cross ambulance experience in Italy, and with whom he roomed for a while in Chicago, was Bill Horne, a Princeton graduate eight years older.  In Paris, he socialized and corresponded with writers and artists sometimes decades older.  He was mature for his age, exciting, interesting, and interested.        

·       So how was it then that this man so full of boundless energy and adventure could be so focused on death?  When Hemingway was a teenager, his mother told him “everything you write is morbid.”  He had that strange fascination with death, suicide, and killing animals (particularly big ones) for sport.  It’s there in his writing from the beginning.  In Indian Camp, one of his earliest published stories, his alter-ego Nick Adams as a boy witnesses the terrible suffering of a woman undergoing an emergency cesarean section without anesthesia and the suicide of her nearby husband who, unable to bear her screams, slits his own throat.  The personality of the man seems so inconsistent with the themes of his writing.  Being around him in person, I imagine one would think that he was the writer of grand adventure stories. 

·       The startling number of suicides in his immediate family is well known:  besides himself, his father, his one brother, and one and possibly a second of his four sisters; and, many years later, a granddaughter.  But the number of suicides among his extended circle is also remarkable:  his third wife the writer Martha Gelhorn; his young Venetian love Adriana Ivancich; the father of his first wife Hadley; and his long-time Havana housekeeper.    

·       As an adult, Hemingway became progressively estranged from most of his family, save his sister Ursula.  When his mother died, he hadn’t seen her in 20 years, and he didn’t attend her funeral.  He did not speak to his youngest son for the last ten years of his life.  He had few real life-long friends.  When he was done with a place, he moved on.  The Northern Michigan about which he wrote so passionately in his early years, which was so formative of his character, he visited just once after leaving at age 22.  From about that age as well until his death he returned to his hometown of Oak Park/Chicago only a handful of times.  When he left Key West after living there for about 10 years, he rarely returned.  His youngest son once said that Hemingway would swallow and use up places, then be done with them.  He was like that with a lot of people as well.

·        Yet he could be remarkable kind and thoughtful, sometimes to people he hardly knew.  One poignant example stands out to me:  the two touching, well-crafted letters he wrote to old Paris friends Gerald and Sara Murphy on the deaths of their two teenaged sons, one from meningitis and one from tuberculosis just a few years apart, reveal an extraordinary kindness.  The boy with TB was sick for some years, and Hemingway went out of his way to visit him, and he wrote the boy letters as well.  For recondite reasons that will be grist for generations of psychologists to come, by the tender age of 32 Hemingway was calling women not much younger than himself  “daughter,” and not long after that chose for himself the nickname “Papa.”  Imagine, say, being 40 years old and calling your 35 year-old friend Ernest Hemingway “Papa.”

·       He was a disciplined writer (and a voracious reader).  Hemingway could write anywhere; in hotel rooms, on trains, on boats.  He had to, for he was often away from his home base for many months at a time.  In 1929-1930 at one stretch he was away from Key West for 10 months, staying from days to months at a variety of locations in Europe and the States.  He was very focused on word counts – he continually mentions them in letters, often also noting how many pages he threw away.  His well-documented writing experience reveals that for him as for many great writers it was as much perspiration as inspiration. 

·       To say Hemingway was accident-prone would be an understatement.  Throughout his life, a progression of serious injuries caused by alcohol, recklessness, and just plain bad luck (such as the two airplane crashes in Africa in the early 1950s), including a staggering number of concussions, left him physically and mentally compromised by his mid-50s.  That he was a prodigious drinker and amateur boxer surely didn’t help his health any.  The courses of experimental electroshock treatments he received at the Mayo Clinic seem especially misguided and likely contributed to his mental deterioration in the months before his suicide.

Hemingway was an exciting man, a magnetic man, with great virtues and great faults.  Even if he had never written a word, it would not have been surprising if stories were written about him, he was that kind of man. 

R Balsamo

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Guess That Political Party Game – Daily Mail Edition

The ever-popular Guess That Political Party Game is back, where contestants try to name the political party of a disgraced, embarrassed, or convicted politician when his or her political party is not named in a media headline or article.  So far, everyone guessing "Democrat" has been right 99.9999% of the time!

Below is a screen shot of a part of the Daily Mail's web home page right now, where three stories about politicians are juxtaposed.  First, a "Republican congressman" is caught in a minor kerfuffle about excessive spending to decorate his office.  A problem, yes, but a minor one, and what about all the money the Clintons have spent decorating?  Not a word.  Then there's a story about "GOP" politicians "rushing to condemn."  All that intemperate rushing to judgment hotheadedness.  In both headlines, the political party is the first thing mentioned.

But then comes the really big story about the man who just resigned as the governor of Oregon after being caught up in a corruption scandal with an FBI criminal investigation heating up.  Looks like he's destroying evidence!  He's "disgraced."  Now here's something meaty!  But hmmmm, of just what political party is he a member?   No mention in the large headline, or in the caption to the photo.  One clicks through to the article.  No mention in the five point summary of the report.  One reads through the article, down past all the photos and ads.  Finally, there at the very end the "disgraced" ex-governor's political party is mentioned at last – though in an oblique way at that. 

OK now – Guess That Political Party!

It's obvious the lie that's going on here.  The Daily Mail knows that by placing the big story of the corrupt unnamed Democrat just below two negative headlines about named Republicans, it creates the impression for inattentive readers that the third story is about a Republican as well.  The Daily Mail also knows that few people will click through to start reading the article, and that even fewer will read all the way to the end where the corrupt politician's political party is finally mentioned.  By mentioning the Democrat party only at the very end, the Daily Mail can try to deflect accusations of political bias by stating that it did indeed mention the Democrat party of the politician, but by placing the mention at the very end it ensures few readers of the original headline will ever know the truth.

R Balsamo

Monday, February 16, 2015

What a Week That Was

Coming across the transom recently:

Where’s that heat just when we need it?  The fiddling with temperature data to make today look warm is the biggest science scandal ever (link; link).  More on the global warming religious movement (link).

Now just what was so bad again?  Ed Driscoll on the liberal media coming to the defense of the Brian Williams's lying at NBC News (link).

As Mark Steyn says, the future belongs to those who show up:  Italian birth rate lowest in 150 years (link).

Don’t let facts get in the way of a good hit piece:  the New York Times publishes a hit piece on Wisconsin governor Scott Walker saying he's responsible for budget cuts that occurred before he was governor (link).

So what else is new?:  Some British-hating Brits condemn their own country for the bombing of the German city of Dresden in WWII, one saying Brits were worse than the Nazis, while ignoring the massive and lengthy German bombing of Britain, to say nothing of the death camps where many millions were killed (link).

Irony Alert:  a painter of "Coexist" signs in public places was beaten by some Muslims, who apparently do not wish to coexist (link). 

Obama chokes on saying “Muslim terrorist”:  Even though the Muslim terrorists who attacked the Jewish deli in Paris said they did so because it was Jewish, Obama and his people refuse to admit that Jews were specifically targeted in the attack (link).

She chose her friends ...... poorly:  Omitted from almost all news reports is the inconvenient truth that the American girl kidnapped by the Islamic state, who was then sold as a sex slave and who later died in captivity, was a pro-Hamas-terrorist, anti-Jewish, pro-Palestinian activist whose boyfriend was Palestinian (link).   

Not a moment to lose:  David Goldman argues that Europe needs to address the Islamic terrorist swamp by making Muslims fear the state more than they fear the radicals among them (link):

Update from the Dark Ages:  The Islamic State beheads 21 Egyptian Christians specifically because they were Christian (link), yet the American President Obama of the Democrats, once a Muslim himself, calls the victims “innocents” but doesn’t mention they were killed for being Christian.  He probably thinks of it as "workplace violence," which is what he called the Ft Hood mass killing by a Muslim who had a long history of radical Islamic hate and who shouted “God is Great” in Arabic as he was shooting.

Can’t We Still Pretend It Doesn't Exist?:  A post (link) from the great Mark Steyn on the Muslim jihad in Denmark and the usual weak European response.

You can't say that!:  Roger Kimball (link) on how Swedes deny the Muslim rape culture in their country by legally suppressing any acknowledgment of it.  “George Orwell once observed that the only way to challenge totalitarianism was by having the courage to call things by their real names.  Political correctness is so dangerous because it is based on a lie and it promulgates itself by enforcing a lie on the rest of us.”  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tosca at the Lyric Opera

Original Poster
The Lyric Opera of Chicago is now running a new production of Puccini’s Tosca, and I was fortunate to take it in the other day.  This opera has some beautiful melodies, and its first act is wonderful.  But as the story moves on the gruesomeness of its plot is revealed.  Torture, extortion for sexual favors, murder, a hanging corpse, an execution, and a suicide are all brought starkly before us.  Talk about verismo opera.  And this production’s austere set adds to the gloominess and to boot uses costumes from much later in time than the original – extra touches from a director thinking he’s improved on Puccini.

As opera plots go, this one is simple.  All the action takes place in a 24 hour period in Rome in the year 1800.  The painter Cavaradossi stumbles upon an old revolutionary comrade on the run from a jailbreak and helps him with food and a good hiding place.  But the ruthless police chief Scarpia appears and finds reason to suspect Cavaradossi of just that.  Although the painter denies all, Scarpia proceeds to torture him to see if he’s lying, and forces his inamorata Tosca, a singer, to listen.  Scarpia is clearly obsessed with Tosca – he proclaims in the Te Deum scene of the first act “Tosca, you make me forget God” – and uses her relationship with Cavaradossi to attempt a two-fer – get the information he wants and possess her as well.  When Tosca can no longer stand her lover’s screams, she reveals the truth to Scarpia.  Since she confirms that Cavaradossi has in fact aided a political enemy of the state, it is not at all clear what Tosca thinks the happy ending could be for her lover (and herself as well).  Well, it is usually a capital error to expect much logic from opera characters, so strike that thought.  Nevertheless, Tosca seems to work out a solution, and through double double-crosses the opera moves on to its dramatic conclusion.     

In program notes, the director writes that “the central message of Tosca [is] the clash between corrupt authority and the freedom of the artist....  A painter and a singer have dedicated themselves to the creation of beauty and art, but they find themselves fighting for their moral survival because of a political situation over which they have no control....”  Well, I think I understand the conceit to see artists as suffering for their art, but actually the painter is tortured because he is suspected, correctly, of hiding an escaped prisoner seen as revolutionary by the current regime (technically the Kingdom of Sicily, and soon to be, when joined by the actual island, the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies).  Cavaradossi could have been a shoemaker and he would have been treated all the same.  One does not endorse his behavior in recognizing that Scarpia is not an art critic. 

Cover of the Original 1899 Libretto
It is Tosca’s music that is worth the price of admission.  Notably, there are three wonderful arias, a marvelous, emotionally fluctuating first act duet between the doomed lovers, and the powerful Te Deum first act finale.  The three lead characters are most of the show, and the performers I saw were a pleasure.  Music critic Jay Nordlinger once wrote that “the role of Tosca requires a soprano to be coquettish and tender, imperious and scalding.”  Russian soprano Tatiana Serjan was all that – a great actress with a great voice.  And she can play a scene for a comedic effect as when she commands Cavaradossi to change the eye color of the woman in his unfinished portrait from “azzurra” to the brown of her own.  The Russian baritone Evgeny Nikitin as Baron Scarpia and particularly the American tenor Brian Jagde as Mario Cavaradossi were solid in their roles. 

In the Lyric Opera Companion, Stephanie von Buchau writes that "the most memorable slur cast on opera ... is Professor Joseph Kerman's celebrated dismissal: Tosca, that shabby little shocker."  But, she writes, "Tosca, like all of Puccini's mature operas, consists of more than just a series of caloric tunes draped over a lurid story line in dubious taste.  Puccini was an artisan, and however you rate his inspiration, you have to rate his craftsmanship very near the top of the list." No argument here, but in Tosca we the audience do not develop quite the same emotional attachment to Tosca as we do, for example, with Mimi in Boheme or Cho-Cho-San in Butterfly

Filled with beautiful music however brutal the plot, Tosca is one of the most performed operas in the world.  Just among Puccini operas, it is more often performed than Butterfly, Turandot, and all the others save Boheme.  In the index to Opera – the Extravagant Art, Herbert Lindenberger's wide-ranging treatise on opera, there are about as many citations to Tosca as there are to all other Puccini operas combined.  Perhaps it is as simple as opera being mostly about the music.

Tosca has been a favorite at Lyric Opera.  It was featured in the company’s first season in 1954, although it may have been performed in the city earlier as there had been previous opera companies.  That first production featured Eleanor Steber as Tosca, Giuseppe Di Stefano as Cavaradossi, and Tito Gobbi as Scarpia.  Two years later Tosca was back, this time with Renata Tebaldi, Jussi Bjoerling, and Gobbi again.  In the Lyric’s first 25 seasons, Tosca was featured in 10 of them with Gobbi as Scarpia in eight.  In 1976 there was a newcomer to the role of Cavaradossi at the Lyric – Luciano Pavarotti, whose "favorite tenor and idol," according to his Wikipedia entry, was the Lyric's very first in that role, Giuseppe Di Stefano.  

 R Balsamo

Some related posts:
Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera
The Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014
La Boheme at the Lyric
Aida at the Lyric
Show Boat at the Lyric Opera

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

NBC News Comes Clean About 10-Year Lie. Oops.

Brian Williams, the long-time lead news anchor at the liberal NBC News and the face of its news operation, today admitted that since 2003 he has been telling an untruth about being shot down in a helicopter during the American invasion of Iraq.  Instead of being shot down, his helicopter landed safely one hour after the fighting was over.  Williams has been under pressure from army veterans who were there and have known the truth all along.

Williams was not the only NBC employee on that assignment, so many more have been involved in perpetrating this lie.  This "false story," as the liberal site Politico describes it, has been touted for over 10 years by NBC and Williams as evidence of the network's heroic news people who will go anywhere for a story.  Politico reports:  'Williams has told the story several times, including during a 2013 appearance on "The Late Show" with David Letterman.  "Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire including the one I was in, RPG and AK-47... we were only at 100 feet doing 100 forward knots," he told Letterman. "We landed very quickly and hard, and we were stuck, four birds in the middle of the desert. And we were north out ahead of the other Americans." '

Williams claims to be puzzled about how he could have mixed up landing safely and quietly with being shot down by gunfire, but vows to get to the bottom of the mystery.  In addition, Williams, who for decades has also been claiming he is an objective journalist, insists that this story is the only thing he has made up, ever, honest.  Double honest. 

R Balsamo

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Descent Into Farce – Obama Sends the French a Song and a Hug To Help Fight Muslim Terrorism

John Kerry
When I saw the headline and read the first paragraph I was sure it was a spoof.  How ridiculously funny!  What clever satire!  Then that sinking feeling set in.  It was real. 

After being blasted by even ultraliberals for not sending a senior American official to the recent Paris anti-Islamic terror rally, Obama sent his buffoonish Secretary of State John Kerry to help bolster the French morale.  France needs a new backbone and a division of Marines.  So what were brought to Paris by Kerry of the Democrats, who made a name for himself during the Vietnam War by sonorously accusing American soldiers of widespread war crimes just before jetting off to Europe to meet surreptitiously with the enemy?

Well, we’ve heard about strong power, and during the Obama years about soft power, and now there’s song power.  Kerry offered a song and then gave a hug to the socialist French President Hollande.  A song and a hug.  They’re sure to help defeat Muslim fanaticism.

Osama bin Laden is said to have remarked that when people see a strong horse (presumably Islam) and a weak horse (that would be Western Culture), they are naturally drawn to the former.  I agree in principle though not in reference.  Well, now Obama has introduced a third choice – the gelded horse.  Gelded horse power. 

Well, was the song at least as rousing to the spirit as the French anthem La Marseillaise?  A song that would finally buck them up for the long struggle ahead against fanatical Muslim murderers?  Nope.  He brought in the old American liberal icon of touchy-feely treacle, James Taylor, to sing “You’ve Got a Friend,” a sappy song much loved by 13 year-old girls and saccharine enough to induce a diabetic coma.  And that hug.  As a teenage girl would say – awkward!   Word is that Obama’s first choices were Barney the Purple Dinosaur and Beyonce, but they were booked, so he sent Kerry and Taylor instead.  I imagine the French muttering to themselves at this insulting display like the French police inspector in an old Inspector Clouseau movie – “I-di-ots, i-di-ots!”

A sappy song and a cringe-inducing hug.  How embarrassing and pathetic.  The Obama presidency has descended into absolute farce, not that it had far to fall. 

R Balsamo

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Western Muslim Mania

My thoughts continue to drift to the problem Western civilization faces with Islam, one very much on my mind since the recent mass murders in Paris by a gang of Muslim fanatics at a magazine office and a Jewish shop.

Muslim fanatics for some time have been instigating conflict throughout this world, and Christians, Jews, and those of other faiths have been on the receiving end.  Some in the Muslim world and their apologists in the West blame the existence of Israel, but as many have said, if Israel didn’t exist as an excuse to incite their followers, Muslim rabble rousers would need to invent it.  I doubt the Muslim murdering terrorists in the Philippines or in East Timor or in India really care much about the fate of the Palestinians, whom their own Muslim neighbors seem to barely tolerate and prefer to keep segregated on Israel’s doorstep. 

Lately it seems that the more some Muslim troublemakers act up, the more some Western leaders trip over themselves to embrace and promote Islam.  Merkel, the leader of Germany, stridently marches arm and arm with the terrorist-sponsoring Muslim Brotherhood in a pro-Islam rally, and proclaims "Islam belongs to Germany."  Duke University in the United States just this week announces it will loudly broadcast across its campus the Muslim call to prayer from the tower of its, apparently former, Christian chapel.  The American politician Pelosi of the Democrats gleefully declares she will appoint a Muslim congressman, one of two now, to a Democrat party seat on the House Intelligence Committee of the United States Congress, despite his disturbing view on Islam in the West.  And the American president Obama and his disciples doggedly persist in denying the impulse to violent jihad within Islam, risibly asserting that it doesn’t exist and that any violence committed in the name of that faith is a misinterpretation of it; although they deny being Muslims themselves they assert their power to determine who is and who is not a Muslim, rather than leaving that theological point to those of the Muslim faith themselves.            

Winston Churchill said over one hundred years ago that although individual Muslims may show splendid qualities there is no stronger retrograde force in the world than Islam.  Its subjugation of women, promotion of violent jihad, killing of apostates and homosexuals, and rejection of any separation between church and state are some of its major flaws that desperately need to be changed.  As far as I can see, Western leaders are not asking Muslims to examine and reform their faith but rather are celebrating Islam the way it is now.  This simply astonishes me. 

R Balsamo

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Paris Anti-Muslim Terror Rally – Will It Be All Show and No Go? And Where’s Obama?

The big rally in Paris against Muslim terrorism was an encouraging gesture, but I have very mixed feelings about these symbolic displays, having observed from afar the many, periodic “take back the street” marches through black neighborhoods of Chicago whenever there’s a spike in the already high baseline level of murder and mayhem.  So far it’s been all for show – politicians use them to distract the public from realizing nothing is being done to address the root problems.  After 50 years, the dangerous areas are little changed.  So will European leaders actually change their appeasement of radical and violent Muslims and now take concrete steps to kill Islamic terror?  I’m skeptical.  I note that prominent in the front row among the world politicians was the head of the Muslim terrorism-supporting Palestine Liberation Organization.  And the head of the French “right wing” organization, right wing in the sense that a socialist is to the right of a communist, was pointedly banned from the rally, presumably because the group was a mite too frank about Islam’s role in terrorism. 

Stateside, the American media is abuzz as to why Obama did not appear or at least send a high-ranking US official to the rally.  It seems simple – because Obama and his team deny that Muslim terrorism exists.  His public position is that all this killing is a criminal matter, by those who misuse the Muslim label but who kill despite their religion, not because of it.  Of course deep down he doesn’t really believe this nonsense.  He knows full well the violence-drenched history of Islam since its founding, and its spread through murderous conquest.  He understands the religious directive to violent jihad.  But he will not publicly admit any of this.  His posture is to deny the connection between Islam and violence.  After all, in the face of a clear example of Muslim murderous jihad in the attack on the soldiers at Ft. Hood, Obama and his people denied Islam was a factor and called it “workplace violence.”  This charade would be hilarious if not so tragic.  So why would Obama, raised a Muslim, join a march against Muslim mass murder jihad when he has denied the existence of that very thing in the United States? 

R Balsamo 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Democrat Howard Dean Decides Who Is Muslim and Who Is Not

Many European and world leaders marched in Paris today to show solidarity against barbarism as they condemned the recent brutal mass murder of a magazine’s staff by Muslim fanatics.  The American president Barack Hussein Obama, raised a Muslim but who has professed in adulthood not to be one, was a no show, for he was reportedly occupied stateside watching an important football game, perhaps hoping to squeeze in a round of golf afterwards.

Prominent American Democrat Party politician Howard Dean weighed in on events, making the assertion, not uncommonly heard among Democrats, that the murderers were not Muslims.  This came as a surprise not only to the French police and to the surviving hostages who had to listen to the blather about avenging Muhammad and to shouts of "God is great" in Arabic, but also to Muslims everywhere, some of whom celebrated the mass murder of perceived infidels by men who were lifelong Muslims and who professed to be acting in accordance with the Muslim directive for jihad.  Dr Dean, a somewhat indifferent and nominal Protestant, recent head of the national Democrat Party, and former Democrat candidate for the Presidency of the United States, believes he is empowered to decide among all the self-professed Muslims of the world exactly who is and who is not really Muslim.  Dr Dean has insisted that all Muslims are peaceful and that anyone who commits murder or mayhem is not peaceful and is therefore not a Muslim, notwithstanding any and all evidence to the contrary.  Lest anyone think Dr Dean is timid and non-judgmental in his opinions, it should be recalled that Dr Dean once said, now famously, that he “hates Republicans and everything they stand for.” 

R Balsamo

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Rampaging Islam & Barack Hussein Obama

Muslim murderers some hours ago killed at least 12 people in Paris at the office of a magazine that had published satirical material critical of the excesses of Islam.  The murderers reportedly went searching for specific individuals by name.  They were heard shouting "God is great" in Arabic, the de rigueur exclamation of Muslim murderers across the globe.  They were also heard to say they were avenging Muhammad.

Not long ago, the American president Barack Hussein Obama, raised a Muslim but later a long-time follower of a radical, hateful black-supremacist pseudo-Christian preacher, said that "the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."

In a statement released today, Obama criticized the murders but made no reference whatsoever to Islam.

R Balsamo

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Slaughter of the Innocents

In many Christian denominations today is Holy Innocents' Day, commemorating the massacre of all boys two years of age and under in the City of Bethlehem on orders from King Herod, who was frightened by the prophecy told to him by the Magi some time after the birth of Jesus that one of the boys would grow up to be the King of the Jews.  The story is found only in Matthew, and like some other New Testament narratives that reference a specific historical incident, such as the census ordered by Caesar Augustus (that Luke said brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem), there is some doubt this event actually occurred.  Of the four canonical Gospel writers, Matthew was the one most concerned with Old Testament prophecies, and the massacre story is thought to be the fulfillment of one of them. 

Regardless of whether the event took place as Matthew described, it has certainly inspired many artists.  One of the most striking paintings by the Venetian Tintoretto, one of my favorites, is his treatment of this story.  Slaughter of the Innocents is just one of his many large depictions of bible stories on display at the remarkable Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice.  In fact, the large two story building is so chock full of his paintings that some are displayed on the ceiling of the second floor, where mirrors and seats are provided for viewing.
In his guide to the collection, Francesco Valcanover remarks that Tintoretto's painting displays “a tragic, violently dramatic pathos created by the unrestrained tangle of forms in the cruel scene....  All the details are of epic expressive violence and some attain high points of poetic effectiveness... The individual episodes are ... amalgamated under the unifying, continuous force of radiant lights into a whole that gives off an inspiration of dramatic greatness....”  
R Balsamo

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good Tidings of Great Joy

....And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
From the Gospel of Luke

A postcard from the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany at Ashland Avenue and Adams Street on Chicago’s Near West Side, giving times of various 1905 Christmastime worship services and celebrations.  According to Father George Lane in Chicago Churches and Synagogues, the Church was constructed in 1885 of rusticated Lake Superior limestone in the Romanesque style reminiscent of the Trinity Church in Boston, and contains “elegant woodwork and beautiful mosaics.”

R Balsamo

Friday, December 12, 2014

Patrick O’Brian at 100 – Author of the Remarkable Aubrey-Maturin Series of Historical Fiction

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Patrick O'Brian, author of a remarkable feat of historical fiction – a story spanning 20 and one-half books of the particular friendship and adventures of English naval captain, expert navigator, and amateur mathematician Jack Aubrey and Irish/Catalan noted physician, spy, and naturalist Stephen Maturin.  At first drawn together by their love of music, they become fast and somewhat improbable friends and serve together in the British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, through battles and intrigue, loves and losses, sickness and injury, and wealth and impoverishment, all while fighting the French, their allies, and their spies across the globe on both land and sea.   

O’Brian was not only a great storyteller but was as well a meticulous researcher.  The series is a treasure for its complexity of plot, depth of characterizations, and fascinating period detail about flora, fauna, food, drink, and sailing ships.  His use of authentic language and nautical terms is impressive, though it takes some getting used to (but I now know quite a bit about the weather gauge, slipping one’s anchor, and the danger of a lee shore).  And there’s plenty of history and geography, music and mores, and of course battle strategy and tactics. 

Patrick O'Brian
Humor abounds, usually subtle and dry but sometimes broad (the dog watches being curtailed and choosing the lesser of two weevils come quickly to mind).  The writing style, the depth of slowly-drawn detail, takes no small measure of perseverance at first.  In that regard the story is like a fine tawny port – strong and an acquired taste, but once hooked, exquisite and sublime. 

Fame and fortune came late to O’Brian, when he was more than half-way through the series whose first volume, Master and Commander, was published in 1969.  Living modestly and reclusively with his beloved wife, he wrote for decades in a small house in a French Catalan village on the Mediterranean coast near the Spanish border.  When he passed away in January of 2000 he was partway through the 21st book, which has been published as-is up to the point he left off the last time at his desk, with alternating pages of a photocopy of a single hand-written page paired with a typed transcription. 

In 2003, director Peter Weir premiered a beautiful, richly-layered film which drew on a number of story elements from different parts of the series – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”  And of note, the handwritten manuscripts for eighteen of the Aubrey-Maturin novels, as well some first editions and other pieces from O’Brian’s body of work, were acquired by the special collections Lilly Library at Indiana University, where I was fortunate to see them all displayed at the 2008 exhibition “Blue at the Mizzen” (which is the title of the last full volume in the series).

For well over 15 years I have been enjoying this long tale; whenever I get through the last volume I just start all over at the beginning.  I always have a book going, and I find I read it sporadically in fits and starts, daily for stretches, and then maybe not at all for a few weeks while consumed by other books; but I am never very long away from the story.  If the joy has not yet been yours, by all means get the helpful lexicon and the geography guide, start at the beginning, and stick with it in the first three volumes and let O'Brian hit his stride.  As Lucky Jack Aubrey is wont to say, there is not a moment to lose.

R Balsamo

Monday, December 8, 2014

Oops! Rolling Stone Rape Accuser Now Says It Was West Virginia University

In a shocking new development to the unraveling story of Rolling Stone Magazine’s secret rape accuser, whose tale of being brutally gang raped by white University of Virginia students at a specifically-named fraternity has fallen apart as actual facts have come to light, “Jackie” now says the brutal rape probably occurred at the University of West Virginia, not the University of Virginia.  She says that she was nervous in the 13-minute Rolling Stone interview on which the magazine story was based and plum forgot to mention the word “West.” 

In a related development, Rolling Stone announced that it firmly stands by “Jackie’s” story, whatever it is and whatever it becomes, stating that even if “Jackie” is wrong on trivial details like time and place, and even if she has no scars, not even teeny-weensy ones despite a brutal gang rape lasting hours on shards of broken glass, Rolling Stone is certain of the higher truth of her story and of her specific memory that her attackers were all big, strong, white, very white in fact and for sure not minorities of any kind not even light-skinned Hispanics, men who each showed her his official Republican secret decoder ring and Nazi party membership card before he raped her. 

Actual rape is a terrible crime, and it is absolutely despicable when liberals lie about it to further their political agenda.  There is a long history of such lies, from the Scottsboro Boys and the cases that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird, to Tawana Brawley and Crystal Magnum of the Duke case and Lena Dunham.  Modern "feminists" recognize the power of such lies.  Kevin D. Williamson writes (link) in National Review:
The distasteful but undeniable fact is that organized feminism is not very much interested in rape as a crime; organized feminism is interested in rape as a metaphor, which is why the concrete problem of rape has been displaced in our public discourse by the metaphysical proposition of “rape culture.” ....  For feminists, rape is not as much a discrete crime as it is a dramatic instantiation of what they believe to be the larger and more insidious project of men’s domination of women in all spheres — sexual, economic, social, political, etc.  The reality of rape — and it is a horrific reality — is for them a political tool: If you refuse to prostrate yourself in front of the designated totem of the day, then you are an apologist for rape.  It is not coincidental that false accusations relating to rape are used as political tools by the Left, or that the targets of these false accusations are either explicitly conservative groups and individuals or such traditional bugaboos of the campus Left as fraternities, the military, and sports teams.
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R Balsamo

Friday, December 5, 2014

"Fake But Accurate" Tales of Racist and Rapist White Men

Carl von Clausewitz
With their influence on the wane as more people wake up to their hateful ways, social justice warriors are doubling down on their “narrative”, their Big Lie, that society is being brutalized by the behaviors of racist and rapist white men, particularly those white men such as fraternity brothers or athletes perceived to likely be conservatives or Republicans.  Clausewitz said “war is merely the continuation of politics by other means,” and radicals have long declared war via their “Big Lie”.

Since there are apparently insufficient incidents to prove up their case, the radicals must invent them.  For some time we’ve seen cases of faked racist affronts like a noose on a door or an epithet scratched on a car.  The Tawana Brawley case (link) was an early one, in which noted race hustler and Obama pal Al Sharpton helped invent and sensationalize a story of a gang rape of a black girl by white men as a strategic tool in his quest for power, fame, and of course wealth.  The Duke Lacrosse False Rape Persecution (link) is another well-known example.  All the while, rape accusations against non-white males, or actual statistics about the racial makeup of convicted rapists, are played down or ignored completely as they do not fit the political purpose behind the Big Lie. 

Lately we’ve seen a rash of allegations that have all the indications of hoaxes.  With fake rape claims, for example, the alleged attack was usually long ago and the supposed victim did not seek medical attention and did not report the attack it to the police, because of course to do so would have revealed the absence of evidence.  So all that exists presently is the naked accusation, floating in the air untethered to any disprovable "fact."    

Now we have the fantastical claim, hyped in the ultraliberal Rolling Stone magazine, from an anonymous woman that two years ago she was brutally gang raped at a University of Virginia fraternity party, where much of the assault occurred on the broken shards of a shattered glass table top.  Yet she did not seek any medical attention, let alone call the police.  This serious accusation was published based solely on the nameless woman’s story without any verification of a single detail.  In response to this most dubious allegation, the woman running the university saw a good excuse if ever there was one and promptly shut down all fraternity activity there.  Clausewitz would certainly recognize the age-old military tactic – create a fake incident that justifies to a gullible public more power for you. 

We also have the equally suspicious recent claim by ultraliberal pop culture icon-of-the-moment, one Lena Dunham, that she was raped years ago in college by a white male, only vaguely identified so no male in actual existence can refute the claim.  No police report, no medical evidence.  And not leaving anything to chance, she identifies her supposed attacker specifically as a Republican.  Oh how convenient.  Finally, at the University of Chicago I am sad to note, recently a student was so distraught that insufficient attention was being paid to the racism he felt all around him that he anonymously (or so he thought) posted racist comments at another student’s website page to prove it exists.      

Initially the supporters of the Big Lie smear any doubters, those who search for objective truth, as "rape apologists."  I have read that one Amanda Marcotte, an apparent radical liberal who writes for a website named Slate, recently wrote that  “rape denialism is like Holocaust denialism,” in obvious ignorance of the central theme of the widely acclaimed, landmark novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Then invariably when the lies fall apart defenders rush to assert the risible “fake but accurate” defense – that the event was “truthy” even if untrue.  Thus so-called social justice warriors must invent fake rapes by white men to prove that the campus "rape culture" exists, all to further their own vanity and reach for power while permanently damaging innocent lives and reputations in the process.

R Balsamo

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Churchill at 140

Today is the 140th anniversary of the birth of Winston Churchill.  I don’t remember when my particular interest in him began.  No doubt I was aware early on, through all those WWII movies and books I voraciously consumed.  But there was certainly much more to his life than his war days, and over time that came into focus for me.  I now own over 40 books by or about the man, and I have read most of them.  My first perhaps was the one-volume biography by Martin Gilbert, a condensation of his much longer treatment.  My favorite is the two-volume The Last Lion by William Manchester, and for an emphasis on his personal life and habits I like The Private Lives of Winston Churchill by John Pearson.  Of Churchill’s own work I have especially enjoyed My Early Life, The River War, and The History of the English Speaking Peoples.  There was much to find and much to learn in studying the life of this most remarkable of men.

Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, into a life of privilege and wealth.  He was the grandson of a duke and the son a rich American heiress.  He was born premature, so it was said, in the coat room of his grandfather the Duke of Marlborough’s majestic Blenheim Palace.  He had a very confident, perhaps overconfident, independent nature; and surprisingly, for a great speaker, he also had a lisp, which he worked hard all his life to mask and overcome.  After a much neglected childhood, with indifferent and self-absorbed parents, he attended Sandhurst, the British military academy analogous to the American West Point, from which he graduated a cavalry officer.  His mother, quite the socialite, often pulled strings with her many friends and lovers to secure advantages for her son. 

As a young man he had a remarkable career as an army officer, war correspondent, and writer, often all simultaneously.  He sought out military action wherever then it was, and often at the same wrote dispatches to newspapers back home for pay.  Then shortly thereafter he would write a book about it all.  He always had a lifestyle that required plenty of cash, more than he was earning as an officer even when supplemented by an allowance from his mother.  So he wrote, and wrote well.

He was an observer and correspondent during the Cuban revolution of 1895 while on a leave from the army.  He was posted to India, where he was a skilled polo player.  While there in 1897 he joined a unit in northwest India fighting a local tribe and served with distinction, and also was well paid for his reporting from the front.  The following year, through his mother’s influence he secured a choice position in Kitchener’s punitive expedition up the Nile to confront an army of frenzied Islamic militants.  The march to the Sudan was in part to avenge the murder there of the popular British official Charles "Chinese" Gordon, of whom Churchill wrote "a man careless alike of the frown of men or the smiles of women, of life or comfort, wealth or fame."  In that campaign at the Battle of Omdurman he was part of the last cavalry charge of the British Army. 

In 1899 Churchill left the Army, lost an election for Parliament, and headed off to South Africa to cover the Boer War as a newspaper correspondent.  While an observer on a British scouting mission in an armored train car, he bravely, though illegally, took charge while under fire at a critical moment during a Boer attack and saved many, though he was captured.  He famously escaped from a prison camp in Pretoria and found his way to safety in British territory, where he was hailed as a hero.  Though he continued as a war correspondent, he then rejoined the Army for its ultimately victorious campaign.  He eventually returned to Britain, left the Army once again, and won the first of many elections to Parliament. 

Churchill was an influential political leader right from the start, joining a group of young reform-minded Conservatives. In 1904, he left the party in a fight over free trade, which he supported, and joined the Liberals.  With them he held many important leadership positions, culminating in being appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, the head of the British navy, a post he held for over three years extending into the start of WWI.  While there he upgraded, modernized, and developed new technologies (such as the tank, despite his being in charge of the navy, not the army).  After the disaster of the Gallipoli campaign which he had helped formulate, he took much of the blame, unfairly in my opinion, and resigned.  He then reactivated in the Army and served as a front line senior officer on the brutal Western Front.  

His reputation quickly recovered and he returned to a series of government leadership positions.  He led the British support for military action in the Russian Civil War and the Irish War of Independence.  Then in 1924 he left the Liberals and rejoined the Conservative Party, saying at the time that "anyone can rat, but it takes a certain ingenuity to re-rat."  He became Chancellor of the Exchequer (akin to Treasury Secretary in the US) and led the country’s return to the gold standard, which turned out to be an economic disaster.
The Conservative government was defeated in the 1929 general election.  Churchill remained a Member of Parliament, but fought with others in his party over free trade, which he still supported, and home rule for India, which he did not.  With no leadership position and his party out of office, Churchill became a backbencher in Parliament in what he described as his “wilderness years.”  He spent that time writing books and articles, painting, traveling on speaking tours (including a long one through the United States), enjoying his country estate Chartwell, and, most importantly, increasingly warning the near-heedless free world of the growing danger of Nazi Germany. 
Melding wisdom with wit, Churchill is said to be the third most quoted source in the English language, after the Bible and Shakespeare.  Once when asked about a fancy London dinner he had just attended, he said "it would have been splendid, if the wine had been as cold as the soup, the beef as rare as the service, the brandy as old as the fish, and the maid as willing as the Duchess."  He was a truly prodigious drinker all of his adult life, yet he lived past 90, explaining that “I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me.”  He described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”  Although an excellent writer, Churchill once remarked that the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition is "the sort of English up with which I will not put."  He described the socialist Labour politician Clement Attlee as "a modest man with much to be modest about."  He said that "the vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings, whereas the virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery."  He averred that "communism was a religion – Jesuits without Jesus."  Finally, in a story perhaps apocryphal, Churchill's perennial political sparring partner Lady Astor once said to him that if he were her husband she would poison his coffee, to which he replied that if she were his wife he would drink it.     
When war broke out again in 1939, at two months shy of his 65th birthday Churchill was returned to power and the rest, as they say, is better known history of this most remarkable man.

In the last volume of the Pax Britannica trilogy, his near-poetic, masterly, pointillist history of the events and ethos of the British Empire, James Morris wrote of Churchill at the time of his death on January 24, 1965:
He had become the living exemplar of British glory.... and the most universally honoured man on earth.... [N]ot only his own nation, but half the world paused wondering and reverent to mourn him.  It was like that moment of antiquity when, the wild god Pan having died, strange music sounded and spirits moved from one end to the other of the classical world.  Churchill had gone, and a sigh, part regret, part wry, part sentimental, went round the nations.
R Balsamo

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 on this subject.  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 a sweeping 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.     

Despite repeated previous announcements that he was not the “Emperor of the United States” and “could not legally” issue the dictate that he just in fact did, once all federal elections during his presidency were over this former ersatz lecturer in Constitutional law decided to go ahead and make the decree anyway, Constitution be damned.  Quite predictably, the gaggle of lawyers working for him quickly patched together a legal justification, chock full of hair-splitting and analogizing that voilĂ ! discovered that everything in Obama’s edict is all hunky dory with the US Constitution, legal precedents (real or imagined), the Articles of Confederation, the Magna Carta, and the Ten Commandments.  Indeed, time and again without fail ultraliberal lawyers through their patented legalistic legerdemain, their semantic razzmatazz, can justify legally any action taken by any Democrat president, any time, anywhere.
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