Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

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

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

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

R Balsamo
Related Posts:

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Kitty Genovese Murder -- 50 Years Later

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

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

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

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

J Greco

One revisionist look:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a key point at issue: 

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Banjo Patterson & Waltzing Matilda

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

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

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

R Balsamo

Friday, February 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R Balsamo

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address at 150 -- The Lighter Side

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

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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Obama’s Obamacare "Fix" – He Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Legal Basis

Once again, as he did with the Obamacare employer mandate, Obama has personally decreed that he will not enforce, for as long as it suits him to do so, certain requirements that are the law of the land under Obamacare.  There is some uncertainty whether all such requirements stem entirely from the Obamacare law itself, which cannot be changed without new legislation, or whether some stem from his regulations, which are legally changeable only once a certain lengthy administrative process has been followed (for example, a public notice and comment period).  Either way, neither the law itself nor the regulations pursuant to it have been legally changed and so remain in full effect.  Obama cannot change either with a speech.

Regardless, despite being Constitutionally required to enforce the laws of the land and having taken an oath to do so (on Lincoln’s Bible no less), Obama now asserts that he will not enforce certain parts of the law and legally-established regulations, without bothering to go through the long and arduous process of legally changing either, and will look the other way if insurance companies follow his suggestion to willfully break the law in renewing policies that violate the new law.  If the companies break the law and later get sued over a dispute under an illegal policy, well that’s the insurance companies’ problem since they’re bad guys anyways.  If such insurance companies decide not to break federal law and decline to re-establish  illegal policies, Obama says only they, the insurance companies, will be to blame for this mess. 

When asked about the legal basis for his highly selective non-enforcement of laws he is sworn to uphold and for his public encouragement to insurance companies to willfully break federal law, Obama, parroting the bandit leader’s crafty legal opinion voiced to the skeptical Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, said “Legal basis?! You want to see the legal basis?!  I don’t have no legal basis, I don’t need no stinkin’ legal basis!”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Experts Jump the Shark on New One World Trade Center Height – 70% Building & 30% Mast; the Clintons & Obama Comment

Obama assures Chicagoans that if they like the tallest building designation for the Willis Tower, they can keep it.  Period. 

As Abraham Lincoln said, even if you call a tail a leg a dog still has only four legs.

Willis Tower (per Wikipedia)
The height committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, an international body based at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology (that very underappreciated university that should be much better known), determined (link) that the big mast rising up from the top of the new One World Trade Center in New York City qualifies as a “spire”, and is not an “antenna” even though it looks exactly like one, because it is a permanent feature and thus counts in their estimation as part of the building’s height.  Despite the fact the spire accounts for a ridiculous 30% of the building’s now “official” height of a very symbolic 1,776 feet, the new structure is now designated by them as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.  Such designation could of course add to the building’s attraction as a target for Islamic terrorists, and the structure will now be defended by the administration of the city’s newly elected mayor, a socialist no less, whose main promise is to compromise the city’s increasingly successful police protection methods. 

The Willis (formerly Sears) Tower in Chicago, once the world’s tallest building, is 1,451 feet tall and doesn’t have a mast as part of its official height, while the roof of the new One World Trade Center is (only) 1,368 feet tall.  Normal people, rather than experts who sometimes, like here, get twisted up into non-sensical positions, would regard a building’s height as closely related to the tallest occupiable space on which a human could stand.  By that definition, as I understand it the Willis Tower remains the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and taller than many other “officially” higher buildings around the globe which have increasingly resorted to longer and longer “spires” in what amounts to a spire race to one-up competitors.  I think everyone would agree, though, that Willis Tower still has the highest toilets in the Western Hemisphere.

Reaction was swift.  Former President Bill Clinton, apparently an architectural buff since he's often overheard using the term “tall mast” on overnights in Chicago, said that whether the mast is a spire or an antenna depends on what the definition of “is” is.  Chicagoland native Hillary Clinton, also a prominent Democrat politician, mastermind of the Benghazi Betrayal, and noted cattle futures expert, also weighed in, saying “At this point, what difference does it make?”  Former Chicago resident Barack Obama, whose only significant adult job and therefore main qualification for the presidency of the United States was the “street cred” he garnered as a local community organizer for a socialist organization, assured Chicagoans that if they liked the tallest building designation for the Willis Tower, they could keep it.  Period. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Armistice Day at 95

A Remembrance Poppy (link)
Today is Armistice Day, commemorating, now 95 years ago, the end of the Great War, an especially senseless, useless, and destructive one, which led to, along with the further destruction from its continuation as WWII, the passivity and cultural self-disdain that runs so strong through much of Western Civilization and threatens its very existence in perhaps the greatest danger since 732 A.D.  

The tragedy and suffering of the War have been expressed so well by my favorite contemporary author, James/Jan Morris; in the incomparable Pax Britannia Trilogy there is this about grieving parents visiting their son’s grave, so very far away from home:  

In one of the lonely cemeteries in which, buried where they died, the Anzacs lay lost among the Gallipoli ravines, the parents of one young soldier wrote their own epitaph to their son, killed so far away, so bravely we need not doubt, in so obscure a purpose: “God Took Our Norman, It Was His Will, Forget Him, No, We Never Will” ... for all too often the sacrifices of the Great War, as its contemporaries called it, were given to a cause that was already receding into history, like those discredited grey battleships, their smoke-pall filling the sky, hull-down on the Aegean horizon.

Related posts:

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Lying about Who’s Lying at the NY Times -- Obama "Misspoke"

The New York Times recently published an editorial about all the now-obvious lying Obama engaged in to secure passage of the health law enacted solely by Democrats.  The NY Times says Obama “misspoke”.  The word “misspoke” means, at least to those not engaged in writing and publishing for a living, a mistake, a mistaken notion of what should have been said.  Obama, however, “misspoke” often, as often as he could to anyone who would listen, with the exact same unequivocal statements about Obamacare such as “If you like your existing health care plan, you can keep it.  Period.” – words we now know the Democrats knew were lies all along.   

Responding to criticism of the editorial’s using the term “misspoke”, the NY Times’ editorial page editor, one Andrew Rosenthal, defended the word by asserting “We have a high threshold for [saying] whether someone lied.”

This statement turns out to be a big, bald-faced lie, as Seth Mandel documents (link) in a post at Commentary online.  Not many years ago the NY Times repeatedly and explicitly called President George Bush a liar when disagreeing with him over policy.  Thus, when a Republican was president the NY Times was free and loose with the “liar” accusation, but now with a Democrat in office the NY Times can’t even use the word when evidence clearly shows that Obama and his aides discussed the ongoing need to lie as Obama was lying.  Ironic it is, the NY Times lying about its standard for calling someone a liar.   

I bother now to write this post not to document evidence of the extreme liberal bias at the NY Times, an unnecessary effort since examples are legion.  Rather, I write to express a certain sadness from the reminder that once-great institutions often corrode from the inside when no adults are left who know right from wrong, or good from bad.  We know now that the New York Times was long this way (its cover up of Stalin’s massacres by its reporter Walter Duranty [link] quickly comes to mind), and before the explosion of alternative sources to more readily grasp what is true and what is not, we just didn’t know different, or better.

Update 11/15/2013:  The NY Times by many accounts has abandoned the ridiculous "misspoke" terminology, and has adopted now the term "incorrect promise".  I am not making this up.  Honestly.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sidney Reilly: Ace of Spies

The Name's Reilly, Sidney Reilly
On this day in 1925, 88 years ago, Sidney Reilly, adventurer, con-man, and British agent, the model for Fleming’s James Bond, was supposedly executed by the Soviets after being lured to Russia in a trap.  I say supposedly because much of Reilly’s story is shrouded in uncertainty, as he fabricated stories and identities as a matter of course.  

Perhaps the first true international man of mystery, it seems most likely that he was born in Czarist Russia to Jewish parents and found his way to Britain where he married a wealthy woman, freshly widowed perhaps during an affair with Reilly, and became a valued operative for the young British Secret Service.  His undercover exploits were all over the globe, including his foiling the Russians in Manchuria just before the Russo-Japanese war, stealing weapon plans from Germany before WWI, and causing much mischief in Russia for the Bolsheviks.    

Sam Neill as Sidney Reilly
I first learned of Reilly from the excellent 1983 TV mini-series Reilly: Ace of Spies, which was based the book of the same name, which I later read, by Robert Bruce Lockhart.  The music theme was a haunting melody I enjoyed so much that I recorded it from the TV speaker onto a cassette tape; I only knew it was "The Romance" movement from a Dmitri Shostakovich score for a movie called The Gadfly.  What I didn’t know until today, knocking about on Wikipedia as I am wont to do, is that this film was an adaptation of the novel of the same name, written by an Irish woman named Ethel Voynich, allegedly once a lover of Reilly’s, whose theme is revolution and romance and whose central character is allegedly based on none other than Reilly himself.    

Lockhart was a friend and colleague of Sidney Reilly.  He later worked closely in British intelligence with Ian Fleming, and Reilly undoubtedly came up in conversation.  According to the Wikipedia entry (link), “Reilly was multi-lingual, fascinated by the Far East, fond of fine living, and a compulsive gambler” – just like some other secret agent we know.

R Balsamo

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Burt Lancaster at 100

Today would have been the 100th birthday of actor Burt Lancaster, one of the greats of Hollywood and a particular favorite of mine.  As a boy I especially liked adventure stories, and Lancaster’s The Crimson Pirate is one of the first I can remember seeing; I was particularly enthralled by the daring and ingenious escape in which he and two others, while chained together in a small dinghy, capsize their boat to trap air in its hull, sink to the bottom, and walk the whole way back to shore on the sea floor breathing the trapped air.  That movie was in the repertory of the weekly Family Classics movie series on WGN TV in Chicago along with another film of his – Jim Thorpe – All-American.  

Although born and raised in East Harlem in New York City, Lancaster started out as a circus performer, and his gracefulness of motion is evident in his work.  He had a warm, confident persona accompanied by an easy, almost trademarked, wide, toothy smile and an expressive physicality.  In his long career drama was his strength.  He won an Academy Award for his role in Elmer Gantry, a film which showcases his charm and talent as well as any other and which won an Oscar for co-star Shirley Jones as well.  Some of his other well-known performances were in The Bird Man of Alcatraz and Atlantic City.  He starred alongside some remarkable leading ladies, such as Katherine Hepburn in The Rainmaker, Audrey Hepburn in The Unforgiven, and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity.  He also started a production company that, among other things, produced the award-winning movie Marty as well as Sweet Smell of Success, in which he starred as the heavy.

Particular favorites of mine include war pictures The Train, Go Tell the Spartans, Castle Keep, and Run Silent, Run Deep, and Westerns Ulzana’s Raid, The Professionals, and Lawman.  He had notable performances all the way to the end of his career, and his late roles in Rocket Gibraltar and Field of Dreams constitute a memorable finish to a remarkable body of work.  Lancaster died in 1994 at the age of 80.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Lincoln Highway Turns 100

Lincoln Highway Marker (photo from Wikipedia)
Today is the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Lincoln Highway, which runs from New York City to San Francisco and was the first significant cross-country road in America. 

From Wikipedia (link):  “The Lincoln Highway was America's first national memorial to President Abraham Lincoln....  As the first automobile road across America, the Lincoln Highway brought great prosperity to the hundreds of cities, towns and villages along the way.  The Lincoln Highway became affectionately known as ‘The Main Street Across America.’  The Lincoln Highway was inspired by the Good Roads Movement.  In turn, the success of the Lincoln Highway and the resulting economic boost to the governments, businesses and citizens along its route inspired the creation of many other named long-distance roads (known as National Auto Trails), such as the Yellowstone Trail, ...  [and] Dixie Highway [link].  Most of the 1928 Lincoln Highway route became US Route 30 [when the US highway numbering system was instituted].”

The Lincoln Highway route is peppered with memorials and related place names.  Among them are the four Lincoln-Way High Schools in south suburban Chicago through whose district area runs Route 30.   The popularity of the Lincoln Highway led to the development of other long-distance named-roads, such as the Dixie Highway from Chicago to Miami.  A later arrival was Route 66, from Chicago’s Loop to Los Angeles, whose fame through song, television, and movies has probably eclipsed that of all other roads.  Now if only I was a song writer ....

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Obama Pulls Out the Big Lie Tactic on Obamacare

Just when it seemed Obama and his lying couldn’t get any worse, Obama has just blamed the health insurance companies for complying with Obamacare.  Really.  Really.  His lying has come to this.

Using the “Big Lie” (link) tactic made famous by such authoritarian luminaries as National Socialist mass murder Goebbels and Soviet Communist mass murder Stalin, Obama today in a speech blamed “bad apple” health insurance companies for all the policy cancellations flooding the news reports.  Everyone knows that insurance companies are cancelling policies because they are required to under the Obamacare law.  It would be illegal for them to continue to offer those policies. 

Not only is the lying by Obama and his minions continuing, but this one today from Obama is a whopper.  Obama clearly believes in the Big Lie principle – that the bigger the lie the more people will believe it.  

As I recently wrote (link), “All the promises about Obamacare have vaporized, promises like ‘if you like your health benefit plan and your doctor you will be able to keep them’ ....  All lies known to be lies by those who uttered them.” 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Want Medical Privacy with Obamacare? Fuggedaboutit

Compared to the Obama worshipers' image of Himself as the hippest thing in the universe, Mark Steyn writes (link) that “Obamacare wound up somewhat less hipper and, in fact, not even HIPAA [pronounced "hip'-uh"] — the unpersuasively groovy acronym for federally mandated medical privacy in America. Appearing before Congress ... the magicians of Obamacare eventually conceded that ... “You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication of any data transmitted or stored on this [Obamacare] information system.”

Really, why would Obama and his followers, who have turned the IRS and the Justice Department into personal, partisan tools for use against their political adversaries, and who, since the day they took over the federal government have been illegally and immorally spying not only on Americans but even on foreign leaders – why would they care about the privacy of us plebs or have the slightest hesitation in using whatever information they can to control us while helping their friends and hurting their opponents? 

But that’s really nothing to worry about.  Once Obamacare is fully up and running and the medical care Rationing Board gets to rationing, in your suffering and anxiety while you’re waiting years for your knee arthroscopy or your heart valve repair privacy of your medical and financial records will be the last thing on your mind. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Laura Nyro In My Head

Laura Nyro
There’s music for every mood, and this week Laura Nyro has been the soundtrack of my days with her beautiful, clear voice wafting through in her unique bluesy, jazzy style.    

Born Laura Nigro in 1947 in the Bronx to an Italian musician father and a Jewish social progressive mother, she was still a teenager when she sold her first song And When I Die, which later was a big hit for Blood Sweat & Tears.  Stone Soul Picnic and Eli’s Comin’ are other well-known works of hers.  Personally, I enjoy rather many of her slower-tempo, less-well-known compositions like Emmie and Billie’s Blues.

I hold a special place for her sparkling, soulful covers of 50-60s era pop songs such as Spanish Harlem, Up on the Roof, It’s Gonna Take a Miracle, Dedicated To the One I Love, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, Let It Be Me, La La Means I Love You, and Desiree, many of which were recorded with Patti Labelle and her vocal group.  It doesn’t get any better than their lilting harmonizing on The Bells.

Sadly, Laura Nyro died all too young, as did her mother, both at age 49 from ovarian cancer.  Tomorrow would have been her 66th birthday.  She left behind a treasure trove of material, to be discovered and enjoyed all over again by those yet to come. 

R Balsamo

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Let's Not Upset the Germans About That, You Know, War

Proposed 2016 British Bank Note
More evidence of a world turned upside down:

As I have written, though the British were once described as lions led by donkeys, today a more apt description would be sheep led by asses.

One of the first things Obama did walking into the White House was to throw out a bust of Churchill that had been a gift to the American people; not to Obama himself, but to the American people.  Now it has come to this – Bank of England officials are embarrassed that Britain won WWII (link):
“Bank of England officials reportedly came close to banning Sir Winston Churchill from the face of a new 5-pound note they plan to issue in 2016 because they didn't want to upset the Germans....  They warn that the ‘recentness of World War II is a living memory for many here and on the Continent,’ and note that Churchill's wartime record could make him a highly controversial choice for the bill.”  [Emphases added]
Keeping Britain alive and defeating the murderous threat from Nazi Germany, which, supported by a few other countries, started a war that killed scores of millions, including perhaps 10 million in concentration camps and countless more as slave laborers worked to death.  Yes, that “controversial wartime record”.    

As it has been said – decline is a choice.

R. Balsamo

Monday, October 14, 2013

On This Date

Every once in a while, not nearly often enough, I look over a list of past events that occurred on that particular day.  October 14 has been a particularly eventful one down the years. 

Pope Callistus I
In 222, Pope Callistus I (link) was killed by a mob in Rome and was later recognized as a saint.  Years ago on Chicago's near west side I often parked near St Callistus Church when I worked at the University of Illinois and Westside VA hospitals, and I fondly remember returning to my car on Bowler Street in the early evenings surrounded by the wonderful smells of fresh Italian cooking.  My father grew up nearby on Polk Street and had been an altar boy at St. Callistus many years before, although he attended the public school because his family could not afford the tuition at the Church school.  St Callistus Church and School eventually closed and the buildings are now the home of the private Chicago Hope Academy (link).

In 1066 on the coast of southern England there was a rather small military engagement near the slumbering village of Hastings.  That fight turned out to be one of the critical inflection points in Western history, and because of that 1066 was one of just a handful of dates (476, 732, and 1453 were some others) I was required to memorize in my high school Western civilization class by the remarkable Mr. Thallemer.

In 1322 the forces of Robert the Bruce of Scotland defeated the English and forced the king to accept Scotland's independence.  I think we saw this scene at the very end of the Mel Gibson movie about William Wallace.  While on the subject of Scotland, a few years later in 1586 just down the road, relatively speaking, Mary, Queen of Scots, finally went on trial for alleged conspiracy against her cousin The Virgin Queen; Mary had already been imprisoned for almost 19 years, and it all did not end well. 

In 1582 there was no October the 14th at all, as one of many dates skipped over that year in the switch over from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar so as to better align the calendar with the actual seasons.

William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, was born on this day in 1644.  His collection of accumulated wisdom, Fruits of Solitude (link), was republished in 1906 as the fourth volume, and has become the rarest, of the still-running Lakeside Classics series of American narratives published by the Lakeside Press as its private series of Christmas gifts to friends of the RR Donnelley Company.  One Lakeside Classics volume has been published in December of every year since 1903, and I have copies of most of them. 

In 1912, while campaigning in Milwaukee, former president Theodore Roosevelt was shot and wounded by a mentally disturbed saloon keeper.  With the fresh wound and the bullet still in him, Roosevelt finished his scheduled speech.  He was later transported to Chicago and came to be cared for by the renowned physician Dr. John B. Murphy at Mercy Hospital, the first one in the city of Chicago, and one with which I was associated for many years.  There was a small display case there with some memorabilia from that most famous patient.
Three famous movie stars passed away on October 14.  Errol Flynn, a favorite of mine and the subject of a prior post (link), died on this day in 1959 from a sudden heart attack at the young age of 50 while traveling in Vancouver, away from his home in Jamaica.  Also on this day in 1977 Bing Crosby passed away from the same cause; the circumstances of his death and the story of his remarkable life were so widely recounted in the ensuing days that among other things I still remember to this day that he was stricken while golfing in Spain, of all places.  And in 1986 Keenan Wynn passed away, having previously uttered in Dr Strangelove one of movies' most memorable lines of social commentary:  "you’ll have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company."

In 1962 on this date began the Cuban missile crisis, during which I often found myself as a young student in grammar school safety drills either huddled under my classroom desk or sitting on the school basement floor with my head resting on my knees with the rest of the kids all squeezed together like sardines.  As if any of that would have done a whit of good if a nuclear bomb had landed on Chicago.

And last but perhaps not least, this day looms large in Chicago Cubs history.  In 1908, 105 years ago this very day, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Detroit Tigers to win their last World Series to date.  And perhaps just coincidentally, also on October 14, ten years ago today in game six of the 2003 playoff series to determine the winner of the National League pennant, the Cubs were within 5 outs of going to the World Series when the now infamous Bartman ball incident occurred.  The Cubs were leading 3-0 at that point but went on to lose the game and the playoff series to the Florida Marlins.  A World Series appearance that year was not to be. 
R. Balsamo