Friday, February 5, 2016

Nabucco at the Lyric Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R Balsamo 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Let's Again Play "Guess the Political Party!" at the Daily Mail: Its Liberal Bias On Full View

On the Daily Mail site on January 28, 2016 -- two adjacent articles:


The politician on the right cut off a long-winded speaker's prayer -- at worst a rude act, while at best an appropriate and well-deserved maneuver.  He is named explicitly as a Republican, twice, just in the article's headers. 

Meanwhile, the "corrupt" Chicago "city official" on the left "faces years in prison" for his corruption involving "the administration" of the City of Chicago.  His known behavior is infinitely worse than that of the first official, yet his political party is not mentioned at all in the headline.  In fact, even in the article, his political party is not mentioned.  Not mentioned either is the political party to which everyone in the "administration" of the City of Chicago belongs.  Apparently the Brits at the Daily Mail don't realize that every educated American over 21 years old knows that Chicago has been in the tight grip of the Democrat Party for generations and that every "city official" and every single person in the city's "administration" is a Democrat.  But for the Daily Mail that's a fact not worth mentioning, and they're too ignorant of American politics to know everyone would be on to their subterfuge.  They only look pathetic in their failed manipulation.  But should a Republican allegedly be rude, well, he must be called out.

As I pointed out in a previous post on the Daily Mail, this tactic appears to involve a begrudging coverage of a Democrat scandal that leaves out the Democrat part, juxtaposed with an article about some Republican peccadillo that emphasizes the Republican part, all in an effort to mislead inattentive and unsuspecting readers into thinking that both articles involved Republicans.

R Balsamo

Related post:
The Guess That Political Party Game – Daily Mail Edition

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Corrupt Hillary and Quisling Republicans Fight Trump & Cruz for the Republic

The primary voting season is about to start, and this time around the big picture in presidential politics is as unstable and threatening and infuriating as at any time in my life. 

Democrat party leaders see voters as puppets who must be ruled and see themselves as the puppet masters to do just that.  For would-be dictators, power is the ultimate goal, and corruption along the way is a feature, not a bug.  Just look at any city (try Chicago) or state (how about Illinois) that has been solidly in the grip of Democrats for a long time.  Corruption oozes from every pore.  Now comes Hillary Clinton, from Illinois no less and an acolyte of the late Chicago communist agitator-extraordinaire Saul Alinsky.  From all we already know of her, from Whitewater and the Rose law firm and cattle futures, to the illegal, unsecured private server set up to escape legal controls and proper oversight, and up through the Clinton Foundation, by every honest and rational analysis carefully arranged to launder bribes to the sitting United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is the most personally corrupt major politician in American history.  And an inveterate liar to boot.  Yet she leads Democrat party polling for the nomination for president.  This is end-of-the-Republic stuff.

Among Republican voters, maverick Donald Trump maintains his big lead.  Although certainly not of consistent conservative views and not even a consistent Republican, he is spot on right now about the biggest issue at hand – open borders and amnesty for illegals that threaten American wages now and promise to erode them for generations.  As I have written before, Democrat leaders want open borders to gain more Democrat voters, and they figure the workers who support them blindly will stay blind.  The Republican Party elites, funded by business interests, want open borders to access a bottomless cup of cheap labor (and who cares if they're more Democrat voters who will bury the principles for which the Republican Party is supposed to stand).  The American workers get screwed.  
  
And so Trump has caught on with many Republican voters who see him as the repudiation of the Quisling leaders of their party.  A very flawed vessel for that message, to be sure, but an effective one as it has turned out.  The party that has in the last 15 years exploded budgets, that has sent thousands of brave and loyal Americans to die in fruitless and thankless and endless conflicts in the Muslim world, that has enlarged big government beyond all anticipations via such affronts as the Homeland Security Department, the federal takeover of education, and the recent detestable "Cromnibus" bill, that has voted overwhelmingly for every radical liberal supreme court nominee – the very party leaders who brought us all that and much more now scream “trust us, not Trump!  And not Cruz either!  They're dangerous!”  Those same party leaders, from Boehner and McConnell, from GW Bush and John McCain, to such men now as Speaker Ryan (my how he has disappointed) and ¡Jeb!, are happy to share in the gravy train racket that is big government and will cooperate with Democrats in destroying free men and women who reject that racket, as they force through their huge, impenetrable bills that hide all kinds of political mischief and that surreptitiously fund all the perfidy, like Obamacare and open borders, they publicly profess to oppose. 
 
I’m drawn to those liberty-lovers whom these feckless Republican leaders truly fear and to those who have been strong and consistent in their advocacy for the politics of liberty, constitutional government, and the rule of law fairly and equally enforced.  I’m for Cruz.

R Balsamo

Friday, January 15, 2016

Greek Heavy Hitters at the Field

At the wonderful temporary exhibit The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander at the Field Museum in Chicago -- an extensive display of artifacts from pre-Classical and Classical Greece.  There are maps and explanatory text aplenty, though not quite up to the quality and quantity shown in the Field's large permanent exhibit on China -- but still very well-done all the same.    

Left to right:  Plato, Aristotle, and Demosthenes.  All three are Roman copies of now-lost Greek originals, 4th Century BC, from the collection of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

A stele which marked graves of wealthy citizens, from the 4th century BC, courtesy of the Archaeological Museum of Pella [Greek Macedonia].

Statue of  Hoplite known as Leonidas, the Spartan king of Thermopylae fame.  From the Acropolis of Sparta, 5th Century BC, now at the Archaeological Museum of Sparta.

A remarkable display of objects mostly on loan from Greece.  Well worth a visit to the treasure that is the Field.

R Balsamo


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Republican Elites Find Trump’s Reagan Democrats Revolting; Cheap Labor and Cheap Votes For Everyone!

From memory, an exchange in Mel Brooks’s History of the World, Part I goes something like this:  Lackey to the French king at the start of the French Revolution:  “Sir, the peasants are revolting;” King: “Boy, you can say that again, they sure are.”  The other day the elites of the Republican Party broadcast a response to Obama’s State of the Union address, a response that by many reports didn’t hit Obama’s record and policies very hard.  But what the Republican elite response did do was slam leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his supporters as “angry voices” and admonished them to, in so many words, basically shut up and go along with the Democrat-lite program of new Republican Speaker Paul Ryan (BFF of radical open border Democrat Rep. Luis Gutierrez) and the Republican establishment.  The program that prominently includes open borders to immigrants. 

Open borders to basically any and all immigrants, a point we seem to be halfway to already, would for generations depress wages, already stagnant, for low- and medium-skilled workers in the United States.  Trump’s opposition to open borders and calls for tighter controls on immigration explains his strong support among blue collar workers, traditionally Democrats, even among blacks and Hispanics who understand the deleterious impact more immigration will have on their jobs and wages.  The Democrats want open borders to gain more Democrat voters, and they figure the workers who support them blindly will stay blind.  The Republican party elites, funded by business interests, want open borders to access a bottomless cup of cheap labor.  The American workers get screwed and they’re rightfully “angry” about that.  Those “Reagan Democrats” who now see clearly what's going on want to return to the Republican party, but Paul Ryan and the elites of Republican party don’t want them.  They’d rather have Hillary Clinton, corrupt to the bone, with open borders and cheap labor.  Republican elites would be happy to “pay to play” with Hillary – they think they can make a lot of money with her and her crowd; with Donald Trump and the “angry voices” of his supporters, not so much. 

R Balsamo

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Domingo & Martinez at the Lyric

Last evening the Lyric Opera of Chicago presented Placido Domingo, Ana Maria Martinez, and the Lyric Orchestra in concert to a packed house.  Though Domingo’s voice is not quite what it once was, he is still wonderful to see and hear, still touring and performing at 74 years old.  Martinez is well-known at the Lyric, and I had the good fortune in recent years to catch her as Mimi in La Boheme (link) and at a Stars of the Lyric late-summer outdoor concert (link).  The concert was a bit subdued emotionally and at times a touch perfunctory, but the audience loved it.  Special was the beautiful baritone-soprano duet from La Traviata, where the thirty or so year difference between the singers perfectly matched the storyline.  Other highlights for me included the love duet from The Merry Widow and “Tonight” from West Side Story.  The Lyric Opera Orchestra performed a number of pieces alone, including the rousing overture from Verdi’s La forza del destino.              

Domingo’s solos included Lehar’s “Dein Ist Mein Ganzes Herz” and Torroba’s “Amor, Vida De Mi Vida”, both of which he sang long ago in Three Tenors concerts, and arias from Andrea Chenier and Macbeth.  Martinez’s program included an aria from Ernani and “If I Loved You” from Carousel.  They concluded their encore set with a pleasant surprise, at least to me – a two-part rendering of the De Curtis Neapolitan song “Non Ti Scordar di Me,” which is as moving and melodic as the composer’s much more well-known “Torna a Surriento.”  The city is fortunate to have the Lyric.  In all a wonderful way to spend a cold winter evening in Chicago.

R Balsamo

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Adoration of the Shepherds

The Adoration of the Shepherds, by the wonderful Venetian artist Jacopo Tintoretto; on display in the incomparable treasury of art that is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice.

From a guidebook by Francesco Valcanover;  "In an open scenic illusionism, the shepherds below present their gifts with impassioned and joyous gestures.  They are counterpointed by the light and shadow created by the brightness from outside; above, main and secondary figures taking part in the divine event take on attitudes of conscious, almost solemn participation and are dazzled by the light which streams through the cracks between the wooden beams of the humble barn.  The two different spiritual moments are underlined also by the different colour quality; without breaking the continuity the lower part is continuously struck by reverberations and reflections and at the same time carefully and realistically evokes the animals in the stall, the brightly-colored peacock, the humble tools; the upper part is calmer and more relaxed although the wide chromatic background painting is strengthened by sudden, flashing rays of light."

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The First Heisman & Jay Berwanger of UChicago, 80 Years On

Jay Berwanger
Eighty years ago today the Downtown Athletic Club awarded its first Heisman Trophy to Jay Berwanger as college football’s most outstanding player.  He was the star halfback of the University of Chicago Maroons, in the team’s waning years as a Big Ten powerhouse.  That alone is a great trivia question. 

Berwanger was also a great track and field athlete, and for many years held a school record in the decathlon.  He tried out for but did not make the 1936 Olympics team in that competition.  In 1936 he became the first player drafted in the first ever NFL draft – the second great Berwanger trivia question.  The Philadelphia Eagles selected him then traded the negotiating rights to the Chicago Bears, but owner George Halas and Berwanger could not agree on a salary so Berwanger never played pro football.  Typical Halas, who over his long history with the Bears gained a reputation as a tightwad.  Berwanger eventually went into business, and passed away in his suburban Chicago home in 2002 at the age of 88.

His Heisman Trophy is on display at the University of Chicago.  I clipped a photo of it from the UChicago website; I don’t think they’ll mind. 

Speaking of the Heisman, at a school charity auction a few years ago I had the good fortune to win a football signed by 20 Heisman Trophy winners, donated by Johnny Lattner, the 1953 Heisman winner and star at Notre Dame and Fenwick High School in suburban Chicago Oak Park.  Lattner's signature is just to the left of the figure of the player.


R Balsamo

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

My UChicago Haunts (Part 1)

This year the University of Chicago is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding.  In commemoration of that great and special (and unusual) place, home of the “life of the mind,” where exasperated shouts of “define your terms” bounce between the limestone Gothic buildings, where secondary sources are third class citizens, where the graffito “F-you – Newton” is coupled with “F-your vicinity – Heisenberg,” and where when hurrying to the library on a brisk fall Saturday afternoon a driver pulls over to ask, in all earnestness, “where’s the Plato lecture,” as if you’d know just which one.

Reminiscing on some well-travelled campus haunts:

Hitchcock Hall is an unusual building, inside and out.  Completed in 1902 as a men’s residence hall, it has Gothic elements encased in prominent horizontal lines enclosing five vertical sections, four stories each, connected only by cross corridors in the basement and on the quad side a ground floor, unheated cloister.  It was designed, writes campus historian Jay Pridmore, as “a merger of Prairie School and Gothic Revival.”  Very UChicago – cross-discipline fertilization.  How many other Prairie-Gothic buildings can one name on the National Register of Historic Places? 
 
Hitchcock Hall
(Snell Hall in more traditional Gothic design is adjacent to the right)
Hitchcock Hall is a place where once upon a time, after yet another intense conversation around a greasy table in the basement kitchen, someone would remark sardonically “well, another raucous Saturday night at the U of C;” but also a place where, should anyone try to leave such conversation, on the price of tea in China or carbon-carbon double bonds, the plea “five more minutes” would invariably be heard. 

Bartlett Gymnasium was a pretty neat, and historic, place.  It once stood as the eastern part of the Stagg Field complex, housing a big gym, offices for coaches, a large trophy room with testaments of past Big Ten glories, and a locker room where attendant Bill Dee would string a mean Hornet squash racket for a young college freshman.  It was decorated with large hand-painted murals and most notably over the entrance a large, multi-paneled stained glass window depicting a scene from Ivanhoe “in which the knight is crowned for his triumph in a legendary twelfth-century tournament” (Pridmore).  Build of very solid limestone in the Gothic style, of course, with the same turrets and battlements found on Stagg Field. 
 
Bartlett Gymnasium
A place where I learned the game of squash, which I played there for many years, and the place where I would interview the athletic coaches for my short-lived small sports column in the student newspaper The Chicago Maroon.  In the twenty-first century, upon completion on the edge of campus of a larger athletic center with a faddish, futuristic-look, the convenient and centrally-located Bartlett Gymnasium building was turned into a cafeteria.  My oh my.
 
Hutchinson Commons, Mitchell Tower, a sliver of the Reynolds Club, and a corner of Mandel Hall (L to R) 
Hutchinson Commons was the grandest place on campus to eat a mediocre meal, though when a student it was a bit pricey for me.  Always an interesting experience to chow down in the wood-filled, heavy-beamed, high-ceilinged hall, watched over by past university greats whose huge portraits hang on the walls all about you.  The building, modeled after Oxford’s Christ Hall Church, is, writes Pridmore, a “classic example of the late-Gothic English Perpendicular.”  How about that?  Hutch Commons is part of a multi-building complex that includes Mitchell Tower, Mandel Hall auditorium, and the Reynolds Club, a hodgepodge of spaces and offices built as a student center.

Hutchinson Commons; Portraits Fill the Walls Now
My thin wallet preferred the adjacent C-Shop, where, if flush with a few extra dollars from the latest advance on a loan, my pals and I ate many a greasy hamburger rather than cooking up a pot of cheaper spaghetti or gnocchi.  We were glad to have a late night dining option on campus.  It looks now to have been converted into a healthy-food sandwich, granola, and muffin shop, with a full line of organic juices.  Times have changed.     

Cobb Gate
(Incorrectly named on the postcard)
 

 

Finally, for now, Cobb Gate merits a mention.  It is the south entrance (on 57th Street) first to Hull Court, with its complex of biology buildings, and then to the main quadrangles.  Traversed innumerable times in a typical undergraduate’s stint, it certainly is a sight, a passageway beneath a massive limestone archway covered with a bevy of gargoyles and other grotesque creatures glaring down on passers-by, a fair warning that the University of Chicago isn’t for the faint of heart.   

 

 


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Saint Nicholas, the Christian Bishop Who Became Santa Claus, & Turkish Chutzpah


Desubleo: Saint Nicholas
Knowing that today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas, the fourth century Greek Christian bishop in Anatolia upon whom the character Santa Claus is based, I took a few minutes to read up a bit on him.  And, as the saying goes, you learn something every day.

This I already knew:  That Nicholas was known to freely give gifts, often in secret, to the needy, and his practice became the basis for the Christian custom of gift-giving at Christmastime; That somehow the practice of gift-giving was moved, for most Christians, to Christmas Day; That the name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch name “Sinterklaas,” which is some sort of linguistic corruption of “Saint Nicholas.”    

What I did not know was that Nicholas was one of the bishops at the First Council of Nicaea and was such an ardent defender of the “orthodox” Christian position on a point of Christology against that of Arius that, according to legend, he punched Arius in the face.  Nicholas was one of the signatories to the Nicene Creed, a variation of which is still recited in many Christian churches today.

Most art work on St Nicholas seems to be in the Orthodox tradition, two-dimensional and unrealistic, but I came across an appealing painting on the subject by the 17th Century Flemish painter Michele Desubleo, who spent his career in Italy: “Saint Nicholas with the three school children and a Carthusian monk.”

Nicholas died in 343 and was buried in southern Anatolia.  His tomb became a popular religious site to visit.  About 700 years later, the area was threatened by the invasion of the Muslim Turks.  To protect the relics of St Nicholas, some of his remains were whisked off to Bari in the heel of Italy.  The rest were soon carried off to Venice, a maritime culture especially drawn to the patron saint of sailors, where a church in honor of Nicholas was built on the Lido, one of the islands in the lagoon. 
Church of San Nicolò al Lido, Venetian Lagoon

An amusing epilogue:  According to Wikipedia, in 2009 “the Turkish Government announced that it would be formally requesting the return of St. Nicholas's skeletal remains to Turkey from the Italian government” on the grounds that Nicholas’s remains “were illegally removed from his homeland.”

So here we have it:  the Muslim Turks, increasingly becoming more religiously fundamental and even less-hospitable toward Christians, and not all that long after slaughtering the Christian Armenians, and who as a people were not even living in Anatolia at the time of Nicholas, now are demanding the seventeen hundred-year old remains of a Christian man who once lived in Anatolia hundreds of years before Muhammad was even born.  There’s a Yiddish word for this – chutzpah.  St Nicholas was part of a Christian culture in Anatolia that the Turks purposefully destroyed, but now the Muslim Turks want his dusty bones back presumably to promote Christian tourism.  I suspect the Turks will be waiting a long time, but if they are really serious about the principle of returning old stuff they could start with a show of their bona fides by returning to Christians Hagia Sophia, once the greatest church in Christendom, and whatever holy artifacts survived the centuries of wanton destruction.  And, while they’re at it, why not return the entire city of Constantinople?  Now that would be a real show of good faith.

R Balsamo

Friday, November 20, 2015

A T. rex Girl Named Sue


Sue is the name given to the Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on permanent display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  The 67-million-year-old fossil remains were discovered in 1990 in western South Dakota by Sue Hendrickson, a paleontologist, and the skeleton was named after her.  The Museum says it is the “largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered.” 

The skeleton was subject to various disputes over ownership, and at one point it was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Ultimately ownership was awarded to the American Indian on whose land the fossil was found, and in 1997 a consortium of buyers led by the Field Museum purchased the skeleton for over $8 million.  At 42 feet long and 13 feet tall at the hip, Sue has been on striking display in the great hall of the Field Museum since 2000.  Kudos to the Field.  Sue is a wonder to be seen. 
 
Photo by author; November, 2015
 
R Balsamo

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hillary Clinton the Naked Liar on Islamic Terrorism

Coming days after Muslim terrorists killed 129 people in coordinated attacks in Paris and after the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, Hillary Clinton said this today in New York City in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (link):
Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism
"Nothing whatsoever," Clinton says.  Reports the Daily Mail:  “Clinton instead referred repeatedly to 'radical jihadism' as a global scourge, but didn't explain how the concept of jihadism is consistent with [her] notion that adherents of [Islam] are uninvolved."

Everyone by now knows that in the Koran there are passages that promote peacefulness as well as conflicting passages that urge Muslims to commit violence against non-believers (jihad).  Individual Muslims decide which path to follow.  One can acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims in the world live decent, peaceful individual lives while also recognizing that there are many Muslims who read the Koran as a guide to violence.  Everyone knows this.  Muslim terrorists can and do recite those Koranic verses that prescribe their actions.  The head of the Islamic State, the Muslim terrorist organization most in the news these days, has a PhD in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad.

The only real solution is for peaceful Muslims to reform Islam from within by expurgating the violence-promoting parts of the Koran and later texts, combined with world-wide aggressive suppression of, and not apologies for, Islamic terrorism.  Appeasers and apologists of violent Islam serve to undermine any Muslims seeking an Islamic reformation by insisting that there is nothing wrong with Islam itself.     

Frankly I do not understand what Hillary Clinton seeks to gain from such a ridiculous statement that everyone knows is a lie.  She certainly knows it is a lie.  Perhaps she spits forth such lies, not only because she is an inveterate liar just for the sport of it, because she gets a sense of power, a perverse frisson, in uttering bold lies that everyone around her accepts as a sign of her power.  She is the empress with no clothes, but in her version of the morality play even she knows she is naked.      

R Balsamo

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reflections on the Devolution in France

The Islamification of Western countries, particularly in Europe, is for some people of ethnic European heritage, exhausted and culturally disorientated by the conflicts of the Twentieth Century, a cultural expiation, for others a desired cultural transformation, and for yet others a craved-for cultural suicide.  I for one am very enamored with Western culture and the Judeo-Christian ethic (not to be redundant) and would like to see them stick around for a great while longer. 

Of course there’s a long history before the most recent “setback,” as Barack Obama of the Democrats has described the recent Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 129 people and wounded hundreds more.  Liberals blame much Islamist terrorism on George W. Bush, their all-purpose bogeyman.  In fact, exhibiting uncanny prescience before George W. Bush actually became president, Islamist terrorists reacted to his anticipated arrival with the 2000 USS Cole attack, the 1996 Khobor Towers bombing, the 1993 WTC bombing, and the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombings, to name but a few. 

In 570 A.D, and even in 632 A.D., the Levant and Egypt were primarily Christian with large Jewish populations, centuries before the Crusaders felt the need to go east; one wonders what happened to all those people when warrior horsemen from Arabia stormed in.  In 732 A.D., Charles the Hammer and his Frankish crew, who didn’t know Mecca from Medina from Marrakesh, not all that far from Paris managed to fight off an Islamic invasion of northern France .  According to some recently-unearthed texts written at the time by a man named Obamus, the Islamophobic Franks brought it all on themselves.  

The only solution is for sensible Muslims firmly rooted in the twenty-first century to reform Islam from the inside, forcing it to accept Western principles such as separation of church and state, full civil liberties for everyone including women and homosexuals, and equality for all under fair and consistently-applied law. 

This conflict has a long history with apparently a long way to go.  By accepting into Europe what promises to be hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants with no sense of Western values to add to the growing, self-isolating Muslim communities already there, European leaders are ensuring that life for most Europeans will get much worse before it gets much better.

R Balsamo

Saturday, November 14, 2015

German Leaders Want More “Tolerance” After Muslim Terrorist Attacks in Paris

Given the great wars of the twentieth century, I can understand the ambivalence some Germans apparently feel toward Western culture and even the notion of nationalist ethnicity.  I can also understand, although it seems a deeply misguided fantasy, the desire, given the low birthrate among ethnic Germans, to import young Muslims from the Middle East to supply the workforce that will, it is hoped, support older ethnic Germans in their declining years.  But I am increasingly surprised to see just how strongly some German leaders, popularly elected, want to fundamentally transform their country.

In response to the large-scale, multi-focal Islamic State terrorist attacks in Paris yesterday that killed well over one hundred people, this is what the two top German leaders had to say (link):   
“Many people are now searching for protection and security in Europe,” said [German] Vice Chancellor Gabriel.  “We cannot now let them suffer because they come from the regions from which terror comes to us.”  The chancellor [Ms. Merkel] herself didn’t directly address the migration issue in her comments on the Paris attacks.  But she promised that Germany would respond to the attack in accordance with its values—including “respect for the other and tolerance.”  “Let us respond to the terrorists by living our values in confidence and strengthen these values for all of Europe—now more than ever,” Ms. Merkel said.
Faced with the growing threat of Muslim terrorists in the midst of her people, Merkel wants ethnic Germans to double down on their tolerance of others.  Nary a word about expecting the Muslim migrants now arriving in waves to better tolerate and integrate with their German hosts, and nary a word about hunting down terrorists to better protect the German people.  At some point, though, I expect that for most Germans their cultural and ethnic self-loathing will reach a limit and that biologic impulses of self-preservation will kick in.  But the longer this process of cultural transformation goes on, the uglier it will be when the Germans and the other Europeans reach that limit.  Merkel should think some about that.

R Balsamo

Friday, November 13, 2015

Laudable Pus at Amherst College

I'm delighted to read of the outbreak of yet another skirmish in the liberal fascist attack on Western culture, a development I think can only help more adults realize the excesses of modern American liberalism and the usually low-profile hollowing-out of values that has been going on for years beneath the floor boards.  Now maybe the infection is beginning to come to a head, and laudable pus has burst out at Amherst College in the People's Commonwealth of Massachusetts

A large gaggle of neo-fascist student groups there has just issued a bold set of demands (link), many of which require various adults to issue groveling apologies for the usual litany of alleged errors – racism, sexism, homophobia, cis-sexism, species-ism, failure to provide unlimited free hot cocoa with free delivery on cold days, failure to properly separate plastic recyclables by percentage of polyethylene, etc.  The campus adults on the receiving end of these demands are certainly almost all, if not all, hard core liberals themselves.  The revolution eats its own.

Special bile is hurled at brave, dissenting Amherst students responsible for the “All Lives Matter” posters, and the “Free Speech” posters that stated that “in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.”  The student fascists demand that the school "alert" the poster hangers "that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency."

The required stint in a reeducation camp is right out of the communist playbook and one of my favorite parts: "extensive training for racial and cultural competency."  The merits of Western culture, the Judeo-Christian ethic, and the American Constitution won't be part of that curriculum.

These fascist student groups are now working on a salute and debating whether their uniform shirts will be brown or black.  All good stuff – let this culture fight see more of the disinfecting bright light of day.

R Balsamo

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Obama's General Motors To Import Chinese Cars

Not long ago, American automaker General Motors (and Chrysler as well) was effectively bankrupt.  Fearing a standard restructuring bankruptcy legal process that would have preserved the company while negating all of its existing contracts, including those with labor unions, Obama and the liberals shouted the lie that a restructuring bankruptcy would spell the end of GM and all its factories and would open a void that would be filled by more foreign-made cars.  Instead, in the early heady days of his presidency, Obama strong-armed GM into a pre-packaged essentially fake bankruptcy process that preserved all the unreasonably rich and dysfunctional union labor contracts and effectively gave a piece of the company to the unions for free.  By the time the confiscation issue, specifically involving Chrysler, reached the Supreme Court years later, the Court said the process was wrong and illegal, but nevertheless accepted it as a fait accompli, just as Obama and the Democrats knew they would.  GM, now once again a public company, is still burdened with those union contracts.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports today:  "General Motors, fresh off agreeing to a new union contract that is expected to drive up its U.S. labor costs, plans to become the first major auto maker to sell Chinese-made cars in the U.S."

Schadenfreude:  "Pleasure derived from someone else's misfortune."  


R Balsamo

Click on the "Automobile Companies and Politics" link below to see all posts on this subject and previous commentary on Obama's confiscation of GM for benefit of the Democrat-controlled unions.

Campus Skirmishes in the Culture War

Skirmishes in the Culture War have broken out at Yale University and the University of Missouri at Columbia, and the intolerant neo-fascist protestors are winning.  They're reminiscent of the Red Guard student thugs in China some years ago.

Mario Loyola writes about these developments, and the apologetic show trials that result:  "To submit to tyranny — to offer groveling apologies like the university officials have done at New Haven and Columbia, like dissidents making forced confessions in Stalinist show trials — is not only grotesque and shameful, it contributes to the problem."  Link

At Yale, a liberal teacher was surrounded on campus by a threatening student mob and yelled at by the now-infamous Yale Screaming Girl when, breaking with liberal orthodoxy, he had the temerity to defend the principle of freedom of expression in choosing Halloween costumes.  He quickly folded and has issued a groveling apology.  James Taranto at the Wall Street Journal commented on the story and in closing quoted an apposite passage from 1984, Orwell's novel of a dystopian future:  “But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”  Link

R Balsamo

Prison for Non-Liberals on Global Warming?

Much of what passes as modern "liberalism," a set of political values that represent the opposite of the true meaning of the term ever since the progressive, authoritarian left stole it, is really a new-age religion.  It has its dogmas and its rituals.  It also has the urge to burn heretics.  A new poll says over 25% of Democrats would like to see those who do not believe in anthropogenic global warming to be prosecuted under the law and imprisoned.  Prosecuted under exactly what law, one might ask; the law against having any belief liberals don't like -- that law.  And no doubt imprisoned until the non-believer recants in a public show trial and suffers through a long "course of study" at a reeducation camp.  Link

The term "liberal fascism" describes these impulses very well.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans on Film

Today is Veterans' Day, and it seems worthwhile to list some of my favorite film portrayals of the valor and sacrifices and successes of American servicemen.

American Sniper – the story of brave and dedicated American soldiers fighting against vicious, fanatical, nihilistic Islamist warriors during the Iraq War.

Tears of the Sun – a team of Navy Seals undertakes a dangerous goodwill rescue mission in Africa.

We Were Soldiers – the harrowing account of one of the early battles in the American Vietnam War.

Go Tell the Spartans – Bert Lancaster leads a small force holding out against the Viet Cong.

Platoon – American soldiers fight to survive in Vietnam.

Pork Chop Hill – A brave American unit fighting the Chinese communists in the Korean War.

Band of Brothers – The masterpiece 11-hour treatment of the Stephen Ambrose book about a unit of the 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles, in the European Theater of WW2, made pre-911 by Spielberg before he later devolved into the anti-American moral equivalency state-of-mind.  

A Bridge Too Far – Epic treatment of the Allies' failed Operation Market Garden initiative in 1944 Europe, aimed at penetrating into Germany itself.  

The Bridge at Remagen – War-weary American soldiers fight toward the Rhine River in early 1945 and ultimately capture the last remaining bridge into Germany.

Saving Private Ryan – The story of a special mission behind German lines in northern France in the days immediately after D-Day.

The Big Red One – The story of a squad of the 1st Infantry Division as it fights across North Africa, Sicily, and France in WW2.

The Battle of the Bulge – Epic adaptation of the American resilience in the face of the German Army's last gasp in the West during WW2.

Miracle at St. Anna – The story of four black American soldiers caught behind German lines in northern Italy late in WW2 fighting to keep themselves and local villagers alive, a story not over until it explodes into a modern murder mystery.

Fury – A recent film about an American tank crew late in WW2, very good until its unrealistic and contrived grand finale shootout.

Sahara – An isolated motley group of Allied soldiers with a single Sherman tank led by Bogart battle thirst, heat, and the Germans in the North African desert during WW2.

The Enemy Below – An American destroyer chases a crafty German submarine in the North Atlantic in WW2.

U-571 – An American submarine crew fights to save themselves, the German submarine they captured and are stuck in, and a secret decoding machine in the North Atlantic in WW2.  

Memphis Belle – A B-17 crew's harrowing bombing missions over Germany.

The Bridge On the River Kwai – A lone cynical American serviceman witnesses the descent into madness and treason by British officers in a Japanese prison camp, escapes, and reluctantly returns to set things right.

Midway – The story of the great naval air battle six months after Pearl Harbor that spelled the beginning of the drawn-out end of the Japanese navy in WW2.  

Objective Burma – American soldiers create havoc behind Japanese lines in Burma.

The Pacific – The Spielberg-Hanks treatment of Americans in the Pacific Theater in WW2, that remains compelling viewing despite its lapses at times into the Anti-American moral equivalency point of view.

The Great Raid – Army Rangers on a mission to rescue American prisoners in a brutal Japanese POW camp in the Philippines late in the War.

The Lost Battalion – A outnumbered group of American soldiers trapped behind enemy lines fights off waves of German soldiers in the closing days of WW1.

What Price Glory – Ford directs Cagney and Dailey, not to mention Corrine Calvet, in a rousing story of an American infantry unit on the Western Front in WW1.

Gettysburg – The superbly told story of the greatest battle of the American Civil War.  The portrayal of the heroic 20th Maine and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain at Little Round Top is special.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Breaking News – Black Lives Matter, Code Pink, and the Communist Party to Host Upcoming Republican Presidential Debates

In a move that comes as a surprise to some, on the heels of the successful CNBC-hosted debate the Republican Party this evening announced a new series of televised debates for its candidates for the party’s presidential nomination.  The three new debates will be hosted by representatives from Black Lives Matter, Code Pink, and the Communist Party of the United States.

Reince Priebus, the national Republican Party head who has arranged for the debates this year, said Republican Party leaders thus far like the balanced, fair, and probative questions moderators have brought to the early debates, and look forward to the new lines of questions these three groups will bring to future debates.  He rejected allegations that some previous debate moderators have shown liberal bias intending to smear his Party’s candidates, saying “the Republican Party is confident that Black Lives Matter, Code Pink, and the Communist Party will choose debate moderators who will rise to the same non-biased and professional level that we have seen from previous moderators like Candy Crowley, Gwen Ifill, Chris Wallace, and John Harwood.”   

*******

It’s déjà vu all over again.  From the last time around, at this blog:
After Ryan Pick, By Agreeing to Ultra-Liberal Debate Questioners Romney Rejoins the Stupid Party