Monday, October 23, 2017

Dropping in on Bang the Drum Slowly

This 1973 film tells the bittersweet story of a star major league baseball pitcher who protects and supports his less-talented and simple-minded friend and teammate who just learns he is dying from Hodgkin’s disease.  The title comes from a phrase in the song Streets of Laredo, a story about a dying young cowboy, and the haunting tune is a backdrop in the film.  Michael Moriarty and Robert De Niro, unknowns at the time, give strong, understated performances, and Vincent Gardenia almost steals the show as the comically-frustrated manager who tries to find out the secret he knows the two men are hiding.  I enjoyed watching the film once again after so many years, getting absorbed in its slow rhythms, soft humor, and poignant moments.  In the movie world, this is one of those little gems that get lost in the glare from the big chunks of fool’s gold.


R Balsamo

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Rigoletto at the Lyric Opera

Rigoletto was Verdi’s big comeback opera after the waning success of his earlier works, and it ushered in an especially productive time in his life.  Il Trovatore, La Traviata, and I Vespri Siciliani followed directly in this celebrated “middle period,” and constitute a remarkable quartet.  Rigoletto premiered March, 1851, at La Fenice in Venice when Verdi was 38 years old.

The story is set perhaps a few hundred years ago in northern Italy, centering on a widower, embittered by his hunchback deformity and empowered by his sharp, barbed tongue, who labors in degrading work as a court jester to a licentious Duke.  While he gets back at the courtiers who mock him by encouraging the Duke’s abuse of their wives and daughters, he fails in his efforts to protect his own young, beautiful, and naïve daughter from those very same predatory men. 

Parent-child relationships are not commonly the main focus in Italian opera, but they often are with Verdi.  His only two children died in infancy, and he lost his first wife soon after that.  He almost did not recover from those blows, but later he explored parents and children in his work.  In Rigoletto, a father-daughter relationship is central to the tragedy, and the complex father-son relationship in Sicilian Vespers and the very complex mother-son relationship in Trovatore also come quickly to mind. 

One theme of the opera is hubris, or what goes around comes around.  When confronted by an aristocrat who objects to the Duke’s violation of his daughter, Rigoletto mocks him and encourages the Duke to execute him.  The jester is shaken to the bone, however, when that aggrieved father places a curse on him.  The opera's original title, in fact, was La Maledizione – The Curse.  In Verdi’s time, a curse in such circumstances was for some a thing to be frightened of, and it comes to fruition when Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda herself is seduced and then violated by his employer the Duke.  Then the overprotected Gilda, filled with foolish, reckless, and thoughtless passion, sacrifices her life to save the Duke, whom she has already learned to be unfaithful to her, from an assassin hired by her father. 

Deception, and its tragic consequences, is another element of the story.  The jester hides his occupation from his daughter, while she hides her budding romance with the mysterious stranger who turns out to be the Duke.  The Duke deceives Gilda by pretending to be an impoverished student, and is himself deceived by the assassin’s accomplice and sister, who lures him into the trap.  The assassin attempts to deceive Rigoletto when he delivers the wrong body.    

The emotional range of Rigoletto is a key part of the opera’s impact.  His most touching music fills the tender moments between father and daughter, contrasting sharply with his harshness when singing to his courtier enemies and his terror when begging for the safe return of his abducted daughter.

The music of the characters is more intertwined than in many of Verdi’s past operas, with fewer set pieces easily segregated from the surrounding action and other characters.  Per Wikipedia: “Musicologist Julian Budden regards the opera as ‘revolutionary’: .... ‘the barriers between formal melody and recitative are down as never before.  In the whole opera, there is only one conventional double aria [...and there are...] no concerted act finales.’  Verdi used that same word – ‘revolutionary’ – in a letter to [librettist] Piave, [and in another letter Verdi wrote] ‘I conceived Rigoletto almost without arias, without finales but only an unending string of duets.’”

Of course, having said all that, one must acknowledge that one of the most recognizable arias in all of opera is the Duke’s La donna e mobile (in the singular, but better translated as “women are fickle”).  In fact, as the story goes, Verdi recognized that he tune was so catchy he feared that the opera’s cast would be humming it around Venice and reveal it before the premier, so he kept a tight lid on it until the first show.  The Duke has, in fact, not one but three arias, one other of which, Questa o quella, is also commonly heard.  But the real special music in Rigoletto is that between father and daughter.  

The set was in the budget-friendly, semi-abstract, minimalist style so common these days, but it had great visual impact and served to reinforce the theme of varying perspectives.  In this case, though, as is often the case, the single main set did not provide enough visual clue as to exactly where the action was taking place; was that scene in a palace, or on a street, or in an apartment?  Those in the audience familiar with the plot knew what was going on, but if prior study is a prerequisite for understanding and thus enjoyment, opera may struggle even more to expand its audience.        

The set notwithstanding, the Lyric hit a home run with this latest staging.  The singing was wonderful.  Baritone Quinn Kelsey in the title role and tenor Matthew Polenzani as the rapacious Duke, both alums of the Lyric’s training center, were very strong in their roles.  Latvian mezzo-soprano Zanda Svede was also quite notable as the assassin’s accomplice Maddalena, who joins the main three in the opera’s celebrated quartet, beautifully sung in this production.

And then there’s one Rosa Feola, a young Italian soprano in her Lyric debut as Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda.  Not since I saw future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux pitch for the Cubs as an unknown rookie over three decades ago have I had such a strong “star is born” feeling.  I expect we’ll hear a great deal about this remarkable young performer in the years to come.


R Balsamo

Monday, September 25, 2017

Remembering The Scooter, at 100

When I was a boy I was a Boy Scout.  One day in the early 1960s when I was about 10 years old my scout troop held a special event, the only one of its kind I can remember.  In a local hall, a small rectangular-shaped brick building consisting on the inside of mostly one large room, there was a gathering featuring two former major league baseball players.  My father was an assistant scout leader and took me to the event after work that evening.  In the previous couple of years I had become a big fan of the White Sox, and to a lesser extent the Cubs, and I was learning the names of some former ballplayers.  But these two men were utterly unfamiliar to me.

It’s truly amazing what small details one can remember from so many years ago, while forgetting so many things of far greater importance.  We arrived late and sat in the back on the left side of the one middle aisle.  About 50 boys were there, Scouts themselves and probably some brothers and cousins, and a few scoutmaster dads.  One of the former players was speaking, and he had everyone’s attention.  He was talking about a baseball camp he ran for boys, and he showed lots of slides.  It looked and sounded like a great place, one I could only dream of attending.  I even remember that it was near Kansas City, that’s how big an impression it made on me at the time.  We missed the remarks of the first former player, but they couldn’t have been much because we weren’t very late and the second player was already talking.

When Mickey Owen finished talking about his baseball camp, the event came to a close.  Many boys left, for home and homework and chores, but many stayed and gathered around Owen up in front to hear more about his camp and to grab a brochure and maybe an autograph.  I started for Owen myself, but my dad stopped me and told me to head up front to the right side where the other former major leaguer was standing talking to a few dads.  I resisted.  The other guy was too small to have been much of a ballplayer, and he didn’t have a baseball camp.  But my father was strangely insistent, and since by then I would have been way in the back of the large group around Owen, I finally relented and we walked up front and said hello to the other ballplayer. 

Up close he still seemed small as baseball players went, as far as I could tell such a thing at age 10.  Although all the other boys were gathered around Owen, all but one of the few dads present were talking to the other player.  He greeted me warmly and gave me an autograph.  My dad and I stayed talking for a few minutes and then left for home.  I never did get close up to Mickey Owen and that’s as close as I ever got to his baseball camp.  But I did get to meet and get the autograph of a former player I later learned had been an American League Most Valuable Player.

The lesson here is that 10 year olds don’t know as much as their fathers.         

A Hall of Fame shortstop who played on seven New York Yankee world championship teams and still holds numerous records for shortstops in World Series play, Phil “The Scooter” Rizzuto passed away in 2007 at the age of 89 and would have been 100 years old today.  Holy cow.


R Balsamo

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Fascist Roots of the American Left

Linked below is a brief interview of Dinesh D'Souza, who has just published a new book titled The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left

D'Souza points out that Nazism and fascism are political ideologies of the "left" and not of the "right."  In my opinion, positioning those ideologies on the “right” side of the political spectrum was driven years ago in part by communists, American fellow travelers, and American anti-anti-communists who sought to distance their politics from Nazi Germany after it attacked its former ally the Soviet Union.

Socialism ultimately requires authoritarianism to enforce its aims, which is control by unelected elites who ostensibly, but not fundamentally, pursue equality of outcomes while vigorously suppressing liberty.  Variants of socialism, such as Russian communism and German Nazism, can be distinguished, but they both were, and modern variants remain, fundamentally hostile to liberty and capitalism and quick to use violence to achieve their controlist aims. 

R Balsamo


http://www.ora.tv/politicking/2017/8/4/dinesh-dsouza-democratic-left-are-the-real-fascists-in-us--not-trump-0_3ybxm8es699q

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Illinois Democrats Choose More Decline and So Hike Taxes

Illinois Democrats, with the help of a few weak-kneed Republicans pressured and duped into joining them, just overrode the Republican governor’s veto to push through a massive, permanent income tax hike (for individuals, a 32% increase up to a shade shy of 5%).  Not many years ago, Democrats passed a temporary four-year massive (67% for individuals) income tax hike that they said would right the foundering ship that is Illinois finances.  To no one’s surprise, after the period of higher taxes Illinois was in a deeper financial hole than it was before all that additional tax revenue because the state’s profligate spending was never reduced.  Illinois doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.  The Democrat party formula is to spend recklessly on their constituency groups, and when the financial meltdown inevitable occurs pressure enough dim-witted Republicans into supporting a tax hike (Think of the kids!  What about the schools!); then repeat the cycle all over again. 

In the last 10-15 year, Illinois’ spending has zoomed while its population has shrunk.  Big dollars go to Medicaid and other social services that keeps dependents voting Democrat, and big dollars also go to current and retired government workers.  Illinois state workers are the highest paid, adjusted for cost-of-living, of any state in the nation, even before generous retirement benefits kick in.  (In 2016, there were 17,638 retired state and local workers whose annual pensions were over $99,000, with 15 over $348,000!)  And Illinois has far more units of government than any other state, and all of those townships and forest preserve districts and library boards and water reclamation districts have employees and expenses.  After all that spending, there’s not much cash left over for services for the regular people, otherwise known as the taxpayers.            

And those taxpayers are voting with their feet, as Illinois and Cook County (home of Chicago) lead the nation in population loss.  The Illinois tax base is eroding fast, and yet the Democrats have chosen to raise taxes rather than cut spending.  Higher taxes without spending reform will just accelerate the population exodus and the state’s financial decline. 

I have no sense of what the ultimate resolution will be for Illinois, which is arguably already in the direst financial straits of all the states even before this tax hike.  Like the City of Chicago and the Chicago Public Schools System, Illinois is functionally bankrupt.  I blame chronic, excessive spending that increasingly benefits Democrat party constituencies rather than state residents as a whole, combined with chronic underfunding of pensions that appear overly-generous and based on increasingly over-market salaries.  Throw in the usual fraud and abuse, like pension-spiking, to the mix.  Although the nominal rate of the Illinois state income tax may seem not particularly high even at 5%, given the very high property and other taxes some analysts say Illinois residents have the highest overall tax burden in the United States.  Overspending and mal-spending continue seemingly unabated, and real pension reform remains a pipedream.

Increasingly, the political divide in Illinois is between those who benefit from the state and local government spending largesse, like current public employees, government pensioners, and welfare recipients, and those who foot the bill.  While the beneficiaries feed at the trough the bill-payers are getting fleeced, and increasingly they’re leaving for better pastures. 


R Balsamo 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Norma at the Lyric

The summer solstice is that discordant jolt when just as the warmth arrives daylight begins to shorten.  For opera buffs looking ahead to the next season it’s also a time to take one last look in the rear view mirror.  Patrons of the Lyric Opera are in the middle of a Bellini double-header treat – last season’s Norma, a highlight, and next season’s I Puritani.  Can’t gainsay that.

Composer Vincenzo Bellini is the pride of Sicily.  After his all-too-short life of 33 years, he was buried in the cathedral of his home town Catania, in the shadow of Mt. Aetna looking out on the Ionian Sea.  I regrettably missed visiting that church during my one time on the great island – I only came as close as the nearby airport.  Bellini wrote some wonderful melodies, and one can only wonder what more he would have written had he not died so young.

Norma is the story of a druid high-priestess in Roman-occupied Gaul who faces a reckoning after her longstanding illicit, secret lover, the Roman military leader and enemy of her people with whom she has two young children, decides to decamp for Rome with a younger priestess, his new infatuation.  She had betrayed her religion and her people for him, and faces the consequences, moral and otherwise.  Eventually the Roman sees the error of his ways, but, since this is Italian tragic opera, after all, too late to save either of them.   

The music is spectacular, with the long-flowing melodies for which Bellini is famous.  The singing for the role of Norma, said to be very challenging, I find smooth and full of harmony with little of the unappealing (at least to me) vocal calisthenics common in opera at the time.  Maria Callas gets much credit for reviving so-called bel canto opera in the 1950s, and in fact she made her American debut singing Norma in Chicago at the Lyric in its inaugural 1954 season.  In the program guide, Lyric “dramaturg” Roger Pines quotes the late superstar soprano Joan Sutherland calling Norma “the pinnacle role,” and he writes that “there is no greater music for a soprano in the entire operatic repertoire.”

This time around Norma was performed and sung beautifully by Chicago native soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who appeared recently at the Met in the three Donizetti “queen” operas.  At the Lyric she was joined by, among others, Elizabeth DeShong as Adalgisa, her conflicted rival in love, and by Russell Thomas as the unfaithful Roman proconsul Pollione.  Radvanovsky’s repertory includes Verdi’s I vespri siciliani; Lyric patrons can only hope.

As for the production, the sets and direction frequently let the audience down, unfortunately a not uncommon problem in opera these days.  Part of opera is visual, so a good set that can help convey the story and stimulate the imagination greatly enhances the experience, while one that is bland, or anachronistic, or confuses the narrative detracts.  The entire Norma set was a single scene, visually interesting in the abstract, but not one representative of Roman Gaul.  I doubt there would be a structure with 60 foot high thick, decorative wooden columns supporting a large indoor space in rural, sylvan Gaul.  And the entire opera was staged in this drab-gray "space," despite some of the scenes taking place in the forest or in a hidden hut deep in the woods.  Well, in the program guide the director says he was visually inspired by … wait for it … Game of Thrones, so that explains that.  That’s relevance, the holy grail of many a hip post-modern director.  But this was a multi-partner co-production, so there’s lot of responsibility spread around.  I appreciate and value imagination, but within the confines of the narrative. 

Some years ago when back in Chicago, Radvanovsky would stop by for delightful chats about opera with the incomparable Milt Rosenberg on his storied late-evening radio show Extension 720; I caught at least one of those programs, and more if memory serves.  I miss that show very much, but that’s another story. 

R Balsamo

Monday, June 26, 2017

American Doughboys Land in France to Join the Madness of World War One, 100 Years On

One hundred years ago today the first American troops landed in France to fight with the Allies in the Great War, as it was later called.  The Yanks were “coming, over there,” as everyone stateside would soon be singing.

They found madness, wrapped in carnage, dripping in disillusionment.  In World War One alone, says a Wikipedia entry, 17 million soldiers and civilians died from wounds and disease, including over one hundred thousand Americans.  And in the Second World War, a direct continuation of the unfinished First, many times more than that would suffer and perish.   

In his masterful treatment The First World War, historian John Keegan writes:  “…the First World War is a mystery.  Its origins are mysterious.  So is its course.  Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict?  Why … did the combatants persist in their military effort … and eventually commit the totality of their young manhood [and much of their civilian populations, I would add here] to mutual and pointless slaughter? …. How did the anonymous millions, indistinguishably drab, find the resolution to sustain the struggle and to believe in [the war’s] purpose?” 

We have film.  We can see the pompous, murderously-incompetent, half-decrepit generals and the effete, smarmy, oily politicos all parading about in herky-jerky motion, full of themselves, festooned like peacocks with their gaudy European plumes and sashes, leading the world into war for their own petty, obscure, and erratic purposes.  It was all so absurd, so comical if not so unspeakably sad, so utterly infuriating, so unimaginably tragic. 

After almost three years of this madness, revealed to the world in newspapers, in film, in photographs, and in letters, in June of 1917 the Americans crossed an ocean to join in. 


R Balsamo

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Trump Rescues America from the “Paris” Global-Grifter Great Climate Con

In taking a big step toward fulfilling a core campaign promise to improve American business competitiveness and the jobs that flow from that, President Donald Trump last week withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement.  Despite frequent and widespread intentionally-misleading references to that accord as a “treaty,” it is nothing of the sort as it was never affirmed by the Senate as a treaty but rather was simply Obama’s personal commitment.  Donald Trump is a different president with different commitments. 

The whole tale of this Paris accord serves as an especially emblematic example of the underhanded way foreign governments have been taking advantage of the United States, retarding its competitiveness while sucking up American money, supported by the American Democrat Party.  The United States has been the Europe’s cash cow for 70 years, effectively subsidizing their welfare state while they ignore their NATO financial obligations.

The supposed purpose of the accord is to address global warming.  To start with, I remain unconvinced that man-caused global warming is real.  Earth’s climate is always changing.  Not long ago in geologic terms we have had a Little Ice Age, and in fact some observers believe that the earth is coming out of a long-term relatively cool period.  The important, bottom line is that science means skepticism and requires hypotheses to be proven with methodology and data honestly obtained, shared, and reproduced.  However, many global warming believers have not behaved like scientists but rather like religious fanatics, shouting down skeptics, at best ostracizing them and at worst threatening to imprison them for climate change “denialism” (e.g., Robert Kennedy Jr.).  As to climate “facts,” there is evidence of widespread fraud and dishonesty in the climate “science” community regarding measuring and reporting data.  And finally, the elitists who preach the global warming gospel themselves do not behave as if they really believe it (e.g.:  global warming high-priest Al Gore’s Saudi oil-money mega-million dollar payoff for opposing cheap American fossil fuel energy; his many mansions with the energy footprint of mid-sized American towns; and his international jet-setting in private planes with other rich, preening climate hypocrites like Leonardo DiCaprio).     

Now to the Paris climate accord.  The best summary of the issue that I have seen comes from Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute, who made the following key points via twitter [the emphases in italics are mine]: 
  • The accord failed a year before Paris, in 2014 in Lima, when the world abandoned the pretense of reaching a firm climate agreement.  Instead, [the revised accord] established a new process where each country chooses whatever voluntary commitment it wants, [and] all are automatically accepted.
  • The Paris conference itself was largely a collation and stapling exercise.  Of course they reached an "agreement."
  • But this agreement came at the expense of acknowledging or addressing the actual tradeoff at the heart of climate policy: Developing countries need to build a lot of fossil-fuel infrastructure to develop as quickly as possible; doing so locks in emissions.  If you don't want them to build fossil-fuel infrastructure, you have to tell them to develop more slowly.  They're not interested in that.
  • Unsurprisingly, these developing countries made Paris commitments to continue with business as usual. And then everyone applauded.
  • But the individual commitments made in Paris, and thus their sum, do not depart from the trajectory the world was already on.  Strangely, climate activists seemed enthusiastic – almost as if they cared more about the optics of agreements than climate action.
  • Further, President Obama, did make an aggressive commitment on behalf of the United States. This created a terrible dynamic.  Reviewing progress each year, countries with weak commitments would be applauded for "success," [but the United States would] be chastised for falling behind.
  • This is now happening: "China, India to Reach Climate Goals Years Early, as U.S. Likely to Fall Far Short"
  • Why would the United States remain party to such an agreement?  There has been little argument that we should do it for "the climate."  Instead, the [argument for the “agreement”] seems to be that if a debating society exists, one must attend.  Weak pledges and noncompliance are OK, just not honesty.

The important take-away from this overview is that to the insider globalist bureaucrats the Paris accord really isn’t about the climate.  As the saying goes, follow the money.

On June 1, Trump announced his decision to withdraw from Obama’s commitment; from the Wall Street Journal (link):  

Mr. Trump, framing his decision mostly in economic and political terms, pointed to the agreement’s lesser requirements for the world’s other leading carbon emitters, China and India.  He voiced his concern for protecting the environment and eschewed any reiteration of his past claims that climate change isn’t real, but he said his decision is rooted in protecting the country’s interests.  “This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage” over the U.S., the GOP president said.

After Trump announced that he was not renewing Obama’s personal pledge (again, personal since the US commitment was never a treaty), the reaction from the left wing, both foreign and domestic, was fast and furious.  Even some weak-kneed, dopey nominal Republicans like Mitt Romney had a harsh word.  Many accord supporters referred to it as a “treaty” (e.g.: Bill Clinton; some American national news organizations) that the United States “cannot just get out of” (European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker).  But they lie.  They know full well that it is not a binding treaty and that all they had was an Obama personal pledge and nothing more.

So what’s going on?  Why the vehemence?  Well, we must ask cui bono? – who stood to benefit from Obama’s “aggressive” pledge to the Paris accord, and just what did that pledge consist of?  For one thing, it consisted of an Obama promise to shovel, for starters, $3 billion in American taxpayer money to some international climate group to promote renewable energy in the world.  The New York Times reports that Obama has already transferred $1 billion to the United Nations “Green Climate Fund.”  (And the three biggest global polluters – China, India, and Russia – have so far contributed nothing.)  Who controls and disburses all that money – unelected globalist elitists, no doubt, with gargantuan expense accounts.  And who would stand to make mega-bucks from all that additional spending on alternative energy projects – none other, for example, than big-time Democrat donor and Obama pal Tom Steyer, who’s made a fortune in alternative energy off government contracts funneled to him by Democrats.  Steyer, seeing this gravy train cut off, unsurprisingly did not take Tramp’s withdrawal very well, calling it “a traitorous act of war against the American people." 

Moreover, the Paris accord contained restraints on manufacturing that impeded American competitiveness.  One European auto executive lamented that if his American manufacturing competitors were not held back in their energy use by this accord then he would need his government to compensate for the heightened American competitiveness.  Here’s what the Paris Accord has meant for American business, from a horse’s mouth (link):  

"The regrettable announcement by the USA makes it inevitable that Europe must facilitate a cost efficient and economically feasible climate policy to remain internationally competitive," Matthias Wissmann, president of the German auto industry lobby group VDA, said in a statement on Friday [June 2].

"The preservation of our competitive position is the precondition for successful climate protection.  This correlation is often underestimated," Wissmann said, adding that the decision by the Unites States was disappointing.  The VDA said electricity and energy prices are already higher in Germany than in the United States, putting Germany at a disadvantage[Emphasis mine]

Another European bureaucrat worries that without all the American money to support the accord, presumably meaning, in no small part, money for the high salaries, swanky hotels, and fancy meals for bureaucrats like himself, he is “unsure about its future.”  And so it goes.

Every reasonable person wants to do all that is necessary to sensibly and efficaciously promote and maintain the cleanest environment possible somewhere short of having all humans commit suicide.  Clean air and clean water are essential and must be responsibly protected.  But ginning up global warming hysteria based on fudged data and biased models – whose implications and predictions have repeatedly failed to materialize – is a con, driven partly by faith-based neo-religious frenzy, partly by hypocritical moral preening, and partly by nefarious profiteering.

This Paris climate accord is part of that big con, as globalists seek to reduce American competitiveness while grabbing a mountain of American cash for themselves, all in the name of addressing the global warming hysteria they themselves have created.  In this hustle they are aided and abetted by many American Democrats who see themselves less a part of America than as part of a global elite entitled to live the high life off the backs of the tax-paying, hard-working benighted rubes in the country whose traditional values they disdain.     

R Balsamo


Commentaries by Oren Cass on this subject:

The most recent:  We’ll Never Have Paris: The climate change agreement was designed as a feel-good, do-nothing program – https://www.city-journal.org/html/well-never-have-paris-15231.html?platform=hootsuite

https://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/leading-nowhere-futility-and-farce-global-climate-negotiations-7816.html

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Battle of Midway, 75 Years On

Lt. Commander John C. Waldron
Today is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, in which the American navy defeated a superior Japanese force and turned the trajectory of World War Two in the Pacific. 

After their strategic loss at the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier in May, 1942, the Japanese were determined to win a decisive victory over the Americans in one final, massive naval engagement.  Their hope was that the Americans would sue for peace after the destruction of the naval force that served to protect their west coast from invasion.  The Japanese plan was to invade Midway Island, which lies at the far end of the Hawaiian Island chain, over one thousand miles west of the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.

Rather than concentrate their forces, the Japanese, fortunately for the Americans, divided them into multiple prongs of attack.  The spearhead, and most important part, was a strike force of four aircraft carriers and some escort ships that provided the guns to defend against air attack.  Those Japanese carriers did not benefit from the considerable additional defensive firepower the Japanese could have deployed around them had they not split their forces.  The American naval force, the heart of which consisted of the aircraft carriers Yorktown, Hornet, and Enterprise, knew via superior intelligence the overall arrangement of the Japanese strike forces but not their location.  The Americans took a position to the northeast of Midway and waited for the Japanese to arrive.  The American air forces on Midway Island itself took part in the battle and served, in a sense, as a fourth carrier, although their planes were not as effective as those carrier-based.  The battle, once begun, turned on many factors, including American personal initiative and some good fortune in timing. 

A pivotal element of the battle was the courageous role played by a small squadron of the effectively-obsolete, slow and cumbersome Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bombers and the history-changing personal initiative displayed by its commander John Waldron of South Dakota.  From Wikipedia:

[On] June 4, the 15 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators of [squadron] VT-8 launched from Hornet's flight deck in search of the enemy.  Before takeoff, [Lieutenant Commander John Charles] Waldron, [VT-8’s commander,] had a dispute with the Hornet's Commander, Air Group, Stanhope C. Ring, and Hornet CO Marc Mitscher about where the Japanese carriers would be found.  Despite having a contact report showing the Japanese southwest of Hornet, Mitscher and Ring ordered the flight to take a course due west, in the hopes of spotting a possible trailing group of carriers.  Waldron argued for a course based on the contact report, but was overruled. Once in the air, Waldron attempted to take control of the Hornet strike group by radio.  Failing that, he soon split his squadron off and led his unit directly to the Japanese carrier group.  Leading the first [American] carrier planes to approach the Japanese carriers [in the entire battle,] Waldron was grimly aware of the lack of fighter protection [as those fighters had run out of fuel,] but true to his plan of attack committed Torpedo 8 [squadron] to battle.  Without fighter escort, underpowered, with limited defensive armament, and forced by the unreliability of their own torpedoes to fly low and slow directly at their targets, the Hornet torpedo planes received the undivided attention of the enemy's … Zero fighters.  All 15 planes were shot down.  Of the 30 men who set out that morning, only one – [pilot] Ensign George H. Gay, Jr. – survived.  

Their sacrifice, however, had not been in vain.  Torpedo 8 had drawn down the fighter cover over the Japanese carriers, and also forced the carriers to maneuver radically, delaying the aircraft relaunching to which the Japanese were committed.  After further separate attacks by the remaining [later-arriving] two torpedo squadrons over the next hour, Japanese fighter cover and air defense coordination had become focused on low-altitude defense.  This left the Japanese carriers exposed to the late-arriving SBD Dauntless dive bombers from Yorktown and Enterprise, which attacked from high altitude.  The dive bombers fatally damaged three of the four Japanese carriers, changing the course of the battle.

American dive bombers returned early the next day to sink the fourth Japanese carrier, but not before that carrier sent off waves of its own planes that attacked and severely damaged the American carrier Yorktown, which was soon thereafter sunk by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine.  Having lost all four carriers of their strike force, the Japanese turned back toward Japan.  It was a great though costly American victory.

Ensign Gay, whose plane was the first of his squadron to take off from the Hornet that morning of battle, continued to serve after Midway.  From Wikipedia:

Gay [later] took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign with Torpedo Squadron 11, and he later became a Navy flight instructor.  He was awarded the Navy Cross, Purple Heart and Presidential Unit Citation for his actions in combat at Midway. He was also later awarded the Air Medal.  After World War II, he spent over 30 years as a pilot for Trans-World Airlines.  He often lectured on his Midway experiences, and authored the book Sole Survivor.…  [In] 1994, Gay died of a heart attack [at age 77]….  His body was cremated and his ashes spread at the place that his squadron had launched its ill-fated attack.

Churchill’s words after the Battle of El Alamein are just as apposite for Midway and the Pacific War – “This is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."  The pivotal Battle of Midway, 75 years ago today.


R Balsamo

Related link:
El Alamein at 70 –“The End of the Beginning"

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Battle of the Coral Sea, 75 Years On

Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber
These few days, May 3-8, mark the 75th anniversary of the pivotal Battle of the Coral Sea, off the northeast coast of Australia, in which the American military, for the first time since the outbreak of the war with Japan five months earlier, checked the Japanese advance in the South Pacific.  It was the first major engagement for American forces since the attack at Pearl Harbor.  Although considered a naval battle, for the first time in history the opposing warships never saw one another or even fired on one another – all the attacking was done by airplanes.

In the Solomon Island chain far northeast of Australia, the Japanese had advanced further south and had just invaded Tulagi with the intention of building an airbase there (and they would soon expand onto the larger, neighboring island of Guadalcanal).  From there land-based Japanese airplanes could attack supply and troop ships traveling from the United States to Australia.  Having broken the Japanese naval code, the American Navy knew that a Japanese fleet was planning to enter the Coral Sea, protected on its flanks by airbases on Tulagi and the north coast of New Guinea, and invade the southern coast of New Guinea at Port Moresby, just north of Australia.  If successful, the Japanese would have a base close to Australia from which they could stage air attacks and even an invasion.

The American Navy responded by sending a force of its own.  American carrier-based planes first attacked the Japanese ships around Tulagi.  Then the two fleets engaged in a fierce, running air battle.  The American attack planes were the well-regarded Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber and the effectively-obsolete Douglas TBD Devastator torpedo bomber; some large, land-based American B-17 bombers, flying out of Australia, also took part.  The American fighter was the Grumman F4F Wildcat.  The fleets initially had such trouble finding each other that later one American admiral called it “the most confused battle area in world history.”  The Americans inflicted heavy damage, but suffered the same as well, including the devastating loss of the Lexington, then one of only a handful of aircraft carriers in the entire American Navy.  The Lexington, converted from the hull of a battlecruiser, was slower and less-maneuverable than the purpose-built Yorktown, the other American carrier in the battle.
The USS Lexington under attack at the Battle of the Coral Sea (from Wikipedia)
In a weighing of ships, planes, and men lost, it was a tactical victory for the Japanese.  But after a feint by the American carriers Hornet and Enterprise, which had arrived in the Coral Sea just after the battle, it was the Japanese who withdrew and abandoned the invasion of the southern coast of New Guinea.  So in the end the slugging match was a significant strategic American victory.  Though badly damaged, the Yorktown was able to limp off to Pearl Harbor and be trussed up in a flurry of repairs, just in time to sail off and help win, a month later, the tide-turning great Battle of Midway.

R Balsamo

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Carmen at the Lyric Opera

Carmen resounds once again at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and I was fortunate to take it all in last week.  The opera is the final and most popular work of French composer Georges Bizet, and the most famous of all French operas.  Bizet’s only other commonly-known work is the opera The Pearl Fishers, known primarily for its marvelous tenor-baritone duet Au fond du temple saint, the first version of which I think I ever heard is the famous one by tenor Jussi Björling and baritone Robert Merrill.  Going back-to-back on Bizet, the Lyric has The Pearl Fishers on next season’s schedule.

Carmen of course tells the tragic story of the bold, seductive gypsy temptress who drives the beguiled Spanish soldier Don Jose into abandoning his duty and his gentle, innocent hometown sweetheart.  Don Jose falls hard for Carmen despite her telling him, quite openly, that she is an unfaithful lover, and when she eventually leaves him for the dashing toreador Escamillo tragedy ensues.  We see through vivid action and marvelous music how passion can be the road to ruin.

But despite all the wonderful music, so evocative of the Spanish setting, the realistic subject matter and the immorality of the main characters did not initially endear the opera to Parisian audiences.  Bizet died suddenly at age 36 just a few months after Carmen’s premier in 1875, and we are left wondering if disappointment played a part.  But Carmen has become one of the world’s favorites.  In his extensive review of the art form titled The Opera, Joseph Wechsberg highlights Carmen as “a perfect opera.”  It anticipates the Italian verismo form, which portrayed the everyday life, often brutish, of everyday people made of real flesh and blood.  The enticing Act 1 habanera, Carmen’s lusty number that snares Don Jose, is perhaps the most recognizable scene in the opera; an indication of its popularity is its appearance in the movie Going My Way, where famed mezzo Rise Stevens gives a spirited performance at the Metropolitan while watched in the wings by Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley.  Carmen’s rhythmic Act 2 seguidilla puts the finishing touches on Don Jose’s enchantment.  I’m not sure, but I may have first heard the rousing Toreador song in a Looney Tunes cartoon.  Then there is the great Act 2 tenor aria known as the Flower song for the bright red rose through which Carmen had selected Don Jose as her next lover, and Micaela’s Act 3 heart-felt pleading aria to Don Jose elicited enthusiastic applause at the performance I attended.  The Prelude and the Interlude are wonderful, and popular, orchestral pieces, and were performed very well by the Lyric’s orchestra.
 
The mood was set from the start of this production with the vivid, lush blood-red curtain that caught everyone’s attention as we took our seats.  The set though was a minimalist one, so common these days, but given that limitation it was surprisingly creative and effective.  The relatively brief ballet numbers added zest to the performance; of particular note was the exceptionally-creative and visually-arresting dance opening in Act 4 in which flowing dresses were used as bull-fighting capes against a flaming red background – the performance elicited an approving gasp from the audience.  The one disappointment, a small one, was the insertion of a distracting, writhing sideline ballet sequence between a shirtless man with a bull-head hat and a toreador in Act 4 while Don Jose and Carmen were having their final confrontation.  Sometimes, even in opera, less is more.     

The music is, of course, spectacular and we come to hear it all.  Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili was in fine voice in her Lyric debut as Carmen, although I thought she could have acted more seductively in her movements.  She has sung the role of Carmen at the Metropolitan, and The New Criterion music critic Jay Nordlinger wrote of her “big, glowing, smoky voice” in a 2012 performance.  American tenor Brandon Jovanovich was strong as the callow and hapless Don Jose.  He recently appeared last fall at the Lyric as Aeneas in Berlioz’s grand opera masterpiece The Trojans and did a great job in that role.  Nordlinger caught Jovanovich a few years ago at the Met in Shostakovich’s opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and wrote of him:  “I always knew him as a solid and appealing lyric singer [but] I had no idea he could pull off [this role].  Jovanovich was like a young Marlon Brandon. And he could sing: freshly and ruggedly, easily and commandingly.”

Italian soprano Eleonora Buratto was warmly received as the innocent Micaela, who contrasts sharply with the bold, alluring Carmen.  Lyric Opera Ryan Center alums/members, Americans all, were strong in their roles:  Christian Van Horn as the toreador Escamillo, Bradley Smoak as Don Jose’s superior officer Zuniga, and Diana Newman and Lindsay Metzger as Carmen’s friends Frasquita and Mercedes.  The Lyric chorus, including a talented group of kids, was terrific, as usual.

As is so unfortunately common in opera these days, the director changed the setting of the story in order to insert some sort of additional meaning or send some personal political message.  Rather than write his own opera, he hijacked someone else’s.  In this case, director Rob Ashford moved the story from early 19th Century traditional Spain to the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War – so instead of bright, traditional Spanish dress we get many performers plainly clothed in drab colors.  But the greater offense was the director’s transmogrifying the men with whom Don Jose takes up after his desertion from smugglers to revolutionaries fighting for “liberty.”  In an interview in the program, the director gives his reason – “The [Spanish Civil] war was often described as Fascism vs. Democracy – so it seemed a good parallel for the opera.”  Unfortunately director Ashford is completely unfamiliar with the relevant history despite opining on it.  In the Spanish Civil War, the “revolutionaries” were the traditionalists, commonly characterized as fascists, who were supported by Nazi Germany; that side was fighting communists and anarchists, loyal to the radical socialist government, who were supported by Communist Soviet Union.  There were horrible atrocities on both sides, and neither side was remotely fighting for “democracy” or “liberty.”  A modest proposal is that opera directors stick to operas as written and stay away from subjects about which they are unfamiliar.  The Lyric has a dramaturg on staff, but it needs an historian as well.

I first saw Carmen at the Lyric in the early 1980s, with Placido Domingo as Don Jose.  Quite coincidentally, just one week earlier also at the Lyric we attended a wonderful concert headlined by the now 76 year-old Domingo.  I had forgotten the exact year of that earlier Carmen, but the concert’s program informed me that it was 1984.  I’m fortunate to have seen Domingo at both ends of his remarkable career.

Carmen has permeated popular culture.  There are some non-traditional appearances of the opera’s story and music that I particularly enjoy.  In 1984 pop music star Malcolm McLaren released an album of pop adaptations of some well-known opera selections, and his riff on Carmen and the Habanera is quite entertaining.  The creative Oscar Hammerstein II transposed Carmen’s story and lyrics to the early 1950s in the American South and Chicago in the film Carmen Jones, which featured an all-black cast with Dorothy Dandridge in the title role.  Finally, the British duo Opera Babes sing a wonderful duet with words put to the Carmen Interlude, an enchanting piece of music; they have performed some of their entertaining repertory, including the piece from Carmen I would like to think, at the Los Angeles Opera House with none other than Placido Domingo.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Left-wing Media Howls About Trump Press Conferences

After eight years of Obama calling only on lap-dog liberal and ultra-liberal media outlets, after his actually trying to exclude Fox News from the White House Press Corps, and after his repeated bashing of private citizen Rush Limbaugh by name, and then after the mainstream liberal media’s continual smearing of Trump with Fake News such as, for example, that he was a frequenter of Russian prostitutes and is the incarnation of Hitler, the left-wing media is now cataplectic that at press conferences Trump is calling on non-left-wing news and commentary media outlets! 

How dare Trump not call exclusively on left-wing media outlets!  The end of the First Amendment! cries one pseudo-journalist, who displays his pathetic ignorance of what the First Amendment actually means.

The days of just three liberal national TV news networks and the New York Times filtering their way all the news Americans would see are long over, and it’s about time.  Their monopoly on the news is over. 

Looking back, the left-wing media’s infatuation and “slobbering love affair” with Obama was so bad that books have been written about it, and we were spurred to mock it in this post:


R Balsamo

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Trump Democrats Were There To See All Along

Ever since the election of Donald Trump, the conventional wisdom among the liberal punditry is that his election was a stunning “surprise” that hardly anyone saw coming.  Those experts were shocked by Trump’s strength among blue collar voters, who swung the election his way.  It was a close election in many critical states, to be sure, but Trump’s strength not only among blue collar workers but also among blacks and Hispanics was no surprise to anyone paying attention without political blinders on. 

In January, 2016, the Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union speech focused neither on Republican proposals nor on Democrat missteps but rather on stopping Trump.  At that point he was the early frontrunner in the Republican nomination process.  Trump’s anti-illegal-immigration stance was extremely threatening to the established elites of both parties, including Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House.  In response to the Republican elite’s anti-Trump barrage, on January 14, 2016, almost 10 months before the election, I posted this comment on this blog:

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. 

Trump’s electoral strength should not have come as a surprise to anyone in touch with America.  It only took open eyes to notice and open ears to listen to the people struggling from the effects of open borders that have flooded this country with cheap labor and from the outsourcing of jobs to low-wage foreign countries.

R Balsamo

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Muslim Migrants in SE Asia – Where Should They Go, & Can All the Worlds’ People Come to the United States?

The latest dust-up over the fate of a group of illegal migrants stranded in New Guinea living on Australian charity encapsulates the great challenge the Western world faces from migrants dissatisfied with their own countries who arrive as low-skilled, welfare-dependent, and often culturally-hostile uninvited guests.  

In the waning days of his presidency, after Trump was elected, Obama agreed to take a thousand or two Muslim migrants off Australia’s hands and bring them to the United States.  This arrangement has now come to the attention of President Trump, and he and probably most Americans are unclear why the United States, having in recent years already taken in more migrants than most any other country in the world, should take in still more, let alone those in Asia who are currently on an island near Muslim Indonesia.  The Australian government doesn’t want them but is stuck caring for them, so it was delighted that Obama, on his way out of office, offered them free tickets to the United States.  It’s no surprise that Trump, elected as much as anything else on his promise to tighten immigration and seal our porous borders, looks askance at this.  Australia knew full well not only that Obama was a lame duck when he agreed to take these migrants but also that this hushed-up transfer would be very unpopular with most Americans, so no tears for our friends down under.

The big-picture point here is that every person in the world disenchanted with his or her current country cannot migrate to the United States.  The United States simply does not have enough space or resources to care for everyone in the world who would like to come here.  The rest of the world must be made a better place in which to live, and although the United States undoubtedly will continue to help others toward that goal, as it most generously has in blood and treasure for over a hundred years, it is not capable of, nor morally responsible for, ensuring that all other countries of the world are acceptable places in which to live.      

R Balsamo 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Off the Bookshelf: Sloan’s My Years with General Motors

I’ll never get through the many books I’ve been saving up to read if I keep revisiting old favorites.  I’ve just finished my third time cruising through My Years with General Motors by Alfred P. Sloan, the man who steered General Motors into the giant, influential corporation it is today.  I bought my copy in May of 1995 and first read it then; I know that because I've used the folded receipt as a bookmark.  The book is partly a history of the General Motors company and partly a history of the early automobile industry.  It is also a case study on developing an organizational structure that can properly manage and lead a growing company, and evolve with it.

Sloan was a young MIT-educated engineer who in 1898 at the tender age of 23 seized a risky opportunity to take over a failing company that made bearings used in machinery.  He and a partner slowly built it up through hard work, attention to cost-effective manufacturing, technological advancement, and responsiveness to customers.  Eventually in 1916 he sold the company to the fledgling General Motors, which then was a holding company of a hodge-podge of automobile manufacturers and related parts producers patched together by wheeler-dealer Billy Durant.  At that point Sloan took the second big risk in his life, trading his large stake in his company for mostly stock in General Motors, whose future, especially given Durant’s inattention to sound business administration, was uncertain.  Sloan survived many trying times as a senior executive under Durant’s erratic leadership, given that almost all of his net worth was tied up in the company stock.  But Sloan’s high risk, high reward gamble paid off in time.  By the early 1920s Durant was deep in a financial crisis, and eventually Sloan emerged as the chief executive.  He righted the ship by further developing the management techniques which had made him a successful businessman, methods that became the foundation of modern business management.

Although there are some dry parts when Sloan gets to discussing organizational structure and finances, most of the book is a very engaging read for someone with a general interest in the history of the American automobile industry.  The narrative covers a wealth of topics from the early days of the automobile, including:  Durant’s wheeling and dealing from his original base in Buick to buy the group of automobile companies that would become GM; the engineering and manufacturing issues presented by resident engineering genius Charles Kettering’s attempt to develop a competitive air-cooled engine; the success of GM’s consumer-focused business model – “a car for every purse and purpose” – against Ford’s failed “any color as long as it’s black” approach; the development of leaded-gasoline and high-compression engines; GM’s groundbreaking role in the development of the diesel-electric motors that would supplant steam power in railroad locomotives; the company’s struggles to survive the Depression; the challenges of shifting to production of military vehicles and war materiel during the Second World War; and the styling revolution led by the legendary Harley Earl.        

My Years with General Motors seems to be regarded as one of the seminal books on business management.  In an introduction, business administration guru Peter Drucker calls it “a must read.”  The cover of my paperback edition quotes Bill Gates saying that Sloan’s book “is probably the best book to read if you want to read only one book about business.”  I certainly cannot gainsay this sentiment.  But I read the book mostly for its narrative history and stories of engineering challenges encountered and solved.  Sloan’s book is a great read even for non-MBA types interested in how the great vehicles of today came to pass.

R Balsamo 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Les Troyens (The Trojans) at the Lyric Opera

Looking back upon the many wonderful musical performances I took in this past year, the highlight was the Chicago premiere last month of Les Troyens (The Trojans), the opera masterpiece from the prolific French composer Hector Berlioz.  The libretto, which he wrote in addition to the music, is faithfully based on sections of Virgil’s Aeneid, a foundational work in Western literature, which tells the story of Aeneas and his band of Trojans who survive the fall of Troy and wander the Mediterranean to reach the shores of Italy where they are destined to found the great city of Rome.  The opera focuses on two parts of that epic story – the fall of Troy and the Trojans’ time at the North African city of Carthage where its Queen Dido and Aeneas experience the great love affair that ends tragically when the reluctant Aeneas is ordered by the gods to leave for Italy to fulfill his destiny.  

"The Meeting of Dido and Aeneas," by English painter Nathaniel Dance-Holland
Les Troyens is considered one of the gems of Grand Opera, large-scale works with huge casts, elaborate sets, and evocative ballet which portray some great historical theme.  Berlioz fell in love with the Aeneid after reading it in Latin as a boy and bringing the story to the operatic stage was the toil of his later life.  It is now regarded as his opus magnus.  The story of the Aeneid, particularly its first half which mirrors Homer’s Odyssey, is still read in high school Latin courses (like mine of some years past) and still captures the imagination of many a young man. 

The opera is full of soaring melodies that flesh out the mythological historical drama.  The long, elaborate love duet (Nuit d'ivresse et d'extase infinie!) is one of the most beautiful in all of opera.  An Act 4 quintet is a particular favorite of mine.  In fact, the score is so full of treats that the two most recognizable tenor arias are given to singers other than the lead tenor role of Aeneas.  In Dido’s touching farewell aria (Adieu, fière cité), Berlioz reprises the main melodic line from the earlier sumptuous love duet just for a moment, then ends it all on a somber note, reflecting the love destroyed by fate and the gods.  Opera at its grandest. 

The singing was excellent – strong, clear, and passionate.  The strong cast was led by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as the ill-fated Queen Dido, Brandon Jovanovich as the conflicted hero Aeneas, and soprano Christine Goerke as the doomed Trojan seer Cassandra.    

The set was of the barren, minimalist variety one has come to expect these days in opera, although for this grand dramatic story I was expecting more.  One example: the cave scene in which Dido and Aeneas consummate their love and create their bond is not shown, thus omitting an important event that drives the plot.  Another: nary a glimpse of the Trojan fleet along the Carthaginian shoreline, where some of the events take place.  At the opera’s end, in the libretto Dido’s sister Anna and minister Narbal curse at the departing Trojans in their ships, but in the Lyric production there are no ships at which to gesture, so the two just sing at the audience.  There was creativity nonetheless; most notably, the Trojan Horse made its appearance as the arresting projection of its giant, awesome shadow on the war-ravaged walls of Troy. 

The costuming, though, was an affront – intellectually vapid and artistically offensive.  Rather than transporting the audience’s imagination back to the days of Troy and Carthage, the director Tim Albery and his accomplices sneered at the audience and degraded the masterpiece by costuming the characters in an incoherent array of random fashions of the last hundred years or so.  Ancient Queen Dido, for example, when first introduced is wearing a modern women’s business suit, and later the noble warrior Aeneas wears a cardigan sweater over what looked like a pair of chino pants and boat shoes.  Not only were such visuals ridiculous, reflecting poorly on both the immediate perpetrators and Lyric’s oversight, but some of the story’s drama got lost.  For example, at the end Dido orders Aeneas’s armor, clothing, and weapons burned on a great pyre.  Aeneas had left them behind at the palace when he abruptly sailed for Italy with his people on strict orders from the impatient gods.  In the story Dido climbs up onto the pyre and suddenly slays herself with Aeneas’s sword.  The symbolism of all this was lost in the Lyric’s production because placed on the pyre were no armor and sword but just some unidentifiable and formless cloth items (maybe that cardigan sweater!).  Dido’s kills herself not with the sword of the departed Aeneas, her unfaithful lover, but with some random dagger that was lying around.

One final point about director Albery, who displays an attitude all too common these days.  From "A Talk with the Director" in the Program Guide:  "You could say [that Aeneas's decision to leave Dido to found his own great city of Rome rather than marry Dido and become king of the city that she created] is a metaphor for male ego and ambition.... He's got his Italy right there, but he just can't accept it."  What a misunderstanding of Aeneas's motivations and of themes of the Aeneid – of self-sacrifice, of duty and honor, to accomplish a goal greater than one's own self-defined pleasures.  It's much easier, of course, for this director to alter the story of the Aeneid than to write his own opera, for that would require real effort.  Apparently it’s too much these days to expect solipsistic directors to faithfully portray an opera in its proper place and time rather than to degrade it to satisfy their own juvenile transgressive needs.

But despite the disappointing visuals, the story and the music were all there, plenty enough for the mind and the ear.  The Aeneid is a great narrative, a poem actually, full of the greatest human drama, and Berlioz brought much of it to the opera stage.  After one hundred and fifty years, Les Troyens finally made it to Chicago.  We can warmly thank the Lyric Opera for that.

R Balsamo

Monday, December 26, 2016

Cultural Counteroffensive

Islam-inspired mass murder continues apace in Europe, this Christmas season, and on cue some of the continent’s “progressive” leaders call for even more Muslim immigration as the antidote.  The prospects for a Europe free of major, violent social conflict diminish by the hour, and there the hour is late. 

Haters of western civilization, who grossly magnify its vices while minimizing its virtues, have convinced many unthinking people around them to join in their cultural suicide conspiracy.  All evils in the world are linked to the Judeo-Christian ethic, European history, and capitalism, while everyone outside that world is apotheosized.  Non-European peoples are lionized, all other faiths are whitewashed, and those whites who resist indoctrination are branded heretics from the true faith.  A new religion is amidst us. 

Western cultural norms and values stand in resistance to the aims of self-regarded enlightened elites to refashion the world in their image.  Islam, with particularly forceful elements now that stand in opposition to Western Culture, is for the elites a welcome enemy of their enemy.  Their airy dream is a world led to sunny uplands by self-appointed wise elders, free of the shackles of regressive religion and culture, where the benighted masses are separated from their guns and Bibles and that troublesome Constitution, and where dissent is suppressed for the greater good.  But the forces of light and liberty have regrouped, and counteroffensives have gained traction.  We leave 2016 in better shape than when we entered it.  Christmas is the season of hope.   

R Balsamo

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Recount Fever

In an effort to delegitimize the election of Donald Trump, Democrat operatives initiated recount efforts in three states such that, if the results were overturned, Clinton would win the election.  The public, ostensible leader of this effort is failed Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who professes to simply want to ensure that every vote is properly counted.  Why, however, she has not filed for recounts in states, like New Hampshire, that were won by a narrower margin, or in all 50 states for that matter, she will not say.  We know the answer, of course.

Some of the key people working with Stein on this recount effort are, to no one’s surprise, Clinton and Democrat Party operatives, even though Stein was nominally the nominee of a different political party.  And, the source of the millions of dollars needed for these recount filings is also very unclear, but anyone not born yesterday knows where the dough is coming from.

No doubt the fevered hope among Democrats was that recounts would show enough Republican hanky panky to cast a shadow of doubt, of illegitimacy, over Trump’s win in those states.  But Democrats are really in trouble when they start believing their own propaganda.  The party of voter fraud is actually the Democrats, who don’t shy away from illegalities in voter registrations, in election day counting, and in post-election recounts.  Democrats have long internalized Stalin’s maxim that it’s not who votes but who counts the votes that matters.  Democrats particularly like hand recounts, where crooked recounts in heavily Democrat precincts remarkably find gobs of additional votes, for their candidates of course, while the tallies in Republican areas change little.  In heavily-Democrat Detroit, for example, where ballots are being recounted under no doubt higher scrutiny than expected, many more Clinton votes were initially certified than voters who were signed in to vote.  The Detroit elections director blamed the discrepancies on old voter machines.  Sure.  As any alert and honest student of politics from Chicago knows, the vote overcount from fraud in heavily Democrat areas, from California to New York City and all points in between, must be huge.  Yuge, as Donald Trump might say.

Now that the partially-completed recount in Michigan has revealed significant fraudulent votes for Clinton in the Democrat cities of Detroit, Flint, and Lansing, and as Trump’s big margin holds in Wisconsin as votes are reexamined (including a hand recount in ultraliberal Madison – surprise!), coverage of the recounts has been disappearing from the liberal media and Democrat legal maneuvering is petering out, as the liberal hoped-for narrative value of this story explodes in their faces. 

R Balsamo

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

NFL Head Roger Goodell Tolerates the Thug, Domestic-Violence Prone Football Culture and Supports Anti-American Protests But Slams Trump

Now comes National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell as a prime example, among so many, of the Democrat Party operatives who reek of hypocrisy as they bring their political smears into every walk of private life. 

Recently in this election season Goodell said he doesn’t know how to explain Donald Trump to his daughters and wife, presumably referring to Trump’s decade-old “locker room” talk and the politically-convenient, highly-suspicious late-election flurry of women who suddenly claimed, years after the alleged events and without contemporaneous documentation, sexual harassment from Trump.  Goodell the ass doesn’t mention the known sexual harassment by Democrat Bill Clinton, with an intern in the White House when he was the President of the United States, or the contemporaneously-documented multiple allegations of rape and sexual assault against that same Bill Clinton.  He doesn’t mention Democrat Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton’s long involvement in smearing women to cover up Bill Clinton’s sexual assaults.  Honest people realize that the decades-long Clinton behavior is part of the real “war on women.”  How does Goodell explain all that to his wife and daughters?

Goodell certainly doesn’t mention, of course, the elephant in the room – the thug culture of his own National Football League, where real, documented episodes of sexual harassment and violence by players against women are commonplace.  From the linked Sports Illustrated article:  “Goodell and the NFL have come under fire for being too lenient on domestic violence after high-profile cases such as Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and more recently Josh Brown were penalized lightly.”  In response to such criticism, “Goodell noted he thinks people do not understand the complexity of domestic violence.”  How’s that attitude for the real “war on women”?

Goodell also supports and encourages the recent wave of anti-American protests during the national anthem at football games but suppressed player efforts to honor with armbands policemen slain by Black Lives Matter-inspired radicals. 

Goodell tolerates real anti-women violence.  He is nothing more than a Democrat Party operative politicizing his non-political role as head of the NFL.  Why the NFL owners want him and support him is a mystery.

R Balsamo

http://www.si.com/nfl/2016/11/10/roger-goodell-donald-trump-women-explain-daughters
http://www.redstate.com/mickeywhite2/2016/11/10/roger-goodell-bad-nfl-america/

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trump Wins – Sic Transit Gloria Obama

The country is now digesting the stunning electoral victory of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.  To be sure, the GOP did not win every election across this great country, but the Party is arguably as strong as it has been in many generations.  Although losing a few seats in the House and Senate, Republicans retain majorities in each, and they gained three governorships to bring their total to 33, the most since 1922.  And Republicans became even more dominant in state and local governments across the country.   

Some despondent Democrats have taken to the streets, shouting and smashing like spoiled brats in a temper tantrum.  The liberal media warned us about violence from those who would not accept the results of this election, and for once it was right.  As Wikileaks documents have confirmed in similar past outbreaks, the rioters are no doubt organized and egged on by shadowy Democrat Party operatives deep behind the scenes who seek to profit from the political and market reactions to their disruptions.

After eight years of Obama-era Democrat arrogance, corruption, and over-reach, the Republican Party has emerged stronger than it has been in memory, in seats and in spine and in will.  Trump, almost single-handedly, has vanquished the feckless and hapless Bush gang to the wilderness, and has consigned the malign Clintons and their disgraceful, corrupt profiteering cartel to the dustbin in the ignominy they deserve.

When Republicans sought some input and compromise in the years, not so long ago, when the Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a large majority in the House, Democrat Obama scoffed, famously saying I won, you lost, so get out of the way.   He also said elections have consequences.  Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, he’s about to get a taste of his own medicine.

R Balsamo