Monday, February 18, 2013

American Egyptologist – Breasted & The Oriental Institute

Jeffrey Abt has written a fascinating and detailed account of the life of James Henry Breasted, the much celebrated University of Chicago ground-breaking epigrapher and founder, at UChicago, of the Oriental Institute.  Abt thoroughly covers Breasted’s work in epigraphy and archaeology, and also many interesting aspects of UChicago’s early history.  The book is exhaustingly researched, and is handsomely bound in rich, dark blue cloth by the University of Chicago Press (at one time, and maybe still, the largest university press in the world).

Breasted was foremost an epigrapher, studying ancient inscriptions and language, and though not trained as an archaeologist he became one by necessity, given the need to find, excavate, and explore ancient sites.  Working from the 1890s into the 1930s, his primary focus was ancient Egypt, and as a young man, struck by the deterioration of the known sites, he began a lifelong project to record and interpret the inscriptions.  In time, Breasted became famous; he was, for example, at the opening of the chamber containing the sarcophagus and mummy of King Tutankhamum.  He emphasized studying not just past events but past conditions and institutions, which seemed novel for the time. 

Breasted also became, through books and lectures, a very well-known popular educator about ancient Egypt and early Eurasian civilizations.  In his teaching and writing, he was a pioneer in the use of visual, diagrammatic displays of information, and coined the now well-known term “fertile crescent”.  He was one of the first to appreciate the important influence of Egypt’s ancient civilization on that of Greece.  The Oriental Institute’s projects eventually encompassed all the civilizations of the Near East and the field work spread out accordingly; its museum displays one of the finest collections of ancient Near East artifacts in the world, and I have enjoyed many a desultory stroll through the exhibits.      

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago
Breasted was born in Rockford, Illinois, in 1865, and grew up in Chicago’s western suburbs.  He started out in pharmacy, of all things, and graduated from what is now North Central College in suburban Naperville.  He eventually turned to theology (at the Chicago Theological Seminary), then to languages (studying Hebrew at Yale), and then finally to epigraphy which became his life’s work.  As his career moved on, he became as much an administrator and fundraiser (Rockefeller money) as researcher and educator, and at that point in the story the book gets dry with detail I imagine not of particular interest to the casual reader, who I suspect might be inclined to tread lightly over those sections.  An abridged version for the general reader would not be misplaced.

Breasted was the first archaeologist to be elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences, and became so well-known that he made the cover of Time magazine in 1931.  When he died at 70 in 1935, his memorial service at Rockefeller Chapel on the UChicago campus featured the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and was broadcast nation-wide on CBS radio.  He was buried in Rockford, with a large granite cube from ancient Egypt placed as his tombstone.  Years later, when a film maker was creating the fictional story of a young, dynamic epigrapher, he placed his character at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, no doubt because he figured where else would you find someone like Indiana Jones. 
American Egyptologist:  The Life of James Henry Breasted and the Creation of His Oriental Institute
By Jeffrey Abt (University of Chicago Press, 2011)

Richard R Balsamo

Related Posts at this blog:
The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago
Ancient Assyria & the Transience of Economic Strength
The Oriental Institute's "Striding Lion" of Babylon

Monday, February 11, 2013

La Boheme at the Lyric

Original Poster for La Boheme
Everyday people (sort of), everyday life (mostly), and an everyday love story (maybe not quite).  Opera Verismo.  Certainly not grand opera, not an Aida or even a Lucia.  But rather a small, simple love story, direct and tragic, encased in some of the most beautiful melodies in opera.    

The other day with family and friends I took in the first of two Lyric Opera ensembles performing Puccini’s La Boheme this winter at Chicago’s Civic Opera House, with Ana Maria Martinez and Dimitri Pittas very enjoyable in the leads.  I first saw Boheme at the Lyric around 30 years ago, with Pavarotti in the male lead role.  The strength, depth, and breadth of his voice seem to have almost been unique, and other tenors since then have sounded a touch thin, but that’s just me. 

Mr Pittas is a New York native who is quoted in the Program saying that he was first turned on to opera listening to the collection of duets by Bjorling and Merrill.  Well, for 30 years I myself have been enjoying those duets, coincidentally given to me by a dear friend also at the performance that night, and anyone who can listen to them and not want to hear more is a lost cause, operatically speaking.

Main Hall of Chicago's Civic Opera House
Unfortunately the set was underwhelming, and we know just whom to blame – owned and constructed, says the Program, by the San Francisco Opera, clearly a budget conscious outfit.  The garret shown in Acts One and Four consisted of a small elevated platform in the middle of the stage with a large border around it that took up most of the space, so that it all looked like a small painting in a frame three sizes too big.  But it’s La Boheme, after all, where the characters and the music get all the attention, which, of course, they should.

R Balsamo

Friday, February 8, 2013

Brokest Illinois Dems Go On Spending Spree On Themselves

In the Utopia called Illinois, controlled for generations by Democrats and the occasional Democrat-like Republican, something has gone wrong with the model -- it's the brokest state with the lowest credit rating in the brokest country in the world.  Its debt is staggering.

But hell, what's the use of being a liberal Democrat if you can't spend like one.  The Illinois Senate and House, both controlled by Democrats with super-majorities, and the Democrat Illinois governor have just all enacted a new spending bill of about $1.6 billion that the state doesn't have, no doubt all going to Dem constituencies and Dem donors.  Illinois voters sure like Democrats.

That's new Democrat spending of $1.6 billion, after just having fallen further behind in 2012 on state employee pension obligations despite a recent 67% hike in the state personal income tax and an almost 50% hike in the state corporate income tax.  

The Chicago Tribune says (link) the "Republicans decried the measure as including ill-timed, pork barrel money."  So what else is new. 

From a commentator to the Trib article:
$10,000 to the Life Center Church of Deliverance for infrastructure; $28,461 to the Chabad Living Room (?)for infrastructure improvements; $528,000 for Wings Program to buy a building; $225,000 to Fulfilling Our Responsibility Unto Mankind for infrastructure improvements; $100,000 to the Uhlich Children's Advantage Network to buy a building; $1 million to the Children's Museum Foundation to buy a building; $115,000 to the Illinois Basketball Hall of Fame. The list goes on and on. Don't these people know that Illinois is broke? That Illinois owes billions of dollars to doctors, pharmacies and others providing services to residents? Owes billions of dollars to its delinquent pension funds, aka its employees? WTF?
Not for nothing is Chicago's unofficial motto (with outstretched palm) "Where's mine?" as in "Where's my share of the loot?"  Something that can't go on forever won't, and the end to this graft and madness will not be pretty.

John M Greco

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Obama's Latest Nominee a Big Obamacare Supporter -- For Her Competitors But Not For Herself

Well, she was for it before she was against it.  She still thinks Obamacare is right for you and me, just not for her.

From the Daily Caller (link):
President Barack Obama’s newly-named nominee to run the Department of the Interior, REI CEO Sally Jewell, sought and received a waiver from Obamacare requirements for her outdoor clothing and equipment company [REI] in 2011....  Obama welcomed Jewell to the White House in 2009 to jointly argue for the passage of Obamacare.  Obama held REI up as a model company.
But after passage, Obamaphile Jewell's not so hot on Obamacare for her own company.  Better that her competitors spend the money to comply.
Two years later, Jewell secured an exemption from the law for REI.  REI received an Obamacare waiver around the same time that nearly 20 percent of the businesses in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Northern California district received waivers.
So that's the scam.  Pass an onerous law expensive to comply with, then give your friends, but to be sure not their competitors, a pass.  Reminds me of how the Democrats in Illinois play this same game.  They recently passed an almost 50% hike in the state corporate income tax, then welcomed the stream of supplicants from big companies and selectively passed out various exemptions, all of course behind closed doors.  If you're a midsized Illinois company not making contributions to Democrats, either because of cost or ethics, you're screwed.

John M Greco

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Obama Says It Is "Legal, Ethical, and Wise" For Him To Kill Americans (But Bush's Waterboarding Was Reprehensible)

Latest Dispatch from the Obama Wonderland:

It is “legal, ethical and wise” (link; link) to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism on Obama's say-so without a shred of due process, but it is morally reprehensible, if not clearly illegal, for the US government (i.e., George Bush) to waterboard for 10 minutes captured foreign terrorists who are reasonably felt to hold vital information about future terrorist plans.

Perhaps Obama feels he's doing those "suspected" American Muslim terrorists a favor by facilitating their deaths in the cause of jihad, whisking each one to heaven to frolic for eternity with his very own 72 perpetual virgins.  Or maybe Obama feels Americans are better off not trying to capture and interrogate suspected American terrorists and learning their current contacts and future plans, since that could only serve to cause some Neanderthals among us to look askance at a non-assimilated Muslim or two, and what could be worse than that?

Obama's crack team of lawyers say Obama's ordering of killings -- assassinations -- is all fine and dandy under US law, but remember Obama came within a hair of prosecuting Bush lawyers who said waterboarding was OK. 

And countless liberals and foreigners who want George Bush tried as a war criminal for waterboarding say what to all this?  The sound of silence.  

John M Greco