Sunday, December 28, 2014

Slaughter of the Innocents

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Good Tidings of Great Joy

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

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

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

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

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

R Balsamo

Friday, December 12, 2014

Patrick O’Brian at 100 – Remembering His Remarkable Aubrey-Maturin Series of Historical Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

R Balsamo

Monday, December 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R Balsamo