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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Chicago Cubs Win the World Series. Hell Freezes Over

For the first time since 1908, 108 years ago, the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.  The curse of the billy goat is over.

The Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in the 10th inning of game 7, after earlier blowing a four run lead and blowing a three run lead with six outs left.  The Cubs came back to win three games in a row after being down three games to one in the best of seven series.  Having last won a World Series in 1948, the Indians now are the major league baseball team with the longest championship drought.

Outfielders Zobrist, Fowler, Heyward, Schwarber, Soler, Coghlan, Almora, and Szczur.
Infielders Rizzo, Baez, Russell, Bryant, La Stella
Catchers Ross, Contreras, and Montero
Starting Pitchers Lester, Arrieta, Hendricks, Lackey, and Hammel
Relief Pitchers Cahill, Wood, Grimm, Rondon, Strop, Montgomery, Edwards, and Chapman

One of the more interesting stories of the Cubs' postseason concerns outfielder Kyle Schwarber.  He was a rookie in 2015, and in April of 2016 sustained a severe knee injury, tearing two ligaments, in the second game of the new season.  He underwent grueling rehab and did not play for the Cubs again until he was activated for the World Series.  There was universal astonishment that someone who had not faced major league pitching since April could possibly perform well with the pressure of the World Series.  Still unable to play the outfield, Schwarber was used as the designated hitter for the four games in the American League team's ballpark.  Remarkably, he got 7 hits in 17 at bats, plus 3 walks, for a batting average of .412, which led all Cubs in the post-season.  He even stole a base. Schwarber is now the first major league position player in history to get his first hit of the season in the World Series.

The Cubs ball club, whose original name was the White Stockings, is only one of two original National League franchises still operating (the other is the Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves), and the only one of the two to have played continuously in the same city.

The Chicago Cubs are no longer the American professional sports team with the longest championship drought.  That honor now goes to a team that last won a championship in 1947  the Chicago Cardinals football team, the oldest franchise in the National Football League, which lately has made its home in a warmer climate somewhat southwest of the city limits.

R Balsamo

Monday, October 31, 2016

Bud Light Drops Liberal, Haranguing Commercial After Sales Drop

Beverage conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev has stopped airing Bud Light beer commercials with liberal political messages that featured divisive ultraliberals Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen.  Sales took a dive since the commercials began.  In one ad, the two complained that women are paid less than men for the same work, a point that has been repeatedly debunked since it’s been shown that women make nearly 100% of what men make when careful apples-to-apples job and work-hours comparisons are made.  The lie makes for good Democrat propaganda to low information voters, but why spout this in a beer commercial?

No surprise that beer drinkers don’t want to be harangued with Democrat social justice warrior propaganda.  I enjoyed this:  “Comments on the video [of the beer commercial] have since been disabled on YouTube.”  One can only imagine.  Moreover, the two personalities spouting the nonsense are very polarizing.  For example, Amy Schumer at a recent appearance went on an anti-Republican harangue that caused much of her audience to walk out.  And Seth Rogen has compared the popular, pro-American film American Sniper to Nazi propaganda.

One can just imagine the scene around the conference table at a trendy New York City ad agency: 

Hipster 1:  None of us drinks beer, and no one we know does, so how do we pitch this stuff?
Hipster 2:  I know, let’s get Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen.  Everybody loves them and their politics!
Hipster 3:  Great idea!  And how about they complain about how women are oppressed by men!
Hipster 4:  Another great idea!  Man, we’re hot today!  We’re gonna sell a lot of beer!

R Balsamo

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Clinton Criminal Enterprise – The Unveiling Continues

Former Federal prosecutor and astute analyst Andrew C. McCarthy has summarized the case against Democrat Hillary Clinton that she ran the United States State Department as a criminal enterprise, selling out America to enrich herself and her husband, former Democrat president William Clinton.  This sordid episode in American history is far from over, as the fallout from FBI Director Comey’s whitewashing of Hillary Clinton’s felony mishandling of classified information has severely damaged his reputation and that of the FBI as a whole, and has corroded the American trust in that storied institution.  Comey yesterday announced that the FBI has reopened the investigation, purportedly because of the discovery of new evidence in the form of emails that somehow the FBI missed previously.  In addition, as far as I know the FBI is considering a Congressional request to open a criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation in light of the growing evidence it is a front for a criminal enterprise.

As I have written previously, Democrat Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt major American politician in American history, and the depth and breadth of her corruption is breathtaking.  Furthermore, she is a congenital liar whose every word, including "and" and "the" (to borrow a phrase), is a lie.  From Whitewater and the "cattle futures" Tyson bribe in her early days up to the bribery thinly-camouflaged as “speaking fees” and Clinton Foundation “donations,” she has been a one-woman criminal enterprise. 

Some excerpts from the McCarthy analysis:
Whatever the relevance of the new e-mails to the probe of Clinton’s classified-information transgressions and attempt to destroy thousands of emails, these offenses may pale in comparison with Hillary Clinton’s most audacious violations of law: Crimes that should still be under investigation; crimes that will, in fitting Watergate parlance, be a cancer on the presidency if she manages to win on November 8.
Mrs. Clinton appears to have converted the office of secretary of state into a racketeering enterprise.  This would be a violation of the RICO law — the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1971 (codified in the U.S. penal code at sections 1961 et seq.).
Hillary and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, operated the Clinton Foundation.  Ostensibly a charity, the foundation was a de facto fraud scheme to monetize Hillary’s power as secretary of state (among other aspects of the Clintons’ political influence).  The scheme involved (a) the exchange of political favors, access, and influence for millions of dollars in donations; (b) the circumvention of campaign-finance laws that prohibit political donations by foreign sources; (c) a vehicle for Mrs.  Clinton to shield her State Department e-mail communications from public and congressional scrutiny while she and her husband exploited the fundraising potential of her position; and (d) a means for Clinton insiders to receive private-sector compensation and explore lucrative employment opportunities while drawing taxpayer-funded government salaries.
While the foundation did perform some charitable work, this camouflaged the fact that contributions were substantially diverted to pay lavish salaries and underwrite luxury travel for Clinton insiders.  Contributions skyrocketed to $126 million in 2009, the year Mrs. Clinton arrived at Foggy Bottom [the State Department].  Breathtaking sums were “donated” by high-rollers and foreign governments that had crucial business before the State Department.  Along with those staggering donations came a spike in speaking opportunities and fees for Bill Clinton.  Of course, disproportionate payments and gifts to a spouse are common ways of bribing public officials — which is why, for example, high-ranking government officeholders must reveal their spouses’ income and other asset information on their financial-disclosure forms.
 While there are other egregious transactions, the most notorious corruption episode of Secretary Clinton’s tenure involves the State Department’s approval of a deal that surrendered fully one-fifth of the United States’ uranium-mining capacity to Vladimir Putin’s anti-American thugocracy in Russia.  [...]
The WikiLeaks disclosures of e-mails hacked from Clinton presidential-campaign chairman John Podesta provide mounting confirmation that the Clinton Foundation was orchestrated for the purpose of enriching the Clintons personally and leveraging then-Secretary Clinton’s power to do it.  Hillary and her underlings pulled this off by making access to her contingent on Clinton Foundation ties; by having top staff service Clinton Foundation donors and work on Clinton Foundation business; by systematically conducting her e-mail communications outside the government server system; by making false statements to the public, the White House, Congress, the courts, and the FBI; and by destroying thousands of e-mails — despite congressional inquiries and Freedom of Information Act demands — in order to cover up (among other things) the shocking interplay between the State Department and the Clinton Foundation.
Under federal law, that can amount to running an enterprise by a pattern of fraud, bribery, and obstruction.  If so, it is a major crime.  Like the major crimes involving the mishandling of classified information and destruction of government files, it cries out for a thorough and credible criminal investigation.  More important, wholly apart from whether there is sufficient evidence for criminal convictions, there is overwhelming evidence of a major breach of trust that renders Mrs. Clinton unfit for any public office, let along the nation’s highest public office.  

R Balsamo

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Lucia di Lammermoor at the Lyric Opera

Lucia di Lammermoor is back in Chicago at the Lyric Opera.  It was last presented just five years ago this month, when soprano Susanna Phillips kept us in the audience spellbound, and a bit apprehensive, during the opera’s famous “mad scene” as she moved up and down a tall winding staircase without railings.  The staircase is gone in this season’s production but the set and the singing were just as outstanding.

Lucia is widely regarded as Donizetti’s masterpiece, written when the composer was just 37 years old and premiering in Naples in 1838.  The plot is simple, especially by opera standards, featuring proverbial “star-crossed” lovers in Scotland caught up in a blood feud between their families.  The tragedy is set in motion when Lucia’s brother Enrico and a retainer trick her, with a lot of browbeating thrown in, into marrying an aristocrat for her brother’s benefit rather than the man she loves.  Unfortunately, besides not being rich and influential her lover Edgardo happens to be her brother’s enemy.  Returning from an overseas mission, Edgardo bursts in on the scene just as the marriage is completed and confronts Lucia, each one mistakenly feeling betrayed by the other.  The famous sextet breaks out as the six major players simultaneously express their various emotions and desires.  The just-married Lucia, learning that her lover was true after all, goes mad and tragedy ensues.

As popular and famous as it is, I must confess that the opera’s so-called “mad scene” is not one of my favorite parts.  The long, multi-part Act 1 love duet is splendid, the deservedly famous Act 2 sextet is a highlight in all of opera, and the moving Act 3 lament by Edgardo that ends the opera is wonderful.  But opera aficionados do love that mad scene, in which sopranos over the years have added their own vocal embellishments to an already difficult score.  In his critical treatment The Opera, Joseph Wechsberg writes that the “Mad Scene is a ne plus ultra tour de force for prima donnas ...  Afterwards, nineteen other composers wrote ‘mad scenes’, giving their prima donnas such murderous fioriture [florid embellishment of a melody] that only a ‘mad’ woman would be expected to sing them.”      

Gaetano Donizetti
Speaking of singing, it was uniformly terrific, featuring as leads Russian Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia, Pole Piotr Beczala as Edgardo, and American Quinn Kelsey as Lucia’s nefarious brother Enrico.  The sets were arresting and enhanced the experience.  Large multi-sectional panels divided the stage into a foreground and background, and particular arrangements of the panels in various scenes allowed for an interesting visual complexity, accentuated by skillful use of strong light and deep shadows.  With an otherwise minimalist set, which I usually do not care for, the effect was powerful and a strong stimulant to the imagination.

The recording I enjoy is from 1971 with a truly all-star cast – Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Chicago’s very own Sherrill Milnes, and Nicolai Ghiaurov, with Sutherland’s husband Richard Bonynge and the Covent Garden Orchestra and Chorus.  Opera doesn’t get any better than that.

R Balsamo

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Illinois River Ride & War Memorials

Ottawa Civil War Monument
On a beautiful, unusually warm Indian Summer day, we decided to take a long and leisurely drive along a stretch of the Illinois River and see the beginning of the fall colors.  We were a bit early for the colors but it was a wonderful tour just the same.  I hoped to visit the war memorials in Ottawa and Marseilles.

Ottawa is a small Illinois city which sits at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers, near the historic Starved Rock.  The old Illinois and Michigan Canal pathway runs through town on its way to its terminus a short way to the west in the town of LaSalle.  The Canal ran parallel to the river, connecting Lake Michigan, via the Chicago River, with the Illinois at the point where the latter became sufficiently navigable for larger cargo ships.  From the Illinois River a ship can travel to the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico.  The Canal is no longer operable and many sections are dried up, but its path can still be seen. 

Statues of Lincoln & Douglas Debating
Ottawa was the home of the founder of the Boy Scouts, and there is a Scouting Museum now open.  The town was also one of the sites of the infamous Radium Girls tragedy, in which clock-making workers licked radioactive paintbrushes only later to suffer radiation illness.  And perhaps most famously, Ottawa was the site of the first of seven Lincoln-Douglas debates, held in 1858 between the two men to promote their candidacies for the United States Senate.  Lincoln famously lost, of course, but was so impressive that he was nominated two years later as the second Republican Party candidate for the Presidency.

Plaque at the Site of the First Lincoln-Douglas Debate
In the center of town, near old stately courthouses, is the large Washington Square Park, the site of that famous debate and now of two touching war memorials.  The larger is a tall obelisk dedicated in 1873 to the fallen of the Civil War.  Names were etched at the base but are mostly eroded now from wind and rain.  

Recently, stone panels were laid nearby with the names etched once again, of the fallen in the Civil War and the Spanish American War.  I didn’t see it, but no doubt present is the name of General W. H. L. Wallace, an Ottawa resident and one of the heroes of the critical Hornet’s Nest valiant hold out at the battle of Shiloh, which allowed the rest of the Union Army to survive and bought time for Grant to regroup his forces and eventually win the battle; Wallace was mortally wounded there and died three days later in his wife’s arms, saying in his last breath "We meet in heaven."  

Ottawa Memorial to the fallen of WWI, WWII, Korea, & Vietnam 
A second, later monument in Washington Square Park is dedicated to the fallen of World Wars One and Two and of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, all of whose names are once again etched in stone. 

East of Ottawa, also along the Illinois River, is the small town of Marseilles and the site of the Middle East Conflicts War Memorial.  It’s a bitterly sad and haunting place, with tall, granite sections of wall crammed with the names of the fallen, sitting high on the river bank where one can see and hear the rapids below.  As the water churns one contemplates the heroic but tragic loss of brave and sweet life, nobly sacrificed on people so often filled with rage and hate and for a confused and misguided purpose of such fleeting effect.

The Marseilles Memorial to the Fallen of Middle East Wars

R Balsamo

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Republican Cowardice Is a Provocation: Democrat Lawfare Misconduct Stopped in Wisconsin But Will Just Move Elsewhere

Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by three Wisconsin Democratic district attorneys who sought to revive an immoral and unethical ginned-up, years-long faux-criminal investigation into Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign.  These despicable Democrats, unhappy with Walker’s success in curbing Democrat union excesses, until finally stopped by the Court mounted a "John Doe" lawfare campaign that issued dozens of subpoenas, seized equipment, and confiscated millions of documents from those many Wisconsin law-abiding Republicans they illegally targeted.  These disgraceful Democrats no doubt were encouraged to conspire to abuse the law and their political offices by past Republican weakness in similar Democrat lawfare operations, and felt, almost certainly correctly, that even if stopped they would suffer no consequences. 

I haven’t followed the case closely, but Walker seems to have hardly fought back to help those who worked hard to support him.  If the parties had been reversed, Republican prosecutors would never have brought invalid and unethical charges in the first place, but even if they did a Democrat governor would have used all the powers at his disposal to destroy them.  Walker, with his eye on a run for the White House, had other priorities than vigorously defending state Republicans against unfounded lawfare attacks by rogue Democrats.

Democrats are masters at ginning up prosecutions for their partisan gain.  Three recent, particularly impactful examples come to mind.  In 2005 county Democrats in Austin ginned up an investigation of Texas Republican Tom Delay, then Majority Leader of the U.S. House and one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress.  He was driven from office, and then later his conviction was overturned by the courts.  But not before the Democrats had taken out one of their strongest opponents.  And the Democrats seem to have suffered no consequences for this malicious lawfare.

Later in Texas as well, Democrats ginned up a case against Republican Governor Perry and weakened his presidential chances.  In 2014 Perry was indicted by a grand jury in a heavily Democrat county by a vicious Democrat prosecutor for threatening to veto a bill the Democrats liked and urging the replacement of that Democrat prosecutor after she was convicted of drunk driving and incarcerated but had refused to resign.  The courts threw out all charges against Perry as unconstitutional, but not before the Democrats had harmed his national standing and reputation.  The Democrats seem to have suffered no consequences for this malicious lawfare.

In Alaska in 2008, Democrat prosecutors ginned up a case against sitting Republican Senator Ted Stevens, which caused him to lose his upcoming election.  In the wake of the “scandal,” a Democrat won the seat in an otherwise Republican state and that Democrat cast the 60th vote for Obamacare.  After the election, the conviction against Stevens was overturned when a Justice Department probe found evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct.  The federal judge on the case called it the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he'd ever seen.  As an aside, the Democrat federal prosecutors were part of the Bush administration, which just underscores the environment of profound Republican spinelessness in which rogue Democrats everywhere operate.  But the Democrats got what they wanted, and suffered no real consequences for this malicious lawfare. 

The cowardice of Republican leaders, who refuse to vigorously defend each other when under attack, invites more and more of these Democrat abuses.  In the movie The Untouchables Eliot Ness was advised to bring a gun if his criminal enemies brought a knife, but Republican leaders respond to knife attacks by turning the other cheek.  Obama publicly tells his Democrats to “punch back twice as hard” and “get in the faces” of their enemies, but Republicans hesitate to fight back.  Their weakness is a provocation, and, as Osama bin Laden said, when people see a strong horse and a weak horse they are naturally drawn to the former.  This sordid story of Democrat misconduct and Republican spinelessness explains, more than any one single issue, the popularity of Donald Trump.  As Lincoln said of Grant, “he fights!”

As the illegally-targeted Wisconsin Republicans pick up the pieces of their lives and livelihoods, the Democrats have moved on and are scouting their next targets.  

R Balsamo

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Jan Morris of the Pax Britannica Trilogy at 90

Today is author Jan Morris’s 90th birthday.  What a treasure trove of writing she has given us.  She has been as prolific as she has been masterful, and I have read much of her work though far from all.  She mixes history and culture and travelogue into most interesting evocations, and of these I have especially enjoyed, many times over, her treatments of Venice, Trieste, and Hong Kong.  But I believe her masterpiece is her trilogy of the history of the British Empire – the Pax Britannica Trilogy.  History it is, but really a pointillist portrait of the sights and sounds, the ethos and the pathos, the glory and the tragedy, of that remarkable historical phenomenon. 

I have reread that work many times, and I always find something new to reflect on, to marvel at.  I often pick up a volume and begin reading on a randomly-opened page, it’s that good.  I can’t think of another book, three actually, that have enjoyed more, or learned more from.  Formally prose, so many passages reach the poetic that it is as pleasurable to read, for those who enjoy the English language, as it is informative and stimulative.

Jan Morris wrote these volumes as a young man, as James Morris before her gender change.  She writes in the Introduction to the last volume:

Mine is an aesthetic view of Empire, and there is no denying that as the flare of the imperial idea faded, so its beauty faded too.  It had not always been a pleasant kind of beauty, but it had been full of splendor and vitality, and when the Empire lost its overweening confidence and command, its forms became less striking and its outlines less distinct....  My book is therefore sad without being regretful.  It was time the Empire went, but it was sad to see it go; and these pages too, while I hope they are not blind to the imperial faults and weaknesses, are tinged nevertheless with an affectionate melancholy....  I hope my readers will discover in themselves ... at least some of the mingled sensations of admiration, dislike, amusement, pity, pride, envy and astonishment with which I have watched and pictured the passing of the British Empire.    

Morris is very witty, and I have captured a few examples of such in my two previous posts, the first seven years ago now.  One more:  The early British West African trading firm Swanzy’s, later to form a part of the conglomerate Unilever, at one point gave its historic, ceremonial staff, an important totem at one time, to the British Museum, “and thus [it] disappeared from human knowledge.”  Yet another (it’s hard to stop):  The appointed successor to Tennyson as Poet Laureate was one Alfred Austin, and enthusiast of Empire and of mixed reputation, who, writes Morris, “was apparently impervious to criticism, and this is lucky, for nobody has had a good word for him since his death in 1913.”

Morris visits cemeteries.  She reads the stones, she sits and soaks in the sights and sounds, she finds the stories that end there.  I’ve also walked among the stones, wondering about the stories untold, or half-told.  Near one of my family’s graves there is a four-grave plot, with a large monument.  The ‘darling beloved” James Jr. died in the early 1930s at the age of six.  One ponders for a moment the inestimable sorrow of the parents, and then one sees that a second grave is that of James Sr., who died just a few years later.  The other two plots are unfilled.  What became of the mother?  Were there other children?  Did she remarry and does she now lie a thousand miles away next to her second husband, leaving the first joys of her life lying together without her?   

Morris visited the southern England grave of the enigmatic romantic T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) in 1976 on the anniversary of his 1935 death, and found the grave covered with flowers.  In South Africa she visited the graves of the British killed there in the Second Boer War, writing “when I was there in 1975 I thanked the gardener for tending the British graves with such care.  ‘So long as you’re satisfied,’ he gently replied.”  She found the grave in Bermuda of a young lieutenant who died in 1837, buried under the epitaph “Alas he is not lost / But is gone before.” 

One last clip, which I have quoted before, for me one of the most touching.  In the southeast tip of Europe, she visited a cemetery holding the bodies of the many young Australians and New Zealanders whose lives were thrown away there through the criminal incompetence of the British military leaders in an especially senseless and horrific war:   

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

The most beautifully evocative writer I have ever read. 

After supposedly retiring, two years ago she published “Ciao, Carpaccio! – An Infatuation,” a personal appreciation of the 15th century Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio who populated his carefully detailed paintings with whimsical animals and objects.  Morris tells us that she is no scholar of art and that her “infatuation” with the painter is “largely affectionate fancy.”  One day while looking through a book with photographs of his work she saw in a small, curiously perched bird, overlooking a great scene, the spirit of the artist himself, writing “that before I went to bed I resolved to write, purely for my own pleasure, this self-indulgent caprice.”  Would that she will have more such caprices in the coming years.

R Balsamo

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lands’ End Finally Ousts Polarizing, Disastrous CEO – But Can It Fix Its Own Stupidity?

With today’s departure of its misbegotten, short-lived fashionista CEO, retailer Lands’ End has a chance to right its past wrongs and rise again.  But can it do it?  Will it, for example, follow the path of a resurgent Apple, or that of its former owner, Sears, thought by some to be near bankruptcy? 

Lands’ End retailer was once a successful and popular seller of well-made and comfortably-fitting casual clothing.  It was founded in Chicago initially as a seller of sailing gear and gradually transformed itself into primarily a clothing retailer.  It expanded with a move to southern Wisconsin and became a strong national brand. 

Then disaster struck.  The first blow was its sale to Sears in 2002.  Quality took a sharp dive no doubt as the accountants squeezed the bottom line.  At the time Sears took over I think most of my dress shirts, polo shirts, neckties, and casual pants, and all my socks and underwear, were from Lands’ End.  My wife was also a big customer in clothing for not only herself but for our kids, and household stuff like bedding and towels was mostly from LE.  But with new purchases after the Sears takeover we noticed gradually cheapening fabric, poorer fit, and declining quality.  We began buying less and less.

Finally Sears, struggling itself, released Lands’ End from bondage in April, 2014, spinning it off as once again a stand-alone company.  Then a remarkable thing happened.  The new Board of Directors decided to abandon the company’s deservedly eroding customer base and transform itself into a retailer of “fashion forward” trendy hipster clothing.  It hired an Italian fashionista of the New York City glitterati set to pursue the transformation.  Out were comfortable shirts and shoes and rain gear and in were stiletto heels.  The new CEO, Federica Marchionni, wondered, peering westward and downward across the Hudson River from her Manhattan penthouse, Bellini in hand, just who in the hell would actually wear the clothes Lands’ End was selling.           

Then came the coup de gras for long-suffering Lands’ End.  To signal their bona fides to all the right people – the bicoastal liberal elites and hipster glitterati – the new CEO and the Board decided to enter the Culture Wars.  Lands’ End celebrated one of the most polarizing figures in America – ultraliberal, radical “feminist” and abortion extremist Gloria Steinem, who once is said to have said that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.  The special, prominent catalog homage to Steinem was a marvel of incoherent incompetence – celebrating a woman likely to be anathema to its core customers and utterly unfamiliar to the sought-after young urban hipsters.  Negative reaction was swift, and I posted a note about the disaster at the time (link).  In comments to articles all over the web, outraged customers, those still left, vowed to abandon Lands’ End.  Although my family’s purchases were way down from a decade earlier and gradually declining, we were still occasionally buying some things like sheets and jackets.  That came to an abrupt end and we were done with Lands’ End.

In late July, LE reported results for the three-month period February through April of 2016, the first financials after the late-February celebration of Gloria Steinem.  As only two of the three months in that period were after the catalog’s appearance, the full effect of the Steinem glorification and taking sides in the Culture War is not reflected in these numbers.  Here is the bottom line – LE reported a net loss of $5.8 million, compared to a profit of $1.7 million in the year earlier period.  All in all, a disastrous financial report.

Now today, nine months almost to the day after that ill-fated adulatory splash on Gloria Steinem, the hipster, fashionista CEO is out.  She lasted 21 months. 

The Lands’ End stock price also tells a sad tale.  From February 27, 2015, the last trading day of the month that Marchionni took over as CEO, through September 23, 2016, the last trading day before today’s announcement of her departure, Lands’ End stock was down 51%.  In other words, in the short time that the new hipster CEO was in place, Land’s End stock lost more than half its value.  Furthermore, at the close of trading today on the day of the announcement, LE stock dropped another 14%, investors no doubt fearing that the not-yet-reported recent financials are even worse than imagined given the firing of the CEO.  Losing two-thirds of a company’s stock value in 21 months is not easy, but the LE Board has managed to pull it off.

The articles I’ve read in the past year on this ongoing story typically spun the Lands’ End problem as one of rubes in the hinterlands bitterly clinging to their “frumpy duds” and refusing, like truculent children, to follow the lead of a sensible NYC fashion leader who is simply trying to help them improve themselves.  Rarely a mention of the Gloria Steinem contretemps, of course.  Example: a Marchionni-admiring Wall Street Journal article of May, 2016, is subtitled “At the catalog retailer, frumpy duds are out.”  The Board of Directors apparently buys into all this nonsense.

The sorry saga of Lands’ End, damaged first by Sears and then bled further by an incompetent Board and CEO, provides a well-worn cautionary tale for American business.  It’s as Barack Obama, no doubt a role model for the now departed elitist, hipster LE CEO, once said – “don’t do stupid stuff.”  But as Obama has failed to learn over and over and over again, to America’s detriment, that's easier said than done.  The Lands’ End saga shows us, not that we really need yet another demonstration, that not being stupid is, for some people, harder than it looks.  Can the Lands' End Directors fix their own stupidity?  We’ll see.  They could take a promising first step by all resigning.

R Balsamo

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

La Traviata at Michigan’s Harbor Country Opera

You don’t always have to be in a big city to find opera.  The other day we enjoyed a wonderful performance of Verdi’s La Traviata, the world's most popular opera by the world's most popular opera composer, in the sleepy little town of Three Oaks, Michigan.  The hamlet sits amidst corn and bean fields a few miles inland from the Lake Michigan shore in the southwest corner of the state (surprisingly only 90 minutes from downtown Chicago).  The production was the latest offering from Harbor Country Opera.  [“Harbor Country,” for those who might be wondering, is the somewhat fanciful marketing label that the local Chamber of Commerce cooked up for a string of Lake Michigan shore beach towns in the southwest corner of Michigan, an area that contains but a single actual harbor.  Furthermore, Three Oaks is included in this trademarked marketing “region,” despite being seven miles inland.  Whatever.] 

McMurray, Caraman, & Steyer (L to R) in HCO's La Traviata
Harbor Country Opera is a little gem, and its majordomo Bob Swan, an opera singer himself, has been staging productions for quite some time.  In recent years we have taken in, for example, a most enjoyable showing of La Boheme and a wonderful concert by Isola Jones, the famed Met star, accompanied by Bill McMurray and John Concepcion.  That La Boheme was a full production of the opera in the large auditorium of the high school in New Buffalo, the one town in Harbor Country with an actual harbor.  For La Traviata the setting was the small stage at the Acorn Theater, a modest space in a converted factory that once made corset stays from turkey feather quills when whalebone was getting hard to come by.  Fortunately, corsets went out of style before turkeys became hard to come by.  Swan and company put on a production of the major scenes from the opera, with a cast of essentially the three main characters who do most of the singing in the complete opera.  The performers were in full costume, though understandably the set was minimal.  A narrator explained the story line between scenes.  La traviata means "the fallen woman," and the libretto is based on La Dame aux Camélias – The Lady of the Camellias, a play adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils.  The camellia flower in bloom is an iconic image for this opera.

The voices were strong and clear, and the acting was convincing.  I don’t know how Swan managed to get performers of this caliber to this rural corner of Michigan, but he did.  Christine Steyer was Violetta, the consumptive courtesan, Emanuel-Cristian Caraman was her paramour Alfredo, and Bill McMurray was Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father.  All three have extensive performance resumes, and in fact McMurray appeared in the above-mentioned La Boheme as well as in concert with Isola Jones.  The baritone-soprano complex duet between the elder Germont and Violetta, in which he seeks to convince her to forego her loving relationship with his son for the sake of his family’s reputation, is one of my favorite duets in all of opera.  And the touching “Parigi, o caro” duet between Violetta and Alfredo, in her last moments, was splendidly done.  All in all, a wonderful show from a wonderful cast.  And notably, the bar was stocked with chilled Prosecco, a Venetian sparkling wine appropriately served and enjoyed at an opera that debuted at the storied La Fenice opera house in that very city.

At HCO’s “Broadway Blitz” show earlier this summer, Bob Swan introduced the show and mentioned some recent health trouble.  The other day he looked stronger, a most welcome sign for fans of Harbor Country Opera.  Salut, Mr. Swan.

R Balsamo

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lyric Opera Under the Stars – 2016

The opera gods had their way last Friday and stopped the light drizzle just as the concert began.  It turned out to be a beautiful evening under the stars at Chicago's lakefront Millennium Park for the annual Stars of the Lyric Opera concert.  

The concert, though, was a bit more mixed than the weather.  The new regime at the Lyric does not seem overly-enamored with Italian opera, and the concert as well as the new season reflects that (just two of the upcoming season's eight operas are Italian, with not a single Verdi or Puccini; but in fairness the two chosen – Norma and Lucia – are two of the very best). Selections from four of the new season's eight planned operas were performed, highlighted by mezzo Tanja Ariane Baumgartner's appearance in a flaming red dress as Carmen for the habanera, which she sang wonderfully.

Other than the selections from Carmen and Lucia and a crowd sing-along of the stirring Va Pensiero chorus from Nabucco (a highlight of last season), there wasn't much red meat, operatically speaking, on the bill.  No duets or trios, and just how many concerts feature not one but two bass arias?  I was hoping for a selection from the upcoming Berlioz masterpiece Les Troyens (The Trojans), which I have been studying, but no dice, and nothing from Norma.

Nevertheless, a wonderful way to spend a Friday September evening by the lakeshore, gratis, thanks once again to the Lyric Opera.

R Balsamo

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is Obamacare a Failure or a Success?

The actual Obamacare statute, as the Affordable Care Act is commonly called, was a disaster from the start – a hodgepodge of tons of stuff, much nonsensible, pasted in by various Democrat congressional staffers and Democrat lobbyists.  No one actually read it all, and probably no one, no one, read even most of it.  Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat Speaker of the House at the time, infamously said then that the law must be passed so we can find out what’s in it.  Rational critics knew it would be a disaster, and, in reality, so did the Democrat puppet masters who pushed for it and forced its passage.  For those Democrats, the expectation was that the whole thing would fall apart and pave the way for a completely government-run system.    

Aetna, a large national health insurer (if what is in reality a medical care benefit plan without risk-based pricing can be called in any way “insurance”) just announced it is withdrawing from most Obamacare exchanges because of significant financial losses.  Some say now that this is evidence that Obamacare is a failure.

But to say that Obamacare is a failure is to not understand its actual purpose.  If the purpose of Obamacare is correctly seen as an intentional, unstable transitional state primarily designed to hook people on subsidies and the illusion of cheap, comprehensive medical care, such that upon collapse the masses will clamor for a complete government take-over to save their “health care,” then Obamacare so far has been a success. 

R Balsamo  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Crooked Hillary Is the Future, and It Ain’t Pretty

Hillary Clinton is now the nominee of the Democrat Party for the presidency of the United States of America.  How disastrously far that Party has fallen, and how far we have fallen with it.

It should be obvious to all that Hillary Clinton is the most corrupt major American politician in American history, and the depth and breadth of her corruption is breathtaking.  Her husband, since leaving office, has made $150 million in speaking fees, most of that since she became Secretary of State.  No one, no one, shells out that kind of money to the husband of the sitting United States Secretary of State for nothing, and no one born before yesterday could possibly believe that it is honest and legitimate.  Moreover, the Clinton “Foundation” is a fairly obvious money-laundering front to channel the massive pay-to-play piles of cash that big money men, mostly foreign, have given the Clintons in return for favored treatment from the State Department and from their other spheres of influence (see "Clinton Cash," inter alia).   Hillary compromised national security and clearly violated federal law (FBI Director Comey said so, just before he blew smoke in his disgraceful sell-out) in using a private server so that her communications, full of illicit and criminal crap and commingled with official State Dept work, would not be preserved and discoverable on a government system. 

Furthermore, Hillary Clinton is a congenital liar whose every word, including "and" and "the" (to borrow a phrase), is a lie.  From Whitewater and the "cattle futures" Tyson bribe in her early days up to the bribery thinly-camouflaged as “speaking fees” and Clinton Foundation “donations,” she has been a one-woman criminal enterprise.  That an American political party could tolerate, let alone nominate, someone remotely like her is the surest sign, among many, that the "American Experiment" is over and a new era of corrupt, Latin-America-style "strongman" politics is beginning. 

Donald Trump is certainly not an ideal candidate, but his faults are trivial compared to Hillary's.  All this little stuff thrown up against Trump is mostly a series of bright, shiny objects the ultraliberal and socialistic press is dangling in front of Americans to distract them ("OMG, look over here, quickly, over here!") from Hillary's disgracefulness.

We have met the future, and it ain't pretty.  It’s all downhill from here.

R Balsamo

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Death of a Republic – the American Experiment is Over

Not for nothing have so many referred to the United States as “the American Experiment.”  After tens of thousands of years of rule by kings and queens, dictators and tyrants, aristocrats and oligarchs, it’s been an open question whether a people could maintain a constitutional republic, where no one is above a just law fairly and equally applied, such that at the founding, Benjamin Franklin said to the American people “you have a republic, if you can keep it.”  The experiment is over.

There is a law against being “grossly negligent” in the handling of classified material, which must be kept secret as a matter of national security.  On July 5, when the embers from Independence Day celebrations still glowed and the latest memories of this most special American celebration were still fresh, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one James Comey, stepped up to a microphone in Washington, DC, and began talking.  His FBI team had just completed its investigation of alleged serious national security breaches by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State in the Obama Administration.  Comey, himself an Obama appointee, recited a litany of findings that he described showed “extreme carelessness” in the way Clinton and her subordinates handled classified material.  Furthermore, he recited findings that contradicted numerous Clinton statements to the American people and to Congress, under oath, about her handling of classified material. 

Astoundingly, but sadly not surprisingly, Comey then blew smoke over the whole matter. He began talking about “intent” to compromise national security, although intent is not a requirement to be found guilty of mishandling classified information.  He said there was no clear evidence that Madame Hillary had any intent to compromise national security, although, he said, her email correspondents had their email traffic with Madame Hillary hacked by nefarious outsiders.  Never mind that Madame Hillary quite intentionally set up her own unsecured personal server for all of her government emails, contrary to rules and common sense, presumably in order to keep secret her dealings with foreign and domestic moneymen (otherwise known as Clinton Foundation donors) in a pay-to-play criminal operation.  She then lied repeatedly to the American people and then to Congress, under oath, that she never received or passed along classified information.  We know of many of her lies because the FBI has found them out.  Madame Hillary has had intent from the start in this sordid affair.

How’s this for the way Madame Hillary cared for precious national secrets? – “We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account.  We also assess that Secretary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent.  She also used her personal e-mail extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related e-mails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.  Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal e-mail account.”  Possible?  Rather, a near-certainty. 

But against the evidence and against common sense, Comey then concluded that Madame Hillary had no “intent” to compromise national security, reading the requirement of intent into a statute that only requires gross negligence.  Comey said Clinton and her people were, in their ongoing security transgressions, “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” as if that isn’t gross negligence.  (As an aside, one might ask – if Comey really wanted to clear Hillary Clinton completely, why did he recite her long list of transgressions?  Answer:  because he and the Obama people feared that one still-patriotic FBI agent would go public with it all, so better to bring out all the dirty laundry proactively and then play it down.  A classic trial attorney strategy.) 

To cement the conclusion that this was a political decision to “clear” Madame Hillary of patently illegal (and traitorous) activity, if more evidence is even needed, Comey two days later admitted under oath, responding to pointed questions by certain Congressmen skilled in eliciting the truth from reluctant witnesses, that the FBI did not put Madame Hillary under oath when they questioned her – a shocking admission of a shocking omission.  Furthermore, they shockingly did not record the question and answer session, so there will never be a video or transcript to prove up any false statements.  And the FBI acknowledges but waves away other illegal behavior, such as Clinton’s admission that she shared her emails, many determined by the FBI to contain classified information, with her lawyers who have no security clearance – a clear criminal act, with intent; such as evidence that emails and other electronic documents were erased after a subpoena was issued for them, which would be intentional obstruction of justice.  The FBI then said it would not recommend to the Obama Justice Department that Clinton be prosecuted for her national security breaches, and quickly thereafter the Justice Department said it was ending the matter without prosecution.  The Obama FBI and Justice Department have made it quite clear that Hillary Clinton is above the law.  Their inaction is legally indefensible and morally reprehensible.

Comey is just the latest in a long line of Americans, with Supreme Court Justice John Roberts not far in front of him, who have betrayed their oaths and betrayed the trust of the American people.  [Comey, by the way, in the Bush Justice Department was the one who appointed as Special Prosecutor in the Plame Affair one Patrick Fitzgerald, who disgraced himself (link) by turning the investigation into an unethical anti-George W. Bush witch hunt; so much for Comey’s ethics and judgement, and Bush’s as well.] 

Yes, liberals will roll their eyes over all of this and declare it all to be a molehill.  But they truly do not realize what has ended here, what line has been crossed.  The United States is entering a different era, one of the strongman politics well-known in Latin America, where laws, such as they are, only apply to the little people, the unconnected, and where the societal trust necessary to underpin any democracy is all rotted away.  These American so-called progressives, grabbers of power and privilege like all the aristocrats and oligarchs before them, who peddle their socialistic ruse to the foolable, are only in it for themselves.  American liberals have sewn the wind, and they will reap the whirlwind. 

It can be hard to pin an exact date on many shifts in history.  Just when did the Roman Republic die?  Just when did Athenian democracy wither away?  Perhaps it’s a series of corrosive events, eroding the landscape until after a sudden stumble we look up from a downward slope to see we cannot climb back up.  From now on, when asked whether one should study American law and the Constitution, a fair response would be, to quote Madame Hillary: what difference, at this point, would it make?       

R Balsamo

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit All About?

What is the meaning of Brexit?  This from Theodore Dalrymple, a British writer, critic, and retired physician:

For a long time, Britons who wanted their country to leave the European Union were regarded almost as mentally ill by those who wanted it to stay.  The leavers didn’t have an opinion; they had a pathology. Since one doesn’t argue with pathology, it wasn’t necessary for the remainers to answer the leavers with more than sneers and derision.

Even after the vote, the attitude persists.  Those who voted to leave are described as, ipso facto, small-minded, xenophobic, and fearful of the future.  Those who voted to stay are described as, ipso facto, open-minded, cosmopolitan, and forward-looking. 

This from Megan McCardle, an American commentator and currently a Bloomberg columnist, said to be of a libertarian (small “L”) bent (although she supported Obama at least once, so consistency may not be her strong suit):

The inability of those elites to grapple with the rich world’s populist moment was in full display on social media last night. Journalists and academics seemed to feel that they had not made it sufficiently clear that people who oppose open borders are a bunch of racist rubes who couldn’t count to 20 with their shoes on, and hence will believe any daft thing they’re told. Given how badly this strategy had just failed, this seemed a strange time to be doubling down….  [P]erhaps they were just unable to grasp … that nationalism and place still matter, and that elites forget this at their peril. A lot people do not view their country the way some elites do: as though the nation were something like a rental apartment -- a nice place to live, but if there are problems, or you just fancy a change, you’ll happily swap it for a new one.

In many ways, members of the global professional class have started to identify more with each other than they have with the fellow residents of their own countries. Witness the emotional meltdown many American journalists have been having over Brexit.  [….]  …[T]he dominant tone framed [by journalists about Brexit was] as a blow against the enlightened “us” and the beautiful world we are building, struck by a plague of morlocks who had crawled out of their hellish subterranean world to attack our impending utopia.

Whether Brexit will in fact lead to economic damage for Britain (or for anyone else) in the intermediate to long term is of course entirely speculative, and it seems that one could make a high-level argument that it could be of lasting benefit.  Brexit offers to me a sliver of hope for a reversal, through a spreading true-reformist counter-revolution, of the heretofore seemingly inexorable economic and cultural decline of Europe specifically and the West generally.  In the West, the cultural gulf between the elites and the hoi polloi they seek to control seems greater now than it has been in generations, if not centuries.  And of course as well, the cosmopolitan, sophisticated, bien-pensant transnational-minded elites will try to reverse the effects of this vote – after all, the morlocks cannot have their way.

R. Balsamo

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hemingway’s Collected Letters

Ernest Hemingway wrote a great many letters in his lifetime.  They were usually very informal, often full of strong enthusiasms, coarse language, and unbridled emotion.  They were not written as works of literature, or anything close to that.  They were spontaneous and of the moment.  They reveal a great deal about the man, less about the writer.

Hemingway’s letters are scattered all over the world, some in libraries and some in private hands.  After Hemingway’s death, Carlos Baker sifted through what was then available to him and in 1969 published a collection of letters he thought were the best.  But they were just a small fraction of the entire corpus.  Now, a group of scholars is in the process of publishing a multi-volume collection of every known Hemingway letter in existence, fulsomely annotated and carefully documented – The Letters of Ernest Hemingway.  The first volume was published in 2011 and three volumes of an anticipated twelve have been published so far, in beautifully-bound editions by Cambridge University Press.  The letters are being published in chronological order, and the editors supplement them with copious introductions, notes, chronologies, glossaries, maps, and indexes.      

Bruce Bawer reviewed (link) the first three volumes in the February, 2016, issue of The New Criterion, a terrific journal of criticism and commentary to which I subscribe.  He is not very enamored with the letters he has read thus far.  Bawer finds them for the most part uninteresting, often casually written, and not indicative of the great writer’s literary talent.  Bawer sees in the letters a very human, flawed man  – he sees the man behind the curtain and doesn’t like what he finds.

Having now read many Hemingway biographies, most of the letters in the Baker collection, and all the letters in the first two volumes in this new collection, my view is different from Bawer’s.  Although Bawer’s points are well taken, and valid to a point, I find Hemingway the man fascinating, and his letters flesh out that man more than any other source.     

In his letters we see how Hemingway approached his life and his writing.  He may have been economical with words in his serious writing, but he was garrulous in his letters.  We see how his relationships with family and friends (such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Archibald MacLeish) grew, blossomed, and deteriorated.   We see his need to be surrounded by friends, with himself as the center of attention, in his frequent urgings to friends to come and stay with him to fish and hunt and travel.  The letters are often emotional, frequently gossipy, and occasionally petty.  There’s bluster, and passion, and anger.  He was very numeric – we see a man continually aware of his finances and his productivity (page counts of works in progress are frequently conveyed to friends and editors), a man who kept detailed logs of fish caught and animals shot, of miles driven and expenses incurred.  He could be very kind and considerate, or a total jerk, and he was definitely not a family man, mostly neglecting his three sons, four wives, and others in his orbit.  We see a man whose friends and family and women are cast off one-by-one along the way, and wonder why.  Hemingway was funny and inquisitive, and very competitive, always exploring, thinking, pushing limits.  He was a man full of vim and enthusiasm, who could not stay in one place (or with the same people) for very long.   

The plan for the series is to publish only letters from Hemingway himself, and not those of his correspondents, providing explanatory notes to help with context.  About 85% of the letters have never been published before, and a great deal of effort seems to have gone into tracking them down all over the world.  At the time of the first volume, letters had been collected from almost 250 sources, not only libraries and similar institutions but from over 175 dealers, private collectors, and individual Hemingway correspondents.  Hemingway himself had saved some material – early drafts and some copies, whole or in part.  He seems never to have thrown out even a scrap of paper with writing on it, perhaps learning the value of saving material from his mother, who meticulously kept detailed scrapbooks on each of her children, filling six large volumes on her son Earnest’s activities through his involvement in the First World War.  Hemingway, by the way, saved a great many lists, from shopping items to camping trip needs, and, like his father, organized himself through them.

Hemingway’s letters in a very real sense constitute his autobiography, however unintended.  He took life his way with passion and vigor, and though the picture is not always pretty, there’s much to be taken away in his letters by those of us more inclined to quiet reading and quiet times.

R Balsamo

Friday, May 20, 2016

Nobody Talks To a Horse Of Course

Alan Young, Wil...burrrrrrrr to his fans, has passed away at age 96.

From memory, after all these years (maybe we should put the stuff we really want to remember to music, in rhyme):

A horse is a horse of course of course
And nobody talks to a horse of course
Unless of course that talking horse
Is the famous Mr. Ed

Go right to the source and ask the horse
He'll give you an answer that you'll endorse
He's always on a steady course
Talk to Mr. Ed 

I've carried this jingle around in my head almost my entire life, through countless courses and exams on a myriad of topics.  And it never got lost in the shuffle; exactly how and why I do not know.

A funny show then through the eyes of a kid, and a funny show still today.  Comedy is hard, but they got it right.

R Balsamo