Thursday, February 25, 2016

Lands’ End Clothiers Enters the Culture Wars – Gushingly Celebrates Radical Democrat Feminist Gloria Steinem

Lands’ End, the clothing provider that started out in Chicago in nautical equipment and whose headquarters is now in Wisconsin, just entered the Culture Wars big time.  

Its new catalog has just arrived at our house.  It has an enormous, worshipful spread to radical “feminist” Gloria Steinem, who, among other things, is a Democrat Party activist and an abortion radical, supporting even partial-birth abortion.  She’s famous for popularizing the phrase “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”  I have been significant Lands’ End shopper for over 40 years, starting with its first outlet store on Chicago’s near north side (on Clyburn or Elston, as I recall) and I have been looking at its catalogs for at least as long.  The same can be said of my wife.  Before this we have never seen Lands’ End take a political stand, ever.  I don’t think it will be able to get this genie back in the bottle for a long time.     

This is almost certainly the end of our patronage of Lands’ End.  Why oh why would a major national retailer, which given the type of clothing it sells probably does much, much more business among conservatives than liberals, take a side in the Culture Wars at all, let alone side with the extreme left-wing?  Perhaps some Madison Avenue advertising/catalog consulting firm thought nothing of it.  After all, doesn’t everyone who counts support partial birth abortion and the killing of infants born alive after botched, late-term abortions?  Actually, those two "procedures" are disturbing and beyond the pale even for some pro-choice people I know.

It seems ultraliberals wake up every morning wondering about what new non-political space they can politicize.  Lands’ End, a public company with shareholders, is free to enter the Culture Wars if it wants to, but why would it alienate most of its customers?  This is a massive error in management judgement, and heads should roll.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see shareholder lawsuits if sales drop off. 

R Balsamo

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Trump Effect Penetrates the Stupid Party, Finally; On Supreme Court Vacancy, Republicans Finally Say No to Obama

Donald Trump is more than anything else a protest candidate against the weak and false front so many Republican politicians have put up against the baleful Democrat tidal wave in politics and culture.  Although his main, popular substantive issue is stopping illegal immigration and its downward effect on wages for American working men and women, more than that his candidacy is about strength and attitude.  Most Republican voters feel that the Democrats have been kicking sand in their faces for decades, and that their elected Republicans for the most part acquiesce and often willingly join in on that humiliation.  Just to take a recent example in politics:  new Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan pledged regular order and other reforms, but immediately rolled over to endorse and strong arm the passage of an irregular “cromnibus” funding bill that, among other things, fully funded Obamacare and body-part-selling Planned Parenthood, two programs that most Republican voters want defunded and that most Congressional Republican politicians claimed to oppose.  Republicans in Washington are always pledging to fight the good fight tomorrow while rolling over today.  Trump, however an imperfect vessel he is, and he certainly is that, is a strong protest vote against decades of dishonest, pushover Republicans.

Nowhere has the Republican dishonesty and weakness been greater than in the realm of federal court appointments.  Democrats commonly block Republican nominees (see the history of George W. Bush’s DC Court of Appeals nominees) and intimidate Republican presidents into nominating “moderates” who often turn out to be partisan, political Democrats underneath their judicial robes.  Republicans, on the other hand, enthusiastically and overwhelmingly support radical Democrat court nominees (e.g., Ginsberg and the Wise Latina).  After the disgraceful “Borking” of Republican Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, Republicans rolled over to overwhelmingly support subsequent radical Democrat nominees, only later to have, once again, Republican nominees strongly opposed by Democrats (Example: Obama filibustered the Alito nomination).  The sordid history of the recent one-sided Supreme Court nomination fights is linked below.  Not for nothing is the Republican Party known as the Stupid Party, even among its frustrated supporters let alone smirking Democrats.

Now Justice Scalia’s untimely death has created an opening on the Supreme Court.  The Republican leadership in the Senate now declares they will not even hold a hearing on any nominee sent their way by lame duck Obama.  This strong stand is completely uncharacteristic of Republicans but is exactly what Democrats, based on their past behavior and words, would be doing in their shoes.  Republican voters and the rest of the American people can thank Donald Trump for this newfound Republican backbone.  Republican politicians might finally be realizing that strength is a virtue and weakness is a provocation, and, to coin a phrase, that when people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they are naturally drawn to the former.

R Balsamo

Thursday, February 18, 2016

This Dim, Dangerous Pope

The new Pope condemns capitalism as he simultaneously urges the “rich” capitalist countries of Western Civilization, particularly the United States, to open their borders even more to accept any and all migrants from failed socialist and other authoritarian regimes.  The Pope praises the façade of socialism – radical equality – that camouflages the naked power held by masters who rule for their own nefarious benefit.  This new Pope does not seem smart enough to realize the absurdity he advances – that countries based on a political system he views as morally-corrupt, countries free and wealthy and plenty-generous already, must rescue the rest of the world from, in his mind, morally superior socialism – a system which he tacitly admits cannot properly feed its own people let alone provide sufficient jobs, safety, education, and the rule of a fair law equally applied.  The Pope is admitting the success, and the superiority, of free enterprise, classic liberalism (or, what I like to call libertyism), and the Protestant Work Ethic.

This Pope, by the way, just held a Mass at the Mexican-American border for those migrants who have died trying to sneak into the United States.  But while visiting Cuba recently and having a splendid time with Fidel and the other brutal socialist murders, this Pope did not say Mass for all those murdered by Cuban socialism and all those still tortured in jail there.  In fact, between hugs and smiles with the Castro brothers, he barely mentioned those unpleasantries.  Now, in an election year in America, this Pope says Donald Trump is not a Christian because of his intent to limit U.S. immigration, but says nothing to condemn the murderous dictators in Cuba and elsewhere in his Latin America homeland (the Vatican, by the way, is said to have the most restrictive immigration policies in the world).  All this is disgraceful.

All the poor people from Central America, from South America, from Africa, from the Near East, from the Middle East, from Central Asia, from East Asia, and from the Pacific Islands cannot fit into the United States and be supported by its people.  The solution is not for the whole world to move to North America, the solution is for the rest of the world to make their countries better.  The American people have been helping toward that end for over a hundred years, with open arms and with blood and with treasure, and they continue to do so today.  Never have so few done so much for so many.  But Americans cannot do it alone.  People elsewhere must help themselves as well.  If their rulers and their systems stink, they must change them.  The Catholic Church and the related Iberian culture deserve most of the blame for the tragic, long-standing economic and cultural failures of Latin America, from which so many migrants are fleeing.  The Pope needs to look much, much closer to home for his devils and his saviors. 

I wonder if there’s a recall provision in Canon law.  I’m very sure I’m not the first to do so.

R Balsamo

Monday, February 15, 2016

Our Republic – Can We Keep It?

Despite the socialist horrors of the last century, and scores of millions of miserable deaths later, in the United States we now have an openly socialist candidate running, strongly, for the nomination for president, one indication of a broad, baleful shift in Western sensibilities mirrored by the new socialist Pope.  He preaches a “democratic” socialism pronounced free of all corruptions, but which has tenuously existed only for a few years in a few small, ethnically homogeneous countries, an illusory thin veneer of success betrayed by reality and protected by and indirectly subsidized by the American people.  If he has his way, who will protect and subsidize Americans? 

He is rivaled by a Peron-style liberal fascist (an HG Wells term) who is patently the most corrupt major politician in American history and an archetypical pay-to-play corruptocrat.  Her appeal, almost unfathomable, seems based on the will to power by the “progressive” left who expect she will be ruthless enough to destroy their political opponents and the Western culture they defend, based as it is on the equal application of the rule of fair law, the true protection of civil liberties, and the restraint of government power.  Surely no educated and sentient supporter actually thinks her honest and fair and true, but great is the siren-call of power unconstrained by morality.  We still have a Republic, but can we keep it? 

R Balsamo

Friday, February 5, 2016

Nabucco at the Lyric Opera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

R Balsamo