A very revealing modern opera: "Before Night Falls"
About homophobic Cuba
You may remember that a movie of Before Night Falls was made in 2000. It was directed by Julian Schnabel and starred Javier Bardem. When I wrote about this movie, I received a letter from a reader. He said that he had seen the movie in a heavily gay neighborhood and overheard the conversation of two men as they were exiting the theater. One was saying to the other, "Wow, what an eye-opener. I had no idea." No idea of what?
Of the persecution of gays by the Cuban revolution (i.e., Castro's gang). They threw gays into cells and camps, along with other "undesirables." One of the gays was Arenas. And the father of this prison system, the Cuban gulag, was none other than Che Guevara himself: hero of a billion T-shirts. The Left is very uncomfortable with this aspect of the revolution (when they know about it). Bring it up, and they're apt to change the subject, angrily.
Arenas was born in 1943. When a teenager, he joined the revolutionaries, fighting in the hills. But he soon discovered the revolutionaries for what they were. A free and humane spirit, he could only oppose them: only be a "counterrevolutionary." He started to write novels in the 1960s. One of them was smuggled out to be published in France. He was tossed into the gulag, both for his literary disobedience and for his homosexuality - which was also a form of disobedience.
He went through the usual: unstinting torture. And eventually they broke him. He renounced his dissidence and his homosexuality. But he managed to escape the island during the chaos of the Mariel boatlift in 1980. As an exile in America, he lived only ten more years. Dying of AIDS, he committed suicide. His last act was to finish his autobiography, Before Night Falls.
The composer Jorge Martin was born in 1959 and came to America with his family in 1965. They lived in New Jersey. He won the right to compose an opera on Before Night Falls in 1995 - that is, he reached an agreement with the Arenas estate. According to interviews, he almost drew short of composing the opera. He too is Cuban-born, creative, and gay. And he despises "identity politics" (I am quoting him now).
In the end, however, he said, "Screw it, I'll do it" - he loved the story too much, and was too taken with its operatic possibilities, to pass it by. He wrote the opera without a commission, which is not all that common; he just wanted to do it, possibly had to do it. He and Dolores Koch collaborated on the libretto. She was the translator of Before Night Falls, and knew Arenas well.
Can we talk about the opera world? We're all adults here, right? We can speak frankly. The opera world is very gay and very left-wing. There are a fair number of conservatives in it. Many are closeted, and they sometimes come out to me (swearing me to eternal secrecy, on pain of death). But the opera world is by and large strongly left-wing, as well as gay. And Before Night Falls will pose a dilemma: On one hand, you have your 50-year love affair with the Castro dictatorship; on the other hand . . . what about gays? It's one thing to persecute filthy capitalists who want to sell toothpaste in the shadows, or who read National Review-style literature by candlelight. But gays?
As the opera begins, we see Arenas in a New York apartment, dying. Then he flashes back to his youth in Cuba, and the story unspools from there. We see a lot of frolicking on the beach - Where the Boys Are, with only boys. All Frankies and no Annettes. Before long, we're in the hills, with the revolutionaries. They are mouthing their slogans: "Poverty, no more! Ignorance, no more!" And they dispatch their "revolutionary justice," which appalls the protagonist. He learns that he can trust no one, or trust few: Friends, in the grip of the state, betray.
When he makes it to America, he is free but creatively stifled. And he says, "The Left hates my politics, the Right hates my sexuality." In that apartment, he ends it.
Finally, a word or two about politics, broadly defined. (Very broadly defined.) It's astonishing to see a work of art that opposes the Cuban revolution - that knows it for what it is. I sat in wonderment, during particular scenes and moments. Did they really show a paredon, a wall against which the revolution shot "traitors"? Did they really put an image of Che Guevara in a menacing light, rather than the usual adoring one? Did a character really say, "The regime hates any thought that's free"? Were we really seeing events in the Cuban gulag - just as we see in escapees' memoirs, trashed, sniffed at, or mocked in The New York Review of Books?
The Cuban revolution is one of the most mythologized - i.e., lied about - events in modern history. Not here, baby. Before Night Falls may be the finest anti-revolutionary opera since The Dialogues of the Carmelites (which is about the monsters of 1789 in France). Is it the only one?
Frankly, it's hard to believe that they - they: the opera world, the keepers of the culture - will let Martin get away with this. With this gusano opera. (Gusano means "worm," and is what the Cuban Communists and their apologists abroad have always called any Cuban who opposes the regime.) I have already heard some grumbling: some grumbling about the opera's harsh depiction of Castro's gang.
If the opera makes it to New York, what will they say? Will the gay-rights angle win out, or will the honest portrayal of the revolution be too much to bear? New York, like the opera world at large, is used to such operas as Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar, which is about Federico Garcia Lorca and the Spanish Civil War. As directed by Peter Sellars, it puts Franco's executioners in the uniform of the American military. That's your ticket to success!
Martin has said that Before Night Falls is about beauty and hope, and so it is. An article about his opera described it as an "ode to freedom" - and so it is. It is brave, both in its libretto and in its score (all that melodicism, unsanctioned by the music establishment). The opera is a worthy work of art. It treats a moving story movingly. And, for telling a truth too seldom told, it makes you grateful.
The Leftist smear machine at work
Smears are all they've got
by: Meredith Jessup
This week, we rolled out a couple of features from our July issue of Townhall Magazine: the cover story, which focuses on the "100 Americans the Left Hates Most," and "The Anatomy of a Smear: the Left's Fight to Silence Glenn Beck."
In "Anatomy of a Smear," I took an in-depth look at the Left's systematic, organized smear machine and used the example of the Left's #1 most-hated conservative--radio and Fox News host Glenn Beck--to show exactly how the machine works. It's important to note, as he did yesterday during our radio interview, that despite the July article's singular focus on Glenn in particular, the Left's assault on truth does not stop with him.
To further prove this point, let me give you two examples from just the past 12 hours.
One of the groups working to draw advertising support away from Beck's Fox program is StopBeck, an online organization whose founder immediately accused me of being "deceitful" in my reporting but when asked, couldn't provide a single example of my alleged deception.
After yesterday's radio interview, StopBeck posted this article on the group's website. The article insinuates Townhall has "no interest in being fair and balanced" simply because we are "right-wing" and are owned by Salem Communications, "a media company that focuses on evangelical Christian and conservative political talk radio." It also claimed my article, printed in a "deceptive and notoriously biased" publication, was "riddled with distortions"--again, no examples.
Almost immediately, some of StopBeck's nearly 8,500 followers began tweeting to their favorite "journalist"--Keith Olbermann of MSNBC. Their messages read: "FYI: Conservative Townhall Magazine Flatters @StopBeck Effort In July Cover Story" and included a link--not to my article, but to StopBeck's article about my article.
Their suggestion is both comical and blatantly misleading: Even conservatives think Glenn Beck is a nut-job and want him off the air as much as we do. But they know Olbermann is just the type of "professional" who'd willingly peddle such a ridiculous notion to give it more credence and exposure to others on the Left.
And while we're on the subject of Olbermann... The MSNBC host is trying to pick a fight with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. In a tweet on Friday, Palin responded to liberals' criticism of conservatives' objections to the White House's involvement in establishing the BP escrow account.
"Don't let the lamestream media suck you into 'they're defending BP over Gulf spill victims' bs... This is about the rule of law vs. an unconstitutional power grab," she wrote. She then suggested people read Thomas Sowell's latest column, "Degeneration of Democracy."
In his column, Sowell argues that the Obama administration's policies are "damaging" the "fundamental structure" of America:
Just where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that a president has the authority to extract vast sums of money from a private enterprise and distribute it as he sees fit to whomever he deems worthy of compensation? Nowhere. And yet that is precisely what is happening with a $20 billion fund to be provided by BP to compensate people harmed by their oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. ...
With vastly expanded powers of government available at the discretion of politicians and bureaucrats, private individuals and organizations can be forced into accepting the imposition of powers that were never granted to the government by the Constitution.
Sowell goes on to discuss FDR's policies of the Great Depression, and describes pre-war Germany's laws "for the relief of the German people."
That law gave Hitler dictatorial powers that were used for things going far beyond the relief of the German people-- indeed, powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others.
The point of Sowell's article, then, was to draw parallels between historical facts and the challenges facing us today, and how seemingly innocent policies meant to help can be manipulated into something much more sinister.
So where does Olby fit into all this? Olbermann seized on Palin's suggestion to read Sowell's column and accused the former governor of comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. Palin retorted with a tweet: "Lamestream media: I never compared Obama to Hitler. Quit making things up."
Olbermann poked back at Palin with a number of smug messages, demanding she "disavow" Sowell's column. Palin has yet to respond to Olbermann's absurd assertion and demands, and if I were Olbermann, I wouldn't hold my breath. Palin is too smart to be roped into his lame attempts to rile her.
This example is just one of the latest smear attacks. Instead of assess Sowell's work--filled with historical facts that can't be childishly ignored--Olbermann attacks Palin. Just another diversion away from facts--a typical tactic of the Left's smear machine.
Democrats: Free speech for me, not for thee
In March, the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision struck down campaign finance limits on political expression by individuals working through corporations and unions as a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. A cry ensued among liberal Democrats predicting doom if they and their special interest allies were required to follow the Constitution. Big Labor's bosses promised to spend millions to protect the Democratic majority if it would speedily pass legislation to circumvent the decision (and thus the Constitution), but restore limits on their corporate foes.
The resulting DISCLOSE Act, according to its backers, will ensure transparency in campaign ad funding. Thursday, the House of Representatives approved the bill 219-206, with 36 Democrats and 170 Republicans in opposition to the measure, which was written by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this year, and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who led the Senate Democrats' campaign panel in 2008.
The bill is full of draconian restrictions on individual political speech expressed via corporations, but gives privileged status to the Democrats' union masters. A provision pushed by Pennsylvania Democrat Rep. Bob Brady, for example, allows unions to transfer unlimited funds among affiliated groups to pay for political ads with no disclosure whatever. That makes campaign funding more transparent?
Then there's the ban on advocacy for or against a candidate by any company that received Troubled Asset Relief Program funds. That silences General Motors' white-collar workers, but not the United Auto Workers union, which, oh by the way, got, among other things, $6.5 billion in preferred GM stock, paying a government-guaranteed 9 percent cash dividend. Could the fact the UAW gave more than $2 million to Democrats in 2008 explain why Democratic leaders pushed a proposal that so blatantly favors the union?
Similarly, DISCLOSE curbs political speech for employees of companies receiving more than $7 million in government contracts. Public sector unions that spend millions of recycled tax dollars electing Democrats have no such restrictions. By thus outlawing business funding for or against candidates, DISCLOSE will encourage more funding for corporate lobbyists and marketers targeting government contracts and earmarks.
As usual, DISCLOSE was rammed through the House after being introduced with only a few hours' notice and too little debate allowed. Because Democrats have abandoned doing a federal budget for the year, couldn't they find a little more time to allow Congress and the people it is supposed to represent to read and discuss this measure at greater length? Next we will see if Senate Democrats are as determined to throw out the First Amendment as were most of their House colleagues.
My Twitter.com identity: jonjayray. My Facebook page is also accessible as jonjayray (In full: http://www.facebook.com/jonjayray). For more blog postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, GUN WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, EYE ON BRITAIN and Paralipomena
List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)
The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)