Wednesday, November 29, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Incredible Double Lives

I have always been fascinated by those rare and extraordinary
individuals who excel in two entirely different professions,
one of which is often unknown to the public until after their

I have written about Morris “Moe” Berg, a Princeton graduate,
polymath, and a major league baseball player for more than a
dozen years in the 1920a and1930s, and who then became a key
spy for the OSS (forerunner of the CIA) during World War II.
At some point, I hope to write about Charles Ives, one of  my
favorite (and one of the greatest) American composers. Ives
also was a top executive and a pioneer in the insurance
industry, and is given credit for the invention of estate planning.
Wallace Stevens was one of the nation’s most important poets,
but throughout his writing career was also a top insurance
company figure and actuary.

There are other examples. In this column, I will tell the story of
two more whose lives were perhaps even more improbable.

Hedy Lamarr was one of the most beautiful and famous movie
stars of the 1930s and 1940s. Born Hedwig Kreisler in Vienna in
1913, she was the daughter of two Jewish refugees (her father
from Russia; her mother from Hungary) who settled in the
vibrant Austro-Hungarian capital and met there. Before she
was 18, young Hedy was a theater and film star. She also soon
married a Viennese munitions tycoon who helped arm the
pre-war European nations, including the budding Nazi groups
in several of them. After the 1930s and the Nazi rise to power
in Europe, however, Ms. Kreisler (now Mandl) had to flee
Austria and her husband (who in spite of his usefulness to the
Nazis was partly Jewish and was now shunned by them) to
emigrate to Hollywood where several directors and movie
moguls knew about her from her acting work in Europe.

In her American films she now became Hedy Lamarr, a huge
box office movie star, and remarried several times. She knew
and hung out with most of the most famous literary, music
and film personalities of her era. But the glamorous actress
had a secret double life.

During her years married to the munitions tycoon Mandl,
she had overheard in dinner conversations about top secret
weapons development in submarine warfare technology,
Although not a typical “intellectual,” Ms. Lamarr had some
remarkable scientific skills, and had for years pursued the
hobby of creating inventions. Now in Hollywood, and
understandably upset by reports of terrible casualties
resulting from German U-boat sinkings, she decided to try
to invent a device to counter the Nazi submarines.

At this point, she met one of America’s most avant-garde and
famous composers, George Antheil.

Like Charles Ives, Antheil had a double life. He also liked to
invent things. He had become a prophet of new music with
his notorious Ballet Mechanique in 1926 which, like Igor
Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” premiere in Paris in 1913,
caused a riot. By 1947, he was rated as one of the most
performed U.S. composers (along with Samuel Barber,
George Gershwin and Aaron Copland). Like so many classical
composers of his era, he was drawn to Hollywood to write
music for films and lot of money. There he met Hedy
Lamarr, and was astonished that she, too, spent her spare
time inventing. Lamarr had sought out Antheil, not because
he was a famous composer, but because he was an expert in
a scientific process she needed to complement a discovery
she had made in submarine warfare technology. Antheil was
also upset by Nazi submarine activities, and the two film
figures secretly began collaborating on a device that would
thwart Nazi U-boat activity. By the early 1940a, they had
succeeded, and applied for a patent which they eventually
received. They also offered their invention to the U.S.
military which initially rejected it. Eventually, the military
bought the patent, but it was largely unused during the war.

After the war, it was rediscovered by technicians and became
known as spread spectrum technology. It is now one of the
most important communictions technologies in use today,
critical to the use of cell phones, wi-fi, and so much more.
It all began with Hedy Lamarr’s idea and her collaboration
with George Antheil.

George Antheil died in 1959, but Hedy Lamarr lived until 2000.
While both of them deserve credit for their invention, Antheil
was always up front about Hedy Lamarr’s creating the first
insight which led to it. Ms. Lamarr retired from films, and
her contribution to science was for many years ignored. In her
80s, however, some scientists and engineers, aware of what
she had done, made efforts to give her the recognition she was
due. In 1997, she was given the Pioneer Award from the
Electronics Frontier Foundation, a Nobel Prize equivalent of
honoring inventors, and other major honors soon followed.

For almost half a century, Hedy Lamarr had been mostly
silent abut her remarkable scientific contribution. She was
obviously a complicated and extraordinary personality. She
kept many secrets. Only after her death, did her children,
and her many film friends and fans, discover that she was

[For those who would like to read more about the lives and
collaboration of Hedy Lamarr and George Antheil, I strongly
recommend Hedy’s Folly by Richard Rhodes, a superb book
which was a major reference work for my article.]

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Andy Warhol, the legendary Rusyn-American founder
of Pop Art, once famously said that everyone, in our
current age, gets (or is entitled to) 15 minutes of fame.

It doesn’t quite happen that way, but he was making a
valid point about the sudden and brief quality of much
celebrity in our own time.

I have a corollary to Warhol’s now-legendary prophecy.
It is that almost everyone (meaning lots of ordinary
persons) can and will have an extraordinary experience
at some time in their lives.

We all well know, from tabloids, films, daytime TV
and innumerable glossy magazines, how the “rich and
famous” live. The affluent homes of a great many
middle class Americans today are filled with lavish
furnishings, world-class kitchens, large spaces, fine art,
architectural amenities and numerous other features
unavailable to all but the very rich in the past. But they
are distinct from a category of multi-million dollar
over-sized dwellings with dozens of bedrooms, bathrooms,
swimming pools, tennis courts, assorted luxury
outbuildings, beaches and docks for private yachts.

I live modestly these days in a comfortable apartment.
I have no desire to live in some great house, but part of
this feeling comes from an experience I once had in my
youth while visiting Mexico.

I grew up in a small city, and in a middle class home. In
Erie, Pennsylvania, I spent the first dozen years of my life
in a three-story brick house built at the turn-of-the-century
and originally owned by my grandparents. It had a
coal-burning furnace in the basement that had been
converted to gas after World War II. The basement had a
laundry room and a windowless pickle cellar that was no
longer used. (I turned this room into a dark room.) The
laundry room had a washer and a dryer, as well as a mangle
(an old-fashioned device for pressing clothes). My brother,
a budding scientist, made a small laboratory/workshop for
himself near the furnace, and a no-longer-used coal bin was
used for family storage.

The other primary storage area in this house was the attic
which was very much like countless other attics in America
except that it had a small sleeping room where a live-in
maid stayed during the years before and just after World
War II.

The first floor had a small living room, a dining room,
a den, a pantry, a small powder room, and the kitchen.

The second floor originally had four small bedrooms, a
large bathroom and an enclosed porch. My grandmother,
who survived my grandfather by two decades, had the
porch converted into her own kitchen, and combined two
bedrooms into her separate living quarters.

By the time I was in high school, we had moved to a
comfortable suburban ranch-styled house with a small
attic, large basement, and all its rooms on one floor.

I mention this because these living quarters were very
typical of those of many Americans. I was used to modest
comfort and nice furnishings, but nothing really out of the

After my undergraduate years, I attended graduate school
in the midwest. I had originally planned to go to law school,
but had been convinced by a well-known writer who had
been a guest teacher at one of my English writing classes
to attend the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa.

One of my first Iowa courses, in world literature, was taught
by the Chilean novelist Jose (“Pepe”) Donoso. Donoso had
moved to Iowa City with his wife Maria Pilar that semester
to teach at the Workshop. He had attended Princeton in his
youth before returning to Chile, and then traveling
throughout South America and Europe. He spoke English
flawlessly, and was a master storyteller and a charismatic

At the end of the school year, in May, he invited a few of his
students, including myself, to visit him and Maria Pilar at
their rented villa in Guanajuato, Mexico where he was
working on a new novel novel (it became his masterpiece
“The Obscene Bird of Night”).

As it turned out, only two of us who had been invited showed
up in Mexico. That was the year that Greyhound had a special
deal for traveling by bus --- $99  for 99 days anywhere in the
U.S. you wanted to go. So I decided to circumnavigate the U.S.
with a side trip to Mexico.

I arrived in Guanajuato (which translated means “City of
Frogs”) in June, and was warmly welcomed by the
Donosos at their lovely villa in Marfil, an elegant suburb of
the old Mexican colonial capital that was designed by an
expatriate Italian architect Giorgio Belloli. Belloli was
developing in Marfil a group of new villas over the ruins
of a 16th century Spanish hacienda. These villas, each
different, were quite magnificent with large rooms, superb
period furnishings, modern kitchens and bathrooms, and
fabulous gardens each with a swimming pool, hibiscus, palm
trees and other tropical flora.

The villa the Donosos had leased, they told me, was then
owned by the curator of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Other residents included Dirk Hubers, the famed Dutch
potter and his young son, the unmarried heiress of a
Canadian department store chain, a Mexican physician and
his wife, the Hollywood novelist/screenwriter Harry Brown
and his wife, and in the most spectacular villa of them all,
architect Giorgio Belloli and his retinue. For a  small U.S.
city kid like me, this was heady company and high living.
Maria Pilar was a fine cook, and her meals were splendid.
She taught me how to make her dazzling recipe for bananas
flambe, and both Dososos told me about their fascinating
childhoods and glamorous friends all over the world.

When not touring the environs of Guanajuato with Donoso, I
regularly visited the other residents in their villas. The heiress
invited me every Tuesday for afternoon tea and conversation
about art and poetry. Harry Brown, it turned out, had attended
Harvard just before World War II, and then gone to England
where he served in the army and became a protege of T.S.
Eliot. On returning to the U.S. after the war, he wrote the
novel “Island in the Sun” which became a best-seller, and
then he moved to Hollywood where he wrote novels and
screenplays, including “Oceans Eleven” for his pals Frank
Sinatra and the “Ratpack.” Now he lived in Marfil, and
drank a case of Carta Blanca every day in his large office
with bookshelves containing just about every contemporary
novel, play and book of poems. The first time I was there,
he suggested I browse through this library, and I soon
discovered that nearly every book, all first editions (and
including virtually every major writer of the past 30
years in the U.S. and Europe), contained inside a tyoed or
handwritten letter from the author to Harry!  (I am told that
after he died, this incredible library was thrown away!)
Dirk Hubers’ son Maarten was my age, so we spent time
together hanging out and visiting the neighboring towns.

One week, I went to Mexico City, armed with letters of
introduction from Donoso to some of the leading Mexican
writers. One of them was the legendary (and now deceased)
Juan Rulfo with whom I spent an incandescent  and
unforgettable evening in a bar near his apartment.

But the best experience was yet to come.

On returning from Mexico City, it became apparent that my
visit with the Donosos had gone on too long. I was young,
inexperienced, and having such a great time, that I did not
realize that I was overstaying my welcome. Finally, Pepe
took me aside, and told me directly it was time to resume my

The problem was that I was having such a good time that
I didn’t want to leave Guanajuato. Pepe then promised to
help me find a place to rent, but there were not any low rent
places available at that time in the summer. Perhaps in
desperation to get me out of his villa, Donoso went to one
of his local friends and finally found a place for me.

Actually, it wasn’t just any friend or any “place.” It was
a palace of the fabled Conde de Rul, the 18th century
Spanish nobleman (when Guanajuato was the national
capital), and, as well, one of the principal owners of the
silver and gold mines of Valenciana (a mountain located
next to the city). These mines for many decades produced
not only gold, but more than half the world’s entire
production of silver. For a time (this was before Bill Gates),
the Conde de Rul was one of richest men in the world. He
built two palatial houses in Guanajuato. One was in the city
(and now is a national tourist site that Pope Benedict recently
visited), and the other was on top of the mountain Valenciana
near the silver mines, and across the street from a spectacular
churrigueresco Baroque church (Iglesia San Cayetano) which
he also built. Tourists could not visit this house, which had
remained in private hands. In fact, the owner was Donoso’s
friend (and I believe, a descendant of the Conde de Rul) who
lived in the city, and had become one of Mexico’s greatest
collectors of antiques, He used the house/palace at
Valenciana, with its huge living room, formal dining room,
many bedrooms, mountainside gardens and terraces as one
repository for his great collection of rare paintings, furniture,
one of the finest private collections of early Mexican pottery,
and early European harpsichords.

This mansion came thus fully furnished, with a full-time
maid, cook and gardener. It was like living in a royal palace
with a royal retinue. The cook, a young and cheerful woman
of Aztec heritage, prepared three meals a day for me
with recipes from her great Aztec culinary legacy. Every
morning, seated at a table under an intense sun on a 30-foot
terrace, I was served a delicious breakfast of eggs, filet
mignon or Spanish ham, fresh-squeezed juice, aromatic
fresh tropical fruit, home-made pastries and imported tea.
At several thousand feet, my terrace/balcony overlooked the
whole terrain surrounding Guanajuato, with the mines to my
right. After breakfast, I would catch the hourly bus to the
city, and go to the market to buy the meat and produce
specified by the cook for the day’s later meals. (Prices were
ridiculously low. Even the filet mignon was about sixty
cents a pound. Bacardi Rum was less than a dollar a gallon.
Fresh fruits and vegetables went for pennies.)

The palace itself was built around a large courtyard filled
with banana trees and an ancient well. It had been
constructed in the 18th century on the side of the top of the
mountain. An all-glass shower room faced out into the
valley below. Below the terraces were cultivated gardens.
A small enclosed alley alongside the palace led to a tiny
grotto with fountains of sculpted lions, water pouring
from their mouths over elegant white lilies planted between
the old bricks underneath.

Each bedroom had an antique bed, some with canopies.
Tables, chairs, decorations and chests were all rare antiques.
I slept in a different bedroom every few days. On the walls
was a museum of old paintings.

Aside from the maid, the cook and the gardener, I thought
I was the only person in this palace, but I was wrong.

One late morning, back from the market in Guanajuato,
I returned to my bedroom to discover a tall man, with
a black patch over one eye, and wearing a cape, instructing
the gardener how to dismantle my bed.

I inquired in Spanish who he was,  and he replied,
“No, young man, the question is what are doing here!” It
turned out that my “visitor” was actually Manuel Parra,
one of Mexico’s greatest architects and a friend of the
owner of the villa (Donoso’s friend, and my landlord).

What I had not noticed when I moved into this sprawling
house was another building built adjoined to it, but hidden
from the street. This building was the working studio of
Sr. Parra, and it contained an elegant living room, his
large workroom, a bedroom, a kitchen and a terrace of
its own.

He invited me to dinner at his studio that evening, and
I learned that he had just arrived from his other villa in
Acapulco where he had for a week been entertaining
Jacqueline Kennedy and her two young children Caroline
and John Jr.  Sr. Parra also had a house in Mexico City, and
spent much of his winters in Monte Carlo and on the “jet
set” circuit.

My own huge living room did have a record player, but
the only record I could find was Mendelssohn’s “A
Midsummer’s Night’s Dream
” which I played frequently
at night while I tried to write poems in the room only
lit by candles in wrought iron candlesticks made from old
branding irons. A large oil painting dominated the living
room. It was, I later found out, by the Spanish master
Herrera. My landlord/collector had obtained it, I was told,
while shopping for antique furniture in the rural Mexican
countryside. After purchasing an antique chair, the seller
had given him a piece of old canvas to wrap it in, but when
he removed the canvas back at the palace, he discovered it
was a priceless Herrera!

I did meet some local students at the University of
Guanajuato, and occasionally invited them to the
palace for dinner. The first week I had  some daily
visitors at my door, all tourists from the hourly bus
that brought them from the city to see the mines and the
cathedral, and hoping to see “my” palace. The maid
sternly advised me not to admit anyone.

For about two months I lived in this splendor, not quite
fully believing what was happening, At the end of
August, I had to reluctantly return to the U.S. and the
rest of my trancontinental trip.

I have some slides  I took of the palace, but it is only
when I hear the Mendelssohn piece, that my Mexican
midsummer dream truly returns from my memory.

The palace, a friend who recently visited there tells me,
has now become partly a restaurant. That’s hard to imagine,
but apparently it’s so.  [Update; the restaurant has closed.]

Money could not buy that long ago summer’s
experience at any price today, nor could any residence,
however large and lavish, exceed those magic and halcyon
days and nights in the City of Frogs when I unexpectedly
was a mere young gringo poet who became transformed
briefly into a prince.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: As The World Turns --- Surprise!

I want to suggest to my readers that events in the world
often are not what they first seem. Lately, there are many
examples which demonstrate this.

I will begin with the so-called “Arab Spring” which, despite
many predictions in Europe and the U.S., turned out to be a
hiccup and not lasting change. Now, an “impossible” (if
unofficial) alliance between Israel and Saudi Arabia (and
other Arab states threatened by Iran) is forming.

When Emmanual Macron was elected president of France by
a landslide with a last-minute composed new political party,
it looked like easy sailing for the new French government.
But this  movement has already run aground. at least for the
time being. Macron’s election and Angela Merkel’s apparent
victory in the German elections seemed to be the end of the
far right and anti-immigrant movements in Europe, but
Merkel has stumbled in creating her coalition, and might
have to call a new election. The anti-immigration mood in
Europe now seems stronger than ever.

All kinds of disaster scenarios accompanied Donald Trump’s
upset win of the U.S. presidency in 2016, but here we are a
year later, and the new administration is transforming both
domestic and foreign policy. The Republican house and senate
were expected to come through on campaign promises, but
have been stalemated, especially in the senate, while it is the
president who is making most of the change --- not what was
initially predicted.

Dictator Mugabe looked invincible in Zimbabwe, but he has
quietly been overthrown. The catastrophic dictatorship in
Venezuela was supposed collapse imminently a year ago, but
is still in power. With charismatic new leaders, the largest
South American nation of Brazil was supposed to turn the
corner to new prosperity, but it has become overwhelmed by
old corruption and new lack of leadership.

In Asia, India was long ago supposed to be stuck in its old
socialist and religious ways, but continues to emerge with a
capitalist and high tech economy. Chine was supposedly
caught up in a real estate, banking and investment “bubble.”
But that has yet to burst as a new and younger generation of
strong leaders (albeit not committed to democracy) has taken

It seems wherever you go in the world that new developments
often do not lead to predictable consequences. Even the
“surprise” outcomes mentioned above could change in quick

The world has not ever seemed a more provisional place.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Some Weekend Items

An explosion of allegations about well-known Hollywood,
media and political figures is currently pushing other (and
more immediate) news aside in newspapers, magazines and
the internet. Allegations against GOP U.S. senate nominee
Roy Moore have disrupted the special election in Alabama on
December 12. Moore had been initially favored to win in this
very  conservative state, but latest polls have his Democratic
opponent pulling increasingly ahead. National Republicans
have denounced Moore, including the GOP senate leadership
which could lead a vote to expel him if he wins the race.
Other options for blocking his election would need the
support of the state’s new governor, but she has just declared
the special election will go as planned, and that she will vote
for Moore. Increasingly isolated from his own party, Moore
denies the charges, and vows to stay in the race.

The allegations uproar has hit Minnesota where incumbent
junior Senator Al Franken has been charged with improper
behavior. A photograph shows the senator apparently doing
this. A newswoman has asserted other misbehavior. Calls for
his resignation have come from several sources, some in his
own party and in previously supportive liberal media. Franken
has admitted that he acted improperly and apologized, but the
general furor over improper behavior --- and his own, and his
party’s condemnation of accused Republican officials that has
been seen as hypocrisy --- ensures that the controversy and
the political damage to him will not go away soon. Franken’s
defense is further weakened by various supposedly
humorous sketches  and statements made when he was a
career comedian prior to his election. The state also now has
additional scandals, one involving a  Democratic legislator,
and another involving a Republican. This normally staid
midwestern state is now awash, as is the nation, in
daily-revealed scandals.

A developing and potentially region-changing series of events
is occurring in the critical mideastern kingdom of Saudi
Arabia where its new crown prince has been consolidating
power within the Saudi royal family. Prominent members of
this large and all-powerful family and their allies have been
arrested or detained. Rumors that the Saudi king will abdicate
soon abound. Behind the move is believed to be the decision 
to modernize the ancient land and its political structures in
response to extraordinary volatility and popular unrest not
only within the kingdom, but in neighboring Arab states.

Finally responding to criticism from his own party, including
President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
has decided to ignore two “blue slip” vetoes of federal
judicial nominees by President Trump which had been held
up for six months. One of those senators whose opposition is
being bypassed is Minnesota junior Senator Al Franken who
is currently embroiled in a controversy of his own (see story
above). Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice David
Stras, one of the two nominees, will now receive a senate
hearing on November 29. Justice Stras is a widely-respected
jurist strongly supported by figures in both parties, and would
be expected to be confirmed soon after that. The logjam over
President Trump’s judicial and other appointments will
probably continue to some degree, but the senate leadership’s
decision to discontinue allowing single senators to block a
nomination should relieve some of the pressure for the time

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Moon Over Alabama?

Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill collaborated on some of
the greatest musical theater classics of the mid-twentieth
century, including the immortal Threepenny Opera. They
were politically too radical for the incoming German Nazi
regime in 1933, and had to flee to avoid the Holocaust.
Weill settled in Hollywood and New York; Brecht, an avowed
communist settled in East Germany after World War II.
Both died at a relatively young age.

No matter what your politics, Weill’s music rightfully endures
long after his death. Brecht was an artist, and became something
of a maverick in the communist world, especially in East
Germany. until his death.

One of the many great songs they wrote together (others were,
of course, Mack The Knife; and September Song) was
Alabama Song (sometimes called Moon Over Alabama) which
includes the line:

Oh moon over Alabama, we now must say goodbye.

Many great singers from Nina Simone to The Doors have
recorded this song.

Why do I mention all of this?

I do so because there is now a Moore over Alabama, i.e.,
Roy Moore who is running for the U.S. senate in a December
special election. He has twice been removed from high office,
and he has long held very controversial views. He won the
Republican primary against a sitting (but recently appointed)
senator, and now faces a moderate Democrat in the general
special election.

The GOP establishment opposes him, and now calls for him to
resign from the election following numerous new allegations
about his personal life. Denying the allegations, Mr. Moore
has claimed a last-minute smear campaign against him, but
he has become so "radioactive" for his social policy views
and his diatribes against his own party that now even some
of his most high profile supporters are abandoning him.

To their credit, most in the national and local Republican
party have denounced his candidacy. It is very, very difficult
for any fair-minded person to defend him, recent allegations

It is time for Alabama to say goodbye to his candidacy.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 10, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Can The GOP Lose The U.S. House In 2018?

Many pundits are currently speculating about the political
control of the U.S. house in January, 2019 (following the 2018
national mid-term elections). Conventional wisdom now
says that it is quite possible that the Democrats could retake
control of this “people’s body” of the Congress.

Previous conventional wisdom was that Republicans had a
“lock” on control until at least 2023 when a the first U.S. house
after reapportionment takes office. That opinion was based on
the GOP voter advantage in currently-drawn districts.

Fueling the new guesswork is the notable number of retiring
conservative incumbents --- although most of those retiring
represent safe districts for their party. There likely will be
liberal gains in the next U.S. house --- although there are a few
good prospects for GOP gains, e.g. in Minnesota’s CD-1 where
the liberal incumbent is retiring to run for governor.

So which conventional wisdom is more likely to come true?

First, it must be said, any outcome is possible. Despite their
current large majority (241 to 194), the party in power often
loses many seats in the first mid-term election after they win
the presidency. On the other hand, as I recently pointed out,
the 2017 off-year elections revealed no dispositive evidence that
the Democratic victories in two “blue” states, and in the mostly
“blue” urban areas were an omen for next year. Michael Barone
further points out that the watershed “upset”election of 2016
is probably the “new normal.”

If the current debate and formulation of a new tax policy does
not result in a new tax code, as was promised by Republicans
in 2016, and combined with a failure to repeal and replace
Obamacare, also a major GOP promise, I think much of the
conservative congressional district advantage is severely
weakened. Prospects for Democrats to regain control would
then be significantly advanced.

Nonetheless, the speculation is rather premature. President
Donald Trump’s disruption of the Obama policy legacy and,
indeed, of the whole Washington, DC political culture, has
only begun. If it continues, and it is seen as an improvement,
a contrarian outcome in 2018 is possible. If his leadership
becomes mired in more stalemate in the Congress, or Mr.
Trump himself falters, next year would be a good one for the
opposition party.

More important now, I think, than any speculation about who
wins or loses in 2018 is keeping an eye on the quality of
recruitments by the two major parties for competitive seats,
the usable money they are raising (the net amounts after they
pay their fundraising consultants), and the voter ID/GOTV
strategies they are employing in the close contests. Also
important will be the opposition approach to Donald Trump.
The current strategy, as I and others have pointed out, is not
working beyond the liberal base. A refusal to take a new
strategic course may not make much headway in the “new

When we know who is running against whom, what the
Congress accomplishes in the coming weeks, and the state
of the economy in the spring and summer of 2018, there
will be time enough for making all the political guessing
we can muster.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


There has been unrelenting disheartening news for liberals,
Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans since last year’s
general elections, so it should come as no surprise that the
results of the off-year 2017 elections would provide some
over-reactions on both sides --- the Republicans before the
election, and the Democrats (and their establishment media
pals) afterwards.

To both sides, I caution: Not so fast!

Conservatives not only won an upset presidential election
in 2016, but have also won most of the special elections since
then. The political map, for the time being, has been
transformed, but in advance of the 2017 municipal elections
and especially in the Virginia statewide elections, some
Republicans got ahead of themselves and assumed they were
stronger politically than they actually were.

The establishment media is now indulging, as well, in an orgy
of overstated liberal comeback and positive omens for 2018.

Democrats have every reason to be pleased by their wins in
November, 2017, but they did not win any upsets. New Jersey
and Virginia are solid “blue” states, both won by Hillary
Clinton in 2016, and with Democrats holding most major
statewide offices. Liberals won most of the urban races, but
this is their political stronghold.

In Utah, conservative, pro-Trump Jim Curtis won another
special congressional election replacing a conservative
incumbent who had retired. He won by the usual landslide
in that district. In Erie, PA, with its primarily Catholic, blue
collar, mainly Democratic-registered voters, Republican
challengers for mayor and country executive came close to
to winning upsets, despite the large Democratic registration
advantage in the city and county --- but Donald Trump
carried Erie County in 2016 when the state went for the

Some in the media are trying peddle the notion that the
2017 elections were a big defeat for Donald Trump. There
is, however, no real evidence of this. Most of the venues, as
I have pointed out, were anti-Trump to begin with, In the
pro-Trump areas, he continues to be strong as before.

In other words, nothing is really changed. There are still a lot
of Democrats, especially in the urban centers and on the two
coasts. They still do not like Donald Trump. They might be
frustrated, but they can still be turned out, as was just
demonstrated in Virginia, even for a lackluster candidate.
Former working class Democratic voters who voted for Mr.
Trump still like him, and continue to vote for the GOP.

One more note: Off-year elections often do not predict trends
in following mid-term and presidential elections.

Victories are victories. Democrats should be pleased by most of
the 2017 results, but should be careful about misinterpreting
WHY they won those races. They might make a big mistake if
they see their wins as proof that the old liberal tactics are still
valid, including “identity” and “redistributionist” politics.

On the other hand, most state Republican parties have ignored
developing their constituencies in large and medium-sized
cities, and should not presume they can do well there without
the hard political work and investment necessary. Nor should
conservatives and the GOP presume it will do well in 2018
and 2020 if it does not keep its promises made to voters in

I think the most important results of 2017 are some of the many
new political faces, men and women, who ran for office for the
first time. Not all of them won this time, but as we know so well
from history, some of our most  important political leaders
did not win on their first try.

Are there new Abe Lincolns (lost his first race) on the horizon?
Probably yes, but they will come later.

For now, it’s on to 2018. Let the political games begin.

Copyright (C) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reerved.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: When Are Words Important?

[This first appeared in Intellectual Takeout --- see link at right]

‘Tis well said again;
and it is a kind of good deed to say well;
and yet words are not deeds.

               William Shakespeare in King Henry VIII

As someone who has spent virtually his whole life in the
labor of words, spoken and written, prose and poetry
and political commentary, I could hardly assert that what
a person says and writes is not important. Language is
something all of us share and participate in, and there is
no doubt that speaking well and writing well begins as a
gift, and when nurtured and developed, is something to be
grateful for and admired.

But words alone do not make most machines work properly,
nor do they fix them. We do not eat them. they do not make
our bodies grow. Words have an important part in every
human life, but they do not make decisions, and act on
them. Self government in democratic republics such as
ours employ words, but words are not what happens. Words
have a place, but they are not the  place themselves.

I say all of that as an author and as a person whose working
tools are words. I say this as  someone who writes a great
deal about politics and government.

We happen to live at a moment in our nation when our
president’s best qualities are not what he says, particularly
“off the cuff,” responding to criticism, or in his inimitable
signature “tweets” in the social media. To many, especially
his opponents, his language is unfit for a president, provokes
disdain and embarrassment, and arouses dislike. To his
supporters, his words and comments are inspiring as
rebuking the political establishment and the fashion of
“political correctness,” but few, including those who support
him, would assess his words as eloquent or polished or

Curiously, most of his prepared speeches, when faithful to
their text, are quite good. That is the result of a talented
team of speechwriters. Except for Abraham Lincoln, most
presidents have had speechwriters, and in the cases of
Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan,
they are remembered well for their prepared speeches ---
although each of them were graceful and able speakers on
their own.

President Trump is not a naturally graceful or eloquent
public speaker. But since he operates now in politics, that
does not mean he is not often an “effective” speaker.
The 2016 Republican presidential debates  were a case in
point. Mr. Trump won most of those debates. His support
grew after each of them. The judges of a formal debate
would not have graded him well --- and certainly not the
winner. But the real judges of those debates were the
Republican voters, and they determined that he spoke best
about the issues which were on their minds.

In the general election, this phenomenon continued as the
Democratic nominee uttered platitudes and other
predictable comments while Mr. Trump continued to
disrupt conventional wisdom and “safe” conversation.

Elected president, Mr. Trump has continued to speak in
much the same manner that he did during the campaign.
He, as the saying goes,  drives most Democrats “crazy” ---
as he does some Republicans. The most common criticism
is that “he does not speak like a president should.”

In fact, it must be said that Donald Trump does not speak
most of the time like any president of either party before
him did.

As the universally astute and timelessly canny Mr.
Shakespeare wrote in the quote above, however, words are
not to be mistaken for deeds. This is especially important
to note when discussing the work of government and public
policy. Politicians are frequently notorious for how they employ
words --- words that sound good and reassuring and even
eloquent, but all too often lead to no action, no decisions, and
no change.

In that regard, President Trump seems almost prodigious in
his accomplishments so far, especially in reversing, undoing
and changing the policies and actions of his predecessor
Barack Obama. Mr. Trump has, in a very short time, disrupted
not only the status quo of the previous liberal administration,
but also not a little quantity of what previous Republican and
Democratic administrations did.

My admonition to readers to pay more attention to Donald
Trump’s actions than his words is not meant to change anyone’s
ideology, or to make anyone agree with him. It is, however,
intended to remind all --- friend of Donald Trump, his foes, and
those who have not yet made up their minds about him --- that
beneath the flurries of words, some very serious political
actions and transformations are taking place.

Mr. Trump’s unprecedented upset of the large field of his own
party’s candidates, and then his defeat of Hillary Clinton was
not some inexplicable accident. Nor was Mr, Trump’s strategy
that of some brilliant advisors. Donald Trump made most of it
happen himself,, often against the advice of his own staff and

This does not mean that Donald Trump will be a successful
president, nor that he will be re-elected in 2020. He has only begun
to govern in a volatile domestic economy and a global period of
uncertainty. His disruption of U.S. political establishments
might fall short or fail outright. His and his party’s policy
promises might remain stalemated.

It does mean, however, that his words, tweets, and hypersensitive
need to hit back at his critics, are not the determining factors in
his conduct of the presidency. Failure to understand this, in my
opinion, only fuels his continued domination of the political
marketplace, and his hold on the key voters who want something
to get done now in Washington, DC.

Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.