Thursday, November 26, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Brushes With History

I feel a certain sympathy for the younger generations these
days --- restrained to staying so much at home, limited
mostly to virtual studies, not being able to travel, and
generally forced to sublimate so much natural exuberance
that arises only in the years of one’s youth.

I was fortunate in my youthful years. I had a loving and
middle class family, a good education, and was able to travel
quite a bit. I had many interests at an early age, including
reading literature and history, watching baseball and playing
tennis, investing in the stock and commodity markets,
following national politics, classical music, and working in
a paying job in the summer --- all this before going to college.
I also had an active social life and, after junior high school,
lots of friends and activities. All of it combined to bring me
out of the shyness and uncertainty I had felt in childhood.

Everyone has a life story. Mine has been filled from the
beginning with fascinating characters, and not a few brushes
with history in which I have only been a sightseer, albeit one
who could take notes and later tell some interesting stories.

I am going to tell one now. It happened 53 years ago in Paris.

First, some background.  I had graduated from college two
years before, and had completed one year of graduate school.
I then took a year off for study and travel abroad, first at the
University of Madrid, then Barcelona, and finally an intensive
French learning course associated with the Sorbonne in Paris.
My story occurred during the latter.

I mentioned earlier my early involvement with the stock
market. I started to invest when I was in junior high school.
I had no money to speak of, but  I bought a few shares here and
there, and eventually my father, a physician with no time or
interest in the stock market, let me invest for his account. (By
the time I finished college, I had paid its cost many times over.)
Through summer jobs, I had eventually some money of my
own, and I tried my hand at some of the more technical
investments of put and call options and commodity contracts
which had the advantage of smaller dollar investing.
In college, I continued my modest stock speculations until,
following a tip from my broker, I bought a call on a mining
stock which months later hit pay dirt, and my $200 call became
worth thousands. When I graduated, I had enough saved for a
summer trip to Europe during which I learned to manage my
travel finances through the foreign offices of my stock broker
firm in the large European cities I visited.

Like most U.S. tourists abroad I initially used traveler’s checks
to exchange for foreign currencies, butI found out that I could
get a much better rate by going to my broker’s office in Madrid,
London, Paris, Berlin or Rome, get a check in dollars from them
and cash it for pesetas, pounds, francs, marks or lira at a terrific
rate of exchange at their local bank. In those days,, there was
no euro, and exchange rates varied wildly, especially if you
made a small purchase in dollars. It’s not that much savings if
your trip is short, but when, two years later, I lived for a time
in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and London, it made a bigger

But money was no the only reason for going to a broker’s office.
It was obviously also a way to keep an eye on my stocks back
in the U.S. via their teletype which also provided in-depth news
accounts in English in case there was a big international story.
This was before cable TV and the internet. A phone call to the
U.S. then cost an arm and a leg. All one had was the limited
daily coverage provided by the Internationsl Herald Tribune
which was not always available or was sold out.

As it turned out, I was living and studying in Paris that summer
of 1967 when the Six Day War broke out in the Middle
East, and for the first few days, no one in Paris seemed to know
how it was going. I immediately went to my stock broker’s
office to read about what was going on in a language I could

My broker in Paris was an American who lived in Versailles
with his wife. He was the grandson of the founder of a
well-known pre-World War I motor car company, and was
very gracious to me. I  think he thought I was the heir to
some fabulous fortune in the U.S. due to my Ivy League
background and  my knowledge of the stock and commodity
markets because he let me hang out all day, and even
invited me to his home in Versailles for a lovely dinner party
followed by a 9:00 p.m art auction nearby --- an auction that
included some very famous painters (Brueghel, DeChirico,
Leger, Miro, et al)

At the small dinner party were other brokers and their wives.
As was the custom in those days, the European offices of
U.S. brokerages often hired persons with royal or noble
titles to impress their clients. This office had its share, and
at the dinner party I met my broker’s colleague who was a
member of the French former royal Bourbon family (not
recognized in the current non-monarchial Republic of
France) over canapes and very good wine. My host then
sat me next to the office managing broker, an elegant older
gentleman named Czernin. I had once written a term paper
in college on the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian
empire, so (to make conversation) I asked Mr. Czernin if he
was related to the Austro-Hungarian WW I foreign minister
who helped negotiate the notorious Treaty of Brest-Litivsk
with Leon Trotsky in 1918.

That a tourist kid from America would ask this question
aurprised him.

“That was my father,” he said. “Come to my office
tomorrow, and I’ll tell you some stories.”

It turned out that Mr. Czernin was, in fact, the current Count
Czernin. His father, Count Ottokar Czernin von und zu
Chudenitz, was  scion of one of Europe’s most noble families
that went back in Czech history more than 500 years (a great
grandfather had once commissioned Mozart to write some
music while he lived at the ancestral Czernin palace and
estate near Prague). After Emperor Franz Joseph died in
1916, his successor Emperor Charles I named Czernin as his
foreign minister, a post held for the remainder of WW I.

His son had stories to tell. As a boy before the Great War, he
spent his summers on the family estate in Czechoslovakia
where a steady stream of  Europe’s royalty, politicians and
industrialists came to see his father and hunt.

He remembered particularly meeting one of his father’s
closest friends, and a frequent guest, whose name was
Franz Ferdinand. He was an archduke, and also incidentally
the heir to his great uncle Franz Joseph’ throne in Vienna.

Yes, he was the same Archduke Franz Ferdinand who was
assassinated a few years later when his chauffeur made a
wrong turn in a crowded Sarajevo street, and changed
modern history so much that we are still living with its
consequences more than 100 years later. That Archduke
Franz Ferdinand.

There were lots of stories about Europe before and between
the world wars. (I wish now I had a tape recorder.) Needless
to say, Count Czernin had my rapt attention. Two days later,
while the Israeli air force was destroying the combined Arab
forces against them in the air and on land, he greeted me
when I came to his office with “I have something to show you.”

When we sat down, he brought out a big leather portfolio
which contained a single item --- a very large photograph of
the attendees at the conference which produced the Treaty of
Brest-Litovsk at which  Russia, one of the main Allied Powers
(France, Great Britain, United States, Italy, etc.) opposing the
Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary,Turkey, etc.),
ended its military effort in the war, and agreed reluctantly to
the humiliating terms imposed primarily by Germany. It
was a brilliant maneuver, freeing up a million Central Power
troops from the Eastern Front and enabled them to be
transferred to the Western Front where their arrival might
enable them to win the war.  But it was too late. Lenin and
Trotsky had taken power in Russia following the ousting of
the tsar in 1917, but were fighting a counter-revolution, and
desperately needed to end the now very unpopular and costly
effort against the Central Powers.  Lenin had delayed signing
the treaty, hoping that Germany, facing widespread food
shortages, would collapse. Finally, he sent War Minister
Trotsky himself to Brest-Litovsk to sign in early 1918.
Months later, Germany did collapse, and the treaty was
annulled by the Armistice in November. The only beneficiary
of Brest-Litovsk ironically was the regime of Lenin and
Trotsky which had gained vital time and resources      
without having to pay the humiliating terms after all.

Count Czernin was unhappy with the final treaty because
the heavy-handed Germans insisted on some terms
unfavorable to their Austro-Hungarian allies. But when he
warned Emperor Charles about it, he was rebuffed and
finally he was replaced. Just another human mistake in a
war of so many tragic and unspeakable errors!

In any event, I was looking at a photograph of the various
Central Powers dignitaries gathered at Brest-Litovsk,
including princes, counts, prime ministers, foreign
ministers, diplomats and generals --- most of them
forgotten today, but then the elites of a world about to
crash to its end. It was obviously an original  --- I had seen
photos like it in history books --- because every person
in the photo had signed their name in ink below their face.
A priceless memento!

This early brush with history was a foretaste of my life
as a  journalist writing about and getting to know the
political figures of today.. They hold no royal or noble
inherited titles (although political family dynasties are not
unknown). Some are outstanding, but on the whole they
seem no less prone to the delusions, presumptions and
misunderstandings of their predecessors.

Copyright (c)  2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 21, 2020


In the midst of the aftermath of the presidential election and
the ongoing pandemic, I was offered some culinary relief by
two generous friends who invited me to join them at the annual
Hunters Dinner at a prominent local restaurant. The meats,
fowl, fish, vegetable and fruit dishes were all unusual, and it
promised to be an adventure.

There used to be restaurants in several large cities which offered
exotic game dishes on their menus. I remember Cafe Bohemia
in Chicago near Union Station which routinely had lion, tiger,
water buffalo, giraffe and other wild “delicacies” on their menu.

But you only got one or two dishes a a time at these restaurants.
At the local dinner, everyone received all the dishes, including
ostrich, pheasant, python, caviar, boar, camel, partridge, wolffish
and venison, each course accompanied by a different special
beer provided by a local brewery.

Carefully socially distanced, with all staff wearing masks at all
times, the crowd was smaller, I was told, than usual, but  the
precautions did not diminish conviviality and hearty appetites.

Instead of an appetizer buffet, the eight selections were served
to each diner on a large plate.  Five courses followed, generously
portioned, climaxing with a large and delicious venison osso
. The chef very ably sauced each dish. The grits that
accompanied the python, for example, were outstanding. It was
an evening of unusual flavors and textures. Even the fruits and
vegetables served at the dinner are very rarely found on menus.
The specialty beers were well-paired with each course.

There was a lot of very good food and good drink, and by the
meal’s conclusion one didn’t much care who had been elected

Alas, this and all the other excellent restaurants have been
closed for indoor dining for at least a month by the state
governor --- so the memory of this special meal will need
to last a while.

Check out the menu below.




Coffee-crusted ostrich with chimichurri
Rosemary pheasant pate
Burmese python and grits
Smoked trout mousse with osetra caviar
Bourbon boar BLT bite
Camel slider with cumin
Lobster and wild shrimp seafood sausage
Lemon garlic monkfish canape

Partridge confit with wild huckleberry coulis
Winter Ale


Chayote bisque with creme fraiche and goldenberries
Keller Pils


Seaweed salad with ginger teriyaki wolffish
Slugfest Juicy IPA


Chipotle venison osso buco


Cherinoya sorbet with puree of passion fruit and prickly pear
Macademia tuile
Triumphant Session IPA


Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: A December Surprise?

The year 2020 has certainly been a year of many surprises.
Every year has some, but this one has had more than most.

Election years usually supply a few, but a pandemic arises only

With the pandemic persisting, and in some places resurging,
votes still being counted and recounted, international
realignments taking place globally, and certain medical
breakthroughs being announced almost daily. relief from the
unexpected might seem to be too much to ask for.

Since surprises are by their nature unpredictable, what they
might be cannot be described, nor could we know in advance
whether we will welcome them or not, but 2020 has been a
maverick all year long --- and it is not that difficult to imagine
it has a coda yet to play as it concludes its astonishing and
idiosyncratic performance.

Perhaps not. But the year is not quite over.


Thursday, November 12, 2020


The votes are still being counted, and some races have not
been decided, but a clear picture of the 2020 election is
already visible.

The polls were mostly wrong, especially the establishment
media polls. The establishment media itself was egregiously
biased, including Fox News which abandoned “fair and
balanced” coverage to become predictably anti-Trump..
Voters in minority groups which were traditionally part of
the Democratic base shifted noticeably to support
Republican candidates, as the GOP made notable gains in
U.S. house seats while holding on to most of their vulnerable
U.S. senate seats (with two facing run-offs in January).  This
occurred despite predictions from most establishment
pollsters and pundits that Democrats were likely to make
“sweeping” gains in both houses of Congress.The GOP also
made a net gain of one state governorship and picked up
control of several state legislative bodies. Joe Biden, the
most moderate Democratic candidate in the primaries,
was nominated, and if his lead in the electoral college holds
after post-election scrutiny, he would be elected president.
Both major political parities were put on notice that their
extreme factions were unacceptable to most voters.

It was overall a victory for the political center, Each party
had successes and failures. Each party has “squeaky wheels”
advocating policies the voters will reject in 2022 and 2024.
Party leaders and candidates should beware of mistaking
noise for substance.

As for The Prairie Editor, his constant themes throughout
the long campaign were that the polls were wrong, the
establishment media were biased, traditional minority
voters were beginning to shift away from one party to
another, Republicans would do better than the polls and
many pundits said they would in U.S. house and senate
races, and the presidential race was likely a toss-up and
too close to call.

I hope my readers will permit me a victory lap.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman, All rights reserved.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: No Decision Quite Yet In Presidental Race

Although Joe Biden currently leads in enough states to
win the presidency in the electoral college, there are
slated or pending recounts and investigations of alleged
voter fraud in enough of those states to assess the
presidential race as not yet decided. 

Some major print and broadcast media have now “called”
the race, but almost all of them were biased in their
coverage of the long campaign, published significantly
incorrect polls about it, and none of them have any
authority whatsoever to “decide” who has won or lost.
Major non-partisan media, it should be noted, such as
Real Clear Politics have not “called” the race.

Any election has up to five processes: voting, counting the
votes, possible recounting the votes, possible adjudication
of voting disputes, and certification of a winner. A
presidential election has an additional process: election by
certified electors.

At this point, there are still votes being counted, and enough
races are sufficiently close for recounts and adjudication
to render the contest undecided.

After the election processes are concluded, Mr. Biden might
indeed be properly declared the president-elect. And if he
is, he would deserve good wishes for success in office in the
difficult time ahead.

If allegations (so far that is all they are) prove sufficiently
true, however, to declare Mr. Trump the winner, then he will
deserve the good wishes of the nation.

This is an extraordinary time. It was an extraordinary
election for president. Why should we be surprised that
the results would be challenged and require all of the
legitimate processes be properly exhausted?

There was no clear and final result on election night, and
there is no clear and final result now.

But it will come.

Patience and vigilance. Patience and vigilance.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: "The Health Of Democracies....."

“The health of democracies, of whatever
type or range, depends on a wretched
technical detail --- electoral procedure.
All the rest is secondary. If the regime
of the elections is successful, if it is in
accordance with reality, all goes well;
if not, though the rest progresses
beautifully, all goes wrong.”

                JOSE ORTEGA Y GASSET
                The Revolt Of The Masses (1928)

Sunday, November 1, 2020

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Momentum And Pseudo-Pollling

At the end of the 2020 presidential election, it would appear
that President Donald Trump has some momentum if
reports of early voting turnouts, final published polls, size
and enthusiasm of candidate rally crowds are true.

It’s good to have momentum, but it does not  necessarily
mean victory. In 1948, incumbent President Harry Truman,
doing poorly in the polls, and reviled in the media, surged
at the very end of the campaign, and won an historic
come-from-behind upset win --- but in 1968, Vice President
Hubert Humphrey, clearly surging in the campaign’s final
days, came up short on election day.

Pundits and strategists have, in modern times, depended on
polling for assessment and strategy. Private, in-house polls
continue to be useful to political parties and candidates
because their data is used to instruct  --- while public polling
today is too often employed by groups and media as
propaganda. Both liberals and conservatives have done this
in the recent past, and candidates of both parties still do it
(just read the fundraising appeals of many Democrats and
Republicans this year). This cycle, as in 2016, most of the
major pollsters, often in partnership with major print and
broadcast media, have been publishing polls for months
which reflect their personal or editorial bias --- and not
necessarily accurate public opinion. These polls have usually
shown Joe Biden with very large leads in the national race
and in most competitive state races.

There are a few exceptions. The Trafalgar Group, Rasmussen,
Susquehanna, and Democracy Institute each have consistently
published polls which have shown the presidential race to be
very close. Three of them are now suggesting that President
Trump will win re-election. In 2016, Trafalgar  and Democracy
Institute were virtually alone in predicting the Trump upset
win. They might  not be correct in 2020, but they do have

Republican and other critics have alleged that distorted polls
are a form of “vote suppression” by Democrats --- meant to
discourage Trump voters. If that was  the intention. it has
apparently failed --- although nothing will be certain until
after the votes are counted.

Polling itself has become more controversial in recent years.
No one I know expects President Trump to win the popular
vote in 2020. He did not do so in 2016. He is almost certain to
lose California, New York, Illinois and the northeastern
states by huge margins. The test of the polls will be how
accurately they measured voters in the competitive states in
the southeast, midwest and southwest where the race will be won,

The voters are now, as they always are, in charge. If more
surprises are coming, they will come from those voters.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.