Saturday, May 28, 2016

Ron Chernow - Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton – by Ron Chernow

Anyone who knows me, can attest to my being a bit of a historical bibliophile. My favorite timeframe is the Revolutionary era. Overall, I would hazard a guess that I have read over 100 biographies or historical pieces, and likely over 50 from the Revolutionary period. I will offer the disclaimer that I am partial to Thomas Jefferson, having read 22 books focused on him, including the 5 Dumas Malone definitive, though limited, offerings. Still, I can speak to Jefferson’s hypocrisy, conniving, weaknesses on slavery, and tendency to get carried away when thinking out loud via the pen.

Alexander Hamilton is a fascinating historical figure. I had read a biography on him previously, and naturally he is a key figure in any work regarding Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Burr, and many others. I have also examined the Federalist Papers in detail, and, of course, read the Constitution (something conservative wingnuts might want to try doing).

My opinion of Alexander Hamilton’s place in history is to revere and respect him, yet also be fully conscious of his weaknesses. He clearly is the father of our financial system, though some might argue how much of a positive that has become, or whether it could have been built successfully with more of a soul. There is no doubt that he put the newborn nation on a firm fiscal basis with his many plans and actions. I wonder if Albert Gallatin could have done the same, or perhaps someone else, but Hamilton did do it and deserves tireless praise as a result.

His work on getting the Constitution passed in the various states, and especially New York, also merits high praise. While he questioned the strength of the document, it never would have been enacted without the Federalist Papers, of which he was the prime author. He also was a valued confidante of George Washington, both during the Revolutionary War and during his presidential term, though more so in the first 5 years.

Hamilton also had a great many flaws, among them an epic vanity, a thin skin, a partiality toward monarchy and Great Britain, and an inability to avoid intrigue. He also had his famous interlude with Maria Reynolds, a problem he compounded significantly when he could not let questions about his financial dealings go unanswered and, instead, wrote in excessive detail about the affair as part of his defense of his actions as Treasury Secretary.

Needless to say, Alexander Hamilton was a great man, one of this nation’s brightest lights of the founding era. Because he never became president, he sometimes tends to become lost in history classes and national discourse. For that reason, I am pleased that the current Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda has captured so much of our attention (I go to see it in August). It has to help whenever people learn our history, even when they do not know they are doing so, and, sadly, even when that portrayal is likely unbalanced and less than ideally accurate.

And that leads me to Ron Chernow’s “Hamilton.” I had never previously read any of Chernow’s work, but there is nothing that would lead me to believe he is anything but a legitimate historian and writer. I avoid like the plague any faux historians like Bill O’Reilly, whose “Murder of” series are a blight on the historical record and not worthy of even a glancing look. The 700 + page Chernow book is well constructed, flows with ease and is a bounty of detail and information. Sadly, it also reads with an excess of bias and injection of pro-Hamilton leanings.

Especially during Hamilton’s time as Treasury Secretary, but almost in any mention of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Aaron Burr, Philip Freneau, and Aaron Burr, Chernow goes too far in tilting the conversation. His disdain for Jefferson borders on being, well, Hamiltonian. Jefferson’s first term success is attributed solely to luck or Hamilton’s financial system and Adams’s keeping the country out of war with France.

Chernow might offer a Hamilton fault, but often after pages upon pages of condemning the “other” side of the story and then qualify everything with unequal, leading adjectives. He immediately is drawn to conjecture of other’s intentions as the worst and Hamilton’s as more noble. There is little doubt from my recollections of biographies of all the aforementioned other historical characters, that Chernow has taken much liberty in his telling of the historical record, omits many details or skims over them, is prone to assumptions that are reaches or worse, and has written with an agenda of an anti-Jeffersonian bent that does a disservice to his own narrative. Burr even gets better treatment than Jefferson, though he, too, is not fairly depicted. The portrait of James Madison, who I am told takes a beating in the Broadway musical, borders on caricature at times.

My advice to anyone interested in history is to read far beyond Chernow (read Chernow, though, too), not only on Jefferson, Madison, Burr, and others, but on Alexander Hamilton himself. Hamilton deserves reverence, respect, his spot on the front of the ten-dollar bill and more appreciation than he receives. Just not as much as Chernow sometimes gives him, often at the expense of other great men.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Poem: Squirrel

Spring about from rock to mound
Grassy knoll upon I bound
Shifting eyes to watch the field
Obstacles might be concealed
Those who’d prey upon this soul
Weigh it down, consume it whole
Nervous in conflicted mind
Much it seems has been assigned
Prancing forth in lasting strain
Overwrought yet can’t explain
Driven by instinctive fear
Lurks amidst is less than clear
Anxiousness an inborn trait
Jittered looks would indicate
Racing thoughts, escapes are planned
New travails are close at hand

Squirrel’s days are filled with worry
Might explain this squirrel’s hurry

 Copyright SGW 2016

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Poem: Patterns

The moss leaves its remnants in the years of neglect
Moments in memories bare the cause and effect
Smiling gives way to new doubting depression
Calm inner peace buried deep in suppression
Patterns repeat by the course long since set
Try to break free from what time won’t forget
Heart knew a year of a blessed endeavor
The soul, eighteen months, far too short whatsoever
Racing one’s psyche assigns loser’s conclusion
Anxiety reigns o’er the mind’s disillusion
Inclined less to falsehood in the storybook finish
As dust starts to settle, find it most diminished
Copyright SGW 2016

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Poem: Trump

Where to begin with this horrible being
Aghast at the lines have been crossed I am seeing
The simpleton masses devour his message
Intolerance; fear; hateful; over-aggressive
He vomits ideas wholly lacking cognition
Provides us the trough of the human condition
Worst of our nation is conveyed from his tower
Irrational voice we’re too close to empower
Venom springs forth in a play to the rage
Spinning toward madness, will not move to assuage
Instead he’ll encourage further frenzying riot
All in the name of self-serving disquiet
Wholly a fraud in his words and past practice
Slogans, salutes and bravado distract us
Racist and fascist and the face of corruption
His ignorant mob is enflamed to eruption
If you find any cause to support Donald Trump
All you must be is a fool and a chump

Copyright SGW 2016

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Poem: The Haagen Dazs Coffee Ice Cream Poem

The Haagen Dazs Coffee Ice Cream Poem

You can keep the assortment of cookies
And snacking will not do it for me
While a cupcake’s enough for most people
My favorite these never can be

Save me the offers of candy
Leave confection wrapped up in its place
For there is only one thing you can serve me
Of highest, most desirable taste

To the counter I amble with purpose
Then waiting on line for my turn
‘Nary a word need be spoken
For the server knows well what I yearn

Haagen Dazs my sure destination
Every friend or acquaintance attests
But only one flavor is ordered
Coffee preferred as the best

Sitting in heaven’s contentment
As I savor and relish each taste
Scraping the sides for what lingers
Not one, single remnant to waste

So keep all the tired, old pretzels
Spare me the popcorn or chips
Nothing can equal the pleasures
Of these never-enough ice cream trips

And I will say it once more with conviction
There’ll be no deviation as such
It’s my Haagen Dazs brand coffee ice cream
That I obsessively love oh so much

Copyright SGW 2016

Footnote: Re-write of my 1996 poem “To Bring a Yummy Tummy." I think this is written significantly better.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Blackbird (Broadway)

The new Broadway dramatic production, "Blackbird," will attract attention mostly due to lead actor, Jeff Daniels. Mr. Daniels deserves high praise in his role as Ray. And the script, written by David Harrower, is intriguing in its complexity, misdirection and rawness.

Michelle Williams, though, is the shining star here. Her remarkable performance is tender, pained, disturbing, and ardent. Ms. Williams has garnered attention in the past for striking performances in "Blue Valentine," "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Station Agent," among other films. Yet it is here, as Una, that she has reached new heights and lays claim to being one of the most talented and underrated actresses in Hollywood or on Broadway. Ms. Williams offers an enervating portrayal of a young woman's struggle to come to terms with childhood trauma and an adult heart that leaves the audience as emotionally spent as Ms. Williams appears to be at the conclusion of the play. For this, "Blackbird" is a must see. Go!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Poem: Right Wing

Right Wing

From the voices of demagogues a fiery rise
Bred of intolerance, racism, lies
Economic illness or enemies about
Shadowy whispers; frenzying shout

NAZI ascension, McCarthy unhinged
Refugees, migrants whose rights are infringed
Tea Party madness, European extreme
All Muslims evil and no Mexican Dream!
Sixty’s equality viewed through bigoted lens
Miscegenation, disruption, a needing to “cleanse”
Japanese internment built upon cowardly spark
Always shift rightward when the future looks dark

Times of complexity reduced to simplistic
Irrational thought wipes away realistic
Easy to fear as deflective conveyance
Reasoned solutions are kept in abeyance
Population turns rightward into fascism’s grip
Morality, decency and humanity slip
Inflamed by the passion of a self-righteous rage
No logical offering can be hoped to assuage

We must learn from our errors and dangerous past
For the present holds warnings in the dye being cast
Falling prey to the voices of this close-minded thought
The price will be paid in the hatred we’ve wrought

Copyright SGW 2015

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Allegiance (Broadway Show) … and a look at intolerance then and now

"Allegiance" is the Broadway show based on a book by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, that takes us inside the story of Japanese-American internment during World War II. My awareness of the play, and I admit, my primary reason for initially buying a ticket, was due to GeorgeTakei, who I follow for his humorous posts on Facebook, and who plays the older Sam Kimura and Ojii-chan. When I became aware that Lea Salonga was starring in the role of Kei Kimura, my interest as a Broadway fan peaked. I had not seen "Miss Saigon," for which Ms. Salonga won a Tony Award, so this was an opportunity to see one of Broadway's finest.

I left the theater pleasantly surprised. While my expectations were that Salonga would be brilliant, I was unsure what to expect from the show itself, and even Mr. Takei. Lea Salonga, who is one of the shining lights of Broadway, exhibits why in this performance. Her vocals are stunning; her portrayal of Kei both heartfelt and true. She is worth the price of any Broadway ticket all on her own merit.

"Allegiance" offers so much more than just Ms. Salonga. George Takei is funny, warm and quite strong in both his roles. He more than holds his own with the remaining cast. Young Sammy Kimura is played well by Telly Leung, who exhibited good vocal and acting performances. A standout for me was Katie Rose Clarke, in the role of Hannah Campbell (previously in the role of Glinda in "Wicked"), whose voice was forceful and who also contributed a fine stage presence.

"Allegiance" is a message of idealism, keeping eyes open enough to realize not everything is black and white, the dangers of patriotism for America without being willing to see its warts and imperfections, and of love. That love comes in many forms, be it for country, culture, family, or individual. "Allegiance" tells us there can be redemption, despite the casualties of war and intolerance.

The show is emotional on so many levels, some described more fully below. If you are not shedding a tear or two by its conclusion, check yourself for a pulse.

"Allegiance" itself was quite entertaining. The choreography and staging was well done, some musical numbers, especially when Salonga led the way, left a lasting impression, and humor was sprinkled throughout. On the other hand, some lyrics might have been a bit cliched and a few performances were stilted.

But the most important aspects of "Allegiance" revolve around the timely messages it dispenses. I write this review one day after the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris, France, which as of this writing number 129 dead and several hundred wounded. It also comes in an environment of political campaigning and social unrest, especially in the U.S., but also in Europe in intermittent intervals, where rightwing rhetoric feeds fear, intolerance and extremism against immigrants from Mexico (in the case of the U.S.) and from the Middle East and Northern Africa (mostly in Europe, but also, again, in the U.S.).

The cautionary tale of the Japanese-American internment roughly 70 years ago echoes throughout as a warning against reacting to tragedy, terror and radical ideology with overreaction. I am no pacifist, and support reasonable security measures and even military action when appropriate and well-thought out. But the response to an extreme should never be with a returned extreme. Justifiable anger, grief and, yes, forceful responses to terrorism in no way legitimize bigotry, blanket presumptions of guilt based upon religion, race, creed, or color, intolerance, and non-acceptance of multiculturalism.

Where once we saw Japanese-Americans as only Japanese, and therefore the enemy, today, we see Muslims and Arabs in much the same vein. Strength is understandable; allowing fear and intolerance to rule the day is only self-defeating.

I highly recommend seeing "Allegiance." If you are a hardcore Broadway affecionado, you will not be disappointed. If you're a George Takei fan, enjoy! As a student of history or an interested party as to exploring race relations and intolerance, "Allegiance" will most assuredly provide food for thought.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Poem: The Girl With M.S.

We touch people. I did not wish to get cancer, and I would be quite happy to have never had that experience. But because of it, I am stronger. Because of it, I met and befriended other survivors. Okay, because of it, I tilt a bit more to the right, too. Get it?

Facebook is a weird creature. It can be addictive, mindless and a sounding board for the worst of who we as a society can be. But it also re-ignites old friendships, lets us know what other people are up to and introduces us to amazing, amazing individuals.

I met Jen and Pier on Facebook, and their raising of a young boy with autism is courageous and daunting and inspiring. Through them, I met Jamie. Jamie has M.S. She also has unyielding determination, fearless honesty, a depth of character few can match, a wonderful sense of humor, and a beautiful family.

Each day on the walls of Facebook, I read stories about her struggle with M.S., her silly moments with her husband, Tony, and her two children, and a constant stream of the most smile-inducing videos on the internet.

People who never give up, even when they are completely exhausted, are heroic figures. People who admit to their darkest moments, show us their struggles so we can be stronger through them, and who laugh and cry in a way that invites us to join them in all their emotions, are teachers, figurative Buddhas offering life lessons through their being nothing more than who they are.

So I was inspired. I wrote the poem below. Jamie has a blog called "Ugly Like Me," and wrote this to accompany the poem. Her words made me laugh and cry in the best ways; typical Jamie.

One thing Jamie does not know about me, and please, Jamie, when you read this, don't change what you wrote, is I have shared some of my cancer story. You can find my words here, here, here, and here. I do need to put more out into the world about my struggles with depression and anxiety; give me time. Poems on both can be found here and here.

Without further adieu, because we've had quite enough adieu, a poem:

The Girl With M.S.

The girl with M.S.
Is much more than that.
Narrow description,
One learns over time.
Still, introduction.
A place to begin.

The girl with M.S.
Inspires my own strength.
Smiles when faced with “life.”
Yet weakness revealed;
And that is okay.

The girl with M.S.
Teaches me courage.
Also, frailty;
Needing love’s support
Of family and
A community
And those she touches
With her charm, wisdom;
Goofiness, spirit

The girl with M.S.
Is much more than that.
The world can see her;
Learning bountiful,
Blessed principles;
Being someone with,
Or without, M.S.

Copyright SGW 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Poem: Sally's Voice

Sally’s Voice

Do you hear my voice
Whispering over these paths
In the hallways and backrooms
I am your original sin
Your hypocrisy

I bore you children
As your possession
Was there love
Could there be
When one isn’t free to love
They fear
And succumb
While numb within the vulgarity

Masked or confused affection
Gave myself to your need
Or you took who I was
Until the legacy of slavery
Mixed blood
Varied shades

And time marched on
With my descendants
Waiting for full equality
Where chains, whips and oppression
Became societal bigotry, institutional racism
Rigged juries and cries of “Black Lives Matter”

Where does it end

Do you hear my voice
Whispering over these paths
In the hallways and backrooms
I am your original sin
Your hypocrisy

From Sally Hemings to Sandra Bland
All men, and women, were created equal
They shall have their day

Copyright SGW 2015

Footnote: Written in the Garden Pavilion on the grounds of Monticello; my favorite spot there (Also, Jefferson's favorite for writing, reading and thinking.). Sally Hemings began to speak to me a bit the night before and then this flowed while visiting Thomas Jefferson's home.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee (Novel)

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is my favorite book. That is as good a place as any to begin discussing “Go Set a Watchman,” Harper Lee’s second (though written first) published novel. Who can argue the greatness of “Mockingbird?” It must find its spot in any discussion of great, classic American, or worldwide, literature.

I would also mention at this point that I have read no reviews or commentaries on the new book, though I am aware of the uproar it has caused regarding Atticus Finch. I read “Watchman” and have processed my thoughts with as small an outside influence as I could manage.

If “To Kill a Mockingbird” did not exist, “Go Set a Watchman” would be easier to take measure of. It would be deemed an exceedingly good, but not great, book, though it tends to go off into the realm of political and social commentary polemic at times, especially in the latter stages of the story. Of course, Harper Lee was writing on the heels of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that shook the southern world in ways it has still not come to terms with. The story sometimes strays into abstract concepts, too, becoming a challenge to follow and fully grasp.

Leading up to the release of “Watchman” there was considerable discussion as to whether or not Harper Lee wanted this story told to the public. I will delve into this in more detail shortly, but for now, I offer the thought that I find it odd that a writer of Lee’s quality would be comfortable with the minor inconsistencies between “Mockingbird” and “Watchman;” examples being the historical founding of Maycomb and some aspects of Alexandra Finch, Atticus’s sister. More troublesome are substantial conflicts between the two books that are wholly irreconcilable such as in the Tom Robinson rape trial’s verdict and Henry Clinton’s role as “oldest friend” from Scout Finch’s childhood.

There are also instances of sloppy editing. The Ms. Tuffet/Mr. Muffet confusion and one clear line where “I” is used for first person in a manner that was not Scout’s internal dialogue were two cases that stood out.

Some of what makes “Watchman” better than I believe most people will credit it for are related to the problems I have with the book. While “Watchman” does not have Scout as its narrator, Jean Louise does remain its focus. And as she unravels the “hidden” truths of Atticus Finch and much of Maycomb itself, is it possible all of this was apparent in Scout’s childhood, but being a child who worshipped her father, she was incapable, or unwilling, to see his warts and flaws? Since we were reading “Mockingbird” through her eyes, we were perhaps blinded to the realities around Scout, too.

With each discovery of Atticus’s racism, and Jean Louise’s corresponding disgust, pain, loss, contempt, and confusion in encountering them, the reader is meant to sense the same. We are left heartbroken in the wake of Atticus’s betrayal. Even Calpurnia’s justified walls around herself after her grandson’s arrest bring feelings of anguish to the reader.

But the Atticus of “Watchman,” a man now in his early 70’s, is also unrecognizable given “Mockingbird.” And it is hard to believe this is simply due to Scout’s perception of her father. Here I question most strongly whether Harper Lee wanted “Watchman” published. Though this story attempts to explain the Finch of his early years as being no more than a respecter of the rule of law, it is hard to imagine the man in “Mockingbird” being limited in this manner. Atticus Finch went far beyond that characterization in his treatment of blacks, both in word and deed. It is my contention that Lee wrote during the fervor of the post-Brown times, saw her work as too much a social commentary and less a moving story, and put the book aside for a reason. “Mockingbird’s” brilliance lies not only in its lyricism, but in the sweetness of Scout’s story balanced against the troubles of the time. “Watchman” loses this balance.

Uncle Jack, Dr. Finch, is a better man in “Watchman,” but here, too, Lee allows for a longwinded and forced Civil War apologia that, while offering speckles of truth, is simply a bridge too far. And while many southerners, both pre-Civil War and since the Civil Rights movement gained force, ran the states’ rights arguments up the proverbial flagpole (the Confederate flag?), and attempted to cover their racism, both apparent and in the shadows, Lee allows for an excess of “explanation” for Atticus’s and Maycomb’s attitudes. She comes dangerously close in a number of instances to justifying them.

At the end of the day, Jean Louise Finch is able to maintain her integrity in the face of an onslaught of “this is who we are” poppycock and states’ rights rationalizations. Both the climactic confrontation between Jean Louise and Atticus, and the ultimate manner in which Jean Louise comes to something less than an understanding with her father, ring true and real. While we lose one of our oldest and dearest figures, Atticus Finch, Harper Lee does not take Scout from us. We loved her in “Mockingbird,” and we preserve this affection as we close the pages on “Watchman.”

Ultimately, though, my struggle remains with whether or not Harper Lee truly wanted “Go Set a Watchman” published. As stated above, as a standalone novel, it is not to be dismissed and will likely be with us in discussion and literary study for a long, long time. But it is not a book without a partner. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is joined to it, and in a manner that calls much into question. Did Lee see “Watchman’s” deficiencies and put it aside permanently? After publishing “Mockingbird,” did she know both books could not reasonably co-exist? Atticus Finch cannot be both the “Mockingbird” man in his 50’s and the “Watchman” figure in his 70’s. They are too distinct. I hope I am wrong. I fear the veracity of my conclusions are where the truth lies.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Poem: Twisted


In writing of Oz
One does what one does
With L. Frank Baum’s book as the source
The players all known
The house Kansas-thrown
And Yellow Brick Road sets the course

The Wizard as friend
On Glinda depend
That Wicked Witch West looming dark
Yet shadings of gray
Or green on display
The matter at hand is less stark

Elphaba her name
Her true claim to fame
Unmasking oppressive regime
Must never assume
Why she’d taken to broom
For we’ve all our own sins to redeem

To click those heels thrice
Suggest you think twice
And don’t opt for highlighted brick
Choose your direction
With earnest reflection
So true to that path you should stick

My message as such
No matter how much
You’re given to singular choice
All your decisions
Have room for revisions
And don’t trust the noisiest voice

Copyright SGW 2015

Footnote:  Based on “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire and “The Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Poem: Ambiguous


Formulate a hypothesis
Sit here quite anonymous
Don’t tell me it’s preposterous
Watched lions hunt rhinoceros (On “Big Cat Diary”)
Sometimes thoughts feel bottomless
Rise within my consciousness
Repetition becomes monotonous
Lost in the metropolis
Devout await apocalypse
Irrational their prophetess
It’s all a vast necropolis
Behold the cold sarcophagus
Comes across as ludicrous
The weight of it is ponderous
One percent of us is phosphorus (Google it!)
Total friggin’ awesomeness
The world is often monstrous
Yet equal parts so wondrous
Voices singing sonorous
Crescendo to the thunderous
Approach an end so ominous
Love no less than pompitous

Copyright SGW 2015

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Poem: Tree Pollen

Tree Pollen

Trees are a beauty of our natural world
Magnificent forests through their growth are unfurled
Needed for life in multitude image
Landscapes of greens as a picturesque visage


For three weeks in spring they’re my most mortal foe
When tree pollen falls and soft breezes blow
Tree reproduction produces miserable condition
Nothing relieves whether pill, drops, physician
Eyes start to itch ‘till I rub the skin red
Nose is congested as to weigh down my head
Sneeze, and I sneeze, then I sneeze yet again
Sniffle, nose running, scratch my eyes, sneeze and then
More sneezes, more sniffles and my eyes are now blurred
Massive allergic reactions my whole life have occurred
Pollen covers my car and it fills up the air
I sneeze yet once more and no tissue I’ll spare

Copyright SGW 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Engineered Underground," by Melissa Donovan (Book)

I highly recommend this book by author Melissa Donovan. If you enjoy Sci-Fi that will keep you riveted, this book is for you. Plus, how refreshing to see strong, female characters.

Engineered Underground - Metamorphosis-Book-One (Kindle Version) $2.99

Engineered-Underground-Metamorphosis-Book-One (Hard Copy) $12.99  I recommend the hard copy. Books should be held and loved.

Also, check out more from Melissa Donovan at: Writing Forward.