Friday, October 27, 2017

Birthday Books 2017

I don’t always blog about it, but for the most part, my birthday presents are in the form of books. Gee, I wonder why…

I actually wrote this a couple months ago, then forgot to post it in the scramble to get everything done at work before we left for the Eclipse.

Anyway, I wrote a bit about some in 2012, and again last year in 2016.

Another trip around the sun, and here I am again. Here is what I got:

  1. A Literary Feast: Recipes Inspired by Novels, Poems, and Plays by Jennifer Barclay

This book was from my in-laws, and is modeled above by my second daughter, who aspires to be a professional chef. (She just made herself flan from scratch as her birthday dessert - she’s well on her way.) I have scanned through it enough to believe that the recipes were seriously intended to be legitimate and edible. (Which is a contrast to, for example, attempts to duplicate the recipes of the past, which are often impractical and, frankly, gross.) Now, whether I can actually use it myself, or whether my daughter will appropriate it for herself remains to be seen.

2.     Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans (Photography)

This classic work was published in 1941, and is a documentation of the impoverished lives of Alabama sharecroppers during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression. I suspect my older daughter (who devours anything she can find about the Depression era) will be interested as well. In light of our current political situation, I suspect this book will be more relevant than ever, as it shows that hard work alone is not, and never has been, enough to enable a rise from crushing poverty. And also that structural injustice cannot be wished away or ignored. My wife found this for me, used of course.

3.     Plum Sauce: A P. G. Wodehouse Companion (edited by Richard Usborne)

I have long been a Wodehouse fan, as any reader of my blog can see. This is kind of the coffee table book version of bon mots and other stuff. Probably fun to browse a bit at a time, rather than read straight through. I am impressed that, despite being “used,” it appears unread. On the one hand, that is sad. On the other, well, I have a new book and will read it.

4.     A Clearing in the Distance by Witold Rybczynski

This is a biography of Frederick Law Olmstead, best known for designing New York City’s Central Park. He was also an early abolitionist and had a rather diverse set of interests and talents. This book looks fascinating for its subject alone. I also enjoy Rybczynski for his writing in various magazines on architecture and city design, and for his book, City Life, which is marvelous, and gave me a new perspective on how zoning and city planning can either help or exacerbate poverty.

Well that should give me some stuff to read.


Hey, some birthday flowers. These are Lycoris squamigera, commonly known as Magic Lillies, or, more racily, Naked Ladies. They have lush green leaves during the winter, which then die back to the ground. In July or August, they send up long stems with the flowers on the end. Like magic.

These bulbs were already in the ground (although neglected) at a house I moved to when I was nine years old. I kept them watered, and have moved them from place to place since then. This year, the flowers opened on my birthday itself. 


I’ll also mention that lasagna is my favorite food. (Italian in general and I are friends…) My wife always makes me some for my birthday, despite the hard work it requires. So, let’s have a tribute to this delicious food:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells

Source of book: I own this.

Boy, it has been ages since I read any H. G. Wells! Back in my youth, I read some short stories, plus the classic Science Fiction works The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds. More recently - but still over a decade ago - I read The Outline of History, which is a fascinating (if a bit dated) work. Apparently, Wells wrote a lot of books after these, but most remain obscure.

Wells can be frustrating to read sometimes, because he has great ideas which he doesn’t always flesh out as well as one might like. (At least those of us who are fine with books being long and detailed.) The Island of Doctor Moreau is a particularly good example of that fault. Although it was published after The Time Machine, this book was actually written first of Wells’ novels. He called it a “youthful exercise in blasphemy,” and it certainly shows signs of being a juvenile work. Even The Time Machine shows a growing maturity, and The War of the Worlds, probably his best work, is in a different class altogether when it comes to writing skill. 

I read this book because a local book club chose it for October. My wife has attended some meetings, and I had intended to go to the one featuring The Master and Margarita, but a vehicle repair job went late, and, well, I didn’t.

This book, like the other best known books by Wells, are notable because they contained ideas which have fascinated us ever since. Time travel is a staple of Science Fiction. But Wells wrote the first real time travel novel. Alien invasions? That was Wells too. Invisibility? Yep. Horrible scientific experiments involving animals? That would be Doctor Moreau.

Wells’ influence extends further, however. C. S. Lewis references him often in his works, and appears to be attempting to refute him in a number of passages. (Wells was disenchanted with religion, and, along with George Bernard Shaw, was often on the opposite side from Lewis and G. K. Chesterton.) Wells also was instrumental in making evolution a staple or the Science Fiction genre. So there is a lot that we take for granted in literature that can be traced to Wells’ ideas and writings.

The plot of Moreau should be familiar enough, even to those who have not read the book. A traveler is rescued from a shipwreck, only to find himself stuck on a island in the Pacific with a mad scientist and his assistant. Doctor Moreau experiments in vivisection, combining animals in an attempt to create human/animal hybrids. (It does not appear he is using humans, however. He may be using his own human blood in transfusions. This is one area where it would have been nice if Wells had been a bit more descriptive.) These beings he creates are sentient and can talk, although they do not rise to the level of human ability. Furthermore, Moreau notes that they tend to revert to their animal ways unless constantly trained.

Eventually, disaster comes. An animal escapes, Moreau is killed, and things go downhill from there.

One of the central ideas in this book - one which has become engrained in our culture - is the Litany of the Law. Moreau teaches the beast-men a series of commandments, the dos and don’ts of the world he has created. One of the creatures, the “Sayer of the Law” leads the animals in daily recitation of the Law, ending each commandment with “Are we not men?” (Note the reference borrowed by Devo.) That this Litany is strikingly similar to both cultural taboos and religion is not an accident. I believe this is why the idea has stuck around in our minds. It is a bit too familiar. This also ties in with the end of the book - more about that later. Violation of the Law leads to a return to “The House of Pain” for further vivisection.

The moral choices Moreau has made, and his justifications for them, are quite chilling. Moreau sees anything as morally possible and acceptable if it serves scientific curiosity, and brushes off the narrator, Pendrick’s objections. A couple of lines particularly stood out here. Moreau claims that the intellect is fluid (something we know now isn’t true - animals lack the necessary brain structure for human thought) and that the only difference between us and animals is education.

Very much indeed of what we call moral education, he said, is such an artificial modification and perversion of instinct; pugnacity is trained into courageous self-sacrifice, and suppressed sexuality into religious emotion.

Remember, this is Moreau speaking, not H. G. Wells. (This is a common confusion - one I think is intentional. It is too easy to assign a lack of ethics to atheists, and rarely accurate.)

Also interesting is this one, after Pendrick argues that it is unethical to inflict pain, unless there is at least some good likely to come out of it.

“For it is just this question of pain which parts us. So long as visible or audible pain turns you sick; so long as your own pains drive you; so long as pain underlies your propositions about sin, - so long, I tell you, you are an animal, thinking a little less obscurely what an animal feels.”

This one really struck me, because I heard an echo of something I was told a couple of years ago. Pretty much along the lines of “Don’t let your compassion drive your ethics.” Moreau complains that we let our view of what is sin be driven by our desire to avoid pain and avoid inflicting it on others. Too confining, clearly. We have to be free to hurt others (particularly the vulnerable) or we have an “animalistic” view of sin.

Anyone see the problem here?

In case anyone wondered, it wasn’t an atheist who said this. Far from it. And the reason it was said was to attempt to prevent people like me from questioning certain religious rules that were and are causing great pain and damage to others. Oh, and we see this in politics right now too. Who cares about the Dreamers? The law is what matters. Kick them all out - more for us. Refugees? Likewise. Kick the poor and disabled off healthcare? Of course. Don’t let your compassion drive your ethics. Ignore the pain of others.

Well, I guess I am an old fashioned, backwards sort who still believes in the Golden Rule. But you won’t find that in Evangelicalism much these days - politics trump compassion. (Pun intended.)

That leads to another observation. Moreau initially likes his creatures. But then, as animalistic traits creep back in, he loathes them, and turns them out. He doesn’t see a human soul there, only the soul of an animal. I think this too is true. In order to be as cruel and uncompassionate as we humans can be, we have to dehumanize the “other.” This is my observation. If you grant others a human soul, you cannot excise your compassion and ignore their pain. It is only through systematic dehumanization of the “other” that this can be done.

The end of the book is interesting. Pendrick escapes the island on a boat that washes ashore, but he is unable to live among society again. The problem is that he imagines that all humans are on the verge of reverting to beasts, and every sign of human degradation and vice seems to him to be the beginning of the process.

Wells isn’t that far off, unfortunately. I think this one is all too true. When we consider how a civilized nation nearly destroyed the world - and murdered countless millions - just in the past century; it isn’t a stretch to understand that our most beastial nature is just below the surface. Stoke a fear here, add an insecurity there, find a persuasive psychopath to feed those fears and call for hate. And before you know it, you have the Holocaust. We see it now in our own country, where millions of otherwise decent people have seemingly openly embraced nativism. It has shaken me to see it, and I feel a bit like Pendrick. I had thought that we were better than that, but I worry that given a chance, we will go back to tearing each other to pieces like animals.

The Island of Doctor Moreau is a flawed book, a bit of a juvenile effort, and not always the easiest read. But it has been tremendously influential in our imaginations, and for good reason. The questions Wells raises of science and ethics, compassion, and the state of man remain relevant today, perhaps more than ever.


Hey, we need some of the other band that borrowed from this book:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Into the River by Ted Dawe

Source of book: Borrowed from the library.

This book was my selection for Banned Books Week. Which happened to coincide with multiple Symphony concerts with crazy-difficult music. So I took a while to finish it.

Just as a reminder, I use the week to read books which have been banned, which means that a government has outlawed sale, publication, or possession of the book. I do not count challenged books - those which citizens or parents have sought to keep out of school curricula or libraries. This isn’t because I think challenges are interesting, but because I wanted to focus my once a year project on those where the power of the state was employed in censorship. I believe that is a different level from a challenge. After all, any library has limited space and budget, and decisions must be made. (Personally, I would have preferred an extra - and local - copy of The Rest is Noise rather than one of the 20ish copies of Eat, Pray, Love.) Likewise, students can only study so many books, and the choice of which to study is a judgment call.

Here are my past selections, plus the introduction to Banned Books Week.

This year, I chose Into the River by Ted Dawe, which is unusual in two respects. First, most of my other selections were banned (at least in part) for political reasons. (Palace Walk was banned in part for its sexual content as well.) This one was banned for sexual content and language. The other difference is that Into the River was banned by a modern democracy very recently.

Say what?

Yes indeed. This book was banned for sale to minors under age 14 in New Zealand in 2014. So basically, it was behind the counter with the porno mags and cigarettes, and younger teens needed a parent to buy the book or even check it out from the library.

Fortunately, this ban was short lived. The library association challenged the ban, and it was overturned, despite loud squawking from the Culture War type groups. Yes, the Culture Wars™ extend beyond the borders of the United States - although they tend to have less power elsewhere.

So, I picked this book for those reasons, and also because our local library had it on the shelf.
I think this book is an example a very interesting Culture War phenomenon: works which otherwise would probably have faded into obscurity are given inordinate attention after some fundamentalist group decides to start a crusade against it. The example from my childhood is the protest against The Last Temptation of Christ, which was by just about any account, a laughably terrible movie. The only reason it had an audience was because of the protests.

Into the River isn’t a bad book. But it isn’t, in my opinion, a great book. It is okay. It has some interesting points and observations. Some descriptions and scenes are quite compelling. And others are pretty much “meh.”

The plot is this (some spoilers): Te Arepa is a Maori boy who wins a scholarship to a prestigious boarding high school for boys. In order to fit in with a mostly wealthy and white culture, he must submerge his identity. The school has problems just below the surface in the form of sanctioned bullying, drug use, and a professor who trades for sexual favors from the boys. Te Arepa has to decide if the cost is worth it, or whether he will, like his legendary ancestor Diego, choose freedom.

Along the way, the book explores some other subcultures, from the Maori culture of Te Arepa’s family, to the upper crust of his friends Steph, to the lower class car culture of Mitch and his probably-not-entirely-within-the-law junkyard father, to the casually racist farming culture of “Wingnut” and his family.

This last one really sounded familiar - just substitute “Native American” for “Maori,” and Wingnut’s grandfather sounds a lot like many here in the US.

It is easy enough to see why certain groups got all up in arms. There is some sex, and it is reasonably graphic. There are drugs. And there is language. But there are also racial issues presented, which is why the book won several awards in New Zealand. I would also say that it has some subversive ideas - particularly a distrust of institutions, of adults, and of class and race based social structures. From my experience in Fundamentalism, I would say that it was probably was these subversive ideas and exposure of racism that proved to be the unspoken motivations for the campaign against this book. Sex (like magic) is often a pretext for keeping challenges to authority and white hegemony out of the hands of the kiddos.

I thought that the opening of the book, with its insight into Maori culture, was pretty strong, as was the scene on the farm. Dawe writes well and efficiently in these moments, and makes the settings come alive. I didn’t like the way the book ended, mostly because it seems more of a cliffhanger than anything. We know Te Arepa’s choice, but nothing of his plans - or lack thereof. We are left to guess at his future in kind of a “lady or the tiger” way. I’m not a fan of that approach at all, I’m afraid. Just my preference.

I also felt that the alienation was a bit extreme. One would like to think that Te Arepa would have someone who doesn’t let him down in a big way in his life somewhere. The world isn’t quite that dark and friendless - although I guess it is easier to feel that way at a certain age. It just made the book - and its ending - feel unmoored.

It was an interesting read, and worth the time, but not one of the best I have read this year. I am glad I explored the history, however, as it sheds light on our instinct toward censorship in our modern era.


From PBS, this article on what causes books to be challenged here in the United States is interesting. Primarily genitals and racial issues.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Los Angeles Cast)

Once upon a time in a pitch meeting somewhere:

“So we should do a musical. It will be about one of the founding fathers nobody knows much about (except lawyers and political history buffs), it will be about politics of the 18th Century, we'll use mostly African American actors, and do it with hip hop. It will be a smash hit!”

And of course it was. And I would love to have been a fly on the wall in that room where it happened.

My wife and I knew that when Hamilton came to California, we would go see it. It was inevitable after it sold out in New York, that Los Angeles would eventually get it - and the obvious venue was the gorgeous Pantages theater. Seriously, if you end up in LA, go see something there just to gawk at the Art Deco interior, which is quite a masterpiece.

I am probably in a minority in that I never got the soundtrack or read up on the plot in advance. I decided to go in with merely my own knowledge of history, the opinions of my friends, and an open mind. (My older daughters, however, got to hear quite a bit of the soundtrack from their friends, one of whom is a theater nut and can lay down the lyrics like a pro.)

That isn’t to say I didn’t know the plot at all. I went to a law school that focused to a degree on the Federalist Society type of conservatism (in addition to the more official Reconstructionist leanings of the then-parent organization), which came with a certain reverence for the Founding Fathers and the trio that wrote the Federalist Papers in particular. So I knew a thing or six about Alexander Hamilton and his life and death. And also Aaron Burr, who, it turns out, had a really crazy life after his quarrel and duel with Hamilton. (In fact, one of the most important court cases on treason involved Burr.)

So yes, when Hamilton shocks everyone by endorsing Thomas Jefferson and accusing Burr of having no core beliefs, I am thoroughly in the Hamilton camp there.

But, about the play itself. There may be spoilers here, but, seriously, Hamilton has been dead for what, 200 years?

Let me start with an important observation. One of the things I always do when I go see a show in LA is check to see who is playing in the orchestra. After all, we hire a few from down south to fill out our own local orchestra, so you never know when you will see a familiar name. (Hey, S____, nice to see you a few years back playing for Phantom of the Opera…) No such luck this time, but I was gratified to see that strings were included. Strings make everything better - even hip hop. Just saying. So, in this case, two keyboards, string quartet, electric guitar, electric bass, banjo, and drums. And yes, live drums also make hip hop better. In my opinion. The orchestra was great - really tight, and perfect with the actors. That is so much harder than anyone who hasn’t played a show from the pit really realizes.

The music itself, I must say, was fantastic. I’ll confess, I hadn’t ever seen anything by Miranda previously - although my wife saw a local production of In The Heights. I was impressed that Miranda did the book, music, and lyrics. And the arrangements. Everything. Even the great opera composers didn’t tend to write the librettos - and when they did, you ended up with The Ring Cycle, which has fantastic music...and lyrics which are both poor poetry and endlessly long and repetitive. Stick to what ya know, Wagner.

But Hamilton suffers no such defect. Miranda’s lyrics are fantastic. I was impressed with the quality of the rap, both lyrically and musically. Growing up in a mostly minority neighborhood, and spending much of my teens in an integrated church, I was steeped in the sound. I had friends who aspired to a career in hip hop, and could improvise a witty rap pretty well. I could pick out some of the beats and rhymes, even when I couldn’t recall exactly which MC was being referenced.

Just a note here. I grew up around the sound, but my family didn’t listen to modern “secular” music. (Except when my dad would corrupt us with the Beach Boys or Motown on the radio.) Particularly suspect was music that was liked by my generation, low brow, or worst, African American - rap/hip hop failed on all accounts, so we did not have it in our home. So, I have kind of had to learn my own generation’s music as an adult. Except that I knew the sounds, just not the artists, because it was everywhere.

At least among white, classically trained, reactionary sorts, the status of rap as music has been in dispute. And I think the fact that it is not based on melody or harmony is the main reason why. What should not be in dispute is that rap is poetry. At its best, it can be amazingly good poetry. A common misconception (at least in the circles I ran in) is that rap is just a bunch of boasting and cussing and low class speech. Not so. In fact, a good vocabulary and firm grasp of the rhythm of language is necessary - to say nothing of thinking on one’s feet.

Throughout Hamilton, which requires careful attention to every word, I was thrilled by the clever rhymes, dramatic pacing, and the continual use of the perfect word. And the wit! Many of the direct quotes from the letters of the characters make it into raps, with just a word or two, or maybe just the timing, changed up just enough to pop. Eighteenth Century phrases meet modern hip hop phrasing.

As I noted at the beginning of this post, the whole idea sounds hopelessly crazy, but it works!

When my wife and I talked at the intermission, I noted the epiphany that I had during the first half. I was used to Broadway musicals having set numbers at key moments, with the bulk of the action taking place in ordinary dialogue. Hamilton eschews this modern style, and goes back in time to an earlier era. The comparison was unmistakeable. Miranda has practically zero spoken dialogue. Everything is in the context of music - hip hop music.

This is opera!

The idea of using recitative to serve as dialogue and further the plot dates to the beginning of the operatic form. And, believe it or not, a recitative isn’t really that different from a rap, if you think about it. A set rhythm (and harmony, in the earlier case) with the words fit into the form. A stylized form of storytelling in poetry.

Or maybe we should go back further, to Homer (and his predecessors), who told whole epics this way. Rap is nothing less than a modern incarnation of a timeless (and pan-cultural) form of storytelling. The rhymes, rhythms, and forms aid in the memorization of long stories, and connect with the intended audience, because all of these are both predictable and familiar while allowing the bard or MC to use his or her creativity within the form.

Anyway, Miranda was much better than I expected at writing a story within the form. I don’t use the word lightly, but I think genius applies here. From conception to execution, Hamilton is a masterpiece. 

It's not just the hip hop, either. Miranda hits the notes from R & B, classical Broadway, and a bit of pop and classical for fun. 

What else was interesting? Miranda manages to make Hamilton’s back story interesting. It was a bold move to just go ahead and plunge into a straight telling of the tale, from his illegitimate birth (which meant he was barred from Church of England schools) to his orphanage, to his hard work to succeed with little help, to his rise through hard work and brash attitude. This could easily have been borrrrrrring. But it wasn’t. Between the creative choreography and that first, brilliant rap, it was fascinating. And that is the genius. “Let’s educate an audience about 18th Century history without them falling asleep…”

I also loved the contrast of characters. The obvious one is the central one. Hamilton versus Burr. The impetuous hothead and the cautious plodder. The consummate politician and the revolutionary.

But there are more too. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are a contrast in style, as are Washington and King George.

Perhaps the most intriguing was the one between Eliza Schuyler, who marries Hamilton, and her sister Angelica, who carried on a long (and seemingly emotionally intimate) correspondence with Hamilton even after she married a British nobleman. In the musical, Eliza is the loyal sweet - and somewhat naive - wife, while Angelica is the worldly, cynical, and brash contrast.

This required some excellent work by the actors portraying these parts. Solea Pfeiffer played Eliza, and really brought out her natural devotion and sweetness - but also her strength. In contrast, Angelica was played by Emmy Raver-Lampman, and, well, damn. Eliza is a worthy woman, and not to be underestimated. But Angelica owned the stage. No wonder men from Hamilton to Jefferson to Lafayette to Washington (and more) remained fascinated by her. (Jefferson went so far as to semi-jokingly suggest an affair.) The correspondence she had with these and other figures were invaluable to historians. She apparently talked statecraft as well as any man. 

 Solea Pfeiffer (Eliza Schuyler), Emmy Raver-Lampman (Angelica Schuyler), and Amber Iman (Peggy Schuyler). 
Iman also played Maria Reynolds, Hamilton's paramour...

But let us not forget Eliza - the play ends with a brief recounting of what she did with herself in the 50 years after Hamilton died. Just little stuff, like founding a society to aid widows, starting and running an orphanage, editing the tens of thousands of pages of documents Hamilton wrote and publishing them to preserve her legacy. And, well, raising their seven children too. By all accounts, the Schuyler sisters were pretty badass. (My kind of women, clearly.)

In the LA version, the parts of Hamilton and Burr are played by Michael Luwoye and Joshua Henry, respectively. Both were fantastic. I know it is pretty widely known, but Miranda chose to cast the major American parts using non-whites. Bold, and effective. I am reminded of the casting in Theatricum Botanicum’s version of All’s Well That Ends Well

 Michael Luwoye (Hamilton) and Isaiah Johnson (George Washington)
We got Dan Belnavis as Washington, but I couldn't find a good picture.

The other three parts for which the casting really stood out were Jordan Donica in the dual role as Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson (the latter with an epic ‘fro) and Rory O’Malley as the simpering King George.

Ah yes, King George, who serves both as the comic relief, and as the “sassy gay friend,” as my wife put it. Miranda chose to make the numbers by King George cheesy homages to classic Broadway. And giving George stereotypically flamboyant gestures and pouts. He was hilarious. 

 Rory O'Malley as King George III

Speaking of Broadway references, Miranda has nods to so many great lines and songs, it is a veritable treasure trove for someone like my wife (or, these days, me, since she has corrupted me.) One of my favorites is George Washington’s little riff on Gilbert and Sullivan:

“The model of a modern major general
The venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all
Lining up, to put me on a pedestal.”

I was better at naming these references than the hip hop ones, but this cheat sheet and this one are at least a good place to start. Perhaps my more educated readers can add some - because this is fun stuff!

I guess before this gets too long, I’ll mention some of my favorite moments from the show.

Perhaps one of the best riffs on the process of politics is “The Room Where it Happens.” Ironically, one of the worst things to happen the last few years is the abandonment of the messy process of give and takes that makes democracy happen. Compromise and tit for tat are necessary to bring people together, like it or not. “Winning” isn’t quite as effective in real life, it turns out…

I also loved “My Shot.” Both as a hip hop trope and as a synecdoche of the entire story. Hamilton and the new nation are determined to not waste that one shot for success. And, ironically, Hamilton “wastes” his shot in the fatal duel, for moral reasons. Darn good song.

And then, the “Ten Duel Commandments.” Oh my goodness. Let’s take the Notorious BIG’s Ten Crack Commandments and use it to teach a legitimate lesson about history. Fan. Tast. Ic. When this one started, my jaw was on the floor. I know a bit of history, and, yes, Miranda got it right. And I knew the reference from somewhere, I just couldn’t quite place it…an absolutely amazing song - I have played it a few times tonight just because it is so good.

I am such an amateur when it comes to hip hop - I really should sit down with an expert and find all the references. Again, totally brilliant.

And a final one, even though I could mention many more: the cabinet battles. Seriously. I avoided all the debates this election cycle. Not because I am uninformed (quite the contrary, as anyone who reads this blog would know). But because our debates suck. Badly. After watching Hamilton, I think we should just scrap them and go with a rap battle format. Not because they would lead to a nuanced discussion of issues (which too few voters would actually care about, sadly), but because it would be a LOT more fun. And because I suspect that a toddler level of discourse (like, say, a certain elected narcissist who shall not be named) wouldn’t stand up to the skill of someone with a real vocabulary and interest in reading.

There is so much more to say, about the dancing, the sets, the lighting, the costumes, and so on. This show isn’t inexpensive, and the detail that goes into a show like this is amazing - you get your money’s worth at this level. I wish I could afford to see it a dozen times, and concentrate on a different facet each time. But that isn’t in the cards for me, alas.

But let me note a moment that really struck me. After a catastrophic battle led by an incompetent general, Lafayette and Hamilton strike a deal for arms (this is real history) and strategy, and give a nice little fist bump, with the line, “Immigrants get it done!”

At this point in the show, the audience erupted in cheers. This is Los Angeles, my hometown (I grew up in the San Fernando Valley), and LA and California are the West Coast epitome of the melting pot that many of us - including past GOP presidents - believe is the strength of America. We could see around us people of every color and nationality, and the cheer raised the roof. It did my heart good.

I wish I had time to look up the full script, and pull every great quotable line. But let me just go with this one, from George Washington to Hamilton:

“Winning was easy, young man - governing’s harder…”

It’s nice to win on slogans and utopian ideologies. But when it comes down to it, governing isn’t just about forcing an agenda on everyone. It requires getting others on board, and seeking the common good. Something the GOP hasn’t really had to face lately (thanks White Nationalism, Ayn Rand social darwinism, and Tea Party…), but which is absolutely necessary to have a stable and successful government. As Hamilton points out, almost as an aside, Alexander Hamilton had his biggest successes when he learned to compromise and trade a bit. Others got what they wanted, he got what he wanted, and ultimately, his ideas set the stage for a stable union, a killer financial system, and a two-party system that has mostly served our country well.

My wife and I made an overnight date of this, complete with food (of course), drinks, and a couple days of discussion. I am deeply indebted to her for many of the insights I have shared in this post. Like Eliza, she deserves more of the credit for the best of me than anyone can know.

Hamilton is subtitled “An American Musical.” I wholeheartedly agree. The story is of a chapter in our founding, in all its glory and shame. Both aspirational freedom and slavery get a mention, as they should. But at its heart, Hamilton represents the best of us. The dream of freedom and equality, the melding of the old and the new, the use of what Dvorak (back in the 1890s!) called American’s true folk music, the African American tradition in imaginative combination with the Broadway tradition of the past (itself influenced by immigrants like Irving Berlin), and the glorious amalgam that is the American Dream, where all of us aspire to find our own place in the fabric of the nation, regardless of race, nationality, religion, or political affiliation.

Let me end with a couple of the best songs. Enjoy.