Thursday, January 11, 2018

Poem: Random Kenya

Random Kenya
Kenya conveys a randomness

People by roadside
Selling wares
Lying prone, asleep
Simply looking to the distance
Walking cattle

Driving long, dusty backroads
To what feels like nowhere
Then, in vast emptiness
A man
Standing resolute
No obvious point of origin
Or destination
But he’s there if needed

Markets spring up
Awash in multitudes
Followed by open, bare roads

Broken down vehicle
A community appears from thin air
Some help
Others tinker
Children gawk, wave, take it all in

Kenya’s randomness is comforting

Copyright SGW 2017

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Poem: Kenya


An elephant’s power will be felt in its stride
No obstacles standing can divert them aside
Confident swagger in their marching along
Seemingly gentle, yet latently strong

Contrast with the grace of a giraffe’s slender cast
Softness implied as an elegance, vast
Legs to forever and neck stretching high
Trees reaching upward can’t extend to deny

Majestic, the lion, truly king and queens of the plain
Huntress stalks onward toward its prey by restrain
Male lies proudly with mane grandly sculpted
His Highness presides ever surely exulted

Speed of a cheetah feeds exhilaration fast growing
The moment awaits when a hunt’s undergoing

Zebra and warthog, hyena or jackal
Only first truly feel them when they live without shackle

The hooligan baboons as they probe of the camp
You can sniff at the tent, 3 A.M., naughty scamp!

For me it’s the leopard as definitive resplendence
Shoulder blades roll with a gait of ascendance
Or perched on a branch to survey the terrain
Eyes piercing distance with no hint of a strain
The cunning and beauty, and remarkable stealth
As I watch full of wonder I’ve a limitless wealth
Copyright SGW 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poem: Resilience


Watching the love by intensity’s stare
Struggles and hardships two people might bear
Tragic the turns come upon as they dance
One looks away just as other will glance
Hindrance springs forth too enormous to check
Ship starts to founder ‘till the rocks leave a wreck
Frightened of stigma, betrayal and loss
Frailty’s victims are each weight of their cross
Words left unspoken mark a road ever beckoning
Trail soon lost while the doubt’s ever reckoning
The heart proves resilient for the bond that’s been built
There is always more milk when a glass has been spilt

Copyright SGW 2017

Footnote: Influenced by the movie “The Big Sick.”

Friday, January 27, 2017

Rating the presidency of Barack Obama

In attempting to place Barack Obama historically in a presidential ranking, there are many complicating variables that would not normally be present. I attribute this to the election of Donald Trump to follow Obama into the White House.
Because Trump is likely to be such an extremist, irrational and unqualified train- wreck, there are bound to be Obama accomplishments that are undone. This could include the Affordable Care Act, the Iran nuclear deal and environmental and financial regulations, to name but a few.

A second factor that presents a challenge in grading Barack Obama’s presidency is the Republican obstruction during his two terms. Never before has a president been faced with opposition so severe, extreme and absolute. This was evident to such a degree that Republicans actually opposed their own ideas; the Affordable Care Act being the most obvious example. Opposition to Obama was a virulent reaction to his being black, well-spoken, reserved, and thoughtful, with the racism being at the top of the list.

With these qualifications in mind, I have ranked Barack Obama where I believe is appropriate. I feel that had his successor been Hillary Clinton, or even a rational Republican (which in 2016 was nearly impossible to find), this position would be more historically settled. However, depending on the Trump presidency, and how quickly the pendulum swings back to sanity in the nation in 2018 and 2020, Obama’s place could rise or fall by a few slots.

I rank Barack Obama reasonably high, and believe true historians will as well, for many reasons. However, I would first point out his most obvious failures, shortfalls and missed opportunities.

Domestically, his weak points can be viewed as a product of his early tenure timidity, or faith that he could bring Democrats and Republicans together. This resulted in his providing for inadequate spending to combat the Great Recession (with too many ineffective tax cuts included), relying on Congress to lead the way on health insurance reform (Thus succumbing to the tendencies of men such as Ben Nelson, Max Baucus and Joe Lieberman to significantly weaken the final product, and Republicans to whip up a frenzy of misinformation and lies leading to the creation of the Tea Party), and in not prosecuting anyone on Wall Street for the reckless behavior that enabled the economic collapse Obama inherited.

On foreign policy, Obama’s greatest failings were in his too closely adhering to George W. Bush Administration policies on drone strikes and warrantless wiretapping (I place this in foreign policy due to its terrorism connection). Obama, also, was sometimes too reasonable with the thugs and tyrants in the Middle East and Russia. While I will point to this as a strength, too, drawing lines in the sand (Syria), being too reflective (Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, China) and not recognizing the value of at least showing the stick more transparently alongside the carrot, allowed the various strong men in these countries to act without genuine fear of repercussion. Lastly, he, like most all other experts, underestimated ISIL’s rise.

While peace between Israel and Palestine remains out of reach, probably further away than it was when Obama took office, I blame this fully on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli extreme right, Mahmoud Abbas and the weak and cowardly Palestinian leadership, Republican intransigence, and AIPAC.

However, Barack Obama’s successes, while some potentially will be ephemeral, outweigh these weaknesses by a sizable margin, thereby making him an above average to very good president.

While the world exploded due to the Arab Spring, most United States connection to this would be longstanding, dating back to post-World War II. No president could have drastically altered the events that took place. Egypt was a mess because the Muslim Brotherhood and the military both refused to govern inclusively. Iraq fell apart due to Bush policies, Iran’s influence and the Shiite unwillingness to, again, govern inclusively. While I have mentioned Obama’s failings as to Syria, I also believe he wisely did not engage more fully. The American people overwhelmingly opposed the boots on the ground that would have been required, Congress, cowardly, was unwilling to act in any manner, and the reality within Syria showed that the opposition to Bashar al-Assad was incredibly fluid and unreliable. Arming militants could have led to a repeat of the disastrous outcome of arming the Afghani jihadists of the 1980’s.

As such, I view Obama’s Syria policy as limiting the quagmire for the U.S. ISIL was technically an already existing threat – a product of the Iraq War and al Qaeda in Iraq. Iraq itself had no true means of being a success because of their own leadership. Obama got the U.S. out of the sinkhole that Iraq had been as best as possible. The same was true in Afghanistan.

The Obama Administration had clear successes, too. Ties to India grew by leaps and bounds. The failed Cuba policy was ended, with great promise for the future. Despite some serious problems with its Rohingya population, Myanmar gave up a solid measure of its military rule. Al Qaeda was seriously weakened, including the death of Osama bin Laden. There were no significant terrorist strikes within U.S. borders. The open hostility and negative image of the United States internationally, a product of the Bush Administration’s “Cowboy Diplomacy,” was greatly reversed. And, most importantly, despite unprecedented political opposition from Republicans and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Iran Nuclear Agreement was signed. This deal made the world much safer for the foreseeable future and possibly bought Iran enough time to moderate when Ayatolluh Khamanei dies, hopefully soon.

Domestically, the Obama presidency could have been great. Sadly, due to Obama’s early naiveté that Republicans would be reasonable and act in the best interests of the nation, combined with those Republicans intentionally harming the country solely to deny Obama any success, less was accomplished than was possible. I do not put too much of this upon Obama’s shoulders.

The Obama Administration was handed the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Unemployment was rising, banks were becoming insolvent, the auto industry was collapsing, and the country was on the brink of disaster. Obama’s steady hand provided enough stimulus to stem the tide. Bailouts to the auto and banking industry, building on what the Bush Administration was virtually forced to begin to enact, saved millions of jobs and prevented a complete economic catastrophe.

Once things stabilized, with the help of an engaged and late-to-the-game, proactive Federal Reserve Bank, unemployment eventually leveled off and actually achieved near complete employment. Obama’s negotiating led to a reversal of some (though not enough) of the Bush tax cuts, resulting in a lessening of income inequality. Towards the end of Obama’s tenure, income growth began to show real signs of picking up momentum. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created, greatly reducing the risk of further financial fraud and protecting the middle and lower classes significantly.

While the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” has produced incredible controversy, and is far from a perfect piece of law, it’s success is beyond logical question. It did not fully address cost containment, but it did slow the growth of increases. It allowed for a wide array of innovation to make care more efficient and effective. Most importantly, through the insurance exchanges and increased Medicaid enrollment, 30 million additional people received affordable (due to subsidies) health insurance. The plan also had a substantial impact on income inequality by effectively granting raises to people in the lower and middle classes via affordable care, while paying for the care with tax increases on the wealthiest people.

The Affordable Care Act clearly needs tinkering to fix the various problems that any large piece of legislation can lead to. Sadly, the potential for repeal by Republicans following the end of the Obama presidency could undo all these gains and negatively impact tens of millions of people. This is one key area where Republican success would, sadly, negatively impact Obama’s legacy. However, judging by early news from the post-Obama presidency, Republicans appear to have succumbed to the notion of insuring more people. Though all their alternatives will not actually result in this, the change in the tone of the conversation is to Obama’s credit. The best hope is that once Republicans make things worse, the Obama legacy will allow for a second reversal that restores coverage levels and goes further than the ACA.

While some might argue that President Obama did not do enough for the environment – increased oil production domestically, allowing fracking – the truth is his administration did protect vast expanses of the nation and made major efforts to improve auto fuel efficiencies, address climate change globally and shift the country to alternative energy sources.

The Obama Administration was essentially scandal-free. In fact, the only real scandal during Obama’s term in office was Republican attempts to manufacture scandals through countless irresponsible, fraudulent and shameful investigations into, frankly, nothing.

Some might place blame on Barack Obama for the increased national divisiveness. It is more appropriate to place almost no blame on the president. Any disparagement of President Obama for the rancor that grew during, and as a result of, his presidency would be the equivalent of blaming Lincoln for the Civil War. The truth is, as is often the case throughout history, a reaction to economic difficulty, often leads to nationalist excess, rightwing extremism and overt acts of hostility. The rise of the Tea Party, the extent to which the Republican Party became a rightwing, fanatical platform and the eventual rise of Trumpism, is not a reflection on the Obama Administration, or any failings on its part, but the product on an uninformed electorate and misguided rage.

Overall, Barack Obama merits the rating I have given him. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act with an insufficient replacement, or a rejection of the Iran Nuclear Accords, could drop his rating. But the United States was blessed by a thoughtful, responsible, dynamic, and good man, who had a plan of success for the nation. It was not fully attained, and could be undone in many respects. For now, Barack Obama stands as this nation’s #11 president.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Poem: Milk and Honey

Israel changes you. There is a deep, spiritual connection that takes over your soul.

Milk And Honey

Layers of lives past, embrace
Power in God face to face
Hands touching Wall feels the grace
Holiest highs to this place
Extremes doth remain a disgrace
Warmth, loving peace should replace

Float ‘pon the Dead Sea, serene
Walk through Masada’s lost scene
History knows what’s unseen
Too much the hate as routine
More than enough shared between
Caring, the hope I’ve foreseen
Wash away fear to ‘come clean
Killing knows none of God’s gleam

All of these people converge
World’s (main) three religions must merge
I’ve walked ‘long the roads to emerge
Joining of hands one must urge
Beautiful land reemerge
Israel brings forth heaven’s touch
Opening hearts offers much

Copyright SGW 2016

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Poem: Trump Mindset

Trump Mindset
(Dedicated to his supporters)
He is only a symptom.
A diseased contagion spread
From recesses of mindless
Hatred and inflamed raging.
Racism branching outward.
Frightened by what is not them,
For they are cowards and fools,
With orange, soulless leader.

The buffoons follow like sheep.
And he will steal where he can,
Because all he is, is thief,
Carnival barker and fraud.

How much destruction awaits?

SGW 2016

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bobby Kennedy

Yesterday, I finished reading, "Bobby Kennedy - The Making of a Liberal Icon." It was the third book on Bobby Kennedy I have read, not including JFK and LBJ books.
RFK is one of my five historical heroes (see below). While his flaws and failings are easy to discern and discuss - a degree of support for Joe McCarthy, impatience, abrasiveness, a sense of entitlement in daily living, among others - there is no question in my mind that RFK was one of the greatest Americans, and possibly world figures in the last 250 years at least.
I could go on as to what he actually accomplished. But I found myself reflecting more on what might have been. I came up with the following list:
1. Wins the presidency in 1968. We never get Nixon or Watergate. In fact, that is the end of Nixon's political career.
2. Based on #1, we exit Vietnam in 1969. Many lives are saved. Vietnam ends up being what it became anyway. But we re-establish some contact many years earlier than occurred otherwise.
3. Ronald Reagan runs for president in 1976, possibly even 1972. Either way, he does not have the wind at his back and we are spared the Reagan presidency. This dramatically alters financial de-regulation and significantly lessens income inequality.
4. We still get the EPA and some detente with China. But working with his brother, Ted, and other powerful members of Congress, we get universal health insurance coverage by 1974. Not during his presidency, but in the following decade, we get to single payer care.
5. George H.W. Bush wins the presidency in 1980.
6. RFK is able to build upon his work in JFK's presidency and, despite his shared animosity with LBJ, the Great Society, and achieves meaningful and durable civil rights gain. The country gets to 1976 with a long road still to travel. But we are much further along in the trip.
As the above shows, I consider RFK's murder one of the worst moments in U.S. history. I know it can be viewed as dreaming and wishful thinking. Still, I can't help believing, given what I have read, that Bobby Kennedy was so special and unique as to have been able to achieve the kind of greatest I speak of.
On that note, my Top 5 Historical Heroes, in no order:
1. Thomas Jefferson
2. Nelson Mandela
3. Robert Kennedy
4. Abraham Lincoln
5. Malcolm X
Honorable Mentions: Ben Franklin, George Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Gandhi. Aung San Suu Kyi had a shot to be included until she showed herself to be a bit too much a domineering leader while too weak regarding the Rohingyas.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Big Bang Theory

“The Big Bang Theory” is currently my favorite television show. It ranks on my list of top shows all-time. I watch it so often and am starting to consider addiction as being involved here.

I know there are countless message boards for the show, and lists showing mistakes like an empty glass suddenly being filled or other filming faux pas. Those are fun, but fairly common to any show. However, I am limiting this post to one basic subject – the architectural impossibilities of the building at 2311 North Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena, California, and the various inconsistences within the building.

1. Why the building is architecturally impossible: Where is Penny’s apartment? We know the front door in the lobby is just to the right of the stairs, coming down. The stairway wraps around the elevator. Based on this, Penny’s apartment has to be in the exact location the front door in the lobby is located. We also know that just outside the front door is a sidewalk and then the street. Therefore, Penny’s apartment has to be hanging directly over the sidewalk and the street. And, the small window in her kitchen, which is generally blocked off by something, but I believe reveals a brick wall at times (Hence, Penny putting various designs there to replace the visual of the wall), can’t exist where it is shown. That window would have to be in the middle of the street, and what on earth is a brick wall doing in the middle of a street in Pasadena?!

2. What kind of amoeba-shaped building do they live in? Look at this thing!!

3. To take #2 one step further, as is often pointed out, there are 16 mailboxes in the lobby. There cannot be any apartments on the first floor (See #5).Therefore, my assumption is there are 4 apartments on the second, third, fourth, and fifth floors. We are never led to believe there are more than five floors, though it is possible. But that would make the mailbox layout even more bizarre. In Season 1, Episode 2, I have noticed, just to the right of Sheldon and Leonard’s door (facing into the apartment), there is a cornering of the wall and the glimpse of a hallway. It would make sense that two more apartments are down this hallway. However, I believe this viewpoint becomes altered in later seasons, and may no longer exist, dismissing these other apartments into oblivion. If they do exist, though, the building becomes even weirder looking.

4. Going back to the mailboxes in the lobby, it is a 4 x 4 layout. Sheldon and Leonard always take their mail from the upper left box. However, in at least one episode, I have noticed Penny taking mail from the upper right box. Shouldn’t she be the box right next to Sheldon’s and Leonard’s? Again, not violating the laws of physics, but clearly odd. Also, if I am correct that people live on floors 2 – 5, why does Leonard once mention getting the couch from the guys on the first floor? And shouldn’t Sheldon’s and Leonard’s and Penny’s mailboxes be on the second row from the top?

5. Why aren’t there apartments on the first floor? For starters, the front door to the lobby is where Penny’s apartment would be. No apartment is just outside the front door. The mailboxes are exactly where Sheldon’s and Leonard’s apartment, and all those below and the fifth floor above, are located. No apartment behind the mailboxes then. To the right of the elevator (facing it), is a small corridor. All indications are the door that can be seen there either goes directly into the laundry room or leads to stairs going down to it. If we walk into the lobby from the front door and turn right, small plants can sometimes be seen. Why would they be in front of any apartments or blocking the approach to a hallway? Also, we see in Season 3, Episode 20, that there is a light store directly adjacent to the apartment at street level. Sheldon and Howard walk past it before Howard departs and Sheldon is then chased by a big dog for his hot dogs. Clearly, no apartments over there. So, no people are living on the first floor.

6. Another building oddity I have noticed is the window in Leonard’s and Sheldon’s kitchen. We see it repeatedly in earlier seasons. It faces a brick wall, which is a bit strange, given the layout of where the bedrooms would have to be, since it does not appear to be angled at all. This window is important to Sheldon, as he has chosen his seat on the couch, in part, based upon the cross breeze between this window and the larger window in the main room. However, in later seasons, there is a large erase board fully blocking where this window would be. Did the window disappear? Why would Sheldon allow such a large obstruction to be altering his much-needed cross breeze?

Now back to re-runs!!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Hamilton (Broadway)


The Broadway original play, "Hamilton," has been the event of the year. Celebrities and politicians vie for seats, and even us regular folk have to pay $500 or more for a ticket. For a number of reasons, "Hamilton" merits this attention and the accolades it has received. To some degree, the praise is somewhat over the top.

First, let me begin by stating my being a bit of an aficionado of the Revolutionary Era. At the bottom of this post, I will discuss briefly the historical aspects of the play I had problems with. Chalk it up to my OCD-like need for things to be as accurate as possible when presenting historical events.

Sadly, or not, I saw "Hamilton" about a month after much of the original cast had moved on. I have seen Lin-Manuel Miranda in "In the Heights," and on television, so I have some sense of him as a performer. The new lead, playing Alexander Hamilton, is Javier Munoz, who I believe contributed to the creation of the role. Munoz is so good as to be worthy of the highest praise. He might be equal to Miranda, though I cannot say for sure, having not seen the latter as Hamilton. I can say that Munoz vocally is less nasal than Miranda, and I like him more as a singer and even rapper. Miranda's genius is as a creator.

I also was quite taken with the performances of Renee Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler (original cast), Andrew Chapelle as Lafayatte and Thomas Jefferson (especially as Jefferson) and Lexi Lawson as Eliza Hamilton. Sydney James Harcourt, though the understudy in the Aaron Burr role, was also quite good. Christopher Jackson, as George Washington (original cast), provides the best vocal performance, with a stellar rendition of "One Last Time." Lawson's "The World Was Wide Enough" is also a show highlight vocally.

Conceptually, Lin-Manual Miranda has created something uniquely scintillating and impressive. "Hamilton" is smart, funny, eye-catching, original, and overflowing with cultural relevance. In this time of Donald Trump, and the racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant fervor he spews, and many of his followers share, the diversity of the cast, where white men and women are black, Hispanic and Asian, and women can even be men, is a stark message that the Trump vitriol is not what America is supposed to represent. I realize that the original America; in fact the one that even now continues to struggle with inequality, is far from perfect. The founding ideals are more represented in this cast, and many of the lines of the script, than can be located in any Trump rally. To quote the play, "Immigrants - we get the job done."

Some of the choreography of "Hamilton" is fascinating. The two rap battles between Jefferson and Hamilton are wonderful. And the Burr-Hamilton dual is gorgeously laid out. The staging is seamless and alluring.

The funniest moments come from the King George character, though Thomas Jefferson's entrance provides satirical pleasures worth mentioning, too.

While I do not see the soundtrack as being a timeless "show tunes" display, it is no less impressive for its bringing to the stage agile and clever lyrics, witty repartee and a few traditional numbers (see above for two examples) that shine brightly.

"Hamilton" is not an all-time great musical of the year winner, in my opinion. But it is a dazzling Broadway display, and it is hard to argue with the success it has garnered. I maintain that Danny Burstein's portrayal of Tevye in the "Fiddler on the Roof" revival deserved Best Actor. For its timeliness of message, given the politics in our country this election season, it warrants its place in the spotlight. Anyone who can get a ticket, should.

Historical notes:
Mr. Miranda's script is based on the Ron Chernow biography, "Alexander Hamilton," You can read what I have to say about that book here. I appreciate that this musical is about entertainment and is not meant to be a school classroom. That said, people will walk out of the theater believing they have learned more history than they actually have.

If you want a much more honest understanding of Aaron Burr, I recommend following this link and read the biography it discusses. Burr is misrepresented throughout "Hamilton." Then again, he is treated somewhat unjustly in most textbooks, too.

The caricatures of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are also highly distorted. I could probably offer up 20 books on Jefferson and 3 or 4 on Madison that could serve as more objective portrayals.

Burr's, Jefferson's and Madison's role in confronting Hamilton about the Reynolds Affair are pure fiction. James Monroe and two others were actually involved. The election of 1800 is a factual mess, too.

The arc of Alexander Hamilton's life is close enough, though imperfect. His prolific writing is beyond reproach, and his fighting spirit and creation of our monetary system unquestioned. The story Eliza Hamilton tells about the orphanage she created in his honor after his death is true.

My point for this section is, enjoy "Hamilton," Then read a lot more!!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Poem: Weathered


Struggles we’re given leave their lasting impression
The damage they’ll do of often random expression
We can tilt at our windmills; hope to fend off the blows
And plan as we might as life’s laughter still grows
No one escapes regardless effect and causation
We rebuild in the face of each new devastation
A truth universal is we all must endure
What the storm will break down the new day can restore
The waves beat relentless with unwearied pulsation
Firm we must stand for the length of duration
At the end of the onslaught the clouds might disperse
Things could be better, but they could also be worse
We all hold a strength inherently willed to survive
Dormant foundations can, with time, yet revive

Copyright SGW 2014

1.  This poem is directly inspired and based on Jerzy Jung’s song, “In Waves.”
2.   In describing the song at a performance, Jerzy stated, “Rebuilding in the face of personal devastation.”  I used that line almost completely in this poem.
3.  The use of the word “Waves” used in this poem is a hat-tip to the song.
4.  The use of the word “Strength” used in this poem is also taken from Jerzy’s song as the destination to where the overcoming of hardships will come.  Strength of self, but also others who love us.

Monday, July 4, 2016

One More Thing, Stories and Other Stories - B.J. Novak (Book)

What a thoroughly enjoyable book, by B.J. Novak! This collection of short stories and thoughts is whimsical, clever, thought-provoking, and profoundly wise. That's it; my review is done. Read the book!

My favorite stories:
The Rematch
No One Goes to Heaven to See Dan Folgelberg
 The Something by John Grisham
The Man Who Invented the Calendar
MONSTER: The Rollercoaster
If I Had a Nickel
A Good Problem to Have
The Market Was Down
Great Writers Steal
Confucius At Home
The Best Thing in the World Awards
Everyone Was Singing the Same Song: The Duke of Earl Recalls His Trip to America in June of 1962

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Poem: Broken

Sit in a darkness of growing decay
The body’s betrayed what the mind might convey
Whispers a vestige of richness in being
Look to a mirror with disdain for the seeing
No one unmasks the full depth in what’s broken
The stain of the scars leaves much damage unspoken
To know no solution can repair what’s diminished
‘Nary got started yet the race has been finished
So look at the world’s unattainable prize
Revealing the dreams as ridiculous lies
Too much to ask for what most would assume
Broken, the body, is its own living tomb

SGW 2016

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