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Monthly Archives: August 2015

I just wrote an email to someone:

Don’t know why I’m writing you. I’m guessing that you haven’t written back because you are working odd hours and, it would appear, trying to quit smoking, not because of my politics. Still, I’m feeling really funny. I just altered a post, not because I changed my mind, because if I write what I really believe I think I will have no friends. What does this mean? Am I a coward? Am I a hypocrite? Should I pretend to believe things I don’t, things I’ve read about, even obsessed about, so that I will still have friends?

Then I deleted the email.

I’m not having an emotional crisis. I’m not feeling suicidal or even depressed. I’m not even having an intellectual crisis because I, in fact, do know what I believe. I am feeling very alienated because I seem to be the only person on earth that believes this. I look around, and on the left opinion seems to be unanimous. I tried reading things on the right, and although they disagree with the left on this issue I disagree with them even more. And I’m writing vaguely because I’m even afraid to say what the subject is.

Some months ago, I was inclined to agree with the left. Then I read a few things and I began to have doubts. In the meantime, the subject picked up ground on the left and more people have become swept up with it. I read even more. I became more and more convinced that the left was wrong in a great many particulars. Positions have hardened. “You’re with us or against us.” I think it’s an extreme position, but the on the left it is mainstream. Any attempt at nuance is taken as being “against.”

I’m not neutral. It’s not like, say, FGM, which I think is a really bad idea and I’m incredibly glad that I have a clitoris, never experienced the pain of having it, or any other part of my vulva, cut and can still enjoy sex. However, when women from cultures in which they do that say they don’t want to be saved I think, “Cool. I didn’t really care that much.”

This, on the other hand, is something that cuts much closer to home, something about which I have very strong feelings and regarding which it is very hard to look away or bury my head in the sand. Yet, I can’t talk about it.

Are there any moderate liberals remaining out there, or has everyone become a radical?

Just sharing with everyone some details I’m finding interesting:

Castles were expected to pay their way, as a centre for the administration of estates, and the profitable dispensing of justice.

– from The National Trust Book of British Castles, by Paul Johnson

I don’t have any particular interest in British castles, but much of the stuff written in English is, well, English.

Just a quick note because in about five minutes I’m going to at least go through the motions and pretend to work. We all have our pet issues and as many people her know free speech has been one of mine since the late nineteen seventies. For most of my life it’s been an absurdly easy position for me since there have been comparatively few threats to free speech in the U.S. and many of those have come from non-governmental sources like radical feminists.

We occasionally hear calls from the radical left to limit speech they don’t like, however it has not made significant headway in the U.S. despite the Orwellian labeling of such speech as “hate speech.” However, in other countries that is not the case.

Can anyone in the United States even imagine working on a play and having the police come in and ask what you are doing? That is exactly what Omar El-Khairy, the writer of a play called Homeland claims:

El-Khairy said: “In a production meeting we were asked by NYT and stage management that the police wanted to look at the script, though we don’t know where that came from or who led that conversation.” (Source.)

The play apparently had an innovative form of staging in the hallways of a school. Audiences would walk through the corridors and witness conversations among the cast. According to the director Nadia Latif, “The whole point was that it was more of a kaleidoscopic exploration of the treatment of homegrown radicalisation and to explore the breadth of opinion that is out there, and that the young people find themselves subject to.”

Ironically, below that article, The Guardian suggested some other articles that might interest me including “Play in Uganda cancelled after regulators step in.”

Laws against speech are inherently always in support of the politically powerful and against the politically weak.

I really liked the dance studios at Bennington college when I saw them. I was pretty young then, so I don’t feel any confidence in my judgment. Still, they struck me as a great space for the purpose for which they were intended. The clerestory windows filled the space with light without having windows get in the way of workspace. I’ve always been fond of clerestory windows. I took a few pictures of my sister. The focus wasn’t meant so much to be on her as on the space itself. Although so much of architecture is about creating space, it’s very hard to communicate the feeling of being inside a space in a photograph. At least I’ve found it hard. It’s easier to photograph the exterior of a building, treating it like a form of sculpture. I wanted my sister to move about the space while I photographed because it was the space’s functionality that I enjoyed.

Unfortunately, I was a pretty inexperienced photographer and the photo is more than a little underexposed. I’ve been able to correct it somewhat in Photoshop, but the result is a little grainy. Teenage girl in overalls dancing in a studio space.

As a few people who have spoken with me privately know, the riots in Baltimore have cause to me to question many common liberal beliefs that I once accepted. Even more, it’s driven a real wedge between me and people with whom I’ve been in agreement in the past. It has made me feel something of a political outcast and a pariah. I’ve abandoned comment thread I used to frequent. Today, I read this comment by David Simon, the creator of the tv show The Wire:

What’s happened in Baltimore with that riot was inevitable and understandable — but what drove me crazy about a lot of the immediate response, particularly from outside of Baltimore, was it’s not only inevitable and understandable — it’s good. I’m not talking about the protests, which were epic and good. But a riot is a riot is a riot. And burning is burning and looting is looting.

The demeanor of the people writing from London and New York with the dilettante’s stance of saying, “This is how these people get to be heard, and they won’t be heard otherwise,” you know what? Right now we’re trying to end mass incarceration, we’re trying to end over-policing, we’re trying to end this draconian behavior. The optics are such that for the votes and for the consensus you need in the rest of America, what’s playing on CNN and what’s going to play on CNN, inevitably, is the fires and the looting, and the optics were horrible.

Also, I live in a city [Baltimore] that hasn’t recovered from the riots of 1968. L.A. can have a riot, New York can have a riot, London can have a riot, and they’ll be fine in a year. Something bad happens in Crown Heights in New York? Eh, it’s bad for Crown Heights, but New York’s going to go right. It’s the financial capital of the world. London, a world capital. Baltimore is a second-tier city. We just stopped losing population for the first time in 40 years three years ago, and you tell me that the riots are a good thing? Fuck you. Come to Baltimore and say that. I live there. I was particularly incensed at the insouciance with which people were proclaiming that the riot — that when it gravitated from being mass civil disobedience, which I admire in every sense and want to see continue, to what we were seeing — was a good thing. Fuck you. You don’t live here. You don’t know what a riot is. You don’t know what it could do to the civic firmament.

I don’t think what happened in Baltimore was “inevitable and understandable,” at least not in the way I believe he means it. The rest of it, I understand completely.

Regarding the population, from the Baltimore Sun last March:

The new estimate released Thursday shows a small decline of 611 people to 622,793 people for the year ended June 30, 2014. The dip followed two years of growth that added about 2,500 people to the 620,889 living here in July 2011, the summer before she set the goal.

So they are far from out of the woods.

I’ve been staying away from politics publicly but obsessing about it privately. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get my thoughts in order and write it down. I’ve taken a look at conservative sites, but I still don’t agree with them either. I also don’t like what I feel is the pressure from liberals to fall in line with things I don’t believe.

 

When I was in my early teens, my grandfather gave me his camera.  Around the same time, my sister went to a summer dance program at Bennington College. I took a bunch of photos of her. Not long before, she had transitioned from ballet to modern, so I think the program at Bennington may have had a big influence on her.

dance-studio-2-altered

 

WordPress’s overly helpful spell check underlined ballet. “Did you mean ‘ballot.'” As it happens, my sister is one of the most level headed people I know. If she were to run for anything, I would certainly vote for her. I hope she doesn’t. Then I’d wind up being that liability sibling than some politicians seem to have.

I took an architecture history course in Quebec. The professor put up some slides of pueblos in the Southwestern United States, mud brick buildings with flat roofs. One student raised her hand and asked, “How do the roofs shed the snow?”

I was reminded of that because I’ve been puzzling over the roofs of castles. The structures with crenelations have roofs that do not extend over the walls. I’ve been wondering how they shed the rain.

I’ve been continuing to read up on castles. For various reasons I’ve become interested in the whys and wherefores of their development. Although lines between different categories like fortified cities, castles and garrisons can get blurred, according to Wikipedia:

Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. This is distinct from a palace, which is not fortified; from a fortress, which was not always a residence for nobility; and from a fortified settlement, which was a public defence – though there are many similarities among these types of construction.

These arise when the central government ceases to be an effective bulwark against violence and, by necessity, delegates the defenses to private lords. While I was surfing the internet, I found a blog post that had some nice photos of some castles. I didn’t bookmark the page, so I can’t give a link, but in one of the comments someone wrote that it was a shame that the U.S. missed out on “the whole castle building era.” A shame? Thank heavens. Fortifications are the mark of conflict and the fewer one has in all likelihood the more peaceful and time and place happened to be. Castles only look romantic today because the need for them is no longer there.

Norman-Castles

I made this for myself because I’m a very visual person. The locations listed in gray were the castles built as part of the initial conquest of England by the Normans. You can see the concentration of castles near the Welsh border.

When people advocate for anarchist or radical libertarian ideas of government I wonder how good their grasp of history is.

Theatre reviewing is turning out to be a lot harder than I thought. Originally, I was hoping to see the show and write up a review immediately afterward like a bona fide make-believe reviewer. Dawn came up and I was still writing so I had to break it into parts one and two.

Some people have called Hamilton a “rap opera.” That is not quite accurate since hip hop is only one of several musical styles that the writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, utilizes. As for the opera half of the phrase “rap opera,” if you accept Anthony Tommasini’s distinction, “in opera, music is the driving force; in musical theater, words come first,” then it would seem that Hamilton might fall on the musical theatre side of the line. While there are few, if any, lines of spoken prose, and recurring musical themes permeate the score to make if feel more musically unified than a typical musical, the words remain paramount. Both the book and the score were written by Miranda, and they form an integrated whole. Ultimately, the line is thin and the distinction is academic, but to my mind it fits comfortably in the tradition of Broadway musicals.

The musical was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. Miranda says that while he was reading the book he felt that songs were just coming off the page and the finished product still retains the excitement of that initial inspiration. Scores have always been written using the musical forms of their time no matter what the era of the subject might be, and we should be no more surprised to find elements of hip hop in a musical about a founder of the United States than we should to find elements of 1970s pop accompanying a story about Pepin the Hunchback or Jesus Christ. The rap form does give Miranda a wonderful advantage at many points. The point is made throughout the musical that Alexander Hamilton wrote a torrent of words throughout his life. A line that repeats is “why do you write like you’re running out of time?” Hip hop allows Miranda to give musical form to this torrent of words. The conceit of staging the opposing viewpoints of Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson as a “rap battle” during a meeting of George Washington’s cabinet works very well and allow us to hear the substance of the argument in a way that is in keeping with the musical and remains entertaining.

Besides writing the words and music, Miranda also plays the lead role of Alexander Hamilton. This could have felt too much like one man’s show if it hadn’t been for the prominence of the character of Aaron Burr.

Leslie Odom Jr., along with the ensemble, opens the show with the song “Alexander Hamilton” which summarizes Hamilton’s beginnings, “bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman.” At the end of the song he says, “And I’m the fool who shot him.” (I’m quoting from memory, so please forgive inaccuracies.) It was momentarily jarring to see what a prominent place Burr had been given in the story. However, Odom’s dynamic, but smooth and polished, Burr proves a necessary ballast for Miranda’s impetuous Hamilton. Odom delivers what may become the classic lines for a politician:

Talk less.
Smile more.
Don’t let them know
what you’re against
or what you’re for.

Miranda is far from the first to see Hamilton and Burr as a study in contrasts. In most retellings of the story, Burr suffers from the comparison. Although this is Hamilton’s story and he gets by far the largest share of our sympathy, by giving Burr such a prominent place he keeps him from becoming a cardboard villain. (An interesting titbit I recently learned: Aaron Burr was the grandson of the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards.)

Telling an historical story is inevitably an act of interpretation. In recent years, conservatives have been especially active in promoting an interpretation of the founding years of the United States in a way that supportive of their current goals. While Miranda’s play does not make any overt references to the positions of current political parties, it most certainly has a point of view, and not one that the extreme right will find useful. Miranda makes much out of the fact that Hamilton was an immigrant, including an embarrassing high-five with the Marquis de Lafayette, whom I had never heard called an immigrant before since he was only here temporarily.

Another point that is highlighted in Miranda’s version is the importance of the orderly transfer of power that occurs when Washington steps aside. Perhaps it stood out to me because I’ve many times thought that an under-appreciated moment in U.S. history was when, at the close of the Revolution, “some political factions wanted Washington to become the new nation’s king. His modesty in declining the offer and resigning his military post at the end of the war fortified the republican foundations of the new nation.” (Source.) Miranda does not cover that moment, but he does include the fact that George Washington declined to run for a third term. Hamilton is credited by Miranda with being the principal author of Washington’s Farewell Address and, as Washington tells Hamilton some of the points he would like to make, many in the audience will recognize points like a warning against foreign entanglements from high school.

I haven’t taken the opportunity to check the historical accuracy on most points. One that did make me wonder was the prominence of Hamilton’s sister-in-law, Angelica Schuyler, played by Renée Elise Goldsberry. I couldn’t help wondering if he had exaggerated her importance in order to have some balance between the sexes. According to Wikipedia, it seems that he may have actually downplayed it.

Angelica never failed to enchant the famous, intelligent men she met; and in Paris she soon befriended the venerable Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Ambassador to France. She also developed lasting friendships with Franklin’s successor, Thomas Jefferson, and with the Marquis de Lafayette.

Besides her extensive correspondence with Hamilton which is mentioned in the play, she also had an ongoing correspondence with Jefferson. Goldsberry brings to the role, along with a stunning voice, a necessary intelligence and charm.

Many news articles on the show have fixated on the hip hop musical elements and the multiracial cast which I think is a shame. I’ve already mentioned that musicals have always reflected the music of the times in which they were written. In 2015, I would hope that open casting would no longer be an interesting topic. Back sometime around 1988 a friend once said to me that the worst thing about being a black actor was knowing that he could never play Iago. I thought of him a few months ago when I read that the Royal Shakespeare Company had cast Lucian Msamati as Iago in this year’s production of Othello. Can we stop raising our eyebrows now? The fixation on these two elements makes the show sound gimmicky, and that is a very wrong impression to have. It feels fresh and original, but it is a not simply a novelty.

The ensemble is notably tight. The choreography is highly competent.

The direction, the costuming and the scenic design all worked very well to support the story. I thought the lighting design was excellent.

It’s really no surprise that this is the hot new play.