Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

LESSONS FROM OUR OWN HISTORY

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

by Barry Jagoda

Reunions to celebrate the “good old days” are privileges of growing older. Three such emotional, memorable events have been experienced in April, 2017.

Joining 200 high school friends and acquaintances brought back warm memories of growing up in the suburbs of Houston 50 years ago.

Then, after 40 years, getting back with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter—in Atlanta and in Plains—reminded one of the power of the ideas, the moderation and the passion that enabled the election of the 39th President of the United States in 1976.

And a 50th reunion of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University marked a passage back to 1966-1967 underscoring what had helped turn a young Texan into a reporter—a professional journalist–with commitments to keeping an eye on government.

___________

As the poet John Dunne wrote, “Make new friends, but keep the old—for these are silver and those are gold.” Friendships and bonds of attachment characterize these reunion meetings. As one participant, viewing a photograph from our adolescence, wrote, “We could not possibly have been that young but now it is impossible that we are that old.”

As one survives into an eighth decade a wise friend from earlier times now writes, “Health is Everything,” appreciated less if one currently suffers from no debilitating illness.   And, the half-joking admonition from another half-century long pal, “If you do get sick make sure it is something they can fix,” becomes more real as one ages into the 70s and beyond.

The luckiest among us may be those who still have meaningful family connections—children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. A very few still have a living parent. At some time in the growing up process we leave childhood homes, with their rules and their unconditional love. We develop our own set of values and new aspirations. And now, looking back over the decades, pictures of “what formed us” become clearer.

Neuroscientists and others puzzle over the competing claims of nurture and nature—our genetic inheritance and our lived life experiences. But in the lingering last years of life one sees overlap, the near impossibility of sorting out just what came along with our embryos versus what we have learned over the ages. Curiously, though, as a wise friend jokes, “At age 30 I thought I knew all the answers but now, at 70, I realize how very little I know.” This charming comment is not necessarily true: A wonderful discovery of older age is to find new old mistakes to correct, new life-lessons that can still be gained.

A goal of life, as expressed by psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, is to become “self-actualized,” to be dependent on one’s inner life for meaning, perhaps the opposite of David Riesman’s “other-directed” personality. But none can deny the deep benefits of the power of “significant others,” who have come into our lives and—with luck—are still there, in real life or influencing us from the grave.

It is perhaps at night as one tumbles off to sleep that there is best the realization of how fortunate one might be to have another with whom one might share the slings and arrows—as well as the ice cream—of being human. But life lessons are still there to be had: An art gallery curator’s recent comment helps put this into perspective with a summing up of culture that transcends, yet also populates: Asked the meaning of art, the gallery expert explains, “Art fills the soul.” And, “Where is the soul?,” asks the skeptical journalist. “The soul is where love and joy reside,” says the wise professional.

Another approach to the soul is often associated with teachings from the various religions. Listen to the Ten Commandments or understand the urgency of the teachings of the Islamic Prophet. Knowing that such creation stories are all about us, hard to miss, one can fall back, perhaps, on the Golden Rule, dealing with others as one would hope to be treated.

For a secular individual—having no belief in a deity—there is the additional challenge of sorting through ideas inherited from the centuries to find one’s own values, ethics, moral principles. And herein is a great virtue of being a mere human being. It is said that we each have primitive brains, derived intellectually from the Darwinian tradition. Our rational faculties are even taken over by these earlier constructs which try to focus us. As this understanding may be true, the human challenge is shown to be even more difficult.

Finding decency is a quest not to be undervalued. But for an older human the chance for a second look—a glance back—makes a reunion another chance to mull over what has come before. One might revel in the good fortunes but not forget what may have gone wrong. Perhaps too late for much change but at least having history’s lessons for intellectual satisfaction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAMPAIGN FOR WHITE HOUSE WAS THRILLING JOURNEY

Thursday, December 29th, 2016

Reminisce below was first published in the Inauguration Issue, 40 years later, of the Carter-Mondale Letter:

by Barry Jagoda

Several of us from the Carter campaign press staff grouped together in the chill just a few steps from the Inaugural platform, waiting for the swearing-in of President-elect Carter and Vice-President-elect Mondale. Most of us had worked together for the past year responding to reporter’s questions, setting up candidate speaking locations and being of general assistance as Carter and Mondale traveled the country.  Now we could hardly contain our excitement in the final moments of our passionate work.

As the new officials took their oaths of office, our group, Kate King, Beth Lumpkin, Casey Cornell, Randy Lewis and others migrated toward the motorcades. In the last such candidate movement some of us had come from Blair House with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. Now we were ready to join up with the first official presidential journey.

Hitching a ride from the West front of the capitol to the White House seemed like a normal procedure—a traveling process in which many of us had participated hundreds of times over the months of 1976. But, of course, this was a different: the first Presidential motorcade! Most of us were surprised, as were the huge crowds, when Jimmy and Rosalynn exited their limo and walked up Pennsylvania Avenue.

For me it had begun in the weeks preceding the New Hampshire primary.   What a momentous beginning to a year of campaign stops and media events. As Governor Carter and I climbed into his car on the Primary evening of January 24 the generally recognized top reporter covering Jimmy Carter’s incredible effort, James Wooten, of the New York Times, leaned his head into the back seat window to quietly announce, “Governor, I think you have just won the Democratic nomination.” Wooten, normally quite restrained, uttered these unthinkable words.  Governor Carter looked up, flashed the now famous smile,  “Thanks Jim.  Good deal!”  Months later, of course, Wooten’s prognostication would turn into reality.

On that January night, the candidate and I were headed for the anchor positions of CBS News Walter Cronkite, and the other major broadcast operations to have the New Hampshire victory celebrated and made officially unofficial. This was a pattern we were to follow for the next months: Making it easy for the networks to give Carter the bounce that came from winning elections state by state all the way down through the primary nominating process.

Along with Jerry Rafshoon and Jody Powell, the three of us formed the Carter campaign debate negotiators, arguing out the details of those crucial events with representatives of our opponent, the incumbent president, Gerald Ford.  Cool and collected Carter outpointed Ford as did Mondale in his debate with Senator Robert Dole.

And suddenly it was election night, with the Carter team in Atlanta’s World Congress Center. The thrill was deep and passionate.

Over the next three months, while the President-elect in Plains and Atlanta mulled over and selected officials for the government, hundreds of reporters and office-seekers converged on our transition headquarters” in Washington, hoping for access and consideration. The days and weeks flew by.  Suddenly, it seemed, the new President’s motorcade left the inaugural festivities at the Capitol heading for the White House.

Deputy Press Secretary Rex Granum and I could hardly believe our circumstances: As the new President reviewed the Inaugural Parade, we stood on the White House lawn. Rex said, “Well, I guess we better get over to our offices and get on with it!” As always, Rex was serious and his words gave me a shake of reality.

Having been named Special Assistant to the President, when I opened the top desk drawer of my new workplace, there was a note from the predecessor occupant: “Here I wrote President Nixon’s resignation speech,” were the words from Raymond K. Price. “So, I wish you and your colleagues good luck,” his short message concluded.”

On the first full day of the Carter Presidency, Deputy Special Assistant Rick Neustadt and I had the privilege of hosting his father, the great scholar of the Presidency, Professor Richard Neustadt, to breakfast in the White House.  We asked, “What is the secret to Presidential Power?” Quickly Professor Neustadt answered, “Keep your options open!”

A few days later, along with others, I received as a gift from Rex’s father, Iver Granum, one of the flags that had flown over the Capitol during the Inauguration. It all seemed like a few moments in American history, the capstone of a brilliant political campaign and the beginning of the Carter Years

Barry Jagoda was Special Assistant to President Carter for Media and Public Affairs. He recently retired as Director of Communications for the University of California, San Diego.

 

 

ANOTHER SEASON IN LA JOLLA BRINGS SOULFUL SUMMERFEST

Friday, August 12th, 2016

By Barry Jagoda

         The great news this August in La Jolla, the famous neighborhood of San Diego, California, is that SummerFest has returned, now for it’s 30th Anniversary year of producing some of the globe’s very best chamber music.

COVER

The Festival features world class artists presenting to appreciative audiences of regular concert goers (and regular big time donors). SummerFest also includes a significant program of free workshops and lectures as well as extremely helpful “prelude” events for ticket holders.

What a pleasure, for example, to be a ticket-holder on the evening of August 10, for a program that began with a scintillating prelude lecture (on Beethoven and the “sonata form”) from University of California professor Steven Cassedy. The evening concluded with a magnificent performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet in E-flat, Opus 127, by the incomparable Danish String Quartet.

DANISH

After a standing ovation from the good-sized audience, the Quartet, pictured above, played an encore, one of their favorites, the Danish folk tune, Sonderho (“Bridal Trilogy”), which occasioned another standing ovation.

The evening’s full program was entitled “Richard, Robert and Ludwig,” referring to concertizing of Richard Strauss and Robert Schuman compositions, as well as to the “Ludwig,” string quartet referenced above.

Earlier on this same pleasant August evening (the weather is almost always nice at the San Diego coast) patrons were invited to pay for a “pre-concert” dinner at one of San Diego’s newest and best restaurants, the Sicilian-themed Catania. Also on this same Festival day, La Jolla music lovers (and some visiting tourists) were treated to a free “Coaching Workshop,” where top musicians mentored the work of some of their younger brethren–performers with brilliant potential.

An eager SummerFest participant would have to be asleep by 11pm Wednesday to wake for Thursday, August 11, festival events such as another coaching workshop and a brilliant “Encounter,” where scholar Nuvi Mehta presented a talk entitled, “Vienna 1900: How the Past Made the Future.” This talk was designed as background for the next few concerts, one titled “Viennese Giants,” with compositions from Mozart and other brilliant Austrian composers.

Mehta, a respected musical and historical lecturer, deeply engaged his audience with perspectives on Vienna at the time, noting a history of anti-Semitism and general anti-immigrant bias. His talk explained how private intellectual opposition to the ruling Hapsburg imperial dynasty ironically helped develop a culture for the new music of the 20th Century.  Saying “words are seeds,” and seeing parallels with our own times, the speaker pointed out that radical political demagogues also arose in Austria and Germanic Europe as part of the revolt against perceived unfairness.

After mid-August, SummerFest concert-goers will have another ten performances from which to choose, along with fifteen free workshops and encounters. For a full listing of the Festival schedule see www.ljms.org, the Internet home of La Jolla Music Society, which is the producing organization for the entire summer’s cultural cornucopia.

Patrons who wanted to support the Festival, financially, were invited to an August 13th “Anniversary Gala dinner,” followed by an intimate concert of works by Bartok, Wolf and Dvorak. Performers at the Gala Concert were to include, Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, the Rice University music professor who is Musical Director of the Festival and always in demand as a beloved violinist.

This writer also looks forward to “An Evening with Paquito D’Rivera,” the soulful and brilliant clarinetist.

PAQUITO

SummerFest’s August 17 program is sub-titled “Jazz Meets the Classics,” featuring an amalgam of classical chamber music players and jazz, led by Paquito D’Rivera, pictured above.

Friday (Aug. 19) and Saturday (Aug. 20) brings a two-evening focus on cello suites from J.S. Bach, starring Mischa Maisky, the Russian cello genius who studied under both Mstislav Rostropovich and Gregor Piatigorsky. Maisky will perform the much loved “Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello,” of Bach. These two evenings cannot be missed by Bach lovers.

August 21 brings “Great Quintets,” and the following Tuesday (August 23) will star the wonderful “Verona Quartet,” in “Virtuoso Winds,” also with acclaimed pianist Shai Wosner.

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry.

Pianist Shai Wosner has attracted international recognition for his exceptional artistry.

SummerFest continues on Aug. 24 with music from Liszt, Tchaikovsky and the world premier of Pianist Mar-Andre Hamelin performing (along with cellist Hai-Ye Ni) his own “Four Perspectives.”

The Festival’s grand finale stars genius James Conlon, Musical Director of the Los Angeles Opera, conducting Schubert, Prokofev and Mozart. This compelling event also stars Gil Shaham, who Time magazine called, “the outstanding American violinist of his generation.”

Except for the Gala all these concerts take place in the acoustically splendid auditorium of La Jolla’s San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.

One is advised to check the festival web site for locations of open and free Encounters, Coaching Sessions and Rehearsals, which can be found at locations of community partners, the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library and at La Jolla’s public library.

SummerFest is constructing a new home for itself, along with what is expected to be an outstanding venue for this and other La Jolla Music Society events. The facility is expected to be ready for SummerFest in 2018.

 

 

MODERATION IN PURSUIT OF VIRTUE IS NO VICE

Monday, April 4th, 2016

By Barry Jagoda

As an open society the United States is mixed economically, culturally, socially and with regard to belief. With no fixed agreement on the very greatest issues of human exchange it becomes crucial for government, and for a responsible public, to be moderate so no particular segment of society feels entirely excluded from the process.

Generally American politics reflects this mixture of values but in contested elections, on the left and on the right, one can see deviation, often leading to subordination of a party or candidate who occupies one extreme or another. These extremes show up in other elements of our life but political conflict gets more attention and we are currently undergoing a historic polarization. These gulfs can be seen throughout our culture.

But in 2016, particularly in the Republican presidential nominating process, all of the candidates—17 in total at one time—have run to the right of center. And, as the process winds down, the leading two candidates are far to the right or leaning in that direction. The Democrats have seemed more moderate but from the perspective of the GOP, their more liberal opponents must seem just as deviant.

Republican candidates for public office have tended to find corners of darkness for their anti-government message while Democrats have bounced from calls for a remaking of political society to underscoring the need for more balance.

Passion is a great driver in public life but it can easily cause proponents of one perspective to alienate their fellow citizens. It was this very danger that gave the lie to the famous comment from a right-of-center Presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater, when he said, “Extremism in pursuit of virtue is no vice.” But whose “virtue,” what “extremism” and what sort of “vice?”

Questions such as these, with a variety of answers depending on initial assumptions, lead to bad public policy. The answers—for a healthy society—require moderation.

This is why the economy works best when government is joined with private sector entities to accomplish projects when possible. Mixing funding from public sources—such as for artists, scientists, public broadcasting—with creative forces from the private economy becomes crucial for start-up projects. And with Constitutional requirements for freedom of religion the main role of the public sector is to shield these organizations from restrictions.

Perhaps in no other system does the collective power of government—at local, state and federal levels—come to play a supporting role providing a social safety net. Mixing good jobs with poverty reduction, and underpinning minimum housing, food and clothing, provides a huge role for government but as a supplement to the disorganized private work forces.

Ironically it is with institutions of religion that one can best see how a mixed system works. Because of the very great diversity in religious belief—and because there must be an open platform for each of these traditions—here the wider public sector simply plays an enabling role. In other cultures, where the religion is proscribed and imposed, clashes of values are much more likely. The American system, however, allows for a variety of belief and even protects the 20 percent of citizens who profess no supernatural values.

But American history, through 250 years has seen perpetual conflict between those who had acquired wealth or substantial economic assets and others who have fought for a larger share for those outside the financial circle of influence. With the “establishment” in perpetual fights with the underclasses, with leaders in the various religious sects on the defensive against those who question faith, and related arguments between the “haves” and “have nots,” society has been in turmoil for most of its modern history.

The story becomes quite murky when candidates for public office take on a populist tenor thereby fooling segments of the population who feel left out by government. This is a particular problem in primary voting for national office when candidates seem willing to say anything or do anything to attract their base of voters, often found in extreme pockets at the left or at the right.

It is for this reason that political scientists barely joke when they say “There are two positions in American politics: The moderate position and the wrong position!”

Barry Jagoda is a San Diego-based journalist and international consultant. He was an award-winning writer and producer at NBC News and CBS News, and a founding contributing editor of the highly regarded Texas Monthly magazine.

WHAT CAN JOURNALISM DO WHEN POWERFUL SOCIAL FIGURES LIE?

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

by Barry Jagoda

Three movies out this December capture among the most profound issues that can be faced in a free society: What happens when high public and private officials lie? How can objective journalism respond to leaders who feel comfortable with factual distortions?

The short answer is that assertions, from elected and appointed public and private leaders—as well from others in positions of power and responsibility—often must be reported. But in many, perhaps most, cases such statements must be verified. This is because leaders often intentionally, or through mistake or ignorance, distort the truth.

Journalists have a responsibility to report the views of leaders but official, and often questionable, statements must be reviewed and vetted against facts.

An aphorism, about truthfulness, once sounded by Ronald Reagan, is relevant: As the late President put it about potential foreign leaders: Trust but Verify.

Dramatic attention is being drawn to these issues by movies out this season: The films are “Truth,” about CBS News Correspondent Dan Rather’s efforts to expose favorable military treatment given to George W. Bush; “Spotlight,” the true story about the courageous investigation by the Boston Globe,” exposing the Cardinal and Catholic leadership in Boston for sheltering 90 pedophilia priests; and “Trumbo,” the spectacular film revealing and reminding of the damages caused to our people and country by the Red Scares of the 1950s.

The best of the three films, “Trumbo,” demonstrates the great difficulty of vetting statements by lying politicians, and what happens when free speech rights are destroyed by official demagoguery. This is the story of Hollywood creative artists whose left-wing political opinions were silenced by official Washington’s invocation of “Red fears.” These were false charges that the United States was in danger from internal enemies loyal to the Soviet Union. The crime of stifling opinion was made possible by vicious office-holders personified by Wisconsin’s Senator Joseph McCarthy, a notorious liar, whose charges of contempt of Congress ended up in jail terms for ten Hollywood artists whose mistake was to express their opinions about American politics.

“Spotlight,” a wonderful movie, is the true story of how an investigative reporting team from the Boston Globe overcame huge cultural and local political odds to name 90 priests who had been found guilty of sexual molestation of parishioners. To get to the truth the Globe’s “Spotlight” reporting team had to take on the Catholic culture of Boston and years of official lies by the Cardinal and other church leaders. The best of our journalists learn they must often challenge authority, even at the risk of peril to their careers and their emotional balance. This film is a classic look at the process of “telling truth to power,” which had the result of pulling back years of despicable behavior by priests and their church bosses.

The most painful story from among the three movies is the true tale of what happened when CBS News Correspondent Dan Rather and his team of producers set out to show favoritism doled out to a young George W. Bush. The CBS team had learned that, Texas military national guard officials found a non-combatant role for the son of the then President George H.W. Bush. The CBS reporting came as the younger Bush was himself seeking re-election as U.S. President. The movie shows how the reporters were stymied by lies and cover-ups with the result that Rather, who had been the top reporter at CBS News, was fired from his job when errors were discovered in reporting procedures. In this case “Truth” was sacrificed to political power. The lying, and cover-up by young Bush—and family political allies–was left to stand.

Trying to hold powerful figures to a standard of truth and accuracy is particularly dangerous in an age when journalism organizations have come under financial pressures from a vastly changing media environment. With cable news channels adopting partisan political ideologies leaders often have an open microphone for their distortions. The rise of the Internet with unchecked digital outlets, particularly wide-open, often feckless “social media” expression, had exponentially increased opportunity for political and civic distortion.

A free and open society must have procedures for ensuring factual communication. Competing political and business entities can be helpful in creating a climate of honesty. These three film stories dramatically demonstrate that the front-line of defense for integrity in society often depends on an increasingly rare “fearlessness” from a free press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Federal Spending Can Cure U.S. Economic Woes

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

Journal Opinion for October 25, 2015

By Barry Jagoda and Richard Cohen

Republican conservatives continue to fume over the probability that Congress will approve another increase in the nation’s debt limit by the deadline of Nov. 3. And the GOP candidates for President continue their focus on less government, all arguing for big cuts in federal spending. But this represents a complete misunderstanding of macroeconomics.

In all of modern history the most effective tool for repairing a national economy has been more targeted government spending. Central government spending is also the best way to reduce the national debt because current and future public investments will rapidly be paid back through the natural increase in tax revenues from a newly strong economy.

Many economists are attracted to the idea of increasing federal spending for worthwhile projects, especially when a nation’s economy is in a slump. The right kind of federal spending not only can pump needed fuel into the economy but will result in long-term benefits to society, such as new and improved roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure.

The current national challenge is to get conservative political leaders to understand this counter-intuitive approach. Probably the best testimony that deficit spending works is that the economy is finally picking up—haltingly, but steadily. Reducing government spending now will short-circuit the recovery. President Obama’s just released budget does call for more federal stimulus but not enough.

The theoretical basis for this strengthening comes from the work of the British economist John Maynard Keynes whose focus is on “aggregate demand,” depending not only on the private sector but also on government to build up the economy. “Demand”can be controlled by federal spending when private enterprise lags.

According to Keynes, within a short time, public and private economic activity will reward a country many times over and will automatically increase tax collections and thereby rather quickly begin to reduce the federal debt.

Why is federal deficit spending seen as such a taboo? Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, a leading Keynesian, says, “Fiscal fear mongering is a major industry inside the Beltway, especially among those looking for excuses to dismantle Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. People whose careers are heavily invested in the deficit-scold industry don’t want to let evidence undermine their scare tactics.”

In his first term President Obama, very much aware of the power of Keynesian theory, asked his economic team for a federal “stimulus” plan. His advisors argued among themselves and, with an eye out over what was thought to be concerns of the electorate, came up with federal spending that was later seen as about half of the amount necessary to get the economy rolling in a fundamental way. This mini-Keynesian contribution made a dent in the weak economy but not nearly enough was spent to reach the level of demand required. Now there is another chance.

The basic American economic problem is a lack of demand. American consumers and businesses aren’t spending enough, and efforts to get them to open their wallets have gone nowhere. The solution: The federal government needs to step in and spend. A lot. On debt relief for struggling homeowners; on infrastructure projects; on aid to states and localities; on safety-net programs. Call it “stimulus” if you like. Call it Keynesian economics. Whatever you call it, it worked in the late nineteen-thirties and forties, when the U.S. government started shelling out on the military in the build-up to World War II, bringing an abrupt end to years of economic misery and laying the foundation for decades of prosperity.

Conventional wisdom in Washington has been for “austerity” — throttle back on government spending, tackle the budget deficit now — as the way to get the economy back on track. Not only is this wrong, it’s making a bad situation even worse. Krugman writes: “Now is the time for the government to spend more, not less, until the private sector is ready to carry the economy forward again.”

Republicans fear government debt almost as though the overages were similar to going into household debt. Students in first year economics are taught that this is the “fallacy of composition,” mistaking what might be consequential for a home budget or even planning in business with the opportunities and issues for a national budget and management plan. Sometimes it seems that none of the conservatives in Congress found time for basic economic study, or they have forgotten the fundamental teaching. 2015-2016 is a very good time to test Keynes whose theories should get America further back on the right economic track.

Richard Cohen is a business executive and entrepreneur. Barry Jagoda is a San Diego-based journalist and international consultant.

Great Paul Robeson Passionately Portrayed by Daniel Beaty at La Jolla Playhouse

Monday, October 14th, 2013

For La Jolla Playhouse patrons who crave socially relevant drama a magnificent such work currently occupies the stage in the form of a biography of the great American black actor, singer and political activist, Paul Robeson.   The production, titled “The Tallest Tree in the Forest” stars another world-class great actor, Daniel Beaty, who, in a one-man performance, gives the audience an unforgettable and highly emotional experience, playing the parts of 40 persons and bringing to life at least 15 songs, including “Ole Man River,”  “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Battle of Jericho.”

 

Robeson, born in 1898, son of a run-away slave, was an All-American football player at Rutgers, a distinguished graduate of Columbia University Law School and a star of stage and screen—with one of the truly amazing voices in the history of the American and world-wide stage.

Tired of “nigger this” and “nigger that,” in his home country, he became enamored of the Soviet Union making an enemy of the dangerous Diretor of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover.  Eventually called before the House Committee on Un-American Activity and blacklisted during the 1950s cold war period of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Robeson’s performing world collapsed when his passport was taken away for eight years at the height of his stage career.

Though Robeson is now remembered as a great and patriotic American, perhaps the most well-known black man for most of the 20th Century, his life and his amazing story comes alive in this Playhouse production as portrayed by Beaty, the brilliant actor and vocalist  whose work is completely deserving of the story of the heroic Robeson.

Accompanied by a musical trio and perfectly staged by veteran director Moises Kaufman this is a play not to be missed.   There is plenty of time to get tickets and go before the production closes November 3.

 

T. C. Boyle’s “Tortilla Curtain” an Enlightening Sensation at San Diego Repertory Theatre

Monday, March 26th, 2012

 

by Barry Jagoda

What a satisfying night in the theatre, March 25, as San Diego Repertory presented the world premier of “Tortilla Curtin,” a brilliant adaption of the moving and enlightening novel of the same name by T. Coraghessan Boyle, one of America’s pre-eminent, and most imaginative, contemporary writers.

It was deeply engaging to savor the 90-minute production of this morality tale about the perils of undocumented immigration and the even greater dangers that lurk in misunderstandings between migrants and often well-meaning Norte Americanos, the gringos who jump to unreasonable conclusions about the aspiring neighbors who travel from Mexico to the promised land just across the U.S.-Mexican border.

With race and class dominating much worldwide discourse, this absorbing production pulls together many topics from daily headlines: huge woodland fires (often caused by mistake, when not arson), fears by upper middle-class Americans of the dangers from migrants, mindlessness of the current crop of teenagers, frequently drug-infected and growing up in the all-white suburbs—where all the expensive houses are painted different shades of white.  We are brought directly in touch with the on-going struggle of third world poor to find a tolerable life, one way or another.

“Tortilla Curtin,” originally in Boyle’s deeply engaging novel, published in 1995, and now in its adaptation for the stage by Matthew Spangler, says more about the relationships between the 14 million U.S. undocumented immigrants and attitudes of American citizens, than all the sound-bites and countless “in-depth” newspaper stories on this subject.  The run-in between a Mexican migrant couple, living in the dirt of Topanga Canyon above Los Angeles, with a well-meaning writer and naturalist, opens wide the spectrum of thoughtful and emotional passion on the topic of the “undocumented” or the “illegals,” in a most dramatic and sometimes comedic fashion.

What a thrill it was to walk into the theatre to see Mr. Boyle himself there, (below left) and, at the end, to see him join in the very vigorous applause for the brilliant cast and production directed by Sam Woodhouse (below right), Artistic Director of San Diego Repertory.

“Was it satisfying and faithful?” we asked the author.  “I was amazed at this production,” Boyle responded instantly.  “The special effects, the video, the cast were wonderful.”
“Watching the play I had expected to see a troupe of 60 take their bows at the end and was so charmed to see that they had staged the whole story with only seven players.”

“This was probably my most controversial book but it has become  a classic, widely read,” said Boyle.   Speaking of the San Diego Rep cast, crew and Director Sam Woodhouse, “They did a great job and it told the story well, a brilliant dramatization,” Boyle told  us.

(This was the first theatrical production of a Boyle story.  It is remarkably digested down from the novel’s 350 pages into a one-act play.  The novelist, who lives in Santa Barbara and  teaches at the University of Southern California, has written 22 works of  fiction, on such topics as hippies moving to Alaska, the sex research of Kinsey, animal rights and many other provocative subjects.)

The play  has three central characters, the migrating couple, America and Candido, played  engagingly by Kinan Valdez and Vivia Font, and Delaney Mossbacher (at left below), the perfectly cast homeowner who goes from  liberal sympathies to self-defensive anger.   Below the three are seen thrown together on a hunk of wooden platform forced together trying to survive a mud slide.

Director Woodhouse gets more out of simple staging than most productions get from the most elaborate bells and whistles.  This fine Rep production does also benefit from wonderful lighting and special effects.   “Tortilla Curtin” will play at the San Diego Repertory Theatre through April 8, 2012.

ENLIGHTENING SPEAKERS AT SAN DIEGO’s UNIV OF CALIFORNIA: ATHEIST/MORALIST SAM HARRIS, VISIONARY POLITICO TOM HAYDEN

Friday, October 29th, 2010
Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden

Sam Harris
Sam Harris

In contrast to all the media bunk on election eve, clear thinking was on passionate display when Sam Harris, author of a wonderful new argument against religion http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-moral-landscape and the venerable leader for social change, Tom Hayden, www.tomhayden.com spoke with students at UC San Diego, October 27 and 28.

Asked about a solution to what was termed the “terrorist problem,” Hayden said getting Americans out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and 16 other Muslim countries would put an end to Islamic radical attacks on the west.   Ending reliance on the Koran, “a mediocre book,” Harris argued, would be a good start.  Harris, a fierce and articulate opponent of all supernatural constructs, urges that morality be based on what can be known about human “well-being.”
In an age when pandering office-seekers spew low common denominator political and philosophical nonsense in all directions through the media, on the campaign trail and, very often, from religious pulpits, it is inspiring and gratifying to hear back-to-back speakers expressing common sense and reminding that there are rational solutions for many of mankind’s most pressing problems.
Both the philosopher and the political organizer object to the imposition of moral values based on false patriotism and on questionable ideological dogma.  Their common solution to universal problems lies in application of social science.  For Hayden this means use of the tools of political analysis and community organizing.  For Harris, the moral path travels through science, particularly neuroscience, and the rejection of supernaturalism.

To get a sense of Harris’s profound thinking I must quote here from some sentences in his new book:

“The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values.  There are ancient disagreements about the status of moral truth:  people who draw their worldview from religion generally believe that moral truth exists, but only because God has woven it into the very fabric of reality; while those who lack such faith tend to think that notions of “good” and “evil” must be the products of evolutionary pressure and cultural invention.  On the first account, to speak of “moral truth” is, of necessity, to invoke God; on the second, it is merely to give voice to one’s apish urges, cultural biases and philosophical confusion.  My purpose is to persuade you that both sides in this debate are wrong.  The goal of this book is to begin a conversation about how moral truth can be understood in the context of science.”

That is to say, for Harris, “human well-being entirely depends on events in the world and states of the human brain.”

Hayden, clearly buoyant about the prospects of a victory in the California governor’s race for progressive Democrat Jerry Brown, spoke of the possibilities for the state becoming a national engine for conservation and alternative energy and for defining an alternative to the backlash against immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Then, getting fired up and reminding one of his history as the brilliant student opponent of the American war in Vietnam, Hayden said, “I believe today that nothing is more important than for student, faculty and universities taking up the challenge of critical analysis of the war on terrorism and the alternatives.”

He elaborated, “Much greater support is needed for an expanded program of research, undergraduate education and global dialogue with the Muslim world.  It was said in my generation that communism was a closed, monolithic system, but a Michael Gorbachev proved the Cold Warriors wrong.  Today it is said that Islam is a unique fundamentalism, but I think this generation will prove that view to be too narrow and self-serving.”

Below your reporter is seen with Tom Hayden.

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It has been said that there cannot be a great city without a great university.  Here at the end of October, 2010, one is grateful to be in the La Jolla, California environment where important, mind-expanding ideas are within walking distance of your front-door.