Posts Tagged ‘American culture’

Lucky We Are To Have Loving Families

Monday, July 15th, 2019

by Barry Jagoda

The Luckiest, now up at La Jolla Playhouse until July 28th, is one of the best short dramatic productions there in recent memory.

Playgoers may be slightly confused by the opening foreshadowing sequence of events which lead to the death of “Lissette’s” character.  She has suffered from numerous medically diagnosed illnesses, dooming her.  This is why we first see the brilliant actress, Aleque Reid, as “Lissette,” on stage briefly in a high tech wheelchair.

Below is Ms. Reid, funny, passionate, argumentative and loving, seen in the world premier of Melissa Ross’s fine and moving drama, directed by Jaime Castaneda.

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Most of the 95-minute play, with no intermission, is taken up with arguments and love-talk among “Lissette,” her Mom, “Cheryl,” seen here effectively portrayed by Deirdre Lovejoy, and “Peter” the new family member/boyfriend, starring Reggie D. White, in a unforgettable performance.

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The Luckiest is the heart-rending dramatic story of our families and the families we choose—-making clear how lucky any of us may be to have such deep relationships which will survive the most trying adversities of family separations and medical end of life situations.

The terrific drama gives one leaving the theater a deep appreciation for what Playhouse Artistic Director, Christopher Ashley, has written is that understanding from family is among the luckiest things one can possess.

 

 

“CASTING STONES,” LIVING FICTION, AN EXCITING READ BY JAY BECK

Monday, February 25th, 2019

by Barry Jagoda

In case you may have thought the Cold War had long ago concluded one may look no further than “CASTING STONES,” the new thriller set in Greece by Jay Beck, who knows more than most about the continuing battle—the democratic fight between Communism and Capitalism.

Casting StonesInstrumental in Jimmy Carter’s Presidency and now an old hand in the political battles between East and West, and much in between, Beck has turned those first hand experiences into fiction—-readable and believable.

There is certainly a large readership for international intrigue but even the great John Le Carre gave up his cold war spy series with the pause in overt battles between the former Soviet Union and the United States.  But from his own experience Beck has taken the characters of the old Soviet and Western conflicts, and now revitalized them into today’s threats to America with a captivating plot.

Readers will soon find that the ancient Greeks used to vote by casting stones.  This novel includes throughout a sub plot going back to the Gods of Olympus, and a contemporary focus on the beginnings of the modern age of terrorism.

A reason Beck’s characters are so absolutely compelling is that they are largely the progeny of leaders from the Cold War—-on both sides.  Most important, Beck has served the West as a political expert so he has been on the front lines.

When we read of Ambassador Igor Andropov’s shenanigans, a bell is rung tying him to his father the late Soviet boss.  Though a bit of a stretch, the American idealist spy Mark Young is a cipher for Beck himself.

The prose is excellent, the plot moves right along and voila! a story for our times, is etched out of the history of our times, for never truer has the cliché “Past is Prologue” been employed so effectively.

Jay Beck brings a lifetime of experience in writing “Casting Stones.” In 1985 he worked in the Greek election described in this novel.

Beck, now approaching his seventies, has been a mainstay of the Carter/Mondale political legacy operating out of the Atlanta, Georgia Library and Center.  He knows everybody who was part of that movement and is the glue holding together a proud legacy.  On the side he is a fiction factory, with “Casting Stones” just one volume in a series of compelling novels where the Cold War is re-visited for his readers.

Earlier Beck had written Panama’s Rusty Lock, another thriller, this one set there with the first Presidential election in 16 years.  Not surprising in that novel–as in real life–Manuel Noriega has stolen an election, making for compelling reading. That book was a best seller on Amazon Kindle, and  “Casting Stones,” is now available there as well.

For this reader, delving into Beck’s cold war history, the reminder is to see again that the times are never past.  But for the author quite apparently the spiritual pleasure is derived mainly from the creation of these memorable persons and the exercise of his wonderful skill at using the English language.  The work itself is the reward for Jay Beck and now again for his readers.

SCHUBERT’S “PINNACLE OF CHAMBER MUSIC” IN LA JOLLA, CA

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

By Barry Jagoda

Inon Barnatan, Music Director-Designate of La Jolla Music Society’s world renowned SummerFest, has curated another wonderful concert program, the third in a series entitled “Schubert’s Swan Song.”

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Barnatan was pianist for half of the presentation last Saturday night, May 19, and the large audience, at Qualcomm Hall, was thrilled, delivering standing ovations, for his rendition of the brilliant Schubert Piano Sonata in C minor.  This was immediately followed by an even more arousing, glorious violin-piano duet, in which Barnatan was joined by the passionate, award-winning young violinist, Benjamin Beilman, for Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major.

But perhaps the evening’s highlight, after an intermission, was Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major, for which Barnatan brought together the world-class Dover Quartet, and joined them with Carter Brey, in from his day job as principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic.

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Dover is comprised of violinists Joel Link and Bryan Lee with violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt and Camden Shaw, playing cello.Dover

Many have heard premonitions of death in this, Schubert’s last instrumental creation, before he expired in 1828 at age 31. The work has been described (by among others, the Society’s long time, indispensable program annotator, Eric Bromberger) as “one of the finest creations in all of chamber music.”

For those fortunate enough to attend the earlier evening Prelude there was a compelling conversation between Barnatan and Brey moderated by San Diego’s wise musical authority, James Chute.

Brey said he was introduced, at age 15, to music by his New York public high school teacher and then realized “I could not live without music full time in my life.”  Four decades later, in Israel, Barnatan began the piano at age three, when his parents noticed that their son had perfect pitch.

The weaving together of brilliant young artists from our day with such as the confident veteran Brey, now in his sixth decade as a cellist, reminds one of the kinds of opportunities awaiting concert goers when La Jolla Music Society opens it’s own venue, the Conrad, in April 2019.  This will be just in time for Barnatan to take over as Music Director of SummerFest.

The amazing pianist played flawlessly from memory, while the other musicians, except for Brey, who resorted to old-fashioned printed program material, were notable for using foot-pedal controlled iPads for the scores, written almost two centuries in the past.

Schubert’s last year provided what Barnatan called “the pinnacle of what we can do as musicians.” Other towering heights will be coming along for La Jolla Music Society patrons in the coming months and years.

Meantime, the Society has just announced its program for Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin’s final summer as Music Director, after 18 years, for SummerFest 2018:  SummerFest Full Schedule

SCHUBERT INSPIRES “CURATOR” INON BARNATAN

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Patrons and future attendees of SummerFest have an early opportunity to see and hear the kind of programming that will be brought to La Jolla’s world-class summer music festival by Director-designate Inon Barnatan who is “curating” a three-part series this Spring, entitled Schubert’s Swan Song.

Based on the first of these concerts, this past Saturday, March 24, Barnatan will be a huge favorite with La Jolla Music Society audiences, including the many who each summer enjoy one of the globe’s top classical musical festivals.  Barnatan will succeed Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, retiring this coming summer after 18 years as SummerFest Music Director.

In a prelude exchange (with veteran music journalist James Chute) Barnatan was most open in revealing himself–about the Schubert series and about his own tastes in music.  One was dazzled by this passionate 40-year-old internationally recognized pianist who has strong feelings about his ability to bring to La Jolla audiences the very best from around the world.

 

Inon Barnatan 2014- Pianist Photo: Marco Borggreve

Inon Barnatan 

Barnatan boldly chose to open the March 24th three-part Schubert program by bringing to the stage a concert pianist even more renowned then himself, Garrick Ohlsson.  The two joined together in a wonderful Schubert creation, “Fantasie in F Minor for Piano Four Hands.” The audience could instantly recognize a musician and a musical director most optimistic about plans for the next weeks and for the summer of 2019. It is then that long time SummerFest Artistic Director Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, always a favorite in La Jolla, will give way to Barnatan.

A full measure of Barnatan’s exquisite taste in genre, and in selection of performers, was on display when the “curator” gave the stage over fully to Ohlsson for 45-minute rendition of Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A Major.  One may have wondered about the “coolness” of Ohlsson playing along the much younger Baratan in the four-hands piece. Any question of passion, or reserve, was removed in Ohlsson’s breathtaking, by memory, performance.

Ohlsson got a standing ovation and, after an intermission, Baratan was back for Schubert’s splendid Trio in B-flat major, joined by Violinist Erin Keefe and Cellist Clive Greensmith.

One should not be surprised, but delighted, with immediate high expectations that “Curator Baratan,” will live up to his promises to bring  great performers and themes to La Jolla Music Society programs in coming weeks and in coming years.

Schubert had died at age 31 in 1828 after a year of producing compositions that have remained marvels to the classical music world. Thus the title of this spring’s series, focusing on a series of these masterpieces, some of which audiences will have a chance to savor, next on April 14 and finally on May 19.

These programs take place in comfortable Qualcomm Hall, with good enough acoustics, suitable for a sizable audience and intimate enough for chamber music.

Barnatan will take the SummerFest helm just as La Jolla Music Society inaugurates its very own Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center (“The Conrad”) in the heart of La Jolla Village.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1979, Baratan started playing the piano at the age of three after his parents discovered he had perfect pitch. He made his orchestral debut at 11 and his musical education connects him to some of the 20th Century’s most illustrious pianists and teachers. Barnatan currently lives in a converted warehouse in Harlem in New York City.

More information is available at www.inonbarnatan.com

 

 

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Cheers for La Jolla Playhouse Opening “Escape to Margaritaville”

Monday, June 5th, 2017

 

by Barry Jagoda

“Escape to Margaritaville” brings fun and laughter from a tropical isle all the way back to Southernmost California pleasuring cheering audiences attending the current production at La Jolla Playhouse.

An escape musical, the happy show features a large ensemble, a fine live mini-orchestra and wonderful singing and dancing. Stars, seen below, Alison Luff (as Rachel) and Paul Alexander Hamilton (as Tully) are perfectly cast, she to let us run away and he to gather her loving attention, both to help the audience appreciate the value of an island escape.

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The story features a couple of urban women getting away from it all, falling into the arms of island charmers—truly overturning inhibitions and casting off their 9 to 5 lifestyles.

This show, inspired by songs from Jimmy Buffet, with highly imaginative staging and welcoming island artifacts from the lobby to the ballon drop (shh!) at the very end is easy to recommend.  This wonderful world-premiere will run through July 9.

Playhouse artistic director Christopher ashley has found the perfect production to get the Playhouse 2017/2018 season off to a rousing beginning. Upcoming shows, “The Cake,” “Summer,” “At the Old Place,” “Kill Local,” and “Wild Goose Dreams” are featured upcoming productions not to be missed.

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

TAKE US OUT TO THE BALLGAME—BEAUTIFUL PLAY IN THE CALIFORNIA LEAGUE

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

Our national pastime can be enjoyed in an unforgettable afternoon and evening by attending a California League game, at one of eight minor league stadiums, such as the wonderful venue in the little town of Lake Elsinore, in Riverside county—halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego.

 

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STORM STADIUM, LAKE ELSINORE, CALIFORNIA

There, on the late afternoon of July 2, 2016, the home club, Lake Elsinore STORM, hosted the Lancaster JETHAWKS, for a delightful and exciting game. The Storm won, 3-1, but for a charmed spectator the outcome was less important than the fun of watching major league prospects show their stuff. For example, a right-handed pitcher, Enyel De Los Santo, seen below, may someday soon join the San Diego Padres, as the Storm is one of the Padre minor league affiliates (farm team).

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On this marvelous afternoon The Lancaster JETHAWKS, a Houston Astros minor league club, appropriately named also for its location in the California Antelope Valley, a region long associated with the aerospace industry, was the visiting ball team. Lancaster is about an hour north of Los Angeles.

For a fan who has had the privilege of seeing baseball in many major league parks around the nation and in Canada, this afternoon was as good as most of those experiences. Just to watch batting practice, followed by immaculate grounds keeping work to get the field in perfect playing shape was a treat. As the fans easily strolled into the stadium (with brief stops for what appeared to be serious security checks) the tarpaulins were removed to unveil a mix of perfectly manicured green turf, with brown base paths and a carefully measured pitcher’s mound.

Precisely at 6:05 pm the home plate umpire called, “Play Ball.” (There are two umpires running California League games, compared with four in the majors.) Soon the score was 3 to 1, on an early homerun by the Storm’s Fernando Perez, the designated hitter.

(In the lower minor leagues each team has a “designated hitter, “ a practice first employed in the American League of Major League baseball, giving the pitchers a chance to concentrate on that skill without having to worry about batting.)

As the game progressed—and the fans were clearly patronizing the concession stands for dinner or snacks—the Storm’s efficient media relations specialist, Tyler Zickel, also took to the field between innings to honor local kids and other dignitaries for civic activities. (This also provided a good chance for some fans to ignore the field and get food!)

Lake Elsinore itself, in a beautiful valley setting amid California hills and mountains, was named for a spectacular body of water quite visible from the stadium.   Now somewhat diminished by the terrible California drought, the lake is still a brilliant and lovely natural wonder. Team management schedules almost all games for very late afternoon when the heat of central and southern California has subsided.

If a spectator came to Lake Elsinore early enough to get a look around there were numerous fast food joints, but also three fine restaurants lined up to serve a more discerning taste—a Persian restaurant, next to a really good Mexican place, which was next door to an Italian restaurant with a welcoming and serious menu. For three diners at the Mexican eatery, the total tab came to under $30 for a full and memorable meal. This seemed typical of Lake Elsinore prices.

A nearby Spa advertised serious massage treatment, probably not up to the highest standards of LA or San Diego, but a tired driver could get relief there, before the game. Of course it would be difficult to be too worn out from driving since the time to get to Storm stadium from nearby big cities was a mere hour-and-a-half. Much less driving time would be required if a fan was coming from close in cities in Riverside County or Orange County, both important population centers in California.

The true designation of Riverside and adjoining counties is California’s “Inland Empire,” perhaps a bit of overstatement but one could get the royal treatment at Lake Elsinore just by purchasing a moderately priced ticket and going out to the ballgame!

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.

BEGUILING “UP HERE” IS ATTRACTIVE, TEMPTING AT LA JOLLA PLAYHOUSE

Friday, August 14th, 2015

by Barry Jagoda

For a real treat go see “Up Here,” the lusty neuroscience musical playing through September 6 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Just for a chance to see the stars, sexy Betsy Wolfe and mind-plagued Matt Bittner, in the roles of beautiful Lindsay (she even says she has quite a “rack”) and Dan, “the computer man,” whose head is populated by a huge group of demons and encouragers, is more than worth the price of admission.

Dan (Matt Bittner) crazed by his love for Lindsay (Betsy Wolfe)

Kudos to Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the married couple who created the book, music and lyrics.  (On Broadway he won a Tony Award for “The Book of Mormon” and she won prizes for the Off Broadway musical “In Transit.”)  What a splendid assemblage by the Playhouse.

The love affair, at the center of this charmer, is a kind of a conventional meeting and matching and rejecting and rejoining where he has confidence problems and she is too compelling to lose.  The back-and-forth is played out in front of a set that also makes frequent references to evolution.  Alas, we see and hear much of the voices in Dan’s head, challenging his insecurities and Lindsay is also nervous about a new job and an old beau.  At a certain level much of this drama for fun plays out in our own anxiety-driven lives.

But this is real entertainment combining the Playhouse tendency to stage productions that please their upper-bourgeois mainstay audience with a brilliantly funny script that touches up and back with more meaty mental health issues delivering an undercurrent of contemporary focus that will please those seeking, also, something to think about.

The colorful production is directed by Alex Timbers and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, both prize winners with an eye on the stars and delightful use of the ensemble mostly to emerge from Dan’s head as he tries to get it straight.  With a number of small sweet tunes the production, for a musical, has so few big numbers that there is not a listing of the songs in the patron’s program.

Demons and Do-Gooders inhabit Dan's Brain

Set designer David Korins has created stage with allusions to the human brain but it is one’s funny bone that that get tickled in this memorable production.