Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ancient Wisdom

I might have mentioned that I've been studying Spanish for the past year, trying once and for all correct my lifelong shame of not being able to speak a language other than English fluently. Some may argue that I can't even do that but that's beside the point. 

One of my methods for learning the language is getting my hands on anything I can read that is at my reading level, around mid to upper intermediate. (Speaking is another story). Last week I googled "short stories in Spanish" and came across a site that contained classic short stories of the ages, the lion's share of which were a selection of Aesop's Fables. One of these ancient tales whose payoff is moral of the story, struck me as being relevant in our day.

The story was the "Goose that Laid the Golden Egg", except in the Spanish version, the ill fated bird was a gallina, a hen. In case you don't know the story, one day a farmer walks into his hen house (I'm telling the Spanish version of the story), and discovers that one of his hens has laid an egg of gold. Thinking this to be an anomaly, much to his surprise, the next day he returned to find another golden egg,  the third day, the same and on and on for a few more days. "Hmmm..." the farmer thinks, "I could go on and on collecting eggs every day and eventually I'll become rich, or I could just kill the hen now, retrieve all the gold inside of her, and be fabulously rich now!"

So that's what he did. And he found nothing inside the hen other than your basic run of the mill chicken guts.

That's the story in its entirety, you probably don't need the moral spelled out for you.

Naturally the story reminded me of Donald Trump.

You probably don't need to have that spelled out for you either. The fact is, Donald Trump is not all that hard to figure out. His kind has been portrayed in children's stories to great literature, theater, opera, film, you name it from time immemorial. After all what would be melodrama be without diabolical, self serving, one dimensional, greedy bastards?

I'm not talking about classic villains like the Grinch or Scrooge, both of whom turn out to be somewhat complex characters who get redeemed in the end. Donald Trump is not the least bit complicated. It's funny how people accuse him of dishonesty and yes it's true he does lie a lot, but nobody, not even his supporters take his lies seriously. They are so numerous, so obvious and blatant that it seems as if even he is in on the joke.

For example, last week in one of his press "briefings" he contemplated the effectiveness of ingesting toxic bleach and disinfectant to kill the COVID-19 virus. Naturally he was pilloried by all but his most devout sycophants, and even some of them raised their eyebrows. The next day when questioned about it, he said he was being "sarcastic." He then refused to take responsibility for the several people who had to be hospitalized for following his suggestion, not thinking he was being sarcastic at all.

Actually Donald Trump is not the least bit dishonest, at least about is himself and the fact that he is an unrepentant schmuck.

With him there is no subtlety, it doesn't take much time observing him to know he's up to no good. He's more of a cartoon villain like Snidely Whiplash from the Dudley Dooright series, the guy who's always tying the fair maiden to the railroad tracks. There is no remorse from or redemption for him. Nor is there for Old Man Potter from the film It's a Wonderful Life. His character is not quite believable because he does not have one shred of decency in him, well at least not as portrayed in the movie.

Then there's Baron Scarpia, the chief of Police in Rome in search of the escaped political prisoner Angeloti in Puccini's opera Tosca. In the first act, Angeloti seeks refuge and the help of his friend and sympathiser Mario Cavaradosi. When the two meet and Angeloti brings up Scapia's name, Cavaradossi responds:
Scarpia? Bigotto satiro che affinacolle devote pratiche la foialibertina e strumentoal lascivo talentofa il confessore e il boia!La vita mi costasse, vi salverò!  
Scarpia? That licentious bigot who exploits the use of religion as refinements for his libertine lust, and makes both the confessor and the hangman the servant of his wantonness! I'll save you, even should it cost my life! 
Now THAT'S melodrama. And not a bad description of Trump either.

There is nothing Shakespearian about Trump.

Consider the following, which US president said these words:
One of the most cherished goals of our democracy is to assure every American an equal opportunity to lead a full and productive life. 
In the last quarter century, we have made remarkable progress toward that goal, opening the doors to millions of our fellow countrymen who were seeking equal opportunities in education, jobs and voting. 
Now it is time that we move forward again in still another critical area: health care.
Without adequate health care, no one can make full use of his or her talents and opportunities. It is thus just as important that economic, racial and social barriers not stand in the way of good health care as it is to eliminate those barriers to a good education and a good job.
The same president accomplished the following:
  • Signed the first S.A.L.T. talks with the former Soviet Union, dramatically reducing the number of nuclear weapons
  • Dramatically increased salaries for federal employees
  • Implemented integration of public schools
  • Instituted “Wage and Price Controls” in an effort to slow down the rate of inflation (about as anti-Free Market a policy as there is)
  • Created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
  • Created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Passed the Clean Air and Water Act 
  • Expanded funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Appointed three Supreme Court Justices, all of whom voted in favor of Roe v. Wade, which was decided during his term.

That president was Richard Nixon.

Now there was a complex man. According to writer Nolan Dalla who describes Nixon as "perhaps the last great liberal president since FDR":
...behind his utter disregard for the U.S. Constitution...and the crimes which eventually became known as the Watergate scandal, (Nixon) was a highly-accomplished man of tremendous intellect and great potential.
Nixon and his fall were truly Shakespeareian.

Here's a Slate post about another severely flawed president, Bill Clinton.

The author, Jacob Weisberg contends that Clinton's character can't exactly be found in the pages of Shakespeare:
He has Falstaff’s appetites for food and fornication (without his humor or ironic wisdom). He has Prince Hal’s political ambition and disloyalty to his old friends (without his heroism or rhetorical eloquence). But Shakespeare isn’t right for Bill Clinton, who even in collapse lacks the grandeur of the Bard’s tragic heroes and the absurdity of his comic ones.
According to Weisberg, Clinton meets his match in the work of Phillip Roth:
Alexander Portnoy, after he outgrows his autoerotic obsession, works for the liberal John Lindsay administration in New York City and does his best to demonstrate his concern for the poor and the oppressed. Meanwhile, however, he is shacked up with a girlfriend he calls the Monkey, who fulfills his sexual fantasies but leaves him living in fear of tabloid scandal. Like Clinton, Portnoy is highly intelligent, mother-obsessed, and pretty much out of control. Another similarity: Portnoy flees to Israel when faced with crisis. Drawbacks: Portnoy is more of a neurotic and less of a liar.
Nixon and Clinton were flawed men who left mixed legacies, but even in their failures, they were still figures of great substance, men worthy of lofty, if not altogether flattering literary comparisons.

Trump on the other hand will leave no mixed legacy, that much I know. Storytellers going all the way back to Aesop's time and probably before have warned us about people like him.

His enduring legacy is that he will forever be remembered as the president who killed the chicken who laid the golden egg, nothing more, nothing less.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Dr. Ezike

Who is this Dr. Ezike we keep hearing over the radio and TV every day, standing alongside Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker and having the unenviable task of telling the good people of this state how many people have contracted the COVID-19 virus and how many we have lost in the past day?

Here's a brief bio that I came across on the web in of all places, the website of the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority:
Ngozi Ezike is acting director of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Dr. Ezike is a board-certified internist and pediatrician who comes to IDPH from the Cook County Department of Public Health (CCDPH), where she served for more than 15 years. She also was medical director at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Prior to joining CCDPH, Dr. Ezike served as Austin Health Center medical director where she actively engaged with the community on a variety of health initiatives. She also has delivered inpatient care at Stroger Hospital and primary and preventive care in community and school-based clinics. 
Dr. Ezike is a national policy advisor on juvenile correctional health topics. She received a medical degree from University of California at San Diego and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Harvard University. Dr. Ezike also holds a management certificate from Harvard Business School and is an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Rush University.
Impressive credentials indeed, clearly this is a person who should be listened to, and is exactly where we need her to be as the voice of authority and reason to the people of this state, offering in a very comforting voice, at least in my opinion, hope for the future, and above all, the facts.
And she does this in English and Spanish.  
Beyond this I know absolutely nothing about Dr. Ezike, there's no Wikipedia entry on her, at least not yet, nor any easily tracked profile about her from any of the local news outlets. This to me is a bit surprising as in our media saturated society, practically anyone who gets their 15 minutes of fame for any stupid reason gets their insignificant story and their mug plastered all over the web.
Yet Dr. Ezike has gotten at least five minutes of statewide coverage every day since the governor declared his shelter-in-place order to this state over one month ago. I'm not going to do the math, but she's gotten way more than her allotted 15 minutes.
My guess is that she's perfectly fine with that, simply doing what she she sees as her role as a public service with no other agenda, keeping us informed in as clear, calm, and compassionate manner as anyone on God's green earth could possibly do.
Nothing more, and nothing less. 
A grateful state thanks you so much Dr. Ezike.