Thursday, April 29, 2021

Biden's State of the Union Address



President Biden spoke to the American people last night and laid out his broad, generally progressive vision for the country. In my judgment his first 100 days have seen a return to a sense of governmental competence combined with the management of the COVID vaccine dispersal that will be seen as a logistic miracle by future analysts. Now the tougher slog begins. No plan this grand will be without shortfalls.   

Let’s start with Biden’s demonstration that he has solved the “Trump Equation” by the expedient of ignoring him. This is the kind of “death by a thousand cuts” that only bottom feeding egotists feel.  In four years the news bureaus, networks, pundits, and most Democrats failed to get the easier message. So they turned red in the face and wildly attacked each portentous lie and lunacy. Biden has, literally since the beginning of this campaign, been the fish who refuses to take the bait. He has reasoned correctly that raw meat spoils more quickly when not thrown immediately on every grill. Kudos to him!   

On to some of last night’s specifics where we were given a focused, totally understandable, and bi-directional look down an Interstate Highway. The President directed us first to gaze down at the potholed roadway and outlined a plan to fix the aging infra-structure. He emphasized jobs and an ennoblement of the working classes who have built and rebuilt the nation before and now can do it again.

His second direction was to gaze straight ahead toward the horizon where justice, climate fixes, and successful international competition await a renewed national commitment.  He emphasized that it was not possible for us to “not respond” to  this challenge.  If we exhaust our efforts, he said,  competing among ourselves, the rest of the world (particularly China) will not sit around and wait for us to put our house in order. They will see our folly and move ahead without us. 

Note that the President looked only those two ways. His message was narrow, finely honed, and fully understandable. Although I am sure he is well aware of it, he did not mention that the off-ramps on the Interstate are full of dying and decaying strip malls. That is where doom saying toothless tigers are gnashing their  gums while complaining  that these efforts will cost too much.  Republicans off to either side of the road have no apparent foreign or domestic vision, no declared platform of action, and no apparent interest in negotiation or governing.  Mitch McConnell’s cold iceberg isolation stare last night (that could not be concealed by his mask) captured our predicament perfectly.  In closing I reiterate that this is a lift destined to fail in some part, but by all that is Holy, it is a goal worthy of our noble nation. Not to try will be seen by future historians as a monumental failure.

Like Joe, I thank you for your patience.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Review of Your Inner Hedgehog by Andrew McCall Smith


In Your Inner Hedgehog Alexander McCall Smith adds another volume to his Portuguese Irregular Verb series and you can count on some fine chuckles as he roasts  the old school German pedants (like Professor Dr Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld) who  scheme mightily about all issues large and small at the tiny Institute of Romance Philology at the University of Regensburg.  Academic Freedom is always a topic and von Igelfeld and his colleagues tend to define that as the freedom to do what they like and not be challenged by the lower pecking order who do not approve of what you have done or are doing. 

When a new female Deputy-Librarian arrives with the demented idea that the Senior Coffee Room (which has been reserved for Full Chairs since the disappearance of the dinosaurs) should be open to all. It is all hands on deck to repulse the forces of distaff progress.  A new doctrine of “compulsory anti-elitism”  is in the air and the old profs worry that it will lead to compelling them to do such distasteful things as inviting your neighbors into your home.

The final straw is broken when complaints to the all powerful University Rector lead to a required election for a new Director of the Institute. All employees, ranging from the office cleaners and cafeteria staff to the senior professors are to have equal votes.  

There are several other complications, including a loud American on a Post Doc, but since this is McCall-Smith everything is ironed out in the end. Getting there is half the fun with this author and if you are familiar with academic life you will enjoy this one.  You can read it in two or three hours max.   

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Review of the Fifth Knight by E. M Powell

 While working on a thorough response to a new academic study of the London't West End entertainment district, I have looked at a late night medieval mystery titled 

The Fifth Knight by E M Powell

I have a special  interest in Henry IV and Eleanor of Aquitaine. I loved the film of "The Lion in Winter" that featured Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn and in 1990 I directed a stage performance of the show that starred Helen Wagner Willey  of Soap Opera As the World Turns fame as Eleanor and  Professor Doug Rankin (a former student and colleague) as Henry IV. 

The Fifth Knight is a neat medieval throwaway romance and it caught my eye because it features a  fictional out of wedlock child and novice nun (Theodosia) of Henry IV and a fictional fifth Knight (Sir Benedict Palmer) who was in the original assassination party that butchered Archbishop Thomas Beckett in 1170 AD. Sir Palmer backs out of the killing and turns to saving the young nun who has been targeted for kidnapping in order to locate her mother.  It is aggressively plotted (perhaps too much so)  and the mistress of Aquitaine turns out to be as nasty as can be in both versions. In this one she has turned a sadistic monk away from service to the King and recruited him to help find and kill the young novice nun (Theodosia) and her mother.

The events may be too cruel and bloody for some readers.  There is some sex, but it hews to the usual “cosy mystery ” understatement.  The Archbishop Beckett killers are portrayed as  murderous monsters. In their best moments they offer rewards for information, renege on payment,  kill the informer, and as added insult burn down the informer's house.  

The romance between our closeted novice nun (Henry IV's love child)  and the semi-chivalric Knight for hire  (Sir Benedict Palmer) is presented on a large golden tee. The pair are such opposites that they just have to end up with each other.  Henry IV is pictured as pictured as more concerned about this than he actually was, but that is the way of fiction overlaid on fact. What you end up with is a nice light novel that will keep you turning pages. .  

Powell has also written another medieval series (The Stanton and Barling Series) from the same time period.  In that series once again two contrasting characters team up to have a go at solving murders in the name of King Henry IV.