Monday, February 25, 2013

The Lady or the Tiger

One is often surprised by an old story retold. So it is with The Lady or the Tiger, a short story written in 1882 by Frank R. Stockton in the magazine The Century. "The lady, or the tiger?" has come to symbolize an allegorical expression, a shorthand indication for a problem that is unsolvable. I read the story as a young man, and now read it again with the hindsight of age.

The story is about a young and noble, but poor suitor for the hand of the king's daughter. She is enamored of him, but the jealous king is not. And so, upon discovering the infatuation, the king imprisons the suitor and arranges for a test. The poor suitor is to choose one of two doors. Behind one lies a tiger. Behind the other lies a another lady, as young and fair as the princess. Choose the tiger and the suitor is slain. Choose the other and the suitor may marry the fair maiden and live far away, comfortably, but separated from his princess.

The test is set to take place in the arena. And the king, the princess, and all the subjects of the kingdom have gathered to watch which choice the suitor makes, the lady or the tiger. But, the princess has learned beforehand the secret of which door the tiger lies behind.

And at the moment the suitor must choose, he looks to the princess in the stands. She, with a barely perceptible nod, motions to the right door. The suitor notices the princess' motion and decides.

But what does he decide? Has the princess acted to spare her suitor, knowing that to do so he will find the loving arms of another? Or, acting in spite, is she to deny the suitor of his life?

What do we know of love?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Donald Richie, Citizen of Limbo

Read Martin Fackler's article in the New York Times on the death of Donald Richie.

Martin Fackler's article is well-written, so what does one need to add? "Not much," the old man says, other than to observe that many of us feel lost somewhere in between worlds, neither willing to accept one or be accepted by the other. Being a citizen of Limbo leaves one on the edge of hell. But, limbo, after all, is not hellish, and, there is always the hope someday, of finding the heaven we seek.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sometimes it Lasts in Love

And ... Sometimes it hurts instead

"Life's a bitch," the old man often says. He has had his own personal troubles, is tougher now, and made the stronger for it. But, when pain touches those near and dear to the old man, it hurts again.

Someone  Like You - Adele's second hit song, recorded in 2010 and released in 2011, was inspired by Adele's a break-up with an ex-boyfriend. It deals with the need to move on, as Adele explains, "When I was writing it I was feeling pretty miserable and pretty lonely, which I guess kind of contradicts Rolling in the Deep. Whereas that was about me saying, 'I'm going to be fine without you', this is me on my knees really."

Hear more...

Adele is now married, mother of baby Angelo, and happy as a kid in a candy store. And, who the hell is the ex? Adele isn't telling, saying only that she wishes him the best.

Life's a bitch, the old man knows, but then a new day comes, a new relationship, and life goes on. I wish you nothing but the best. And, may your dreams come true.


The way it was

Listen to Adele's the original video. The old man thinks the video's  film noir touch is more appropriate to a break-up. And the voice more bitter than sweet, but success changes things.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Parliament of Foules (Fowls)

This Valentine's week, the old man came across The Parliament of Foules (The Gathering of Birds) by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 - 1400). It is the first known recorded celebration of the holiday of Valentine's Day. The poem begins with an old poet's attempt to understand love. First he begins with an erudite discussion of Cicero's Somnium Scipionus. But an academic enterprise is doomed to failure. In Chaucer's words the venture, "ledeth (leads) to the sorweful (sorrowful) were (weir/fishing hole). Ther as a fissh in prison is al (all) drye (dry).

Then, the poet is taken to Nature's shady place where he watches over a gathering of the birds. All the species of birds pair off. And the powerful eagle makes its case for its mate, in competition with other birds of prey. The other species chime in and Nature is left to step in and put the debate off for another year.

The old man wonders, ... "Love's errand is not for a fowl (foules), but a fool?"

The poem is fairly short, 700 stanzas, written in Middle English, meaning that it takes a little thought to understand its subtle meanings.

It is quite lovely and wel wirth the rede:

The lyf (life) so short, the craft so long to lerne, 
Thassay (They say) so hard, so sharp the conquering,
The dredful Ioy (Joy), that alwey slit (slips away) so yerne (young), 
Al this mene (mean) I by love, that my feling 
Astonyeth (Astonished) with his wonderful worching (working)
So sore y-wis (there known), that whan I on him thinke, 
Nat wot I wel wher that I wake or winke (dream). 

For al be that I knowe nat (not) love in dede (deed), 
Ne (Nor) wot how that he quyteth (quietith) folk hir (her) hyre (here), 
Yet happeth (happens) me ful ofte in bokes (books) rede (read)
Of his miracles, and his cruel yre (ire); Ther rede I wel he wol (will) be lord and syre (sire), 
I dar not seyn (say), his strokes been so sore, 
But God save swich (such) a lord! I can no more. ...

lines 1 through 15, and, as you wish, the rest of the poem

Sunday, February 10, 2013

William Styron

It is February. The weather is cold and grey. The wind is blowing and there is nowhere to go, all day. This reminds the old man of his favorite movie, Ground Hog Day with Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott.

The old man went to the movies with his wife to see Jude Law and Rooney Mara in Side Effects - wife's choice, not his.

Let's face it, the old man is not into depressing movies, even if they are well acted and well written. Movies should entertain. And life is depressing enough, especially in February when the air is cold and the wind blows.

There is a mention of William Styron in the movie. Let's see if I can remember. "It’s like a fog moving in over the intellect," I think, ...which is a quote from George Plimpton's 1999 interview with Styron, William Styron, The Art of Fiction No. 156 for the Paris Review. No, that can't be quite right, for it must have come from one of his books. Oh wait, here is the movie line - Emily, the disturbed patient, tells Banks, her psychiatrist, she exists within “a poisonous fog bank.”

The line comes from William Styron’s personal memoir about depression, Darkness Visible.

So, one thing leads to another. Or does it? Isn't that one of the features of a depressed mind? It is not always rational, at least in a conventional sense. Depression always leads one into an abysmal sense of loss, a fog bank, in Styron's words. As for Styron's books, haven't read them, don't recommend them. Why choose depression when one can choose life. Isn't an  attitude just a way to think.

Since the movie Side Effects deals with the potentially devastating effects of pills on the brain, why not dispense with the pills? Ever notice that when a commercial comes on the television talking about depression, it plays depressing music and shows depressed people. If you didn't feel down and out before the commercial, you will afterwards.

Interviewed by George Plimpton in a Paris cafe for the Paris Review, Styron reiterates life's sense of despair. On writing, he explains:


Do you enjoy writing?


I certainly don’t. I get a fine, warm feeling when I’m doing well, but that pleasure is pretty much negated by the pain of getting started each day.

Let’s face it, writing is hell.
Bummer, but true.

If you made it this far into the article, maybe you will want to see the movie Side Effects. If so, here is a teaser. Warning, someone gets hurt in the movie.

Do No Harm

This is not the slogan popularized by Google, "Do no evil." That was an exuberant exhortation by an up and coming Google engineer, Paul Buchheit, head of the budding Gmail project, sometime around the millenium, when Google was young and innocent.

Rather, it is a shortened version of the peroration in the Hippocratic Oath:

I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel...
More to the point, Book One of the Epidemics, section 2, paragraph 4, states that the physician who treats a disease must:

... be able to tell the antecedents, know the present, and foretell the future- must mediate these things, and have two special objects in view with regard to disease, namely, to do good or to do no harm.
Hippocrates, and the doctors of the Hippocratic School of Medicine, were from the fourth and fifth centuries B.C.. They lived during the Golden Age of Greece, when the Persian threat had been defeated, and Athens, under Pericles, turned its efforts to fostering knowledge and culture. Instead of war, Athens' efforts turned to the construction of the buildings of the Acropolis, including the Parthenon.

Hippocrates and his followers believed that disease had natural causes and was not a result of the disfavor of the gods. In the seven books of the Epidemics, the followers of Hippocrates reported on outbreak of different diseases in Greece. Their reports were always factual and objective. For instance Book One begins with a description of the weather that lead to an outbreak of disease in "Thasus, early in autumn, [where] the winter suddenly set in rainy before the usual time, with much northerly and southerly winds."

Google's version of "Do no harm" was issued in an attempt to wear the white hat, to be less commercial and serve the public good. In its prospectus, before its public offering in 2004, Google explained:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served — as shareholders and in all other ways — by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains...

Since then, Google has grown into a behemoth that rivals Standard Oil in its heyday, the early 20th century. A hundred years later, Google will have to determine if it can combine profit with social responsibility. Check out its corporate philosophy, and one sees that the do no evil manifesto is still proudly stated. See, About Google, Company, What we believe.

Paul Buchheit's Gmail has come a long way, and Blogger, which is an off-shoot of Gmail, has become an open platform for men and women, old and young to write, plead, pontificate, and yes, even bloviate.

Do no evil, do no harm. Either way, it is a good way to live.