Showing posts with label fables. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fables. Show all posts

Sunday, January 10, 2021

The New Arabian Nights


The New Arabian Nights
Robert Louis Stevenson
Fiction, 186 pages

The "Arabian Nights" first appeared during the 10th century before evolving into its final form during the 14th. It’s said that this lengthy work is the greatest expression of fiction from the Islamic Golden Age, an age which arose during the reign of Baghdad caliph, Harun al-Rashid who ruled from 786 until 809. This golden age ended when Mongols overtook Baghdad in 1258. Harun al-Rashid had been dead several centuries by the time he was fictionalized as a ruler who intervenes anonymously in the lives of his subjects.

Robert Louis Stevenson created a more modern version of Harun al-Rashid in his Prince Florizel of Bohemia. The prince appears in stories set in France and England, and told in a mystery/espionage tone. The tale of the Suicide Club begins two cycles of stories involving the prince. After those stories, Stevenson addresses other characters and themes. In one story a scholarly scoundrel eaks out his living during the Middle Ages,

“The poet was a rag of a man, dark, little, and lean, with hollow cheeks and thin black locks. He carried his four-and- twenty years with feverish animation. Greed had made folds about his eyes, evil smiles had puckered his mouth. The wolf and pig struggled together in his face. It was an eloquent, sharp, ugly, earthly countenance. His hands were small and prehensile, with fingers knotted like a cord;”

While the story cycles featuring Prince Florizel resemble the mystery/espionage genre, the collection overall is genre free — or perhaps hinting of genre without being confined by it. The stories also have a fairytale-like quality as do the original Arabian Nights. However, fairytales tend to generalise, but these tales come with the details filled in. Still, like fairytales, they tug at the corners of reality enough to matter. Each story finds an unexpected destination, yet one that evolves naturally from what comes before.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

For whom the bell (ringtone) tolls

Political pollsters phoned me five times in the last two days. So far, I‘ve refused to answer their questions. But they‘re starting to wear me down. I hope I can hold out long enough to deliver a warning.

One must not answer questions asked by political pollsters. Should you do so, they will hunt you down, brainwash you, and force you to vote for idiots. They may even get you to contribute to the campaign coffers of those same idiots.

If you feel you must answer their questions, then by all means, lie. The nature of their questions provides hints regarding what they want you to believe. Tell them what they want to hear. If they think you’ll be voting for their idiots, they may leave you alone. If you receive follow-up calls asking for money, tell them that you’ve already contributed the maximum amount allowed by law. They may believe you. If they don’t, ask, “Are you calling me a liar?” That always makes them defensive. No one likes to be called a liar, least of all liars. If you follow this advice, you may survive the next election. Good luck.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Another hit for the Supremes

The Supreme Court ruled today, defending the constitutional right of donors to spend as much as they want when buying political influence. Although, donors remain limited in how much they can spend on buying individual politicians, there is no spending limit when purchasing variety packs.

Some people won’t like this decision. But, that’s too bad because the constitution says so. If you don’t like the constitution, you’ll just have to change it. If you do decide to change it, here are my suggestions:

  1. Government has grown too big and wasteful. We should abolish Congress. Half our congressional representatives don’t do anything anyway except complain, obstruct, and obfuscate issues.
  2. Convert the Senate into a senior recreation center. Those old farts need something to keep them busy and a recreation center would keep them safe and off the streets.
  3. With both Congress and the Senate out of his way, the president will be able to do pretty much whatever he wants. That’s why he should be elected by large corporations. They already do a good job of ignoring laws, spouting falsehoods, and doing pretty much whatever they want.

There are additional advantages to corporations electing the president. Voters won’t have to miss work in order to vote. This decrease in absenteeism will benefit corporate profits. News channels will no longer have to pretend to deliver news. They will be able to concentrate on the more crucial tasks of entertaining viewers and persuading them to buy crap. Lastly, those who worry about having an informed electorate will be able to stop worrying. It won’t matter. And most people won’t even notice the change. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Talking Head

Andrew’s Brain
E. L Doctorow
Fiction 200 pages
New York. Random House. 2014

Who is Andrew? In the beginning, the narrator calls him “my friend Andrew, the cognitive scientist.” But it doesn’t take long before the reader realizes that Andrew himself is telling the story. Another man is asking him questions, apparently a psychiatrist. Andrew is baiting him, attempting to catch his attention by telling him he hears voices.

Andrew tells his psychiatrist a good deal more as well, occasionally reprimanding the doctor’s ignorance and naiveté. Apparently, Andrew is well educated, and perhaps a good bit older than the psychiatrist. Yet Andrew is flawed. As a child, he caused a fatal accident. As an adult, he fatally over-medicates his baby. Although his second wife’s death is not his fault, he seems to accept the blame for the event.

Like other books by E. L. Doctorow, “Andrew’s Brain” is a historical novel. Its history is contemporary, and its historical figures are implied rather than named. Andrew is a scientific man in a world governed by archaic ideas and values. When he delivers his message to authority, it is ill received.

His message is to stop pretending to be what we are not. We have minds, but not souls and we are less important than we think we are.

Andrew defends his pessimism through the cognitive science he teaches, “If consciousness exists without the world, it is nothing, and if it needs the world to exist, it is still nothing.” But when he falls in love, Andrew’s pessimism is replaced with joy. Andrew isn't merely a scientist who views brains as machines; he’s also a romantic idealist. Doctorow gives us a full picture of Andrew, complex and self-contradicting.
The book is witty, well-written, and delivers a few surprises. One of Doctorow’s best. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A magical story collection

Strange News from Another Star
Hermann Hesse (Denver Lindley translator)
Fiction 99 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972

Although seven of these eight stories were originally published in a volume titled, “Fairy Tales”, you’ll find no fairies in them. Magic, to be sure—but no fairies.

The first story in the collection, “Augustus”, is similar to Oscar Wilde’s story, “The Selfish Giant”. The heroes of both stories set themselves apart from their fellow men, and ultimately find redemption. However Wilde’s fairy tale is one that children can appreciate, while Hesse’s is clearly suitable for more mature readers. In Wilde’s story, redemption comes for a living giant, but for Augustus, it comes at the moment of death. In many of these stories, achieving harmony with one’s fellows and one’s self can only be achieved through forgetfulness (“Strange News from Another Star”) or through death (several of the stories).

Overall, the theme of the collection is man’s struggle to achieve a harmonious relationship with others of his kind, with the universe surrounding him, and with the self within him. By self, I mean that archetypical structure to which psychiatrist, C. G. Jung, referred. Hesse published this story collection, as well as his novel, “Demian” in 1919 This was the same year in which Jung first wrote about archetypes. It’s probably no coincidence that before Hesse’s two works were published in 1919, he had recently finished his Jungian psychotherapy. Whether through intention or coincidence, Hesse’s writing often illustrates Jungian principals.

These stories are well told and their allegories readily understood. Of all the stories, I only one failed to please me—I saw no point in, “A Dream Sequence.”

The best story in the collection, “Iris”, is the story of a boy for whom flowers are doors into true reality. “Each phenomenon on earth is an allegory, and each allegory is an open gate through which the soul, if it is ready, can pass into the interior of the world where you and I and day and night are all one.”

As Anselm, the boy, matures, flowers and nature lose their magic for him. He falls in love, but his love leaves him with a quest. For the remainder of his life, he follows that quest. Finally, the gate opens for him, “It was Iris into whose heart he entered, and it was the sword lily in his mother’s garden into whose blue chalice he softly strode, and as he silently drew close to the golden twilight all memory and all knowledge were suddenly at his command …”

If you've never read Hesse, and like short fiction, this collection is a good place to start.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Bhishma's Vow

Bhishma was the eighth son born of the goddess Ganga. After his birth the goddess prepared to drown him, as she had his seven brothers. King Santanu saw this and pleaded that she stop. It was then she revealed her godhood to Santanu.

The eight, she explained, were immortals condemned to be born in the world of men.  She drowned the first seven sons in the river which bears her name. They had begged her for brief lives. But the eighth son was fated to endure a long life among mortals.

Holding her son in her arms, Ganga left Santanu. He’d been happy as Ganga’s husband, but now Santana renounced all sensual pleasures. One day he walked along the bank of the Ganges and saw a child firing arrows across its waters. Ganga appeared to him in human guise and told him that this was his son. Santanu joyfully pronounced him his heir.

As Santanu was walking along the banks of the Yamuna four years later, he inhaled a divine perfume. Following the breeze, he came to the source of the heavenly scent. There he stood before a woman of unsurpassed beauty. For many years, he’d suppressed his senses, but now he could do so no longer. Before he took his next breath, he asked her to be his wife. “Please ask my father, chief of fishermen, for his consent,” she replied. The chief set forth but one condition. The son of Devarata, his daughter, must become the next king. But Santanu could not agree because he’d already appointed his son to be his heir. He returned to his palace a troubled man, yet he told no one of his sorrow.

Bhishma was not the name originally bestowed upon the son of Ganga and Santanu. The title means one who undertakes and fulfills a difficult vow. As Bhishma took his vow, the gods cried out “Bhishma.”

Santanu spent his days in sorrow. And one day his son asked him its cause. He told his son that he worried lest his son fall in war and the family be no more. But Bhishma thought that there was more to his father’s sorrow. When Bhishma questioned the royal charioteer he learned of Devarata and her father. He approached the fisherman chief and offered to renounce the thrown. But the chief wasn’t satisfied. He then promised to never marry and to live a chaste life. The gods looked on and cried, “Bhishma.”

In later years, Bhishma defeated contending princes in order to win brides for his brother.  The princess, Amba, however, revealed that she had married Salva in her thoughts. Since she had already given away her heart, she was sent back to Salva. Salva, however refused to marry her since he was ashamed to marry one belonging to a man who had defeated him. He told her to marry Bhishma, but Bhishma refused in order to keep his vow of chastity. Amba vowed revenge against Bhishma and jumped into a burning pyre in order to be reborn a warrior. When Bhishma was slain on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, it may have been by the arrow of the reborn Amba. Before he died, Bhishma claimed that it was Arjuna’s arrow which slew him.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Granny wants to know

Whenever I visit Granny, she always asks me a certain question. Once I told her I didn’t know the answer. She wasn’t satisfied, so I promised to find out. I looked in several sociology journals, but I couldn’t find the answer. So, I told her what I thought sociologists would say. She didn’t buy it. I made up a few answers hoping that one will satisfy her curiosity. Here’s the question: “Why do young people wear those peculiar beards these days?” Here are a few answers. If you have better answers, add your comment to this post.

Because they are Bolsheviks
They work for the circus. They’re bearded ladies
In order to look older. They shave them off when they reach puberty
Because they are in a witness protection program
Because they hang out with Snow White
In order to participate in Civil War re-enactments
Because they are lumberjacks
Because dueling scars are out of fashion
Because they’re non-conformists
Because they’re conformists
They never learned to shave
Their bosses make them grow them

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Charlotte's Uncles

Grandma Charlotte used to tell about her two uncles during Prohibition. Each closely guarded the whereabouts of his still on the mountain behind the farm. One day they chanced to meet as they came down the mountain. Each carried a jug.

“Brother,” said the elder, “I’m mighty glad to see you. Have a taste of my moonshine.”

“Thanks all the same, Brother,” said the younger, “but as you see, I’ve brought my own.”

“I invited you to take a taste,” said the first, drawing his pistol and pointing it at the other.

“Well, since you put it that way, I believe I will.” The gunman handed over the jug and his brother took a drink. “Mighty fine shine,” he said.

“Thank you,” he replied, holding the pistol out to his brother. “Now, you hold the gun on me and I’ll taste yours.”

Monday, November 02, 2009

International Monetary Fund official owns up to corruption

I recently received correspondence which sheds light on the current recession and international financial matters. The letter follows, and I'm glad to know that something is being done to end the financial crisis.


Dear Fund Beneficiary,

This is to intimate you of a very important information which will be of a great help to redeem you from all the difficulties you have been experiencing in getting your long over due payment due to excessive demand for money from you by both corrupt Bank officials and Courier Companies after which your fund remain unpaid to you. I am Mr.John Lee, a highly placed official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

It may interest you to know that reports have reached our office by so many correspondences on the uneasy way which people like you are treated by Various Banks and Courier Companies/ Diplomat across Europe to Africa and Asia /London Uk and we have decided to put a stop to that and that is why I was appointed to handle your transaction here in Nigeria. All Governmental and Non-Governmental prostates, NGOs, Finance Companies, Banks, Security Companies and Courier companies which have been in contact with you of late have been instructed to back up from your transaction and you have been advised NOT to respond to them anymore since the IMF is now directly in charge of your payment.

You are hereby advised NOT to remit further payment to any institutions with respect to your transaction as your fund will be transferred to you directly from our source.I hope this is clear. Any action contrary to this instruction is at your own risk.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Michael Jackson Lives

--- Fresh intelligence from unnamed sources ---

It was a ruse. Michael lives. He and the King are both alive and well. Just like Elvis, Michael became tired of his fame and notoriety and faked his own death. The so-called “Michael,” was, in fact, an unnamed middle-aged, middle class, man of indeterminate race who succumbed to a Propofol allergy while undergoing routine vasectomy surgery. The corpse was smuggled to the Jackson residence by a covert team of underpaid Hollywood physicians. The real Jackson is purported to be vacationing on the planet, Tralfamadore. As they say on Tralfamadore, “So it goes.”

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Man’s Best Friend

Ask any pet owner. No human activity gives greater satisfaction than caring for another living being that depends on you for its health and well-being. It’s a big responsibility but the rewards are enormous. That’s why I have a bonsai tree. When I gaze into her leafy plumage, my heart swells with love.

Other people keep cats, dogs and parrots. And those are nice, but, “only God can make a tree.” Besides, keeping cats, dogs and parrots uses up way too much time and money. Bonsais ask for little and give much. They never howl at the moon and keep your neighbors up all night. Bonsais won’t rub up against your leg and leave their fur all over your trousers. They won’t scratch your furniture or shove spit soaked tennis balls into your crotch. I once knew a man who went everywhere with his parrot riding on his wet, stained shoulder. The kids all called him, “Mr. Guano.”

A bonsai doesn’t ask for much — sun, rain, pruning twice a year —  tops. Maybe some plant food on occasion. I know, you’re thinking, “It can’t be that simple.” Okay, I’ll level with you—there is a little more you need to know. For example, most bonsais do best if you let them ride out the winter somewhere cold, but not so cold that their roots can freeze. Garages work well. Tool sheds too. Sometimes they don’t survive dormancy. But on the plus side, once they’ve dropped their leaves, it can take months before you realize that they’re dead.

If you can’t be bothered with all that, then stick with a tree that doesn’t mind living indoors. A narrow leaf ficus makes a good pet. But watch out for spider mites. They kill! My sweet pet, Chia, got into some spider mites. Her leaves turned yellow and fell off. I buried her in the trash this morning. Will I miss her? Gosh, no, she was just a house plant. I’ll buy another this afternoon.
My instant, new best friend. Just add water.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A cute story with a profound moral

A small sparrow shivered while snow fell all around him. The sparrow would surely die in the cold. Then a cow wandered along and defecated on the sparrow. Warmed by the cow pie, the sparrow stopped shivering and began to sing. A passing cat heard the sparrow's joyful song and ate him.

Moral: Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy. Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend. And, if you are up to your neck in shit and can still manage to be happy, for Heaven's sake keep your mouth shut.