Monday, July 29, 2013

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LXXI

This is the fifth linked quatrain that focuses on wine.  It refers back directly to LXIX in which he laments that his devotion to the grape has done his "Credit in Men's Eyes much wrong."

First Edition:  Quatrain LXXI

And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
And robb'd me of my Robe of Honour--well,
    I often wonder what the Vinters buy
One half so precious as the Goods they sell.

Second Edition:  Quatrain CIII
And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
And robb'd me of my Robe of Honour--Well,

    I often wonder what the Vinters buy
One-half so precious as the ware they sell.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XCV
And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
And robb'd me of my Robe of Honour--Well,
    I often wonder what the Vinters buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell.

FitzGerald has made only minimal changes in this quatrain over the five editions.   In the first three lines he has made only one minor change, that of capitalizing "Well" in the second line of the second and fifth editions.  He added a hyphen to "One-half" in the second edition but had removed it by the fifth edition.  He seemed to have difficulty in deciding just what to call what the Vinters sold over the various editions as he went from "Goods" to "ware" to "stuff."  My preference is for "Goods," perhaps because it was the first one I read.  "Ware" would be improved somewhat if he had made it "wares they sell."  But, "stuff," no, that just doesn't work for me.  The "stuff" they sell is wine, and he has praised it so much throughout the 70+ quatrains, that calling it "stuff" is derogatory and doesn't convey the significance it has had for him.

 As I have mentioned previously, I have read several commentaries in which the author has tried to "save" Khayyam and place him within the mystic tradition which would preclude the use of alcohol.  In some quatrains, I can see where references to the grape or wine could be interpreted as God's grace or divine inspiration, but there are numerous references which just don't seem to fit, and this quatrain and Quatrain LXIX are two of the many.  It is hard to see that divine grace could have done his "Credit in Men's Eyes much wrong" or "robb'd [him] of [his] Robe of Honour."

Also, consider the first line of the stanza in which he says that "Wine has play'd the Infidel."  Again, I don't see how this could be a reference to divine grace.  If I find two interpretations and one can be seen to apply consistently while the other only seems partially valid, then I would definitely go with the one that seemed appropriate most often.

Like several other quatrains or couplets, I had come across the last two lines--
                                I often wonder what the Vinters buy
                            One half so precious as the Goods they sell.

long before I was even aware of the existence of The Rubaiyat.  It was an  epigraph or a quotation that came at the very beginning of a short story, an SF story to be precise.  I do not remember the author, the title, or even the plot of the story, but those two lines have stayed with me for decades now.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Iron Sky: an SF film?

The question in the title of this post really means that I wondered whether to call it a film or farce.  It's brought to you by the same folks who produced Star Wreck, another SF satiric film that conflates Star Wars and Star Trek. I haven't watched it yet, but it's in my queue now.  Iron Sky also targets two victims:  various alien invasion films and films about hidden nests of Nazis plotting to resurface and take over the world.  In other words, Moon Nazis.

There was some discussion many years ago as to who got the best German rocket scientists--the USA or the USSR.  Now, the truth can be told.  Neither!  The best German rocket scientists fled to dark side of the moon along with many other high ranking Nazi officials in 1945.  Since then, they have been working on a super weapon that will destroy the world.

The time is 2018 and the last problem with the doomsday weapon has been solved, mostly by accident.  Two American astronauts have landed on the moon near the Nazi base (built in the shape of a swastika, of course).  One of the astronauts had a mobile phone with him.  When asked what it was, he told them it was a phone and a computer.  The German Mad Scientist (who had a hairdo reminiscent of Einstein) laughed and said this was obviously a lie because it was so small.  Real computers were room-sized.  Curious anyway, the Mad Scientist inserts the phone to discover it can control the doomsday weapon, but the battery drained too quickly.  The solution to the problem was obviously to go to Earth and get bigger and stronger batteries.

The Nazis go to Earth occasionally, but not too often because the crews and ships frequently don't return for some inexplicable reason.  The Nazi ships look just like the flying saucers so prevalent in 1950s alien invasion movies.  So, the UFO sightings were real: they weren't aliens--they were Nazis.  Meanwhile, the Mad Scientist's young, beautiful, blonde daughter begins to fall in love with the American astronaut and helps him to escape.  And so on and so forth.

The American President who plays a significant role is obviously Sarah Palin, even though she is not named: the long black hair, the glasses with the half-lens, and various verbal expressions.  Her Oval Office is equipped with a cycle exercise machine and various stuffed trophy animals, including a polar bear.  (The director in an interview says the bear was not planned, but his staff found it somewhere.)

Eventually the Nazis launch an attack on New York and the scenes are classic from 1950 films:  crowds running and screaming, saucers destroying buildings, dogfights between fighter jets and saucers.  The Nazi mother ships resemble dirigibles.  However, various nations on Earth including the US possess armed space ships (all illegal of course, banned by the UN, and agreed to by all nations).  When the US President scolds them for possessing these illegal ships, some point out that the US has one also.  Her response is the that the US always lies--it is expected.

Keep an eye peeled for at least two little bits "borrowed" from Dr Strangelove--Peter Sellers' problem with his arm and the ending.

Lots of fun.  It is best viewed by shutting down your brain, in the presence of like-minded friends, and  with your favorite attitude adjustment substance at hand. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Baltasar Gracian: on trivia

No. 121

"Do not make a business of the trivial.  Just as some can make a tale out of anything, so others can make a business of everything:  they always speak importantly, they take all things seriously, making of everything either a case, or a mystery.  To convert petty annoyances into matters of importance, is to become seriously involved in nothing.  It is to miss the point, to carry on the chest what has been cast from the shoulders.  Many things which were something, by being left alone, became nothing; and others which were nothing, became much because messed into: in its beginnings it is easy to make an end of anything, but not so later; for many a time, the remedy itself brings out the disease: by no means the worst rule of life, to let things rest."

-- Baltasar Gracian --
The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Baltasar Gracian died in 1658, over 350 years ago.  It's obvious that the human race hasn't changed much since his time.  Much of which passes for news today is really the trivial blown out of proportion.  What one person said thirty years ago becomes a focus of a media feeding frenzy.

But it's too simplistic to blame it on the media for they compete for the greatest audiences, and they know what people are interested in.  If people weren't obsessed with trivia about other people's lives and perhaps mistakes, the media wouldn't focus on the irrelevant and insignificant.

"Just as some can make a tale out of anything, so others can make a business of everything:  they always speak importantly, they take all things seriously, making of everything either a case, or a mystery."

Does the above quotation fits anybody you can think of on radio or TV today?

Monday, July 8, 2013

Kenko: on instabiliity

No. 25

"The world is as unstable as the pools and shallows of Asuka River.  Times change and things disappear; joy and sorrow come and go; a place that once thrived turns into an uninhabited moor; a house may remain unaltered, but its occupants will have changed.  The peach and the damson trees in the garden say nothing--with whom is one to reminisce about the past?  I feel this sense of impermanence even more sharply when I see the remains of a house which long ago, before I knew it, must have been imposing.

Whenever I pass by the ruins of the Kyogoku Palace, the Hojoji, and similar buildings, it moves me to think that the aspiration of the builders still lingers on, though the edifices themselves have changed completely.  When Fujiwara no Michinaga erected so magnificent a temple, bestowing many estates for its support, he supposed that his descendants would always assist the emperor and serve as pillars of the state; could he have imagined that the temple would fall into such ruin, no matter what times lay ahead?  The Great Gate and the Golden Hall were still standing until recent years, but the Gate burned during the Showa era, and the Golden Hall soon afterwards fell over.  It still lies there, and no attempt has been made to restore it.  Only the Muryoju Hall remains as a memento of the temple's former glory.  Nine images of Amida Buddha, each sixteen fee tall, stand in a row, most awesomely.  It is extremely moving to see, still plainly visible, the plaque inscribed by the Major Counselor Kozei and the door inscription by Kaneyuki.  I understand that the Hokke Hall and perhaps other buildings are still standing.  I wonder how much longer they too will last?

Some buildings that lack even such remains may survive merely as foundation stones, but no one knows for certain to what they once belonged.  It is true in all things that it is a futile business attempting to plan for a future one will never know."

--Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness
trans. Donald Keene

I listen to others talk and am surprised to see how many people make plans for ten, fifteen, or even  twenty years ahead.  Inevitably they assume that nothing will change, that all will go then as it goes  now.  How many stock market crashes have occurred since the Great Crash in the '20s?  But, once the stock market begins climbing up to record levels, investors forget that the reverse not only could happen, but has happened in the recent past and are, therefore, shocked and caught unprepared once the bottom drops out again. 

The Taoists teach that change is inevitable: when times are bad, we should persist, for they shall soon improve, and when times are good, we should enjoy it, and prepare for a downturn.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Eric Hoffer: on desire

"7.  Every intense desire is perhaps basically a desire to be different from what we are.  Hence probably the imperiousness of the desire for fame, which is a desire for a self utterly unlike the real self."

"8.  There is even in the most selfish passion a large element of self-abnegation.  It is startling to realize that what we call extreme self-seeking is actually self-abnegation.  The miser, health addict, glory chaser, and their like are not far behind the selfless in the excise of self-sacrifice.

Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self."

-- Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind

Desires or needs seem to signify a lack in ourselves or perhaps a feeling that all is not right with us, that something is missing, while those who lack desire are those who are content with who they are and with what they have.  If so, then our consumer-oriented culture suggests that a majority of us are dissatisfied with ourselves, and advertising agencies use this to manipulate us into buying products that will make us happy by filling gaps or by changing ourselves into something we are not at this moment.

All advertisements directly or indirectly suggest that this product is something we must have if we are to be happy, and many go even a step further.  In order to assuage any possible guilt at purchasing the product or service, which might be viewed as a luxury or perhaps self-indulgence, the ad tells us that we "deserve" this product or service, in other words, you should have this, whatever is may be.

What I wonder is how this ever came about?  What is it that we lack that earlier generations seemed to have?