terça-feira, junho 30, 2015

Android App: "Sons de Bichos"

The sounds animals make. App made for Manuel Maria to enjoy, and to let his parents sleep...

Just a tap is enough to start Manuel Maria on his fun path to discovery. He's encouraged to learn the names of animals and their characteristic sounds, and cute sound effects!

NB: "Sons de Bichos" = "Animal Sounds".

segunda-feira, junho 29, 2015

Wimbledon: The Master returns for a 17th presence in a row. 18th GS Title?

Du kannst auf meine volle Unterstützung zählen.

Allen Unkenrufen zum trotz, kannst du es schaffen!

Ab morgen vor dem Fernseher gebannt!

domingo, junho 28, 2015

Bergsonism: "Life Lessons From Bergson" by Michael Foley

Published September 12th 2013.

Me: Good afternoon Mr. Bergson.
Bergson: Good afternoon.
Me: I’ve always been fascinated by your concept of “time”.
Bergson: WHAT?
Me: Yes. I believe you call it “duration”.
Bergson: The concept of time isn't what everybody understands in their day to day life. For me it should be considered as “space”.
Me: As in a space-time continuum? By reading Mr Foyle’s book it seems that your concept of time is something like that. Is there a fundamental difference between “time” and “space” or are they interchangeable?
Bergson: The properties of “space” and “time” are different. What is the same are the properties of “space” and “duration”. Our common concept of time isn't accurate to apprehend the experience of time, hence the need for another concept and word. "Time", as we understand it, is a mix of the concept of space and the experience of time. As such it’s not a good concept, because it’s not accurate enough. "Duration", as I see it, is the concept of time purged from the concept of space, i.e., from what we think is time but in reality is only space.
Me: Does it mean that the “past” works as a “present” that is really not “present” anymore? How can we interpret the concept of “future”?
Bergson: The “future” is a “present” that is yet to materialize.
Me: Are you saying that future stuff only exists on the realm of possibilities that are waiting to exist? Is that it?
Bergson: It means the present cannot be extended in order for us to see what future will be like. There is no oneness between future and present, whereas there is congruity in our common conception of space. That’s why we think "time" the way we think "space" (through oneness between all concepts).
Me: I think I’m starting to see the “light”. I think using your definition of time, I can now distinguish between "abstract time" and "concrete time" (that you, Mr. Bergson call "duration"). The "abstract time" is the one used in physics. The "concrete time/duration" is the one I must use to think of our human experience.
Bergson: Indeed. They both have different properties. In my view, “time” considered as "duration" transcends consciousness.
Me: Now you’ve got me all confused once again…
Mr. Bergson: (Good grief. This guy is as dumb as a doornail…). How can I put this? Many philosophical questions are not real problems, i.e., they’re made-up issues caused by the use of wrong concepts. This makes it impossible for us to visualize and understand them.
Me: (What an arrogant shit. I’ll go and hit the pool instead, and keep on behaving in a generally inane and pointless manner. I’ve always hated philosophy…). Thanks very much for you time, Mr. Bergson. It was a very informative discussion.
Bergson: (this churl doesn't have enough mental power to understand basic philosophical issues... I’ll go make fun of Kant instead because here in the After-Life I’ve got nothing better to do. What I did with “Time and Free Will” was not enough…)

sábado, junho 27, 2015

A Man’s Obsession with First Folios: “Collecting Shakespeare - The Story of Henry and Emily Folger" by Stephen H. Grant

Disclaimer: I received a reader's copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
(The book was published on February 8th, 2014; review written 27/06/2015)

Review cross-posted on Edelweiss.

Published February 28th 2014.

Shakespeare has been in the news lately. Not only are his plays constantly being performed, read, analyzed, and loved, not only does his language fill our thoughts and his plots and themes our culture, there is something definitely afoot: “The Spanish Tragedy” by Thomas Kyd, a discovery of another First Folio in France, “discovery” of the only portrait made during Shakespeare’s lifetime, the identity of the enigmatic ‘Mr WH’ to whom the sonnets were dedicated, etc. Is the Shakespeare renaissance underway…?

This book is the story of one man obsessed with a need to amass Shakespeare’s genius in one place.

“The seed of the world-renowned Folger Shakespeare Library was sown when Emily Jordan, ‘fair in knowledge’, and Henry Folger, ‘well read in poetry and other books,’ attended a beach picnic and realized they shared a passion for Shakespeare.”

The world is full of small details. Thanks God for picnics and John Heminges and Henry Condell, who in 1620 decided to collect Shakespeare's complete works. Without them we would have neither a First Folio nor the FSL. Who knows how much or how little we would have known about Shakespeare or whether we would have had the plays to read and see and love. The world owes a lot to these men who had the foresight to recognize the genius and importance of Shakespeare’s works.

The earlier chapters are devoted to Henry's life and the author comments on how so little is actually known about his private life. Subsequent chapters deal with the story of Henry Folger whose book collecting hobby turned into an obsession to buy as many copies of the First Folio as he could lay his hand on, metaphorically speaking. Never had hoarding of Shakespeareana reaped such a wonderful collection and fame for the collector. We of course owe a great debt to Folger.

Emily Jordan does not figure prominently in Grant’s analysis. Grant also thankfully keeps off the topic of Shakespeare’s marriage.

The information about who had what folio where and how much it cost sometimes got a little tiresome, but I understand its inclusion was necessary in order to give us the full picture of Henry’s purpose. I’d have loved to know more about the Folgers, i.e., via a character study.

What drove Henry Folger to Shakespeare? The only insight Grant provides is, “Henry Folger’s original interest in Shakespeare was instinctive. It was a natural expression of his own spiritual character. The inner light of his mind was reflected in the age-dimmed but still bright mirror of the poet’s work. Science affords no satisfying explanation of such phenomena. Certain souls respond to certain souls, but no theory yet evolved is competent to furnish a complete analysis of the relation.” This is also a subject that has been on my mind lately for a different set of reasons. Can we say we’re better persons because we know our Shakespeare? Is it because of the stories, the words, or because of something elusive residing in our (western) mental interstices? I think the experiences and emotions of his characters are what drives us to Shakespeare, but there must be something else at play here...

Also personally interesting were Grant’s comments on the several variorum editions of Shakespeare’s works. i.e., “volumes providing copiously annotated texts filled with critical commentary spanning generations.” I was not aware so many editions existed.

The Folgers, Henry and Emily, utterly and irrevocably altered our literary landscape, not to mention our Western Weltanschauung. As Emerson aptly stated, “Now literature, philosophy, and thought, are Shakespearized.”

Grant’s book is a fine addition to my personal Shakespeare library.

sexta-feira, junho 26, 2015

Theatre and Physics: "Copenhagen" by Michael Frayn

Published August 8th 2000.

Why do I go to the theatre? The question bears the same gravitas as the one regarding books. Much like books, the theatre allows me to experience something different. Not like books or movies though, the theatre often feels more real since I share the same space as the actors. While books can help me enter the world of the story, and temporarily leave my own life, being a theatre buff can also bring meaning into my life as well. Maybe the play shows me a different perspective of the world that I did not notice before. Often, plays give me that something extra, be it the love, the strength, the determination, etc. that I need to move forward in my life.

What about “Copenhagen”? Bottom-line. It’s a Hamlet play. It’s also about the fallibility of memory, human relationships, and being at a crossroad in life:

"Now we’re all dead and gone, yes, and there are only two things the world remembers about me. One is the uncertainty principle, and the other is my mysterious visit to Niels Bohr in Copenhagen in 1941. Everyone understands uncertainty. Or thinks he does. No one understands my trip to Copenhagen. Time and time again I’ve explained it. To Bohr himself, and Margrethe. To interrogators and intelligence officers, to journalists and historians. The more I’ve explained, the deeper the uncertainty has become. Well, I shall be happy to make one more attempt. Now we’re all dead and gone. Now no one can be hurt, now no one can be betrayed."

(Act One)

Occasionally, instead of a normal evening at the theatre, sometimes I get a powerful, and thought-provoking play to watch. That play was "Copenhagen". My wife and I faced the rain to go and watch it. I had not read up about the play, or had watched it before, and it came as a total surprise in 2005. Theatre and Physics. What a combination. I watched it in Portuguese at Teatro Aberto in Lisbon: starring Paulo Pires (as Niels Bohr), Carmen Dolores (as Margrethe Bohr, her last play), Luís Alberto (as Werner Heisenberg), Vera San Payo de Lemos (translator) and João Lourenço as stage director.
The most important “piece of text” in the play, and the one I tend to think as the one that most perfectly identifies the core of it, is the following (quoted verbatim from the text I just read):

Bohr: Why are you confident that it's going to be so reassuringly difficult to build a bomb with 235? Is it because you've done the calculation?

Heisenberg: The calculation?

Bohr: Of the diffusion in 235. No, it's because you haven't calculated it. You haven't considered calculating it. You hadn't consciously realized there was a calculation to be made.

Heisenberg: And of course now I have realized. In fact it wouldn't be all that difficult. Let's see … The scattering cross-section's about 6 x 10-24, so the mean free path would be … Hold on …

This is the dialogue I remember most vividly when I watched the play in 2005 (with text in Portuguese of course, but as soon as I read them in English in 2015 everything came back to me). Stage-wise what happened? At Heisenberg’s words an explosion, bright light, and a racket filled the stage, simulating the burst of a bomb.

Was this a world-changing decision as some proclaim? Did it change the outcome of the war? After reading the play (and remembering the play), I think that’s what Frayn tried to state.
Reading the play in 2015, and after watching it 10 years ago, I came to understand that the material is very rich in terms of exploring the social aspects and the ethical dilemmas in science, particularly the ones involving the two most important physicists in terms of quantum theory and nuclear fission.  The presence of the fundamental aspects of the complementary and uncertainty principles in the lines of the characters the way Frayn did, helped me understand, in a theatre play, how seamless it all can seem.  Socially speaking, the play showed me that Quantum Mechanics, and the Copenhagen Interpretation in particular, was developed in a wider context, involving ethical issues among top scientists. Although with only three characters, in a theory that had many contributors (Born, Dirac, Schrödinger, Pauli, etc.) in terms of its foundation, the play can be seen as an instrument for a more widespread discussion of the role of science and its use society-wise.

After reading the play, I just wanted to watch it again. I remember what was going through my mind when I watched it 10 years ago: did Heisenberg really dragged his ass so that the German Bomb effort would fail, allowing the allies to be able to get the bomb first? Did Heisenberg really know how to create an atomic bomb? Was he really able to perform basic mathematical calculations? Was he the genius everyone thought he was (I think he was; his approach to Quantum Mechanics using matrix algebra was nothing short of masterful)? Did he want to prevent the allies from developing the bomb? Was he an infiltrated German agent only trying to worm information out of Bohr? All of these run through my mind while watching the play in 2005 and now 10 years later the same thing happened, but the answers were nowhere to be seen, as expected. Too bad this play isn’t playing anywhere…I’m off to watch the movie version directed by Howard Davies, starring Daniel Craig and Stephen Rea. It isn’t the real McCoy, but what is?

sábado, junho 20, 2015

Die Vergangenheit ist bekanntlich schlecht, und letztlich stärker als die Gegenwart: “Mockingbird Songs” by R. J. Ellory

NB: My German friends are always asking me to write more in German. This is just for you all… This was also a chance to flex and stretch my (fairly measly) German language muscles. I feel I’m getting rusty…Translation into English soon to follow as soon as the heat wave abates...Another note. All the mistakes in the review below were due to this scorching temperature, and not to my lack of command of the German Language... I cannot be held accountable…“I like it hot,” but for writing enough is enough…

Published May 7th 2015.

"Determining when loving someone became being in love was indeterminable. Something they said, something they did, an idiosyncrasy of character that was theirs and theirs alone?"

Krimis, die so richtig quer stehen zur üblichen Lesart, sind, wenn man mal ehrlich sein will, selten. Klar gibt es Bücher, die herausragen, sei es aufgrund der Sprache oder des ausgefallen Plots oder der dichten Atmosphären, Handwerk eben. Die verschiedenen Subgenres haben ihre Schnittmuster und wenn ich Glück habe, kann der Autor des Kaisers kleider vortrefflich schneidern, aber dass ein Autor etwas ganz Neues hinzufügt, das passiert nicht oft. R. J. Ellory “Mockingbird Songs” ist, glaube ich, so ein seltenes Buch.

Da stellt sich anfänglich beim Lesen, gelinde gesagt, etwas Überraschung ein. Einer der Grundpfleiler eines Krimis ist die Realitätsverbundenheit. Wird diese aufgebrochen, wie z.B., bei “Fever of the Bone” von Val McDermid, endet das Ganze im Fiasko. Ein Krimi macht für mich einfach keinen Spass, wenn der Autor ihn nach Strich und Faden belügen kann and alles mit übersinnlichen Kräften erklären wird. Das ist eines dieser Bücher, die in unserm Kopf alles in Unordnung bringen, was wir uns so zu unsrer Bequemlichkeit zurechtgebaut haben, alles kriegt gewissermaßen Löcher und Risse und wird durchsichtig - ja, für was nun: für die Wahrheit? für eine Schönheit, die beunruhigender ist als wir dachten? Schwer zu sagen, was Kunst eigentlich tut, was Lesen bewirkt.

Hilfreich ist, dass Ellory nicht nur gut erzählen kann, er hat auch viel pathos und zwar einen feinen, eleganten, konzequent die Möglichkeit seiner Konstrution ausnutzenden:
"War changes a man. It changes his eyes, his mind, his heart, his soul. It teaches him about impermanence and fragility. It shows him the holes in the master plan, and it questions his belief in God. Most often undermines it as well. War is for those who have forgotten how to speak to one another."
Das strahlt dann tatsächlich eine grösseren Realismus als, als z.B., die Bücher James Ellroys, die aufgrund der grotesken Übertreibungen immer surreal wirken. Dabei folgt Ellory den Vorgaben eines modernen Thrillers genau. Sei es der verzweifelte Kampf mit den Starken und Mächtigen, sei es die Art und Weise wie er Spannung schafft, sei es das mehrfache Fintieren, um mich and der Nase herumzuführen. Und für all das hat Ellory sogar zwei “Bühnen”: Carson und Evan. Dieses doppelte Wechselspiel  zwischen den beiden und dem ungewöhnlichen Plot und dem Befolgen klassischer Genreregeln, das hat nicht nur einen ganzen eigenen Reiz, nein, das ist gross. Mit anderen Worten: ein ungewöhnlicher Lesegenuss, bezaubernd, avantgardistich, gelungen. Ein muss für alle, die Autoren schätzen, die nicht nur Neus probieren, sondern, es auch gekonnt und stilsicher durchziehen können.

Ellory´s Romane gehören zu der Sorte, dass die Figuren und Geschichten Bilder lange nachklingen.
All comes back, doesn’t it? [ ] Past is the landscape that follows you no matter where you go.”, “sagt” Ellory. Die Vergangenheit ist bekanntlich schlecht, und letztlich stärker als die Gegenwart. Ich war beeindruckt, wie konsequent Ellory dies auf den Punkt bringt.
Für mich eines der herausragenden Krimis dieses Lesejahres, und vielleicht einer der besten Krimis von Ellory.

(Mein Bücherregal)

Weather in Lisbon at the moment: 33ºC/91ºF in the shade...

"Yellow Warning for Extreme High Temperature" 

Instead of writing a book review, I'm going to hit the swimming pool instead...I cannot write! Too damn hot!

I'll be back at the end of the day after this scorching temperature...

sábado, junho 13, 2015

Poetry memorization (NOT!): "The Memory Palace - Learn Anything and Everything (Starting With Shakespeare and Dickens)" by Lewis Smile

Published 2012.

I’m well aware of the fact the trend in education today is to get away from rote memory. The students are to learn by doing and by understanding concepts. Some of the teachers I know would not even use the word “memory”, not until I really pin them down, anyway.

Of course, trying to help a student learn by doing and through concepts is great. But we still know that in order to pass any subject or to pass most tests – to learn -, you’d better remember!

A long time ago I’d a similar discussion with a Biochemistry teacher. Her argument was that memory was unimportant in education. Then I sat at her beginning-of-term class at Faculdade de Ciências de Lisboa. I still remember her telling her students that on page so-and-so of the text was a list of the inorganic chemical formulas. She said, “You must all know these formulas by the end of the semester. If you don’t learn them, you can’t pass the subject.” Well, she used the words “know” and “learn” – never “remember” or “memorize” – but isn’t that what she really meant? She sure did! Because there’s no way to know or learn all of the inorganic formulas without memorizing or remembering them! No way at all! I know this from personal experience (I studied chemistry in college).

Doing and concepts are fine, but without memory, they don’t hold up too well. In fact, the doing-and-concepts idea itself is a method that’s supposed to help you remember information. The same is true of most subjects that one studies. If one has a good memory, one is a good student. One thinks with what one remembers, because memory is knowledge. What I remember, I know!

I’ve been using memory books for ages. I know quite a lot of poems by heart (in Portuguese, English and German), and I’m always on the look-out for the perfect book to learn memory techniques. This is still not that book. If you had tried to memorize Shakespeare by using this book, you’d have failed miserably.  And now you’re wondering, why should I care about memorizing a bunch of old fogey poetry? The best argument for poetry memorization I can give you is that it provides me with knowledge of a qualitatively and psychology different range, i.e., I can take the poem inside me, into my brain chemistry if not in my blood, and I know it at a deeper, bodily level than if I simply read it off a screen. Learning poetry by heart allows the heart to feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own cadence.
I still have every word of Shakespeare’s 23rd sonnet, my personal favourite:
As an unperfect actor on the stage,
Who with his fear is put beside his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart;
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharg'd with burthen of mine own love's might.
O! let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love, and look for recompense,
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
O! learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.

This sonnet is a literal part of me, which perhaps accounts for his wonderful sway in my imagination. No other poem about “books” (is it about "books..."?) I’ve encountered in other poems since—not “There is No Frigate Like a Book (1286)” by Emily Dickinson, or “Notes on the Art of Poetry,” by Dylan Thomas, or “Ode to the Book,” by Pablo Neruda, or “The Land of Story-books,” by Robert Louis Stevenson, or “The Prelude (Book Fifth — Books),” by William Wordsworth, or “I Like Your Books,” by Charles Bukowski —can compete with Shakespeare, dwelling as he does in an aerie at the top of the world.  
Why didn’t a like Smile’s’ book? Because it’s crap? Why is it crap? You won’t be able to memorize Shakespeare. What do I care about “learning” by heart a list of William Shakespeare's 37 plays (in chronological order)?  What’s the intrinsic and added-value of knowing this? I cannot fathom it. How to Teach your Children Shakespeare” by Ken Ludwig is a much, much better book (it even has Shakespearean poetry…).

sexta-feira, junho 12, 2015

Managing the Transition of Critical Business Applications to the Cloud: "Cloud Governance and Management Made Simple" by Lita Fulton

Published May, 2015.

I’ve read recently a 2012 Forrester report where it’s stated that out of 156 senior IT decision-makers with cloud responsibilities, 98% had major cloud application management issues, and 90% believed that managing the transition of critical business applications to the cloud was a major challenge. What does this tell us? It simply tell us that there’s still a lot to do. This was true in 2012, and it’s still true in 2015. It goes without saying that underneath all the pomp, organizations are implementing cloud services without the appropriate due diligence to adapt their existing governance and management capabilities to support cloud services.

What are the consequences of not having a proper CGMS (*) and ITSM in place? The consequences are so huge that thinking about not having it it’s just a mindboggling thought…Perish the thought! If the issues are not addressed, at best they become the norm, i.e., they become a normal, more costly, and less effective way of doing business.

In some of the Companies I know of, the norm is to allow the technology adoption to move at a brisker pace than process adoption, thus increasing the risk of the cloud implementation failing altogether.

Fulton’s book has a very sensible approach to cloud governance adoption, instantiated through the use of three frameworks: CobiT 5, ISO 38500:2008, and Peter Weill and Jeanne W. Ross work done at the MIT Sloan School of Management (their work was published in “IT Governance: How Top Performers Manage IT Decision Rights for Superior Results”; incidentally Weill and Ross’ book is one of my IT “Bibles”:

(my own battered copy)

A few others frameworks should have been referenced. To wit: ISO 17799 (Security), and MOF.
Fulton’s wisely makes a clear distinction between “Corporate Governance” and “IT Governance” (some publications I’ve read recently usually mix the two). For starters, this was a good omen for the rest of the book.
What does it contain?:

The book is divided in two parts: concepts and implementation. Unfortunately the 104 pages of it don’t do justice to the theme’s complexity. What would I have liked to see here? To name just a few: IT Architecture, ITSM, IT Sourcing, SOX, Risk Management, Demand Management, and Portfolio Management. It’s the juxtaposition of these fields that really instantiates the Critical Success Factors of a Cloud Governance Implementation.

Is it worth reading? Yes, because everybody poops.  If you want to categorize it in the bathroom reading material (I’m not minimizing it; the bathroom, i.e. thinking room, is where more critical decisions are made…), treat yourself to this amazing and very, very, very, very short read while you’re on the throne. It’ll surely make the go more enjoyable and you’ll also learn something worthwhile.

NB: (*) Cloud Governance Management System.

quinta-feira, junho 11, 2015

Getting to Know Me, a Booklikes' initiative

A Booklikes thing...

I was tagged by my friend ThemisAthena.

1. Are you named after anyone?
My family’s genealogy (and my last name) is a very ancient one. Its origin is lost in the mists of time, in the clamors of battle, and in the changes of circumstances in Portugal’s a thousands of years of history.

2. When was the last time you cried?
Three years ago in circumstances too painful too remember.

3. Do you have kids?
Yep. 3. Two girls and a 4-month year old baby boy.

4. If you were another person, would you be a friend of yourself?
My friendlessness is all an illusion. I make people feel better while stabbing them in the back...Just kidding...
I don't like and don't care about crowds.
Depends on the kind of people we are talking about. I'm not easy to get along with, so my friends say...
My tastes are not very common. In the realm of chit chat that tends to be a definite no-no.

5. Do you use sarcasm a lot?
Yep. My daughters are always asking whether I'm joking when I start to talk about something "outrageous"...

6. Will you ever bungee-jump?
Yep. Done that. Plus Scuba-Diving (64 metres/209 feet deep in the Caribbean Sea is my personal record), Hot air Balloon riding, climbing, etc. My favourite is scuba. No cell phone in the depths of the ocean... That's the way I like it!

7. What’s your favorite cereal?
I don't eat cereals. Too sugary for my taste. I drink power smoothies (Herbalife) because I need all the energy I can get because I don't sleep much (4, or 5 hours a night).

8. What’s the first thing you notice about people?
Whether they look me straight in the eyes... I don't like shifty guys.

9. What is your eye colour?

10. Scary movie or happy endings?
Back in the day I was a great fan of scary films. Not anymore. I also don't care about happy endings. What I care about is whether the characters are true to themselves.

11. Favorite smells?
I'm sucker for indian dishes. I cook them a lot at home. I'm considered kind of an expert. At home I'm the one who always cooks, be it Indian or the so-called normal dishes. Because I was born and live in the Mediterranean (in Portugal to be exact) I'm also a specialist on Mediterranean cuisine. It's been "proved" that Mediterranean food is the best there is health-wise...
This is to say that my favourite smells are always connected to Mediterranean and indian food.

12. Summer or winter?
Where I live, Lisbon, and weather-wise, the weather is not a topic of conversation. Even in the Winter the temperatures are very mild. In the Spring and Summer the operating temperature range in Lisbon is between 20 (68ºF ) and 40ºC (104ºF). Even in Winter and Autumn I use my outdoor swimming pool at home and it's not heated.

13. Computer or television?
Computer for what matters.
I own a TV because of the kids. I also have another TV SET for watching films, operas, theatre plays, concerts, and football matches, especially Benfica's...

14. What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
Dominican Republic. But it's not very different from my own country in terms of weather and beaches. I went there because of the scuba-diving (64 meters, my personal record), but I was kind of disapointed.

15. Do you have any special talents?
I'm a language addict. When I say "language" I mean the two kinds of languages in existence: human and artificial. Suffice to say I'm more proficent in the latter (9) than in the former (3).

16. Where were you born?
Lisbon, Portugal.

17. What are your hobbies?
Reading, scuba-diving, films (classical cinema, especially the American variety from the Golden Age, i.e., the 30's, 40's, and the 50's), opera (I'm an opera buff), theatre, and music (baroque music and AOR).

I've always had pets at home. Now I only have a 15 year old she-cat, Ilse (named after Boogie's girlfriend; can anyone guess what movie I'm talking about...?)

(Ilse in my garden by the pool)

((Ilse helping me writing reviews...)

19. Favourite movie?
I've several. It's impossible to name just one: Johnny Guitar, Casablanca, My Darling Clementine, Blade Runner, 2001, The Big Sleep, ...

20. Do you have any siblings?
A sister.

21. What do you want to be when you grow up?
I never want to grow up... When I was in high school I wanted to be an astronaut, but living in Portugal I knew it was impossible. So I became a Systems Engineer instead (smile).

quarta-feira, junho 10, 2015

The Tempest: Julie Taymor's version (Film Review)

Taymor depicts Caliban in the three scenes differently each time to show the different facets of his nature. After all, he is half human and half monster. Of all the characters in "The Tempest", Caliban stands out the most to me because he is full of emotions and is very expressive of them. He says whatever he feels.

In the first scene where he is shown with Miranda and Prospera, Caliban looming big over the humans shows his monstrosity which comes forth from his anger and bitterness that he feels over them, especially Prospera who he feels stripped him of his rights and has now enslaved him unjustly.

Caliban is still shown as a raging monster in the scene where he is carrying wood. When he speaks here we see that deep- seated anger against Prospera, where he wishes all sorts of curses on her. He is angry because he thinks that the island is his, and he is physically strong and capable but is made to do menial tasks like fetching wood. Caliban is shown against a very bare background here, which portrays his sense of solitariness. Although he is not the only being on the island, he has no companion and no one to call his friend.

In the final scene with Trinculo and Stephano, his largeness and giant- like stature is somewhat downplayed as he stands nearby the two men. Their sizes seem equal. Taymor shows a different side of Caliban here- a nicer and perhaps more pitiful side of him. His speech here is gentle and tranquil as he tells them not to be afraid of the island. It shows a more human part of him that can appreciate the pleasant sounds that he hears sometimes. This shows his softer side, that there might be some kindness and tenderness in him, making him less of a monster.

Taymor shows that there are always to sides to a person (or story).

My immediate reaction to seeing Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) in the Taymor version was that he was modelled on Baron Samedi, the Haitian voodoo spirit reprised in the James Bond film 'Live and Let Die'. Djimon Hounsou's Caliban is no servile minstrel - he is a way more charismatic and potent presence.

Having watched the BBC production of "The Tempest first", I found the Taymor production to be really interesting, with the casting of Helen Mirren as Prospera. Caliban is introduced in the Taymor version as a powerful creature. To me he seems to have a strong character to go with the power of his physical appearance. His size means that he looms over Prospera and Miranda, confirming this physical power, which he has despite being in the control of prospera. The make-up on his face would seem to echo the yin and yang symbol, as do the different colour eyes. Perhaps the intention in this scene where he is shown to be huge and potent is to show that while Caliban is in the power of prospera, he still has the potential to command the elements around him, his environment. He is not chastened by the accusation of attempted rape of Miranda and says defiantly:

‘Would’t had been done!

Thou didst prevent me. I had peopled else

This isle with Calibans.’

Would he wish to create his own race?

He claims also,

‘You taught me language, and my profit on’t

Is I know how to curse.’

Cursing conjures up the idea of spells. Will he be the successor of prospera when he is left on the island alone? Will he have the same power that prospera had to cause the tempest? The creature Caliban in the Taymor version is a commanding one, one who has a sense of who he is. In the BBC production he is shown to be half-animal and a whimpering cur sometimes. I prefer the Taymor Caliban, and were I ever to have produced The Tempest, I would have chosen to portray Caliban in that way.

In the scene where Caliban is carrying wood, his physical strength is again emphasised since he flings a large burden around quite effortlessly. There is obvious but also latent power here. He talks of how it is only the powers of prospera which cause other natural creatures to torment him:

But they’ll nor pinch,

Fright me with urchin-shows, pitch me i’ th’ mire,

Nor lead me like a firebrand in the dark

Out of my way, unless he bid ’em’

The sounds of thunder suggest the arrival of more torment, but I think Caliban has some confidence since maybe he can hide? Will the natural forces around him protect him? It is a suggestion I find to be quite compelling.

The implication that he has the support of the natural world is echoed when he talks of the sounds of the island. He is not afraid of these since:

‘Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears’ and ‘in dreaming,

The clouds methought would open, and show riches

Ready to drop upon me,’

This is a gentler, but still powerful Caliban, at one with his surroundings. In this way I think Shakespeare creates a character who will survive ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ’ and will control his surroundings once Prospera has gone.

Perhaps Prospera eats berries and fish, and drinks water – easily obtainable foods. On the other hand, Caliban knows about hidden and unusual foods such as crabs, pignuts (dug out with his long nails), jay’s eggs, filberts and mysterious scamels. And he knows how to snare marmosets. All of these seem to confirm that Caliban is the master of his environment; Prospera, despite his magical powers, is merely a transient visitor. What prospera ate was suggested when we first meet Caliban and he says:

‘When thou cam’st first,

Thou strok’st me and made much of me, wouldst give me

Water with berries in’t’.

When Prospera was early on being kind to Caliban, Caliban knew what the island could provide since he says,

[I] ‘showed thee all the qualities o’ th’ isle,

The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place and fertile.’

Had he inherited all this knowledge from his mother Sycorax, or was it inherent in him, being so much part of the island?

Writers have lots of drafts, but almost no final drafts. They never actually finish writing anything. They move on, just as I will do when there’s no more time to fiddle with these words I’m writing. But writers also never really move on. They rework the same concepts in different ways and forms. And sometimes, if a writer is lucky, she or he will live just long enough to figure out some ideas, get them down on paper, then die before muddling it all up again. What about film makers?

I found Taymor's choice to re-cast Prospero as a woman an interesting decision (I won't call it gutsy only because I don't know that it takes a lot of courage to hand the leading role to someone as talented as Mirren.)  

Historically it is usually a man's role, though we can be sure there adaptations that have a woman playing the role. There is a modern day all female company who switches a lot of the genders. But Helen Mirren is probably the one who comes to mind when we think of Prospero being a woman. I saw the film and think she did a remarkable job. I don't remember thinking it odd that Prospero was a woman. In my view the role is not gender dependent; the role is that of a parent and wronged leader. Prospero strength stems from wisdom and love, though it would be fair to ask whether Prospero was written as a women, would she have been more compassionate towards Ariel and Caliban? Would she have taken pity on her creatures and treated them differently? If so, would Ariel gladly and freely done her bidding and would Caliban be more amiable towards the two castaways?

I think it is very possible to over-do Shakespeare in a sort of never-ending quest to give the world the latest, most outrageous, most whatever, after offering the standard observations in re. how universal he is, how he speaks to anyone with the sense to listen, etc.etc And then you get the Wilma Theatre's production of Hamlet featuring a black actress as Hamlet...endless verbiage about how 'the director has finally found her Hamlet' and so forth. A lot of stuff goes with Hamlet, and I think one of the givens is, Hamlet is a man. I know Sarah Bernhardt tried it in 1899, but that's another story. Shakespeare's confounding genius doesn't 'need' all the help he sometimes receives. I have seen nearly every one of his plays, and many of them more times than I can remember, and the abiding truth remains the language and the universal dilemmas his characters struggle with. And then you see the Lurhman R&J, and understanding it's a film with its attendant possibilities, I thank God for the Zeffirelli R&J. And the Zeffirelli "Taming of the Shrew". And the "Shakespeare-in-the-Park" (NYC) of "Taming of the Shrew" with Meryl Streep and Raul Julia. Branagh's Hamlet, Henry V, and Macbeth. Too many to list here. That's the tip of the iceberg.

I'm always open to well-grounded different interpretations.

But...Even though it was a wonderful film, I wasn't sure how much I gained out of the switch as a viewer.  Yes, recasting this as the story of a powerful woman righting the wrongs done to her by and her daughter by a pack on untrustworthy men adds a layer of gender complexity... but where does THAT leave us?

Where it left me...?  Well, I still found myself disturbed by the power dynamics in the film.   In many ways Prospera makes me just as uneasy as Prospero does: riding roughshod over Caliban, manipulating everyone's perceptions of reality, treating everyone else like a puppet, etc.  Oh its all with the very best intentions, of course.... but isn't it always?

terça-feira, junho 09, 2015

I think there is more barbarism in eating man alive than to feed upon them being dead: "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare, Robert Langbaum

Published 1998.

On this re-reading I noticed that the word "brave" was used a few times in the movies that I watched (Taymor, 2010 & Jarman 1979).

I like this word. It generates a very good feeling in my heart. This word often makes me think of someone who has a quality to face something difficult with the strength of heart / mind / body... Does not take me much to feel a respect and admiration for this person...

I also come to know that the word "brave" describes something wonderful, admirable in appearance...

And I just got curious to see how often the word "brave" was used in "The Tempest". And I started reading the play to look for the word "brave" and "bravely", and every time I found one of these words, I put a post-it note to the page to keep track of it... No, I did not use any fancy software to sort out the words or count the words... The work was done manually... Though I tried to be as faithful and accurate as possible, there might be a few occasions that I missed finding these words... 

It looks like there are 11 occasions that the words "Brave" or "Bravely" were mentioned...

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * 


Act 1 Scene 2 Line 6 
Said by Miranda: 
A brave vessel
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her 
Dashed all to pieces. 

Act 1 scene 2 line 206 (?)
Said by Prospero (to Ariel):
My brave spirit!

Act 1 scene 2 line 441
Said by Ferdinand (to Prospero)
And his brave sone being twain. 

Act 2 scene 1 line 171
Said by Gonzalo (to Alonso, Antonio & Sebastian)
You are gentlemen of brave mettle. 

Act 3 scene 2 line 11
Said by Trinculo (to Stephano)
Where should they be set else? He were a brave monster indeed, if they were set in his tail. 

Act 3 scene 2 line 95
Said by Stephano (to Caliban, about Miranda)
Is it so brave a lass?

Act 3 scene 2 line 136
Said by Stephano (to Caliban and Trinculo)
This will prove a brave kingdom to me, where I shall have my music for nothing. 

Act 3 scene 3 line 85
Said by Prospero (to Ariel & himself)
(aside) Bravely, the figure of this harpy hast thou
Performed, my Ariel. 

Act 5 scene 1 line 185
Said by Miranda (to Prospero, Ferdinand and the people that she meet for the 1st time)
How berates mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in 't!

Act 5 scene 1 224 - 227 
Said by Boatswain
The next, our ship ---
Which, but three glasses since, we gave out split ---
Is tight and yare and bravely rigged as when 
We first put out to sea.

Act 5 scene 1 line 243
Said by Prospero (to Ariel)
Brave, my diligence. Thou shalt be free. 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Maybe this is just a coincidence that the words "brave / bravely" were mentioned so very frequently. I think the recurrence of "brave" terms could reflect the theme of pushing through trying times and/or difficult circumstances presented by “The Tempest”.  Nothing in life is easy and sometimes striving for the best in life requires us to persevere through immense difficulty.  It takes bravery in order to undertake the arduous tasks set before us.  If we are cowardly and complacent, we won't reach our full potential or achieve successful outcomes. 

Maybe the characters reference bravery as a reminder of how important it is to be brave and face the harshness of the world.  Our very survival may depend on it.

Alonso & his entourage were on their way home from Tunis after Alonso's daughter, Claribel, got married to the King of Tunis when the ship was involved in the storm. I get this is slightly mixed up but they were heading back to Naples (not Milan, I think...), and the journey must have been very long. This long journey alone says something about the bravery of men on the ship.

A brave vessel
Who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her
Dashed all to pieces.

Considering Miranda's inner beauty and sincerely of her mind, when she said the lines above, she was most worried about the safety of those inside the ship with a feeling of respect in her heart toward them. I don't think she intended any insult or sarcasm.

She did not even know much details of why she and Prospero were living in this island; she has not even met any other humans up to that point. There really is no reason for her, right that moment, to dislike Alonso & his people because she did not know what they've done to her & her father.

Brave people do not take the bravery of others for granted because they know first-hand how truly valuable this attitude and mindset is. I do not think they intend to use this word with a feeling of sarcasm.

I may be wrong, but I think that Shakespeare usually means "splendid" when he uses the word "brave." When Prospero says to Ariel, "My brave spirit!" he could mean 'courageous,' but he could just as well mean 'splendid'.  Often, in fact, the usage might be deliberately ambiguous on Shakespeare's part.  But it's not always ambiguous.  In the most famous usage, 'brave new world' (which 400 years later Aldous Huxley used as the title for his extremely influential dystopian novel), the word clearly means 'splendid.'  (Huxley was using the word ironically, but clearly Miranda wasn't.  Whether Shakespeare himself meant it ironically . . . well, that question is too big for the nonce.)

"The Tempest" is also full of shifting relationships involving power and servitude.  What lessons can we take from these examples?

Power is presented both as sovereignty over territory and mystical power to control.  As sovereignty, Antonio usurped power from Prospero before the play begins.  Sebastian attempts to kill and usurp the throne from his brother, Alonso. Stephano dreams of himself as a king of the island.  As mystical power, Prospero pulls strings and uses Ariel to manipulate the other characters.  For each of these, how is power used (or misused)?  I think the dual nature of power, as both a driving force for good and a corrupting force of evil, is presented.

Servitude, on the other hand, is presented both as faithfulness and as slavery.  As faithfulness, Gonzalo is an honest councilor to Alonso.  Ferdinand and Miranda use terms of bondage, servitude, and slavery to proclaim their love.  As slavery, obviously Caliban is enslaved by Prospero, but he also pledges himself to Stephano when he seeks a new master.  Ariel is held in forced service to Prospero as well and strung along by promises of freedom.  There are plenty of other examples, but I feel that the abuse of servants (as slaves) is a recurring theme in the play.  It makes me wonder if servitude could ever actually be positive.

I think it would be a mistake to overlook the power of the slave. If the slave refuses to work, the master is helpless. Prospero needs Caliban, tying him in cramps, etc., is not going to make him useful. I think they have an interdependent relationship.
Gonzalo is the faithful slave, how do we know that he is not simply and obsequious underling feathering his own nest, he seems to have a foot in the camp of Antonio as well as Prospero, How is it that he was not thrown out of the court with Prospero, I'm not sure that we can trust him.
Arial is different, I'm not convinced he can function without being attached to a human. I think he may be what is known as a "familiar" and will become part of the ethers until another human calls him. I suppose he could be called a slave. Like Caliban, Prospero can scare him with threats but he can't carry out the threats while he needs him to do her bidding. I think most are shifting, such as Caliban's changing of his master and Ariel's freedom in the end. Even Prospero's mystical powers seem to change when he abandons his books. Others may be more constant such as fealty to a sovereign, although the sovereign may change.

It suggests to me that when people seek and hold power over others there is always room for change, especially with regards to tyranny and injustice (or maybe that's just a very idealistic view).

I definitely see the connection to that potential commentary in “The Tempest”.  It speaks to one of the central themes of the play: power.  Prospero (potentially representing colonizing countries), wields the power over Caliban (representing the natives).

I might add that there are also instances of potential colonials creating brand new societies.  Gonzalo speaks of his idealistic society that he would create on the island if he were in power.  Stephano drunkenly claims dominion over the island and tries to act as a ruler.  These instances could be seen as the boundless opportunity that new colonists and explorers may have felt when colonizing a "new" location.  Even in this, there is exploitation of natives as Stephano accepts Caliban's servitude.

There are a lot of details in the text that make such a reading possible... whether this is what Shakespeare intended is largely conjecture, of course (and, at least to me, beside the point).   As I pointed out above, there is a certain co-dependence between Prospero and Caliban in the play -- and this would be a familiar pattern to those have studied colonialism.   Certainly Prospero has the upper hand in many ways-- but he would be in trouble without the service Caliban provides.  

I found myself wondering when I watched Julie Taymor's movie version: what becomes of Caliban after the others leave?  The stories of post-colonial states are not always happy ones...

I also subscribe to the notion that what Shakespeare is actually intended in is beside the point (although it can be interesting to discuss).  The importance lies in how we interpret these plays for ourselves and how those interpretations impact our views and our subsequent actions.

In this particular case, the co-dependency is a great point.  In the end, Prospero will leave and undoubtedly have other servants at home.  Caliban will be left to manage on his own on the island.  This may ultimately end up as a better situation for him, but I wouldn't expect it to be an easy transition, as you point out for post-colonial states.  He may need to go through a "tempest" of his own in order to reach the best possible outcome.

The interesting thing about all this is that Shakespeare was writing at a time when colonization was in its first exploitative infancy, when there would have been no real knowledge or experience of the psychology of dependency in the colonization process. But Shakespeare knows all about power relationships, continually confronts his audience with ambivalent portrayals of the outsider/underdog.

At the end of the play, we are left to assume that Prospero grants both Ariel and Caliban their freedoms. Maybe the European occupation has left him sadder and wiser, but Caliban still gets his island back - unpeopled with little Calibans, but his birthright restored, but even though Caliban gets his island back, he will never be restored to his old self.  He has had a form of education during the occupation.  That's a mixed bag.  He has learned language from Amanda.  He has learned subservience from Prospero.  He has seen something of the world beyond his shores.   In many ways it is easy to imagine he will be happier when they are gone.  But isolation presents its own challenges. 

He says at one point that the only advantage of having learned language is that he is able to curse.  But what happens when there is no one but yourself left to curse? 

In so many post-colonial situations we have seen indigenous factions rip one another the shreds.  It's common enough that we might call it one of the most predicable results of colonialism and its aftermath.  But in this imaginary landscape there is only one man left standing.  It's not hard for me to imagine Caliban insane and haunted, crawling in the mud and cursing his fate and those who left him to it. 

Shakespeare, like Molière (whose plays came some 50 years later) wrote for the common man, the "masses," if you will.  Both writers used their pen to vilify the ruling class under the guise of theatrical drama, romance and comedy.  Art reflects reality and truth.  Shakespeare, in “The Tempest”, dramatizes man's evil nature--the lust for power over others---all in the name of profit. 

Je mehr sich verändert, desto mehr bleibt sich gleich!  The more things change, the more they stay the same....slave ships from Africa to the Orient during Shakespeare's time....slave ships from Africa to the Americas a hundred years later....slavery in the American South (Cotton is King!).... indentured "slaves" in England during the Industrial Revolution (the cotton mills)...indentured slaves in China (Apple)...indentured slaves today in the US Midwest (the slaughter houses)....indentured slaves now in the Central Valley of California (agribusiness).  When will we ever learn?

My own attempt at creating a pyramid of the story:


name of the main personality


two words that describe this personality


three words that describe the scene or location


four words that describe one event


five words that describe another event


six words that describe a third event


seven words that described a problem or difficulty


eight words that describe the outcome of the story

NB: And so ends my first reading batch of 5 of Shakespeare’s plays: “Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Much Ado about Nothing” and “The Tempest”. Reading the plays in such quick succession like this I saw more clearly the cross-over in the different plays.  Love being a popular common theme isn't surprising, but I really want to know how many friars were convincing young women to fake their own deaths back then.  And if you don't have to fake your own death there's probably a fairy or some sort of trickery at play in this match making.  Watch out for the plotting villainous brothers.  And surely there is a Duke or Prince nearby for some words of wisdom or to smooth everything over. Shakespeare was a master at just picking elements from a hat and building a scene around them:  Villainous brother, fairies, ship wreck - and go!  He weaves the elements together brilliantly and each play has its own breath and uniqueness.  I'm captivated by different elements in each.  And yet each one I read I was spotting something familiar from the one I had read just before.  That's probably part of their charm.

It certainly is much easier to see links when you are in a pressure cooker of reading. By the end of the year, I intend to have read all of the plays, preferably in an 8 week period, and reading them in chronological order of composition. For that I’ll re-read this batch again along with the other 33 plays + The Sonnets (using my Rowse). I’m expecting to “see” a LOT doing THAT!

NB2: William Strachey: from “True Repertory of the Wrack”, 1610 (description of the tempest) – the reason why chose this edition to read.

Other “reasons”:

Michel de Montaigne: “Of the Cannibals”, 1603, translated by John Florio. “I think there is more barbarism in eating man alive than to feed upon them being dead.”

Ovid: “Metamorphoses”, Medea’s speech, 1567, translated by Arthur Golding; Prospero’s farewell to his art.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “Shakespearean Criticism” from “The Lectures of 1811-1812, Lecture IX”.