segunda-feira, novembro 30, 2015

No Shortcuts for Security: "Cyberwar, Cyberterror, Cybercrime and Cyberactivism" (2nd Edition) by Julie Mehan

Published 2014 (2nd Edition)

“No Shortcuts for Security”.

That’s always been my motto in terms of security. I’ve been working in consulting for some years. I’ve almost seen and done it all…Nope. Just kidding… Security-wise I’ve run across lots of situations: some bad, some so-and-so, and some really bad. After more than 2 decades working in IS/IT my list of things to look out for in terms of security is a bit extensive…

To Wit:

-          Although long in the tooth, there are attacks that keep on working in this day and age. Phishing comes to mind;

-      IT departments still have an historical approach when dealing with (IT) Security, i.e., they always think all security issues can be dealt with by buying more tools. Nope. That’s not the way to go. The Way to deal with security is by using a bottom-up approach, meaning we have to start from scratch (empowerment, processes, etc.);

-          The bigger the number of tools being introduced in an IT department, the greater the complexity to be tackled by the organizations;

-          Security is not a commodity. I know lots of companies think that way, but believe me when I say it’s a dead end. For sure. Nothing good will come of it. The approach must be based on sound principles and know-how. Some Security departments I’ve seen are “adaptions” coming from traditional IS/IT departments. It means we “convert” some people coming from a purely IT background, give them one or two courses in security, and voilá, we are in the presence of a security engineer…risible, don’t you think?

-          Tools only go so far. To prevent the kind of attacks not coming in standardized form, Security departments need something more in their toolkit…;

-          Anti-virus tools are the computer plague of the 21st century. I’ve seen it time and again the bad it does to a company…What I mean is the anti-virus, in its inception, brings along security problems when they are not implemented by security professionals;

-          In some of our organizations the gap between the technical areas and management is still too great;

-          Security in an organization must come from management and not from the technical areas. Security departments need empowerment…;

-          In an organization, having to deal with private data not in use (from third parties) must be  handled extra carefully. I call this kind of information a liability, because in case of a security breach, this same organization may be subject to civil as well as criminal sanctions under the applicable laws;

-          In Portuguese organizations there’s not an ingrained culture of running security exercises, crisis responses and real-world operations. In all of the major software houses it’s common practice to implement red and blue teams, in a process called “red teaming”. The objective of this kind of internal security exercises is to assess the readiness to fend off “perimeter” breaches (I’ll explain later the reason why perimeter is between quotes). The “red teams” are made of security professionals coming from within an organization. Their objective is to access private information as if they were coming from the outside and inside…I emphasize “inside”;

-          All organizations should have professionals possessing an attacking mindset. It goes without saying we’ll be needing several iterations until Nirvana is reached, as far as it’s humanly possible;

-          “Hackers” are internet’s immune system. I don’t know who said it, but I take it as gospel truth;

-          Organizations should change their paradigm in terms of tools. Forget about anti-this-and-that. Every security department should instead be addressing issues coming from monitoring services. They are the ones that allow us to gather information of what’s happening in our corporate network and on top of it (in the application layer). Only then are we equipped to deal with threats;

-          In every organization the concept of perimeter is nonsense. Some of the major and most corrosive attacks come from within…

The above points are not in this book, but I quite agree with Julie Mehan’s take on security: “Cyber security is much more than technology” (one of the phrases I jotted down as well was the following: “security is about three things: people, process and technology”).

If you read it, even you are not a security professional, you’ll learn a thing or two…

What you’ll find in the book:

Technology Is a Double-Edged Sword; 2. Cyberattack: It's A Dangerous World for Information Systems; 3. The Human Factor: The Underrated Threat; 4. Transition from an Environment of "FUD" to a Standards-Based Environment; 5. Establishing a Culture of Cyber Security; 6. Increasing Internationalism: Governance, Laws, and Ethics; 7. Standards: What are They and Why Should We Care; 8. From Reaction to Proaction: Applying Standards in an Environment of Change and Danger; 9. Conclusion: Where Do We Go From Here?; Appendix 1: Gap Analysis Areas of Interest; Appendix 2: Standards Crosswalk
(Chapters 5 and 8 are really good; they’re full of meaty details.)

domingo, novembro 29, 2015

Old-Fashioned Crime Fiction: "Career of Evil" by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling

Published October 20th 2015.
After reading the first two installments ("The Cuckoo's Calling" by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling, "The Silkworm" by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling), I had no doubts I’d be reading the third. And here it is. After having finished it, was it worth it?
Melikes a good detective novel, and what I like about this is that it’s unashamedly in love with Crime Fiction. Should we have novels with more balanced detectives rather than damaged ones? Well, I for one like them dirty, rugged, and foul-mouthed so to speak…The more the better. If my protagonist is lucky in love, the opposite of hopeless at relationships, he may not be better than the mustachioed doughnut eaters who miss all the clues and don’t do a proper job at investigating.
I’m not going to blast this for being clichéd, because it was too much fun. And what Galbraith/Rowling has obviously spotted is that nobody does this kind of thing anymore, i.e., a good old-fashioned Crime Fiction novel, featuring a detective with an office, and a secretary, a pile of pot noodles, and a camp bed in the corner. Writers have to balance the “reality” and grittiness of a book with its entertainment counterpart. It’s from this dichotomy and the use of a creative license that we get the great works of literature. Would I really want a book where detectives spent many hours doing surveillance in the hope of seeing a thief? Or canvassing a neighbourhood in the off chance that one saw something? Not likely.
Galbraith’s/Rowling’s approach is the antithesis to the usual doom-laden grimness of Scandinavian Crime Fiction. Don't get me wrong. I love Scandinavian Crime Fiction, but grimness and bleakness just for the sake of it gets boring after a while.

sábado, novembro 28, 2015

Writing Derring-do: "Would you be interested in writing something based on a picture?" Yes: "Onlookers and Witnesses" is the answer

(Foto by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

These last few months everything reminds me of Shakespeare…

Last week I posted a picture a friend of mine sent me. There was a challenge attached to it, i.e., to be able to write something about it. As soon I’d laid my eyes on it what immediately came to mind was Romeo and Juliet, namely Mercutio's death scene.

Mercutio's death is public and ostentatiously violent with booming sounds ending “s” with "a plague on both your houses", without forgiveness.

The deaths of Romeo and Juliet is in a church with a candled environment, private and solemn,  holy in its light and setting, with the commission of unholy acts of suicide.  The close up of Juliet awakening is suspenseful, the viewer wants Romeo to see that Juliet lives.  The music is sad and moving.

Several things struck me about Mercutio's death scene. Throughout the scene was we see more and more onlookers. More and more arrive on the scene. Then, when Mercutio dies no one wants to see anything anymore and everyone leaves fast. One person even encloses himself in a large pineapple. 
The other thing that struck me was the large stage with the big hole in the middle. It looks like an eye.
Mercutio's death probably means different things to the different onlookers depending on when they arrived. The guy in the pineapple probably does not what to even think about what Mercutio's death means.

In contrast the dead of Romeo meant only one thing to Juliet. She had to take her own life. 

Having watched Luhrmann’s film version recently and looking at the picture prompt me to write this little poem:

Onlookers and Witnesses

Lookers on
In for the
Sport of it
the thrill of it
to report it
to say
I was there
I can gossip
My 15 minutes
To hurriedly
leave the scene.
of the accident
of the hit and run

Tell it
How it was
What happened
How it felt
How did it happen
Who was there
Who did what
And why
Brave witnesses
Stay to report it
To testify
to stand up
To be counted
To call for help
To ad/minister assistance
The good Samaritan

Writing this poem made me see what Baz Luhrmann was doing. "It" leaps out from the poem. What is it that we are seeing? It means “getting it”.  

Do we get Shakespeare or are we lookyloos in for the sport of it?

sexta-feira, novembro 27, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "Why Does Romeo Sometimes Get Such a Bad Rep"

(Douglas Booth; Photography by Bruce Weber)

I have to say, while respecting everyone's opinions and readings of the characters, I don't understand why Romeo gets such a bad reputation and comes off so badly in many people's analysis. (And I've heard many people express this view) The discussion of his age would certainly affect your impression of him...I know it would mine. So if there doesn't seem to be the same clear textual indication of Romeo's age as there is with Juliet's (and I certainly can't think of any), then depending upon if you think the two are roughly the same age or if Romeo is a few significant years older (or, if you're seeing the play, how the director has chosen to cast the two roles) would definitely affect how you feel about Romeo...and about Juliet, too.

I always thought of them as roughly the same age, myself. I didn't have any good reason to think that; it just seemed to be the popular idea about them that I inherited. Reading it more closely now, again, I don't see any concrete sign about Romeo's age. (All of the young men, it seems, are variously called "youth," "gentleman," "boy," etc., depending upon the circumstance and the attitude of the speaker, so I don't know how absolute those are in terms of age-markers.) I do note that in Shakespeare's source material "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet," of Romeo the author writes that "Upon whose tender chyn, as yet, no manlyke beard there grewe." So if that was in Shakespeare's mind, perhaps that's how also thought of Romeo, but that we can never know.

Nonetheless, I still think Romeo is unfairly thought of as particularly impulsive or immature. I wonder if it isn't our desire to recognize Juliet's remarkable character that causes us unnecessarily to impugn Romeo's. Yes, Juliet shows remarkable courage and maturity in the play, and it's amazing to think of such thoughts and beautiful poetry coming from the incredible mind of a thirteen year old girl. But she also shows evidence of rashness and immaturity. She, after all, basically is the one to propose marriage to Romeo after one dances, two kisses, and some moonlit garden conversation! And this, after she'd just said in an earlier scene to her mother and the Nurse that she didn't want to get married, and wasn't even thinking about it. But we don't blame Juliet for being impulsive, and accuse her of jumping into marriage with the first good-looking boy who pays attention to her...and yet we accuse Romeo of fickleness and suppose he would've fallen in love with someone else the next week, just because he starts the play in love with Rosaline. Maybe that's true about him...but if it's true about him, it could just as well be true of her.

I wonder if a lot of our perception about Romeo doesn't come from the scene in Friar Lawrence's cell after the duel, where the Friar and the Nurse have to have some harsh words with Romeo to get him to stop crying and deal with the situation. I feel like a lot of people inevitably grow to share the adults' view of Romeo as being spineless and overly emotional. But, my word! The boy (or young man?) just watched a dear friend get murdered in front of his eyes and for which he was indirectly responsible, and then he himself in a rage murdered one of his new wife's dearest family members. The fact that Romeo is an emotional puddle just shows me that he's not a psychopath, thank goodness. He's actually really emotionally torn up by having just killed someone.

In fact, in my opinion, it's Romeo's concern with being a "man" in the way that Veronese society defines the term that precipitates the tragedy. The first couple of acts show us a Romeo who is willing to fall in love with the person of his choice, and willing to defy his family and their senseless feud to do so. After secretly marrying Juliet when Romeo meets the enraged Tybalt in the streets, he bravely and nobly tries to defuse the tension, enduring insults and the public risk to his reputation by refusing to fight, and then physically trying to stop the duel between Tybalt and Mercutio by putting own body between them. Only after his friend Mercutio is killed and he realizes that his physical intercession actually enabled the fatal blow to be struck does Romeo start to embrace all of those social views of what it means to be a "man" (“O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate”) which, tragically here, means worrying more about his reputation than the feelings of his wife, and fighting back with a sword against the person who'd done him an injustice. As soon as he kills Tybalt, he realizes the folly of this thinking (“O, I am fortune's fool”). In other words, in my opinion, Romeo is more of a man when he's acting like an immature boy or coward, then when he acts in the way that Veronese (and our?) society expects "men" to act.

But more importantly, I wonder if it's just too a modern discomfort with large displays of emotion. And I think young men are unfairly penalized for that. Few people think King Lear is "whining" when he's on the heath and raging against the storm. And people may think Othello is stupid for being so "easily" duped by Iago, but few people think he's "whining" when he rages about his wife's supposed infidelities. And when it comes to Juliet, few people think she's "whining" when she quite often goes on about how impatient she is that things don't happen faster ("My nurse has been gone three hours, even though she said it'd be half an hour! Adults are so slow!" "Why is this day so long, when if it could just be night I'd be having sex with my new husband! Come on and get here, night!"); they often find her impatience charming. But a young man who expresses, with beautiful poetry, how much he loves this girl, how devastated he is to be separated from her, how he can't live without her...he's "whining."

quinta-feira, novembro 26, 2015

Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, and I: "The Rub of Death, the Rub of Love"

(A friend of mine sends me stuff. I don't know its origin. If anyone claims ownership, drop me an email and I'll post her or his name here)

I’ve been reading Dylan Thomas lately, and one of his poems is about being tickled by the rub of love.  The vocabulary of poetry is shared by poets across generations and cultures. Poets, in this case Shakespeare, revisit and reexamine their themes:  death and facing it.

My own contribution in the form of a poem that suddenly came to me when I was going home from work:

Bravery to end it all—one fell swoop
Courage to call it an end—hang man’s loop
Pain of slander, unkind words and cruel deeds
Death’s concoction’s bitter brew—hemlock weeds

Love reconciled happily domiciled
As they proceeded down the aisle they smiled
The ultimate coward who gave much pause
The newly-weds who believed in love’s cause

Hamlet’s dream of dreams by anguish distressed
Romeo and Juliet were by love blessed.
The rub of death makes cowards of us all
Love’s rub trumpets Heaven’s clarion call.

Rub: Predicament

quarta-feira, novembro 25, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "Shakespeare's Bastardization"

(Kenneth Branagh directs Richard Madden and Lily James as Romeo and Juliet and Derek Jacobi as Mercutio)

Shakespeare is my fauvorite poet and, besides, I am an opera buff. That’s to say that Shakespeare in Opera seems to me an interesting topic.

I’ve always wondered why there was no mention how, in particular, Verdi wrestled quite successfully in "translating" Shakespeare to opera. Most modern film attempts have met with less than stellar popular success.  I also found his ideas rather intriguing as they do often "translate" in another area that fascinates me: namely, music.  My wife "hates" going to concert events or listening to recordings that deviate even in the slightest to studio recordings that she is mostly familiar with but I actually like improvisation so long as it doesn't get too carried away from the main theme.  Attempts to "update" Shakespeare can be seen as a -- forgive me--bastardization -- of his original concept but if that is what it takes to reach a mass audience--who am I to complain.  Well, of course I can "complain" if the production loses what I in my purely narcissistic sense think what the play's about and find the "interpretation" to have missed the boat... but thus far that has been rare.  I remember the last production of Othello I saw starring Ruy de Carvalho in 1998 at Teatro D. Maria II.  As we were leaving the theater I overheard a woman uttering in disgust to her companion," the producer of that mess should be shot" (said in Portuguese)...believe or not I resisted my inherent urge to "strangle her" ...then again, I guess it is what makes interpretation so much long as the general ideas don't get lost in the mix...

Others famous composers considered to write operas based on King Lear. Britten was one of them but abandoned the project. Re Lear (King Lear) is an operatic libretto written by Antonio Somma for Giuseppe Verdi. Although the Italian composer considered the project of Re Lear for many years, no music for the opera was ever composed. Instead, German composer Aribert Reimann wrote the opera Lear premiered at the National Theatre Munich on July 1978. And the English composer Alexander Goehr wrote “Promised End” based on Shakespeare’s King Lear and first performed by English Touring Opera in 2010.

What’s your favourite representation of a Shakespearean play?

terça-feira, novembro 24, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "Shakespeare's Language"

Oh boy, yes! The language is something like “I can't find the word or words. Dammit! Once and again!” In the beginning I spent all my time bogged down in footnotes, the textbook edition specified by my professor Vicky Hartnack (at the British Council in the 1980s) for being the 'best' edition to help with the language. It was as difficult to read as Chaucer. I might as well have read it in a foreign language I didn't know I had to look up each word. It was exhausting. I have enjoyed internet learning - I can read a synopsis for the sense of the play - go find a production online to view, use closed captions and hit rewind to re-watch and re-hear it.  Trying sometimes in lag-time to figure out what it could have been (brain knew, 'nope, that couldn't be right') and being a couple steps behind - exhausting in live lecture classrooms. I only wish I had had closed captions and rewind at that time.

English in Shakespeare's time, as I was taught, was a time of explosion in appreciation of English and the fun of words and double meanings - a craze for the language. If the language of Shakespeare has been so difficult for students I have always wondered how his own audiences were able to keep up with it - so fast, so full of meaning and wit. Did they appreciate the nuances as we (hope to) do today? He stands alone at the top of some mighty mount in the world of words for me, and has since I was 15. A complete works was the first book I ever bought to make my own when I was 16. I still have it - I'm in my 40s and he pops up in each decade of my life, it seems, to appreciate in different ways, and I was old for my age as a youngster but having experienced life events brings new ways to appreciate the lessons he teaches in a few terse words. Remarkable Poetry in prose. I have long said if I could only take two things if I were shipwrecked on an island, one is “The Complete Works of Shakespeare” and two - well, I can't remember the second, and I think it has varied over the years, but “The Complete Works" never has - today the second would be a lifetime of supply peanut M&Ms - assuming a supply of clean water 'comes' with the island! Sustains body and mind, chocolate with peanuts - and words to feed my mind. Eh! there ya go - It's life.

“Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Toward Phoebus' lodging. Such a wagoner
As Phaeton would whip you to the west
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaways' eyes may wink, and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalked of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties, or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle, till strange love, grow bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night. Come, Romeo. Come, thou day in night,
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-browed night,
Give me my Romeo. And when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
Oh, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possessed it, and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed. So tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them.”

This is my favorite speech from R&J; full of rich imagery and vivid poetry - as Juliet awaits her new husband, she urges night to fall quickly.  She pleads for the sun to set as if it were "fiery-footed steeds" and name-checks Phoebus and Phaeton (solar deities) from Greek mythology.  She says that night is best for maidens to engage in love-making so to hide her blushing cheeks. She compares night variously to a close curtain, a sober-suited matron, a black mantle, a raven's back, and describes it as loving and black-browed. And in perhaps the most vivid image - she wants Romeo cut up into little stars after she is dead, so that the night will outshine the "garish sun".

Romeo is portrayed as new white snow, day in night, and blinding stars - overpowering imagery for a young girl - she can see nothing else but him.
All this is contrast to her own imagery as a purchased, but as yet uninhabited mansion, or an impatient child who has new robes bought for a festival, but is not allowed to wear them yet.  She is earthly, while he is heavenly.
Her language is lofty and highly poetic, reflecting her own heightened emotional state, indicative of her youth and inexperience with feelings of love.

"I learn in this letter…"

I have chosen those first words as they are the ones which speak the most to me. This line has a melodious quality and rhythm which please my ears, in the same way as “The Sea is calm tonight” from ‘Dover Beach’ by Arnold does. I still cannot figure out the reason for this, but there are (opening) lines that sound just perfect and have the power to create some melancholy feeling or extreme happiness in me [happiness ensuing from observing something beautiful/artistic gratification]. That is the case of this one. There is something in it, though I can’t say exactly what.

The other reason why these words have such an appeal to me is because I love letters. As a child, when we had no email yet, I used to like sending them, posting them at the post office and receiving them. So you can only imagine how I cherish the idea of trusting a messenger with a letter to, say, someone I love. As a teenager, I would write letters to imaginary friends, and I would keep these in a pretty box. It is quite possible that Shakespeare would have liked emails, text messages, blogs, Twitter, etc. if he had been given the choice. And indeed, for daily business, I do appreciate the efficiency of those tools too. However, as far as poetry is concerned, there is, once again, something incomparable about a letter endowed with a peculiar fragrance and displaying a light yellow colour due to the years.

I am totally aware that instead of writing on Shakespeare and on the play which these words introduce, I write only for myself. But this is the sort of response that reading Shakespeare triggers in me. He impels me, which is not at all the case with some other authors, to reflect on my own likes and dislikes and to have the courage to put into words some indistinct feelings that I was too lazy to analyse before.

The multiplicity of perspectives that Shakespeare inspires, among other reasons, is why his plays have been performed for centuries. And hopefully will continue to be performed.

segunda-feira, novembro 23, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "Shakespeare's Fathers, Friars, Fiancées and Foundlings"

(A friend of mine sends me these beautiful pictures. I don't know their origin. If anyone claims ownership, drop me an email and I'll post her or his name here)

It is becoming ever clearer that the four of plays “Much Ado About Nothing”, “MSND”, “The Tempest” and “Romeo and Juliet” are somehow interconnected in many ways. They can all be said to comprise some combination of fathers, fiancées, friars or foundlings, if foundling is an appropriate word to describe both the changeling Indian baby in “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Caliban in “The Tempest”. It was the best I could do to keep the alliteration going!

We all know about Lord Capulet and Egeus. In “Much Ado About Nothing” we have been presented with another strict father, Leonato. His strictness is not highlighted by his insistence on a choice of husband for Hero, since she is an overly compliant and reticent daughter compared to Juliet and Hermia. She offers no resistance whatsoever. Rather his strictness is illustrated in his unwillingness to believe that Hero is innocent of the accusation against her honor. This clearly associates him with that band of cold, harsh, disciplinarian fathers. Once Leonato is led to believe that Hero’s honor is besmirched, he does not question the truth of this but says she is “foul-tainted flesh” and believes death is the best thing for her. Prospero, in The Tempest, is somewhat controlling, too, manipulating Miranda and arbitrarily demanding that Ferdinand should move logs just because he has the power to wield and make demands. Well, I do not want to get ahead of next week’s discussion. But you can see a pattern.

So when fathers make life difficult for their daughters we need a friar to come to the rescue. Like Friar Laurence in “Romeo and Juliet”, Friar Francis comes to the aid of the distressed Hero in “Much Ado About Nothing”. The appearance of friars in these plays makes one wonder how much Shakespeare was at risk of being censored since the Catholic monasteries had been dissolved in Henry VIII’s reign and Franciscan monks were not politically in favor. Both friars play a similar role summed up by Friar Laurence, when he says, “Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied/And vice sometime by action dignified.” They both try by irregular and unorthodox methods to make good come of evil. They see innocence where others do not. The relative success they each have is determined by the genre of the play they each appear in.

Fiancées? Well they abound in all the plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hermia and Lysander, Helena and Demetrius, Hero and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick and Miranda and Ferdinand. Everything eventually ends well for all the couples except Romeo and Juliet. Hopefully those who will enjoy a wedding will have experienced some life lessons.

Finally, we come to the foundlings. In “Midsummer Night’s Dream” the Indian changeling boy represents a domestic power struggle between Oberon and Titania. Caliban in “The Tempest” is often thought to be representative of native people in a land colonized by others. So he could be considered symbolic of a power struggle between indigenous people and invading colonizing forces. In any case, the presence of both these characters leads to many questions and much discussion.

Here is another interesting connection that I’ve just “discovered” just by thinking about the 4 plays: Shakespeare gave his contemporary audience an inside joke when he has Dogberry say, "O that I had been writ down an ass." The actor Will Kempe, who played Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing” had actually already "been writ down an ass" since it was he who played the role of Bottom in “Midsummer Night's Dream”. He literally spoke lines written for an ass in that play…

These are a few of my thoughts regarding the interconnectedness of four of Shakespeare’s plays I read in 2015. Do you see other connections and parallels? Please join the conversation if you wish to do so..

domingo, novembro 22, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "A Haiku Poem"

As I was coming home just now, this little Haiku poem just came to me fully formed:

It's hard
to Bard
One hint
Big print
Words words words
Just one word
At a time

sexta-feira, novembro 20, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "What do the Bard, The Police, and Emily Brönte have in common?"

One of the most hilarious factors about “A Midsummer Night's Dream” is the sheer chaos ensuing during and because of the 'Opening of the Eyes'.

I'd like to think that what I wrote below is Shakespeare's version of a jab at 'Love at First Sight.' Therefore, despite my believing the phenomenon, I've taken a satirical dig at it in the form of poetry:

The light is deafening,
The silence too bright.
Their gazes lead to the other;
And she thinks 'this might
Be it.' He was a veiled game,
And little did she know,
Like an ornate curtain,
He hid more than he showed.
And her mind was a labyrinth
Not many could navigate.
The entry was guarded,
But her eyes were the bait.
These disloyal gates
To a soul that's ever woken.
But how do you stop the flood
When the dam is already broken?
For there's more to it
Than his blue orbs, my love,
There's more to it than
Her fluttering lashes above.
For they may be gleaming
And they may hold her world;
But how can you tell her
That his soul's unfurled?
The truth behind his smile,
The reason to his love.
That this love won't leave her wounded
That it isn't bereft of
The truest affection
And truer care.
So you tell the truth and
Let Cupid show you how to dare.

This reminded me of the Police song, "Every Breath You Take." Sting has long said that the song is consistently misinterpreted (duh!) and is essentially about someone in the grips of jealousy and the need to control (a stalker). I think in some ways he feels badly for creating a monster which has taken on a romantic pop culture life divorced from the 'real' meaning of the song. He wrote the song "If you love someone set them free" in response to his own song. Is it blasphemous to wonder if Shakespeare didn't feel a bit of the same thing? He'd written a beautiful play, but one in which he thought his audience would recognize the beauty of young love AND all the levels of rash foolishness within it as well- and the audience just lapped up the love story (we don't know how it was initially received of course, but going on more modern reactions...) and then wrote “A Midsummer Night's Dream” to parody and highlight the aspects of the earlier play his audience had missed? Is "Every breath you take" the modern "Romeo and Juliet?"

Some of the comments I see about “A Midsummer Night's Dream” sometimes make me think some people are reading this play as if it were written by Emily Bronte in the middle of the nineteenth century.  I'm surprised Heathcliff hasn't shown up at the end of a noose in some of the scenes… 

quinta-feira, novembro 19, 2015

Shakespeare and I: "Is A Midsummer Night's Dream an exercise and display in machismo?"

(Max Reinhardt's “A Midsummer Night's Dream”, one of my favourite movies ever)

I can't help thinking the notion of "romantic love" and marriage was as foreign to 16th century folks as Shakespeare's language is to us. I'm not a historian of that period so can't speak authoritatively, but I believe most marriages back then were arranged for economic or political advantage (among the higher classes) and mere convenience among the lower class. Since 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' is a comedy, maybe the idea of a marriage based on love and/or romance was part of what was funny to the people of Shakespeare's day. What, marry for love? How impractical is that? You might as well believe in fairies...

As for the play being some kind of celebration of machismo, I think the opposite is what the Bard was going for. He shows us very plainly how ridiculous the men are for the way they behave. A father condemning his daughter to death or a life of celibacy, a ruler who brags on winning his future wife by injury and young men who seemingly with little thought profess love doesn't paint a flattering picture of these men. Shakespeare is telling us that these guys aren't all they're cracked up to be.

Shakespeare's sentiments on men and their worth is summed up succinctly early in Act I when Hermia says,

     “By all the vows that ever men have broke
     In number more than ever women spoke…”

And because the women do not speak up for themselves, Shakespeare lets us know that they are at fault in a different kind of way. To me it says that much silliness is attached to the idea of romantic love, as these characters are displaying it. Are they really "in love" or are they fooled by the notion of it?

'Love' is probably the most fickle of all emotions. We, humans, fall in love as easily as we fall out of love. Be it 'Romeo' or 'Demetrius', Shakespeare has time and again placed a mirror to our society through his plays like 'Romeo and Juliet' or 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Why do we crave love? Why do we obsess over something or someone? Why are we infatuated by things that are out of our reach?

It is rightly written by the master craftsman "The course of true love never did run smooth". This true love could be unrequited love or reciprocated love. Each faces its own demons. Each tackles its own difficulties. Indeed, "Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind". And it is this very mind that desires what it knows it cannot attain; it seeks that which it knows it will not find.

So beware, tread carefully, REMEMBER "therefore is Love said to be a child, because in choice he is so oft beguiled".

And yet Shakespeare turns the tables on gender stereotypes when Helena, Lysander, Hermia, and Demetrius enter the woods.  Women are as often portrayed as fickle and inconstant, yet it's the men who behave this way in the woods. 

quarta-feira, novembro 18, 2015

“Shakespeare and I: "Love's Prick"

I decided to take a line from various Shakespeare works and combine it with my own poetry to come up with a collaborative work about love.  I have placed the title of Shakespeare's work where I grabbed the line from in brackets.  The lines without brackets are my own.  I hope you enjoy this “collaboration”.

He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a
horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath. (King Lear)
For love has many faces; masks of deception
Why are you virtuous? Why do people love you? (As You Like It)
Pray tell your secret of passion’s inception
That I should love a bright particular star (All’s Well That Ends Well)
But instead the moon casts shadows on my heart
None that I more love than myself. (The Tempest)
Should I then not love another to impart
O, then unfold the passion of my love (Twelfth night)
Yet no man can hold what I sorely desire
And won thy love doing thee injuries (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
The pain of ancient love has cemented, no room to admire
Betwixt us as the cement of our love, (Antony and Cleopatra)
To believe that love can break through any cause
Or, for my diamond, the chain you promised, (The Comedy of Errors)
To keep me imprisoned with the shackles of love’s flaws
So shall I, love; and so, I pray, be you: (Macbeth)
Trapped under a spell with its jagged edge?
We end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks (Hamlet)
From cupid’s arrow cast into the dark, and land with a pledge
I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me. (MAAN)
Yet love's prick leaves me to wonder why
I am glad at heart to be so rid o' the business. (Winter’s tale)

I think I felt Shakespeare's "breath" on my neck while writing this, or maybe it was just a draft...
I don't write because of the accolades I get. I write because I love to create. I'm a Maker by temperament and leaning. 
My piece of advice. Do what you love, no matter what, i.e., do what you were made to do, and try to do it well. As a maxim, I always say that whatever I do, I never wait. I never hold my stuff back from the world. If I keep shipping, If I keep creating and sharing what I’ve made, it will get better, eventually. At least I no longer cringe when re-reading yesterday's writing (well most of the time anyway...) 

terça-feira, novembro 17, 2015


We cannot, willingly and zealously, do our little sociopathic cybergestapo kapo workshift bullshit public relations for people committing crimes against humanity (aka against “western values"; Paris was the only the latest of many) on an industrial scale, however much our delicate overinflated ego dislikes that unpalatable concept.

Shakespeare put it much nicer than I ever could have.

segunda-feira, novembro 16, 2015

Killing Frenzy: "Richard III" by William Shakespeare, Burton Raffel, Harold Bloom

Published 2008.

A typical king;
Killed everybody who got in his way;
A typical fat slob of a king;
Out to get his own greedy needs met;
Uses every individual who crossed his path;
More often than not, slap happy drunk;
Seen on numerous occasion dancing amongst the moon lit paths;
Often times his royal trousers would fall to his ankles causing the King to fall face down.

Was Shakespeare’s Richard any different from some of the politicians we all know so well?  The only difference is that they're not allowed to get away with it as much, what with the paparazzi and all.

I finished reading this, Richard III, prior to go see him in the theatre. Even in Portuguese I felt as if I’d come under a spell. What marvelous language. Everyone knows this. It’s obvious, but does everyone really know it? It’s different to know than to experience. And I’ve experienced, once again, the glory of his language in this story.

Even the fact that he murdered many people, his words still move me. In the beginning this was one of my least favourite plays. Why? I became disgusted with his hypocrisy, but I started to be under his (Shakespeare’s) language spell later on in life and I came to appreciate this play even more. Only language makes Richard III worth reading and seeing.

Thinking about Hitler, we all know the power of a leader comes through the spoken word, and the fire and zeal of the speech. As politicians go, Richard was the greatest of them all. He showed us words are powerful.

Once again Shakespeare kept me on the edge of my seat. Shakespeare, like any good SF writer, carries me to other worlds, make-believe kingdoms; he shows me how a bunch of "mythical" beings can still give me a realistic insight into our modern world.

With his characters, and Richard III is a very good case in point, makes me see human life in its entire nudity, and its joy and tragedy. What do I learn by reading Shakespeare? He draws my attention to how we, as humans, are fragile in relation to the turmoil living within us.

I'm still flabbergasted how he can "reveal" the truth about the fragility of our human existence. By watching and reading Richard III, I can glimpse the inner minds of our politicians...

When I started this quest, one of my main objectives was to make someone interested in reading Shakespeare. Even if someone does not feel an urgent urge to read him, my hope is that my personal experience in reading him will plant the seed. Let these scattered thoughts be traces left by someone, from small Portugal, who has learned a lot by reading Shakespeare.

What does Shakespeare give me? Layers and layers of musings, träumereien, devaneios and knowledge that will stay with me till the day I die. Günter Grass comes to mind with his onion peeling.

If you don't want to have an empty soul, go and read Shakespeare.

NB: Prior to going to see the play, I always like to get fully immersed in the text. That’s what I did by reading the play in my Rowse. Because I thought there was still not enough deep-immersion, I read Bloom’s diatribes in this book for good measure as well …

NB2: SF = Speculative Fiction.

domingo, novembro 15, 2015

Calvinistic Heinlein (NOT!): "The Classical Years of Robert A. Heinlein" by George Edgar Slusser

Published 1977 (re-edition 2012).

"Heinlein is a writer who represents a certain strain in our culture, a kind of secular Calvinist vision of the world of the elect and the damned.”

From “The Classics Years of Robert A. Heinlein” by George Edgar Slusser

“Heinlein rarely discussed his own stories at all except in shoptalk with another writer – but he made an exception here. In response to a question about “Coventry” and the “Calvinist” reading that had been advanced by George Edgar Slusser, he hardly needed to think about the problem. Stover and Slusser were both mistaken: they had taken different gambits written into the story that misdirected their thinking.”

From “Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: 1948-1988. The Man Who Learned Better” by William H. Patterson, Jr.

I was not convinced by Slusser's circular arguments. What I needed was a balanced and objective view, one that would put Heinlein's strengths and many weaknesses into a rounded view, namely is supposed Calvinism. I did not find it here. Philip K. Dick was the only writer to “suffer” a Calvinistic canonization, where every word he ever wrote seemed (seems?) to be treated as sacred writ (e.g., his religious visions are still taken seriously in this day and age). As for Heinlein, I still think the so-called solipsism of his latter novels is much more pronounced than his supposed TULIP-Calvinism.

sábado, novembro 14, 2015

Paris Attacks 2015

(getty images)

What happened in Paris left me feeling bummed out about the world I live in. It reminded me that the world is gone to hell in a hand basket and that most people simply don't care what happens. 
Since some people are too dumb to care, I guess they feel like they don't need to hide it anymore. 
If anything they put this kind of attacks to throw it in our faces. 

sexta-feira, novembro 13, 2015

Because It's Friday The 13th: "13 Book Opening Sentences I Know by Heart"

Do you agree with the fact that you know you’re reading a great book from the second you’re inside it? 

It's been one of my long doubts concerning literature. Going by the opening line above, and as far as I' concerned, the question does not hold true. It depends on the rest of the book...

A friend of mine popped this question to me on account of today being Friday 13th: "Consegues lembrar-te no prazo máximo de 10 minutos de 13 frases de abertura de livros?" ("In 10 minutes tops can you remember 13 opening sentences book-wise?" 

The following list was the result:


“The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

"Memories of My Melancholy Whores" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

"Murphy" by Samuel Beckett


“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

"Neuromancer" by William Gibson


"It was a pleasure to burn.”

"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury.


"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

"The Hobbit" by JRR Tolkien.


“Was it the bourbon or the dye fumes that made the pink walls quiver like vaginal lips?”

"Suicide Blonde" by Darcey Steinke


"Sooner or later it was bound to happen"

"Rendezvous with Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke


"The manhunt extended across more than one hundred light years and eight centuries."

"A Deepness in the Sky" by Vernor Vinge


"Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith."

"A Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert A. Heinlein


" 'Lot ninety-seven,' the auctioneer announced. 'A boy.' "

"Citizen of the Galaxy" by Robert A. Heinlein


"Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his air. The doctor told him there were no bugs in his air."

"A Scanner Darkly" by Philip K. Dick


"Als Gregor Samsa eines Morgens aus unruhigen Träumen erwachte, fand er sich in seinem Bett zu einem ungeheueren Ungeziefer verwandelt."

"Die Verwandlung" by Franz Kafka


"Sie haben mir eine Strafarbeit gegeben."

"Deutschstunde" by Siegfried Lenz

Consider yourself tagged if you wish to come up with a similar list.

NB: Why did I remember these particular set of opening sentences? No idea. Probably if someone asked me the same question again I'd come up with a different list altogether...

quarta-feira, novembro 11, 2015

Marxist SF: "Murder on the 31st Floor” by Per Wahlöö

Published for the first time in 1964 (2011 edition read).

NB: First read in German a long time ago. This is my first reading in English.

“The Murder on the 31st Floor” starts as a spiritual murder of cultural criticism, the freedom of expression and then in the physical liquidation of the last social critics.

“The Murder on the 31st Floor” is a novel in several ways that breaks with Wahlöös earlier novels, which mostly take place in foreign dictatorships, mainly Spain and Latin America. But all his novels, from the beginning, with the football novel "Sky Goat" (1959), are power studies of various types.  

Clear archetypal elements include the crime to be solved by a solitary detective. A corrupt and painted black society belonging to the American hard-boiled crime novel and not to the usual Scandinavian Crime Fiction novel. This, juxtaposed with the dictatorial social structure and elements of social fiction, allows the novel to violate the templates of formulaic literature. Instead we can see the flowing to the surface of a leftist social criticism, which results in a scenario portraying an utopian state.

Wahlöö's approach to the SF genre is also interesting because it sets a background for the reading of his novels of the "future". It depicts how it's gone from a clear negative cultural criticism against the Anglo-Saxon translated formula literature in SF that was imported to Sweden in the 50s century to becoming a tool for social criticism in the 60s. The renewal and revitalization of the genre that many Swedish writers contributed to was probably decisive here. In Sweden, during the 60's, SF was seen as a dirty genre, therefore, the market was not ripe for Wahlöö (or for any other kind of SF writer). There is also an important literary ambition where Wahlöö uses a formulaic literature framework to create something more, a political literature where the reader becomes aware on how society really looks like. A literature heavily influenced by Marxism, where the use of the hero instead of the so-called normal protagonist is the real driver of the novel.

The majority of cultural criticism found in “The Murder on the 31st Floor” is on the weekly press and its manipulation of the people in the community.  Power structures in society appear as dictatorial interactions, like some kind of fusion between state and capital in Nazi Germany or fascist Portugal. Wahlöö has previously described similar structures in other novels. Bureaucracy seems life's antithesis in his suppression of the individual which is consistently being described as listless, dying, and anonymous in the big state apparatus. There are no living people that appear in the novel, only cardboard figures, in order to highlight an oppressive structure, in order to show us the betrayal of the consensus and social democracy of the working class. 
The final murder’s structure showcases fascism’s real face in this novel. The final chapter, all by itself, is worth the reading of the novel.

Bottom-Line: Only worth reading for Wahlöö's completists who want to understand how he dealt with social criticism in a genre other than Crime Fiction. Should this be considered SF or Crime Fiction? Without a shadow of a doubt, SF. Why? Because Wahlöö is more interested in the political stance and spare writing than in the investigative policing. At its heart this is not a Crime Fiction novel but rather a novel for the fight for intellectual freedom.