Saturday, July 13, 2013

Franz Werfel, The Song of Bernadette


Opening Passage:

François Soubirous gets up in the dark. It is just six. Long ago he lost possession of the silver watch that was a wedding present from his clever sister-in-law Bernarde Casterot. The ticket for it as well as the tickets for other poor little treasures issued by the municipal pawn brokerage had lapsed the autumn before. Souberous knows that it is six even though the chimes of the parish church of Saint Pierre have not yet rung for early Mass. The poor have the time in their bones. Without dial or bell they know what hour has struck, for the poor are always afraid of being late.

Summary: One of the more striking structural features of Franz Werfel's The Song of Bernadette is that the first day of Bernadette's vision is told in present tense, while the rest of the book, despite occurring afterward, is in past tense. This fits with Werfel's constant theme that Bernadette's gift is to make the invisible seem visible, and to make the timeless seem present now. In a sense, everything else in the book, the whole story of Bernadette's life, is an unfolding and explication of that first vision on the first day. It is just one of many ways in which Werfel manages to layer his historical novel (as he puts it, the work is a novel but not a fictive work) in ways that make the historical events, and even more often, historical moods, vivid and clear.

Where Werfel truly excels is in what might be called the sociological background. We get a sense of the entire life of France in miniature in Lourdes. It is a France split between freethinkers and Catholics, between conservative Bonapartists and liberal republicans, between the wealthy and aristocratic and the laboring classes, between Church and state. Werfel, with quiet humor, shows Bernadette's Lady rising to the fore, and changing the world, by outmaneuvering each of these groups in the very points on which they are opposed to each other -- or, rather, he shows that each of these groups in their opposition to the Lady outmaneuver themselves.

The Church in its attempts to outmaneuver the State unintentionally blocks the State's attempts to oppose the Lady; the State in its attempts to outmaneuver the Church unintentionally blocks the Church's attempts to oppose the Lady. The police attempt to put clear obstacles in the way of the increasing fuss, and the result is that it instigates more support: common workmen, temperamentally inclined to agnosticism about whether Bernadette can really see the Lady, can nonetheless see quite clearly that the police are harassing a poor teenage girl who has done nothing actually harmful, apparently just because she's poor, and start to murmur against it; liberal freethinkers, utterly convinced that Bernadette's visions are either frauds or hallucinations, nonetheless can see quite clearly that the police intervention in such a matter is a potentially bad precedent, and some of them end up being the ringleaders in interfering with the police on the matter. The bishop and dean, highly skeptical of the visions, are impeded by their inability to reject the possibility of miracle; the liberal freethinkers, even more skeptical of the visions, have no force against them because they are unable to wrap their minds around the idea that the triumph of their point of view is not inevitable (a point put succinctly in a scene in which one of them, who thinks of himself as representing the spirit of the times, is gazing, speechless for once, as virtually the entire town, led by the mayor, processes by his inn with prayers and hymns on their way to the miraculous spring). Everyone sets out to oppose the Lady, except Bernadette herself, and everyone in doing so trips over their own feet and falls flat on their faces. And each of these is vividly shown, rather than merely talked about: we see their own self-hindering.

There are no villains in Werfel's story. Everyone is reasonable in his or her own way, everyone has faults of his or her own. By its very nature, Werfel's story can have no villains. It is the Song of Bernadette, and Bernadette cares only about the Lady; as far as she is concerned, everyone else's involvement is entirely accident and utterly unimportant. And while people may make themselves enemies of the Lady, the Lady herself is enemy of none of them. One can see the novel as consisting of a quiet timeless core: Bernadette sees the Lady. Everything else is just ripples; it neither affects the core nor can really manage to oppose it. All attempts to oppose it turn out to be harmless; the vision at the center is unaffected by them all. The Lady has a message for the world, but Bernadette is not her prophet, and Bernadette opposes any and every attempt to make her one. She even refuses to identify the Lady with the Virgin Mary for almost the whole book; after all, the Lady never actually gave her name, and Bernadette is not going to put words in her mouth. This more than once approaches the comical, as Bernadette keeps pointing out to people that the Lady looks nothing like their statues and paintings of the Madonna, to their discomfiture. As Werfel points it, Bernadette's Lady is unique; everyone tries to put her in the typical boxes to which they are accustomed, and the boxes are never adequate, because she is not typical at all. For the same reason, Bernadette, late in life, never embroiders the Lady; how could she?

In addition to reading the book, I listened to the 1944 (Radio Hall of Fame) and 1954 (Lux Radio Theater) radio versions; this gives an interesting perspective on the book. These were radio versions of the movie, but they manage to be relatively close to the original book, despite being at a remove and having to fit the story within a particular time. In general, the 1954 version, with Ann Blyth as Bernadette and Charles Bickford as Dean Peyramale, both excellently played (Ann Blyth's voice is a better actor than Jennifer Jones in the movie, despite the latter winning an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the role) is much the better version. The 1954 version captures something of Werfel's quiet humor and avoids the treacly aspect to which the 1944 version sometimes descends (in part by quieter acting and less music). However, it is much more difficult to have a radio play showing opposition between groups without having villains; we do not get things from everyone's perspective. Werfel's narrative voice takes Bernadette at face value but includes no animus against those who oppose her; he goes out of his way to show how reasonable they are being, given the problems they face. When acted, this aspect of the narrative has to be carried not by a general narrative approach but by the acting itself, and, what is more, it has to be carried by the acting in such a way that any ambiguity or suggestion of villainy is ruled out. This is extraordinarily difficult to do, and it does not succeed.

One point on which the 1944 version is superior to the 1954 version is that it makes good use of the narrator. The book has a narrative voice without giving much form to the narrator; this is a luxury books can afford that radio plays cannot, since while a book may get its narrative voice from an indefinite narrator, to have a narrative voice in a radio play you must have a definite narrator actually speaking. Thus the 1944 version, with a definite narrator, is able to capture some more of the multi-faceted aspect of the novel, at the expense of being heavy-handed; whereas the 1954 version, without a definite narrator, loses the ability to capture the facets of the novel that depend on narrative voice.

I was considering leaving the 1943 movie (which won four Oscars and three Golden Globes) to some point in the future, but then I realized that Vital Dutour, the Imperial prosecutor, is played by Vincent Price in the film, and so I had to see it. The radio shows inherit from the movie a much harsher Vital Dutour, although they focus on him less (perhaps in part because Charles Bickford, who plays Dean Peyramale in the radio version, had also played him in the film version, the 1954 version focuses to a very great extent on Peyramale rather than any other opponent). The film also gives Dutour a more dramatic story arc, giving him a conversion story partly borrowed from another character, the poet Lafite. I think one of the serious mistakes the film makes is showing the Lady and letting us hear her; basically the same mistake is repeated by the 1954 radio version, in which we hear the Lady. In both cases it misplaces the audience. We can be told about the Lady and about what Bernadette sees and hears, but we should not be seeing and hearing what she sees and hears. We are not Bernadette. We are the crowd following her around and listening to her story. By showing the Lady, the film loses a major aspect of the novel. A good way to see this is by comparing the events at Massabielle that we actually see compared with the event we are told about when Dozous, the physician played by Lee J. Cobb, tells what he saw when he went. The latter is far more powerful and richer, and, because there is a definite narrator, we get the richness of a narrative voice. The film does handle the dynamic of Bernadette's family life very well, though, and can get a little more of Bernadette's later convent life than the radio plays can; and I also like Aubrey Mather's Lacadé and Price's cynical and calmly sarcastic Dutour.

In the end, however, like Bernadette's Lady, Werfel's The Song of Bernadette is unique; it shows the full power of the literary word, since it goes beyond anything that could be captured by radio or film, however good.

Favorite Passage:

...Let the miracle of Massabielle give the lie to all regnant philosophies, it is hardly the business of a practical man to shed his blood for the universal validity of the laws of nature. The times were incomprehensible, the world a mere mad soap bubble, and A. Lacadé no fool. On that summer evening on which he had secretly thought of testing the power of the spring by his headache the scales had begun to fall from his eyes. Within every human being exists innately the degree and kind of his possible conversation to life in the spirit. Lacadé, too, had been converted in his very own way.

The sudden conviction that had come to the mayor was that a spring of grace was no worse than a spring of medicinal properties and was in some respects unique and more profitable....

Recommendation: This is a genuinely beautiful book, constructed in a way appropriate to its topic and theme. Highly recommended.

Franz Werfel, The Song of Bernadette, Ludwig Lewisohn, tr. Ignatius (San Francisco: 2006).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday Virtue: Affability

Affability, affabilitas, is also called amicitia, friendliness, but I think that, despite the fact that 'affability' in English usually indicates a matter of temperament rather than character, it is in some ways potentially less misleading. Affability is, roughly, the virtue of making one's interactions with others suitable for friendship; it is not friendship itself, but the acquired disposition of acting outwardly in a way that does not rule friendship out. It is one of those virtues that is widely recognized as a virtue but little discussed, perhaps because it is often classified as a 'lesser virtue', as being very little more than sociable manners taken to a high degree of polish; as we shall see, it is not so clearly minor.

The most important ancient discussion of affability, despite its brevity, is Aristotle's, because it is one of the eleven virtues Aristotle explicitly examines in the Nicomachean Ethics. People have often remarked that Aristotle mixes very important virtues with relatively minor ones, but I think we should be wary of assuming that Aristotle himself thought he was doing that. If we look at the eleven virtues -- military fortitude, temperance, liberality, magnificence, magnanimity, honorable ambition, mildness, affability, truthfulness, eutrapelia, justice -- all of them are actually quite important, practically speaking, for making civic life run smoothly. Take one of the supposed lesser virtues in the list, eutrapelia, which is for Aristotle something like a consistent habit of wittiness. This may not be important by abstract moral standards, or essential for salvation of the soul, but one has only to experience (what everyone has experienced at some point) just how much a boorish or a frivolous person can ruin one's day in order to appreciate the importance of it for social relations. And in many ways the whole Nicomachean Ethics is profoundly concerned with the requirements for civic friendship, the sort of mutual well-wishing that binds a city together. It's not surprising, then, if Aristotle thinks all of these eleven are important. Moreover, in a book where civic friendship is treated as being of crucial importance, can the virtue of friendliness, dealing with the kind of outward behavior appropriate to friendship, really be treated as a 'lesser virtue'?

Aristotle locates affability as a virtue dealing with interaction in words and deed, one of the three. Of these three, one concerns truth and the other two concern pleasantness. Eutrapelia or wittiness is the virtue of pleasantness of word and deed in matters of amusement specifically, while affability is the virtue of pleasantness of word and deed in the ordinary actions of life (Nic. Eth. II.vii; cf. also

With regard to the remaining kind of pleasantness, that which is exhibited in life in general, the man who is pleasant in the right way is friendly and the mean is friendliness, while the man who exceeds is an obsequious person if he has no end in view, a flatterer if he is aiming at his own advantage, and the man who falls short and is unpleasant in all circumstances is a quarrelsome and surly sort of person.

So here we see that affability is a mean between a vice of excess (obsequiousness or flattery) and a vice of defect (quarrelsomeness or surliness). The first goes to ridiculous extremes to avoid giving any pain, while the latter sort of person is always opposing things for no good reason. The mean between the two is to endure or oppose things appropriately, and Aristotle says there is no name for it, but it is closest to friendship in nature, so thence arises the name philia. However, it is not friendship as such, because it does not include anything about internal affection; you can be friendly to people you dislike. The affable person is someone who will join in pleasures or not depending on the consequences and honorableness of the pleasures; whereas the flatterer is always eager to join in pleasant activities and the surly person is always disapproving of them.

Following Aristotle, Aquinas takes the virtue of affabilitas or amicitia to be a virtue, the mean between flattery, adulatio, and quarrelsomeness, litigium. The use of the term affabilitas in this context seems to come from Sirach 4:7, "Make yourself affable to the congregation of the poor" (see ST 2-2.114.1 sed contra). It is the virtue concerned with the appropriateness or becomingness of order in mutual relations. It is not complete friendship, but simply similar to friendship in that it leads one to act in a pleasant and appropriate way to those around one. It is a potential part of justice, which means that it is similar to justice in the strict sense without actually being justice in the strict sense; and thus it can be considered part of justice in a broad sense of the term. Like many of the potential parts of justice, it differs from justice by involving moral debt rather than legal debt, which is to say, that it operates not according to any strict principles of equality but according to a general sense of ongoing expectation. Moral debts, unlike legal debts, can never strictly be repaid; they are things that we owe in a vague and ongoing way to our fellow human beings. The particular moral debt here is that we owe it to our fellow citizens and human beings to behave pleasantly with those with whom we dwell, unless necessity requires us to act unpleasantly.

Aquinas compares this virtue to truthfulness. We owe it to our fellow human beings to be truthful, because without truthfulness, society must fail; but society will fail without delight, as well, and thus we have a responsibility to live in such a way that we generally delight those around us whenever we are not obligated to act in some other way. In practice, this means that we should act pleasantly toward other people in order to make their lives better, either by consoling them or encouraging them in good things, and only do things that might sadden or pain them if it would genuinely be bad for them.

Of the two opposing vices, adulation or flattery is of course the one that is more similar to affability; from this it follows both less grievous than litigium, if only considered in itself, but in practice we often flatter through deception, which makes it more serious. Neither adulation nor quarrelsomeness are in general associated with acts that are mortal sins; they may rise to become such due to the seriousness of circumstances, but in themselves they tend to be venial. While Aquinas himself does not take this step, one can see that this is precisely why affability, apparently so important to Aristotle, and a significant enough potential part of justice to be explicitly discussed in three questions by Aquinas, comes to be considered a minor virtue: its vices tend toward very petty actions, sometimes almost laughably so. And in the modern period, it will largely be confined to discussions of social graces. If we think of our experiences, however, I think we can see that affability does a lot with very little. As Aquinas says, a functioning society requires a little ordinary delight as much as it requires anything else, and almost nothing makes life run so smoothly as people in the habit of behaving in friendly ways. Perhaps a good exercise would be to go through a week noting explicitly all the ways in which people doing this make your life much better, for all that they are usually doing very minor things; after such an exercise, I think the only reasonable conclusion is to say that Aristotle was right that this is a major civic virtue and that Aquinas was right that it is necessary for the very existence of civilized life.

Rough Timeline of France in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Reading The Song of Bernadette, I'm finding that a refresher course in mid-nineteenth-century France is helpful, although the story can stand alone. For events prior to 1830, see the timeline I did for The Red and the Black.

1830 Beginning of the July Monarchy with the "Three Glorious Days" leading to the abdication of Charles X (Bourbon dynasty) and his replacement by Louis-Philippe (Orleans dynasty). France becomes a constitutional monarchy dominated by the haute bourgeoisie. The July Monarchy will be marked by multiple popular uprisings and attempted revolutions.

Catherine Labouré begins having the Miraculous Medal visions.

5-6 June 1832 The June Rebellion, an unsuccessful uprising against the July Monarchy. This is the uprising in Hugo's Les Miserables.

7 January 1844 Marie-Bernadette Soubirous is born.

June 1846 Pope Gregory XVI dies. Due to Italian unrest, many foreign Cardinals do not attend, skewing the conclave very Italian. The Italians are largely split between liberal and conservative factions; by joining with people not definitely in either camp, the liberals manage to elect a man with a widespread reputation as a liberal bishop. Thus Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti becomes Pope Pius IX.

19 September 1846 Marian apparitions at La Salette, France.

22 February 1848 The February Revolution. Louis-Philippe abdicates and the July Monarchy gives way to the Second French Republic. Similar revolutions will start spreading through a number of countries in Europe and South America; Pius IX is forced to flee Rome due to uprisings in Italy under Garibaldi.

10 December 1848 Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is elected President of the French Republic.

1849 French armies restore the Pope to Rome.

1851 Since he cannot be re-elected Louis Napoleon Bonaparte suspends the Assembly and elects himself President for Life.

1852 The Second French Republic becomes the Second French Empire as Louis Napoleon Bonaparte makes himself Emperor Napoleon III. The take-over is confirmed by referendum. The Bonapartist party controls the French parliament by an overwhelming majority.

8 December 1854 Pope Pius IX issues the bull Ineffabilis Deus defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

11 February to 16 July 1858 Bernadette Soubirous sees the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. According to Bernadette, in the sixteenth and last vision the Virgin Mary says, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

7 November 1858 Official ecclesial investigation of the Lourdes apparition begins.

1859 The Franco-Austrian War, also known as the Second Italian War of Independence; as a result, France will gain the territories of Savoy and Nice and the Papal States will lose the northern Papal Legations.

Death of Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, the Curé d'Ars.

1860 Lourdes investigation ends with approval.

The Druze-Maronite Massacre begins in Syria, leading France to intervene; one result of this will be the establishment of the independent Mount Lebanon Mutassifariate in 1861, which will last until World War I.

1861 President Benito Juarez of Mexico refuses to pay interest on loans to Mexico; France in retaliation invades Mexico, overthrowing its republican government and placing Maximilian I at the head of the Second Mexican Empire, which is basically serves as a puppet state of France and a French ally in North America.

Victor Emmanuel II is proclaimed King of Italy and Rome the Italian capital, despite the fact that Rome is in (what little is left of) the Papal States, and not in the Kingdom of Italy.

Abbé Dominique Peyramale and Monsignor Bertrand-Sévère Mascarou Laurence oversee the acquisition of the Lourdes grotto and area around it.

1864 Victor Emmanuel II negotiates the removal of French troops from Rome.

1865 No longer engaged in a civil war, the United States begins actively supporting Juarez and his loyalists in Mexico; Napoleon III, unwilling to get into a war with the United States, begins withdrawing French troops.

1866 The last French troops leave Rome, against the urging of the Pope for them to stay.

1867 The Republic of Mexico is restored and Maximilian I is executed.

The Luxembourg Crisis threatens to plunge Europe into a massive war. France attempts to buy Luxembourg from the Netherlands. King William III accepts, but technically Luxembourg was also a member of the German Confederation, and the deal required Prussian permission. The French had assumed that this was already promised them by Otto von Bismarck in exchange for France's neutrality in the Second Schleswig War, but no official treaty was made, and Bismarck reneges on the deal. Napoleon III offers to settle for the removal of German troops from Luxembourg City. The other Great Powers of Europe, fearing that a Franco-Prussian war will suck them in, push heavily for an international conference, leading to the London Conference and Luxembourg's neutrality.

1869 Bonapartists are dealt a terrible blow in parliamentary elections as they barely manage to uphold their majority against the liberal opposition, due to increasing unrest among the working class, despite the fact that their campaign expenses are paid by the government and their districts often gerrymandered in their favor. The "White Overalls" riots take place shortly afterward.

Pius IX convenes the First Vatican Council.

1870 A referendum confirms popular support for liberal reforms. The Franco-Prussian War begins. Napoleon III is captured at the Battle of Sedan and the Second French Empire collapses. The Government of National Defense, usually regarded as the first government of the Third Republic, is created as a provisional government. The Germans invade Alsace and Lorraine.

Unprotected by France, Rome falls to the Italian army; Pius IX becomes "the Prisoner of the Vatican" and the Vatican period of the papacy begins.

1871 Thoroughly defeated by Prussia, France capitulates and faces severe war reparations. National elections are held; the resulting National Assembly passes unpopular financial laws to handle the war reparations, leading to extensive unrest. The socialist Paris Commune rises up in revolt and takes over Paris; their program includes the first clear affirmation of laïcité. The government manages to retake Paris, at considerable cost of lives.

Karl Marx publishes the pamphlet, The Civil War in France, praising the Communard attempt and holding it up as the harbinger of a new society; but the Communard attempt also will mark a turning point in Marx's thought, as he draws the conclusion that it is not effective for the working class to rise up and attempt to directly wield the instruments of state, which will lead to the split between Communists and anarchists in the International Workingmen's Association.

Marian apparitions at Pontmain, which will be later approved.

1875 The French Constitutional Laws of 1875 stabilize the form of the Third Republic.

1876 Catherine Labouré dies.

The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is consecrated at Lourdes.

February 1878 Pope Pius IX dies. Vincenzo Gioacchino Raffaele Luigi Pecci becomes Pope Leo XIII. One of the many works of his papacy will be an ongoing attempt to overcome the gap between the papacy and the French Republic.

16 April 1879 Marie-Bernadette Soubirous dies.

21 August 1879 Marian apparitions at Knock, Ireland, which will later be approved.

1881-1882 Jules Ferry begins to re-introduce the idea of laïcité into French government.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Links of Note

* Roger Berkowitz corrects misinterpretations of Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem

* Yu Hua discusses China's recent filial piety law.

* Thomas McDonald is doing a series on the history of Tarot cards; the first two posts in the series are already up:
Reclaiming Tarot
The Real History of Tarot

* J. K. Gayle looks at the terms in which Aristotle discusses arete, including the one surviving poem attributed to Aristotle (by Diogenes Laertius).

* Jon Cogburn has an interesting NewAPPS post on what he calls Collingwood paradoxicality: the phenomenon of it being widely acknowledged that someone is not sufficiently acknowledged.

* Paul Bartha's SEP article on analogical reasoning is quite good.

* Michael W. Dunne also has an SEP article on the fourteenth century scholastic, Richard FitzRalph.

* For five years the California prison system was sterilizing women inmates illegally. The laws governing tubal ligatures in a prison context are quite complex in order to eliminate the danger of women being pressured by officials to undergo the surgery; they seem to have been almost completely ignored.

* Scott Aikin has an interesting post on what he calls contested concept equivocation. Unless I am completely missing some subtlety of the concept/conception distinction, I don't think it's actually any form of equivocation, nor even an error of reasoning (it is not a reasoning error to insist on controversial claims about an idea, even without noting the controversy). But it is a rhetorical pattern that is quite common, and it would be nice to have it identified and named.


* The 153rd Philosophers' Carnival is up at "Philosophy on Philosophy"

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Arthur Eastward in Arms Purposed

Dead silence fell. Out of deep valleys
fogs unfurling floated upward;
dim vapours drowned, dank and formless,
the hills under heaven, the hollow places
in a fathomless sea foundered sunken.
Trees looming forth with twisted arms,
like weeds under water where no wave moveth,
out of mist menaced man forwandered.
Cold touched the hearts of the host encamped
on Mirkwood's margin at the mountain-roots.

[J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fall of Arthur. Christopher Tolkien, ed. Houghton Mifflin (New York: 2013) p. 22. Canto I, lines 123-132.]

The Fall of Arthur is an unfinished alliterative poem that was in Tolkien's mind for at least two decades, and formative decades, at that. It was to have told, as the name suggests, the story of the death of King Arthur, following not so much Malory as the Alliterative Morte Arthure, but with Tolkien's own perspective on the poem. We get something of this right at the beginning, since the poem opens with Arthur marching to war, but not, as in the old sources, to conquer Rome, but to help defend it from the Saxons. The set-up for Camlan arises when treachery at home leads to the Saxons invading Britain itself, and Arthur must return from battling Saxons in the East in order to retake his kingdom from them.

The poem as we have it is a slim thing, only forty pages of verse and some notes and outlines, not entirely consistent or always intelligible, about how it would proceed from there. It doesn't get us very near to Camlan, ending after the first sea battle with the Saxons as Arthur returns home. That's very unfortunate, because even as it stands, the poem is excellent. The descriptions are vivid, the action scenes (particularly the aforementioned sea battle) are rousing, and Tolkien's ideas of how to treat the story are interesting in and of themselves. It's also unfortunate for extrinsic reasons, because, as Christopher Tolkien notes, his father's plans for Arthur's end, particularly as they relate to the Isle of Avalon, seem to have been closely tied in some way to Tolkien's reconceptualization of The Silmarillion and its world. (Those of good memory will remember that one of the names of Tol Eressëa was Avallónë; and in the notes for the end of Lancelot in the poem is one that cryptically ties Lancelot's end to a poem about Eärendel.)

On the other hand, Christopher Tolkien's hypothesis is that the work was just outcompeted for Tolkien's time and energy by the tumult of ideas begun with The Lost Road, which eventually gave us The Lord of the Rings; the last mention of the poem that Christopher Tolkien could find is in a letter written the same year The Return of the King was published. And so perhaps it was a fair trade, after all.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Fractal, Part VI

This is the sixth part of a short story draft. Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV. Part V.

I was at home on Friday, just finishing up dinner and preparing to settle down and read some articles in the recent issue of Transactions on Neural Simulation and Artificial Planning Systems, when the doorbell rang, and I found, much to my surprise, that it was David.

"May I come in?" he asked.

"Of course," I said. We settled down in the living room; I had to push a large pile of Foundations of Engineering for Artificial Intelligence and Trends in Machine Learning and Response off the couch to give him a place to sit.

I was about to ask if he would like some tea, when he said suddenly, "Stimson has taken me off the project."

I sighed. "I will talk to him on Monday. He is bound to give in if I threaten to make trouble."

David shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I've actually come for a different reason."

There was a pause, and I waited for him to explain, but when he spoke again, he said, "We've been fighting the fight for a long time, haven't we, Charli?"

"I suppose, although it usually seems too short for me."

He smiled wanly. "To me it seems like it's been forever, and just gets worse. I guess that's what human life is: lots of little disasters making up a big disaster."

I laughed. "'Disaster' is not the word I would use for you," I said. "You have accomplished more in your life than generations of people can usually accomplish. You have done things that were once considered impossible."

"Do you think of Becky much?"

"Every day, obviously," I said.

"We need to keep our promise to her," he said.

"We already have. Our success with the project is proof of that."

He looked at me a long moment, and said, "Morgan Stimson cannot be trusted with the project."

"I agree," I said. "He is out of his depth. But that has always been true."

David shook his head. "That's not what I mean. Everything before was unimportant, but now it's entirely different. We cannot leave her at his mercy."

It took me a moment to figure out who 'her' was. "Rebecca? But Morgan will not interfere with the project itself. He knows it would be his head if anything went wrong."

He shook his head again. "I've always admired you, Charli, and you are my oldest friend, perhaps my only friend, but sometimes I don't think you see the people around you. The man is a parasite interested only in money and power, and he's spent his entire life leeching off our successes. But she is something utterly new, a thousand little revolutions in one, and there are dollar signs in his eyes. He is taking steps to take the project over, and he has removed me because I made it clear to him that I wouldn't stand for it. And that is treating his actions charitably. He was always jealous of Becky and me, and now that he can have her to himself, who knows what he'll do...."

"David," I said, "Rebecca is not Becky. "

His mouth set in a straight line. "I know that, Charli," he said evenly, "but it doesn't change anything. You and I owe it to Becky to make sure her legacy doesn't end up in the hands of Morgan Stimson. And even if that weren't the case, think of the ethics of it! Do you really trust Morgan Stimson to do the ethically right thing by Rebecca?"

"I would not trust Morgan Stimson to do my laundry," I replied. "But there's no need to get excited about it. You and I can work out a set of protocols and go around him...."

"This is not the time for your usual cool-headedness, Charli," he said. "Honestly, how can you think about her just locked up in a laboratory all the time and talk about formulating protocols? There has to be a better way."

He took a deep breath, as if gathering courage, then said, "I have contacted some people who can get her away. They don't know the details about her, only that Trisagion is holding her unjustly to experiment on her. Trisagion plays God enough that it wasn't difficult to find people who would believe that. All I have to do is get her out of the lab. It's all ready to go, but when Stimson pulled me off the project, he took the lab permissions off my card. I need your entry-card."

I was flabbergasted, sitting there looking at his intensely earnest, expectant face, so very different from the David I though I knew.

"Are you serious?" I said, managing to get it out only with difficulty. "What would happen to you?"

He held up his hand. "Don't worry about me, Charli. I have it all planned out. I know exactly what I'll do. You don't need to worry there. And you don't have to worry about security records, because I know how to erase them. Once I'm in, I'll be able to do that without any problem. Trisagion's been paranoid about competitors recently, it won't be difficult at all to use that to cover any other tracks there might be. I just need your card."

"But, David," I said, "this seems so extreme...."

"Good God, Charli!" he said sharply. "What do you think they are going to do with her, set her up in an apartment somewhere? They're going to experiment with her until she breaks. And I know for a fact that Morgan Stimson has talked with the Board about making more. All for more experimentation, or, worse still, sold off like cattle. Imagine a production line of Rebeccas sold to the highest bidder! Is that what Becky was aiming for? We have to protect her vision. I just need the card."

I opened my mouth to refuse, to say No to David for perhaps the first time in my life. But as I did so, I could not help thinking of her in the garden, so very Becky-like that she could be a sister or a daughter, but so child-like and free from care. With a sigh I handed David my entry-card.

"Thank you, Charli," he said, bounding up to take it. "You are a saint. You will not regret this. The last big hurrah of B, C, D, 1, 2, 3."

He left, and I sat still for a very long time.

to be continued

Wollstonecraft on the Greatness of Mind

This is from Mary Wollstonecraft's children's book, Original Stories from Real Life. But, of course, the moral is for everyone, and is a very Socratic one, too.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

We Take So Long in Learnin'

The Deserted Adobe
by Anonymous

Round the 'dobe rank sands are thickly blowin',
Its ridges fill the deserted field;
Yet on this claim young lives once hope were sowing
For all the years might yield;
And in strong hands the echoing hoof pursuin'
A wooden share turned up the sod,
The toiler brave drank deep the fresh air's brewin'
And sang content to God.
The toiler brave drank deep the fresh air's brewin'
And sang content to God.

A woman fair and sweet has smilin' striven
Through long and lonesome hours;
A blue-eyed babe, a bit of earthly heaven,
Laughed at the sun's hot towers;
A bow of promise made this desert splendid,
This 'dobe was their pride.
But what began so well, alas, has ended —,
The promise died.
But what began so well alas soon ended —,
The promise died.

Their plans and dreams, their cheerful labor wasted
In dry and mis-spent years;
The spring was sweet, the summer bitter tasted,
The autumn salt with tears.
Now "gyp" and sand do hide their one-time yearnin';
'Twas theirs; 'tis past.
God's ways are strange, we take so long in learnin',
To fail at last.
God's ways are strange, we take so long in learnin',
To fail at last.

This splendid bit of verse is collected in John A. Lomax's Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. In a note, Lomax remarks:

As for the songs of this collection, I have violated the ethics of ballad-gatherers, in a few instances, by selecting and putting together what seemed to be the best lines from different versions, all telling the same story. Frankly, the volume is meant to be popular. The songs have been arranged in some such hap-hazard way as they were collected,---jotted down on a table in the rear of saloons, scrawled on an envelope while squatting about a campfire, caught behind the scenes of a broncho-busting outfit....The songs of this collection, as a rule, have been taken down from oral recitation. In only a few instances have I been able to discover the authorship of any song. They seem to have sprung up as quietly and mysteriously as does the grass on the plains. (xxv-xxvi)