August 28, 2013

Two Kinds of Light

There are two kinds of light — the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures. — James Thurber
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February 8, 2013

Woody Allen interview for Whatever Works

Woody Allen insists he's not a big thinker, a hard worker or even funny. Nothing could be further from the truth

By Adam Higginbotham12:11PM BST 22 Jun 2010

Woody Allen is a man of well-established and peculiar habits. For more than 30 years the 74 year-old has risen every morning and exercised on a treadmill before taking a shower.

If he happens to be in a bathroom where the shower drains into the centre of the floor, instead of the corner, he will not use it.

Afterwards, he makes his breakfast, which, despite living for many years with a household staff including chauffeurs and cooks, he makes himself, in the same way he has every morning since he was a child living in an overcrowded apartment in Brooklyn: a bowl of Cheerios, with raisins and topped with a banana, which must be cut into exactly seven slices.

‘I’m very superstitious,’ he explains, ‘about a lot of things.’

Since he was 15, he has practised playing the clarinet for at least 40 minutes every day; for more than three decades, since he began a once-weekly engagement in Manhattan playing with a jazz band every Monday night, he has made sure he always puts in an hour.

Above all, he works almost constantly on making movies: since 1969, Allen has maintained a prodigious work-rate, averaging one feature film every 12 months for the past 40 years.

The relentlessness of his film-making process is important, he says, not primarily for any creative reason, but simply because it keeps his mind from pondering the inevitable.

‘When you’re worried about this joke, and this costume, and this wig, and that location, and the dailies,’ he says, ‘you’re not worried about death and the brevity of life.’

The production of Allen’s films now starts and finishes at the grandly named Manhattan Film Centre – a threadbare suite of windowless rooms on the ground floor of an imposing apartment building on the Upper East Side of New York.

When I visit one afternoon in June, a willowy young assistant is stationed at a wooden desk, a laptop balanced precariously on a stack of documents and yellowing reference books.

Just inside the door, the handwritten labels on a set of oak filing cabinets catalogue Allen’s efforts at keeping his existential angst at bay: AliceCrimes and Misdemeanours; Love and DeathStardust Memories; Sweet and LowdownZelig.

Nearby, his battered green fishing hat – once intended as a disguise, but long-since established as a trademark – rests on a bookcase.

Allen leads the way into the screening theatre, a low-ceilinged room lit by chintzy wall sconces and swagged with velvet curtains, and takes a seat in a small revolving chair.

He is dressed in a familiar drab uniform – blue shirt, army surplus trousers and scuffed, heavy-soled black shoes – and his hair is now almost entirely white.

Softly spoken and diffident, often droll but rarely funny, he talks in the same halting cadences as his comic characters, but without their mannered delivery. He is also slightly deaf.

Even so, his work-rate remains frantic. When we meet, he is in the middle of final preparations to leave New York for Paris, where he will soon begin filming his next feature; he has recently returned from Cannes, where he screened his last, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger; but the movie he wants to discuss is the one before that, the Manhattan-set farce Whatever Works, which is now receiving a belated release in Britain.

It stars Larry David as quantum physicist Boris Yellnikoff, a failed suicide whose disgust and despair with the futility of existence is challenged by an improbable romance with Melody, a naive Southern runaway 50 years his junior.

Despite apparently obvious resonance with his own personal life – he has been married to Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter of his long-time girlfriend Mia Farrow, since 1997, when she was 27 and he was 61 – Allen insists that the movie is in no way autobiographical.

Indeed, he originally wrote the screenplay in the mid-Seventies, with Zero Mostel, the corpulent star of The Producers, in mind for the lead. When Mostel died in 1977, Allen put the script away in a drawer, where it remained until someone suggested that David would be good for the part.

‘All I had to do was change the topical references,’ he says. ‘But the script was the same – many, many years before I met my wife.’

Allen says that the idea that his films are autobiographical remains the most widespread misconception about him. For all the obvious parallels between his life and the fretting, hypochondriac, psychotherapy-fixated characters in his films, he maintains that the Woody Allen of popular imagination is simply a screen persona designed to get laughs.

He believes the second popular misconception about him is that he is an intellectual: ‘Which I’m completely not. I never read any books when I was younger, never had intellectual interests, flunked out of college in my freshman year with low marks. To this day, I much prefer watching a basketball game or baseball game to reading. I don't have any profound thoughts on anything,’ he says.

Any similarities between himself and a man of cerebral pursuits, he insists, are largely cosmetic. ‘These glasses,’ he tells me, and waggles his distinctive spectacles away from his face, ‘that’s what does it.’

This seems an unlikely claim. What about his films, with their metaphysical preoccupations? The references to Kierkegaard?

‘I’ve always been obsessed with mortality and subjects that are, by accident, more philosophical than topical. I would never want to make a film about gay rights, or abortion, or black civil liberties – they don’t interest me artistically.

'The things that interested me turned out to be philosophical themes: Why are we here? And why is it so terrible?’

Still, I suggest, these are hardly unintellectual concerns.

‘Well – they’re given more weight than…’ he trails off. ‘I mean, I have nothing to add to those subjects. I can only complain about them.’

It’s been some time since Allen has made a film that seemed daring, ambitious, or unmissable. The annual arrival of the new Woody Allen movie once prompted queues around the block at Manhattan cinemas and excited eager anticipation in Europe.

But in the early years of the new century, his ideas and box-office appeal both began to dwindle. And although both the recent Vicky Cristina Barcelona and the crime melodrama Match Point – which Allen considers the best movie of his career so far – performed well at the box office, the themes and significance of his work seem to have shrunk with age.

For many years now, Allen’s day-to-day life has been circumscribed, not merely by the boundaries of New York City, or even Manhattan, but by a handful of blocks surrounding his home on the Upper East Side.

‘I walk around my neighbourhood, and eat at restaurants in my neighbourhood, and play jazz at the Carlyle Hotel, just a few blocks from my house,’ he says.

‘And my cutting room is right in my neighbourhood. My kids go to school on the Upper East Side.’

Is it fair to say that he lives in a bubble?

‘I think that would be a fair criticism of me,’ he says equably.

What was the last film you saw that you really liked?

‘Oh, God. This is…’ he begins, and then considers the question for a long time in silence. ‘Hmm. Oh. Gee, I don’t know. I haven’t seen anything I loved recently, and I’ve seen a lot of pictures.’

Eventually, he gives up; later, he mentions that he enjoyed the French prison thriller Un Prophète; and the following day, through his assistant, he also recommends his friend Roman Polanski’s The Ghost.

Even the hi-tech spectacle of Avatar has passed him by. ‘The last 3D movie I saw,’ he says, and allows himself a little chuckle, ‘was the House of Wax.’

He has, however, heard good things about the James Cameron juggernaut: ‘Diane Keaton said it was just great and that, you know, the 3D was great.’

He remains, infamously, technophobic: ‘I’ve never emailed anyone in my life, or received an email. I wouldn’t know how to do that,’ he tells me. ‘I have no interest in it. I don’t own a computer, you know, or any of that stuff.’

Nevertheless, now that he has a young family – he and Soon Yi have two adopted daughters, Bechet, 12, and Manzie, 10, both named after jazz musicians – there are all kinds of baffling up-to-the-minute gee-gaws around the house.

‘Each one of them has a computer for school, and they work it. And one of them has a…’ he pauses for a moment, as if fixing his grasp on a prickly fragment of a foreign language, ‘Kindle.’ It’s a surprise, then, to find our conversation interrupted by a ringtone sounding from Allen’s trouser pocket, and see him pull out an iPhone.

When the call is finished – it was one of the girls – he explains why he made an exception for such a new-fangled device: he needs it to practise the clarinet when he travels.

‘When I go away to Paris, or to anyplace, I have 1,200 jazz records in this. So when I have to practise, I put on my earphones and I can play with all those New Orleans bands.’

Allen says that the relentless rehearsal, like the other rigid routines of his daily life, is driven as much by a fear of self-recrimination as by a love of music.

‘Yes, there are days when I feel, “Oh, I don’t want to practise today. I just don’t want to.” But the guilt, if I don’t, is not worth it.

'Same thing with the treadmill. I hate the treadmill like rat poison. But if I don’t do the treadmill, the guilt is too… you know, it’s too punishing.’

Hypochondria has been a part of the Woody Allen shtick since his days as a stand-up. But it’s easy to get the impression that he genuinely does live in a world of health-conscious self-abnegation. He rarely drinks alcohol, allowing himself only the occasional glass of wine with meals. For all his involvement in analysis, he has never taken any mood-altering medication: ‘I’ve never taken a Valium in my life, or a sleeping pill, or an antidepressant of any sort. I’ve never had Prozac – none of that nonsense.’

He loves meat, he says, but he rarely eats it. ‘I’ll have a steak twice a year. But the guilt afterward is not worth the pleasure of the meal.’

Asked what vices he might have, Allen replies ‘laziness’

. Part of the secret of his productivity is simply that he works very quickly: when he needs a new script idea, he chooses one from the hundreds of notes he has scrawled on scraps of paper and matchbooks over the years, and filed away in the middle drawer of the dresser in his bedroom, where he does all his writing.

Completing a comedy screenplay usually takes a month; a drama, three. Shooting is equally swift: and that’s where the laziness comes in.

‘If you look at guys who are not lazy,’ he says, ‘let’s say Steven Spielberg, or something – you know, they work. They go out on location somewhere, and they live in the desert for a year, or in some godforsaken country for ages, making a film. And they shoot every angle and do everything. I can’t do that. I don’t have the patience.’

Allen prefers to film in New York, Paris or London – ‘places that are easy to live in’ – where he casts experienced actors, gives them very little direction, encourages improvisation and tries to shoot every scene in as few takes as possible.

He hates night shoots and wants to be at home by six in the evening; towards the end of the day, if other members of the crew suggest doing more than one take, he often demurs.

‘I’m thinking, there’s a basketball play-off game on tonight, or the Yankees are playing. You know, artistic perfection is not my top priority.’

And yet he professes always to be dissatisfied when he examines what he has shot: ‘You always start out with great hopes. When I’m writing, laying at home in bed, where you don’t meet the test of reality, you know, you’re in your own home, and: “That’s great” and “Oh, this scene’s going to be fabulous” and “Wait till they see this” and “This is like Citizen Kane”.’

But every time the cameras start rolling, he discovers anew how difficult it is to make movies in the world beyond his bedroom: ‘Then, you’ve got to put up or shut up. You shoot and you make mistakes. You put the camera in the wrong place. And some of the scenes you wrote at home that you thought were so brilliant are not so brilliant. It’s always disappointing.’

He gestures towards the editing suite. ‘When we go from that room into this room, with the first cut of the picture, and put it up on the screen for the first time, it’s always like a cold shower,’ he says. ‘And all your grandiose ambitions reduce themselves to: How can I save this from being an embarrassment?’

Allen has felt this way about nearly every film he has ever made. After completing the now-seminal Manhattan he was so horrified by what he saw that he told the studio he would make another film for free to make up for it.

If he’s so constantly disappointed, why work so quickly? ‘Well, because it doesn’t…’ he begins. ‘You know, it’s the best I can do. I mean, it doesn’t come out any better if I work slow.’

Allen explains that in 1987, he completed September, a bleak Ingmar Bergman homage starring Mia Farrow.

‘I shot the entire film, edited it completely, put music in, put it in here, looked at it. And I said: “I’m going to start over and shoot this entire film again – I hate this”.’ Which was exactly what he did: reconvened the cast and shot everything once more from scratch, almost doubling its cost. ‘And the second version was not much better than the first version. And I knew it.’

Famously, he does not re-watch any of his films once they’re complete, and never has – he says if he did, he would notice only the myriad failures of his work.

At one point, I ask if he isn’t often so dissatisfied with what he produces that he wouldn’t mind if nobody at all ever saw them.

‘It’s a strange thought, that nobody would see them.’

Well you don’t see them.

‘I will say this: when I finish a film completely, there’s about a half dozen, maybe eight people, that I do want to see the movie.

'I will invite Diane Keaton here. I will invite some personal friends of mine, between six and 10, maximum. And once they’ve seen the picture, I don’t much care any more. That’s the fun that I get: to sit in here with Keaton, or my friends, and amuse or delight them with it. That gives me a kick. After that, it doesn’t matter to me.’

Allen will be 75 in December. Once, he says, he dreamed that he would become a great film-maker, like Kurosawa or Fellini. Today, he has largely abandoned that hope. ‘I’m not the great artist that I was certain I would be when I was younger,’ he tells me. ‘I still delude myself sometimes and think, “Well, maybe I’ll get lucky and something will come out like that.” But you know, after 40, 41 films, whatever – you start to realise: it’s just not there.’

None the less, he intends to continue working until his financing, or his health, gives out. For his next – Midnight in Paris, featuring Carla Bruni, Owen Wilson and Marion Cotillard – he says he has taken a little more care than usual over the script. As with every one of the others that has preceded it, he doesn’t hold out any great hopes for its public reception. For Allen, the way his films are received is just one more example of the extended and random cruelties of life.

‘I feel it’s a lose-lose proposition. If a film gets bad reviews, nobody comes. If a film gets good reviews, maybe people come, and maybe nobody comes. But it’s never, if it gets good reviews, then they really come. For me, it’s lose, and, you know… maybe.’

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December 22, 2012

Perfect Yin and Perfect Yang

Perfect Yin is stern and frigid;
Perfect Yang is bright and glittering.
The sternness and frigidity come forth from
Heaven, the brightness and glitter emerge
From the earth; the two mingle, penetrate,
Come together, harmonize,
and all things are born therefrom.

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September 1, 2012

Cinthio's Tale: The Source of Shakespeare's Othello

Shakespeare's primary source was a story in Giraldi Cinthio's Hecatommithi, published in 1565. The following is an 1855 translation by J. E. Taylor.

There once lived in Venice a Moor, who was very valiant and of a handsome person; and having given proofs in war of great skill and prudence, he was highly esteemed by the Signoria [Duke] of the Republic, who in rewarding deeds of valor advanced the interests of the state.
It happened that a virtuous lady of marvelous beauty, named Disdemona, fell in love with the Moor, moved thereto by his valor; and he, vanquished by the beauty and the noble character of Disdemona, returned her love; and their affection was so mutual that, although the parents of the lady strove all they could to induce her to take another husband, she consented to marry the Moor; and they lived in such harmony and peace in Venice that no word ever passed between them that was not affectionate and kind.

Now it happened at this time that the Signoria of Venice made a change in the troops whom they used to maintain in Cyprus, and they appointed the Moor commander of the soldiers whom they dispatched thither. Joyful as was the Moor at the honor proffered him, such dignity being only conferred on men of noble rank and well-tried faith, and who had displayed bravery in arms -- yet his pleasure was lessened when he reflected on the length and dangers of the voyage, fearing that Disdemona would be pained at his absence. But Disdemona, who had no other happiness in the world than the Moor, and who rejoiced to witness the testimony of his valor her husband received from so powerful and noble a republic, was all impatient that he should embark with his troops, and longed to accompany him to so honorable a post. And all the more it vexed her to see the Moor so troubled; and not knowing what could be the reason, one day, when they were at dinner, she said to him, "How is it, O Moor that when so honorable a post has been conferred on you by the Signoria, you are thus melancholy?"

The Moor answered Disdemona, "My pleasure at the honor I have received is disturbed by the love I bear you; for I see that of necessity one of two things must happen -- either that I take you to encounter the perils of the sea, or, to save you from this danger, I must leave you here in Venice. The first could not be otherwise than serious to me, for all the toil you would have to bear and every danger that might befall you would cause me extreme anxiety and pain, yet were I to leave you behind me, I should be hateful to myself, since in parting from you I should part from my own life."

Disdemona, on hearing this, replied: "My husband, what thoughts are these that wander through your mind? Why let such things disturb you? I will accompany you withersoe'er you go, were it to pass through fire, as not to cross the water in a safe and well-provided ship; if needed there are toils and perils to encounter, I will share them with you. And in truth I should think you loved me littler were you to leave me here in Venice, denying me to bear you company, or could believe that I would liefer [rather] bide [stay] in safety here than share the dangers that await you. Prepare then for the voyage with all the readiness which the dignity of the post you hold deserves."

The Moor, in the fullness of his joy, threw his arms around his wife's neck, and with an affectionate and tender kiss exclaimed, "God keep you long in such love, dear wife!" Then speedily donning his armor, and having prepared everything for his expedition, he embarked on board the galley with his wife and all his troops, and, setting sail, they pursued their voyage, and with a perfectly tranquil sea arrived safely at Cyprus.

Now amongst the soldiery there was an Ensign, a man of handsome figure, but of the most depraved nature in the world. This man was in great favor with the Moor, who had not the slightest idea of his wickedness; for, despite the malice lurking in his heart, he cloaked with proud and valorous speech and with a specious presence the villainy of his soul with such art that he was to all outward show another Hector or Achilles. This man had likewise taken with him his wife to Cyprus, a young, and fair, and virtuous lady; and being of Italian birth she was much loved by Disdemona, who spent the greater part of every day with her.

In the same Company there was a certain Captain of a troop, to whom the Moor was much affectioned. And Disdemona, for this cause, knowing how much her husband valued him, showed him proofs of the greatest kindness, which was all very grateful to the Moor. Now the wicked Ensign, regardless of the faith that he had pledged his wife, no less than of friendship, fidelity and obligation which he owed the Moor, fell passionately in love with Disdemona, and bent all his thoughts to achieve his conquest; yet he dared not to declare his passion openly, fearing that, should the Moor perceive it, he would at once kill him. He therefore sought in various ways, and with secret guile, to betray his passion to the lady; but she, whose every wish was centered in the Moor, had no thought for this Ensign more than any other man, and all the means he tried to gain her love had no more effect that if he had not tried them. But the Ensign imagined that the cause of his ill success was that Disdemona loved the Captain of the troop; and the love which he had borne the lady now changed into the bitterest hate, and, having failed in his purposes, he devoted all his thoughts to plot the death of the Captain of the troop and to divert the affection of the Moor from Disdemona. After revolving in his mind various schemes, all alike wicked, he at length resolved to accuse her of unfaithfulness to her husband, and to represent the Captain as her paramour. But knowing the singular love the Moor bore to Disdemona, and the friendship he had for the Captain, he was well aware that, unless he practiced an artful fraud upon the Moor, it were impossible to make him give ear to either accusation; and wherefore he resolved to wait until time and circumstance should open a path for him to engage in his foul project.

Not long afterwards it happened that the Captain, having drawn his sword upon a soldier of the guard, and struck him, the Moor deprived him of his rank; whereat Disdemona was deeply grieved, and endeavored again and again to reconcile her husband to the man. This the Moor told to the wicked Ensign, and how his wife importuned him so much about the Captain that he feared he should be forced at last to receive him back to service. Upon this hint the Ensign resolved to act, and began to work his web of intrigue. "Perchance," said he, "the lady Disdemona may have good reason to look kindly upon him."

"And wherefore?" said the Moor.

"Nay, I would not step 'twixt man and wife," replied the Ensign, `but let your eyes be witness to themselves."

In vain the Moor went on to question the officer -- he would proceed no further; nevertheless, his words left a sharp, stinging thorn in the Moor's heart, who could think of nothing else, trying to guess their meaning and lost in melancholy. And one day, when his wife had been endeavoring to pacify his anger toward the Captain, and praying him not to be unmindful of ancient services and friendship for one small fault, especially since peace had been made between the Captain and the soldier he had struck, the Moor was angered, and exclaimed, "Great cause have you, Disdemona, to care so anxiously about this man! Is he a brother, or your kinsman, that he should be so near your heart?"

The lady, with all gentleness and humility, replied, "Be not angered, my dear lord; I have no other cause to bid me speak than sorrow that I see you lose so dear a friend as, by your own words, this Captain has been to you; nor has he done so grave a fault that you should bear him so much enmity. Nay, but you Moors are of so hot a nature that every little trifle moves you to anger and revenge."

Still more enraged at these words, the Moor replied, "I could bring proofs -- by heaven it mocks belief! but for the wrongs I have endured revenge must satisfy my wrath."

Disdemona, in astonishment and fright, seeing her husband's anger kindled against her, so contrary to his wont, said humbly and with timidness, "None save a good intent has led me thus to speak with you, my lord; but to give cause no longer for offense, I'll never speak a word more on the subject."

The Moor, observing the earnestness with which his wife again pleaded for the Captain, began to guess the meaning of the Ensign's words; and in deep melancholy he went to seek the villain and induce him to speak more openly of what he knew. Then the Ensign, who was bent upon injuring the unhappy lady, after feigning at first great reluctance to say aught that might displease the Moor, at length pretended to yield to his entreaties, and said, "I can't deny it pains me to the soul to be thus forced to say what needs must be more hard to hear than any other grief; but since you will it so, and that the regard I owe your honor compels me to confess the truth, I will no longer refuse to satisfy your questions and my duty. Know, then, that for no other reason is your lady vexed to see the Captain in disfavor than the pleasure that she has in his company whenever he comes to your house, and all the more since she has taken an aversion to your blackness."

These words went straight to the Moor's heart; but in order to hear more (now that he believed true all that the Ensign had told him) he replied, with a fierce glance, "By heavens, I scarce can hold this hand from plucking out that tongue of thine, so bold, which dares to speak such slander of my wife!"

"Captain," replied the Ensign, "I looked for such reward for these my faithful offices -- none else; but since my duty, and the jealous care I bear your honor, have carried me thus far, I do repeat, so stands the truth, as you have heard it from these lips; and if the lady Disdemona hath, with a false show of love for you, blinded your eyes to what you should have seen, this is no argument but that I speak the truth. Nay, this same Captain told it me himself, like one whose happiness is incomplete until he can declare it to another; and, but that I feared your anger, I should have given him, when he told it me, his merited reward, and slain him. But since informing you of what concerns you more than any other man brings me so undeserved a recompense, would I had held my peace, since silence might have spared me your displeasure."

Then the Moor, burning with indignation and anguish, said, "Make thou these eyes self-witness of what thou tell'st or on thy life I'll make thee wish thou hadst been born without a tongue."

"An easy task it would have been," replied the villain, "when he was used to visit at your house; but now that you have banished him, not for just cause, but for mere frivolous pretext, it will be hard to prove the truth. Still, I do not forgo the hope to make you witness of that which you will not credit my lips."

Thus they parted. The wretched Moor, struck to the heart as by a barbed dart, returned to his home, and awaited the day when the Ensign should disclose to him the truth which was to make him miserable to the end of his days. But the evil-minded Ensign was, on his part, not less troubled by the chastity which he knew the lady Disdemona observed inviolate; and it seemed to him impossible to discover a means of making the Moor believe what he had falsely told him; and, turning the matter over in his thoughts in various ways, the villain resolved on a new deed of guilt.

Disdemona often used to go, as I have already said, to visit the Ensign's wife, and remained with her a good part of the day. Now, the Ensign observed that she carried about with her a handkerchief, which he knew the Moor had given her, finely embroidered in the Moorish fashion, and which was precious to Disdemona, nor less so to the Moor. Then he conceived the plan of taking this kerchief from her secretly, and thus laying the snare for her final ruin. The Ensign had a little daughter, a child three years of age, who was much loved by Disdemona, who took her and pressed her to her bosom; whilst at the same instant this traitor, who had extreme dexterity of hand, drew the kerchief from her sash so cunningly that she did not notice him, and overjoyed he took his leave of her.

Disdemona, ignorant of what had happened, returned home, and, busy with other thoughts, forgot the handkerchief. But a few days afterwards, looking for it and not finding it, she was in alarm, lest the Moor should ask her for it, as he oft was wont to do. Meanwhile, the wicked Ensign seizing a fit opportunity, went to the Captain of the troop, and with crafty malice left the handkerchief at the head of his bed without his discovering the trick until the following morning, when, on his getting out of bed, the handkerchief fell upon the floor, and he set his foot upon it. And not being able to imagine how it had come to his house, knowing that it belonged to Disdemona, he resolved to give it to her; and waiting until the Moor had gone from home, he went to the back door and knocked. It seemed as if fate conspired with the Ensign to work the death of the unhappy Disdemona. Just at that time the Moor returned home, and hearing a knocking at the back door, he went to the window, and in a rage exclaimed, "Who knocks there?" The Captain, hearing the Moor's voice, and fearing lest he should come downstairs and attack him, took to flight without answering a word. The Moor went down, and opening the door hastened into the street and looked about, but in vain. Then, returning into the house in great anger, he demanded of his wife who it was that had knocked at the door. Disdemona replied, as was true, that she did not know; but the Moor said, "It seemed to me the Captain."

"I know not," answered Disdemona, "whether it was he or another person."

The Moor restrained his fury, great as it was, wishing to do nothing before consulting the Ensign, to whom he hastened instantly, and told him all that had passed, praying him to gather from the Captain all he could respecting the affair. The Ensign, overjoyed at the occurrence, promised the Moor to do as he requested, and one day he took occasion to speak with the Captain when the Moor was so placed that he could see and hear them as they conversed. And whilst talking to him of every other subject than of Disdemona, he kept laughing all the time aloud, and feigning astonishment, he made various movements with his head and hands, as if listening to some tale of marvel. As soon as the Moor saw the Captain depart, he went up to the Ensign to hear what he had said to him. And the Ensign, after long entreaty, at length said, "He has hidden nothing from me and has told me that he has been used to visit your wife whenever you went from home, and that on the last occasion she gave him this handkerchief which you presented to her when you married her."

The Moor thanked the Ensign, and it seemed now clear to him, that should he find Disdemona not to have the handkerchief, it was all true that the Ensign had told to him. One day, therefore, after dinner, in conversation with his wife on various subjects, he asked her for the kerchief. The unhappy lady, who had been in great fear of this, grew red as fire at this demand; and to hide the scarlet of her cheeks, which was closely noted by the Moor, she ran to a chest and pretended to seek the handkerchief, and after hunting for it a long time, she said, "I know not how it is -- I cannot find it; can you, perchance, have taken it?"

"If I had taken it," said the Moor, "why should I ask it of you? But you will look better another time."

On leaving the room, the Moor fell to meditating how he should put his wife to death, and likewise the Captain of the troop, so that their deaths should not be laid to his charge. And as he ruminated over this day and night, he could not prevent his wife's observing that he was not the same towards her as he had been wont; and she said to him again and again, "What is the matter? What troubles you? How comes it that you, who were the most light-hearted man in the world, are now so melancholy?"

The Moor feigned various reasons in reply to his wife's questioning, but she was not satisfied, and, although conscious that she had given the Moor no cause, by act or deed, to be so troubled, yet she feared that he might have grown wearied of her; and she would say to the Ensign's wife, "I know not what to say of the Moor; he used to be all love towards me; but within these few days he has become another man; and much I fear that I shall prove a warning to young girls not to marry against the wishes of their parents, and that the Italian ladies may learn from me not to wed a man whose nature and habitude of life estrange from us. But as I know the Moor is on such terms of friendship with your husband, and communicates to him all of his affairs, I pray you, if you have heard from him aught that you may tell me of, fail not to befriend me." And as she said this, she wept bitterly.

The Ensign's wife, who knew the whole truth (her husband wishing to make use of her to compass the death of Disdemona), but could never consent to such a project, dared not, from fear of her husband, disclose a single circumstance: all she said was, "Beware lest you give any cause of suspicion to your husband, and show to him by every means your fidelity and love." "Indeed I do so," replied Disdemona, "but it is all of no avail."

Meanwhile the Moor sought in every way to convince himself of what he fain would have found untrue, and he prayed the Ensign to contrive that he might see the handkerchief in the Captain's possession. Though this was difficult for the villain, he promised nevertheless to use every means to produce the proof. Now the Captain had a woman at home who did wonderful embroidery work on fine linen, and when she saw the handkerchief which belonged to the Moor's wife, she resolved, before it was returned to her, to work one like it. As she was engaged in this task, the Ensign observed her standing at a window, where she could be seen by all the passer-bys in the street, and he pointed her out to the Moor, who was now perfectly convinced of his wife's guilt. Then he arranged with the Ensign to slay Disdemona and the Captain of the troop, treating them as it seemed they both deserved. And the Moor prayed the Ensign that he would kill the Captain, promising eternal gratitude to him. But the Ensign at first refused to undertake so dangerous a task, the Captain being a man of equal skill and courage; until at length, after much entreating and being richly paid, the Moor prevailed on him to promise to attempt the deed.

Having formed this resolution, the Ensign, going out one dark night, sword in hand, met the Captain on his way to visit a courtesan, and struck him a blow on his right thigh, which cut off his leg and felled him to the earth. Then the Ensign was on the point of putting an end to his life, when the Captain, who was a courageous man and used to the sight of blood and death, drew his sword, and, wounded as he was, kept on his defense, exclaiming with a loud voice, "I'm murdered!" Thereupon the Ensign, hearing the people come running up, with some of the soldiers who were lodged thereabouts, took to his heels to escape being caught; then turning about again, he joined the crowd, pretending to have been attracted by the noise. And when he saw the Captain's leg cut off, he judged that if not already dead, the blow must, at all events, end his life; and whilst in his heart he was rejoiced at this, yet he feigned to compassionate the Captain as he had been his brother.

The next morning the tidings of this affair spread through the whole city, and reached the ears of Disdemona; whereat she, who was kindhearted and little dreamed that any ill would betide her, evinced the greatest grief at the calamity. This served but to confirm the Moor's suspicions, and he went to seek the Ensign, and said to him, "Do you know that my wife is in such grief at the Captain's accident that she is well nigh gone mad?"

"And what could you expect, seeing he is her very soul?" replied the Ensign.

"Ay, soul forsooth!" exclaimed the Moor; "I'll draw the soul from out her body; call me no man if that I fail to shut the world upon this wretch."

Then they consulted of one means and another -- poison and daggers -- to kill poor Disdemona, but could resolve on nothing. At length the Ensign said, "A plan comes to my mind, which will give you satisfaction and raise cause for no suspicion. It is this: the house in which you live is very old, and the ceiling of your chamber has many cracks; I purpose we take a stocking, filled with sand, and beat Disdemona with it till she dies; thus will her body bear no signs of violence. When she is dead we can pull down a portion of the ceiling, and thus make it seem as if a rafter falling on her head had killed the lady. Suspicion cannot rest on you, since all men will impute her death to accident."

This cruel counsel pleased the Moor, and he only waited for a fitting time to execute the plot. One night, when he and Disdemona had retired to bed, the Ensign, whom the Moor had concealed in a closet which opened into the chamber, raised a noise in the closet, according to a concerted plan; whereat the Moor said to his wife, "Did you not hear that noise?"

"Indeed I heard it," she replied.

"Rise," said the Moor, "and see what 'tis."

The unhappy Disdemona rose from the bed, and the instant she approached the closet, out rushed the Ensign, and being strong and stout of nerve, he beat her cruelly with the bag of sand across her back; upon which Disdemona fell to the ground, scarce able to draw her breath; but with the little voice she had left, she called upon the Moor for aid. But the Moor, leaping from bed, exclaimed, "Thou wickedest of women, thus has thy falseness found its just reward, the recompense to wives who, counterfeiting love, place horns upon their husbands' brows."

The wretched lady, hearing those words, and feeling that she was near her end (for the Ensign had given her another blow), appealed to the justice of Heaven, since justice here had failed her, in proof of her fidelity and truth; and as she was thus calling Heaven to witness, the wicked Ensign inflicted a third blow, under which she sank lifeless to the floor.

Then the Ensign and the Moor, laying Disdemona on the bed and wounding her head, pulled down part of the ceiling of the chamber, as they had arranged; whereupon the Moor began to call aloud for help, exclaiming that the house was falling. Hearing this uproar, the neighbors all came running up, and there found Disdemona lying dead beneath a rafter -- a sight which, from the good life of that poor lady, did fill all hearts with sorrow.

On the following day Disdemona was buried, followed to the grave by the universal grief of the people. But Heaven, the just rewarder of all hearts, willed not that so wicked a deed should go unpunished. Ere long the Moor, whom Disdemona had loved more than her own life, began to feel such sorrow at her loss that he went wandering about as one bereft of reason, searching in every part of the house. And reflecting in his thoughts that the Ensign had been the cause that he had lost, with Disdemona, all joy in life, he conceived so deep a hatred to that wicked man he could not bear to set eyes on him, and had it not been for his fear of the inviolable justice of the Signoria of Venice, he would have slain him openly. But being unable to do this with safety, he deprived him of his rank, and would not allow him to remain in his Company; whereat such an enmity arose between the two that no greater or more deadly can be imagined.

The Ensign, that wickedest of all bad men, now turned his thought to injuring the Moor; and seeking out the Captain, whose wound was by this time healed, and who went about with a wooden leg in place of the one that had been cut off, he said to him, " 'Tis time you should be avenged for your lost limb; and if you will come with me to Venice, I'll tell you who the malefactor is, whom I dare not mention to you here for many reasons; and I will bring you proofs."

The Captain of the troop, whose anger returned fiercely but without knowing why, thanked the Ensign, and went with him to Venice. On arriving there the Ensign told him it was the Moor who had cut off his leg, on account of the suspicion he had formed of Disdemona's conduct with him; and for that reason he had slain her, and then spread the report that the ceiling had fallen and killed her. Upon hearing which, the Captain accused the Moor to the Signoria, both of having cut off his leg and killed his wife, and called the Ensign to witness the truth of what he said. The Ensign declared both charges to be true, for that the Moor had disclosed to him the whole plot, and had tried to persuade him to perpetrate both crimes; and that, having afterwards killed his wife out of jealousy he had conceived, he had narrated to him the manner in which he had perpetrated her death.

The Signoria of Venice, when they heard of the cruelty inflicted by a barbarian upon a lady of their city, commanded the Moor should be arrested in Cyprus, and be brought to Venice, where, with many tortures, they sought to draw from him the truth. But the Moor, bearing with unyielding courage all the torment, denied the whole charge so resolutely that no confession could be drawn from him. But, although by his constancy and firmness he escaped death, he was, after being confined for several days in prison, condemned to perpetual banishment, in which he was eventually slain by the kinsfolk of Disdemona, as he merited.

The Ensign returned to his own country, and, following up his wonted villainy, he accused one of his companions of having sought to persuade him to kill an enemy of his, who was a man of noble rank; whereupon this person was arrested and put to the torture; but the Ensign was likewise tortured to make him prove the truth of his accusations; and he was tortured so that his body ruptured, upon which he was removed from prison and taken home, where he died a miserable death. Thus did Heaven avenge the innocence of Disdemona; and all these events were narrated by the Ensign's wife, who was privy to the whole, after his death, as I have told them here.
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July 4, 2012

For whom the bell tolls

John Donne
Meditation 17
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

"No man is an iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee...."
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May 12, 2012

Student at Oxford University apologises for leaving unborn children on pool table

An Oxford University student has apologised after leaving sperm on a pool table. Shocked students at the university’s posh Jesus College were sickened when they spotted a dodgy stain on the green baize. The college’s Junior Common Room team launched an investigation to find the culprit after the white blotch appeared two weeks ago.

Last week an anonymous letter from the student responsible has now been sent to the college. The student said he was sorry for leaving ”two teaspoons of my unborn children”. It read: ”The pool table is a piece of equipment that facilitates a multitude of complex, enjoyable and satisfying cue sports, among them pool, snooker and billiards.

”It is not, therefore, an appropriate place for me to deposit two teaspoons of my unborn children.” The JCR has now framed the letter which is displayed next to the pool table.

Student Declan Clowry, 19, who attends Jesus College, said: ”I think it’s good that he had the balls to come clean. I just hope it doesn’t become a cue for more unorthodox potting in the JCR pool room.” Another student added: ”I’m a little bit impressed by the guy. Nobody thought he had it in him.”
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May 7, 2012

Lack of outdoor life blamed for high rate of myopia among East Asian kids

From: AFP May 04, 2012 10:12AM

SNUBBING the outdoors for books, video games and TV is the reason up to nine in 10 school-leavers in big East Asian cities are near-sighted, according to a new study.

Neither genes nor the mere increase in activities like reading and writing is to blame, the researchers suggest, but a simple lack of sunlight.

Exposure to the sun's rays is believed to stimulate production of the chemical dopamine, which in turn stops the eyeball from growing elongated and distorting the focus of light entering the eye.

“It's pretty clear that it is bright light stimulating dopamine release which prevents myopia,” researcher Ian Morgan of the Australian National University said of the findings published in The Lancet medical journal.

Yet the average primary school pupil in Singapore, where up to nine in 10 young adults are myopic, spent only about 30 minutes outdoors every day - compared to three hours for children in Australia where the myopia prevalence among children of European origin is about 10 per cent.

The figure in Britain was about 30 to 40 per cent and in Africa “virtually none” - in the range of two to three per cent, according to Professor Morgan.

More than other groups, children in East Asia “basically go to school, they don't go outside at school, they go home and they stay inside. They study and they watch television,” the scientist said.

The most myopic school-leavers in the world are to be found in cities in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, where between 80 and 90 per cent were affected.

Of these, 10 to 20 per cent had a condition called high myopia, which can lead to blindness.

“Most of what we've seen in East Asia is due to the environment, it is not genetic,” said Professor Morgan, contrary to the common belief 50 years ago.

The researchers, collating the findings of studies from around the world, stressed that being a bookworm or computer geek does not in itself put you at risk.

“As long as they get outside it doesn't seem to matter how much study they do,” explained Professor Morgan.

“There are some kids who study hard and get outside and play hard and they are generally fine. The ones who are at major risk are the ones who study hard and don't get outside.”

The scientist said children who spent two to three hours outside every day were “probably reasonably safe”. This could include time spent on the playground and walking to and from school.

“The amount of time they spend on computer games, watching television can be a contributing factor. As far as we can tell it is not harmful in itself, but if it is a substitute for getting outside, then it is,” said Professor Morgan.

He said ways must be found to get children to spend more time in reasonably bright daylight without compromising their schooling.

“It is going to require some sort of structural change in the way a child's time is organised in East Asia because there is so much commitment to schooling and there is also a habit of taking a nap at lunchtime, which is from our perspective prime myopia prevention time.”

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February 15, 2012

As Its Single Ranks Swell, Japan Wonders 'Where's the Love?'

As Its Single Ranks Swell, Japan Wonders 'Where's the Love?'
By LUCY BIRMINGHAM / TOKYO Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012

Dai Nakajima wouldn't mind a girlfriend. At 28, he's starting to feel pressure to settle down. Not short of gumption, he approaches girls on the streets of Tokyo's trendy districts and asks if they'd like to join his weekly gokon parties. Like blind dating in a group, these singles-only meet-ups are designed to help people connect and, ideally, exchange numbers. He admits that his street success rate is only about 10%, but says that's enough to keep him going. "I've been looking for four years," he says. "But to be honest, I'm enjoying my single life."

Nakajima is single, yes, but not alone. "Not dating," "single" and "no real need to get married" were the surprising majority of responses in a government-sponsored 2011 survey of men and women ages 18 to 34. A record-high 61.4% of unmarried men had no girlfriend, up 9.2 points since the previous survey in 2005. Unmarried women with no boyfriend hit a record 49.5%, up nearly 5 points. Among the 40% who said there was no need to get married, 45% of the men said they have no particular interest in "dating the opposite sex." (Comparable figures on same-sex relationships are not available.) This ambivalence has sparked fears that Japan's birthrate and, indeed, its economy, will continue to flag.

It is still unclear what, exactly, is behind the country's changing dating and marriage patterns. However, anecdotal evidence suggests shifting gender norms and new economic realities are playing a role. Along with labels like otaku (geek) and hikikomori (shut-ins), young Japanese men are often derisively called "herbivores" for shunning so-called manly pursuits. Meanwhile, more Japanese women are entering the workforce, earning wages and enjoying increased economic freedom.

Take Keiko Kamijinaka. Kamijinaka, 32, has a boyfriend but says she is in no rush to tie the knot. Bright, attractive and ambitious, she has been diligently climbing the corporate ladder for the past 10 years and recently topped off her impressive skills with an M.B.A. "Nowadays even men and women in their late 30s and 40s are finding good partners and getting married," she says.

Long working hours and a shy personality have slowed Haruna Okado's marriage prospects. Now 38, and with a new, less demanding job, she's recently embarked on an aggressive search via singles-only parties, coed cooking classes, "mixed" mountain climbing and konkatsu (overnight sightseeing trips). "It keeps me busy every weekend," she beams, confident that she'll finally find someone. To offset the cost of her new venture, though, she had to move in with her mom.

Tatsuya Waida, 43, will also be living with his parents when he returns to Japan this month after six years of studying law and English in Seattle. "I'd like to get married now," he admits. "At my age, though, it'll be tough to find a decent-paying job in Japan. Women want a man with a good income."

But this, too, is changing, says Mikiko Matsumoto of O-Net, one of Japan's biggest matchmaking services. There was a time, she says, when Japanese women "wanted a man making about $100,000. Now they'll go for a combined income of $50,000 to 60,000." After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disasters, O-Net's membership jumped 30% from the same period a year before. "People realized the importance of marriage and family," she explains. But, she says, more couples also split.

Indeed, divorce is also fueling the singles boom. In 2007, the number of divorces initiated by women surged after a new law granted wives half their soon-to-be-ex-husband's pension after retirement. Keiko Kamijinaka counts among her friends several women who married early, had kids and divorced, but are doing fine as a single breadwinner. "Being divorced [in Japan] doesn't have the negative image it used to have," she explains. And many don't want to marry again, she adds. "Too much trouble."

For Ken Suzuki, 68, marrying again was worth the hassle. He divorced his wife of 25 years in 2009, and soon after, he married a woman he met through Akanekai, a matchmaking service catering mainly to over-50 singles. "Couples were expected to endure a kamen fufu [loveless marriage], but now attitudes are changing," he explains. "I'm 80% happy, and that's enough for me," he says. "A perfect marriage is impossible." Perhaps that's why a growing number of Japanese are opting to be imperfectly happy alone.

Read more:,8599,2106704,00.html#ixzz1mN6D3jsB
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December 6, 2011

NASA's Kepler Mission Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-like Star


NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the "habitable zone," the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.

The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don't yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.

Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.

"This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth's twin," said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Kepler's results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA's science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe."

Kepler discovers planets and planet candidates by measuring dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars to search for planets that cross in front, or "transit," the stars. Kepler requires at least three transits to verify a signal as a planet.

"Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet," said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the team that discovered Kepler-22b. "The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season."

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planet candidates the spacecraft finds. The star field that Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. The planet's host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.

Of the 54 habitable zone planet candidates reported in February 2011, Kepler-22b is the first to be confirmed. This milestone will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The Kepler team is hosting its inaugural science conference at Ames Dec. 5-9, announcing 1,094 new planet candidate discoveries. Since the last catalog was released in February, the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler has increased by 89 percent and now totals 2,326. Of these, 207 are approximately Earth-size, 680 are super Earth-size, 1,181 are Neptune-size, 203 are Jupiter-size and 55 are larger than Jupiter.

The findings, based on observations conducted May 2009 to September 2010, show a dramatic increase in the numbers of smaller-size planet candidates.

Kepler observed many large planets in small orbits early in its mission, which were reflected in the February data release. Having had more time to observe three transits of planets with longer orbital periods, the new data suggest that planets one to four times the size of Earth may be abundant in the galaxy.

The number of Earth-size and super Earth-size candidates has increased by more than 200 and 140 percent since February, respectively.

There are 48 planet candidates in their star's habitable zone. While this is a decrease from the 54 reported in February, the Kepler team has applied a stricter definition of what constitutes a habitable zone in the new catalog, to account for the warming effect of atmospheres, which would move the zone away from the star, out to longer orbital periods.

"The tremendous growth in the number of Earth-size candidates tells us that we're honing in on the planets Kepler was designed to detect: those that are not only Earth-size, but also are potentially habitable," said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif. "The more data we collect, the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer orbital periods."

NASA's Ames Research Center manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development.

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters.
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