Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Aesop’s Foibles # 8 The Frogs Who Desired A King

This is the story of frogs who lived in a pond. They lead peaceful enough lives and spent their livelong day leaping from one lotus leaf to another and croaking the same gossips with each other day after day. They, as all creatures are, lived under constant fear of the dangers that an awesome and despotic Mother Nature holds over them. But that’s life.

It would have been fine if life continued as it did but it was not to be because the frogs, after a while, became discontented with the tedium that they had to go through each day. So they called out to the mighty god Zeus to send them a king who can change their boring and tiresom existence. Now, the deities during that time were not of the benevolent kind. Zeus who was the mightiest of them all was whimsical and prone to playing cruel pranks to the mortal creatures in their midst. Zeus was amused by the frogs’ request and playfully sent down a big log crashing down their pond and with a thunderous voice said “Behold your King!” The splashing entrance of their new monarch terrified the frogs and most of them cowered and hid under the lotus leaves and reeds that lined the pond. After a while, seeing that the log just stayed there unmoving except for occasional undulations they swam towards it and climbed up, warily at first but finding that the King was an unmoving, ineffective and unthreatening ruler they all burst in exhuberant and anarchic show of disrespect. They again troubled Zeus with a request to find them another king since this one was ineffectual and did not help improve their lot. Annoyed by this incessant discontent Zeus sent a stork who in no time at all gobbled up the frogs in the pond. The frogs cried out to Zeus to send them another king but to this the god of gods refused.

The simple moral of this fable is “be careful with what you wish for”.
How aptly this fable applies to us Filipinos except that in our case after rejecting the harmless but ineffective ruler Zeus sent us hungry storks in succession each one more avid and rapacious than the ones before. The moral lesson to us is “wala kang kadaladala”.

No wonder Some of the frogs finding the situation unbearable leapfrogged to other ponds where they stayed, although as second class reptiles, but unthreatened by the spectre of a gigantic stork whose appetite for frog’s legs is insatiable.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Jun Lozada

At last the detractors and enemies of GMA have found somebody who can inflict a lethal blow on the administration in the person of Jun Lozada. The opposition, the left wing, the cause oriented, the mercenary, the media owned by the vested interests and the clergy are single minded in vesting on him the cloak of martyrdom, heroism and inclusive of sainthood regardless of evidences showing that he is of the same ilk as those whom he has implicated in his sensational expose’. The opportunity to use the Jun Lozada revelations in destroying administration is too good to pass up. These groups need to shore up the credibility of the prized whistle blower and would not stop at employing all sorts of machinations, plots, dissemination of misinformation and other deceptions to further their goals of discrediting the Arroyo government.

I am not taking the side of the Arroyos in this unfortunate event and am inclined to believe that there is basis for all the accusations hurled in the ZTE deal. It’s just that I am amused at the antics of both the supposed allies of the president and the senate inquisitors together with its allies in the periphery. Truth is nowhere present in the shouting matches, in the theatrics reminiscent of zarzuelas, the histrionics of the main protagonists and the hiss of lies through gnashed teeth.

Last night I watched “Harapan” a program produced by ABS CBN. This was supposed to be an open confrontation between Lozada and the people he had implicated in the ZTE deal.

Jun Lozada must have had a drama coach who taught him Stanislavski’s method acting discipline which have made movie stars like Marlon Brando, James Dean, Joanne Woodward et al do very convincing portrayals of the characters that they have played. His crying prowess exceeds even those of Tessie Agana’s of Roberta fame. Even his facial contortions, designed to elicit pity and sympathy for an underdog, rivals that of Joe de Venecia’s built in sad sack expression which was eloquently displayed in recent events. The stutters and the staccato delivery of his statements are a speech tutor’s pride. The wardrobe department was an example of great consistency and continuity. The T-shirt during the ABS CBN “Harapan” telecast was a stroke of genius. Here was Jun Lozada, the doormat…the poor Chinese “mestizong intsik” in an ill fitting, conspicuously announced unwashed T-shirt, from the province face to face with the well dressed panel members of the opposing team. One of them could not help but comment, in no mean terms, that he felt that they were set up into a situation where they served as backdrop for the poor crying little lost boy to create a picture of being ganged up by the bully henchmen of GMA. Another said that they were made to believe that the confrontation was to be a one on one and not a ganging up on a piteous somebody who was dressed up as a turkey in a turkey shoot.

To cap the program the last set of panel members were from the groups sympathetic to Jun Lozada. There was an eminent member of the Makati Businessmen’s Club who earlier was adamant that a friend and colleague was mentioned but soon was placated when Jun Lozada said that it was an inadvertent mention, a student leader from the NUSP a religious leader who all waxed poetic in their praises of Jun Lozada’s heroism and honesty expressing their undivided support no matter what. The not too eloquent businessman supposedly close to GMA was the hapless object of the contrast created by this final panel. He was implicated by Jun Lozada in the ZTE deal and was the only opposing voice in the final panel. He did not bother to elaborate but said that he will let the court decide in a hinted libel suit, a point not lost to the religious leader who mentioned that their hero was being pilloried by legal cases against him.

The program might have employed, wittingly or unwittingly, a ruse which is known as an order sequence bias where the series of events are sequenced to lead to a favored conclusion. It is no secret where the sentiment of ABS CBN lies.

If I were to rate the program I would give it the thumbs down. It was a model of excess in most production values. The sledgehammer approach at delivering messages was employed to the hilt. Subtlety was thrown out of the window and drama was overplayed much like a soap opera formula which makes for good ratings but abuses the sensibilities and intelligence of a more discerning audience. Television producers, not only of ABS CBN, deserve well their appellation as “connoisseurs of trash”.

I am sure that the President’s team is as bad as the other side and would not hesitate to employ their own brand of filth coming from their dirty tricks department. I am just making a comment on the most recent soap opera in the tube that make boobs of all of us all the time.

The histrionics of Jun Lozada, although a tad overdone, segued quite smoothly to a chorus, an epode to a Greek tragedy or comedy. Tragic or comic? decide.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Aesop’s Foibles #7 Belling the cat

Aesop’s fable about mice and their nemesis, a terrorizing cat, is one of my favorites. They were at constant discussions on how to neutralize this threat and have had several meetings to come up with a plan to achieve this. It is something I can relate to because the situation is similar to what one encounters in corporate life. Having been a corporate person in most of my working years the fable brings back memories of endless brainstorming sessions and committee meetings that I have organized or have been a part of in the varied posts in my career.

The fable is about a discussion of the elders in a mouse community on how to nullify the threat of a ferocious cat who was menacing their daily lives.

The cat was an extraordinarily stealthy one and in not so few instances have their furry fellowmice been caught in pantry raids. Their cheese reserves were at their lowest level and would not last a week. Faced with the dire prospect of starvation they convened the best and most experienced minds in their midst to form a committee to address the problem.

They were hellbent on producing the best laid plans of mice and... Plan after plan were broached and strategies were tossed around and bruited about. They reviewed Tom and Jerry situations, formulated feline repellant chemicals, designed doomsday machines and one even suggested forming a delegation to convince Mighty Mouse, to pick up their cause. None of these ideas seemed worthwhile besides Mighty Mouse lived in another country and the time and expense necessary to send emissaries was beyond their means.

Near exhaustion from days of incessant and raucuous debates the enthusiasm of the committee was beginning to wane and the conference room was shrouded with an ominous quiet, with not a creature was stirring except for one fidgety mouse who seemed at the verge of an eruption. “Eureka!” he shouted, “I have finally come up with the answer to all our woes”.

The idea was a marvel of simplicity. “Let’s bell the cat!” he said, and one mouse recognizing the genius of the plan stood up and repeated “Let’s bell the cat!” then another followed suit…”Let’s bell the cat!” and soon the room echoed with the phrase “Let’s bell the cat!” There was exultation all around, then from the corner of the room a sqeaky voice rang loudlly “Who will put the bell on the cat? he asked.

The fable ends here with the moral lesson “It is one thing to suggest and another thing to do. It is easy to propose impossible remedies.”

In present day corporate situations a big boss may come up with the big idea along the mold suggested by a very popular management book, Built To Last, by Porras and Collins. The authors refer to it as BHAG or big, hairy, audacious goals. Similarly, Chris Lowny in his management book Heroic Leadership refers to as heroic goals from the Jesuit Spiritual Exercises (magis) which endeavors to achieve even greater achievements "for His greater glory" majorem Dei gloriam.

  A great idea, a BHAG, a magis... but difficult to implement. Being the boss nobody dared question the wisdom of the proposed plan. He delegates this to his subalterns who do not seem to have any choice but to make good the plan. When queried about the difficulty of the plan the boss rages and tells them “I can’t do everything here. I gave you a big idea now go ahead and make it work!” Afraid for their careers they make a go of it and succeeds. This really happens in the board rooms of large corporations where a seemingly despotic CEO challenges his vice presidents and operations heads to achieve impossible goals unquestioningly and resolutely. In most business successes dogged determination is key.

This changes the moral lesson somewhat to “if there’s a will there’s a way” or “to reap success you have to think the unthinkable”.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Aesop’s Foibles #6 The Fox and the Grapes

The fable about the fox and the high hanging grapes is one of the more popular tales of Aesop. This is were the idiomatic expression “sour grapes” has been derived which meant denying one’s desire for an object that one has failed to get.

It was during one hot summer day that a fox espied high up in a grape vine a bunch of luscious looking grapes that was tantalizingly hanging at an almost reachable distance from the ground. As foxes are wont to do he circled the ground below the grape cluster and thought how sweet it would be to slake his thirst and assuage his growing discomfort made by the heat of an oppressive midday sun.

He made attempts at doing running jumps towards the cluster but missed the bunch by a few inches. His desire for the grapes increased at each unsuccesful attempt. By the end of more than a dozen tries he took a critical look at grapes and finding a slight tinge of green he decided that the grapes must be sour and moved on.

The moral of the story is … “ it is easy to despise something that you cannot get.”

These days sour graping is considered as a negative behavior and the fox having done so would be considered as someone who indulges in destructive criticism. On the other hand sour graping may be a natural defense mechanism to cope with disappointments. Making little of what one is not able to get is rationalization. It provides a psychological cushion to soften the impact of the denial of the desired object and necesssarily may be a good thing. It negates the value of the lost opportunity and it provides the optimism that the next grape bunch will be sweet.

The moral could then be… if at first you don’t succeed, the next opportunity will be better than what you have missed.”

Aesop’s Foibles #5 The Cat and the Mice

This fable tells of the eternal strife between rodents and felines.

In a cottage lived a farmer and his wife. They led a good life as the farmer’s crops were often bumper ones. They were well off so their pantry was always full of good things to eat. They stocked up on bread, cheese, legs of ham and all sorts of sweetmeats. It was virtually a Cornucopia of the best edibles one could find and because of this mice were attracted by the bountiful food situation that a whole colony of them settled in the nooks and crannies of the cottage.

It would have been a rodent’s paradise were it not for the mistresses’ cat who lorded it over the open areas of the house. An efficient mouser, he had all the resident mice fearsome for their lives because the cat knew all the tricks to lure them into the open. He caught several of them while the rest retreated into their holes. His favorite ruse was to lie idle for long spells as if dead and when the mice are put off their guard he would pounce on the unsuspecting ones. After a while the mice wised up on the cat’s guiles and never left the safety of their holes.

The intended moral of the story is the wise is not fooled by the innocence of those who have been previously found dangerous.

The story could not end happily for the mice who have wised up on the cat’s tricks.

What happened is that the survivor mice have become psychologically maimed by their bad experience with the cat and led the rest of their lives in seclusion, living miserably in dark burrows, a fate which could be worst than death. True that they did not fall for cat’s ruses anymore but the anxiety that the cat is alive and always there waiting for them to emerge from their dark burrows have made them captives of their own fears.

To lead a full life one must overcome his fears. To paraphrase one of JFK’s famous lines…”mice (man) is not made for safe havens”.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Aesop’s Foibles #4 The Dog In the Manger

There was once a dog who lived in a farm. He shared the place with other farm creatures. Amidst the clucking and crowing of the roosters and the hens, the incessant lowing of the cows and the oxen and the bleating ewes and rams the dog couldn’t find a place where he could have a restful nap. The farm was like a regular Tower of Babel wherein all sorts of animal talk clash and try to outshout each other.

As he walked about looking for a corner in the farm that would have some peace and quiet he chanced upon a manger filled with newly baled hay. All the bovine residents were out in pasture and he was left by his lone some in the barn. He couldn’t resist the beckoning of the warm soft hay in the manger and so he laid himself gently on the hay and fell into a deep sleep.

When the cows and the oxen returned to the barn they grunted angrily upon seeing someone sleeping atop their meal. The dog woke up with a start and began snarling and barking at the cattle who roused him from his sleep. His ferocity kept the hulking creatures at bay. He seemed to have protected the hay from being eaten even though he himself could not eat it. This led to the ox muttering the moral of this fable… “People often begrudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves”

The fable concludes unfairly for the dog. It’s quite clear that the motive behind the dog’s belligerence was not to begrudge the cattle their fodder. It could have been the rude rousing from his rest, in which case the moral should have been… “biruin mo na ang lasing wag lang ang bagong gising”. It is either that or it is just a basic instinct for territorial imperative that all animals are heir to.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Aesop’s Foibles #3 The Lion and the Mouse

There was once a teeny weeny mouse who accidentally fell into a crack in the crevice of a lion’s cave and landed squarely onto the nose of the king of the beasts. The lion woke up with a starle and found himself face to face with the little intruder who clung to his furry face paralyzed by fear. As the fable goes the lion threatended to eat the mouse but through frantic pleas for forgiveness and promises to return the favor someday the lion relented. Besides he humbly told the lion that he is not worthy to stain the royal paws of the monarch with his plebeian blood.

Once freed from the lion’s clutches the mouse, in retrospect, felt that he was completely humiliated by the incident. He had degraded himself into a sniveling and cowardly runt of a creature not even a mouse deserved to be one and all for what? …to avoid the tyranny of might…to avoid being squashed…all because of his accidentally falling into the lion’s den. He couldn’t see the justice in all that has transpired.

As fate would have it the lion was captured by hunters and he was held down blanketed by a heavy rope net which was tethered to a large acacia tree. The lion roars into the jungle as if summoning all his subjects in the animal kingdom to come to his succor.

In the original story the little mouse feeling beholden to the lion because he was set free rushed to his rescue by gnawing at the ropes and consequently gaining him freedom. Thus leading to the moral lessons “Little friends may prove to be great friends” or “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted”.

But the little mouse in this version of the fable did not feel that he is under any obligation to help the lion in his distress. In fact he had an ax to grind with the lion for having made him debase himself and reduced his mousehood to nil.

The little mouse went to the scene of the lion’s capture. In the middle of the night he quietly crept towards the lion in the rope net. The lion upon seeing him heaved a sigh of relief. At last a faithful subject had come to the rescue. The mouse clambered up to the face of lion and as he got himself facing the lion’s nose gave it a hefty bite. The lion roared in pain and heaving his head the mouse was thrown out of the net landing in a grassy patch under the acacia tree. He scurried home a happy mouse.

No one pays fealty to the arrogance of the mighty.

Aesop’s Foibles # 2 The Ants and the Grasshopper

Aesop’s fable about the ants and the grasshopper is set in the merry season of Spring when the whole surroundings seem to be bursting with greens and the air buzzing with frivolity of insects fluttering about.
A grasshopper was merrily leaping from one leafy cluster to another sampling the newly sprouted leaves atop rosebushes that lined the front porch of a humble but pretty looking country house.

He was making happy chatter with his mandibles as he nibbled and spat the fresh shoots of grass and other young plants. Springtime was awash with verdant foliage and there was no end to feasting from one happy day to another. He was picking the most succulent leaf bits and throwing out the less tender and bland tasting ones and was making such a racket with the endless chirping sound of his busy mouth and was creating an enormous litter of unwanted leaves that a troop of ants nearby busily hauling away food to a mound chided him.

“Look here you wastrel you, don’t you ever worry about a thing?” they shouted.

“Soon it will be winter and this bountiful food will vanish. All these greenery will transform into cold, dreary and barren whiteness. What then will you have for food?”

The grasshopper just looked at the sullen and serious ants straining to pull their load up the steep mound then returned to his seemingly irresponsible leisure.

There was a similarity in the earnestness of the ants obsessive toiling and the reckless abandon in the grasshopper’s spree. It was as if the grasshopper was lusting for life and desperately needed to live every single moment.

Soon winter came and as it was in the fable the grasshopper lay dying. The ants gathered around him and with a smirk in their faces rebuked him for his idleness and irresponsibility.

“Didn’t we tell you so”, they muttered in unison.

“Look here you self righteous fools I am not asking you for food. I am not dying of hunger. I am dying because all grasshoppers die in the span of a year.”

The moral of this fable is not so much that industry pays but that of not making hasty judgment of other people.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Aesop's Foibles # 1 The Turtle and the Hare

This is the inside story of Aesop’s popular fable of the race between the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise plods on slowly but never missing a forward step while the hare supremely confident does a lot of meandering knowing full well that there is no way he could lose.

The tortoise moves on through life with his face almost touching ground but resolutely moving forward oblivious of everything that goes on around him. He is engrossed with the idea of finishing the race. There was a vague idea of competition in his mind for he knew that he could never be a winner against the hare but he is determined to make something out of his life in his own way. It is this idea of finishing the race that he had put mind and soul behind. He had not thought of anything else. His head was bowed and close to the ground so as not to be distracted by extraneous delights along the way.

The hare, on the other hand, was similarly half aware that he was in competition with the tortoise. He felt the absurdity of the notion of being in a race with a creature biologically inferior to him when it comes to a foot race. He was a regular gadabout who flitted from one diversion to another, never for a moment thinking that there was this totoise who put up a challenge against him to reach a goal towards a certain distance. He was happy traipsing around flower paths and revisiting favorite haunts and all the while enjoying himself. He would at times be very safely ahead of the tortoise and at times back track a few miles and be sorely behind. But this did not matter to him knowing full well that there really was no contest.

At the end of the fable the tortoise wins because the hare, only at the last moment, became reminded of the race and made a token effort but was too late in catching up. The tortoise had crossed the finish line when the hare decided to make a game of it. But no matter, the hare did not care whether he lost or won. Losing some and winning some was how life was. The losses make the wins seem more glorious and exceedingly worthwhile.

What was the prize for winning the race? The tortoise must have found satisfaction that he won because he was unerring albeit slow on his progress. His friends would have patted him on the back for leading a straight and narrow life without any risks, progressing through life slow by slow. He didn’t mind feeling the heat of the pavement on his face and his mouth lined with dried up dust. All this sacrifice for a race that he believes has to be won.

The loser, the long eared, one finished last but he had a great time stopping at every little joy made available to him along the way. He was one big happy loser in a race that his heart was not set on winning.

I am not taking away the feeling of satisfaction that the tortoise must have had for beating the hare in the race. It must have been of utmost import to him to have won against natural odds. He is happy at a conquest no matter how trivial.

To each his own.