Finished the BBC Shakespeare's "Henry VI Part Three". Another good entry in the series, even darker than the last as England descends into bitter civil war between the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. Atrocity follows on from atrocity, with some characters' only regret that they cannot kill their enemies twice.
Has a nicely ironic ending, with Edward V expressing a fond hope that peace has come at last while Richard of Gloucester, the future Richard III, looks on in disgust.
The production has continuity between the three Henry plays and Richard III. At last the music at the start of R3 is explained: Richard has just walked out of a happy dance scene in disgust, though somehow he's managed to change out of his battledress rather quickly.
However, watching these hasn't confirmed my theory about the moral degeneration of Richard: he's pretty villainous right from the start. His assassination of the princes in the tower is prefigured here, when he helps kill the son of Henry VI.
Watching the Henry VI plays does put a new light on the Richard III play though. It's more satisfying if you can see it as a kind of self-destruction of the House of York, as the terrible force they've unleashed in the hunched form of Richard turns against them.
What I'm Watching 2
Watched gentle 1951 Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit. Alec Guinness plays a chemist who develops an indestructible, self-cleaning fabric. This causes a quaint horror amongst the factory owners and unions, all of whom assume no-one will ever buy new clothes again.
Crisp, effective and well-done; definitely a good example of the genre.
This movie terrified me when I was a small child: the final scene where Alec Guinness flees a baying mob through the dark northern streets, unable to hide because of his glowing white suit. However I didn't get any nightmares this time.
What I'm Watching 3
Saw Al Pacino's documentary Looking for Richard, where he puts on a performance of some scenes from the play, and goes through explaining it.
Not bad, but a bit too basic if you're already familiar with it. He does explain the plot and the characters very lucidly though,
What I'm Reading
Finished The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. Book which discusses the currently popular field of scientific happiness research by going through various systems of ancient wisdom and evaluating them in relation to modern evidence.
The basics are pretty familiar from other books like Richard Layard's Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. Most people are poor judges of what will make them happy. "Hedonic adaptation" means that your happiness level tends to regress to its basic level after a change.
Haidt does point out that not all changes regress the same way. One familiar example is that if you move to a larger house with a longer commute, you will rapidly adapt to the larger house size and find it no longer makes you happy; but you will not adapt so well to the longer commute, which will still be causing you extra stress a long time later.
Haidt also claims that intermittent noise is also something that is hard to adapt to. Found this one interesting in the light of Seneca's letters: he admitted in one that he was unable to cope with the noise of the city and was moving somewhere else.
However, the book seems a little bit arrogant at times, when he does things like rapidly go through "Buddhism" and explain what's wrong with it.
Haidt also isn't as evidence-based as he seems to promise. For instance, he quotes research showing that when people claim they've profoundly change their life, their friend often don't notice any difference, and their test scores don't change. However, he seems attached to the notion of this kind of self-improvement and invents some thin justifications for it.
Moreover, I think Haidt is somewhat hamstrung by his assumptions. For one thing, you seem more likely to achieve happiness if you seek something else. Religious believers, active volunteers, people committed to their jobs all seem to be happier according to research. In the stoic point of view, happiness is something that will turn up as a by-product if you seek virtue/excellence. So, a book of this kind about how to seek happiness may be misguided.
I suspect he's also limited because some things are easier to research than others. In particular, it's easy to research short-term programmes, it's pretty hard to research what an entire life of living according to certain principles will do.
I have a hunch, though no evidence, that consistently following a practical belief system like stoicism, Buddhism or Christianity may be better over the long haul of a lifetime, than trying to grab a handful of isolated techniques as he does here.
Even so, a pretty interesting book, worth keeping an eye out for. First chapter.
What I'm Reading 2
Finished J.G. Ballard autobiography Miracles of Life. Covers most of his life: he wrote it while diagnosed with his terminal cancer. It covers similar territory to the autobiographical novels "Empire of the Sun" and "The Comfort of Women", but purports to be more complete and accurate. The childhood sections have more information on his relationship with his parents and life in the internment camp.
It's written in his characteristic style: cool and detached even when describing events that are somewhat horrific. I'd say it's still worth reading even if you've read the novels: puts things in much clearer perspective.
History. Archives of 1641 Irish rebellion to go online (interesting how much it seems like a modern conflict, could be in Nigeria or Rwanda).
Science. Fat and fit no so great.
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