Friday Fable. La Fontaine’s "The Fox With His Tail Cut Off"*

Posted by jlubans on March 08, 2013

Caption: Illustration by Randolph Caldecott in Some of
 Aesop’s Fables.... “The Fox without a Tail”, London: 

"A cunning old fox, of plundering habits,
Great crauncher of fowls, great catcher of rabbits,
Whom none of his sort had caught in a nap,
Was finally caught in somebody's trap.
By luck he escaped, not wholly and hale,
For the price of his luck was the loss of his tail.
Escaped in this way, to save his disgrace,
He thought to get others in similar case.
One day that the foxes in council were met,
"Why wear we," said he, "this cumbering weight,
Which sweeps in the dirt wherever it goes?
Pray tell me its use, if any one knows.
If the council will take my advice,
We shall dock off our tails in a trice."
"Your advice may be good," said one on the ground;
"But, before I reply, pray turn yourself round."
Whereat such a shout from the council was heard,
Poor bob-tail, confounded, could say not a word.
To urge the reform would have wasted his breath.
Long tails were the mode till the day of his death."

The fox’s sales pitch to mitigate his personal loss reminds me when a library I worked in was hectored to join a major library automation effort. We knew that it was one library's pet project but were told it was only a matter of a year or so before the pilot would be ready. We, unlike the fox’s brethren, went along, persuading ourselves that this bit of automation was somehow better if done locally rather than by a large development firm. As you can imagine, the project dragged on and on, burning cash from grants and lots more cash from member library staff budgets. Finally, enough was enough, we stopped development and cut our losses and salvaged what we could. Fortunately, the home grown version was soon overtaken by superior commercial products. Maybe we did gain some experience and insights into project development but it came at a high price in lost creativity and productivity. No doubt a few of the participants yet wax emotional about some unique bell or whistle never to be replicated in the more robust, far faster, more intuitive, and highly effective versions.

*Source: "A Hundred Fables of La Fontaine" by Jean de La Fontaine, London; New York: John Lane Co., 1900

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