Friday Fable: Aesop’s “The Cock and the Fox*”

Posted by jlubans on January 03, 2014

20140103-fox and cock*.jpg
Caption: “Sorry, I must run!” by J.J. Grandville (1803-1847)
“One bright evening as the sun was sinking on a glorious world a wise old Cock flew into a tree to roost. Before he composed himself to rest, he flapped his wings three times and crowed loudly. But just as he was about to put his head under his wing, his beady eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below him stood Master Fox.
‘Have you heard the wonderful news?’ cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner.
‘What news?’ asked the Cock very calmly. But he had a queer, fluttery feeling inside him, for, you know, he was very much afraid of the Fox.
‘Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.’
‘How grand!’ said the Cock. ‘I certainly am delighted at the news.’ But he spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off.
‘What is it you see?’ asked the Fox a little anxiously.
‘Why, it looks to me like a couple of Dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—‘
But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run.
‘Wait,’ cried the Cock. ‘Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!’
‘Yes,’ answered the Fox. ‘But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.’
The Cock smiled as he buried his head in his feathers and went to sleep, for he had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.”
“The trickster is easily tricked.”

20140103-Ellsworth G. Mason.jpg
Caption: Ellsworth G. Mason (Aug 25, 1917- October 14, 2013)
While the trickster in the work world is not quite so blatantly a lying schemer as Mr. Fox, and his desire to give us a “free lunch” is not quite the same as having us for lunch, the cubicle fraudster is ever ready to fleece our budgets even in my field of work, libraries.
Early in my career in New York, in 1971, an article written by Ellsworth G. Mason impressed me. At the time he was director of the library at Hofstra University (NY) and I was in my first professional job at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. RPI, at the time, was a hot bed for library automation. Imaginatively titled - Jonathan Swift would have tipped his wig - “The Great Gas Bubble Prick't; or, Computers Revealed by a Gentleman of Quality” warned against the unquestioned promises made by those eager to make a not-for-profit buck, willing to promise the moon to university presidents for a higher paycheck and those of us susceptible to the hype around library automation (myself included). Ellsworth anticipated “vaporware” well before the term was invented. His erudite wit and skepticism took some of the hot wind out of the sails of the library automation industry , including some homegrown (& budget draining) schemes in research libraries. I included “The Great Gas Bubble…” in my Reader, the companion volume to “Library Systems Analysis Guidelines” which I co-authored with Edward A. Chapman and Paul L. St. Pierre while at RPI.
Ellsworth Mason died on October 14, 2013 at age 96. I got to work with Ellsworth at the University of Colorado in the mid 70s and afterwards, when I was elsewhere, we kept in touch. Every now and then, I’d get a mordant, typewritten (on his manual typewriter) postcard about one of my articles. He’d question and chide, but always encouraged. He admonished me after I’d put out a particularly humorless piece: “Read more Wodehouse!” I took his advice and entered Wodehouse’s beautifully rendered comic world.

*Source: Aesop for Children (translator not identified). Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Chicago: 
Rand McNally & Company, 1919. Available online at Project Gutenberg.

Leading from the Middle Library of the Week: University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada,

Copyright John Lubans 2014

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