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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Strictly speaking as a literary device and success, just how incredible has Sherlock Holmes proven to be?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off his most successful creation early on in order to write other things and thought he'd done it successfully, sending him over into a waterfall with the worst criminal then known.  He got away with it  for about seven years, I think, before 'public pressure' brought him around. It wasn't quite as if they made an offer he couldn't refuse, but not unlike it either.  He'd managed to piss off the literary world, the popular culture of his time, and the entertainment world all at once.  How bloody dare he kill Sherlock Holmes? Think of Watson!  The bumbling old fart couldn't get through a day without some reason for existence, a role he'd tried to grant a wife, but nothing was as interesting as his insanely annoying flatmate. People cared.

Sherlock Holmes' introduction into immortality was "A Study in Scarlet" in 1887, leading to four short novels and 56 short stories. "Scarlet" appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual and was a modest success.  The second tale, "The Sign of the Four", didn't reach the public till 1890. But suddenly, the character shot up in Q ratings and cash gushing popularity and was featured in The Strand Magazine a year later. The Doyle stories appeared up to 1927, although they only covered the years 1880 to 1914.

What happened was Jack the Ripper in 1888. The hysterics and horror that engendered, which forced the media and public if not the police to realize this had been going on a while and there were others out there, did not sit well within Victoria's empire, which joined the appeal for better police and protection. Till better police and protection arrived, they found solace in the Holmes tales. Holmes shared their regard level for the police and did their work for them. And better.

Nice to know guys like that were out there and existed, although of course they weren't yet and did not.

The first tale that appeared after Doyle brought him back from the dead was "The Hound of the Baskervilles", a seriously terrifying story supposedly set before Moriarty's death that has been so ripped off and over done in theater and movies it's difficult to imagine what the public felt at first read. It was rather brilliant and well done and Holmes and Watson emerged more popular and adored than before.  Doyle grudgingly started writing stories explaining how Holmes survived and came back, and they were off to the races again.  Races conducted in deep fog and gaslight with only the frequent ching from registers to guide the author.

Holmes has proven to be a most incredible creation, atop being the most widely known fictional character in history and among the most loved. Nobody frames it this way, but there are three major franchises, all popular at the present time, that bring radically different interpretations and variations of the consulting detective to different sized screens.  Robert Downy's movies have been hugely popular, Benedict Cumberbatch on BBC and PBS has given them an immense if short seasoned hit providing three 90 minute shows a year, but they just finished season four. And CBS has grabbed Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu to do "Elementary," a fun, entertaining but middling version that is quite popular here.  Atop this, other shows come and go, the character appears in the books of others, and there is really no end for someone unique in literature ala 1890 but a cliche by WWII and an iconic comic book figure today.  The Downy movies posit him as a crabby bipolar James Bond.  Smart, but a martial master. Cumberbatch is excellent, and the Liu-Miller chemistry is good, but it's a US dramady. It could be better.

It's easy to say that Holmes has the advantage of unemotional attachment, and can be moved around successfully whereas others cannot.  I couldn't think of a single figure from literature than offers itself to near everyone so successfully.  If copyrights lasted for 200 years - and so did authors - Doyle would be by far the richest man in the world based upon the success of his annoying creation.  Because the protections have run out except for a few stories, it's cheap to do them.  But they just about all are so successful.  That cannot be blamed on greed.  Well, totally.

Holmes is a near religious figure, a Trickster who's on our side, available by adjudged need.  All the copycats and clear descendents of him are poor imitations.  In 1880, Holmes knew the future of good policing was in forensics, the application of liberal arts education to science, science in the specific form of chemistry and geology, good and consistent procedure at crime scenes, and training of the police well beyond what the Bobby of his day was granted.

Remarkable, and there's no sign our fascination and devotion to Sherlock is dispersing soon.
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

This is actually my radio commentary that in a Senior Moment I posted here.  Leaving it. Visit the commentary page for audio.

When William Pitt said Napoleon had rolled up the map of Europe after early conquests, his eloquence was catchy, and when Hitler did much the same, variants of the phrase found their way into the newspapers. Today, as Russia is moving into the Crimea and perhaps the rest of eastern Ukraine, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russian President Putin of rewriting the map of Europe. I admire Clinton, but that's not entirely true, and at base, that's the issue.

Europe and Asia are really the same continent, but over time the fiction of a separate continent status for Europe allowed the term to convey a warmth towards what are now referenced as Western values and goals in opposition to stereotypical Asian goals.  It's cultural.  Asian nations had and have cultures who face east to the rising sun and are often locked in cyclical concepts of time while the west, early on, went to linear and looked longingly at the setting sun. This was part of the divisions that made the west advanced of Asia in invention and power, including military power.

Peter the Great wanted Russia to be in Europe and viewed as a western and European power.  Previous to him, it was altogether too easy for the world's nations to view Russia as solely Asian, like China, and given the location of Moscow, it was an image that stayed. People notionally said Russia was in two continents which divided roughly at the Ural Mountains near central Russia.  But the Urals didn't go far enough south, and so the thought was the dividing line bent west to utilize the Caucasus mountains to complete the division.

The problem was that Georgia and other entities - variously duchies, republics, or sovereign nations - weren't as concerned about which continental T shirt they wore.  Then, Peter's daughter Catherine came to the throne and her lover Potemkin was sent to a newly conquered and unexplored area in the south called the Crimea, which more or less is astride the dividing line between Europe and Asia.  Potemkin was brilliant and energetic and he founded the ports in the Crimea that Russia has since claimed as naval bases when the Soviet Union collapsed and - not unlike our Guantanamo - Sevastopol and these military enclaves have been Russian since the eighteenth century.  The surrounding areas were settled by Russians.

The Ukraine, which is north of Crimea and has been mostly between Russia and this annoying appendix of land, has been a slaughter pen for centuries.  It has about the best farmland in the world and a lot of it with lots of sun and rain and temperate climate.  Because of the intersection, as in the Balkans, of Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and near everything else, and these religions appended themselves to violent groups of people through the years, the Ukraine's crops were nurtured with much blood.  The borders of historic Ukraine when it was a nation at war with Poland and Russia and Turkey and everyone, varied, but mostly it didn't include the Crimea because until Potemkin not much was there and it was a strategic salient difficult to defend.

When the Soviet Union ruled and Khrushchev had just come to power, he assigned the Crimea and the land above to be run by the Ukraine in a new farm collective program.  He'd lived there happily before and after the Patriotic War and the Ukranians were well known to him. The Nazis invaded, heavy on SS involvement, and had turned Ukraine into a hell and Khrushchev enriched it.

Recently, Ukraine had a democratically elected pro-Russian President overthrown by those who favor closer ties with the west, and to be considered as part of Europe. Corporate interests in pipelines across the Ukraine make it more complicated. Elements of neo-Nazis arose, and Russians in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine looked to Russia, and there has been no resistance to Russia's moves and much celebration.  Crimea just voted heavily in favor of joining Russia.

So Putin isn't rolling up the map of Europe, primarily because there is no agreement that the Crimea is part of Europe, nor the Ukraine either. It would be handy if everyone dropped the opportunity to quote leaders from past centuries - as Clinton did - and recent ones, as John McClain tried with 'we are all Ukranians!'

Most Americans can neither name the continents at issue nor identify the original quotes anyway. And it all masks the fear we're risking conflict over oil profit surging through Ukrainian pipelines.
Monday, March 03, 2014

Anyone who comes across Martha in their reading - a relative of the cover girl today - is remiss if they aren't prodded to do more research about her species, of which she was the last.  The first shock comes when you read that in the early 19th century, her bird species was likely the most populous in the world, and composed somewhere between 20% to 40% of all the birds in North America.  And on September 1, 1914, when Martha died in Cincinnati, they were all gone. All. Martha was the last Passenger Pigeon.

In the reading, you may forget or never discover they were exceedingly beautiful animals, looking like a cross between a robin and a dove with added touches, fully acceptable as a Bird of Paradise if they were not so vectored in on the same food people were.  In flight their huge flocks - there must be another word for billions of birds flying together above 'flock' - were mesmerizing and lovely beyond ken.  Their iridescent feathers and colors were mesmerizing to those below, soon to be covered with inches of pigeon guano extending for miles.  Yes, good for the soil and all, but beyond disgusting at the moment.

These pigeons, like the bison's inflated numbers, were the result of this continent losing its keystone species - man - to the diseases of Europe and Asia.  It is now estimated that about 90% (disputed, but a huge percentage regardless) of the Native Americans died as the pandemics spread rapidly across the land from Florida and Mexico and New England. Agricultural humans did not favor birds who ate the same nuts and food they did, so they hunted and trapped these pigeons.

It was easy, as Passenger Pigeons were not bright, were rather disgusting in their eating habits, and so huge in numbers that when they alighted in trees, they often did so till the tree collapsed.  They would vomit up food in order to eat more or just a different kind.  They could produce groups in flight fifteen miles by ten in area and varying depths.  Billions of birds covering the entire sky for a half hour or more.  They were so common and easy kills that neither the Indians nor the white men could imagine them going extinct, or even down to tolerable numbers.  They were viewed, mostly, as a delicious pest.

This year will see the centenary of The Great War, the conflict that marked the United States saying goodbye to the Monroe Doctrine as we invaded Europe.  We didn't enter it till 1917, of course, but in reality the concepts of Continuous Voyage and free trade and greed mandated that we would be fighting commercially for all those years. The Germans invaded France through Belgium in August of 1914, and so when the olde, olde bird died in Ohio, where visitors would throw sand at her in hopes she'd move more, there was not sufficient shock or remorse.  The bison came close to that fate, saved mostly by lack of human population in western Canada.

We're about to be inundated by remembrances of World War One, as we should, but it is hoped the US plans to learn something this time.  I have hopes, but not many.  We didn't fight long in the war, didn't really understand it at the time or since, and it was soon replaced by a simpler set of value violations by Germany and then the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. But a hundred years later, we are still in the grip of the War to End All Wars, aren't aware of it, and are rather proud of our ignorance.  Coverage from the front diluted coverage of Martha's passing and what it meant then and suggested for the future.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

"Everybody DANCE, now!"

The Atlantic has the winners of the 2014 Sony World Photography contest.  I'm easily impressed and easily wowed, but the resolution and quality of all aspects of pictures now is just beyond what I could have ever imagined. The first shot of a small frog atop a beetle - the one with the jaws that look like they were attached from some movie horror monster, starts it off, but they are all spectacular and worth the visit.

The cover today is from the Bay State, I think from South Dartmouth where what family I have remains in dribs and drabs from the army that used to be.  Well, that I know, anyway.  This is from cousin Peter Bullard, who is a photo nut, a bird watcher, and an owl enthusiast, the last of which is a shared trait.  He has some great shots but doesn't have a site as yet but should.  His photos remind me of the past and that watery land about to, it is said, become more watery and perhaps cease to be referenced as 'land.'  Climate Change is here, and the arguments have not abated, but when the President announces it as fact and nobody stands to take that on, it's a done deal.  England's lowlands in Sussex are in real danger this winter, and may not recover. The flooding is not receding.

Even in Alaska, home to some of the biggest fatheads this side of Texas, is trying to pat strange weather into their template. Alaska has had a very warm winter so far, with snow melt, full rivers, avalanches closing highways and grass turning green in Anchorage months ahead of schedule.  It was warmer in Alaska than in much of the lower 48, not excluding the Deep South of late.  

Resident fathead and Foremost Bag of Misinformation and Idiocy Sarah Palin has not been heard from, but I actually don't know if she lives in Alaska anymore. It was but a year ago that polling found Alaskans approved of Congress more than their half term governor and part time Vice Presidential candidate.

It's been a bad week for the GOP.  Their attempts to just say Obamacare is a failure and blame everything on the black guy is weakening.  The new supposed alternative to the ACA, wheeled out under token Hispanic Marcos Rubio, was quickly withdrawn when even GOP auditors agreed it would add $8 billion to the budget. Then, the rather boilerplate but unforeseen corruption scandal in New Jersey that might just topple Chris Christy to the bottom of presidential candidates.  At present, Mike Huckabee is the frontrunner, which must send all sane, responsible GOP'ers to the bottle.  Worse, Mitt Romney seems to be wiggling back into play, and if the GOP bench is just, as the cliche goes, a clown car, the horror of ending up with Romney again might just finish off Roger Aisles, Karl Rove, and any three digit IQ left.  McCain, for example.

Their hysteria to find something, anything, solid to club Obama was best illustrated by the supposed 2 million lost jobs that Obamacare implementation would cause. That, again, is not true, and a rather seedy and desperate slander by people who ought to be held to account by the public and the media. TPM has the handle and the spin issues down tight.  A quote:

It all centered on one line about how the health care reform law would affect employment. CBO actually said that Americans would choose to work less, for various reasons, and that if you translated the fewer hours worked into full-time jobs, it would equal 2.5 million by 2024 (2.3 million by 2021). It didn't say that Obamacare would cost the country 2.5 million jobs, but Republicans said so anyway.

The chart above is showing where people have 'come out' and announced they are not believers and see themselves as atheists or agnostics.  I'm one, but I never had a problem denying faith since I was a teenager, and I never have regretted it.  If I'm wrong - I am, often enough - and I'm jacked up before the Authority at death, I'll be like Mencken and say "Gentlemen, I was wrong."  I don't think that a sin.  Of course, we have a problem, because we seem to feel that because there is no evidence for a god our point is made.  But there is no evidence - compelling, anyway - that there is not a power we just don't understand with consciousness.  And because of that, all admirers of the Enlightenment have to profess agnosticism, which is an atheist emotionally without the academic proof it is true, and so must retain an open mind.  So in heaven.

Here on earth, the facts are that the Deep South is the center, we're told, for porn purchase, violence of all sorts, religion, obesity, bad health, bad schools, and bad environment. Where there are good jobs and good schools, agnosticism/atheism holds sway.  Not totally, but increasingly so.  

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One of the most annoying but somehow reassuring cliches that we supposedly class-less Americans oddly love is "Class always tells."  This means that superior people rise no matter what, are identifiable, are simply better at every income level, and despite current social standing.  During the funeral of President Kennedy, the phrase was richly applied to his widow, who seemingly could do no wrong, whose children behaved and acted well nigh heroically and inspired the nation on television.  When his three year old son marched forward and saluted the coffin, we almost didn't want to admit the widow may have just requested it and somehow the child did it by genetic response.

Class does tell.  People with class, for example, never use the phrase "class always tells." They don't think like that.

The confusion is because class can be used to mean economic level superiority and/or by cultural and mental superiority and skill. Paris Hilton has one kind, Barack Obama the other. It isn't generational, either.  Miley Cyrus does not, Jennifer Lawrence does.

With no ancient lineages in America of money or land, and being a relatively new nation of immigrants, 'class' is a difficult word and concept with mutually exclusive meanings. The topic alone offends. And it's especially weird that people with social status, talent, money, family success but with socialist or progressive leanings have undoubted class. Woody Guthrie did not arise from  wealth, but his father was a local Oklahoma big wig and politico who played a role in a racial lynching of a woman and her son.  Woody would write songs about it and his opinions were clear on such matters.  He had class, of which courage is a major part.  It was not genetic. His father later became a member of the KKK.

Guthrie's protoge Pete Seeger had lineage, status, talent, and brains and class by any sense of the word. Harvard was a big part of his life, although he never finished the school that educated and employed his musical and academic family. His father's brother Alan was a noted poet, among the first Americans killed in Europe fighting with the British in the Great War.  He did, indeed, have a Rendezvous with Death. While old in style, his poetry affected the unwashed and the literary great.

Pete Seeger was a great ad for a socially conservative America in many ways.  He was married, and happily so, to the same woman for seventy years till her death a few months back. She was part Japanese, and he'd married her during WWII. Courage, that. Their first child died at six months, and he never saw his son as he served overseas.

He led an existence in later life militia members might admire, living in a cabin he'd built, cutting wood for the home heating fire himself, and was so doing as late as the week before he died.  He sailed up and down the Hudson in a sloop he financed by his music campaigning for cleaning the river back to what it should be.

He was a communist - as many smart people were - back in the day before the Second Round, when 'class' meant concrete ceilings and pat downs and bribes to arise floor to floor. He hated violence, and he later apologized for his support of Stalin. Charles Lindbergh, who admired the Nazis, is not on record as apologizing for it, but both he and Seeger were prewar isolationists and tried to keep this country out of coming horror.  They were both wrong, FDR was right, but the Lone Eagle was never hauled up before Congress.

Seeger invented the long neck banjo, which now bears his name and allowed lower tunings important to a mostly solo artist.  He was a gifted banjoist and guitarist and an amazingly leather lunged singer into his dotage.  He was gracious, polite, kind, and adored by millions. His performances gave indication of just 'being' rather than work. He enjoyed people and entertaining them and gifting them ideas not available to them outside the gossamer of music. His album The Bitter and the Sweet, recorded at the Bitter End in 1962 is one of the great recordings of the time.  It's the year after Llewyn Davis fictionally lived, and it's better.

A1           We Shall Overcome
A2 Living In The Country
A3 Mister Tom Hughes's Town
A4 Where Have All The Flowers Gone
A5 Barbara Allen
A6 Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)
B1 Around And Around Old Joe Clark
B2 Windy Old Weather
B3 Ram Of Darby
B4 Juanita
B5 Andorra
B6 The False Knight Upon The Road

His False Knight is my favorite rendition, and his vocal capture of the woman's cleverness, the young thug's vanity and stupidity, and the well deserved death by a surprisingly wise young thing who, while bribing her parrot's connivance,  is well nigh touching.  Despite being a murderer and all.

His twelve string instrumental he composed, Living in the Country,is still appearing on people's records and on stage today in various forms.

This all atop his instant folk classics.  Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Turn, Turn, Turn, Little Boxes, We Shall Overcome, plus those with The Weavers, his second group after the Almanac Singers with Guthrie. Wasn't that a time, indeed.

When Pete Seeger took the stage or mike as a soloist, he deployed an invisible cyclorama of culture and history about him, and his presence calmed, encouraged, and led large groups of people in song, story, laughter, and pleasure in sharing each others' company.  He was a gift, once treated poorly by power, then tolerated, and finally admitted to be what he'd always said he was: a Patriotic American of the first water, the first rank, the first class.

Were it the only class.  Yeah.  We're going to miss him bad.
Sunday, January 05, 2014

So, recently at the Pueblo zoo down south, this happened: twin porcupettes.  This photo has to rank up there for those who sob over cut animals.

These inexplicably adorable puddleduck porcupines will not achieve the popularity of polar bear or panda cubs, although they should, much less viewed with unbridled joy by those of us who have had to remove quills from a dog's nose - or worse - but they certainly have a square headed attraction you don't note in the wild but do with these photos of Mom and the twins. They look like little pigs with funny hair, which I think they are. ? Cannot recall.

But I mean, come on.  If you aren't rooting for these two, there's a gene missing from your composite.

Also, "porcutpettes."  For the word alone......

The big news hereabouts has been, and will remain, that Colorado is one of the two states - hello Sister Washington! - who have made recreational pot legal, and it looks like it will be a barnburner both in reduced police and legal system expense and in huge tax income, which will give the industry the oomph they may periodically need.  If it proves to be the success it seems to be, it will be national soon.  Nobody can afford not to.

I'm glad, although I don't use the stuff, or haven't in decades.  It's good just to remove an institutional hypocrisy and especially one for stupid reasons, regardless of how long in place. Good luck to everyone involved.

For me, it's good to see the arguments go away, and although I fear and deeply suspect that there are unmentioned health issues denied with the true fanaticism of the addict, it's far less than booze and heavier drugs and statistically unimportant to public health.

The Red States - primarily the Deep South and related geography - are unsurprisingly the most hypocritical since they're the homes to those sorts of Christians who lecture and point fingers and do the same or worse as the objects of their scorn.  Here's a site to suggest the evidence.

Red States have most porn, most illiteracy, worst schools, most violence, worst divorce rate, most churches, most absurd football fanaticism (maybe.....), and most 'takers', who are primarily white, elderly Republicans. This was long predicted.

The originally "Barry" was more clear on the cancer within conservatism than he was in broader analysis.  He and Ike hated these bozos, the progenitors of the Tea Party and other Far Right variants, and what would happen when the religious wing got control.  Goldwater was partly Jewish, so he had a clearer view of what these stupid clods were capable of doing.

On to better things.

This is a photo taken on Mars last year.  Well, a composite of the Mars Rover, our remarkable robotic device that is puttering all over the landscape like a slow moving Roomba, inhaling info and the stark beauty of the Red Planet and its views of the heavens. This is one of NASA's triumphs that deserves more attention and praise and support.  I realize the cutbacks were needed, but things are better now, and we ought to be upping support for private and socialized space exploration.

We dearly need a Frontier that provides a united attention from all nations and not just as high ground for military reasons.  Every day the lack of excitement and imaginings of what's out there hurt.  You cannot artificially create that excitement or pretend it exists.  Just keep plugging, something will catch on.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's art, it's overboard, it's too much.  It's Christmas.  And then, there is this shot from National Geographic on the top ten Xmas light locations in the world.  No argument from me. This is in Brussels.  It's beautiful while retaining the previous descriptions.  If we're going to celebrate, celebrate and enjoy, no half way measures.  Also?  No Santa, no nothing but color and beauty.  A trend, perhaps.  Unlikely, but it's Christmas.  There is always hope.

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