Jerome Shea November 25, 2011 Weekend Wonk
Time again to clean off the workbench. So, in no particular order…
I hated to leave the topic of miniatures, and I got some good feedback, too. Joe calls my attention to nanotechnology, a big (pun intended) recent development. Scientists are getting so savvy at the molecular level that they have developed, for example, a one-molecule engine. (I think that’s what I had in my Geo Metro.) Now THAT’s a miniature! In fact, they have even made a car for that engine to power, and this car is 3 x 4 nanometers little. That’s about the size of a strand of DNA. Another old friend, Ron, suggests that novels are miniatures. I think I agree (imagine a fat Victorian novel that follows the hero from the cradle to the grave) but would point out that these are not miniatures in the sense that a miniature Doberman, for example, incorporates all the parts and design of the larger dog. A novel is a miniature in that, thankfully, it leaves out so much of an imagined life—or a real one, as in a biography—while keeping the significant parts. Yes, I’ll accept novels as miniatures, and very enjoyable ones. And let’s not forget those miniature farms and cities available to us when the airliner drops down out of the clouds.
There is a book just out about Charlie Chan, the famous detective of page and screen (Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History). Charlie Chan, based upon a real Chinese detective on the Honolulu police force, was the creation of Earl Derr Biggers, a writer barely known today. Charlie was an instant hit in his debut, The House Without a Key, so Biggers used him in five more novels; then Hollywood churned out almost fifty Charlie Chan movies. Curious, I borrowed the one Charlie Chan novel that the UNM library owns—Behind that Curtain—and settled in for a good read. Biggers deserves his obscurity. This is the kind of novel in which characters regularly exclaim, “Great Scott!” Stereotypes abound. We have Barry Kirk, a young playboy; Sir Frederic Bruce, late of Scotland Yard (Biggers does not hide his anglophilia); Col. John Beetham, world famous adventurer; Captain Flannery of the SFPD, a bad tempered buffoon; and so forth. I think Col. Beetham turned out to be the villain, but I have already forgot. These people belong in a game of Clue. Instead of dank pool halls and back alleys, we have penthouses and drawing rooms. Biggers did not do gritty. But then, no detective writers did gritty back then. Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler are famous not just because they were talented writers but because they began to break that genteel mold. And compared to Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke, say, those two are almost decorous. How far we have come, from Sir Frederic Bruce, to Philip Marlowe, and then to the recovering alcoholic Dave Robicheaux and his homicidal sidekick, Clete Purcell!
Eddie Fisher died this week, and I have nothing to add.
Well, I can think of something general to add. About twenty years ago I was browsing through the San Antonio Express-News and came upon the obituaries. Up until then I had never seen pictures of the deceased accompanying the death notices. I have since seen the same thing in at least one other paper, the San Diego Union-Tribune. At the time I thought it somehow ghoulish. Now I just don’t know what I think or should think.
I have always known about the fabled music of the spheres. Now comes word that there are solar harmonies, too. Astronomers have “uncovered…eerie musical harmonies produced by the magnetic field in the sun’s outer atmosphere.” No, I didn’t find this in the National Enquirer, but I’m waiting for the New Age CD to come out. Whale song is, like, so yesterday.
Signs in my bosque tell you to clean up after your dog. I would argue that taking a stick and pushing the poo off the trail would be enough (should we clean up after the deer and the coyotes, too?). But people do do their doo-doo duty dutifully (say that five times, I dare ya), and then they leave the little plastic bags right there beside the trail! Do they think we have paid Poop Patrols to pick the baggies up? Yo, people!
And Victor Davis Hanson, retired classics professor and right-wing apologist, says that we are turning into a bunch of jealous peasants. Envy of the rich is not just unseemly; it threatens our whole culture. He reminds us that the richest 1% of our citizens pay 40% of the taxes collected. That statistic is being trotted out a lot lately (watch for it). What he doesn’t tell us is that that same 1% owns almost 43% of the wealth in this country. Gee, do you suppose they pay so much because they have so damned much? The gap—no, chasm—between the rich and the rest of us has not been so wide and deep since the 1920s, and we know how that decade ended. Sorry, Prof. Hanson, but it is that gap, not a peasant’s envy, that makes for an unhealthy economy and an unhealthy society. But I won’t be scuttling off the roadway, tugging the forelock, when the CEO comes clattering by in his coach and four.
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