Mad Men is done. If you’re curious, my review, and various meandering thoughts, are over here at pajamasmedia. so I’m out of TV. Gave up on “The Event,” because it came down with a raging case of the Stupids early on, and nothing seemed particularly compelling. Aliens? Humanoid aliens, here on earth? No! Warring factions with different goals? You don’t say. There was so much cardboard in the characterizations you could wrap all the actors in twine and set them out on the boulevard, and recycling would pick them up without question. So now I have to go back and start watching some of the nine billion other shows I have recorded. Or just watch old movies. Or read.

Which I am doing: on the Kindle is “Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy,” which really sounds like a ripping yarn, eh? But it’s by Theodore Dalrimple, whose works are like intellectual rubbing alcohol poured on a self-inflicted abrasion. He’s a doctor, and has written several studies of British culture. Not for him the modern cant; not for him the therapeutic culture with its manufactured pathologies and gentle absolutions. It is your problem and it is your fault. His main argument in “Romancing Opiates” is simple: heroin addicts chose their path. Unless you believe there are needles flying around London, that is. I’m simplifying the argument, and he goes into great detail from his personal experience as a prison doctor – and I’m sure some would complain that makes his work anecdotal, not authoritative. Sure, he’s spent a lot of time with addicts, but he hasn’t read the latest research.

Trust me, he’s read it. I enjoy his style – he has a skill for mordant aphorism, and I had to laugh when the first chapter kicked off with “Heroin is the opiate of the masses.” (He rephrased Marx’ critique of religion, substituting heroin; amusing.) His assertions are undramatic and calm and straight-forward, but the effect is like dashing a bucket of cold water on hot embers.

Also began, from the beginning, the Sherlock Holmes stories. I don’t know why I’ve never read them before; it might be some old prejudice about the Victorian era, a time for which I felt respect but little affinity. It’s the hats, I think. Tall hats. I blame myself for this, but also because history has failed to give us a compelling narrative that bridges the end of the 19th century and the start of World War One. Damn you, History! Be more novelistic! I’m joking – ha ha! – but I’m not. For me, there’s the end of the 19th century, and then there’s a big yawning void until Princips knocks off the Archduke and the wide red ribbon of the 20th century begins to unfurl. I’m sure there’s an exhaustively documented history about the era. I’m sure a great many important things happened whose impact can be directly traced to something sitting on my desk today. But it’s as if the century changed, everyone held their breath, the Titanic sunk, and then there was war.

The Holmes books now seem quite modern, something that comes from being older and realizing that time moves differently than you think it does when you’re younger. The centuries are not great stone blocks a mile wide and a mile high. They’re staircase steps.

I’ve only read the first one. But I did listen to a few BBC radio plays, “The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” – new stories, wonderfully acted, with only a little bit of I-say-now-Holmes-what’s-that fuddleheaded Watson; he’s more of the sharp companion of the stories.

Perhaps that’s why they don’t seem so ancient: Watson was a veteran of the Afghan wars.

And now to do my side plank exercises. I’ve already done the daily step session – 30 minutes of vigorous stepping! Watched Miami Vice, the pilot episode. Loved that show; still can remember when it was SO TOTALLY RAD because it had pop music and synth music and pastel colors, instead of cops in brown polyester suits with lapels the width of a 727, sitting around grimy rooms with junkies chained to the radiator and some bald Greek guy shouting CROCK-AH. (This would usually be the time when I tell the anecdote about teaching Telly Savalas about Mac laptops, but another day, perhaps.) The pilot contains a scene with the fellow who’d play Manny in the regular series, a scrawny wheedling informant I haven’t seen since he was eaten by a T-Rex in the “Jurassic Park” sequel. It was so realistic that casting agents may have just assumed he was dead.

Here’s a little ad I rescued from the fiche the other day.

Industrial fatigue! The leading symptom of industrial disease. The opposite of industrial fatigue is Farmer Fatigue, of course; that can be cured by heading into town and buying some Dry Goods, and perhaps Dr. Brown’s Pancreatic Tonic. Which leads us to North Dakota Small Towns on Google; the latest installment is here. (Bizarre: in preview a bunch of garbage is added to the url that’s not in the code. If you have this problem., just backspace to the end of .html. Sorry! Don’t understand.) I redesigned the entire site for reasons known only to me. And anyone else who notes how I can’t leave well enough alone.

See you around in the usual places!


74 Responses to Watson, the Needle

  1. grs says:

    James, you don’t have to read the Holmes stories in order. Pick a few of the best ones…’The Empty House’ (Holmes comes back from the dead)

    Yikes! That would be like reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy beginning with the third book. (And good job revealing a plot point.) There was a progression to the stories. You lose a lot of context if you don’t read them in order.

    James, a great book on the transition from the 19th to 20th Centuries and the events leading up to (and making inevitable) World War I is Dreadnought, by Robert K. Massie.

  2. PersonFromPorlock says:

    Incidentally, for all who enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories, August Derleth’s ‘Solar Pons’ series is an excellent pastiche of them and there are even more Pons stories than Holmes ones.

  3. GardenStater says:

    @Spud: Good choices.

  4. GardenStater says:

    @swschrad: “…an occasional mystery piece of paper stuffed in as a place marker to provide a jolt of history in 20 or 30 years.”

    Funny you mention that. Years ago, a friend gave me a set of the complete works of Sir Walter Scott. Tucked into a few pages were small scraps of newspaper used (I presume) as bookmarks. On one of them, I could just make out the words “President and Mrs. Grant visiting the city.”

    Shows you how long those books went unread.

  5. boblipton says:

    For those who want a feeling of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, might I suggest you try John Buchan’s Richard Hannay stories. Reading the 39 STEPS instead of seeing the excellent but nothing-to-do-with-it Hitchcok movie is a revelation and even MR. STANDFAST set in the midst of the Great War reveals a differnet mindset: tough and sentimental.

    Buchan was Governor-General of Canada when WWII was declared. Verbum sap.


  6. RobertB says:

    My favorite way to learn about history is to read biographies. Sure, you get a limited view, but when you read the story of a person’s life it helps to emphasize the way we all straddle eras.

    I recently read the first volume of William Manchester’s excellent biography of Winston Churchill. Most of us think of Churchill during World War II, a figure of the twentieth century. But he was a Victorian, a product of the British Empire at its height, and he never really let go of that view of the world. He’s a clear link from the 19th century to the absolute heart of the 20th.

  7. TWylite says:

    We 21st century knowledge workers get, like, “ 2.0″, like. It is characterized, like, by using the word “like” in speech where space characters would go in print. To cure it, we go to the Multivitamin Smoothie Bar, and get a Double Venti Spinal Tappuccino, dialed up to 11. Like.

  8. Yael says:

    Another recommendation, here, for the BBC’s ‘Sherlock’ (don’t have PBS ’round here, I just saw it all on Daily Motion; the BBC tend to be more reasonable about this stuff than companies like NBC or Fox, it seems) – but also with a bit of a caveat.
    First of all, yes, absolutely brilliant adaptation of everything to modern times. I was impressed by how the characters were not just very believable as contemporary people (with a whole bunch of little adjustments that make those familiar with the source material smile), but also are at the same time immediately recognisable. I really felt that Holmes and Watson ARE Holmes and Watson, the way they would have been if they lived today.
    Now, that little caveat business. Thing is, the plots are only very very loosely based on the originals. You have a few details that match or correspond with some details in one (or more) of the original stories, but the rest is absolutely new. This is good on one hand, because someone who’s read the stories won’t find themselves just constantly comparing the two, and looking for how the story was adjusted to modern times, not to speak of knowing the solution ahead. However, I felt that it also had the effect of turning the show into yet another detective show – and there are plenty of these already. Me, I tend to love detective shows (possibly partly because of how much I always loved reading Holmes), so I really enjoyed the show a lot, but I’m kinda worried that someone not fond of the genre might find it a bit too… regular, in that aspect. So, just so you know.
    But I still highly recommend watching it, after you read the stories. If only to enjot the adaptation.

  9. GardenStater says:
    October 19, 2010 at 8:37 am

    And of course, the 21st Century began on September 11, 2001.

    It was also the first day of the rest of our lives. That day changed everything. In all honesty, it had already changed, we just didn’t know it yet.

    RobertB says:
    October 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    I recently read the first volume of William Manchester’s excellent biography of Winston Churchill.

    I love Manchester’s biographies. But two of my favorite Manchester books were Goodbye Darkness because it closely tracked with my then 18 year old father’s experiences invading Okinawa, and The Glory And The Dream. Sure, Manchester was on the opposite political side of the fence from me, but that fellow could tell a story.

  10. winterhawk says:
    October 19, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Two men say they’re Jesus–
    One of ‘em must be wrong.
    A protest singer, he’s singin’
    a protest song.

    There’s rumors in the loading bay and anger in the town….

  11. GSC says:

    The Holmes stories are a real joy and I have read them many times. Doyle was a talented writer and really infuses the stories with a sense of his times while moving the plot along quickly and smoothly.

    For a similar sense of the times from the Victorian period through the 1920′s in America I recommend John Dos Passos’ USA trilogy.

    I read the novels in college and had my preconceptions of that time turned around. Dos Passos’ prose style can be tiresome in large quantities, however. His politics are heavy-handed at times too.

  12. Francesco says:

    I cannot recomend enough Barbara W Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. It is the story of the generation befor the first world war in Europe & the US.

  13. jamcool says:

    My complaint about Mad Men is that they “jump a year”…last season they ended at the end of ’63. This season started at the end of ’64. I imagine next year they will start in 1967.

  14. TByrd says:

    bgbear…Yes, we still make drugs out of natural opiates. Morphine, codeine, & tincture of opium are easily processed from the latex sap of the opium poppy. Semi-synthetics such as heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone are also derived from these biologically active substances. The semi-synthetics are more difficult to make and are far more addictive.
    Opium and cannabis in various forms is smoked or eaten legally for certain tribal ceremonies in India. Semi-synthetics are not legally available in India. In hospital in India you are limited to morphine and codeine as opiates for pain relief. Old fashioned tincture of opium (aka laudanum)and the less common paregoric are available and quite useful for all the endemic forms of dysentery in the Asian subcontinent.

  15. TByrd says:

    also bgbear….Why the heck not make a deal with Afghan farmers to buy their poppy crop? That would definitely keep the money out of terrorist hands. Not much else will grow in Afghanistan. (Believe me I’ve been there) But the prevailing attitude goes beyond all common sense.
    People abuse drugs/alcohol/food/whatever because they don’t want to deal with what they have to deal with. The demand for illegal drugs in the U.S./west is growing exponentially despite the ‘war on drugs’. What is it in American/western culture that people do not want deal with?

  16. Ross says:

    I’m afraid I’ll have to be the reactionary and say that updating SH or “Hawaii 5-0″ are pointless sops to people who can’t be bothered to try & imagine a world that doesn’t look like the one they’re currently in. It’s patronizing and contributes to the dumbing-down of the culture at large.
    Glad you’re rediscovering “Miami Vice”–people forget how out-of-touch network TV was before that show became a hit. Those few shows that had reasonably current pop music had to use craptacular cover versions by annoying commercial jingle singers and “Barnacle Groans” (sorry, “Barnaby Jones”–can’t lose the habit of using MAD’s parody titles, or making my own, like John Wayne’s last film, “The Shootin’-est”) at the time “Vice” started still had “hippie” bad guys that looked like The Turtles’ Flo & Eddie, circa 1968(complete with Prince Valiant haircut). I still remember sitting there, all unsuspecting, watching the pilot when it first aired. I was hooked at Crockett describing the later-Izzy’s twisted hit man as “a little light in the loafers, talks like a cross between Carol Channing & Tito Puente”–I think I actually did a spit take(as I did, despite my brother’s warning to put my dinner & drink down before the start my first episode of “Police Squad”). Apparently, my mother & I were the only people in town who watched it at first, because it was a good two months before anyone I talked to about this cool, stylish, daring new cop show knew what I was on about. If you haven’t, you should watch “crime Story” all the way through, as well: Michael Mann does Mad Men era.

  17. Ross says:

    Oh, and John Diehl has done some outstanding work elsewhere over the years: watch him in Ted Turner’s “Gettysbeard”(dagnabbit, did it again–”Gettysburg”).
    And I meant to say at an earlier Bleat that “BlatherWinceRepeat” is easily the funniest screen name I’ve seen in ages. Well done.

  18. Ross says:

    Forgot the recommendations for Our Genial Host: two books, one non-fiction, “Out In the Noonday Sun: The Edwardians In the Tropics”(which has a section on Frederick Selous, the real-life model for Alan Quartermain, killed in 1917 at 66 by an enemy sniper while leading a unit of older, experienced irregulars like himself against German colonial troops–Connery as an action hero, indeed) and, in a strange closing of the circle, the novel “Mr American” by George MacDonald Fraser(of “Flashman” fame), the son of the Royal Medical Corp officer in whose arms Selous died.
    “Plate of shrimp”, indeed.

  19. fizzbin says:

    @TByrd: your idea about the Afghan farmers and their crops is interesting. In a perfect world such a plan may have legs. Regrettably, in this world I think the Taliban Man would enter the farmer’s humble home and say something like this, “You know, Abdul (it is Abdul, isn’t it), if you take the Apostates money for your crop, we will come to the compound, gather everyone together, take your youngest son and sloooowly disembowel him. We Taliban, merciful and just, let you decide what to do”.

    I have no answer as to what it is in American/Western culture that people don’t want to deal with. It is interesting that the rise in drug abuse/despair seems to mimic the rise in secularism. After all, our own Comrade Dumbo has declared an end to American Exceptionalism whose purpose was to build that Shining City on the hill.

    If you have nothing to live for, you have no reason to be, so you dull your nothing- exceptionalness with drugs.

  20. Yow fizzbin! Comrade Dumbo? Ouch, that’ll leave a mark (so to speak).

  21. nightfly says:

    I may have missed it elsewhere in the thread, so apologies if I’m repeating; Edmund Morris’ biography of Theodore Roosevelt is also very good for that time period. The first two books (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex) are out, still waiting for the third to publish.

  22. Ross says:

    Sorry, one last Miami Vice thought: for the first couple of weeks after the pilot aired, I was absolutely positive I’d seen the lead actor somewhere before. It drove me nuts until I realized he’d starred in one of my favorite cult day-after-tomorrow/sci-fi flicks(that I saw a couple times at The Oriental, then our local art-house cinema), “A Boy and His Dog”.

  23. sikis says:

    I cannot recomend enough Barbara W Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. It is the story of the generation befor the first world war in Europe & the US.

  24. Keith Morgan says:

    Late to this party but I completely echo the previous recommendations for Tuchman’s Proud Tower, which one could follow with her Guns of August. I have a recent fascination with the Edwardian era, the slow, inexorable slide to war, garden parties and the dreadnought arms race etc. I always knew a lot about WW2, it’s origins and aftermath but found that one needed to know about the Great War and then it’s origins and so on and on.

    Both of Massie’s books, Dreadnought and Castles of Steel are excellent on first, the run up to the war and then the arms race that ended in the naval war of 1914-18. Follow these with Paul Fussel’s The Great War and Modern Memory and Modris Eckstein’s The Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age.

    And now Boardwalk Empire has triggered an interest in the wild and weird idea of Prohibition.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!