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Saturday, July 1, 2017


When I was a boy, I lived in a tiny row house in the new development of Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, New York.  One day, my father and I rode by bus to the Jamaica Public Library where I checked out, on my father’s card, a fat, stubby book containing all four novels and fifty-six stories chronicling the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  I was enthralled, and the next Christmas, my parents gave me my very own copy, which I read and re-read until the cover frayed.  I even joined an association of Sherlock Holmes fans called The Baker Street Irregulars and every three months received their journal, filled with faux scholarly articles about disputed minutiae of the life of the great detective.  Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Holmes stories, aspired to a more distinguished career than scribbler of lowbrow detective fiction, but the popularity of the stories trapped him.  Finally, in 1893, he could stand it no longer and contrived to kill off his hero in the famous Reichenbach Falls finale of The Final Problem.  Conan Doyle was rewarded nine years later with the coveted knighthood, becoming for all time Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Like his musical contemporary, Arthur Sullivan, his aspiration to the higher reaches of art had been rewarded by a tap on the shoulder and elevation to the peerage.  But the Holmes fans, who were legion, would not leave poor Sir Arthur alone, and in 1903, with a contrivance that would make a modern soap opera writer blush, he brought Holmes back from the dead in The Adventure of the Empty House.

I have been absent from these pages for only two weeks, not ten years, my time completely occupied by moving, if not to an empty house, at least to an empty apartment.  But the worst of the move is now behind me, thanks to the efforts of my son, Tobias, and my wife’s grandsons, Noah and Ezra, who gathered here two days ago to unpack my books and put them on the shelves in alphabetical order.  Although there are still many pictures to be hung [including one large canvas of abstract blue splotches which my wife and I agree looks better horizontal than the intended vertical], I am sufficiently settled in to return to my daily animadversions against the contemporary scene. 

As I anticipated, the world took no notice of my absence.  The two most notable political developments in the interim were the regrettable loss of Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District and the apparent inability of the Senate Republicans to complete the medical evisceration of the poor.  The second, which gives us reason to hope, is far more important than the first, for all the attention the by-election received.  With the soupçon of Tiggrish optimism I have managed to recapture during my absence from blogging, I allow myself to adopt the happy view that this and other by-elections portend big losses for the Republicans in the 2016 Congressional elections.  If we can produce the same magnitude of shift from Republicans to Democrats in three dozen CDs around the country, we will put paid to Paul Ryan’s Ayn Randesque adolescent fantasies.

Far more troubling is the increasing evidence of the profound mental instability of the President.  Rather than speculate on what the future holds, I will refer you to this recent analysis by my son, Tobias, who thinks more deeply and passionately about current political affairs than I can manage.

To be brutally honest, I am deeply fearful that Trump will act impulsively and dangerously on the international scene, moved in his infantile narcissistic way by an imagined slight.  We must ask seriously whether the senior military would collectively refuse to obey an irrationally self-destructive order coming from the Oval Office.

In His Last Bow, published on the eve of World War I, Holmes says to Watson, “There’s an east wind coming, Watson." Watson misinterprets the meaning of the words and says, "I think not, Holmes. It is very warm."
"Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared."
That was a simpler age, and neither Conan Doyle nor his readers could anticipate the horrors of Dachau and Buchenwald, of Dresden and Hiroshima and Nagasaki that lay not too far in the future.  Would that I could write with such sublime confidence of our own cold east wind.


s. wallerstein said...

Welcome back!

I have no idea whether the senior military could or would refuse to carry out an irrational order from the President. It's a sad day when we on the left depend on the Pentagon to save us, but that the way things are.

Your son seems to believe that Trump will not last 4 years in the White House nor quite possibly will Pence. He may well be right.

My crystal ball takes Saturdays off (it's Jewish), so I have no idea what the future will bring.

Unknown said...

First, welcome back Professor. You've been missed. I don't have the capacity right now to respond to the substance or your or Tobias's comments, but they are welcome just the same. I've become so overloaded with Trump and his atrocities that I've been reading all sorts of other things, rather than the newspapers--Beowulf, John Gardner's Grendel, telling the story from the monster's point of view, Ferlinghetti's Coney Island of the Mind--anything but current events. Just finished a re-read of Ulysses and have Moby Dick on the top of the pile to read next. Maybe I'll just go put my head in the sand until it all goes away.

S. Wallerstein--it wouldn’t be the first time we had to rely on DOD to preserve democracy. During Watergate, James Schlesinger, the Sec. of Defense, became concerned that Nixon would become so unhinged that he would do something drastic. Schlesinger gave orders that no order for military action originating in the White House should be acted on without the prior approval of himself or Kissinger. (I know--Kissinger; but he was more sane than Nixon). Schlesinger also had military plans drawn up to insure a peaceful transition in case of Nixon’s refusal to accept a conviction of impeachment from the Senate.

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,

What you say about the Pentagon under Nixon is very heartening and let's hope that the same sort of rationality still prevails there now.

Like you, I've been rereading classics. I'm about to finish the Brothers Karamavoz. I had to skim or even skip some of the Christian stuff this time, but after that, I'm off to more Dostoyevsky. I hadn't realized until now what a great literary craftsman and story-teller Dostoyevsky is.

Charles Pigden said...

A propos, Professor Wolff's son evidently agrees with him: Trump is Smerdyakov to the GOP's Ivan.

s. wallerstein said...

Trump is Smerdyakov is to a lot more in America than just the GOP.

Jerry Fresia said...

As a compulsive Eeyore, I add the following:

"Among the most oft-repeated claims of the entire Russia election hacking scandal is that of absolute unanimity among US intelligence agencies, with media and politicians regularly claiming that 'all 17 US intelligence agencies have agreed that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Donald Trump.' It’s not true. Nearly a year into the hacking scandal, both the New York Times and the Associated Press are finally copping to the fact that this allegation is untrue, and retracting it outright."

This, it seems to me, gives our mentally unbalanced President fodder for his "fake news" canon. Perhaps it would behoove the Democratic leadership to tear into Trump's policies - day after day - and get behind not just the Resistance, but the Transformation, single-payer perhaps? Seems rather elementary.

Jerry Fresia said...

oops here's the link:

Jerry Fresia said...

from the NYTs:

A White House Memo article on Monday about President Trump’s deflections and denials about Russia referred incorrectly to the source of an intelligence assessment that said Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during last year’s presidential election. The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.

This itself isn't correct either: the DNI only coordinated the reports of the other three agencies and in those agencies, the analyses were delivered by "hand-picked" (read pro Hillary) analysts.

Unknown said...

I'm wondering what the 17 intelligence agencies are. DNI, CIA, FBI and NSA are four. The Army, Navy, and Air Force each of intelligence branches and that would make seven. DoD also does. That's eight. What are the other nine?

Jerry Fresia said...


They are listed here:

Unknown said...

Thanks. Do you think we really need 17? It's easy to see how the mistake could have been made--if DNI wasn't deliberately trying to make it appear that way. In any event, good to have cleared up. The fact remains that the agencies most concerned with this have come to the conclusion that the Russians were interfering. My guess is that they saw Trump as their tool because of his financial ties to Russian banks.

mesnenor said...

Kew Gardens. Haven't been there in ages. I went to high school (early 80s) in Fresh Meadows, not too far away from there. My orthodontist was in Kew Gardens. I would make trips out there every few weeks for him to adjust my braces. He'd be screaming, "CONFESS! CONFESS!" as he turned the screws, or so it seemed at the time.

Anyway, here's a vintage photo of Kew Gardens that I came across recently: