hard heads soft hearts

a scratch pad for half-formed thoughts by a liberal political junkie who's nobody special. ''Hard Heads, Soft Hearts'' is the title of a book by Princeton economist Alan Blinder, and tends to be a favorite motto of neoliberals, especially liberal economists.

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Monday, November 01, 2010
LB Greenwood is a Canadian teacher who wrote three Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and she seems to understand more than most why people read the stuff:

LB Greenwood - Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Sabina Hall

I suppose when any elderly man looks back on his younger self, he is apt to feel that he is viewing a being infinitely stupid. I know that for me, now, to reread my accounts of Holmes' early cases is invariably to be surprised at how poorly I then understood him. To name but one example, at the start of our relationship I casually assumed that his purpose in life must be the same as mine, must be that of any professional man: to use whatever abilities he has, in whatever field he has chosen, in order to acquire whatever he can of this world's goods.

About Holmes I could not have been more wrong.

Not that he despised the means for civilized living; far from it. Holmes took as much pleasure in dining well in the Strand and in being able to take a box at the Theatre Royal (yes, and in wearing elegant evening attire for the occasion, too), as the next man. Still, to Holmes these were always mere peripheral pleasures, enjoyable enough in themselves, yet never essential to the smoldering core of his strange being. What fueled that fire was something far different. . .

"What you require in a case, then," I asked slowly, "is evidence of the operation of a truly criminal mind?"

"The criminal mind is as rare as any other form of genius, doctor. Fortunately, or mankind would not enjoy even the small peace that he has. What I require in a case is rather-"

On the street below a group of schoolboys was scampering off to class, one ahead of the rest. From him came that piping challenge of exhuberant youth. "You can't catch me-e-e!"

With that careless call a sudden light had leapt into Holmes' grey eyes, a light that I was to see on many occasions through the years, that I saw that morning for the first time. He gestured toward the window. "There is your answer. When I hear that call sounded by the details of a case, then, Watson, then my very soul shouts its reply: "Can't catch you? Oh yes, I can-I will!"

I was to think again of these words at the bloody conclusion of the case of Sabina Hall.

At that time my mind was so full of all that had happened that I rushed to fill pages with voluminous notes. A personal catharsis was all I intended, for I knew that no account of the events could be published during Holmes' or my lifetime: we had chosen to ignore the cold dictates of the law in order to serve a higher purpose.

As well, the case touched on that dark and guilt-laden side of modern life that is hard for me, a doctor and a gentleman, to address. We so often think of the late good Queen as the epitome of our age, our country, yet we have always known, we men, how different was the larger truth. Remember those midnight streets where the youthful harlot's curse "blights with plagues the marriage hearse," and then tell me that I am wrong.

These are reasons for my continuing silence. Yet if I do not soon commit the facts to paper, that great public that has followed Holmes's cases with such interest will be forever deprived of watching him during those early days when he was neither as certain nor as knowledgeable as he later became. What was present then, indeed never varied, was his intense commitment to his own ideal of justice, and if he was at times idiosyncratic in his pursuit and arbitrary in his decisions, as I look back from the distance of years, in this at least I cannot fault him. . .

. . .we took poor little Sally's body back to London with us, on Holmes' insistence.

"I told her that when we returned so would she," he said in a tone that brooked no denial, and so Sally was laid to rest in a quiet little churchyard not far from her old employers' establishment in Bedford Square. The servants from all the nearby houses attended, as well as Sally's few relations. (They were Primitive Brethren people: no wonder the poor girl had chosen to use Belle's services rather than to confide in their waiting condemnation.) After the funeral there was quite a little party in servants' hall, for all of which Miss Meredith insisted on paying. . .

. . .Naturally, the affair of Sabina Hall remained much in our minds. One day, as Holmes and I sat in front of the fire, pipes in hand and glasses on the table, I asked whether Holmes had ever learned why Mr. Winterspoon had accepted that village post.

"He had little choice," Holmes replied. "While he was on his first assignment in Gloucester, there was a brief and gentle episode with another young man. Miss Garth's father discovered it and, after counselling both, agreed to keep the matter secret, provided that Mr. Winterspoon moved to another church. This he did-to Avonmouth, where he served with distinction. Unfortunately. Miss Garth had also learned of the matter , and when dire financial straits took her as housekeeper to Sabina Hall, she forced Mr. Winterspoon to accept the village church as the price for her continuing silence."

"Merely in order to have a partner at chess?"

"Certainly the chess games were the sole bright spots in her drear existence, but she had a nature that also took a mean satisfaction in having a man of refinement with whom to converse and also to bully. She showed her open contempt for Mr. Winterspoon by denying him the courtesy title that a lady normally bestows automatically on any gentleman. Miss Garth treated him as she did her lowly paid companion.

"At least he can now return to Avonmouth," I said with a sigh of satisfaction.

"I believe he has already done so."

We smoked for some time in silence. Then Holmes observed, with a trace of annoyance, "In one point the matter of Sabina Hall ends unsatisfactorily. I have still no idea why seaweed was gathered and dried in the stables there."

"That is a question I can answer," I replied promptly and, I admit, with secret pleasure at being able to give Holmes information. "In fact there was no longer any mystery to me as soon as I knew of Belle's covert activities. Dried seaweed is made into a thick, pencil-like shape and inserted into a woman's body; within four-and-twenty it will swell greatly and thus possibly induce a miscarriage."

Holmes was staring at me in horrified fascination.

"Are you serious, doctor?"

"Serious is just what the subject is, for the seaweed can leave the woman mortally infected. Her life, however, is considered of secondary importance, and laminaria tents, as they are called, are quite well known in the dark sisterhood of the back alleys."

Holmes abandoned both pipe and glass and wandered over to the window. After staring out into the night for some moments, he moved back toward his chair, only to turn away once more. He ended leaning against the mantle, gazing down at the fire. "Miss Garth, Sally Kip, Belle, Miss Meredith," he finally murmered, "and all the others who. . ." He broke off, only to ask quietly after some minutes, "Have you every thanked God that you were not born a woman, Watson?"

"Many times, Holmes."

"I, too. I think with reason."

Elizabeth Goudge - The Little White Horse

"Humanity can be roughly divided into three sorts of people - those who find comfort in literature, those who find comfort in personal adornment and those who find comfort in food."

Wallace Shawn - On Writing About Sex

. . .It can only be seen as funny that demagogues give speeches denouncing men who insert their penises into other men's anuses - and then go home to insert their own penises into their wives' vaginas! (One might have thought it obvious that either both of these acts are completely outrageous, or neither of them is.)

I don't know how famous this Dorothy L Sayers doggerel is, explaining why she reads everything except "modern novels":

As I get older,
And totter towards the tomb,
I find that I care less and less
Who goes to bed with whom.

Leanita McClain is a name I haven't heard mentioned in a while. This paragraph has stayed with me since I read it:

Leanita McClain - A Foot in Each World: Essays and Articles

Here's a discovery that too many people still find startling: when given equal opportunities at white collar pencil pushing, blacks want the same thing from life that everyone else wants. These include the proverbial dream house, two cars, an above average school and a vacation for the kids at Disneyland. We may in fact want these things more than other Americans because most of us have been denied them so long.

Ben Carson - Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk

Filled with stories. Two worth mentioning are the increasing difficulty he has had treating uninsured patients, (in the 80's he just wrote off their expenses, but as hospitals became increasingly squeezed in the 90's and oughts, he could no longer do that), and the problems with reimbursement rates he has had with Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

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