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.