My Netflix Review: Sherlock

Some iconic characters and literature are iconic partly because they are set in a particular time or place which in big ways and small, is part of the story.  The should-have-been-a-blockbuster John Carter, brought to film in 2012, was set in the 19th Century because the main character’s personality was very much set by the standards, ethics, and experiences of that time.  Some iconic characters can be updated, but usually it’s in such a way that there is only the faintest semblance to the original work.  The movie Clueless was based Jane Austen’s Emma, but no one really looks upon Clueless as a movie adaptation of Emma.  Similarly, 10 Things I hate About You was based, loosely, on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It strikes me as weird that the classics inspire so many teen comedies.

Sherlock goes to the Library

Sherlock goes to the Library (Photo credit: Super Furry Librarian)

But sometimes characters just seem to work better in the milieu that they were originally conceived.  Although I admit that’s highly subjective.  My first introduction to the Sherlock Holmes character was through the books of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, not as would be more common today, through film.  So that set my view as to how Sherlock Holmes should be portrayed.  Movies have gone in a different direction however, as most of the classic Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies were set in the period they were made, the 1940’s.  But to me, the more recently made Robert Downey Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes seems more “authentic” because they were set in the Victorian era, and let’s face it, is there a character that Robert Downey Jr. can’t play?

So when the BBC version of Sherlock hit the Netflix queue, I was wondering how I would accept this 21st Century version.  One thing that bugs me about the updating of iconic characters is that they necessarily live in a world that isn’t ours.  We live in a world in which Sherlock Holmes is very much part of the popular culture.  Sherlock takes place in a world where there was no Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and no Sherlock Holmes stories.  But as far as the answer to the question of if I could accept this, apparently, yes I can.  The show works.

One thing I was curious about was how they would portray Holmes, not as a detective, but as a man.  Doyle’s Holmes was highly intelligent but his stand out quality, what made Holmes who he was, was his keen observation skills.   The same skills that allow Shawn Spencer to fake psychic powers in USA Network’s Psych.

But we 21st Century types tend to medicalize everything.  So I was curious as to how Benedict Cumberbatch would portray Holmes.  What would be his major malfunction?  It turns out, they did have that in mind and Holmes answered that question in the very first episode, A Study in Pink,I’m not a psychopath, Anderson, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research.”  That’s an interesting choice and I’m not sure why the producers went in that direction, rather than what I thought was a more obvious one, a high functioning autistic or someone with Asperger’s.  The characteristics of a sociopath don’t really lend itself to enhancing a someone’s observational skills.  I can only assume that Asperger’s was just too obvious but they still wanted some personality disorder to justify Holme’s keen intelligence and observation skills.  There has to be some justice after all.  We couldn’t have a normal person have those skills.

The character of Dr. John Watson, portrayed by Martin Freeman, seems much more human and relatable in contrast to Holmes.  Watson, just like the original Dr. Watson that Doyle wrote of, is a returning Army doctor back from Afghanistan (some things never change!).  This updated version of Watson is having difficulty adjusting to civilian life when he comes across Holmes and somehow passes Holme’s strenuous roommate test that is as challenging as Sheldon Cooper’s roommate agreement.

More so than any other version of Holmes, this one treats Holmes and Watson as not just colleagues but roommates, with all of the various conflicts that entails.  But Watson isn’t just a sidekick. This Watson still has very much of the soldier in him and is a man of action when the situation requires it.

So at least through Series 1 (Series 2 isn’t out on Netflix yet), this updated version seems to work well.  So well that CBS, in keeping with their practice of ripping off the BBC is coming out with their own Sherlock Holmes version this fall, Elementary.  Whether this is a pale rip off of the BBC version or an original retelling remains to be seen.  Sherlock Holmes in New York?  Is there even a Baker Street in New York?

We’ll see how that goes.  Sherlock has proven that you can do an updated, 21st Century version that’s very watchable.  So I’ll be looking forward to Series 2 showing up on Netflix.

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For Us, Who Didn’t Build That

I wasn’t planning to comment on Obama’s idiotic “you didn’t build that speech.”  I mean, after all, it’s idiotic.  So I ignored some of the push back and response from the conservative blogosphere.  It was minor anyway compared to MSNBC’s “All Bain, All the Time” news coverage that has been inflicting the network for weeks?  Months?  But it must have been stuck in my brain somewhere, even if covered by Romney’s tax returns and financial disclosure statements.  Sometimes I’m sure that my brain is processing things even when I’m not aware of it.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself to justify hours of mindless television; my brain is busy processing something.

So sometime this morning, between deep sleep and my second cup of coffee, I realized a few exceptions to Obama’s idea that government makes all things possible.  One of them was my grandpa’s road.   Decades ago my grandfather built and maintained a road coming off of a county road in order to get to his property.  It was all on property he owned and over the years he sold parcels all along the road he had made.  Eventually there was quite a cluster of homes coming from this private road, and when my grandfather died, in his will he left the road to the county.  So there was a clear case of infrastructure being built by private hands and the government picking it up after all of the hard work had already been done.

Of course in the United States that had been the norm.  Settlements popped up long before there were local governments to build roads and other infrastructure.  By the time government showed up, the town and infrastructure were already there.  That still goes on today.  New communities and subdivisions built by private interests pay for and build their own infrastructure; which local governments end up inheriting.

But there was something else, about the speech, something familiar, and no, it wasn’t that it was basically cribbed from Elizabeth Warren’s rant against’ producers.  It took me a bit to place it but then it came to me why I was familiar with the philosophy of that speech.

Science Fiction.

Cover of "For Us, The Living: A Comedy of...

Cover of For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs

One of the earliest works by Science Fiction author Robert Heinlein was a book called, For Us, The Living.  Although it was written in 1938 it was an incomplete work and never finished or published until after Heinlein’s death, when it was found and finished up by another SF writer, Spider Robinson.  As a Heinlein fan I was anxious to read it when it was first published in 2003, but this isn’t the libertarian Robert Heinlein I was familiar with from such novels as, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or Time Enough for Love.  This was the Robert Heinlein in the midst of the Great Depression, who worked on the 1934 California Governor’s race for Socialist Upton Sinclair.

So it was a very different Robert Heinlein who wrote this book.  A socialist one to be sure, and a writer more influenced by the works of the turn of the century than what passed for science fiction in the 1930’s.  In fact, For Us, The Living, is less a novel and more an exposition of what was then a popular socialist idea, Social Credit.  Heinlein’s hero is a 1930’s engineer who after having a traffic accident, somehow ends up in the late 21st Century.  How he got there is never really explained, and although a gaping hole in the plotline that big is enough to kill interest in a plot, there isn’t really that much plot.  The car crash is just a device to get Heinlein’s hero to the future where he can listen to endless lectures on how great the socialist future is.

So as an entertaining romp, it blows.  It’s more like Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward.  This is the socialist future; let me explain how great it is and why your time stank, the end.  But if anyone is interested in an archaic socialist theory from the 1930’s, this is the book to read.  Social Credit seems to have fallen out of favor as far as wacky socialist theories go, but its implementation sounds attractive.  A nations’ cultural inheritance, is considered a factor of production under this theory.  So it’s not just the infrastructure like roads that’s a factor that government provided, it’s the accumulated knowledge that lead to knowing how to build the roads, and the fact that we have a network of roads crisscrossing the country.  Since each generation doesn’t have to build the nation up from scratch, there is a “surplus.”  The long and short, and if you know socialism you could guess this already, is that the “surplus” is distributed in payments to citizens.  Nobody has to work if they don’t want to, since they can live off the “surplus.”

So you can see why Heinlein never had this published in his lifetime.  Shame.  But I can forgive him for his socialist past; that was quite common in the 30’s, when the only competing philosophies were some version of Socialism and Fascism, or as a distant third way, Keynesian Social Welfare Democracy.  There was no William F. Buckley standing athwart history yelling stop in the 1930’s.

And in fact it’s not uncommon for people to experiment with communism or some variation of socialism in their youth, particularly in college.  Just listen to the rantings of the few remaining Occupy protestors.  Blather right out of Mao’s little red book.  Probably most of your major big time Democrats were some type of socialist in college, and quite a few Republicans for that matter.

But people grow up and in time, put aside childish things.  Well not Elizabeth Warren, but she’s an academic who never really left college.  And apparently not Barack Obama. I’ve never really joined in the chorus of those calling the President “Socialist” since, when I use the word, I mean it to be descriptive, not a pejorative, but in this situation, the case Obama is making in this speech is Social Credit Socialism.

So Obama never outgrew his youthful socialist past.  After all, what grown man would want to be friends with an actual for-realsies terrorist like William Ayers?  Of course, every time he goes off script he drops hints, going all the way back to his run in with Joe the Plumber.  But America has had almost 4 years to get used to the idea, and apparently it’s not a deal breaker.  Who would have ever thought that?

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You’ll Know We Are in Decline When…

A few months ago I wrote about America in decline and a couple of ideas that I thought could, if not turn it around, at least keep things getting worse.  However decline is so much easier than, you know, actually doing anything about it.  I think it more likely than not that rather than getting off the couch and doing something about it, we’ll continue our long slide downward, stirring ourselves only occasionally to go to the bathroom or pop another bag of popcorn.

I had hoped that on my deathbed, right before I whispered “rosebud” to my confused yet adoring family, I could die knowing that the country was still a great power and still had a great future.  Instead, I’ll probably end up throwing a snow globe against the wall and saying, “I hope we can stay even with Argentina.”  Then I’ll die and release my bowels.

I think under either scenario at death I end up releasing my bowels, but for some reason that doesn’t fit in to my rosy America-The-Strong scenario.

English: one hundred doller bill colection

English: one hundred doller bill colection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But when you are in the midst of a decline it’s sometimes hard to see it.  Your national self image, inherited from a time when your country was worth a damn, will get in the way.

Case in point, France.  Why is France on the UN Security Council again?

But the current world order will give us a big clue as to when our national greatness begins its slide into that good night:  When the dollar loses its world reserve currency status.

Being the world’s reserve currency means that banks and nations all over the world keep a good stash of US dollars on hand and a lot of internationally traded commodities (like oil) are priced in US dollars.  This is great news for us since it means there is always a steady demand of US dollars worldwide to buy things priced in dollars.  This saves us the expenses involved in constantly converting our currency into another currency to buy things on the international market.  Gas prices at the pump would be even higher if we had to convert dollars to another currency, like the Euro, to buy oil.

Dollars make the world economy go round.

But the dollar isn’t what it was, and other countries are starting to tire of their financial fortunes being anchored to a now whimsical US fiscal policy. The International Monetary Fund has called for replacing the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  France has made a proposal to replace the dollar with a basket of several currencies.  The BRICS group of nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, & South Africa) has formally called for revamping the world financial system and replacing the dollar.

The FED has been working overtime via QE2 to devaluate the dollar.  Not good news if you are actually holding dollars.  The longer you hold dollars, the more earnings power you lose.  Domestically we understand that as inflation.  Of course, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics has rigged our inflation counting, we really don’t know what our domestic inflation rate is, only that mysteriously, prices are going up.

Must be speculators!

Since the current FED chief and the current administration seem to have taken a damn the financial system, full steam ahead policy as far as wrecking the dollar’s value, there is little hope for a turnaround of the dollar’s decline in the near term.  I suspect that the dollar would have been dumped by the world by now if it’s nearest rival, the Euro, wasn’t also in deep doo doo.  The Euro Zone, filled with countries that have also sabotaged their own futures by sinking into debt beyond a reasonable means to pay, make the Euro a poor long term prospect since eventually to avoid default or austerity beyond what the Europeans are willing to endure, they will have to either dump the Euro and go back to their national currencies, or inflate the Euro to the point that even the Greeks could afford to pay their debts.  Either option would end the Euro experiment as we know it.   However that’s the short run.  In the long run, the deterioration of the dollar and our own expanded debt will bring us to the options that face the Europeans now; austerity (which doesn’t mean what it’s critics seem to think it means), or to inflate our currency, or as economists like to say, monetize the debt, will force the world to jump ship, if not to another single currency, than to a basket of currencies.

At that point, let the decline begin!

If the dollar is no longer the world reserve currency, the demand for holding dollars drops like a rock.  Who needs them then?  As the world dump the dollar holdings, the dollar will decline even more.  Without the massive buying of US Treasuries by governments and banks around the world, we can’t run up the massive deficits we’ve been getting away with.

And that fair readers, is Bond-Ageddon; what I call that fateful day in the future when the demand for US Treasuries collapses, leaving us no way to finance our deficit or debt.  If you want to know what sort of austerity that would cause in our government, imagine if we were told that we could no longer run a budget deficit, right now.  Immediately the government would have to cut spending.  And considering the size of our deficits, that would mean everything would be sliced, Medicare, defense, roads, pensions, you name it.  There just would be no more money, and no way to borrow enough to cover our bills.  Not just for a few weeks, but for the foreseeable future.  We would become a 2nd world nation.  Mexico will make fun of us.

So there you go, your own little early warning indicator, the demand to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.  It’s not quite Rome being sacked by Vandals, but they’re on the riverbank, gazing at the city.

A version of this post first appeared on on July 2, 2011.

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