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The New Yorker

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I meant to make a laudatory post last week to the effect that, where other than The New Yorker might you find a smart, funny, informative article on a literary figure as obscure as Alfred Lord Dunsany. It was a terrific piece, with much obscure learning worn very lightly by the author.

 

But then they go and publish an article which completely ruined my digestion last night. 'Mysterious Circumstances' by David Grann, a purported investigation of the violent death of Richard Lancelyn Green, son of the popular UK children's author Roger Lancelyn Green, and would-be biographer of Arthur Conan Doyle.

 

It looked interesting. The unsolved murder or suicide of a literary researcher on the trail of documents jealously guarded by sinister and mysterious collectors of Sherlock Holmes memorabilia, and the greedy and wayward heirs of Conan Doyle.

 

It turns out that Grann is holding so many salient facts up his sleeve, and the mystery isn't really much of a mystery at all. What a detective fiction fan calls "not playing fair with the reader".

 

But the real misery of the article was the relentless display of ignorance of the subject matter. Grann thinks Poe's fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin was a police inspector. He doesn't know who Andrew Lang was. He thinks Green discovered that Holmes was named for Oliver Wendell Holmes some time in the 1980s. The most banal facts about Conan Doyle's work come as marvellous surprises to him.

 

He might have read just a basic historical work relating to Holmes or detective fiction before launching off on this piece. Way below the level I still expect from this magazine.

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He thinks Green discovered that Holmes was named for Oliver Wendell Holmes some time in the 1980s.

Surely this is a joke?

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There was an article by Malcolm Gladwell (whose work I've liked in the past) a couple of months ago on personality tests. I'm no expert, but I thought Gladwell misunderstood the common uses of the tests discussed and drew very misleading conclusions. Subsequently, I spoke to a professional psychologist who'd read the article and he was aghast that it was published. In a later issse I saw there were several letters of complaint about Gladwell's "facts".

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I remember that piece, and it was indeed odd, but outside my field.

 

Hollywood, is what a joke? I think it's common currency that Conan Doyle probably got the surname Holmes from Oliver Wendell Holmes. But it was old news by the 1980s (as I'm sure Green himself would have known).

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Myers-Briggs testing?

 

That article definitely got a lot of the professionals in our parent company in an uproar. Several senior execs called the HR people in to justify the seven figure testing bill, all the consultants, and the pointlessness of the piddling results.

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Yes, and another one that uses pictures (not Rorschach) and the subject has to offer a narrative to describe what they imagine is going on.

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I remember that piece, and it was indeed odd, but outside my field.

 

Hollywood, is what a joke? I think it's common currency that Conan Doyle probably got the surname Holmes from Oliver Wendell Holmes. But it was old news by the 1980s (as I'm sure Green himself would have known).

Sorry for the indistinct query. I meant the late discovery being the joke.

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Double irritation at this week's magazine.

 

First we have Louis Menand twittering about "Lerman was a New Yorker—he was born in 1914 in what is now Spanish Harlem" - emphasis added. Yes, and there's a rose there too. Does he "fricking" live in New York?

 

Worse, from Anthony Lane on Dunkirk in his review of Atonement (the lead article in their online edition):

 

More than three hundred thousand men, most of them members of the retreating British Expeditionary Force, were eventually rescued: a national humiliation recast as a triumph of spirit and initiative, and thus an ominous backdrop to the smaller fabrications in this film.

 

As I recall, this was the orderly retreat and evacuation of an army under heavy enemy fire with the assistance of countless civilian vessels; the alternative being, presumably, a surrender to the advancing Germans. And Lane, note, is British. :huh:

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As I recall, this was the orderly retreat and evacuation of an army under heavy enemy fire with the assistance of countless civilian vessels; the alternative being, presumably, a surrender to the advancing Germans. And Lane, note, is British. :huh:

I read somewhere that there was a joke at the time that BEF stood for "back every fortnight."

 

Yes, it was a brilliant maneuver. It probably prevented a British capitualation and was a turning point in the war. To this day there is speculation that Hitler held off on administering the killing blow during the evacuation because there were back channel negotiations going on for a cease fire. Putative terms were that Britain would keep the empire and the Germans would have kept Europe. Churchill had other plans.

 

 

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Yes. Of course I was even more peeved when I was reading it, forgetting that Lane was British, since it was a key part of the holding operation carried out until the States joined the war seventeen months later.

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Myers-Briggs testing?

 

That article definitely got a lot of the professionals in our parent company in an uproar. Several senior execs called the HR people in to justify the seven figure testing bill, all the consultants, and the pointlessness of the piddling results.

 

I had to take one of those for my first job out of college. I felt like if you knew the type of job you were applying for, they were kind of easy to game. (Not that I ever, ever would!) I think they are useful for private exploration, or to figure out what management techniques work for the people one is already supervising, but to use them to fill a job seemed completely absurd to me at the time.

 

Just got this week's issue a minute ago but haven't had a chance to look at it yet.

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Yes. Of course I was even more peeved when I was reading it, forgetting that Lane was British, since it was a key part of the holding operation carried out until the States joined the war seventeen months later.

Lane must have been overcome by his smoke and mirrors metaphor.

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As I recall, this was the orderly retreat and evacuation of an army under heavy enemy fire with the assistance of countless civilian vessels; the alternative being, presumably, a surrender to the advancing Germans. And Lane, note, is British. :huh:

I read somewhere that there was a joke at the time that BEF stood for "back every fortnight."

 

Yes, it was a brilliant maneuver. It probably prevented a British capitualation and was a turning point in the war. To this day there is speculation that Hitler held off on administering the killing blow during the evacuation because there were back channel negotiations going on for a cease fire. Putative terms were that Britain would keep the empire and the Germans would have kept Europe. Churchill had other plans.

 

The British government was busy shipping the crown jewels and the royal treasury to Canada during this period. There was a very real fear the Germans would invade. The "hedgerow" speech and all that.

 

Given the collapse and capture of the Polish army in 1939, the collapse and dispersal of the French army and navy, and the absence of resistance in the Benelux, the imminent fall of the British kingdom wasn't an unlikely proposition in 1940. And, a significant portion of the Royal Army was in Malaya / Singapore / Hong Kong / India / Africa etc defending or oppressing the locals, depending on your point of view

 

Many speculated at the time that the Germans planned to reinstate Edward VIII and Queen Wallis on the throne, after a negotiated cease fire.

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To this day that "fight them on the beaches" speech gives me chills.

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And, a significant portion of the Royal Army was in Malaya / Singapore / Hong Kong / India / Africa etc defending or oppressing the locals, depending on your point of view

Teaching them cricket. Which I suppose is a form of oppression.

 

Yes, invasion was anticipated, which is why it was thought important to bring the three hundred thousand troops home.

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