Saturday, January 06, 2007

College Football: Last Lap Around the Bowls

Used to be you named a college bowl game after some agricultural product---a peach, a pecan, an orange, a rose, sometimes corn or cotton. Everybody rounded up a couple of teams to play each other on New Year's, and after the carnage and marching bands were done, at the end of the day some sort of #1 was voted on.

Well, like all elections, national champions are seldom decided to everyone's satisfaction. And this year, the scientifically-determined Bowl Championship Series final 'twixt Ohio State and Gatorade U. won't even be played until January 8. Talk about prolonging the agony, and not only that, the crappier (pun somewhat intended) bowls plop at last over the finish line: January 6 is the International Bowl (whatever that is), to be contested between Western Michigan (we might accurately guess where that might be) and the legendary University of Cincinnati.


Alas, the fruits, nuts, flowers and fibers of the bowl games of yore have largely given way to over 40 bowl games bearing the TMs of MCS Computers, Meineke Mufflers and Doritos, but here's to the champs of not exactly an entire corporation, but at least their website:

To the University of South Florida, vanquishers of East Carolina University (24-to-something), I shall remember your achievement at the 2006 papajohns.com Bowl always, or at least as long as they continue their $4.99 (large, one topping) carryout special. History is what you make of it, especially when it's a great deal on a pretty good pizza.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Why We Hate

Peter Wood, the brilliant anthropologist and author of the new book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Today, has contributed a very astute analysis of "The Liberalitarian Dustup" in National Review Online. I recommmend it highly.

Analyzing the disagreement between libertarians and liberals as to whether the two sides have much in common and might make good political bedfellows, and concentrating on leftist Jonathan Chait's furious rejection of libertarian Brink Lindsey's overture suggesting an alliance, Wood uses the exchange to exemplify the absurd amount of anger in political discourse today, and the amount of it that seems so thorougly unjustified by the intellectual or political differences at hand.

We know all of that already, of course, but Wood adds something of value to the discussion. He succinctly and correctly identifies the sociological and cultural origins of the great unleashing of anger in contemporary political discourse:

The Newly Angry are moved by a sense that they are most authentic, most transcendently themselves, when they are unleashing their anger. New Anger is the narcissistic self in high dudgeon.

Wood points out that modern-day, extreme expressions of anger in political discourse are actually attempts to characterize oneself as authentic and one's cause as just. This, he astutely observes, is an outgrowth of our transition "from a culture that prized self-control to a culture that prizes self-expression" (a phenomenon which I identified in NRO in 2003). Wood notes that although polictical anger has existed for a long time (ever since people have had any influence over their governments, I would note) the big change is the movement away from an ideal of self-control to one of self-expression:
Anger at political adversaries, of course, is nothing new. Reflecting on the intensification of political anger in the last few years, some commentators have pointed to the extraordinary acrimony between partisans of Jefferson and Adams in the 1800 election as proof that the nation has seen worse. But that comparison misses something. Go back and read the vitriolic diatribes of 1800 and you will find numerous attacks on Jefferson as a would-be tyrant and a man of low morals; and numerous attacks on Adams as a scoundrel who would sell the nation back to the British. But you will nothing remotely like, “I hate Thomas Jefferson,” or “I hate John Adams.”

Why not? Americans in 1800 certainly knew what political anger was but they faced powerful restraints. George Washington, who was completing his second term, was a living reproof to those who couldn’t control their anger. He was known to be a man of quick temper who, by dint of hard effort, smothered it. That was the ideal. Children were taught from a young age that they had to master their anger, and that to fail at this was to own a morally serious flaw. Politics, being inherently oppositional, is bound to test such a principle. The newspapers and pamphlets of 1800 are full of Jeremiads, hard-hitting satire, and libelous personal attacks, and the writers give the impression (usually behind the mask of a pseudonym) of enjoying the rollicking pleasure of their verbal extravagance.
I should observe that the period leading up to the War Between the States included expressions of anger similar to those we see today, in which people routinely characterized one another as demons and in which reason was regularly tossed out the window. I think that this observation actually brings up a point that should be crucial in understanding the current situation:

Slavery was important.

It was a central moral issue. It went to our very definition of ourselves and what is human.

And there could be no compromise on it.

Today, by contrast, political discourse has become absurdly impassioned over issues such as when to turn Iraq over to its elected government, what if anything to do about climate variation, how much more money to waste on propping up the welfare state, and other such issues which, however important they may be in making our comfortable lives even cushier, have not one one-hundredth of the importance of the issue of whether people should be viewed as property.

Antebellum Americans had a demmed good reason to be angry at one another. There is nothing like that in play today, with the possible exception of stem cell research and related issues—and on that issue there hasn't been much discussion at all in comparison with the issues mentioned above.

As life has become easier for Americans, the arguments have become more ferocious.

The biggest difference between America then and now, and between today and all other times in the history of the United States, is this: We were vulnerable to attack.

When Jefferson and Adams were arguing and their followers fuming, the British were a severe, present danger, and in fact would attack the United States just a few years later. In that regard, both Jefferson and Adams were on the same side. There could be no doubt that they were allies of the heart on the fundamental level.

Today it is our very sense of post-Cold War, sole superpower invincibility that allows us to fight each other so furiously.

The hostilities, so evident during the Clinton administration and after the 2000 elections, died down temporarily when we perceived ourselves as threatened after the 9/11 attacks. But as the threat receded, there being no terror attacks on American soil after our intitiation of the War on Iraq, the furor over every little thing arose again, even greater than before.

Everything happens in the Omniculture, and without a central set of accepted premises to guide us in our search for solutions to our social problems (which are endemic to mankind and will always exist), our political discourse becomes increasingly disturbed and pornographically violent.

That is unlikely to change until we are either confronted by a real, undeniable, and imminent danger to our very existence, or we come once again to share a set of general values widely across society.

The first is, of course, a consummation for which no sensible person would wish, and the second is something that, alas, appears to have become very unlikely indeed.

From Karnick on Culture.

More on Hate Crimes

Jim, it's interesting you bring up these little verbal street assaults. There may be something about some of us pale fellas that occasions taunting from men of darker hue.

I don't know what it is, but I have, in the past racked up the following incidents:

1. On an unmotivated walk, just strolling through Charlottesville, VA into an unfamiliar neighborhood, I began to hear threatening remarks issuing forth from somewhere out of my vision. I suddenly realized I was the only caucasoid on the street. "You bettah get yo a$$ outta here, BOY. You bettah RUN."

I don't mind admitting to you that I RAN.

2. Same town, different day. I was walking through the charming downtown area. Two African-American gents hung out on a corner just staring at passersby. When I passed, they issued a gratuitious racial insult. I kept walking, head down, seriously peeved. The Christian humanist in me wanted to engage these guys and find out what was at the bottom of insulting somebody they didn't know anything about. I was too mad and too afraid of where a confrontation would lead, so I kept walking with a knot in my stomach.

3. Atlanta: Running late to get to the capitol for lobbying work. I jumped out of my train and stepped onto the escalator. I may have walked up the first two or three steps. A large African-American man dressed in heavy jacket and baseball cap turned around and menaced, "Don't you ever run up on me like that, boy."

4. Atlanta: Riding MARTA to the capitol. Made the mistake of boarding a car full of African-American young people while dressed in a suit. A young woman came and stood over me and then began to RAP at me and unleashed a number of lines I could barely understand, but were clearly not complimentary. Her companions leered and giggled. I sat there thinking, "Here I am working, trying to establish a career, and I've somehow merited RIDICULE."

5. On another occasion, I walked through the underground train station in Atlanta. A young, black man dressed in the gangsta style ran up to me, dropped down to a football three point stance, and waited, I think, for me to get out of his way. By this time I'd had enough. I outweighed this guy by a hundred pounds and I wasn't moving. He jumped up, spun around me and yelled as he passed, "Boy, I would have KNOCKED you down!" I replied, "In your dreams." My cheek had been turned about 270 degrees from its original position and I was beginning to react.

Strangely enough, since that time the unwarranted cross-racial attacks aimed at me seem to have stopped. Maybe the Lord decided I'd had enough. I don't know. Maybe I walk a little taller, stand a little straighter these days. But I do know that it's a very unpleasant thing to be insulted, called out, and taunted, and verbally spat upon when you haven't done a thing in the world other than mind your own darn business.

Hate me, Baby, just leave me alone

A WALK IN THE PARK: I think I was a hate-crime victim. Guy called me a white faggot as I walked through Scoville Park in the gloaming a few weeks ago. I didn't stop. He and his friends were irritated at my NOT stopping. They were desperate for my attention, and I refused it. This was my offense, and so I got victimized. Or was I?

All the guy did was toss out a "white faggot" to an unassuming white fellow trying hard to mind his own business. I had passed them earlier. One was jawing at another, three or four others stood chatting each other up. It's a free country, I thought, go ahead and jaw. I got a few steps past them and heard, "Hi, brother." Who, me? I'm not a brother, I thought -- except to an octogenarian in Gurnee and a septuagenarian in Arlington, VA -- and kept walking.

Again the call: "Brother." I'll bet it's me, I mused. But out of 40-year-old misty memory came a guy yelling, "Hey, you with the collar!" in an open field at 13th and Loomis on a midsummer night in 1966, as helmeted police gathered all down Roosevelt Road. The caller had me cold, I wore the clerical collar. I ignored his cry for attention. Twenty-something and intent on mischief, he had an audience of five or six teen-aged boys, to whom he would have given a lesson in how to deal with the likes of me. No, thanks, I muttered, continuing my way towards the Baptist church at the other end of the project, where do-gooders were gathering ineffectually.

Ignoring this Scoville Park greeting came easy, therefore. But my response rankled, and when I returned 15 minutes later heading the other way, I was accused incontinently of being "a snob" who "wouldn't talk" to them. I was "Sherlock Holmes" in my floppy hat (heh). I was told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. These were truly disgruntled youth. Later on Lake Street, I ran into them again. This time they tossed the N-word at a fellow African American, who was also told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. Now I ask you, were we all victims of hate crimes?

JUMPING TO CONCLUSION: You hear a lot about the school achievement gap, but what about the basketball gap? White kids can't jump, but so what? So they don't suit up or if they do, they warm the bench. That's what happens to the American dream in a dog-eat-dog society. Look, white kids are grossly underrepresented on basketball teams not just in Oak Park and River Forest but nationally. I say enough. Let's train our sights on this gap too. And nuts to this can't-jump stuff, which is transparently racist. It's environment, folks. How many white fathers shoot hoops with their sons?

THROUGH A PRISM DARKLY: The Oak Park District 97 strategic plan draft calls schools "the educational prism through which students realize meaning and purpose in their lives." It says they are "to guarantee that each student achieves optimal intellectual growth while developing socially, emotionally and physically." That's all?

How about the prism through which students realize how to read, write, and do long division, not to mention shut up when teacher is talking and otherwise cooperate for the more or less common good? And who says schools are a prism in the first place? In what respect are they "a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces that refract light, the exact angles between whose surfaces depend on the application"? Beats me.

As for "realizing" -- learning? achieving? both, splitting the difference? -- the meaning and purpose in life, oh my. Are these schools or houses of worship? And there's a guarantee of optimal growth? Listen to that carnival barker.

Maybe we would all pay more attention to a plan that made more sense. Or did not belabor the obvious, favoring "a culture of inclusion that respects and promotes diversity." This deftly undercuts the powerful exclusion and uniformity lobby, but it's also grand language impossible to disagree with, reeking of groupthink and lack of imagination, cobbled together in meetings.

The good news is, it's a draft. So hello Baby, give us rewrite.

(From Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest, 1/3/07)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is Conservatism Really Losing?

In light of the last election a lot of conservatives are going all navel-gazing on us. I’m not sure I share what appears to be the prevalent pessimism. But maybe I’m wrong. I came across an intriguing article at “The American Thinker” by Steven Warshawsky, and he argues that America is moving left, not in evidence because of the election, but because the left controls all the most powerful means of culture to influence Americans: academia, mainstream media, Hollywood, law, etc. This is otherwise known as the ubiquitous liberal message machine that is American culture.

I can sympathize with his concern, but the reason I don’t share his pessimism is that liberalism is a political philosophy today that dares not speak its name. Hillary Clinton may be a leftist, but she doesn't run as one, even in New York. If we look at modern political history, let's say post-WWII, then conservatism, which really didn't exist on a popular level before WFB came along, has done tremendously well. In poll after poll, self-described liberals are fewer than self-described conservatives.

What we are really talking about here is the great unwashed “middle”. These people are primarily apolitical and are most easily swayed by the soft sweet liberalism they’ve been swimming in since they hit kindergarten. He makes the irrefutable case that most conservatives are talking to themselves (all you liberals out there reading this please raise your hands). As a parallel example, Conservative Christians have been rightly accused of living in a “Christian ghetto” for years. Preaching to the choir, if you will.

His answer in the short run is advertising. Yes, you read that right, advertising. Maybe, but in the long run the only answer is to get more conservatives in all those places of influence. I believe most Americans would buy the conservative argument every time if those weren't so easily demagogued as they are in our political and cultural environment.

I grew up politically with the election of Reagan. I voted for Carter in '80 because of complete ignorance, but started not too long thereafter to read the WSJ editorial page and National Review. I wasn't ignorant long. It was interesting for me at the time to see the amount of effort put in to recruiting young conservatives into politics. Those young conservatives are now the ones who dominate the Republican Party.

We need to do the same today. Using a similar model we can recruit young conservatives into academia, journalism, Hollywood, law, and the arts. This can be done on college campuses and to those of college age. We simply, though it would not be simple, connect with all the campus conservative or Republican organizations and recruit young conservative firebrands into careers that will “make a difference.” We hold conferences, training sessions, basically whatever they did in the 70s and 80s to raise up a generation of conservative politicians and political operatives.

The 60s boomers who dominate culture today will be dead and gone in the next 30 or 40 years. I believe that the generations coming after them are not nearly as ideological, so as more and more conservatives begin to take over positions of power in our culture in the next decades the heyday of liberalism can be put in the trash can of history with its kissin' cousins, communism and socialism.

Nifong Drops Rape Charges Against Falsely Accused Duke Students

As you may have heard in the news, District Attorney Michael Nifong has dropped the rape charges against the Duke University lacrosse players falsely charged last March. As Thomas Sowell notes in National Review Online, Nifong decided to drop the charges when the head of the lab that looked at the DNA evidence in the case testified under oath that the accuser had DNA from other men on her, but none from any Duke player.

However, as Sowell astutely notes, Nifong has left some relatively minor charges hanging over the three young men identified by the stripper in a rigged photo lineup. Nifong's blatant misconduct led to this author's call for his impeachment last May, along with prosecution of the accuser and the firing of Duke University President Richard Brodhead, who sided with the accuser and castigated the Duke lacrosse team, the Duke student body, all non-poor caucasians, and all males. The man is an utter disgrace.

From the start of this sordid affair, I have consistently referred to the players as falsely accused, the accuser as phony, Nifong as guilty of gross prosecutorial misconduct, and Brodhead as a race panderer and a disloyal, smarmy class warrior. Nifong's latest action confirms all of those characterizations.

Sowell notes that Nofong's strategy in leaving some charges remaining against the falsely accused men is designed to save not only his political life but indeed to keep himself out of prison. His blatant misconduct in this case merits disbarment and criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice, as I have argued before on this site. Sowell points out that the remaining charges are Nifong's only hope of evading disbarment and possible criminal prosecution against himself:

It is an old ploy to keep some charges hanging over the heads of accused individuals, even if you don't have enough of a case to convict them, just so that they can be persuaded to plea bargain down to something with minor penalties, in order to get the hassle over with.

That would also get the heat off Nifong, who could then claim that in fact he had some basis to prosecute in this case, when in fact he had nothing from day one.

If bad gets to worse, Nifong can take the case to a jury, hoping to find at least one juror so biased by racial resentments as to refuse to declare the Duke students not guilty. A hung jury can save Nifong from being hung for a groundless prosecution.

As I argued months ago and regularly since, this case is not just about three college boys, a stripper, and a prosecutor. It is about whether ambitious prosecutors are to be allowed to use the power of the law as a tool of their own political ambitions. Sowell agrees, noting that if Nifong gets away with this outrageous misconduct,

. . . it would allow a nationally publicized gross misuse of prosecutorial powers to go unpunished, emboldening other prosecutors across the country to think that they can get away with anything.

What happens to Nifong matters far beyond Nifong, just as what happens to these Duke University students matters far beyond these students.

That is why we should care about this case, and why Nifong should be impeached forthwith. Once he's impeached, his replacement can drop the charges against the falsely accused Duke students, and the prosecutions of Nifong and the accuser can begin.

That will be a good day for all of us.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Abort the Children of Men

I was eagerly awaiting the movie based on P.D. James's The Children of Men, but after this review by Thomas Hibbs on NRO, I think I'll just wait until it hits Netflix. Alas.

My Democrat Friends

Sadly, my friendship is unrequited. They largely cull their wisdom from bumper stickers, in this case "FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS VOTE REPUBLICAN," they can't dissuade me from doing so, ergo we cannot be friends. The logic is impeccable; still, it hurts.

Now, I took a lot of deserved grief at the last election over the conduct of the GOP congress. Although by 1994 the Democrats had cut to 30% the number of bills they let the minority party weigh in on, by 2006 the GOP, as the majority, went the extra mile or two and cut it to 10%. Admittedly ungracious, the Democrats pledged to do better, and it was a point I had to yield.

However, DRUDGE tells us that the Democrats will keep the bulldozer running at least for the coming 100 Hours of Terror and Irrelevance.

I do expect the republic to survive, and as for the return of civility, the nation holds its breath. The Democrats will still have to keep their core happy, and the early returns are not promising. It's hard for Democrats to be friends with anyone, especially each other, it seems. In future, I shall try not to take it personally.

Fair & Balanced

Since we spend the lion's share of our time spotlighting the idiocies of the left, duty requires we note those on the right.

Pat Robertson, please shut up. If you want to do something useful, pick me a horse.

Where Are They Now? Dept.

It's not earth-shaking news, but...Do any of you remember James Elliott, who once graced The Reform Club with his frequent commentary? Well, he has a site of his own now. You might want to drop by and wish him well.

My Bold Prediction for 2007-2008: Obama Fever Unstoppable


Barack Obama is going to be the presidential nominee for the Democrats without breaking a sweat. He is going to win the presidency of the United States, too.



I had this feeling about Bill Clinton well before he became the frontrunner. Obama's going to make it look easy. The guy is an absolute master at sounding like the perfect moderate while simultaneously voting party line left-wing liberal. Thus, he shall be loved and lauded by the press and pushed by the party hungry to retake the White House.

Obama will also make a major impact on religious voters. Despite his voting record, Obama has mastered the valentine to persons of faith. He goes out of his way to show he does not share the secularistic contempt of the faithful even if he does share the secularists' voting record. He's going to get ALL the Jim Wallis-Tony Campolo types and a good chunk of the "emergent" Evangelicals as well.

This guy could have a gay lover scandal followed by falling into a pile of horse manure all before a 10 a.m. campaign stop and still be our next president.

The only thing that could stop him would be another 9-11 type disaster on American soil, which would make Rudy the next occupant of the White House.

Alan Reynolds, Champion of the Downtrodden

Since our esteemed colleague Alan Reynolds is too demure to toot his own horn as loudly as it deserves to be tooted, I point readers to his commentary piece which originally appeared in the Washington TImes on Christmas Eve. The more Alan talks about his new book, Income and Wealth, the more people will absorb his sensible explanations of the real economic meaning of the concepts business reporters, Beltway eggheads, and members of the House majority seem to delight in misusing.

I especially appreciated Alan's highlighting of the disproportionate role energy prices play in the consumption of the poorest households, and how they are hit especially hard when energy prices rise. This reinforces one of my pet gripes about the American left: while they blather endlessly about how they are the True Friends of the Poor and Downtrodden, their policy proposals almost invariably harm the poor most of all. From increasing the brutally regressive FICA tax, to the minimum wage, to regulations that stunt economic growth, those with the fewest options, the least political leverage, and the smallest resources are the ones that get it in the neck. Given increasing global demand, the only way to lower energy prices is to increase the supply. ANWR is not off limits because the relatively impoverished Alaskans, including the native tribes, want to keep it closed. They overwhelmingly support increased drilling in Alaska. ANWR drilling is opposed by upper middle class urbanites in the lower 48, the kind of people who buy thousand dollar fly rods from Orvis and go on ecotours of the Galapagos Islands. John Edwards is right -- there are two Americas. He's just wrong about which side he's really on.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, history and humanities professor at Emory University died this morning in Atlanta. She is perhaps best known as a critic of modern feminism and especially the way it tended to elevate the aspirations of upper-class women and ignore the devastating effects things like "sexual liberation" had on those without such resources. I once had the honor to introduce Professor Fox-Genovese at a talk and I asked her assistant to send me her CV. It ran to 26 pages. My wife and I also once hosted her to dinner at our house. She was as gracious and delightful as she was accomplished. Her story of her conversion to Catholicism is here. RIP.

Bureaucrats Stay Home

Back to the daily routine after a week and a half of Christmas vacation, and back therefore to the daily dose of drive time local talk radio. So what was the big controversy this AM? Whether closing the federal government to mourn Gerald Ford's passing was a fitting mark of respect or the end of civilization as we know it. (DC talk radio thrives on this sort of logical fallacy.) Many opposed to the closure thought it was a waste of resources. These people must not ever have actual dealings with the federal government. Any day the gray buildings of Independence Avenue are shuttered is a day some bossy GS-14 who thinks his MPA is a license to pester ordinary folk can find something better to do for 24 hours. National productivity probably soars on federal holidays like this.

Not that I feel any great grief at the passing of Gerald Ford; I'm sure he was a great guy and did his best under trying circumstances, but all I really remember about his presidency are those silly Whip Inflation Now buttons and how my goverment teacher looked like his head was going to explode when told us Nixon had been pardoned. But just to show my heart's in the right place, I propose to observe a period of penance today for the sin and stupidity of voting for Carter in 1976. I'm sorry, Gerry. You're in a better place now and I'm sure you've forgiven us, but you could have been an utter scoundrel and still not have deserved to lose the White House to that sanctimonious creep.

The Bucking Bronc Stops Here

It seems scary to contemplate, but I intuit that Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was gunned down by a gangster who lost a lot of money when the Broncos choked and coughed up their NFL playoff spot on the last day of the season. It may not have been planned; seeing a Bronco player partying in his limousine hours after the numbing defeat could have triggered a temper and tempered a trigger.

If players figure this out, whether or not a police arrest provides confirmation, it will introduce a chilling new component to our sporting events.

This kind of thing can only be solved one way, by the Marines landing in Afghanistan, i.e. a very harsh and intolerant police assault on the mobsters who are the heavies of sports betting. This has been done a few times in the past, most notably after the Black Sox scandal.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Welcome to thenewswalk.com

We've changed our name and our look, but the song remains the same. But keep an eye on us, because you never know.

www.thenewswalk.com

College Football

We don't do much sports around here, but here I am watching the half-time of the OU-Boise State game and they're showing the marching bands for a few minutes. Very nice! I've long wondered why some bowls (especially the Super Bowl) think that people want to see some lame-o performer strut about a stage on a football field surrounded by a small crowd of cheering adolescents and some dancers, twirlers, and the like.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Tribute to John Dickson Carr

John Dickson CarrThis is the last day in which I can decently mark the centennial of the birth of the truly great detection fiction writer John Dickson Carr. Carr flourished as a writer during the 1930s and '40s and wrote numerous classic detective novels and short stories, continuing to write until the 1970s. With Doyle, Chesterton, Christie, Queen, and Sayers, Carr is one of the greatest of all mystery writers.

Carr was the master of the "impossible crime" story and its best-known subset, the locked-room mystery. Carr's narratives are fiendishly deceptive and puzzling, yet he leaves the crucial clues right out there for the reader to see. Yet we never do, and the detective's revelation of the killer nearly always comes as a big surprise.

Carr's stories tend to include a bit of overly cute romance between some young couple unique to each book or story, and he has a habit of piling on melodramatic language at times (primarily in the dialogue) and setting obviously artificial rhetorical cliffhangers at the end of some chapters, but these are minor inconveniences that detract only a little from the overall excellence of most of his books and stories.

A lovely artistic rendition of John Dickson Carr's character Dr. Gideon FellHis achievement rests largely on two series. One, written under his own name, featured Dr. Gideon Fell, a delightfully larger than life English detective modeled on G. K. Chesterton and Dr. Samuel Johnson. Fell's exploits began with the splendid 1933 novel Hag's Nook, and extended through 23 novels and several short stories, most of which are of very high quality indeed. Highlights are The Mad Hatter Mystery, The Blind Barber, and The Hollow Man (aka The Three Coffins).

The Hollow Man is truly one of the great classics of the genre, and includes Dr. Fell's famous "locked room lecture," in which he tells the reader how to solve locked-room puzzles, in a novel in which the central issue is a murder in a locked room. Of course, even after reading the lecture, no sane reader can actually solve the puzzle anyway.

Although Carr was an American, born in western Pennsylvania, his detectives were predominantly English, and his second great series, written under the pen name Carter Dickson, features Sir Henry Merrivale as detective. These are rather more humorous on the whole than the Fell mysteries, and are indeed often farcical, usually in a highly entertaining and likeable way. (Thanks are due to the late Wyatt James, an enthusiastic and astute reader of Carr, for my capsule description of Merrivale.)

Merrivale, a bald, stout, Churchillian English baronet descended from Cavaliers, is one of the great characters of mystery fiction. Smoking vile cigars and dressed like a villain in a cheap melodrama, Merrivale sweeps grandly through each story, arguing forcefully with his friends and staying about fifty-five steps ahead of both narrator and reader. And the mysteries are often as brain-roastingly puzzling as those in the Fell stories.

Among my favorite Merrivales are The Plague Court Murders, The White Priory Murders, and the delightfully zany The Curse of the Bronze Lamp. One of Carr's very best novels and one of my personal favorites is a Merrivale: The Judas Key. It is one of the most Carrian of all of Carr's novels, and it is one of the greatest mystery novels of all time, in my view.

Carr's first detective character was Dr. Henri Benconlin of the Paris police. The Bencolin novels are highly atmospheric, often almost gothic in tone, and very tense and spooky at their best. The Corpse in the Waxworks is quite impressive. Another Carr detective who was featured in a series of short stories was Colonel March; his exploits are collected in the book The Department of Queer Complaints and in the excellent 1991 collection Merrivale, March, and Murde, edited by Carr biographer Douglas Greene.

Greene's biography of Carr, The Man Who Explained Miracles, is one of the greatest biographies of a mystery fiction writer ever produced. Perhaps the best, in fact.

John Dickson CarrCarr also wrote several excellent mysteries set in historical times; most of these appeared during the 1950s and '60. Among my favorites in this group are The Bride of Newgate, The Devil in Velvet, Fire, Burn!, Most Secret, and The Demoniacs. These are all great fun, often with a good deal of swashbuckling action not found in Carr's other writings.

In addition to all this, Carr wrote several novels and a like number of short stories featuring non-series detectives. Among these are a couple of my favorite Carr novels: The Nine Wrong Answers and Patrick Butler for the Defense. Also among these is my favorite of all of Carr's novels: The Burning Court. The latter is one of the top five mystery novels of all time, in my opinion.

Carr also wrote numerous scripts for radio, and the excellent mystery publisher Crippen and Landru has published a volume of these, Speak of the Devil.

It's a pity that Carr's writings have fallen into relatively obscurity in the three decades since his death. He is truly one of the very greatest mystery writers, and his writings still give great pleasure to those blessed enough to know about them.

One thing that may have contributed to this undeserved obscurity is the unfortunate fact that few of Carr's writings have been translated to television or film. In the 1960s the BBC produced a fondly remembered series starring Boris Karloff as Col. March, which alas I haven't seen and would dearly like to get a hold of. Other than that, there haven't been many adaptations of Carr for the visual media. Some enterprising British or American producer would do well to mine Carr's rich vein of great mysteries and bring these tales to a new audience while taking advantage of some really superb, atmospheric story material. Carr's narratives are ripe for the picking, and it's about time someone who appreciates great mystery fiction brought him to a new generation of readers.

You could certainly do much worse than to make a resolution to read some Carr this year. Start here and here.

Strongly recommended!

From Karnick on Culture.