Thursday, October 25, 2012

Luck in the Time of Cholera

With the US elections only days away, a few thoughts today about success, wealth and power. It’s more than enough to leave out Obama and Romney, so much has been written about them and their apparent successes that little else can reasonably be added, except that the pitiless media hordes mercilessly invading every detail of their lives is one high price to be paid for the bright lights. Let the cards fall where they may on November 6th.  I sometimes wonder whether human beings are hard-wired for adulation, genetically programmed to chase the rainbows of wealth, success and privilege that surround the iconic personality. We like to try to measure people's value - or 'net worth' - as if one human being was necessarily worth more than another because of the size of their tax bill; the richer, the smaller. How much money is easy – the Forbes rich list, the catalogue of the wealthiest on the planet, crunches the numbers for us. But, it does not tell us much else. It gives us no information about the kind of people – if such exists - that have amassed more of the world's goods than any of the others. So, our question today looks below the surface of mere wealth and expensive clothes to the personalities and motivations of such people that most of the rest of us will never ever meet or come into contact with. The media, in their rapacity for facts, tell us what they do, not what they are. 
Whistler's "Mother"?
So, by way of example, I have selected a few people and tried to gauge what factors, if any, have made them the successes that they have become. Perhaps we ought to leave Bill Gates out since everybody knows about the geeky university dropout who built computers in his father's garage and went on to found the most successful software house in the world. First, then, Michael Bloomberg. America's richest politician makes Mitt Romney look almost poverty-stricken. He continues to juggle leading New York City and his $20 billion media empire. Boston-born Bloomberg is the son of an accountant, took an engineering degree from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from Harvard. He became a trader at Salomon Brothers in the 1970's, finally leaving with $10 million in stock. He created financial information services firm Innovative Market Systems in 1982 to sell financial data and analytic tools to Wall Street; the company was renamed Bloomberg LP in 1987. Later, he added a news service, a magazine, cable network, and a radio station. He has given away $1.6 billion to charities which fund the arts and public health. Innovative and visionary, his latest initiative is about promoting a healthy diet in the city he loves.
Comment:  Sheer, undiluted financial wizardry. Intense media savvy, excellent forecasting ability. Has his looks played a part in his success? Probably not.
Larry Page has an MS from Stanford. He is the co-founder of Google and is 24th on the Forbes Billionaire list. Google rules the search engine, with almost 87% of the worldwide market, giving a new noun to the English-speaking world – it does sound better than 'to bing', I think. Its Android mobile phone system is given away free to phone makers. Page is passionate about energy conservation and has bought up large residential areas of Palo Alto in California which use a revolutionary type of fuel cell.  He rides an electric dirt bike, invests in and drives an electric Tesla sports car and his interests include large-scale rainwater capture and geothermal energy.
Comment: Great Ivy League start, a natural innovator and successful future-predictor. Looks? H'm. Difficult. Boyish charm certainly – but he looks like your kid's English teacher.
Wallis Simpson, the American woman who stole a king, once famously remarked ‘A woman can never be too rich or too thin'. Is it true, I wonder, whether successful women have clawed their way to the top in the same way that the men have done?
Donatella Versace, mostly. The rest is man-made.
Among fourteen females worth over one billion dollars worldwide representing only 2% of all self-made billionaires, at least five of them started their business with their husbands, brothers or sometimes both, so I have had to discount them. For example, Giuliana Benetton originally knitted sweaters that her brother Luciano would then hawk around retailers on his bicycle.  Number three is, however, a little different. J K (Joanne) Rowling studied French at Exeter University, and then worked for Amnesty International in London. On a Manchester-bound train, the idea for a scrawny, bespectacled kid who didn't know he was a wizard just 'fell into her head'. But, from conception to birth was a painful road. Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling, depressed and suicidal, saw herself as "the biggest failure I knew." Her marriage had failed, she was jobless with a dependent child, but she described her failure as liberating. For her, as for many, failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. She writes that she stopped pretending to herself that she was anything other than what she was, and began to direct all her energy to finishing the only work that mattered to her. Had she really succeeded at anything else, she might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area where she truly belonged. She described herself as being set free, because her greatest fear had been realised, she was still alive, had a daughter whom she adored, an old typewriter, and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which she rebuilt her life.
 After a long gestation, Harry Potter was born in a succession of small Edinburgh cafes where she wrote frenziedly, her sleeping daughter beside her in a push-chair. She typed out the manuscript herself in the evenings and the rest, as they say, is history. Now worth at least $900 million, she has received honorary degrees from five prestigious universities, including Harvard, and believes that those who have more than they need have a moral responsibility to give to those with less. To this end she has set up charities which combat poverty and social inequality. 
Botox-free. How very nice.
Her new novel ‘The Casual Vacancy’ is basically a character study of human nature faced with power and crisis.  No last action heroes, not much plot, little real action of any kind, and not that much resolution of existing conflicts by the end of the book. Just a little sketch of a bit of small-town English society, quite nicely done. She writes very well and even punctuates properly, but some critics' praise is a bit too fulsome and luvvie; 'brilliant, profane and funny' rather overstates, I think. The prose is relaxed without resort to gimmickry and distraction and even the cover is understated. ‘Cranford’ for the 21st century - something which for a new novelist would hardly get a second glance from a publisher - stands well by itself, the execution is competent and writerly enough. She's no Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but, since it’s her….
Comment: One great, passionate and all-consuming idea and the willingness to sweat blood and tears to see its fulfilment.  Looks? Irrelevant. What a surprise.
So, what do we conclude from this little exercise. What is it about the wealthy that makes them rich and therefore different? Is there a pattern? Probably not a simple one, otherwise I’d be right up there with them, but all of them have a few threads in common. Vision, passion, single-mindedness and being in the right place at the right time about sums it up, together with the magic secret ingredient which not even Harry Potter's Galleons could buy. Luck.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Myth of History

A friend wails that social media accounts, their overlaps and interactions, have been overwhelming her, so that she is no longer sure who her friends are in each compartment. Social leakage, far from simplifying her communication strategy has complicated it beyond description. This made me think about my iPhone which  has become almost sacramental in a postmodern city.  It demonstrates with pitiless clarity that our social context is not merely indifferent to but actively hostile to memory. Indeed, the postmodern city as an organism is itself proactively destructive of memory, or rather, the retention of memory, hence the incentive to remember is lost. Looking at one's messages or emails on a smartphone, for instance, one notices that the device yields a snapshot, a brief twinkling of social interaction, after which it is immediately forgotten as if the door to memory can be closed, thus, details about the past and how it came to become the present are dismissed almost as instantaneously as they appear. This suggests that the present is only important while it is in fact the present; as soon as it becomes the past - something else - its relevance ceases and a black hole of history is created. A rather disturbing parallel can be found in a report from the BBC on the retention of old data on social networking sites another icon of the postmodern city. Rather than being a limitless storehouse of memory, the report refers to an article which outlines a tendency within social networking to lose information about an event, whether through manual or automatic deletion, as early as a year after its occurrence. By way of example:
On January 28 2011, three days into the fierce protests that would eventually oust the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, a Twitter user posted a link to a picture that supposedly showed an armed man as he ran on a “rooftop during clashes between police and protesters in Suez”. Supposedly, because both the tweet and the picture it linked to can no longer be found. Instead they have been replaced with error messages that claim the message – and its contents – “doesn’t exist”.
This treatment of communications as disposable is symptomatic of the postmodern city's attitude to memory. "Now" is a special messianic moment within postmodern culture. However, this is far from the fulfilment of the same passage we find in 2 Corinthians 6:2. To intensify the significance of "Now", "Now" is deliberately cut off from its connections with a past as well as a future, and life ends up becoming a process of disjointed often imperfectly connected present moments. I find myself having more and more trouble with the conceptual consequences of this. We have friends from China staying with us, where revisionism is the way things get done and doublespeak is the conjoined twin of corruption. I find myself seeking more and more to validate my own social and intellectual existence by making reference to a past which has a reliable matrix, thread and structure. If such no longer exists, memory is replaced by myth, vague and insubstantial and open to a variety of explanations, none of which may be true because the original information 'no longer exists'. I wonder whether my relationship to my own history would change if I simply disconnected, went 'off-grid'. Not for a 'period of time' but for good. What a catalogue of mental gymnastics I would have to learn. I would have to cross the street with a coin in my hand to use a phone, or offer to pay for the call with a friend's. This would be inconvenient to the point of embarrassment and would lead me to ask myself whether or not I really needed the telephone conversation in the first place. 
I would use a pen and write letters, freed from  the derogatory trail of socially obnoxious slime that the word 'snailmail' evokes and would have to think before allowing the Mont Blanc to make a single permanent mark on the paper. I would meet with friends and actually talk to them, indeed, listen to what they have to say, without electronic interruption, insofar as their own online lives allowed. Which of course is the  problem. My online life is inextricably linked with everyone else's and I want to say all of this before it gets relegated to a shadowy, half-remembered thought in a dark crevice of my mind. I am no longer an observer, but a contributor to the myth of history.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Sunday at ACP. It must be lexicons, or something. We had Job, then Mark. The preach was from Mark’s rendition of the so-called ‘rich young ruler’, reprised in the other two Synoptics.  I can’t actually remember what the good lady preacher was talking about in ACP except that she must have drawn the short straw, since it was about the rich guy. She was earnest, well-prepared and the delivery was fluid without being unctuous. Good. I can’t stand the story of the rich guy.   There’s something about it which I really don’t get so I’ll be glad when it’s over and I won’t have to listen to Mark 10:17-31 again. I’ll be glad to see the back of him.  Which puts me right up there with Kim Fabricius from which most of the rest of this has been borrowed with the odd snippet of my own.  I hope he won’t mind very much and will be OK with me posting it. Preaching must be a really bum deal sometimes.

“In Matthew he is “young”, and in Luke he is a “ruler”, but in Mark he’s just some rich guy. Of course, one has tried all the textual manipulation, and special pleading, to avoid the thrust of the story, to dodge the bullet, to deflect it from having anything to with me – or you.  For example, turning the rich guy into a very rich guy, like Bill Gates or Richard Branson, J. K. Rowling or Adele, people out of our financial league.  Maybe the filthy rich will have a hard time getting into the kingdom, but not me – not us.  But that doesn’t work, does it?  Because compared to people who live in Third World rubbish dumps or even UK sink estates, compared to the homeless and the hungry, we might just as well be Gates or Branson, Rowling or Adele.
Another for-example: we say it’s not the man’s money and possessions as such that are the problem, it’s his attitude towards them – he’s got an “attitude problem”.  He wasn’t in control of his wealth, his wealth was in control of him.  Or we suggest that surely he abused his wealth – we might speculate about his “conspicuous” consumption.  We, however, have our finances under control – savings, standing orders, direct debits – “all things in moderation” is our economic catchphrase.  But, er, where in the text does it say that the rich guy was out of control, or that he was a spendthrift?  On the contrary, doesn’t the text explicitly state that he’s obeyed all the commandments all his life?  Which means, in fact, that he was diligent in charitable giving, because the provision of alms was a fundamental religious obligation for a pious Israelite.  Indeed, Jesus sneaked in a “Do not” that isn’t actually in the Ten Commandments – “do not cheat”, “do not defraud” – and the rich guy says has a tick for that one too.  He’s not a tax-evader or a benefits cheat.  So why assume that the rich guy was greedy, with a gold Rolex and a Porsche?  And why do we presume that as long as we’re not, as long as we’re modest and generous, there’s no problem?
It’s amazing, isn’t it, the way you can avoid seeing something that’s right in your face.  The way you can read, hear the story of the rich guy again and again and not see the connection.  The connection, I mean, between the cash and the commandments. Because it’s right there in the text.  Some Christians do, of course, see a connection, but it’s the wrong one.  Prosperity Gospel Christians who claim it’s precisely when you keep the commandments that you get rich, and that being rich is a sign that you’ve kept the commandments – and, of course, that you’re “saved”.  But Jesus says just the opposite!  He says that if you keep the commandments and get rich, so what? – it’s got nothing to do with salvation.  Indeed being rich – and being rich as such – makes it harder, not easier, to enter the kingdom.  With consummate sarcasm Jesus says you might just as well be a great lump of a camel, which was the Porsche of the rich in Judea, trying to squeeze, hump and all, through the eye of a needle.  And yet even this startling image has suffered egregious self-serving spin “at the hands of bourgeois conscience-tranquilizing” interpreters (José Miranda), with the claim (going back to the Middle Ages) that the “eye of the needle” refers to a certain small gate in ancient Jerusalem through which camels could only enter on their knees!
Now, it’s CAT time - Close Attention to the Text.  Here in Mark 10:17ff. Jesus encounters a man who is not a hostile or defensive questioner like the Pharisees at the beginning of chapter 10.  No, the question the rich guy asks Jesus is a genuine one about how to order your life in a morally integrated way.  He wants to honour God and treat fellow human beings with dignity and respect.  He begins with a courteous salutation – “Good Rabbi” he calls Jesus – while Jesus replies modestly with a well-known proverb, “No one is good except God alone”.  The stage is set for an honest and constructive conversation, no hidden agenda, no point-scoring.
Then Jesus draws the man’s attention to the commandments that come from the so-called Second Table of the Law, dealing with our behaviour towards our neighbours.  Interesting that.  People ask what they have to do to be “saved” and they get a lecture about believing X, Y, and Z, or being “born again”, or getting “baptised in the Spirit”.  But Jesus says nothing about these things, nothing, in fact, about God at all.  As I say, interesting.
Then, yes, the rich guy says he’s kept all these commandments – including that extra one – and we observe that Jesus doesn’t contradict him, he takes him at his word.  But then Jesus adds, “Oh, I forgot one thing, a small point: sell everything you own and give the proceeds to the poor.”  Which sounds extreme enough to us, but in first-century Palestine it’s extremer still, even inhumane, because it meant parting with your property, your land – and land was important to the Jewish people.  And that this is precisely what Jesus means is confirmed when he shortly refers to would-be disciples leaving their land.  So make no mistake: Jesus is demanding a sacrifice beyond measure.  Is it any wonder that the rich guy can’t make it?
But Jesus still hasn’t delivered the knock-out punch.  That comes after the rich guy has walked away, and Jesus discusses what’s just happened with his disciples.  For there we see, unmistakably, that it’s not only those with loadsamoney who are rich, it’s anyone with any money who is rich.  The disciples’ question “Then who can be saved?”, and Jesus’ reply “Humanly speaking, no one”, make this absolutely clear.  Whether you own a new Porsche or an old Punto, no chance, makes no difference.
But, hey, nothing personal here. There’s no suggestion that you and I are personally unjust, avaricious, or irresponsible.  The point is systemic: that is, it is simply the case that people with money, and even nations like the US and UK, live in and off an unjust system – a deliberately fixed and intrinsically biased market – which ensures that poor people and nations stay poor.  As the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas starkly puts it: “The truth of the matter is that all wealth is the result of murder.”  The colour of money looks green, but in fact it’s red.
So then, is everyone feeling guilty?  Absolutely not.  There is good news here.  First, because there is truth here.  Avoiding reality, living in denial, looking for alibis may make us feel more comfortable, even righteous, but it won’t set us free.  Only the truth will set us free.  Even when painful, the truth is always good news.
Second, though keeping the commandments will not save us, it is better to keep them than to break them – it is better to be generous than selfish.  For then we can be sure that there is at least a little bit of God in us, for God is generous, not selfish.  And then who knows what may happen, for didn’t Jesus say that, yes, on our own, no chance of salvation, but with God – with God there is every chance?
And a final thought: there is only one time in the whole of the gospel of Mark where Jesus is said to love someone – and it is here, it is this rich guy: “Jesus looked straight at him with love” (Mark 10:21).  Jesus loves rich people!  What a relief, is that good news, or what!  For a moment there … God certainly has a bias for the poor, because the poor are always getting screwed, and because the rich can – and do – look after themselves – thank you very much – but God loves the rich just as much as he loves the poor.  And, yes, love can work wonders.  Indeed, I wonder whether we should automatically assume, as we do, that the rich man rejected Jesus’ call, for he walks away with a heavy heart, grieving, not scoffing, and it is precisely such distress, when one feels disorientated, that marks the start of personal transformation.  In fact, early church tradition has it that that rich guy was named Barnabas, a cousin of the evangelist Mark, one of the earliest church leaders in Jerusalem, and the disciple who first introduced Paul to the apostles, and who became a companion of Paul on his missionary journeys.
Which makes me rethink my opening gambit about the rich guy: perhaps I’m not glad to see the back of him at all.  In fact, I may even be beginning to like him.

Oh, yeah. I’m not rich. But, that’s not really the point, is it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Walking Away

There is a wild, untamed restlessness in some young people, a faraway throwback to times when survival was determined by uprooting and pushing outwards into the unknown. The tragic, compelling story of Christopher McCandless, graphically told in Sean Penn’s film “Into the Wild” chronicles the angst of a young college graduate, articulate, athletic, and capable, who left his comfortable home in the south, gave away all his savings, rode his thumb into Fairbanks, Alaska, and headed out alone on the Stampede Trail, determined to find himself, armed with little more than Thoreau and Tolstoy and a .22 Remington rifle. The young man had about him a certain dreamy other-worldliness, a wide-eyed willingness to take spectacular risks and a less than average serving of common sense. Although driven to solitude with all its attendant mental bear-traps, he was by no means a candidate for a psychiatric ward and did not conform to the common bush-casualty stereotype. He wasn't in any sense a social outcast, and although incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he was hardly incompetent or he would never have lasted over one hundred days living off wild game and edible fruits and berries. Tragically, he succumbed to starvation and his body was found six weeks after his death in 1992 by hikers in the abandoned bus in which he had made his home.
If one is searching for predecessors cut from the same exotic cloth, if one hopes to understand this personal tragedy by placing it in some larger context, one might do well to look at another northern land. Off the southeastern coast of Iceland there is a small island called Papos.  Forbidding, rocky, treeless and inhospitable, unceasingly pounded by howling North Atlantic gales, it could hardly be described as a first-choice destination. According to early Icelandic sources, the island may have taken its name from its first settlers, the Celtic monks known as papar. They could have arrived as early as the fifth and sixth centuries C.E., probably having travelled from the west coast of Ireland or the Scottish isles. Setting out in tiny curraghs, made from cowhide stretched over light wicker frames, using sails and oars, they crossed one of the most treacherous stretches of ocean in the world without knowing where they were going or what they might find.  The papar risked their lives—and probably many were lost, not in the pursuit of wealth or personal glory or to claim new lands. As the Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen pointed out, they undertook their remarkable voyages "chiefly from the wish to find lonely places, where these anchorites might dwell in peace, undisturbed by the turmoil and temptations of the world." When the first handful of Norwegians showed up on the shores of Iceland in the ninth century, the papar decided the country had become too overpopulated, even though it was still all but uninhabited. They climbed back into their curraghs and rowed away toward Greenland, leaving almost no records of their existence behind. They were drawn west across the storm-wracked ocean, past the edge of the known world, by nothing more than hunger of spirit, a queer, abstract, pure yearning that burned in their souls.
I checked on a friend yesterday. Two years of studying philosophy at university had left him angst-ridden and troubled. His Facebook account had been closed which seemed unusual. His brother told me that he was entering a working multifaith retreat house or monastery in Wales. His mother is an Anglican priest, and childhood had loaded him with the kind of baggage which is neither disposable nor easily shed. His answer, it would seem, is a radical walking away from all the well-trodden social paths, the comfort zones, into his own wasteland, in the hope that a long-forgotten sun would shine brightly enough to set his soul in order and therein he might find peace. I hope he does.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Aristotle and the Angels

The American Church in Paris is a resplendent building, keeping good company with the local architecture on the quai d’Orsay. Run by Presbyterians, apparently, with an impressive array of pastoral scholarship, they host the so-called "Thurber lectures” where a luminary with particular expertise addresses a gathering after a light supper. I went, with some degree of trepidation, to hear Dudley Woodberry, a world authority on intercultural studies, Dean Emeritus of School at Fuller, having vast expertise on how to engage with a sometimes hostile Muslim majority, on 'the surprising convergence of Islam and Christianity'. His overarching theme was a willingness to learn and admire with a little deference resulted in an overwhelming willingness on the part of the Muslim community to engage.  George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury once remarked “they have the same fears about us as we have of them.”  He developed convergence of various Qu’ranic verses with the Old and New Testaments and spent some time considering uncontroversial themes.  It is easy enough to find moral injunctions in the Qu’ran having exact parallels in the Old Testament and the Talmud – suggesting common source material, perhaps. Further, all three religions share a common prophetic tradition. Each of them claims the same historical legacy although each may interpret specific historical and prophetic events differently. In fact, using the analogy of a tree, each of the three claims to be the one, true, vertical extension of a trunk of primary revelation, with the other two being seen as lateral branches that deviate from the true verticality of the original trunk.
Well, so far, so good. It became clear however that as much as we might admire the principled and rigorous behaviour of the Muslim community, and the convergences of spiritual and ethical instruction which are quite evident, Christianity stands or falls by the Resurrection which they deny. The consequence is therefore that a fear of judgement and retribution pervades much Islamic thinking, which fear in turn leads to right action, there being almost no understanding of the idea that God really loves them (1 Jn 4:19). In Sura 3:31 of the Qu'ran, the believer seeks by a fundamentally self-motivated love to turn aside God's wrath and hopefully gain both his approval and forgiveness - a contrast between Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle. There are thirty references to Jesus in the Qu’ran culminating in a bodily return to earth and the destruction of the Antichrist but I was left with the feeling that there was a political rectitude about Mohammed that was not congruent with their interpretation of Jesus. It was as if someone who wished to overturn an established (mostly Jewish) tradition had introduced a stalking horse for political ends.
However comforting the notion of shared tradition is – and for some, I suspect, exceedingly so – I remained unconvinced until he suggested one interfaith strategy which works is to capitalize on our shared humanity. Bringing together a group of Christian believers with a group of Muslims over perhaps some food, asking each “which is your favourite Bible/Qu’ran verse and why” has met with interesting results. Belief systems are not tarnished by convergence, as long as they are firmly held and Augustine's (misattributed) principle 'in necessariis unitas, in dubiis, libertas, in omnibus, caritas'  is followed.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Sherlock in America

Were I to ever confess to being a fan of anything, I’d have to say I was a fan of Sherlock Holmes, in almost every incarnation imaginable. His Victorian persona has been done well – I still remember the 80’s series with Jeremy Brett and howling for the next one. Brett died tragically in 1995 when only a year older than me suffering from manic depression – quite an irony. His portrayal was breathtakingly analytical, he was given to outrageous disguises and the blackest of moods and he was relentless in his enthusiasm for solving the most intricate, well-concealed crimes, which has been a hallmark of the character in his various flavours and disguises ever since ‘A Study in Scarlet’ first appeared in print in 1887 .
I imagined that anything other than the undiluted smog of Victorian London would be a betrayal, so watched the updated, iPhone-ready series ‘Sherlock’ with a good deal of skepticism, at least initially.
Yet, the ‘game is afoot’ even with a modern incarnation in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch was as captivating as one might wish. 221B Baker Street was as untidy as in the original. Watson describes Holmes’ habits in ‘The Musgrave Ritual’:
“Although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind ... [he] keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece ... He had a horror of destroying documents.... Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner…”
It was surely a bridge too far, however, to transport Holmes, lock, stock and habitual user of Class A drugs to New York, with Inspector being replaced with a Captain Gregson and, of all horrors, a female Dr Watson (Lucy Liu) as a paid minder to ensure Holmes does not slip into his old, drug-sodden habits.
Such is the power of the character, however, that the transition worked beautifully and a transatlantic contemporary to Benedict Cumberbatch is created, in the form of Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes. The pilot of ‘Elementary’ was released a few days ago online. No Conan Doyle plotlines – just nodding references here and there. For example, Holmes is brooding on the rooftop of his apartment when Watson notices honey dripping through the ceiling. She goes up to the roof to find Holmes gazing at a beehive, remarking that he is writing a paper entitled “Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen" which Holmes was supposed to have done on his retirement to the Sussex Downs. The series premiere contains  familiar Sherlock Holmes clichés: He shows up the police, pointing out a clue they overlooked, tosses out an uncannily accurate description of someone he's just met, and has a general lack of interest in conforming to social norms. The American press thinks that this wears out the welcome mat a little too much - I am inclined to the reverse since Holmes is primarily idiosyncratic, antisocial and  therefore charming by default.
Miller, tattooed, broodingly unshaven and manically energetic was once considered for the part of James Bond (which ultimately went to Daniel Craig). Ironically, he and Cumberbatch starred together in a stage adaptation of ‘Frankenstein’.
It’s going to be interesting to see if people think the parallels close enough to warrant legal action. The producers of the British ‘Sherlock’ commented “We understand that CBS are doing their own version of an updated Sherlock Holmes. It's interesting, as they approached us a while back about remaking our show. At the time, they made great assurances about their integrity, so we have to assume that their modernized Sherlock Holmes doesn't resemble ours in any way, as that would be extremely worrying”.
Holmes himself would describe the parallels, with his usual understatement, as 'most singular', since the resemblances are very obvious indeed, which accounted for the resonant charm of the New York pilot (series televised every Thursday hereafter on CBS) and my impatience for series 3 of the London version.