Things connect. Sometimes the linkages are obscure, or tolerably tendentious, or simply risible, or maybe they’re just co-incidental. And I suppose sometimes their Moment hasn’t come, and the nascent dots aren’t connected. The last few days have brought onto the stage several threads for which I’m seeking the Nexus. A prize to the reader who can construct it from these bits, each of which can be read as a sort of Cautionary Tale
Digression: Hillaire Belloc was not, perhaps, a very nice fellow, but his Bad Child’s Book of Beasts and Cautionary Tales for Children were staples of my own youth. Consider:
The Dromedary is a cheerful bird:
I cannot say the same about the Kurd.
Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As “Slimy skin,” or “Polly-wog,”
Or likewise “Ugly James,”
Or “Gap-a-grin,” or “Toad-gone-wrong,”
Or “Bill Bandy-knees”:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).
The candidates for interconnection: Amédé Ardoin, Thomas Midgely, and Harlan Ellison. Not exactly household words, but all have re-crossed my path lately, so I’m sporting with their possible interlinkage.
Amédé Ardoin came up this morning via Old Blue Bus, one of the music blogs I follow. The link to Two Step de Eunice will probably disappear in a few days, so listen while you can. The specific point of interest of the moment is the Tale of his death, which seems to have several variants:
Ardoin’s death remains shrouded in mystery. One report has him being brutally beaten after wiping his brow with a handkerchief handed to him by the daughter of a white farm owner. According to McGee, Ardoin was poisoned by a jealous fiddler. More recent studies have concluded that Ardoin died of venereal disease at the Pineville Mental Institution.
Craig Harris, All Music Guide)
A cousin of renowned black Creole accordionist Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, he crossed racial boundaries by performing with noted Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee. However, he stepped too far when at a dance around 1941 he wiped away sweat with a handkerchief offered by a white female. Suffering a terrible beating after the dance, he eventually died of his wounds, emotional and physical, at Pineville on November 3, 1942.
Thomas Midgley, inventor of (1) tetraethyl lead AND (2) freon, came up in an answer to a friend’s email question about global warming. Both inventions transformed the technologies they were developed for (the internal combustion engine, and refrigeration) in the short run, and both of which turned out to be really really really BAD things in the long run. Bits of the story are available here and here and here and here. The story of Midgley’s death (strangled in a device of his own cleverness, contrived to solve the problem of his own physical limitations) makes the karmic point more obvious, if karmic points ever really work that way. But the other spin on Midgley’s work is that our civilization owes a very great deal to the efficiency of the gasoline engine (said efficiency absolutely based upon the high compression engine design that tetraethyl lead enabled) and to the possibility of cooling buildings and refrigerating food –indeed, our civilization is simply unthinkable without those two elements (the same story could be told with any number of other essential technologies). To be sure, our cleverness has found substitutes for both tetraethyl lead and freon, but not exactly “just in time”, and the substitutes themselves are iffy too (e.g., MTBE which succeeded tetraethyl lead as an antiknock compound, and is now being replaced by something else because of its toxicities).
And the third came up because I’ve been reading in Harlan Ellison’s anthologies Dangerous Visions (1967) and Again, Dangerous Visions (1972) and exploring who Harlan Ellison was/is and what he’s done. The two anthologies enjoy a reputation as ground-breaking collections –see James Schellenberg’s review as an example. The missing third anthology is the subject of a long-running soap opera which (among other things) provoked Christopher Priest’s The Book on the Edge of Forever –see Amazon reviewers’ comments for more on “a fascinating account of one of the most famous non-books ever not-published”, and note that “Ellison has been severely criticized for neither publishing the volume nor returning control of the stories to their authors, some of whom have since died.”
I’ve spent a lot of time in various corners of the realm of “speculative fiction” (see Wikipedia and a Wikipedia portal, and explore The Internet Speculative Fiction Database and ISFDB Wiki).