Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Context for Lemurs

Finding that Holmes was too absorbed for conversation, I had tossed aside the barren paper, and leaning back in my chair I fell into a brown study. Suddenly my companion's voice broke in upon my thoughts:

"You are right, Watson," said he. "It does seem a most preposterous way of settling a dispute."

"Most preposterous!" I exclaimed, and then suddenly realizing how he had echoed the inmost thought of my soul, I sat up in my chair and stared at him in blank amazement.
- from "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box" in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

(Illustration by Sidney Paget)

In the passage quoted above, Sherlock Holmes demonstrates his ability to deduce Watson's train of thought from a combination of physical observation and knowledge of his subject (Watson). On the next page of the story, Holmes details the steps that led Watson from looking at a portrait to reflecting on the folly of war.

Similarly, in his original script for the Star Trek episode "The City at the Edge of Forever," Harlan Ellison writes of a couple being so in tune with each other that if the man complains in the morning that his shoes are too tight, and there is no further mention of the shoes all day, the man will still understand if that evening the woman says, "Maybe we can loosen them a little."

This is a game I play with my beloved husband fairly often. Our 28 years of mutual history give us a huge backlog of personal and pop culture references to draw on in conversation, stuff I know he knows, and that he knows I know (and that I know he knows that I...stop that!). So if he says the word "thing," and I then mention a certain episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, John knows that I was thinking of the robot Mrs. Mudd saying "thing...thing...thing" in the Star Trek episode "I, Mudd," guest starring Roger C. Carmel, who was not the same Star Trek guest star who played the real estate agent in the Dick Van Dyke episode with the boulder in the basement. (That particular actor was Cyrano Jones on Star Trek, not Harry Mudd, but the characters are somewhat similar.) Yes, I can present John with the end result of a fairly convoluted chain of thought, and more often than not he knows how I got there. Yay, John!

Okay, that's the game. But what, you ask, has this to do with lemurs? You promised us lemurs!

Yes, I did. I alluded to lemurs earlier today, in a comment thread on By the Way. John Scalzi, in response to something Paul Little (of CarnivAOL fame) said, mildly suggested that it might be better if people spoke out against the banner ads in comments to entries that were actually about banner ads, rather than in every single entry of his, be it about Athena, romantic love or the planet Venus. (Come to think of it, those three blog topics can be seen as an interesting train of thought on Scalzi's part - two mythical goddesses, both associated with love (although Athena is more properly associated with wisdom). And would it be wise to address the question of whether people should write about banner ads in every comments thread? (That's debatable.)

But I digress. That's part of the point, isn't it?

Anyway, in the thread about whether it's not merely permitted, but actually a Good Thing, to post an angry and sarcastic comment to every single By the Way entry, regardless of how irrelevant it is to the subject at hand, I posted the following comment:

I would just like to take this opportunity to speak out about lemurs. I'm in favor of them, no matter what anybody says.

(a little obscure, I know.)

Comment from mavarin - 11/30/05 5:14 PM

Judith Heartsong, bless her, followed this up with

let's hear it for lemurs.
Comment from judithheartsong - 11/30/05 6:47 PM

Several other people also came out in favor of lemurs:

Oh, and Lemurs are cool!
Comment from astaryth - 11/30/05 8:13 PM

I love, "So, in essence, you are asking for more respect from us than AOL will give back to us. " and the Lemur comment! HA!

Comment from psychfun - 12/1/05 12:46 AM

oh yeah, go lemurs!
Comment from aiibrat - 12/1/05 1:37 AM

Now, I'm genuinely pleased that other people like lemurs, or profess that they do. They're interesting animals, small, furry "prosimians" that were isolated ages ago in Madagascar and neighboring islands, and consequently developed along a very different evolutionary path from the rest of the primates. They're really cute, and they really need protection. Quite a few lemur species have died out already because of humans.

But that's not really why I mentioned them. I was playing my little game, and wondering what people would make of my comment.

So what the heck was I talking about?

Well, it might help if I post the following passage from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams, in which Arthur Dent is flying (or trying to) outside Fenchurch's Islington flat:

He swung down sharply, nearly catching himself a nasty crack on the jaw with the doorstep and tumbled through the air, so suddenly stunned with what a profoundly stupid thing he had just done that he completely forgot the bit about hitting the ground and didn't.

A nice trick, he thought to himself, if you can do it.

The ground was hanging menacingly above his head.

He tried not to think about the ground, what an extraordinarily big thing it was and how much it would hurt him if it decided to stop hanging there and suddenly fell on him. He tried to think nice thoughts about lemurs instead, which was exactly the right thing to do because he couldn't at that moment remember precisely what a lemur was, if it was one of those things that sweep in great majestic herds across the plains of wherever it was or if that was wildebeests, so it was a tricky kind of thing to think nice thoughts about without simply resorting to an icky sort of general well-disposedness towards things, and all this kept his mind well occupied while his body tried to adjust to the fact that it wasn't touching anything.

See, according to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, the secret to flying ("throw yourself at the ground and miss") is largely predicated on distraction. When Arthur is busy working out what a lemur is, he's too distracted by this irrelevant thought to worry about hitting the ground, so he doesn't.

So why did I speak out for lemurs, in a thread about banner ads? Have you figured it out yet?

It's simply this. When John Scalzi is writing about his daughter or the planet Venus, a comment about banner ads is a distraction, and irrelevant to the subject at hand. People can do it anyway if they want, and there's a school of thought that says that they should. But the fact remains that there's little or no logical connection between the planet Venus and banner ads, other than John Scalzi's contract with AOL.

So, if people like to post distracting banner ads protests in threads about other subjects, I figure it's only fair that I post a distracting comment on another subject in a thread about banner ads. Lemurs seem like the perfect distraction, not just because of Arthur Dent, but also because they're unusual animals with an odd name. Also, I thought it would be nice if my satirical distraction was positive and cheerful, rather than negative and angry. Thus: lemurs. If someone happens to be intrigued enough to find out more about lemurs, that's gravy.

And no, they don't sweep majestically across the plains.

Plus, I'm glad to say my worst case scenario didn't happen. I was a little worried that people would confuse lemurs with lemmings, and think I was criticizing some faction or other in the banner ads controversy. No, I wasn't calling anyone a lemur (or a lemming), and apparently nobody thought that I was.

Go, lemurs! Good night!


Lemur photos courtesy of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park / FONZ website.


Carly said...

Hey Karen

I think what you did was pretty cool. :) And it was a very good point. By the way...I adore lemers. :)

Always, Carly

DesLily said...

hmmm that last Lemur looks a might like Joe! lol lol... (never mind)

Paul said...

It took me a little while to figure out exactly what you were on about. When I did figure it out, it gave me quite a good chuckle. My annoyance is not with off topic comments per se, rather with the completely silly belief that flooding John's journal with rude comments will somehow aid their cause.

Globetrotter said...

This was quite a fascinating study of just how complicated your brilliant mind is!

I applaud your ability to have articulated all of this in a way that even dumb folks, (like myself) can understand.

Something that I found rather interesting recently, was a post that John made right around the time that the ads came out. He wrote that he once had a license plate with the numbers 666 on them. My own sick mind deduced that he'd written that entry because he knew he'd be taking a lot of heat for the ads,and for a while there he really was demonized.

My hubby and I can practically read each other's minds after being married for 33 years. It's weird.

I also love lemurs, and I think it was Astaryth that did a lovely entry on them recently, although I could be wrong.


Judith HeartSong said...

I adore your mind. :):):) judi