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August 11th, 2011

veneer

The heat broke today. A gust of wind and some clouds kept the temperature under 100--we fell two days shy of breaking the 40something day record for over-100 degree days. I was delighted to learn this week that Margaret Thatcher's "the veneer of civilization is very thin" is some decades behind Edgar Rice Burroughs' use of the "thin veneer" concept, in things like this quote from a Tarzan novel:

"His civilization was at best but an outward veneer which he
gladly peeled off with his uncomfortable European clothes whenever any
reasonable pretext presented itself".

I also think, by the way, that the thin veneer of civilization is damaged by people who deny scientific findings in the name of faith, who deny the need for compassion in the name of economic theory, by various ends-justify-the-means folks, and by those who fail to fund libraries.

I rather like Edgar Rice Burroughs, but it's not the Tarzan books that I grew up reading. I read the John Carter of Barsoom books. They helped shape some of my core beliefs, such as the belief that it's good to act with a little other-worldly chivalry and the belief that it's good to have multi-armed giant green warrior friends if one must confront huge ape-like attackers in the tundra.

The real life Mr. Burroughs owned a ranch called Tarzana which spawned an LA suburb, and deplored "sport hunting" in the Los Angeles County valleys. He served as a war correspondent. I do not have many celebrity crushes, but Dejah Thoris is an exception. She gets a lot of "almost a victim" parts, and yet still seems one of the coolest bidders at the auction of life. My other favorite Burroughs character is Tan Hadron of Hastor, because Horatio Alger had nothing on him.

I suppose I like pulp sci-fi for the same reason I like some old B movies--in the background of
these stories one sees skeletons of how life should be lived which differ from the mainstream notions. To me, these little universes ladle the veneer of civilization on in pleasing thickness.