The View from Sherlock Peoria (61)
August 3, 2003
The BSI News Letter
Rather a slow week here at Sherlock Peoria. The only Sherlock Holmes related event of note has been the arrival of the biannual newsletter of the Baker Street Irregulars. Whats that, you ask? The Baker Street Irregulars have a newsletter?
Well, its a letter. Its got news in it. It comes out on a regular basis once in the summer and once in the fall. So I suppose that makes it a newsletter.
The July letter from the head of the Baker Street Irregulars is the formal announcement of the next Januarys annual dinner in New York. This year the BSI will be celebrating the 150th birthday of Sherlock Holmes on Friday night, January 16th. And while the exact program of that dinner is never foretold, the letter tells of this years "Distinguished Speaker Lecture" (needs a slightly catchier name, eh?) on the night before, which will feature John Berendt, author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
There are some other little reminders and news bits: the Silver Blaze race is at Saratoga on August 2nd, the Valley of Fear outing will take place in October 2004, the Algonquin Hotel shows a slight possibility of not being the NYC lodging headquarters of the BSI this year. Housekeeping bits about mementos and the Watson fund follow, with the traditional call from the chief of the BSI:
"Recommendations for dinner invitations and/or shillings, if any, should be mailed to me to arrive no later than October 15th. As previously requested, please limit your recommendations for either invitations or investitures to a maximum of three names. Organized campaigns, while well intentioned, would best be avoided."
In the progamming world, the BSI invitation/investiture program is what we call a "black box." Data goes into the black box, and results come out, but nobody really knows what goes on inside. As you can see in the paragraph above, there are no guidelines or restrictions as to what sort of person rates an invitation to the BSI dinner or membership in the club. Members can suggest anyone they want. But thats as far as it goes.
The head of the Baker Street Irregulars has total control over who attends and who gets inducted. Theres nothing democratic about it, and as the "organized campaign" line shows, theres nothing any mass of Irregulars can do to influence or aid in that decision.
Now, none of this should be news to anyone who has crossed paths with the BSI. Its been this way for a long time, and thus has the validation of "tradition" going for it. Which, of course, doesnt make it any more palatable to the more liberal-minded among us.
And the biggest problem with this autocratic system is that its impossible to criticize it without seeming like youre criticizing the current head of the group. Even though its been this way long before Mike Whelan came into power as head of the BSI, if you criticize the membership process, you seem to be criticizing him. While the modern dictum states, "Dont hate the player, hate the game," if you complain about the game, in this case, all the players defenders will rise up in his defense. And why not? Theyre his friends, they like their player being in power.
But Ive said the BSI membership system sucks during Tom Stixs tenure, and Ill say it sucks during Mike Whelans tenure. Sometimes I try to play the game and pass on a suggestion for invitation or membership, but its hard to get too worked up about it.
It would be nice if members of the BSI could invite a guest themselves, to take and introduce to their fellow members. It would be nice if Irregulars could send another Sherlockian in their place, to represent their local group if they couldnt go. A lot of alternatives to the current dinner policies would be nice, but well only see them when the Irregulars have a leader who wants us to see them. No slight to anyone there, just the way it is.
There are all sorts of obstacles to any change in the BSI membership policy: dinner overcrowding, angering elder members, and the unknown risks one takes in making any change. But every year when the BSI news letter comes in the mail, I find myself daydreaming about change in that troublesome old system. Ah, well.
Your humble correspondent,