Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The X Percent Solution

The most famous of these is the 7 percent solution of cocaine Sherlock Holmes used on occasion to stimulate what I must assume had to be his Huge Gray Cells. I last encountered this one quite recently when reading Anthony Horowitz’s The Silk House, a Sherlock Holes story. Horowitz is probably best known for writing British TV series, among them most notably Foyle’s War. Well, there it was again.

The linkage between  that seven percent and the drug scene has produced, among others, such phenomena as a book by that title, also a Sherlock Holmes novel, and a rockband, active 1992 through 2003, founded in Austin, Texas. Chancing across that band reminded me again of my abysmal ignorance of pop music. Austin’s Seven Percent Solution belongs to subgenres of rock called shoegaze and spacerock. (My Online Etymology Dictionary is stymied.) Well, to some it’s magic, but descriptions suggest heavy uses of guitars for shoegaze with voices, sort of, absorbed by the din—as, presumably, the mind is by cocaine; and spacerock is similar, but a vast noise by other new electronic instruments is added to the ecstasy.

OED is more helpful in explaining “solution.” It has two meanings, the second derived from the first. The first is the result of dissolution—thus of grains of sugar in a liquid. In that sense something hard is taken apart. The second meaning uses the process of unraveling to indicate loosening, untying, say a knot—or a problem. In that case the solution to a problem also means its disappearance.

Other than pop culture, the chief fans of various numbered solutions are economists. In the recent meltdown problems in Europe (Greece, etc.) some have promoted the 2 percent solution. Stimulate the economies of Europe by expending up to a maximum of 2 percent of the Eurozone’s GDP. Earlier, in the Bush II era, the 4 percent solution aimed at so arranging the world’s economy that all countries grew at 4 percent per annum. The 50 percent solution, also labeled “Get Rich Slowly,” suggests that we all halve our consumption and save the rest. And a recent book, titled the 86% Solution (2005), suggests a fabulous future if only corporations stopped trying to grow by serving the top 14 percent of customers with real money and tried instead to serve the 86 percent that’s left behind.

Is there a 100 percent solution anywhere? It’s often suggested, in various context, in adventure shows. Things have been getting worse and worse for our hero. The hero’s sidekick eventually asks, his or her face a study in terror: “What do we do now?” And the hero then says: “Pray.” Depending on the context, we are supposed to feel even more tense—or to laugh. We last saw this on an episode of People of Interest—that show something of a tour de force. But I got to thinking. That is, after all, the 100 percent solution. It is guaranteed to work—if only you give it time.

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