Archive for the ‘Domestic Training’ Category

To be a blog, and not a vase

Wednesday, July 21st, 2021

From MP's A Conceit, or The Importance of Blogging:

So my friends : do not be afraid of all the things that are scary. The most they can do while under your gaze is make you stronger. Be instead afraid of the things you make no effort to understand, because from behind they can give you quite the sound trashing. And the worst part of it is... you'll likely never know.

What shall I say, that in the accrued naivite of my thirty-seven years, the lack of careful, methodical, documented inquiry into consciousness as a philosophical construct, I find myself indeed trashed, indeed from behind, with all the flavors and meanings of "quite" quite sprinkled on top? I could, because it's true, the one person I'd like most to talk it over with no longer so openly available to me, even if vast troves of his thought still exist for me to visit, again and again. I wonder if my knowledge would ever seem sufficient to me to handle the plurious and profound voids before me; in truth I doubt it.

I do not understand why, for knowing there cannot be an answer. I do not understand how, for having been there. I do not understand what --neither what death is, beyond some sort of trick I can't yet figure out, nor what life is now. At many junctures, I don't want to understand, I simply want to be let in. Let in on the joke, brought to the end so as to see the view with him again.

I could spend forever finding fault with myself, for having failed to give so completely in all categories so as to understand better now, but really it's a failure for having not died from any of the challenges he gave me. I would have, gladly, and I don't know why I didn't manage. Still, I never wanted to as much, as deeply, as truly, as I do now.

But no event, even if it's the implosion of the sun, actually makes my feelings more interesting. Nothing can make them matter. What matters now is the work of caring for what, of his, that I can. Inasmuch as that includes myself and his conceit of blogging, I shall push myself to produce more.

Called

Saturday, July 3rd, 2021

Around the turn of this year, Mircea Popescu and I wrote a book together: Dangerous. He described it as the greatest challenge of my life at that point, and he was right; just as he was right that it was my greatest joy. He wrote,

"For let it be known and trumpeted across the lands -- this is the life of the slave, the true life of the true slave. You wake one day and you are called, and it's always squarely outside of the reasonable, the reasonably expected, the what you thought might happen."

It was a rare day indeed, in my fifteen years under his hand, that I didn't meet with some new challenge, some task that took me beyond my comfort or natural inclinations (and how often are these things one and the same!). The disruption --difficult, often enough (but not nearly always, especially with time) sensually unpleasant, unwieldy-- grated sometimes more than others, but always required an essential thing: it made me open myself, somehow, in some way, to some degree, whether symbolically or literally or otherwise1.

On a Halloween's evening one year, we went out to a self-proclaimed costume party populated by some sort of theatre coven, where a selection of the more artfully attired were gathered on a stage. We watched for a few minutes as they went about their awkwardly-organized attempt at a contest, with voting and all, until MP grew sufficiently bored, and simply picked the most interesting of the girls there arrayed and told me to go ask her if she'd like to come out for coffee and cheesecake with us. "...you mean, when they're done?" "No, I mean now." I hesitated --a frequent fault, forever capable of some measure of harm and no measure of good and yet so often at the ready anyway. "Go on, who cares about their derpy show or whatever it is. Ask her." That feeling of opening pinpricked its way down my limbs as I walked directly across their stage in the middle of their presentation to have an apparently private conversation with the girl, who was standing next to her boyfriend, even. It could have been humiliating; that's what the ego wanted to believe just before it was forced to act, anyway. But it wasn't. All it did was make me more capable: of doing, for him, of answering, to myself, of confronting, others.

Soon after moving to Romania, and while I yet could speak hardly more than a few standard phrases, he pointed me to a certain radio station that played nothing but recitations of hymns. "Pick one," he said, "and write it down." "But I don't know what they're saying!" "Just write down the words you hear," he said. I knew only English, then. Lacking the mental gardens of language, I couldn't even really muster a verbal grid on which to fit the sounds that seemed to come in endless flurries of syllabic chaos, a deranged sort of musical scale: "sa la re na fa ma ca guh shtu fuh le me re deu meu zeu". I tried, more than once, to apologize out of it; clearly I wasn't good enough yet for this task, look how ridiculous, surely he wants me to stop now and be ashamed? "The whole thing." It stung like alcohol poured on a fresh cut that expected only a tentative, split-second dab, but then it stopped, and he laughed and he laughed, and as I recall he even telephoned some relations of his and read it to them so as to laugh with them at me, together. And the vulnerability cast me deeper in love, his control of the space within me, his to laugh at even, intoxicating.

I had a dream, once, that my master said: "Go and document all the water". And my panic was two-fold; on the one hand, for the difficulty in finding a way to even frame the project. On the other, the absolute knowledge that in any case, it must be done. Asleep or awake, in a day's work or in those tasks he gave me that took months or years to carry out, the ways that the man called me inexorably made me, make me, who I am.

And so as I rail against whatever medium will let me --the sky, the sea, the floor, the smiles of strangers who don't know, the watered eyes of those close to me who do-- pressing or cleaving or trying to extract from them what, what, what possible way could I have to meet what I'm called to do now, to witness his death, to exist in the world without him, I am compelled to remember that one essential thing: to make myself open. It's neither pin-prick nor sharp-sting, but a feeling more cutting, deeper and sicker and unbearably strong than anything I'd ever imagined before. It's so far outside of what I thought might happen that I find myself truly doubting it every other second, then reliving it the next. But I am here, and I will let it do what it will, to let it shape me or maim me or kill me or whatever besides, because it is what I have been called to do, and there is nothing else.

  1. I suppose, otherwise as in metasyntactically? Heh. []

Five days after the end of the world

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

Motto: "It all feels like the same scummy scuzzy sludge of drudgery."

Leaving the house, the candles blown out, the dogs approach but sense our sadness and turn, panting towards more living things. For we must count with the alive, and yet, we're not; not quite, ghost processes with all the bells and whistles of life but no real vigor. The town is robed in fog or blanched in sun; all the same. The faces, the voices of others grate, melded sameness of not-him, portals to worlds in which he did not tread, and so into which we cannot care to gaze or listen.

Inside our walls some hollow's sturdied up, like wooden rods supporting rag dolls. We muster and step. Muster and step. We make endless lists, holding hopeless tasks, some of which still seem hopeless when the day, whatever that can be, is done --and some of which are conquered. And when, after some hours spent in Master's unmade bed where we dig our faces into the mere visage of sleep, we rise, the realization somehow comes again, anew: life's gone, askew.

We tell each other to keep focus. We push for either to be strong. But the morning comes, and the mourning comes, and the world's now and forever wrong.

Goodnight, sweet Master

Thursday, June 24th, 2021

The greatest man who ever lived died this morning doing one of the things he loved best: playing in the ocean. It was the Pacific, that endless expanse that taught him how to love the sea, where he jumped the waves with his newest slavegirl and retired to epicurean picnics. A gliding threesome of pelicans crested the breaking waves in that spot where he defiantly breathed his last, skimming the water in a final winged salute.

Mircea Popescu did what he loved, did what he knew to be right; these were, almost without exception, the same. Unhesitatingly he gave all of himself to whatever work was at hand, whether it was comfortable or not, whether it came naturally or not, whether he knew it could be done or not. The result is that in the history of this earth, an earth not quite enough to serve a man so true, there has never been a greater example of any of the things that he was. A writer, a master, a tactitian; a manager, a cook, even a puppeteer. The work he has left behind is a remarkably vast and inequitably brilliant heritage, even if those left to attempt to appreciate it fall immeasurably short of its worth.

This was the man who took the head of the Romanian Academy to task, who exposed the broken Romanian baccalaureate and actually broke wikileaks, the man who identified countless scams in Bitcoin's nascent turmoil and the creator of its first and only true exchange; the man who forged a republic and when it proved impotent, had the strength to burn it down, the creator of Eulora, the author of more and better books, short stories, prose and poetry than any other who took up the pen. He touched essence and distilled it, and often in multiple languages. He did not merely gleam, he was resplenduminous, and at every point where his indomitable mind sparked against the medium of life, he left eternal fires in word and deed.

The world, indeed, was not enough, though he had it. Few and far between were the ones devoted and stalwart enough to let the man shape them with his many hammers. So very many tried, yet fell, and did not get to meet the unabashed glory of his love. For his love was the purest of miracles, capable of bringing beautiful things into being just as it was capable of razing them to utter destruction. It was only a force of nature itself that could have claimed him, and the rip tide that did was a furious exemplar in a place famous for dangerous waters. Dangerous, but fantastic; how he could possibly have found more suitable a place and a means to die is utter mystery.

But this most poetic death, mimicing the butterflies' final flight over the ocean of which he was so fond, came so soon on the line of his life as to render it the worst of all thefts. His life was robbed by the water, and the world entirely robbed of its light.

I do not need to record for you all that Mircea Popescu did and was, lists and rooms and great halls full of works that span subject and style and yet never fail to be excellent, because by his very nature he proclaimed it; loudly, freely, amply. That nature will ring out for all time.

From his work, 'Stop all the clocks (again)'

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent each dog from barking with your own hip bone.
Break all the strings, drill out the tuba and with muffled drums
Bring out the coffin, set ablaze the slums.

Let halves of aeroplanes turn overhead
Their smoking, broken cockpits dripping "He Is Dead",
Put dark crepe bows through every single feather of each single dove,
Gift each policeman one black velvet glove.

No further want for stars, go put them out ;
No roundness left for Moon, the Sun we'll do without.
Go pour the ocean in a cup and let it be misunderstood
After today, nothing can come to any good.

There can no further be such thing as song
I thought that love would last for ever. I was wrong.
It's time to swallow caltrops and wash them down with bleach
There's scarcely any further point to speech.

The sea you see was gloomly cried in place,
There used to be much sweeter water in that space.
The eagle's flight is broken and all geometric figures shattered
There's nothing left in place of all that ever mattered.

And so goodbye, there's nothing left except the time to die.

You suck because that's all there is to do: an online shopping report.

Monday, June 14th, 2021

I'm typing this in a file named overstockhell.txt, but the name can't begin to encompass the pure and unadulterated idiocy I've been grappling with for my sins of attempting to buy some items online1. Had I but known how many hours I'd have to sink into the adventure at the outset, I'd've clocked myself, but in my optimistic naivite I imagined someone else would be doing most of the work, given as the payment was coming from my side. So I'll hazard a guess at six or seven hours of wrangling: idiots in online chat, sympathetic if powerless customer service over the phone, and a mountain of outright insanity on the website that calls itself Overstock, despite having no way to handle orders with multiple items. But I'm getting ahead of myself; structuring the chaos that ensued once I chose this outlet2 is the way I get to put some (hopefully final) hours in, so let's start at the beginning, where all good intentions go to die.

Overstock is one of the few online vendors that claim to actually accept bitcoin; others like Amazon predictably rope the shopper in only to require some shit-flavored bitcoin alternative a la coinbase. The guts of their system nevertheless eschew the beautifully simple, direct method of payment bitcoin offers in favor of a processing middleman; they use coinpayments.net. I've used this processor a few times for server bills and such and so didn't suspect any shenanigans. But somewhere in the strained relationship between them and overstock, the first ring of shopping hell was revealed to me. Here's what it looks like, for the morbidly curious:

1. Bitcoin transaction propagates and confirms on the blockchain.
2. Coinpayments sends an email confirmation of payment received.
3. Overstock sends an email confirmation of order completed.
4. Coinpayments sends an email that payment timed out.
5. Overstock sends an email cancelling the order.

overstockhell

At which point I used overstock's online customer service chat feature (which is where all attempts at finding help on their site funnel to) to try and untangle the mess. Whether they employ humans to sit at the other end or rely entirely on a shoddy Eliza emulator is still up in the air; any mention of bitcoin results in an appeal to "check your coinbase account", notwithstanding coinbase isn't used at any point in their purchasing process. The script, whether deployed in bipedal or binary, circles a drain of apology and helplessness, persisting even through my escalation to a "supervisor". They don't know anything, they can't do anything, but they're very sorry and how about you check your coinbase account. Coinpayments had nothing to say about its second email, but merely confirmed that the transaction had gone through, and refused to have any other part in the matter, such as for instance telling Overstock that they'd indeed been paid.

overstockhell

So I waited for Overstock's business hours and talked to Esther on the phone, who blessedly seemed to possess both a pulse and a clue. She spent a while trying to decipher the spaghetti on her screen, and finally came up with the notion that "Our bitcoin payments require two confirmations from the payment processor; the first one came back fine, but the second didn't, so the order was automatically cancelled". The funds being nevertheless transferred, she offered to reinstate my order, but this came with a hitch. In the time since the order was originally placed, some of my items (out of a total of forty one) had gone out of stock3. She could issue me a refund, but only for the whole amount of the order; if I wanted what remained of the items, I'd have to take store credit for the difference. So I did, accompanied by updating my shopping file with a row of asterisks and a new note for every item, indicating whether it was still in the order or had meanwhile become unavailable. In a perfect world where information was presented as just that, this wouldn't even be a problem, but of course the "client area" is designed for phones and the idiots who depend on them, making this process a lengthy ordeal of comparing several dozen descriptions of things like yes, socks, against what I'd pasted in my list. Is this the gentleman's cotton dress sock black/gray mix pack of 12 or the cotton dress socks --men's black and gray 12 that's out of stock, now? But wait! There's pictures! Before you ask, yes they use item numbers (I assume only because they haven't yet found a way to get out of having to populate their databases with them), which...well, they appear after about eight kilometers of url keyword stuffing, so highlighting an item on the site to see the url (which is the only place the item number appears) does...not so much.

At any rate, hot laptop sweat and cold coffee eventually brought me through another illusion of settledness, wherein I imagined that "order received and confirmed" meant something like order received and confirmed. I floated adrift in this hard-won state for two days, after which a new email arrived from overstock confirming my cancellation. You know, the one I didn't make. No other information, no explanation, just-so, thanks for canceling your order, would you like to spend more money with us?

overstockhell

I got back on the phone and waited ten minutes for the Esther-like, if differently-named, operator to "inquire with the team that knows what to do about this". She came back with a phone number for their loss prevention department, which had entirely different hours, being in an entirely different timezone, and so was then unreachable. She personally couldn't offer any further information. Imagine this state of affairs wherein you're tasked with triaging customer service calls, but your company's inter-departmental communication is so poor that you have no idea why an order was cancelled and have no recourse but to try, and fail, to reach out manually. I say "imagine this", but I know you don't have to --you work there, and live there, and try to keep the wool over your eyes there, on your own, and communally, as a foundation for all your activity and so-called drive. You accept this, and thus perpetuate it, reveling in your "safety in numbers" and telling yourself that everyone does it, it's just how things go, and that I and anyone else who dares to press against it are sociopaths.

So being the psychotic, irrational maniac that I am, I waited for this new department's business hours and called them, only to encounter another flavor of Esther who told me some "agent" of theirs had gotten confused as to why I had first paid in bitcoin and then used the store credit that was refunded to me the first time the order was cancelled --essentially, they'd fucked things up so badly that now even they couldn't tell what exactly was going on with this order, so they "flagged" it, which is how you say "sweep under the rug" in bureaucratic peonnese. She apologized profusely and offered to reinstate the order yet again, though all she could do was add the items back to my cart. I'd have to go through it with another comb and confirm that everything that was supposed to be there was there indeed, and click all the required buttons to get the order "made" again.

Poor shopping file had to puff out its chest, suck in its brisket and take another pass of asterisks and notes, after which the order was supposedly re-confirmed (that's the third time, if you've lost count). Lo and behold, a few days later I started receiving some a barrage of emails from overstock reporting that certain items were shipping, or scheduled to be shipped, or that their delivery dates had been "updated", or that they were scheduled to arrive, or that they had actually arrived. Of the thirty-two items still left in my order after the multiple passes of delays-for-ensuring-shit-goes-out-of-stock, it looks like I'll be getting five or six emails for each. How long would you expect it to take to read and catalogue 160 - 192 emails?

overstockhell

And how much would you charge for your time? The damage in total comes to something like a coupla thousand dollars, give or take a cancelled item, but that's in terms of what's been exchanged on paper. The aggravation cost is through the roof, especially now that, weeks after placing the order the first time, in the long long ago, I've logged into my account in search of a receipt in some format apt for my shipping forwarder4, only to discover nearly every item listed has been updated with a "cancelled" status indicator. No explanation, no details, no email revoking the other five or six that promised x or y or z. I walked livid figure-eights around the house awhile, inquiring "Seriously?!" to no one in particular, until exhausted enough to sit down and attempt to make a list of all the newly-cancelled stuff. Halfway through, though, I noticed that most items have more than one entry in the endless phone-optimized scroller: one for "cancelled", and one for "delivered"5.

overstockhell

I don't know whether I'll bother calling back, whether I'll see if suing is an option, whether I'll wait and see if anything actually gets shipped or not, or whether I'll ever be able to try ordering something online again. What I do know is that the modern lie of convenience is an evil deeper and more insidious than nearly everyone else will admit. Far from being limited to suggestive advertising, product placement, or peer pressure, the current systems coax and groom consumers into whatever serves the systems best through outright mendacity, through discarding the genuine for the cheap, and through failing to deliver in any scenario that strays from the most common. You buy one pair of plastic socks at a time with your credit card, feeding the kind of life that keeps you limited to buying one pair of plastic socks at a time with your credit card, and the systems give back by turning a blind eye to the notion that anything else could be possible. You suck because that's all there is to do.

Until you stop letting it be so.

  1. Why buy online, then? Well, that'd be a last-ditch effort following month after month trying to source things locally. Really esoteric and exacting items like cotton fucking socks. Everything's got to be "improved" these days, a slapdash excuse of a label covering such a poverty of craftsmanship that it's questionable whether pure cotton socks even exist anymore. Shopkeepers are happy to perpetuate the lie, of course; if you conveniently don't read labels and so don't notice that their "of course we have cotton socks" translates to 100% bamboo or 60% cotton 40% plastic, or if you buy them with a label actually proclaiming 100% cotton despite a tangible plastic feel and then don't take a lit match to one of the threads once bought, confirming the curled, flash-burn of burnt lycra or whatever, then sure, you can "have" what you asked for. If you actually want the genuine item, though, all that's available is frustration and wasted time. Bonus:

    overstockhell

    . []

  2. Really, I've no reason to believe any of the bullshit is particular to Overstock itself, especially as they were chosen for matching a few baseline criteria and otherwise at random. I'm always tempted to confine negative experiences to the specific actors involved, but sometimes that's not warranted, and after years of unneccessary, byzantine difficulty with procurement, I know things wouldn't be much different if the name was swapped with some other. To wit, out of the voluminous grab bag: back in Argentina I convinced MP to try ordering some sushi from a local restaurant that'd previously been vetted in person, to have it delivered. I don't remember why, perhaps it was the sort of unforgivingly hot day that place occasionally cooks up, or maybe someone was sick. You've no way to access the depths of what I mean when I say "I convinced MP", and even looking at it now I wonder what miraculous event actually occurred --it could'nt have been convincing, but must have been some sort of logical or maybe pity-inducing gymnastics the likes of which oughta make me apt for courtroom work. Anyway, estimated delivery time was something like forty minutes, and after an hour I called them, pretty pissed. They assured me the order was on the way and would arrive any minute. Fifteen minutes later I hacked lunch together myself and swore to never take restaurant delivery seriously again. Another two hours later some derp on a motorbike started raising the alarm downstairs, sushi's here, etc. Why anyone would want three-something hours' old sushi is utterly beyond me, and should be beyond you, too, except that when I told this story to friends what I heard was "Oh, I hate it when that happens." Like it's a thing, like it's regrettable but necessary, familiar, oh well, whatchagonnado. The whole fruit is rotten; by now it's on providers to prove how they're different, not on consumers to supply good faith and confidence upfront. []
  3. Out of stock, at overstock, which apparently keeps one or two units around at a time. This is a mere international sourcing "solution", not some hoity-toity neighborhood fruit cart, to stock something more like dozens or hundreds per item. What do you think this is, the 21st century?! Pssh. []
  4. Why I have to use a forwarder, and why such a service wants a receipt, are just extra aggravational dipping sauces on the side of this platter of fail. []
  5. Most, not all. If it were the case with everything at least it could be discerned whether the order failed or not. But why pass up another chance for screwing things up tighter and more frustratingly than a fifty year old tangle of christmas tree lights? []

How do you know if what you think matters?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

Broadly, it doesn't. I grew up in an environment replete with the backlash of WWII parenting; those kids weren't told that what they thought mattered, they were just supposed to do well with the victory their parents had secured for them, all tangible assets and corporate ladders. They rebelled in large part by telling their children in turn that hard cash and corner offices weren't nearly as important as that universal flaky abstract, their thoughts. Or I don't know, maybe that's just a California thing. In any case, people have been telling me that what I think is important ever since I was old enough to listen. I knew it was poppycock then, and I know it now, but somehow as an adult it's much harder to resist that knee-jerk, first pass notion that I should, that I have to, say what's on my mind. Worse still, when that should gets rejected, often enough I double down rather than step back on the importance, as though being principled can be supplanted by being defiant. I propose a review of when one's thoughts matter.

1. The person you're speaking with tells you so. It's a blessing, when it comes, though its rarity is also to be savored, for imagine if you had to hear the words spoken for every instance in which the other party gave a shit about what you thought --you'd probably spend more time exchanging expressions of interest than actually talking about anything. Especially dangerous here is the fact that that familiarity easily breeds contempt. Just because someone has expressed interest in what you think in the past doesn't mean they're interested perpetually, or in all matters great and small. Likewise, love is not some sort of seal of interest to be placed over all the comings and goings of a beloved's thoughts (though that may be a reasonable description of infatuation); it is unwise to take for granted the evenly distributed interest of someone who loves you --at least, if you love them back. Enjoy those rare occurrences when someone tells you they'd like to know what you think, and don't abuse it1.

2. You're an expert on the matter at hand. Honestly I shudder to include this for knowing how often, and how profoundly, the notion of an expert is misused. It's tossed around as a weak justification for all manner of agendas and shoddy efforts --in fact, it's a major reason why knowing whether what you think matters has gotten so difficult in the first place, because everyone's gotta be an expert in something (or know someone who is, which is practically the same thing, right? Fuck.). Let's set some basic rules in an attempt to recover a little ground from the chaos:
2.a Having experience does not make you an expert2. It makes you someone with some experience, which is not at all the same thing, and is not at all relevant when attempting to understand if what you think about something matters.
2.b Familiarity is not expertise. So you've read something about a topic, or you've heard about it before, or you took a related class in college. Good for you, you're not an expert.
2.c Feeling very strongly about something has nothing to do with being an expert. Even if that something is having very strong feelings. Confusing emotion for thought, and strength of emotion for relevance, is the hallmark of immaturity. It's over-tolerated amongst the general population, but it'll mark you as an exemplary idiot if you pull it out with cultivated people, and that's a very hard mark to wash off.
2.d Your certifications of expertise are meaningless. You probably paid a lot for them, and you probably put a fair amount of time and sweat into them, too. Sadly the current global delusion of self-importance has led to an abundance of fraudulent certification not seen since the dark ages, and there's no institution or authority capable of stamping you into expertise --not anymore. Cheer up though; if you honestly are an expert in a field, you don't need to rely on a certificate, and if you've been using one as a crutch, letting it go to hear more of others' thoughts instead of bludgeoning the world with your own will only make you better.

These in mind, for the very few who do possess expertise all that remains is to be aware of its boundaries. It's easy to imagine that mastery of one domain implies mastery of others. Or that an entire domain, rather than a small sliver, has been mastered. Part of knowing what you excel at is knowing where you suck, and making no concessions in either direction. Excel responsibly.

3. Sike. There is no three. Seriously, it's very unlikely that what you think about a given topic matters. This doesn't mean you can't express yourself, it merely points out that beyond these two rare and precious circumstances, you're taking chances: that nobody cares, that you're making an ass of yourself, that you're flooding the channel with all noise and no signal. These aren't even such terrible chances to take, context-dependent3. But it's a good idea to be aware you're taking them, and especially to consider whether to keep pushing with your thoughts past any number of refutations or signs of disinterest. After all, there's nothing inherently wrong with thinking; it's insisting inappropriately that robs people of the possibility of productive communication.

  1. This goes both ways, too. Expressing interest in someone's thoughts disingenuously isn't "polite". It doesn't promote inclusion or fight famine or stop crime or achieve any other ridiculous collective goods. All it does is engender misplaced notions of self-importance, which actually does achieve ridiculous collective evils. []
  2. Sometimes formulated as "Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting," though that's probably just as hard a pill to swallow for the first time as what I've put above the fold. []
  3. Consider that this very article takes all of these chances. []

I'm not from there but it's where I was born

Friday, April 9th, 2021

The little apartment was set in the village of Giroc; a tiny, dusty, and thoroughly alien enclave possessing, at the end of a long poplar-lined road that connected it to the city, a single, pell-mell grocery store, and a rusted bus stop. The trees were uniformly coated with whitewash to two feet of their trunks. Their branches were uniformly pruned back with a severe hand, leaving little, it seemed, for the poor plants to work with. Heavy dust from the fields nearby joined with the constant autumnal chimney smoke to make the atmosphere thick and fragrant, and the sun in the afternoons was a ruddy blanket filtering redly over the rooftops.

On my first day I was taken to the house of the landlords, on the large property that sat behind the little cluster of efficiency apartments. The woman of the house ran it: kitchen, children, expenses, renters, conversation. Her husband receeded into the background like an overstuffed piece of furniture, while his parents, superlatively wrinkled, superlatively silver and white, tried with gummy smiles and incomprehensible interjections to goad me to speech. I could understand neither them nor the landlady, of course, nor my master, who spoke to them loudly, and apparently with great hilarity. They laughed often, and I tried to match my face to theirs --why, I do not know. Later I was scolded for not talking. I was told that people would think there was something wrong with me if I didn't "join in". I wondered how I was expected to join in a conversation in a language I didn't speak. It was not the first of what would grow to be many guilty confusions, but it was, perhaps, the first time I had felt it so personally, publically. I was quiet and ashamed.

Inside the apartment was a small folding bed, an antique wooden desk with great drawers capable of organizing much more than I had, a stand-alone closet, and two small chairs with a table. A window over the desk looked out onto a desolate strip of dirt and retaining wall, and the view reached over and into the street if one stood up while approaching it. Two identical doors at the far end of the room led to either a tiny bathroom or a tiny kitchen, each with tiny appliances. The shower consisted of a quarter-circle marked off in one corner with a faucet above it; the kitchen held a two-burner camping stove connected to a compressed gas can, and a miniature refrigerator.

After introducing me to the main house and walking with me to the small disorganized market --where he bought farmer's cheese, sour cream, bell peppers, and bread--, master spent a few moments with me in my new home, which primarily consisted of showing me how to make sandwiches out of the bought ingredients. I found them strange, randomly composed, but palatable. He left, taking a set of keys with him, and I wrapped myself into my oversized velvet trenchcoat, and willed myself to sleep.

I slept, over the next four days, in strange fits of time unbounded to the light outside, or lack thereof. Near-total silence entombed the place, such that the odd, distant echo of some other tenant's phone call, or the passing of a lonely car down the dead-end road in front of me was eventful. I popped up like a prairie-dog to see if such cars were maybe a taxi, bearing Him. I squinted against the foreign sounds of speech, as though by listening harder I would understand more. There was no internet connection; I had no outlet adapters for my laptop anyway. Disconnected from the world I had left, and with nothing to mindlessly entertain me in a familiar and thus comfortable way, I wandered airy halls of thought that eclipsed the small room I was in. I wondered what would happen, and how long it would take to occur; just-so, wonder without speculation, unspecific. I wondered why I was alone. I wondered what the people I'd left were doing, thinking.

Eventually, somewhere in the marginless soup of days I took out a paper bag-wrapped book my Dad had given me when I graduated high school. It was his journal from the first years of my life, written for and dedicated to me, and after a later childhood pockmarked by his near-total departures from my life, I coveted it. I pored over stories of his arguments with my mother, of his descent into drinking himself sick, of his many attempts to climb out of it. That I could read, in his own hand, his own thoughts, usually so inaccessible behind a wall of appearing well, and that so often, too, his thoughts had been about me --at least for the purposes of the book-- was the most indulgent, gratiating catharsis I could've imagined, then. I read through it several times.

It was almost a week before I saw my master again. He'd wanted to let me catch up on sleep, he said. It felt like a sort of abandonment-by-caring, a strange thing, but then I didn't have all that much time to dwell on it. As the visits came, my ventures out into the alien landscape really began, and intensified. I quickly discovered the scrawled, highly abbreviated schedule written, crossed out, and written over again endless times at the bus station was something I had to memorize. At seemingly random times of the day, my master would command me to meet him in the big town of which Giroc was a tiny satellite, and I'd have to tell him when I'd be taking the bus to get there. The first time he asked, and I didn't know, he had me walk the couple of miles to the station to look. In the time it took me to get there and back I missed the relevant bus trip. I was punished.

At first I took a picture of the schedule. But when he'd ask me when the bus going back was arriving in town as we were walking, my fumbling for the camera and sorting through pictures to find it proved unacceptable. So I wrote it all down on paper, though I transposed some numbers a time or two and finding the folded-up bit in my purse wasn't particularly better than spelunking for the camera. I committed the thing to memory. The departure and arrival times were wildly different from one day to the next for no apparent reason. I struggled, but after days of treating the schedule as the most important thing in my life, I got it down. A week or so later the man announced in town that he was going to come "back home with me", a rare and highly prized event. I told him when the bus would be there to pick us up; ten minutes late, the bus still hadn't come. Another five after that, he told me how disappointing it was that I couldn't handle such a simple thing. He took the pound of cookies we'd bought and turned on his heels, walking away without a goodbye, the typical foreboding cloud of deep trouble to come later on. I rebelled furiously but silently, hot tears immediately washing over my face. But like a miracle, the bus appeared rounding the corner, and I shouted for him, eventually daring to use his name as I waved my arms and pointed to the big yellow savior.

There were other actors in the bizarre stageplay my daily existence had become --at least, on those days when my master came, or called me out, and took me out of the tiny apartment in the hazy orange fields. He had hired a lawyer, for reasons I didn't at all understand, who likewise was responsible for so many tasks that our visits to his office were done multiple times each week. In later years we would become friendly, but during that hard initiation to life, he didn't look at me when we entered his office. He didn't speak to me --in fact, nobody in the office did. I sat off to the side and tried to pick Romanian words out edgewise from the ensuing storm of their conversations. Once in a while I managed to hear an "and", or the polite form of "you" (a blessing of five syllables, making it hard to miss). Or I tied myself in knots attempting to remember the lecture I'd just received on the walk over --these were always expected to be remembered verbatim, and just as often they seemed orders of magnitude beyond my ability to recall for both length and complexity. What I knew best was that I knew nearly nothing, but here were explanations of air insulation, microprocessor fabrication, comparative ethnography, the cellular level of kidney functioning, metaphysical notions of the self. I was spellbound but helpless. Climbing the crumbling, ricketty stairs to the lawyer's office, my eyes would frantically wander over the penciled graffiti and penknife-carved lettering covering the handrails and the walls of each floor's landing, as though somewhere in there I'd find a helpful note, a clue to unlock the mystery, or at least, to lock my memory to it.

Often the lawyer visits were accompanied by trips to the bank. The banks employed women only, from tellers to managers, and they were uniformly overdressed, overperfumed, and unsmiling. One male was allowed --a silver-haired security guard, who looked utterly incapable of confronting a conflict either with deed or word. Here too was a place where none of the staff either talked to or looked at me. Though I was glad of it, the bank being an interminable waiting room in which everything that was done required multiple stacks of paperwork and at least three different kinds of stamps --sometimes from my master himself, which was especially perplexing. At one point, after spending nearly an hour at the bank despite there having been no other customers, I remarked that he sure did seem to buy a lot of boats --for I couldn't imagine what other transaction could possibly require so much paperwork.

More inaccessible and mysterious still than any of these actors was the woman I knew my master was living with. After the tumultuous failed meeting six months before and half a world away, I still did not meet her, or hear much of anything about her. I was ravenously curious, but I kept myself from prying in the hopes that by being civil --a thing I equated mostly with being quiet--, I could encourage an eventual resolution, and maybe even friendship.

Slowly I began venturing outside on my own when the man wasn't taking me out, though I stayed squarely within the confines of Giroc.

I walked the dusty grid of homes that made up the village. A few seemed lived in lovingly; a couple or a few decades old, inaugural painted motif still visible above the garret window, grape vines covering little trellises outside with the early, fresh sort of maturity that only such vines can evoke. The rest of the houses were either so old their patched roofs sagged and caved faster than repairs could be made, piles of bricks, shingles, wooden shutters, and peeled paint gathering at the corners and doorframes, long-established garrisons of weeds daring the trespass of maintenance. Or they were new and awkward, betraying strange geometries that broke the eye and especially the spirit of the village. Their roofs were oddly slanted, their windows narrow and long or round and convex. Everything about them was purposefully mismatched, as though blindly chosen from some catalogue of parts --which is precisely how they were built.

Dotting this admixture of the ancient, the infantile, and the lonely in-betweens were the hobbiest erections, the houses-to-be. Great slabs of gray concrete festooned with rusting rebar jutting angrily in all directions, these buildings were always the most visibly occupied, for there were groups of men climbing them or huddling around the screaming concrete-mixers sitting in their yards. Now and then a bare bulb from such a property sliced through the gloom of my walk's dusk, sharpening the universally creased and consternated faces of the workers and casting inky shadows across the vague dreams of happiness being built there.

The penetrating scent of burning wood pervaded all. The garrish, new homes --like mine-- were fitted with gas heaters, but the rest were warmed by ceramic fireplaces. These churned through massive piles of freshly cut wood stacked on the sides of older houses, and the thick heady smoke threw all of Giroc into a more distant century, in a place further still from civilization.

It was on one such walk that I was first accosted by a local male. Frustrated, perhaps, or maybe merely acting out the social imperative dictated to him by the rest of the place. He was a short man, bald, but not apparently old enough to be so. His shiny, dark brown skin stretched tautly over his face in a permanent collection of smiles. He dressed up by Giroc's standards; his black shoes always glistened, his pants were pressed and bore a razor-sharp crease. I ran into him several times in the village's infinitessimal convenience store, a closet in a small corner house which opened up to the street, where you could buy a piece of candy or cigarettes, or use the much-loved instant coffee machine. Sometimes while on a walk and wishing to warm my hands, or growing bored at the bus stop waiting on a late trip to town, I would duck in for a completely objectionable, chemical cappucino --and often, the man was there, chatting up the unresponsive clerk, or standing just outside and smoking, waiting for someone to show up so he could launch interminable volleys of smalltalk at them.

For me, the smalltalk was useful. It taught me new words without being so advanced as to instantly kill communication. I was embarrassed of myself, of my poor grasp of the language. I blushed and laughed and was interested enough in his banal offerings that I hardly wonder at all whether I gave the wrong impression. One night, walking home from the bus stop, the man asked me over to his house. It was the largest, newest atrocity in the village, a shining, slanted modernist wreck that commanded the awe of the villagers. I declined. He insisted, for coffee, just like at the convenience closet; he had the same brand of cappucino at home, he told me, with a conspiratorial smile. I told him, as I had several times before, that I had a master, and that I couldn't go to other men's houses. He was quiet a moment, then shook his head emphatically and wrinkled his brow while he pantomimed sex with his hands --with one fist he made a hole, and with a clump of stubbly fingers pierced it with the other again and again. "No, no, no," he said as he gesticulated, and then his face brightened again. "Cafea." And his hands flattened and flew to the sides, dismissing their puppet play. When I declined again, he made a gruff little noise somewhere in his throat, and after a moment threw his arm out and grabbed my breast in his hand. He squeezed it frantically for just a second, then turned on his heel and wordlessly walked away towards his home. He never spoke to me again.

My first months in Giroc --almost entirely out of touch with the world I'd grown up in, with a new latitude, a new language, a new relationship, a new purpose-- found their focus not as much in acclimation as in backtracking. Twenty-two years of an American life had persuaded me into a certain slowness of thought and movement, a certain mindless adoption of mores and taboos that I wasn't especially well-equipped to investigate, much less defend. I was embarassed of myself, shy, and yet pretentious; the sort of life that depends on the implicit agreement of the surrounding society to not ask prying questions, and to never suggest unwholesome motivations.

Mortification was an essential ingredient, then, of my delayed coming-of-age. The first party I was taken to --the party's party, some thinly-veiled excuse to drink publically thrown on a docked boat by the local national liberals-- was an introduction to the kind of shedding that would be required to survive, over and over again. I dressed up; it was a thrift-store find I'd gotten somewhere in Ohio, black with red trim stitching, its halter strap and bias-draped skirt vainly hoping towards flamenco. My master came to pick me up. At the threshold of the apartment gate he cut a deep red rose from the vine and put it in my hair. I felt more beautiful and bashful than I could ever recall having felt. We walked, we caught a taxi, we arrived at a haphazard collection of stairs and terraces by the river that lead down to the softly lolling boat. Inside it looked much like any other bar there: a long rectangular room, some smattering of mismatched furniture pressed up against one length, with a tiny desk at one end where beer taps sat poised for duty and real alcohol presumably hid somewhere on an inner-shelf, well-obscured.

There were very few people yet there. My master sat himself on an overstuffed couch near the door, easily the best seat available. I sat next to him; he ordered variously; I asked for rum and cokes throughout the night, against the straight vodka and cognac that constantly replenished on the table. It was October, not quite cold enough for excuses, and yet everyone smoked inside. I happily joined the frenzy, keeping my hands occupied with glass or cigarette, or both.

People came and sat next to us, struck up what seemed like smalltalk. I practiced the few sentences I was learning. I apologized for not being able to understand much. After an hour or more I was sent on another trip to the bar to order drinks. When I returned the question was why I'd just gone to the bar --why wasn't I dancing? In truth, I'd done my best to avoid noticing the handful of people awkwardly foot-shuffling to the stultifying ecclectic mix of old pop duds wafting through the room. It was the least interesting thing going on, and I'd assumed my Master thought the same thing. Not so; he admonished me harshly for not having started dancing as soon as we'd arrived, and told me how disappointed he was that he'd finally had to say something at all. Humiliated, dripping with shame, I stood near our table and willed myself to dance.

It was the empty-hearted, self-aware sort of dancing that betrays deep disenjoyment, and I couldn't fake it better. After a few songs, the man grabbed me by the wrist, pulled me down to him, and pointed out a verbally obnoxious woman I'd thought he didn't like --he told me to watch her, and to dance like her. My humiliation deepened. But I watched, and wondered what it was that made her something to emulate. Nothing was particularly striking, except the sense that she was genuinely enjoying herself, something I knew I couldn't make myself do. I tried. I drank more, I tried to dance with the woman herself, who refused to look at me and eventually walked away. I asked for a break and was denied. I complained that this was the strangest, most awkward social situation I'd ever been in, and to please have mercy on me. I was sent back to dance. Eventually, thoroughly mentally exhausted and not too physically fresh either, I was called in, and made to sit in silence while my master fumed next to me, too disgusted, it seemed, to speak.

We left and he walked me to the taxi station a few miles away, towards Giroc. He wanted to know why I hadn't told him I was so terrible at dancing. He told me I was the worst he'd ever seen. I protested that I'd grown up in dance classes, and had never had a problem before --but that I didn't really listen to that sort of music, nor did I ever try to dance to it, nor did I much enjoy normal people --the sorts of people who went to political party parties in jeans and t-shirts, the sort that made smalltalk. What's more, I didn't understand them and they didn't understand me. Surely these gaps were the problem.

Not so. He insisted the problem was how completely incapable I was of dancing. I protested that I could bellydance; he ordered me to on the spot, in the street. I protested that I had no music --he didn't care, and I couldn't produce anything past my enduring shame and embarrassment. We arrived at the taxi stand and he sent me off with the sort of soul-crushing sendoff that had no embrace, no gentle look, no smile or sweetness or allusion to the future in it. I got home and realized he still had my keys, since I'd given them to him to pocket while I danced, and hadn't asked for them back. It was three o-clock on the morning. I had to wake up my landlady and her family to let me in.

The next morning, the horrors of the night were found far from faded. If anything, they'd put down roots and were now working on foliage and flowers. Over online conversation, my master demanded I make sense of the rift between my terrible performance and my notions of competence. I eventually arrived at the unpleasant realization that I must've been lying to myself, and thus to him, one way or another. The unavoidable truth was that when given the opportunities, I couldn't dance. It didn't matter that I thought I could do better, or ought to have been able to, or that I thought I did at some other time, before. What mattered was that when the time had come to show it, I had nothing to show, and the only possible explanation was something like deception.

The conversation abruptly ended and I knew the man was going to appear. I prostrated myself, naked, on the floor, pointed towards the door, waiting. I was terrified of my realization, confounded by what it might mean. How had I managed to lie when it was the last thing I wanted to do? Why did my intention to be pleasant company and to have fun end up buried in humiliation and failure? Was he going to forgive me? Was I forgivable?

I heard the keys thrust faultlessly into the lock in the plastic door, and then he was in. Tall and swift, like an electric wire in his winter coat, bringing the sweet blue crispness of the autumn cold into the room, he wordlessly whizzed past me and into the kitchen. He retrieved the old plastic soda bottle full of tuica, the local bootleg brandy, from on top of the mini refrigerator, and walked over to my desk and chair, unscrewing the cap. I smelled it. I thought, "He's going to cover me with that stuff and then light a match. He's going to set me on fire, he's going to kill me." Waiting, I don't know how long, kneeling with my wrists and forehead on the floor, my mantra had been "I can get through anything. Any form it takes is fine." And yet...would it be fine if I was drenched in brandy and set on fire? I thought about how I'd look with no hair or eyebrows if he did it and I survived.

"Ahh." He'd taken a drink. He re-capped the bottle. I wasn't going to die. "What the fuck am I going to do with you," he began, and a series of pointed questions and fumbling, unsatisfying replies followed. These exhausted, he stood and tied my ankles together, then my wrists, and knocked me onto my back. He retrieved the long white extension cord I'd been using to keep my computer facing away from the room's window, on the desk. He wound it a few times round, making a bundle of two or three loops. He beat me hard, and yet somehow summarily, on the legs, and on the back when I reeled over as though to escape the hits. He spent what seemed like a long time beating the soles of my feet, screaming at me to shut up when I screamed myself, in pain.

He untied me, and forced my fists into a pair of votive candle holders, binding them to my wrists with several layers of duct tape, rendering them closer to hooves than hands. He put down a dog dish on the floor and filled it with kibbles. He ordered me to eat. I half-chewed, half-gagged the acrid, metallic chunks of dog food, unable to use anything but my mouth to scoop them up. The bowl seemed endless. The more I ate the more I seemed incapable of producing the saliva needed to get it down. He sat at the desk, doing something on the computer, occasionally scolding me to eat faster, reminding me that he didn't have all the time in the world. Nearly done but with a few kibbles still left in the bowl, I began choking on a hair of mine that'd gotten into my mouth. I thrashed and spat and tried to expel it but couldn't, not without hands. I begged for help. My master stood before me, took out his cock, and told me he needed to pee, and ordered me to drink it. I took it into my mouth and tried to swallow the stream fast enough to keep my mouth from overflowing. The strong taste of the urine and the twinging of the still-present hair down my throat repeatedly made me gag, and I asked for a bowl so I could throw up. The man just looked at me. I begged for a bowl. Finally, unable to keep it down, I vomited on the floor, gagging and gasping.

"Eat it," he said, and I both believed him and couldn't believe him at the same time. I was disgusted, and yet somehow the sheer disgustingness of it all soothed over the edge, as though there were nothing capable of making me afraid, or doing me any harm, past this. It took me nearly an hour, but I lapped it up and ate it all, while he watched with a face full of what looked like crystalized disdain. I hadn't noticed, but he had put down a camera when he took his drink of tuica, and had recorded the ordeal in its entirety. When I was done eating my own vomit he replayed the video for me while he fucked me over the chair.

On Accounting and Accountability

Monday, October 5th, 2020

Here's a shot of what my desk looks like on Sunday evenings, more or less.

accounting

Sometimes there's also a baby duck, or a shot of vodka-cum-creme-de-casis, and of course there's two, sometimes three other monitors for other systems churning god knows what trials and tribulations tied to the time, but all that aside: for an hour or so, this is the meat and potatoes1. But what is it? It's a stack of lists, basically, getting re-listed as other lists. Which is boring as fuck, it's true, but inasmuch as this is weekly household accounting, and given I've been doing this shit week in, week out for over a decade, it's also a font of information with high potential. For...?

Say I want to track gas usage car-over-car, or country-over-country, or year-over-year? What's milk price inflation like recently (trick question, nobody's fucking with the price of milk, look at fringe convenience shit like canned vegetables to see it)? What's more expensive, beef or bison, and how much does it matter whether you're in Argentina? I can tell you how many eggs my household ate in June of 2015. Or whether a general effort to consume more produce over time actually came to pass, and how.

Combined with a few other key trackers, such as the calorie count, weight, and total price of canonical dishes typically made in the house, and daily-weekly schedules that plan and mark progress for any number of work projects and personal endeavors, this pile of data lets me put a real statement behind the kind of feeling-statements that do not much more than gnaw at people and cause arguments. I'm not doing as well as I'd like to with Egyptian Arabic probably because in the past three months I've only spent 14 hours with it, despite having apparently wanted to reach something more like 40. Meanwhile I feel great about the gym and it's likely a result of planning for 3, 2-hour sessions a week lately and managing on average 3.5.

There's nothing novel about household accounting, naturally, nor is what's contemplated here anywhere near as tight, expressive, or demanding as the an0 standard. Aside from the obvious benefits of answering the kinds of questions thrown about above, all this helps address a few common problem areas. For one thing, contrary to what you'd be tempted to think, it helps me be a little less anal. Yes, I want my grocery receipts, and I'ma be miffed for a few minutes if one gets thrown out, but because I know I can fall back on this moderate hillock of data if any interesting problems crop up or I'm being taken to task over whatever, I can let go of a lot of stupid shit I'd probably be carrying around otherwise. Worry has this bizarre relationship with assholerly wherein chronic worriers (who pretty much universally would never characterize themselves as being assholes and on the contrary would be shocked and hurt to be given such an assessment) end up choking on a kind of bolus of inferences, suspicions, and undesired potentialities, which in turn spurns them into periods of extremely anal behavior, as though to atone for the previous period of inattentive worrying.

Discipline is also fairly well built out of making and following the commitment to keeping track of things thusly. And no, my record isn't perfect; there've certainly been low periods where I've thought I knew better than to stick to this, or where I thought feeling bad meant it was a good idea to slack --and of course keeping track gets a lot more complicated, and becomes more of a pain in the ass, when traveling, which is a fairly common challenge for me. But more often than not, I've kept good track, I've been consistent, and even though it's ultimately just lists, it's nevertheless something, it's a record, it's a concrete and lasting effort, size and meaning notwithstanding. Knowing it's possible helps plan and motivate other things, larger, or more meaningful, that require long-term focus.

I also credit the regularity and familiarity of this weekly ritual with a better, hygiene, I guess, concerning arithmetic. It's a fine opportunity for a digestible portion of adding in the head, a practice far too often neglected, which is likely responsible for giving most people I meet hives when asked to perform basic operations like this. Like its parent task, this is a small thing that yields happily over long periods of time; I don't use a calculator for this like I don't use an "app" to figure out how to drive somewhere, and just as I'll probably be one of the only folks able to get anywhere if landsat croaks, I don't shake and try to change the subject when I need to do some arithmetic on the fly2.

And that's it, now I've got a cash discrepancy this week to go and chase, and meanwhile I was scheduled to write something on nature today, which this most certainly ain't, and besides that berry vodka line talked me into it, I'm two in and I've got all manner of nonquantitative thoughts to nurse.

  1. I don't think the duck would appreciate this joke.... []
  2. Anymore, yes yes. Like most things, I only know how to describe the problem because I've had it. []

Cold Knocks

Monday, May 4th, 2020

I told him once that I'd always wanted to walk through a city like I owned it; no one on the street, no cars or noise or closed doors.
"I've done that," he said,
"It's easy when you're in a war zone."

The snow that day had no trace of warm tones in it. The sun was smuggling light and heat to and fro somewhere far above the clouds, which reflected the same uncaring blue and gray that were all the banks and blankets of snow had to offer. My legs were already hard and numbing under their thin nylon veil by the time I'd walked the three kilometers to the meeting place, an ugly intersection whose several bus and tram stops marked "The Hammer". I was fifteen minutes early, as was my habit. The time was usually spent preparing my mind for the meeting; sweep off complaints, tidy a few topics, put something interesting to rise in the oven. But there was no oven that day, and the rest of the work was thought through quickly, so I walked a while through the frozen paths that wound around The Hammer's blue-gray concrete apartment blocks.

The meeting time came and went without event. I paced the building's fronts now, eager for a sighting of him. "Any moment now," I told my legs, which insisted on taking more steps, no matter how small, so long as something in them kept moving. "We'll be off in just a moment," I told the rows of pigeons huddling together above the doorways. An hour passed, an absurdity made undeniable in ten minute increments by forlorn references to my phone (which neither rang). Though each minute taxed me, it delighted me all the same with the promise that it couldn't be much longer.

Another hour turned my hope to endurance. I ducked into the decrepit magazin on the corner and pushed myself slowly down each aisle, pretending to consider the junk on offer. It was all TO-CE-HD goods; to be torn open, contents enjoyed, husk discarded, like me. I didn't have what with to pay for any of it, not that I would've wanted it anyway --nor that I'd've been allowed to. I could feel the clerks staring down my suspicious perusal. I made elaborate scripts of finding some (nonexistent) text on my phone, rushing out to meet the sender, not finding them, and going back into the store. But this only worked, inasmuch as it did, a couple of times. Eventually the hostile atmosphere was worse than the biting cold outside.

I traced the snow-capped tramlines two blocks, always circling the focal intersection. My parabolas were punctuated in the landing alcoves of half-crumbled hruschebas, where I turned down several offers from old women sweeping the steps and wiping down the trash cans to let me into the buildings --for the view'd be too narrow, and I'd miss him, and it would only really be two or three degrees warmer in the stairwells anyway.

Finally, like the sun through the mountains, like a first kiss, I saw him, his familiar shell, the outline of a hat and coat, the brisk and even movement that's always identified him past any particulars of shape or size. Had the delay been my fault? It wasn't my fault, but some broken piece of equipment, which was now all settled, and being done, the first point of the agenda was to go to the lawyers'. Except my frozen legs and feet would not cooperate with his speed over the ice, unaccustomed as they were to the slick frost. I grew up on the beach, and to this day don't really know how to walk on snow and ice --especially at anything approaching a normal human pace. So I slipped. I slipped and slipped again, I slid around like an idiot only occasionally catching up with him to hear an admonition or three and then fall behind, panting and barely not wiping out on the sidewalk.

He had enough, and told me to lead him to the nearest cab station. Hadn't I mapped out and memorized the locations of all the (informal, unmarked, a quintessential Romanian strategic delight) cab stations? I hadn't. I had no idea. I had panic, and the complete abandonment of feet from reality --nothing useful. I had nothing useful to give.

He told me to walk to the north train station, another four kilometers or so across town. The rush of my remorse, huge and all-enveloping, was still not fast enough, and he was gone, turned on his heels, before I could say anything more than "okay" (not that anything more would've mattered, as I knew, as I know). I let myself fall into a slow and mournful gait in the right direction. The blue and gray world congealed with brown as I neared the city's center and the traffic sent mud mixing into everything. "He'll meet me there," I said to myself between bitter oaths against the local cabbies. Bitter oaths against myself. Wild but silent protestations against my intentions being so terribly, utterly divorced from what I actually did.

On the right street but still considerably off my target, my phone rang. "Where are you?" A clumsy report, insubstantial on the second pass and finally clear about my insufficiency on the third. "It's been half a fucking hour, how slow are you?!" I should have actually calculated it, but such obvious things weren't obvious to me then. What was obvious to me then was that I was sorry, which is what I said. "Walk to the cathedral downtown". "Which one?" No answer came back. I had heard a gentle music in the background over the call, and drifted into wondering if he was at home, that home that I had never been to, some set of walls that existed somewhere unknown in this city, a nirvana entirely closed off to me, secret and of course tantalizing. What color were its walls and were there plants? Which way would the windows face and how would the light fall in his room, did he have pajamas? I searched after useless, unknowable details, ignoring the very real ones in front of me. I lost my way.

The phone rang again, the adrenaline cutting through my daydream and dividing the warmth of fabricated reverie from my frigid path. I knew where I was; it wasn't right, and it wasn't far, but it wasn't enough. "Jesus Christ, so go to Badea Cartan, and hope you get there before nightfall." Was it almost nightfall? Almost. The crows were beginning their chorus of vespers; the traffic was peaking. Badea Cartan, the market, was far, and I wasn't at all sure I knew how to get there --not from where I was, anyway. Through the stiffness of cold I forced myself to map out how I'd get there from somewhere else, and how I'd get to that somewhere else from here, and how I could trim off excess streets, because by then, at least, I'd understood that if I didn't get to that market before the next phone call I was going to be walking the streets forever.

I tried to shut out the impending sense of doom and focus on walking faster as I moved through less familiar routes. The sky was turning pathetic shades of winter's sunset, and sent along a steady sheet of frozen sleet, soaking my hair and running down into the collar of my coat. The air thickened to stew, the world outside a meter's bubble incomprehensible. I had long since stopped being able to feel much of my legs, or my face, and my fingers hardly knew how to hit the right button when the phone rang a third time. "Well, so are you there?" "No!" was all I could muster, over and over again. The line was dead before I had them all out, before I offered up my fear of being well and truly lost, this time.

But I was only a block away; as I pressed on the market revealed itself through the slurred atmosphere. Really I had been across the street and some short paces away from that open-air sailboat of a building, whose peaks were now obscured in the storm. I wanted to call back but knew I couldn't. I wanted to claim victory, and I hung onto the tiny almost-fact of it as everything else in me slumped towards defeat. I sat down at the bus stop on the corner and took off my fingerless gloves, laying them on my face, trying to feel the softness of their wool against my cheek, and to hide the tears that I'd been fighting back for five hours.

It grew earnestly dark. The sleet crystalized, hardening everything that was wet, clawing deep into my bones, rattling my teeth. The odd car stopped at the intersection next to the bus stop, and people stared at me from inside their warm sedans. I stared back. I didn't want to be in their position, but I didn't want to be in mine --I wanted my living room heater, and a bath, and I wanted to be fast, and intelligent enough to never have to do this again. I wanted not to die at the bus stop by Badea Cartan. A drunk man in winter rags --which is not at all to demean them, they were far more adequate than mine-- approached me and told me I could be his, I was for him. I asked him to leave me alone and after a few circlings-back he did, disappeared to someplace better than my frozen stoop. I waited. And waited.

The phone rang. He asked me if I was going to get better. I said yes. I wasn't worried; I had no doubts. It was too cold. He told me to go home. "You don't have to go fast," he said. I raced back, completing the circle around the city, to my apartment, touching my gloves against the rusted railings of the traintrack overpasses, blessing the cold objects of the place with their promise of impending relief. "I'm going home." It was the sweetest mantra I could imagine, and after I desperately closed the front door behind me, I ran to my living room heater, and spent an hour pressing against it gratefully.

The next morning at six I was sent out to list, map, and memorize every cab station in the city....

The Basilikon Doron, or "Royal Gift", a Constitutional

Saturday, February 1st, 2020

The Basilikon Doron was written in 1599 by James VI and I1 as a set of instructions for his eldest son Henry, the heir apparent, who was but five years old at the time. The King had seven copies printed and distributed these among trusted members of his court, considering the book his metaphorical will and testament to his heir, as well as the canonical reference point to be used for nearly any question naturally passing from a son struggling with the heavy burden of sovereignty to his experienced father. James advises his son in an epistle dedicatory to regard the book as a treasure and not to lose or forget it, as though it were a stand-in parent of sorts: "Receiue and welcome this Booke then, as a faithfull Praeceptour and counsellour vnto you: which, because my affaires will not permit mee euer to bee present with you, I ordaine to bee a resident faithfull admonisher of you."

That James wouldn't be entirely accessible to his son (either while ruling or, of course, in the grave) is fine enough a reason for such a text, as is the plain fact that information of import fares a great deal better in writing than in speech --especially as complexity and length grow2. But a possibly unforeseen cause for this very worthy work is the guidance of people in general, both in its contemporary context and for later ages. I say possibly unforeseen because four years after the original septuple-print, the Basilikon Doron was republished and widely sold, though whether this was due to one of the safekeepers leaking the text or the monarch's own decision to make the work public is unclear. Making things muddier is James' second epistle dedicatory, "To The Reader", which awkwardly apologizes for and attempts to justify any unfriendly political or religious slants perceived by his subjects with the excuse that after all, the text was only meant for his son, as a ruler. If James never intended the work to reach beyond a few select sets of eyes, however, why speak to the public at all, much less condescend to reason with it? And yet still, perhaps it was merely the king's good nature and earnest desire to be ascertainable that drove the dedicatory.

In any case, what's left to us, either deliberately or by happy accident, is a piece of real education the likes of which has just about been wiped out of human activity; a pearl of that process of the passing of the torch from one generation to the next, these days feebly and inadequately performed more often by television and happenstance than conscious parenting. James' instructions exhibit the sound structuring of real and honest thought, the scaffolding of primary sources indicative of thorough, fluent scholarship, and even the gentle consideration of the reader's human frailties that belies a genuine fatherly love. What greater thing could a young ruler want than a compendium of answers to his nagging midnight questions as to what he should do, neatly compiled and with a bibliography, even, produced by a fine predecessor? "What do you get for the kid who's got everything," right? This. This book. You cannot gift someone experience, or wisdom, or fortitude, or humility, indeed, but you can meaningfully describe them; you can reason through great nets of choices, you can point out what you've seen work and what you've seen fail, you can recite the best ideas, and if done well, you can produce a thing of lasting value.

For the value of the Basilikon Doron does last, and we need not be kings to appreciate it. There is, as ought to be expected, some measure of the publish date's context that sticks out from the sense like straightpins in a shirt: the forced fusion of scholarship with religion steals some portion of our show, as does a smattering of specificities now irrelevant through fashion, from jousting to codpieces. But neither time nor station block James' advice from relevancy. The text is essentially a primer on how to study, how to reason, how to choose one's friends, and how to conduct in public and in private in the interest of being a competent human (which I suppose could make a useful definition of a king, for our purposes, if the alternatives are "contentedly ignorant farmer", "drunken minstrell", "tunnelvisioned computer fungineer" etc). James gave his son a splendid gift, and gave us perhaps an even greater one, for if we've the leisure and consideration to understand and apply guidance meant for rulers, have we not trod in some part on the hard-worked backs of those who came before us to reach our lofty hammocks?

This text offers more, however, than merely being taken straight, though there's sufficient tonnage of such to warrant its reading. In tandem with Samuel Pepys' diary, which itself spurned my initial interest in the Basilikon Doron, I am satisfied the work is a true organizational trunk of study in the following domains: European (as well as specifically British) History (and therein the Restoration and Reformation), Monarchy, and English and French as well as Classical Literature3. A major problem of (predominantly Western, I think, though I've nothing other than suspicion to suggest things are better anywhere else) intellectual life these days is the tendency to teach by niche interest, declining to convey either the existence or utility of properly-constructed trees. Topics are presented without context, without relation to their predecessors or issue, and so everything is "new"; a shrub in a sad and dusty scrubland, instead of a fresh branch on one of the many well-known trees in a flourishing and ancient forest. Occasionally one finds a text, however, that by its references provides the bigger picture --not important just for being bigger, but for being comprehensive and correctly done. If you follow the links, as it were, of Pepys and Stuart4, you will plant and well-populate your knowledge of the mentioned domains. There are few things more satisfying than researching some unknown aspect of a work and finding discussion of the very reference and source in question, owing to the strength of the relationships5.

The cause of due interest and enthusiasm well-established, then, I hope, let's examine what follows those dedicatories after all. The Basilikon Doron is "devided", as it announces in its title page, into three parts: the first part, "Of a King's Christian Dvetie Towards God"; the second, "Of a King's Dvetie in His Office"; and the third, "Of a King's Behavior in Indifferent Things".

I. The First Booke

The marriage of church and state of the period makes the first book's thick reliance on the bible unsurprising; Henry was being trained to function not only as a political leader, but as a religious one as well, and as such he would've been expected to exhibit cultivated, authoritative belief in god. Constant catfights of varying size and effect in Western Europe between Catholics, Protestants, and Puritans at the time made the role especially fraught, but James refrains from making much sectarian pronouncement, for the most part. Rather, and certainly for our purposes, the bible's role in the Basilikon Doron is as a definitive text with which to work towards useful scholarship, and as a general moral compass. The king's first and oft-repeated counsel is to exercise humility, even in the knowledge of greater-than-average capability, for this only means the capable are obliged to work that much better and harder:

"A moate in anothers eye, is a beame into yours: a blemish in another, is a leprouse byle into you: and a veniall sinne (as the Papifts call it) in another, is a great crime into you. Thinke not therefore, that the highnesse of your dignitie, diminisheth your faults (much lesse giueth you a licence to sinne) but by the contrary your fault shall be aggrauated, according to the height of your dignitie; any sinne that ye commit, not being a single sinne procuring but the fall of one; but being an exemplare sinne, and therefore drawing with it the whole multitude to be guiltie of the same."

In order to arrive at the correct course of action, then, James proposes two necessary components: firstly, to study, and secondly, to humbly "pray for the right understanding". This easily transmutes to "think about it" with the god blinders removed --for the prayer herein suggested is little else than the consideration of one's own fallibility and patterns of wrongness covered by Dunning-Krueger. In the same vein, the king points out that a thinking person fits their head to reality, rather than attempting to fit reality to their own head:

"But aboue all, beware ye wrest not the word to your owne appetite, as ouer many doe, making it like a bell to sound as ye please to interprete: but by the contrary, frame all your affections, to follow precisely the rule there set downe."

Scripture itself is summarized as two imperatives: there is a command to do and a prohibition against the contrary. The king is careful to remind his son that one without the other is useless; doing the right thing doesn't make right that which isn't, nor vice-versa. These points are just about mundane enough, I'd say, to be overlooked and forgotten by the majority of folks otherwise professing to want to study and do good work. As for an example of one who follows both dictums, James proposes himself. Did your father ever tell you to approach such broad horizons exactly as he had? I grant it's possible, but the certainty of the plain statement is marvelous, especially if we take the "never meant to be publicly published" view of the text.

What follows is an ordered and well-explained charting of the bible6. This tree happens to be neither balanced nor binary, but it exemplifies the sorts of constructions featured in the text: simple, succinct, and informative enough to serve as a launching pad. There's also a legend of sorts for using it (and clues for moving outside the scope of the given tree). Check out Ask Jeeves James:

"Would ye then know your sinne by the Lawe ? reade the bookes of Moses con- taining it. Would ye haue a commentarie thereupon ? Reade the Prophets, and likewise the bookes of the Prouerbes and Ecclesiastes...Would yee know the doctrine, life, and death of our Sauiour Christ ? reade the Euangelists. Would ye bee more particularly trained vp in his Schoole ? meditate vpon the Epistles of the Apostles."

Not just what, but also how to read is covered. A simple rule, self-evident and yet so unspoken, undershared, glossed over, and self-esteemed away that the man would doubtless be branded a child pornographer were he writing today: enjoy what's easily comprehensible, but pay special attention to the parts you don't understand! Assume problems of meaning originate in your own head! Of course, we'll have to temper these maxims with the sad reflection of our current circumstances, in which we cannot rely on the basic fact of a thing's being published as evidence of any sort of soundness, correctitude, or authority. Quite the contrary, actually; whereas a book, and especially an old one, had meaning in itself in centuries past, by now a book (and for definitions of "old" that go back less than forty or fifty years) by its nature is suspect. James distinguished, at least, between works "that may best serue for your instruction in your calling" and "foolish curiosities vpon geneaologies and contentions, which are but vaine, and profite not". Even with a much smaller pool of published material to work with, the prince wouldn't be able to read everything; one's stuck having to choose, and hopefully the harder choices are indeed rooted in subject and scope, rather than sanity and trustworthiness. Nevertheless, if and once the problem of literary identification is settled, the importance of insisting on comprehension of the confusing and attributing error first to oneself can't really be understated.

Tailing study, James' conception of thought in the form of prayer is described as "nothing else, but a friendly talking with God". Evidently some people move through life without the anatomical development (or environmentally-supported enlightenment) required for recognizing that thought does not involve an external third party; they're stuck living in a bicameral mind. It'd make sense, then, to consider the process of thinking about what you've read as a "friendly talking with God". It'd more readily be called talking with your own conscience, but either the royal brain structure hadn't quite fully evolved or else the argument for thought as part of study was cloaked in nonsense by wilful stupidity (or political expediency). Such considerations aside, James counsels to praythink when quietest, and always before bed as a daily check-in of sorts. He warns against supplanting honest and frank reflection with formalities ("bee neither ouer strange with God, like the ignorant common sort, that prayeth nothing but out of bookes"), and also against lazily approaching the process without due consideration and respect ("nor yet ouer homely with him, like some of the vaine Pharisaicall puritanes, that thinke they rule him vpon their fingers").

If you achieve what you're after through study and thought, suggests James, it's upon you to be thankful; if you don't achieve it, you must be patient and work harder or better for it. If even so it doesn't work out the prince's commanded to let it go. It'd seem the turn-of-the-Seventeenth-century "it's not for you" is articulated thusly: "that which yee aske is not for your weale". In tandem with the best practices of greeting success and failure in stride, James advises his son to keep his conscience clear, "which many prattle of, but ouer few feele", with the admirably logical reasoning that while he's alive and at leisure, the prince may address any blemishes therein, but he shouldn't want to see his list of deeds ugly on his deathbed.

The call to keep the conscience clear isn't a vague prosaicism here; James identifies two typical diseases, in fact, that he sees as infecting conscience. The first, "leaprosie", he describes as atheism, though on further reading this resolves to a plain "senselessness of sinne" and careless security. Trusting without verifying, in a word, that happy waking ignorance of self and surroundings that keeps most people practically asleep even when their eyes are open. So long as we're dealing with flesh-eating afflictions in the abstract sense, the prevention's the same as the cure, and here it's described as regular, systematic review. James says to take the time every single day to review all the last day's actions7 and to look for problems both in doing what shouldn't have been done and in omitting what should've been done. Search for these problems, he advises, search for their solutions, do it thoroughly and regularly, and especially do not let yourself off the hook for recurrent problems. These seemingly minor maxims made extraordinary by modern neglect are then crowned by James (by way of Horace) with stoic splendour8: "Remember therefore in all your actions, of the great account that yee are one day to make: in all the dayes of your life, euer learning to die, and liuing euery day as it were you last; Omnem crede diem tibi diluxisse supremum 9."

The second disease of the conscience is superstition, "when one restraines himselfe to any other rule in the seruice of God, then is warranted by the word". Further described as the source of heresy, this ailment speaks to the inutility and potential harm of investing authority in the wrong places. "Yee must neither lay the safetie of your conscience vpon the credit of your owne conceits, nor yet of other mens humors". Instead, James says, that safety must be based on knowledge, identified for his purposes as Scripture, but easily understood as primary source material (like, say, the very text in question). The king offers anabaptists and papists, respectively, as exemplars of trusting too much in one's own authority, or the authority of annointed men, which maps rather neatly, I think, to menalone and pantsuits. History does not merely repeat, it metastasizes; for what else are these atrocities of our age but the same imbalances, split, stretched, and translated over the centuries and social preoccupations?

In concluding the first of the Basilikon Doron's three books, James rests with a few concentrated thrusts: do what is right, not what is fashionable, and do good work because it is good, not as a chip in a bargain, to get something out of it.

II. The Second Booke

Themes of personal responsibility, thoroughness, and good sense follow the first book into the second, where James describes approaches to carrying out the duties of majesty. These duties principally consist of establishing and executing the law, and Henry is expected to lead by example in both pursuits, as people cannot help but mimic their masters monkey-style. Just so, Henry should follow the example of good kings, and know the bad examples of tyrants, and for distinguishing the characteristics and practices of these, James leans heavily on classical authors, arguing from Aristotle and Plato that governments should fear their people, not people their governments; from Xenophon that a good king's greatest honor is to invest his capabilities into facilitation of the welfare of his people; from Cicero that the good king's private interests are accessory to the interests of his subjects, which are to come first, and so forth10.

James argues a while for small government, beseeching his son to hold parliaments only when necessary for the establishment of new laws, because "few Lawes and well put in execution are best in a well-ruled common weale." He advises Henry to be especially careful, when coming to power, to administer and execute laws thoroughly and regularly, as tyrants operate by initial displays of (what people would perceive as) saintliness, pardoning with a large brush and turning a blind eye to concrete wrongs. Beware the Quinquennium Neronis11, James says; as Henry would ascend the throne(s) by hereditary right rather than in precario, without proper title, so there would be no need to placate the people with overindulgence of crime. The king insists on strict justice during his son's initial reign in part because of his own difficulties when coming to power:

But in this, my ouer-deare bought experience may serue you for a sufficient lesson: For I confesse, where I thought (by being gracious at the beginning) to win all mens hearts to a louing and willing obedience, I by the contrary found, the disorder of the countrie, and the losse of my thankes to be all my reward.

It's true, you know. Leadership that consists of flattening power structures by its very definition is not leadership, and the nonsense is palpable to even the lowliest peon. Once the prince has thoroughly demonstrated his ability and will to tightly uphold the law, he may then "mixe Iustice with Mercie", considering such elements as past offenses in his judgements.

Some crimes, however, are unconditionally unforgivable, in James' mind. The list of these is fairly interesting in itself as a window to the culture and mores of the time and place. What were the platforms, the plea agreements, the mulas of the time? Witchcraft, wilful murder12, incest ("especially within the degrees of consanguinitie")13, sodomy, poisoning, and false coin14. James admits he'd also like to put slander against the royal family on the list too, but he acknowledges his own bias. In administering justice for these and lighter crimes, James says, "care for the pleasure of none, neither spare ye anie paines in your owne person, to see their wrongs redressed". Oh brave old world, that has such simple and straightforward notions of justice in it.

James is well aware that people can't well be ruled, judged, nor even much considered without an understanding of their faults and tendencies. He just about writes off the Highlanders (and especially the Highlander islanders) as barbarians not worth attempting to comprehend. As for his other subjects, James describes their vices by estate, in the tripartite sense of the Ancien Regime, in a lengthy passage that reads something like an airing of greivances, though a potentially useful one15: the clergy are prone to avarice, pride, ambition, and imagined democracy, wherein they fancy themselves public tribunes, "leading the people by the nose, to beare the sway of all the rule". These vices, he warns, are liable to make the Scottish clergy, or at least its more agitated elements (particularly the puritans), overcritical of Henry, as they were of James himself. To fight against this, James counsels the preferential promotion of clergymen who know their place, hopefully culminating in the restoration of the first estate to the Scottish parliament, which James says he hopes to at least initiate during his reign16.

Of the nobility comprising the second estate, James says their principal vice is "a fectlesse arrogant conceit of their greatness and power", and as evidence by way of fallout he points to the abundant feuds endemic to this group. He advises the holding of the nobility to the very letter of the law, especially those whom the prince loves best. Indeed the partial treatment of the personally favored is a main node of conflict --but how often do those responsible acknowledge this? Aside from being intolerant of feuds and exercising fairness, James suggests cracking down on guns to ease the ills of the second estate. There's cause to believe the man truly detested them, in fact, as he refers to them as "Gunnes and traiterous Pistolets" here and mightily disdains their use in hunting (one of his favorite activities) while describing proper kingly leisure later on.

As for the third estate, the burghers, James divides the group into merchants and craftsmen, both of which he finds guilty of holding too much esteem in their self-perceived quality and worthiness of profit. Their prices are too damned high, and at the wrong times, and for the wrong reasons! The merchants "transport from vs things necessarie; bringing backe sometimes vnnecessary things, and at other times nothing at all...", and the craftsmen "thinke, we should be content with their worke, how bad and deare soeuer it be, and if they in any thing be controlled, vp goeth the blew-blanket"17. What's worse, the merchants are the hole through which the night of "false coine" comes in. The remedy for each is the same: insist on internationally competitive prices for goods, and invite foreign merchants and craftsmen to participate in the market. No other subject but that of puritans and papists gets the king quite so riled up as the third estate's habits, and yet his advice is sound. It's certainly more sensible than many responses to successful market participants both before and after the time.

Once the people's problems are out of the way, James can get to instructing his son about handling the people themselves. Well, mostly. There are still problems. Commoners left to their own devices are wont to talk a lot of trash about their government, even if it's a just one. As such, James advises the holding of holidays and spectacles within reason, and insists upon visiting the principal parts of Scotland once a year to stay in touch with and in sight of the masses. If Henry acquires other crowns, James bids him visit these once every three years, and to set up councils of men from these very countries in their own lands, judging "principal matters" himself when visiting.

The prince is further reminded that subjects won't only need protection against each other, but from foreign powers as well, "And therefore warres vpon iust quarrels are lawful: but aboue all, let not the wrong cause be on your side". In relation with other princes, of paramount importance is to stand by all of one's promises, to be "plaine and trewthfull" in diplomacy, and to treat all treason and rebellion against them as though it were against oneself. Wouldn't you like to be this man's friend? I would.

Warcraft is explicitly stated as laying outside the scope of this work, moreover, James acknowledges the ample material already published in the field18. Besides, war is better learned by direct experience than study, he says (and indeed, if being led into battle you'd likely rather follow he who knows because he's bled for it than he who "knows" because he's read others' accounts and prescriptions for the bleeding). Armed not with a strategy manual, then, but lines ready to embolden a future king's heart with courage, he says: "Let first the iustnesse of your cause be your greatest strength; and then omitte not to vse all lawfull meanes for backing of the same." Henry is to remember that money is Neuus belli; the muscle of war. He's also held to consider that irredeemable mistakes can be made in war, which makes the enforcement of discipline and order a top priority.

The duty of the king within his own court is introduced by way of another division between thought and action. To rule well, Henry must have some way to mean what he says, and to do it, "for it is not ynough that ye haue and retaine (as prisoners) within your selfe neuer so many good qualities and vertues, except ye employ them." As for doing, he'll have to construct his court, a task rife with opportunities for seemingly small blunders that compound over time. James describes the ideal: in the first place, he'll need young lords to grow with. There's no better method of choosing the young, he says, than simply picking those of the right age, whose families are rather known for virtuousness. These must then be balanced with older, experienced men capable of advising. In either case, legacy is important, and those members of the Jacobean court with further years of service or promising offspring to offer should be duly considered. This is the only type of favor permitted; otherwise, through the abuse of gifts or calculated deals, Henry is likely to run into the same problems his father had in his minority, when the court was arranged by bribe and brown-nosing to no great benefit. James explains, in this particularly lengthy section, that his minority court required continuous shuffling to accommodate his father's tangle of deals, and he was left with men whose goal was to ingratiate themselves with the most favored court members, rather than than to serve the king. Though it's not altogether clear how he would've done things differently, as a child, the stress on these points shows the guyman19 thought that a well-chosen court assembled from the start is crucial.

Servants for offices of the crown and estate must be chosen with extra care; while other appointments largely affect the daily cheer or gloom of the private court, these have direct and significant impact on the whole of his people, so bad choices mean misery even outside closed castle doors. James labors to entirely rip out anything like partiality to schmoozers in his son:

"Choose then for all these Offices, men of knowen wisedome, honestie, and good conscience; well practised in the points of the craft, that yee ordaine them for, and free of all factions and partiali- ties; but specially free of that filthie vice of Flatterie, the pest of all Princes, and wracke of Republicks"

...wherein the prince is sure to be caught, as though his hand were in the cookie-jar, at some point during his rule, righteously tsked by a father well-acquainted with the youthful designs of self-indulgence. The choice of clerks and other money-receivers is expected to be tricky too, primarily because these men must be transparent, and happily so. James advises impromptu, personal review of these positions, to keep them honest, and avoid "mis-thriuing in money matters". In each of these offices integral to the functioning of the realm, a native of the land is preferable over any foreigner, the latter of which, he says, is sure to "stirre vp sedition". In any case Henry's court members should "know no father but you, nor particular but yours". And as Henry is to expect frankness, honesty, and loyalty from his court, he is expected to treat them justly. If people payed a tenth as much attention to the friends they made or the employees they hired as James advises, there'd be far more functional relationships, and far fewer buckets filled with crabs.

Of all those comprising Henry's future courtly company, the king promises his wife will be the "principall blessing". And "because I know not but God may call me, before ye be readie for Mariage; I will shortly set downe to you heere my aduice therein", James says20. The well-informed choice of a bride is paramount, as the union will prove either "the greatest earthly felicitie or misery", and the prince should endeavor to "prepare himself" by keeping his body clean21, because it belongs to his future wife, and besides, Henry has a duty to populate posterity with legitimate sons. That preparation must also include careful study of potential matches to ascertain their ability to serve "the three causes [wherefore Mariage was first ordeined by God]": the "staying of lust", the "procreation of children", and "that man should by his Wife, get a helper like himselfe"22. She should possess beauty, riches, and advantageous friendships by alliance; James calls these "the three accessories", blessings which if abused will become curses. To bolster and make good use of these, then, these Henry must look for strong traits of fecundity, wisdom, and honesty. Once she's been chosen, his wife should be strictly limited to the economic affairs of the house, having no involvement in governmental administration, her attendants and other company must be chosen for their chastity, and at no point is Henry to be angry at the same time as his wife, lest they create a positive feedback loop. If Henry has children, James advises him not to coddle them; to love them, but to show it "as the gentlenesse of their nature will deserue". As feuds are certain otherwise, Henry is also advised to keep the principles of primogeniture intact. Have you selected your chosen family because they're nice to you? And are you nice to the family you're stuck with because you're supposed to be? Did you ever consider that these are strategic choices, and treating them otherwise merely employs the "strategy" of ignorance, spelling, alllmost-guaranteedly, your doom?

In all relationships, the king is to set the example.

"And as your company should be a paterne to the rest of the people, so should your person be a lampe and mirrour to your company: giuing light to your seruants to walke in the path of vertue, and representing vnto them such worthie qualities, as they should preasse to imitate."

Of these worthy qualities temperance takes James' spotlight. It is by being moderate and balanced that Henry will thrive and encourage the realm to do the same. Though justice was discussed in the first book in terms of its desired treatment during the prince's establishment, it gets a more thorough examination in this second book where temperance in office is covered. A straightforward warning against the rot sinking the United States' "justice system"23 is offered:

Lawes are ordained as rules of vertuous and sociall liuing, and not to bee snares to trap your good subjects: and therefore the lawe must be interpreted according to the meaning, and not to the literall sense thereof".

This, this they call Early Modern. Instead of the much more apt Just Before Things Fell Off a Cliff. Tell me, did this come out of the most rockin' time, The Golden Age of Derpland? People regularly died of Typhoid Fever, you know. Or was this guy so ahead of his time we've had to go backwards before we can even approach the correct direction towards his dictum's rightful setting? Oh, it's an ancient idea, by no means his, he just read some books and had the really unfair advantage that they burned and tore easily and missed pages and who knows what language you're going to get even and "looking something up" likely involves a long hike or a complicated gift exchange and it's not like he had to spend sixteen hours a day to choose between talking into the clown mouth at the drive-thru or else thumb through lolcat pics waiting for the delivery pizza and...? Yes, the Basilikon Doron contains simple, old ideas. The fact that humanity has lost them twice now means you'd better treat them with the reverence of novelty, and continue "discovering" them at regular intervals.

Speaking of study, James reiterates that it ought to be undertaken not for the mere sake of knowledge, but for the ability to use one's office well. Akin to noticing only what you've done that you shouldn't've without reflecting on what you haven't done that you should've, and choosing a rich wife who isn't also wise, there are indeed a lot of half-measures available to the well-meaning, and James evidently seeks these out to quash them with extreme prejudice. Serving in the office of a king necessarily means attending parliament, and as much as James hints at its being a nuissance, he counsels fighting against the feeling: "delite to haunt your Session", he says, and observe carefully, remembering that the job of the king therein is to do justice and nothing else. To do justice well, Henry must "learn to discerne betwixt Iustice and equitie"; James draws upon the account of a young Cyrus the Great24 to illustrate this point also meanwhile very well lost on the masses. Ancient people25 learned these lessons as children, you realize. We're stuck with adults who still don't understand what happened there.

Clearly, reading's required for ruling well. James entreats his son to also be familiar with the histories of all nations, and especially the histories of his own. He's careful to exclude the "infamous inuectiues" of Buchanan (an historian particularly unfriendly to the House of Stuart) and Knox (a Scottish Reformation leader instrumental in the eventual execution of James' Catholic mother, Mary, Queen of Scots). For explicit recommendation, James gives the Commentaries of (Julius) Caesar, which he says are as good for the pleasantness of the prose as for the relevance of the subject matter; he furthermore chooses Caesar as the "farthest excelled" emperor.

Henry is expected to become proficient in liberal arts besides history too, though he's warned against pressing himself to mastery in these, as it's bound to distract him from the duties of his office. He wouldn't want to be interrupted like Archimedes, says James, by the enemy's victory over the town26, while buried in his work. Nevertheless, Henry must make at least "an entry" into mathematics, because it is instrumental in waging war. Henry won't be able to design camps, lead battles, construct fortifications, place batteries, and so on without it. I wonder when last it happened that a mentor told their protege, when inevitably asked why they'd need to know math "in real life", that it was necessary for wasting their enemies.

The second book is tied together with the extolling of constancy, liberality, and wisdom, with a few practical applications described with the brevity and haste of a man attempting to keep his advice from breaking any dams. Henry is advised to honor his parents and teachers, and is expressly forbidden to war against his mother, a common thing among young princes left to handle a power vacuum once the king their father has died; nevertheless, he says, if the son wishes to earn his father's blessing, he should earn his mother's in the king's absence. The prince must learn to feel the sting of life's unpleasantries, but never to let such feeling cloud his judgement or impede his action. He must cultivate the wisdom to discern truth from falsity by considering the messenger, asking whom the message may serve, and accurately identifying its likelihood --pursuits necessary for the sound fulfillment of just about any office superceding that of a grunt. Thus armed against the challenges of his work, Henry can move on to those he'd encounter in, for the most part, his private life.

III. The Third Booke.

Be carefull then, my Sonne, so to frame all your indifferent actions and outward behauiour, as they may serue for the furtherance and forth-setting of your inward vertuous disposition.

The minutious scrutinization of kings would mean all manner of innocuous comments and mannerisms get magnified and interpreted, potentially even swaying public opinion or, more's the point, influencing the behavior of the people themselves. This obnoxious if unavoidable fact of accessible leadership stretches even into "indifferent actions", James notes, but what exactly are those? The king has made a neat division: indifferent actions are either necessary or unnecessary (though convenient and lawful). The necessary class includes the daily inescapable: eating, sleeping, clothing27, speaking, writing28, and gesture. The convenient and lawful, but not necessary: pastimes, exercises, and the "using of company for recreation"29.

The mores and norms of the royal table are foremost on this list for the reason that they reach a larger amount and a wider variety of people than any other. Eating in groups is to be embraced. One of the marks of tyranny, says James, is the tendency to prefer eating alone, not to mention its suggestion that the diner seeks solitude for the sake of greedily overindulging in a manner that would bring him shame were there an audience. James is fairly ascetic in his advice regarding food itself; sauces, he says, are more like medicine than food30. The king warns against gluttony, recalling the aspersions cast on the ancient Athenian Philoxenus31. Business, the king notes, should never be conducted at the table, and "pleasant, quicke, but honest discourses" are preferred. It's by now quite a common complaint that people spend more time eating alone, or at the table but not talking, or merely gossiping and making each other hate the holiday meals that serve as the last remnants of communal feasting.

Correct conduct in the bedchamber likely doesn't strike quite so many modern nerves, though I'm sure it's still contrary to the daily experience of many. It revolves around learning to fit sleep and fatigue to one's affairs, not fitting one's affairs to the cycles of sleep. James notes that such discipline is especially needed in times of war. He dismisses the supposed importance and meaning of dreams, advising against the attempt to interpret them. The need for trustworthy and discreet attendants in the bedchamber is revisited; Henry must insist that those who wash and dress him are "without blemish". And in dressing, James prescribes a bevy of rules mostly consisting of what not to do, in a strange departure from his usual care to enumerate goodness. In fact the passages addressing costume bear the biggest contextual crutch, which is impressive given the heavy and overt religious overtones. With stern admonitions to shun over-complicated, wrongly-accentuating clothes, you'd almost expect James to appear in something like a wool-lined, plain pyjama with "Ye King" embroidered over the chest. And yet,

james-fashion-week

But I guess fashion's fickleness is nothing new. Good security, however, is eternal. James says to have good arms and armor about himself at court, and to take special care to avoid and forbid "toilsome" weapons and "traiterous defensiue" armor, like "plate-sleeues and such-like unseen" pieces. The old Scots fashion32, he asserts, is best.

Speech and writing mark the return of advice more likely to be of broad utility; both call for plainness of form. Oration is broken without gesture, neither of which should rest on artifice --advice plenty of current "speakers" who seem to be stuck pushing around imaginary boxes while intoning after Philip Glass could use to serious benefit. Specifically, "iowking"33 and nodding are fashionable orational gestures to be avoided, characteristic as they are of "aspiring Absaloms"34 than "rightful kings". James plainly indicts effeminate and mignard terms in speech and writing; girly men, we presume, ought to get back in the kitchen and make him an unsauced steak35. He marks that the language of reasoning is very different from that of official pronouncements and writs, but notes that this does not mean the latter should not be reasoned about first. Unofficial writing, if Henry wishes to publish such, should be edited by skilled men, and the prince is entreated to write in his own tongue, as "there is nothing left to be saide in Greeke and Latine alreadie". And if approaching poetry, of which James himself published some, Henry should remember that the rhyming itself is not what's important, but the quality of devices, such that if "shaken sundrie in prose", would still be good.

Only the unnecessary, indifferent activities are left to us. Admire how this category, minor in name as well as substance, comes last, as well it should, and wonder with me: is the serene appreciation of proper structure a blessing of comprehension or a curse of otherwise rotten environment? At any rate, James encourages exercise principally as a means to ward off the evils of idleness, and also as a means of keeping the royal body limber for travel and war. Good exercises include palle maille (Pall Mall, a precursor of croquet), dancing, leaping, and field games. Best of all are those performed on horseback, especially the tilt, the ring, and low-riding for handling of the sword (various types of jousting events). Hunting is good, but is to be done with hounds, as guns and even bows are the tools of thieves. Hawking is inferior to hunting, James says, because it is less like warfare, and worse still, apparently, can be very frustrating36 --but it's still permissible.

Cards, dice, and other "sitting house-pastimes" aren't forbidden, because while some men find their ruin therein, and the games train neither mind nor body, they at least prevent the horror of idleness, and so present an acceptable activity in times of rain or moodiness. Chess, however, James describes as overly wise and philosophical, too smart for its own good; Henry would be better off considering his affairs of state. Gambling at any game is to be done only for fun, and the sums wagered should be written off mentally at the time of the wager, and constitute no more than the gambler would be happy to tip someone. To these broadly wise and oft-neglected rules James adds the instruction never to cheat, and ultimately, if the prince cannot abide by each of these points, he should abstain from gambling altogether.

James calls upon his friend Guillame de Salluste Du Bartas37 to illustrate why Henry should not seek to play musical instruments and especially not those which lay people use to make their livings: "Leur esprit s'en fuit au bout des doigts" (their spirits fly from their fingertips). Acting is similarly frowned upon as is keeping comedians and dancers in the royal retinue. It seems Thalia and Melpomene were thoroughly devalued by "Tyrans" who "delighted most in them", and so they're tucked away from acceptable Scottish court life. Possibly the performing arts were simply too rife with loose women, and would make James' warning against them too difficult to follow: "And chiefly abstaine from haunting before your mariage, the idle companie of dames, which are nothing else, but irritamenta libidinis". James had a series of prettyboy favorites, who supposedly helped him circumvent this rule. It's not that one couldn't see the attraction, especially in the countenance of the most prominent, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham --but why not teach his son this trick?

James reservedly anticipates that his son will eventually sit on the English, as well as the Scottish throne, and so counsels that the prince follow the indifferent customs of whatever land under his rule which he deems most civil, trusting that proper adoption among the people will take place over time through the intermingling of the kingdoms --forcing cultural assimilation is out of the question. He notes the "inuiolated amity" between himself and (his cousin) Queen Elizabeth at that point, viewing it as a foreshadowing of pleasant coexistence and the healing of old wounds.

Whether the prince's present actions are indifferent, exercised in his office, or as part of his quest to understand the world and himself, James reminds him to let his actions belie the righteousness and virtue of his heart. Writing from a reign that saw considerable, objective turmoil, James tells his son to be constant in his resolution. To achieve this, he must think of the body as a microcosm for potential of action: he has two eyes to discern, two ears to hear both sides of a dispute, and yet one tongue to plainly pronounce; one head and heart to stay himself, and hands and feet with many digits for swift execution of his decisions38. The king's greatest glory, he says, is to advance the good within his land, a precept useful to all. Should Henry wish to think himself fully in his father's favor, he is to always remember the gravity of his duties, and to make their carrying out with sincerity and justice the chief aim of his efforts. James signs the work with encouragements from the Aeneid's Anchises telling his son Aeneas how to steer himself:

"Excudent alij spirantia mollius aera,
Credo equidem, & viuos ducent de marmore vultus,
Orabunt causas melius, caelique meatus
Describent radio, & surgentia sydera dicent.
Tu; regere imperio populos, Romane, memento
(Hae tibi erunt artes) pacique imponere morem,
"Parcere subiectis, & debellare superbos."

Which we'll let Williams give as

"Let others melt and mould the breathing bronze
To forms more fair, --aye! out of marble bring
Features that live; let them plead causes well;
Or trace with pointed wand the cycled heaven,
And hail the constellations as they rise;
But thou, O Roman, learn with sovereign sway
To rule the nations. Thy great art shall be
To keep the world in lasting peace, to spare
humbled foe, and crush to earth the proud."

Anchises gave this counsel to his son in the Elysian fields; for all James' seemingly genuine belief in Christianity, he was wise enough to spare his son the journey towards hell to find his own guiding words. Seasoned with some measure of bias owing to the time and place, the Basilikon Doron nevertheless provides a useful collection of ideas; ideas that are old, ideas that are basic, but ideas which are honest and considered, preserving their breath of life and making them a treasure for modern readers just as they were doubtless treasures for James' successor.

A well-structured read, drawn from the bitter experience and sublime repose of James himself and a litany of rulers and wise men before him, the text is essential for any endeavor to understand its time in the stretch of history, or the meaning of able, effective guardianship. For while parents may not choose the ways in which their children prosper (or fail to do so), they may form the latticework for greatness. If they are lucky, they may be followed by people worthy of their wisdom. And if they're not, perhaps still, in lines less linear, they may find willing prosperity reaching out to receive their gifts in barren times, in trying lands.

* * *

  1. Of Scotland and England, respectively, though this work predates Elizabeth I's death and James' subsequent ascension to the English throne by a few years. []
  2. Consider the logs: what if, horror of horrors, we had been sitting at table together this entire time, speaking but not writing? Even if we still had the deeds on record, and blog articles were set down in ink, what would you do if you had to make a speech at, say, a heathen bitcoin gathering? What if you wanted to write a v-patch for the first time, or the first time in a while? What if you were considering a journey at sea? You're going to remember all of that, seriously? Yes, it was important at the time, and behold that there were even parables and other devices to help you recall. And yet.... []
  3. Admittedly this last is squarely in the Basilikon Doron's purview; Pepys rarely if ever ventures more than a coincidental snippet of Latin. []
  4. James Stuart, forgive the equivocation for the sake of surnominal uniformity if you will. []
  5. A pleasure well-known, of course, by any diligent Trilema reader --and I hope the similarities between the titular work and Popescu's far more encompassing, ongoing opus aren't lost on anyone. Treasure those sources that insist on regular, correct reference, and which do not shy away from discussing the uncomfortable or inconvenient. They are the legacy of their time for posterity, and whatever personal opinions you imagine you have are utterly irrelevant. []
  6. My attempt at organizing the prose:

    "Scriptures"

    I. "Olde Testament"

    a. Is concerned with the "Lawe"

    i. Which man cannot keep, and which

    ii. "Sheweth sinne", and "containeth iustice", given in

    ii.a. The ten commandments,

    ii.a.i. the obedience and disobedience of which is given in the Histories

    ii.a.ii. and as related by Moses

    ii.a.ii.i. as he is interpreted and applied by the Prophets

    II. "New Testament"

    a. Is concerned with Christ

    i. Whom god send to save man, and who

    ii. "Pardoning sinne, containeth grace",

    iii. And whose birth, life, death, and resurrection is contained in the four histories,

    iii.a. found in the Epistles of the Apostles and

    iii.b. the practice of which is found in the Actes

    []

  7. Note the implicit distinction between actions and ruminations. Note also the weight of this implicitness; whereas it didn't need to be stated that feelings weren't of much interest at the time --even in a broad didactic work--, I can recall being coddled and coerced into "considering my feelings" as some sort of conscience mod-podging activity from a pretty young age, and I'd wager most contemporaries can say the same. []
  8. Do you think this is an oxymoron? []
  9. Believe all days that dawn upon you are the last. []
  10. These draughts upon antiquity, by no means limited to this section, are already well-documented in the source text linked above, and I see no reason to be selectively redundant by reproducing them --but inasmuch as the Basilikon Doron is proposed as a sturdy trunk for study, these all make excellent choices for further investigation. []
  11. Trajan is said to have described the first five years of Nero's reign as being better than that of any other emperor, a contention fairly perplexing given Nero's populism and generally accepted incompetence. James seems to use the reference as an egregious example of broadly-appeasing yet ultimately doomed attempts to appear clement. []
  12. The man has a preoccupation with the distinction between treatment of bad things done on purpose and bad things done without the intention of doing harm, which I suppose pervades in the difference, say, between punishment for murder and manslaughter. Given that he's the land's supreme font of justice, it stands to reason that he'd be so preoccupied, though somehow his advice to his son that he enact mercy on those who commit wrongdoing in the absense of premeditation stands to my eyes in great contrast against the reasoning of the rest of the work. Perhaps it's simply the form of the idea, or the lack of greater detail, that yields this effect, but in any case I was struck by the (multiple) appeals of forgiveness for otherwise unqualified "rash" evil while reading. []
  13. On one hand, one wonders what fuck (pun intended, tax me) incest is supposed to be if it's not about consanguinity. On the other, this'd seem a pretty tall order, given his paternal grandmother was the half-sister of his maternal grandfather. The quick and I'm sure correct way to resolve both of these lies in scope: it must be the case that consanguinity for the context means siblings, and that incest also involves cousins, and that otherwise half-relations don't count, or at least, they don't count once or twice removed. I'd be surprised if there wasn't a large body of work at the time on who may have sex with whom and how, but beyond the amusement of this shallow snippet I don't really have much interest. []
  14. Heh. []
  15. Check out Reformation-era anger management strategies here! []
  16. Catholic clergymen were booted from Parliament in the mid-sixteenth century following the Scottish Reformation; laymen landed in the vacuum created by the wealth of Catholic monasteries, and though they sat for parliament, there was no denying their belonging to the second estate, the nobility. Some sprinkling of Protestant bishops remained, but the paradigm was broken, and despite attempts to restore the first estate's footing, James didn't manage. []
  17. The blue flag of the Incorporated Trades Guild. It seems James had union problems. []
  18. Sadly, and uncharacteristically, he does not see fit to cite or recommend anything in particular to this end. []
  19. I carried over this faux pas from my hand-written notes, where I had absent-mindedly written "guy" and immediately felt the coincidental but still very strong insult to the author it implied. "A penny for the guy", that bit of harmless beggary by children dressed up in masks and hoping for a spot of spare change with which to buy fireworks for Guy Fawkes' Night is where the epithet originated. And who was Guy? Remember, remember, the guy who did, by all accounts, an exemplary job of standing up to inquiry and torture following his involvement in one of the many plots to murder...King James VI and I. And his family. And his parliament. Oops. []
  20. I suppose this is as good a place as any to point out, as some will doubtless recall and others will know for the first time within a context fully supportive of the fact's sadness, that young Henry died before coming into his throne. At eighteen years of age, with his parents still well, and during the marriage celebrations of his sister, Henry contracted typhoid fever and ruined the hopes of a great many of his would-be subjects (and, of course, those of his father). By all accounts, he was an accomplished student, possessed of the curiosity and conscientious fortitude that foreshadow a good monarch. In short, he seemed the ideal pupil of and for this text, but it was his misfortune to live in a time when handwashing wasn't much understood or prioritized. Allegedly, King James refused to attend the funeral. Henry's younger brother Charles became James' heir. []
  21. Had this reduced to actual, sound advice in washing, rather than the implicit interdict against fucking, possibly Henry would've been alive and crowned and with a satisfied wife? The irony here's a little too thick to avoid this moral anachronism, I can't help it. In fact, if anything could be said to counter the true gift of this text, I'd propose it's this line --blameless, in context, as it knew no harm by simple reason of humanity's failure by that point to have discovered sanitation, but still at fault. I suppose I see, after all, why I ought to judge "unwilfull" crimes with mercie. Fancy that! []
  22. Hey, they do wear matching hats, I can see it. []
  23. If you imagine the quotation marks are snarky or cute or at any rate think they're anything other than dead serious, go re-read The Crime of Being American. Yes, that means twice, if it's new. Do you still live there? Read it again. []
  24. Cyrus the Great, King of the World, among his many other titles, founded the first Persian Empire in 559 BCE. Xenophon's Cyropaedia, written a couple hundred years later, is a delightful account of the ruler's deeds and their context. Xenophon includes rather compelling cause to have written (and in turn, naturally, for you to read) the work:

    "...We were inclined to conclude that for man, as he is constituted, it is easier to rule over any and all other creatures than to rule over men. But when we reflected that there was one Cyrus, the Persian, who reduced to obedience a vast number of men and cities and nations, we were then compelled to change our opinion and decide that to rule men might be a task neither impossible nor even difficult, if one should only go about it in an intelligent manner. At all events, we know that people obeyed Cyrus willingly, although some of them were distant from him a journey of many days, and others of many months; others, although they had never seen him, and still others who knew well that they never should see him. Nevertheless they were all willing to be his subjects."

    Xenophon describes the stages in which men are trained and put to use in the Persia of Cyrus' youth. Up until the age of puberty, boys are schooled together in the "free square" wherein the various government buildings, including the palace, are located. They arrive each day at dawn, and learn justice, "just as in [Greece] they say that they go to learn to read and write". They spend their time launching charges at one another, and learn from older men how to judge and punish them, and indeed they are punished according to the findings. The passage James refers to in order to illustrate the difference between justice and equity is found in section 1.3.17, in which Cyrus' grandfather, the King of Media, invites the boy to come live with him, and when his mother asks how he will learn justice if he's away from his school, Cyrus states he understands it thoroughly. "How so?", his mother asks.

    "'Because', said he, 'my teacher appointed me, on the ground that I was already thoroughly versed in justice, to decide cases for others also. And so, in one case', said he, 'I once got a flogging for not deciding correctly. The case was like this: a big boy with a little tunic, finding a little boy with a big tunic on, took it off him and put his own tunic on him, while he himself put on the other's. So, when I tried their case, I decided that it was better for them both that each should keep the tunic that fitted him. And thereupon the master flogged me, saying that when I was a judge of a good fit, I should do as I had done; but when it was my duty to decide whose tunic it was, I had this question, he said, to consider --whose title was the rightful one; whether it was right that he who took it away by force should keep it, or that he who had had it made for himself or had bought it should own it. And since, he said, what is lawful is right and what is unlawful is wrong, he bade the judge always render his verdict on the side of the law."

    Two thousand years ago. Rounding down. You know? []

  25. Nobility, royalty, make whatever protests you wish; ancient historians describing these deeds only considered as "people" those who owned land and sat as representatives, which is why Xenophon reports the population of the entire Persian Empire to be around 150k. Much like the morons responsible for the collapse of the ROTA would like to imagine they're "people" on the basis of I don't know, having held some bitcoin, or that they "tried", or whatever. []
  26. Plutarch, in his Life of Marcellus, accounts that Archimedes was studying "some problem with the aid of a diagram" while the Romans sacked his native Syracuse after a two-year siege during the second punic war. So absorbed by his work was Archimedes that he was neither aware of the battling nor the city's impending demise. []
  27. I'd class this with the "unnecessary though convenient", as that's exactly what it is unless one lives in extreme climates. []
  28. And I'd say he's right, here; clothing is an unnecessary convenience, but writing is necessary. []
  29. This is later described in terms of playing cards and the like. Do you think James mentally counted sex in this category, or the other? Or maybe (likely, even) he never even tried to fit it into this scheme, god and wifery making it something other than "indifferent"? Do you suppose this mis-categorization has anything to do with the truckload of bizarre assumptions and hangups people have with sex? []
  30. A notion dominant in the description of the admirability of Cyrus' ancient Persians, offered in part as explanation of their superiority over Media etc. James notes the Romans similarly regarded sauce as vice. []
  31. An infamous gourmand hated for his habit of roving from home to home with a train of condiment-bearing slaves, seasoning others' dishes to his own taste and consuming them, as well as for what James calls "his filthie wish of a Crane-craig", a bird's nest delicacy. I sank a good hour into attempting the deciphering of this last bit until giving up and petitioning Mt. Popescus, which mulled it over a half-beat or so and promptly sent the answer back in a lightningbolt of whoa. []
  32. By which is meant a maille hauberk and some manner of helm, lest someone imagine the whole kilt-socks-and-golf-hat caricature is seriously proposed. []
  33. From its usage in contemporary Scots works I take this to mean "yoking", something akin to the very movement I described above with imaginary boxes; two necks are joined together with the hands in that emphatic, usually meaningless dance of the hands. []
  34. The biblical Absalom, King David's hot and populist but ultimately traiterous son. []
  35. I wouldn't recommend the filet mignon. []
  36. I wonder if this means this rather enchanting portrait evoked for James annoyance rather than the great fun it looks to me:

    james-mini-hawk

    . []

  37. Du Bartas' La Sepmaine, a poem describing the creation of the world, was wildly popular on the continent, and his success in Scotland and England is largely due to James' appreciation and invitations to his court. []
  38. Considering the body in this way would likely bolster talent in acting and playing instruments, sadly. Perhaps, after all, James' injunction against such sports was rather akin to his disdain of chess; being too distracting and ripe with opportunities for wandering off from daily duties, these pursuits were not a good match for heavily burdened officers. []