Archive for the ‘Dystopia’ Category

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....

Manage what's important to you with rational tools when you join humanity. Or, fuck mozilla.

Saturday, February 8th, 2020

I spun up my public toilet machine this morning and met with a rather infuriating ad. Suffer with me:

"A message from Firefox

Our brains are not meant to hold so many passwords. That's science. Manage your passwords with Lockwise when you join Firefox."

If only blockquote tags came with disinfectant. The problem is that if you let that which is evil pass by untouched for the sake of your own internal peace/sense of cleanliness, you risk giving it some measure of implicit support. There's a deal being made: I won't take your entrails out and parade them through the town so everyone knows how much they stink, and you won't attach to me. If that strikes you as bullshit, consider that Firefox presents alongside this ad a guide to making yourself part of this deal: you can "dismiss" the particular message you "don't like" by hovering the mouse on the message's far right, where you'll get a magic "x" that keeps the message hidden. I'm okay, you're okay, right?

There are two main branches of evil in this ad: the first, that every statement made therein is outright false. The second, that it attempts to mould humans to their tools, rather than moulding tools to work for humans. Aside from these, its pretense to authority is offensive as all get-out, and the obvious ploy1 to own what are supposed to be your passwords along with owning your very understanding of what passwords even are is a paragon of the malice most people are used to choking down for breakfast by now. It's galling that these would be asides, and that there's something yet more contemptible to drag under the lamps, but we don't get to choose what's broken; all we have is what we do with it.

"Our brains are not meant to hold so many passwords," the ad begins, attempting at the very start to ingratiate its makers with you. Our brains, you see, we're all human, trust us and we'll forgive you for that time you couldn't get into your email inbox. Nevermind you've no idea who we are and we've no way to meaningfully tell you, either2. In derpspeak, "Lockwise" is an appendage of Mozilla, that group of possibly once-interesting consensus-seekers famous for runaway versioning and lately harping incomprehensibly about "a healthy internet" --that is, apparently, one in which they own the gates and maybe let you hang out if you promise to be polite.

Once past the first few words, a new problem arises: not meant? By whom, god? Guy Lombardo? How could a brain be meant to do or not do something, outside of the context of its being authored or otherwise owned? I guess if Firefox owns your brain, they don't mean for you to have to memorize a lot of passwords. Are you ready to join yet? And now, these out of the way3, we can actually proceed to the broad statement. There's no reason why the average human brain shouldn't be able to recall an appropriate number of sane passwords, provided they're properly committed to memory. Miller's 1956 experiments with working memory, which speak to strings retrieved during sub-minute time periods from their establishment, suggest an average register of seven plus or minus two bits. That's not great in terms of handling multiple arbitrary alphanumeric strings in the low double-digits --or even strings of words, if you swing that way. But that's working memory, you're supposed to use it to carry over a digit or hold a basic conversation, not to perform vault operations (unless you're particularly talented or stuck dealing with unusual scenarios)4.

Long-term memory holds quite a lot more --but importantly, how much more isn't at all clear. Like so many aspects of the human brain, understanding of the capacity for long-term memory still eludes us, which sure, makes it a jerkoff move to suggest you memorize truly endless lists. This works both ways, however; it also makes it a jerkoff move to suggest you can't (or worse, "aren't meant to") memorize a handful or three. The Atkinson-Shiffrin model proposes three distinct stages of long-term memory, even. Other ideas, such as Tulving's, organize memories by their subject rather than their retention time. What's correct? And what's your limit? Nobody knows, but you sure as hell remember more than nine things from more than a few minutes ago.

The real problem at hand is that one's memory craves some reason to remember a given string. You need cause to get something transferred from your short-term, working memory to your long-term memory, or to move information between the procedural and the declarative. Whatever's going on in there, the information's got to be important, and not "because it's a password", but because it's a password for something of personal or objective value. Of course it's nigh on impossible to recall thirty and risin' distinct strings that grant access to things one doesn't care about, even if your personal brand of "because I said so" is especially strong. And of course every tool and service under the electric sun requires setting up an account for no ostensible reason. No ostensible reason, except to make you create and remember yet another password. Perhaps you'd like to store it somewhere? It's so easy.

The identity-less and yet avowedly-authoritative voice then joins in on the general rape of science that's been befouling the land lo these many years. In fact, making a statement without recourse to its proof, discussion, or even its underlying hypothesis is the exact opposite of science. And hiding behind this sort of shit is wilfull mendacity.

As for the third sentence in this travesty, managing does not consist of storage. Perhaps said storage comes with a few options. That's configuration, which I guess Firefox has judged is too large a word for the likes of you. One must know something to manage it. Perhaps not down to the finest detail, but management certainly cannot ever be the purposeful neglect to know the thing being managed. Now, these passwords are qualified; the sentence proposes they're "yours". Naturally, once you've divulged a password to another party, it is no longer yours in the singular sense, but in the plural. The correct statement would be "Store and fiddle with settings on our passwords...". Doesn't sound as good? I agree, but "make it zippy" shouldn't snap to the grid of "lie through your teeth".

A tool is something an agent uses to complete a task. It has no power outside the agent's hand, and is made to suit the needs of the given task according to the agent's specific requirements. A tool is not a sort of totem of worship where agents gather to marvel at its greatness and modify both their tasks and their behaviors to fit the specific requirements of the tool. If you're having trouble remembering your passwords, try turning down the constant demand for account creation volleyed at you from every which way, instead of spending your agency on products and services that have no business being paid in such precious currency.

  1. It is obvious, but then I so often run into people who imagine they're "savvy" as professedly proven by I don't know, that they trade bitcoin, or know java, or went to school, and yet they have no qualms about keeping their passwords stored with some third party. They simply don't consider that handing it over is handing it over, somehow, and moreover they don't seem to want to. It's the herd animal outlook at work, as ever: people have a strong drive to believe that computers are basically a sort of person, just, with the personal interest turned off. Somehow the notion that it's not "the computer" but that shifty fucker Bob down the cul-de-sac who wrote the program and that frigid bitch Sheila who accesses the database whenever she feels like it manages it never makes it to the surface. []
  2. Actually I realized mid-sentence that Mozilla has a signing key, so went to fetch --wherein I found the announcement last year, by one "Chris Atlee", that said signing key was expiring and so "we're" going to switch to a new key. It...wasn't signed. []
  3. Can you believe how much irrational, conniving flotsam has to be cleared before we can even attempt the whole sentence? This thing is a wonder, that fits so many lies and placations into ten words. []
  4. The problem with your valuables being within easy access to others is that you'll then have to rely on your real-time observations and your short-term, working memory to keep them safe --it's not that they're likely to be stolen or tampered with for the mere fact of greater exposure. Yes, it's more likely, but in most circumstances, that doesn't actually push anything enough for you to see it manifest. You simply have to be more alert and better able to react for the same degree of safety. []

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. []

Post-Operative Gemini

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Incidentally, the following is probably my review of Pedro Almodovar's "Todo Sobre Mi Madre", in a roundabout sort of way.

"I don't even know if this is my real nipple. You understand? This could be someone else's nipple."
"Well what, aliens could have come in the night and swapped out your legs."
"But I mean, they were there, on the surgical table, my nipples, taken clear off, with a scalpel--"
"Active electrode."
"Right, but just sitting there, unattached to anything, for a while. What if someone knocked one off like onto the floor or whatever, and bam, it's ruined, gotta get the replacement nipple?"
"Do you think there's replacement nipples in plastic surgery theatres?"
"Probably."
"Why would your nipple be 'ruined' if someone knocked it onto the floor?"
"I don't know man, it's just an example, say it's no longer sterile or someone stepped on it and messed it up."
"Don't you think they would tell you if something unexpected happened and they replaced your nipple?"
"Maybe. Maybe it's cheaper to not say anything about it, maybe they expect you won't be able to tell."
"So are you worried that you can't tell?"
"I'm not worried about it! I just wonder sometimes. I can feel the right one, but the left...when I touch it, I only know I'm touching it because my finger feels it. It's weird."
"So you conclude it's not really your nipple?"
"No, they said the feeling might never come back. And it looks something like it used to. I mean, it's not obviously not-mine. The funny thing, though, is that the more I think about it, the more I realize I'm not entirely sure what it used to look like."
"Don't you have any pictures from before the surgery?"
"Yeah. I mean the subjective looking-like though...know what I mean? That subconscious here's-the-thing-I-know sense that a picture doesn't really capture, which I think is how you get those reactions to seeing pictures of yourself; 'Oh my god, I look like that?!'."
"You're saying that your post-op nipple doesn't subconsciously seem to you like your pre-op nipple? Of course it doesn't, it was excised, trimmed, and reattached."
"Oh shit, I just realized-- maybe they're both mine, but they switched the right for the left!"
"I don't think you're listening to me, you just like the drama of the possibility of uncertainty."
"Fine, be a bitch."
"Kay."

Narodni's No-No

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

It's true that part and parcel of the way we travel is a general and vigorous avoidance of the overtly touristic. There's simply not that much that's organized with the purpose of mass entertainment that can actually deliver entertainment to those not fettered to the mass. Besides, wandering around wide-eyed through cookie-cutter "interests" with DSLR-bedecked livestock is how one meets...livestock, not natives. Essentially, there are a lot of stationary cruise ships in this world; all-inclusive, and all roped in to discourage you from wandering away from the group.

As with nearly everything, though, there are exceptions, one of the most prominent of which is probably the occasional trip to a museum. Noble, hallowed halls of my youth, tombs of wonder I'd always thought I'd want to work in, I love a good museum --but travel has taught me that the word itself, and even the auspices and trimmings, are largely a crapshoot. I'm not sure if it's a when, or more of a where, but at any rate the bar to museumhood seems to have lowered to depths rarely plumbed in other categories. To wit, the "Museo del Jamon" in Buenos Aires, if you like, or the utterly decrepit Brukenthal Museum of Sibiu, that bastion of Epson-delivered "masterpieces" and supernumerary ticket-checking interlopers.

Somehow, though, the complete and perfect failure of these museums that shouldn't makes them less offensive than museums that won't. You know, large, storied, monied institutions central to a city, which nevertheless have no real idea of what a museum is or what ought to go in it, or how. Sometimes, it's the shoddiness of the curation --a problem encountered mostly in Latin America, where art and artifacts are ubiquitously discussed in terms of their value to "the common man" rather than their own merits. Other times, it's a problem of policy: insane approaches as to whether or not pieces may be photographed and various other red tape fetishistic behaviors (beloved by the US and those doomed states still chasing the "ideals" of blue jeans and burgers).

Then there's the equally sad and infuriating example of Prague's Narodni Museum. Outside of Istanbul, I know no city more beautiful than Prague, its knack for line and curvature and smoke and sparkle licking every aesthetic joy I know at nearly every turn of the head. The Narodni Museum itself fits perfectly into this landscape, and crowns the very avenue that pumps blood and beauty into the New Town center. Everything is a scroll or an emerald, an epic pastoral stairwell or a waltz or windows and lanterns. I wouldn't even fault the place for having much less in the way of showpieces than structures; amidst empty rooms and corridors there's after all an eighteenth-century whale skeleton, and a very convincing (and comfortable!) yurt. I am satisfied with the thorough splendor of Prague enough to be entirely persuaded of its artistic accomplishments, even if the Narodni were quite literally devoid of any object at all.

narodni-1

narodni-2

The problem is: they advertised having Tutankhamun's tomb. That'd be fine if they actually had it, but, you see, they...don't. It's not that they have it on rotation like so many museums around the world have had it now and then, and I'm a petty asshole begruding their lack of some eternal claim to it. No, seriously, the thing's not there, at all. It's just advertised. Incidentally, have you noticed that if something is described as being an "x experience", where x is some worthy or potentially interesting thing, which necessarily therefore requires care and thought and money to produce, there's therefore very unlikely to be any x in it? Yes, the Narodni Museum has, specifically, the "Tutankhamun Experience." I suppose I'd been geographically dazzled into a stupor deep enough to overlook that last word.

What this "experience" consists of is a couple dozen fragments of vases, tablets, and the like, several with accounting notes intact, and these are certainly worth seeing, even if they are significantly eclipsed by the collections to be found elsewhere.

narodni-3

narodni-4

narodni-5

Accessing these fragments is an exercise in frustration, though, as they're peppered throughout a complex of rooms covered in floor-to-ceiling screens (yes, blocking the far more intriguing interiors of the museum) on which is displayed...

narodni-6

...I don't know, I never watched much television and don't pretend to "learn things" on youtube, but I imagine this is pretty much how it goes, a shit-ton of stock footage with the occasional relevant graphic floating around in the foreground, different bits being mask-highlighted while some derp reads Wikipedia-level pseudotrivia on the audio track. And you...can't leave, see, it's the "experiential" part of the experience, you've got to stay in this room or that for this or that section of holy shit the audacity of the people who came up with this nonsense!

narodni-7

Museums are places where people pay to see interesting items they otherwise wouldn't, and where people who know about these items take good care of them. A museum is not a cattle-herding set of hallways locking people into watching some graphic design student's sophomore year project. If you're trying to force things into being interesting to the general public by making it "relate to them", or fit into "today's technology" or whatever other bullshit, contentless paradigm, you're not a museum, you're a rube-cube, no better than a three-card-monte setup on collapsing tables. It's quite clear the Narodni bought this "experience" as some sort of license + materials package as opposed to coming up with the sham themselves. Their susceptibility to this in tandem with the manifest outcome of having had much of what would've been present, stolen, makes me rather sad, for the one fault is so deeply shameful, and the other so spotless, I don't want to look at the mottled, blemished outcome.

Prague doesn't need its experiences replaced or capped or capitulated by quotation marks. And I am certain this is true whether one follows the beaten path or not.

A Black Forest

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

In the Rohrbrunner Forest, somewhere between Munich and Frankfurt, in a truck-stop motel whose rented room is so stuffed with extra beds it immediately evokes the desperate case of some plurious, fantastically religious family swarming in a last-ditch effort to sleep without the non-activity managing to kill any of its members. Are we really that far off?

The whisps of fog shuttle by in slow processions out the window, masking and revealing thick depths of trees, all closing their eyes to the seduction of golden autumn. The stench of stale french-fries and industrial effort wafts along in tandem, ruining the fairytale. Sometimes the world seems to have disappeared in some such mists, though it's not so clear which cloud it's hid behind; when nothing works as you'd expect, is it you who's failed to understand nature? Is it nature that's failed to be comprehensible? The question comes through the woods, heavy but silent: does it matter?

The result, after all, is the same: surrounded at some hazy margins by castles, by fortresses, by great spans of bridge; and by rotting agglomerations of idiots, by fast-food multiplexes, by the towering ghosts of "solutions" that have more to do with professing to solve than either solving or even knowing what the problem is, here I sit, in a truck stop motel, forced into stasis. You can check out, but where will you go? "Please insert your credit card to discover more."

The difference matters. That is all we really know. Two false steps into the void of settling and you're there, in the swamp, offering excuses and ritual sins to gods made up by the mass of morons. The correct thing will kill you, it is certain; if not now, then later. After all, it has as much time as it'd like, and can bide while you must sleep, or blink, or yawn, or breathe. But you will die anyway, and the other scythes are neither sharp nor sensible. For as long as the burden-gift of life is upon you, it is your lot to seek to understand nature and to be heartbroken by nature's failure to be comprehensible.

A Letter from Dad: "Can Pushing Make the Line Go Faster?"

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

When I was 17, I had one friend with an Autism brother1. He would sometimes bring him with us on our local sojourns, one of which was to sit on a bench at the tiny park and just watch traffic go by.

We would sometimes make up names for people who walked/drove past: "Oh, look at the nose on this guy! That's Bozo Redondo." "Hair check, hair check! This crazy lady has a swivel head and can't hold still; Miss Sheveled.2 "

Frank was usually silent, but very alert and always in observation mode. I think that's where we/I learned to always be aware of our surroundings/environment. Watch and listen to make sense of the world. I am not sure where he was on the Autism spectrum; whereas now someone hyper-alert makes me nervous ("what? where is it? calm down!") back then it seemed to be a calming thing. We relaxed in to our seat on the bench and did not want to miss anything in the moment: just speculating/naming/watching the world go by....3

If you have many years of acute observation, travel, elements of culture, and can be calm enough to observe, one becomes adept at what humans have always done to interpret their world: categorization/labeling.

Of course, this is prohibited. It is "frowned upon" (etymology?)4 to make any kind of observation about a person/place/thing.5 Some cultures/genders/groups are especially prohibited. Jokes are also taboo; there are daily news stories about someone being fired/shamed/black listed due to some remark or joke.

Yes, I was fired from a radio job for making an obvious joke about females back in the NOW days. But that's another story for another day (and you've probably heard it)6.

Throughout my life, I've had people tell me "you can't say that!" "that's not fair!"7 "you don't know that person!" "we need to help that ___ and that's not helping!" One's observations are empirical, untestable, and always suspect. Nature or nurture...why would you say something like that? Were you toilet trained at gunpoint? What were you thinking...or were you? You need to see a Psychiatrist!

Anyway Frank, his brother, and I went to a concert at the Claremont Colleges (Pomona, which later sent me a thin two paragraph denial letter the same day a fat envelope arrived from Stanford) one night. I think it was John Lee Hooker?

We were standing in line ("on line" if you are from New York) and when they opened the doors, Frank kept muttering "Can pushing make the line go faster?" as the crowd was tightening/jamming to the doorway. It was the only time I saw him get upset.

As the crowd continued to surge towards the door, he started to escalate and got louder..."Can pushing make the line go faster?" "CAN PUSHING MAKE THE LINE GO FASTER?" "No! Can't!"

His brother pushed us out of the crowd. We ended up sitting on a lawn next to the tiny place and listening from there. We had space and were able to turn down vision mode and turn audio up to eleven.

Frank started a meme with his observation. It applies to many things in life and I sometimes use it to this day--fifty years later8. The next time you are out and about and in observation mode ask yourself: Can pushing make the line go faster?" and look around.

Whatcha doin?

-t

p.s. "1872, Darwin Emotions ix. 223 A man who joined us, and who could not conceive what we were doing, when asked to listen, frowned much."

* * *

  1. I'd edit this to autistic brother, but I'm not sure the implied embodiment isn't intentional --if some afflictions are more central to a person's self-expression than others, you'd expect autism to be rather in the "central" group, wouldn't you? []
  2. I find the particular talent for appellatin' so delightful I couldn't tell you. As a kiddo I always drew my dad with a mohawk, when I drew him, 'cause he was so cool, see. I don't think he ever actually had a mohawk (other than a plastic one on his motorcycle helmet), but I'll probably always represent him that way, in my head. []
  3. When's the last time you saw teenagers engaging in anything like this most natural and otherwise timeless behavior? Watching the world go by on the phone isn't quite the same thing at all, is it. []
  4. I'm not sure that this rather un-idiomatic idiom even has an etymology distinct from sufficient insufferables muttering their irrelevant displeasure, but in the few tepid attempts I've made to find out, I've come away shorn of my good intentions by the sheer mass of similar mutterings. []
  5. I think he's a little over-sensitive to the emissions of various mulae. Then again, I refuse to live where he does largely on the basis of not wanting anything to do with the mulae, or at least on the basis of having a reasonable expectation that I can tell them to fuck off without some long-tail stream of personal inconvenience to myself. []
  6. Well technically this letter came in yesterday, and today's a new day, and the story's most definitely worth repeating, so here you go, drudged up from my archives:

    "KAYS, Hays Kansas. I was the morning announcer in my first
    job. KAYS was the only station in Fort Hays, Kansas (it was a
    radio-TV station where I also learned how to direct TV and was
    occasional weekend weatherman).

    Short jokes and funny stuff were a big deal in the 1970s and I used to
    try to throw in remarks, etc. This was conservative mid-america, so
    had to be careful of course.

    I told some risque stuff now and then and the station did what many
    midwest stations did by banning certain records (I remember "Tonight's
    the Night" by Rod Stewart being expressly forbidden. I got in trouble
    for playing the Isley Brothers once too).

    Anyway, I got called in to the manager's office, suspended for a week,
    docked pay, and then had to go back to the manager's office and
    apologize to the Kansas President of the National Organization of
    Women (NOW) because of a what I said talking with a news man.

    In those days, the "top of the hour" 00 to 05 on the hour, every hour,
    was news, farm report (barrows and gilts! I had no idea what those
    were when reporting prices...sorghum included!), and weather. Then
    the reporter would "throw" it back to the announcer with a "kicker"
    story--something funny or unsual or light news.

    He finished with a story about the first woman astronaut having just
    launched. So I said,

    "This is great! We have a woman astronaut, a female priest was just
    ordained, women are doing great things...I just don't think they
    should be allowed to vote!"

    Bam, right in to a record.

    Phones lit up, secretary comes in and says "Why are all these people
    calling the station?" etc.

    I just kept repeating to everyone, "it's a joke! it's not serious,
    it's a joke!" But almost got me fired from my first job.

    ...so there's my contribution to Woman's Month." []

  7. I really hope I didn't add to this pile of insanity as a child, but I shamefully have my doubts. []
  8. I actually remember Dad asking if pushing makes the line go faster throughout my childhood; waiting to get into the Del Mar County Fair, approaching Spike & Mike's "Sick n' Twisted" Festival of Animation, boarding my first plane to Europe.... []

Impression of Minsk, July 5th

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

Minsk is gray sheets of rain worse than the moods it provokes. Sideways, stinging, down the broad avenues flanked by hollow concrete giants, the rain finds a way into your eyes, into your packages, wherever you'd least like it to go, whenever is least opportune.

In a bout of moving apartments across the hruscheba courtyard to the better place1 the rain returns, heavier than before, somehow thirsty for suitcases and the shopping bags full of milk, nectarines, bread, and Georgian (read: undrinkable) mineral water.

The atmosphere in July is twice the Januaries of my childhood; twice as cold, twice as gloomy, twice the daylight hours, twice the misery. I misspeak at every other corner, and fail to smile at all in between. All my pleasures here are inward, in private jokes, in stolen glances, in imagined pasts that did not and can never now exist.

Minsk is an egg abandoned, without a nest to keep it warm, or eyes to watch over and wonder at what sleeps inside. Were the place not so subject to the volatile whims of the gods that go scuttling by on their way to someplace else, perhaps the beast could be coaxed to come out. Perhaps something more than surface could wink into being, bare between the birches, wind in the feathers of gliding gulls.

Perhaps if it were winter, and Minsk was in her element, not forced to pretend about sun and smiling, perhaps then it would be still enough to show itself. If all the idiots were made to stay indoors, and the big soup pots were brought down from imaginary attics, if the noise of traffic ceased and the buskers went home to practice more...if the playgrounds were empty for an obvious reason and the fact I came here without a coat would be a death knell and not an uncomfortable inconvenience...then perhaps she could break from her shell and I would know her.

Until then, I sit on the wide kitchen windowsill waiting for the rain to stop, or admiring the cartoon baked-potato man2, watching old buses like wheeled cinder-blocks streak slowly down the street. It is not yet, here. Simply not yet.

  1. That place I dismissed on the first pass because six of its seven pictures featured the same purple couch --a nice couch, but by then far too conspicuous, as though it were hiding some darker secret among its deep purple brocade. []
  2. Kroshka Kartoshka! []

A Thermo-Rental Odyssey

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

When I first lived in Romania I called the kitchen-cum-living-room I spent most of my time in "The Orange Spaceship" on account of the shocking citrus blinds that coated the room in rod-n-cone obliteration by day. At night the berth was a somewhat more serious sodium carmine affair. The walls were bright yellow, the couch was bright red, and I found an excellent pair of sunglasses that year, incidentally.

Imagine my chagrin, then, on introduction to Chez Vozvrashchenie; yellow walls, admittedly a little more lemon cream than 'lectric skullfucker, and orange-as-she-comes drapes, filtering the light into the kind of shade you hear before you see. The door, inset with dithered plexiglass1, cast neon orange shapes on the opposite wall outside, a warning, perhaps, to ungoggled adventurers.

I replaced the drapes with thick black floor-length brocade, grounding the Spaceship 2.0 in one fell swoop, but I'm still at a loss as to how to approach the remnants of that alien civilization, consisting primarily of three...things some Brigaweird General thought fit to hang on the walls. Send help!

Exhibit A:

suns1

A charming snapshot of Sol wringing the last tears out of the terran landscape, the thirsty death to come foreshadowed by rib-like ripples in the foreground's dunes. The sky's intense blues suggest cool water never again to be savored --at least, not in this room.

Exhibit B:

suns2

Nuclear apocalypse in fiery zenith! Behold the orange intensity dividing shrubbery from topsoil; the righteous from the evil-doers; the obedient from the dissenters? Also, I suspect (when squinting, anyway) the center semi-circle may originally have been an attempt at a chaos star. Who wouldn't want to fall asleep and wake up to such a pastoral portent?

Exhibit C:

suns3

Nefertiti looks on, decapitated and utterly unimpressed, as the procession of the KKK Dromedary Corps traverses Giza. That is, Giza Island, where the Corps presumably battles against the predominant brownness of the environment and the disappearing surface area, requiring a constant smooshing together of the perilously close pyramids.

Would you believe me if I said that furthermore, the sheets that came with the place depict black silhouettes of snowmen, reindeer, and gift-wrapped boxes on a white foreground festooned with "holyshitisthataSPIDER!!1" black stars, too?

  1. Ever notice how things officially described as "Design Elements" are necessarily devoid of elementary design? []

Blistering Choice

Friday, May 10th, 2019

The very thought of the development of the specific psychopathies over time is enough to make me sick. Imagine the movement through a lifetime of a worm, acquiring in slow succession now antennae, now carbuncles, now splotches and hairs, complicated feet and feet for the feet themselves, ever multiplying in sickening mathematical complexity until there's nothing in particular that can be focused upon. All you can do as an observer is zoom in or zoom out, and every movement is edged in razors.

At first it was a sweet dream. There was something so simple, so round, about the correctness of things, about the possibility even of correctness. Only being able to imagine that there was some difference between paths, that there was meaning in action just as there was meaning in inaction, was revolutionary. It was the answer to all problems, and the light in all tunnels.

But there is no choice as to scope or context. For loving what is right you are not able to prefer it sometimes, or in some places. There is only where it leads you, of its own accord, by some laws you'll never know, by some laws that cannot be known. There is no guarantee that the entirety of life will be spent any other way than being compelled to love the correctness of the clutching of a sponge. And in truth, why should it really be any different? Whether something is large or small, simple or complex, whether it takes a great deal to comprehend or even see it or it appears as though a speck, a blip on the map of an existence, what does it matter to someone devoted to the thing itself?

And yet it can. And yet it can, terribly. It can matter to the extent that nothing else does, and the correct sponge holding becomes as a hateful fact, a thing utterly loathed and dreadful to think about, idol and paragon of everything wrong and unhappy. The silence and space around small things is too much to stomach, too much to mouth, even. It encroaches and grows and mocks, leaving the observer stultified and saddened, without material for anything at all. With no material, themselves, in or out. A shell, if you could call it that, for there's not all that much defining the borders after a while. Just a sort of gas that moves around, maybe, for unclear reasons, and to unclear ends.

You do not get to choose. The shape of what a dream looks like is a trap inasmuch as it contains any detail. The slightest detail at all is a lie, is a shackle waiting to ensnare the dreamer somewhere along the way, killing both their movement through the dream and their ability to wake up. Why should precision be quite so deadly? Supposedly specificity is a great boon, is a prime tool towards the development or manifestation of anything, anything at all. And yet, what can really be manifested in the presence of specificity? Only the hollow, aching death of the thing that was actually planned for.

Not knowing isn't better. Not caring is the only thing. But why would one dream if one didn't care? What's to dream about if you care about nothing? To dream of nothing itself, maybe, like a monk. Like a monk who sits, a dipole in the atmosphere, producing nothing.

It is in the network of rot of all of this that the insects appear, all fat, horribly articulated bellies and iridescent wings. What better place for such creatures to infest than a tangled nest of grief and contradiction. What experience, exactly, is one supposed to have from within an itching mess that can't be seen out of? The experience of prurience with blindness, the constant removal of one's own skin, the constant irritation to grow more calluses where the old ones were painfully scratched away.