Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Living in the Future

For a long time I have taken 1970 as the baseline of my life, although 1972 would probably be the more apt marker: I think that could the eighteen and twenty year-olds and I be magically brought together in some bardo analogue, the guy in the middle might find more in common with his superannuated future incarnation than with the mewling ninny he’d been two years earlier. At least, I venture to hope that he’d find me less embarrassing. On the other hand, it’s amusing to measure my emotional progress from the same Moment Zero as UNIX does.

Whichever point I might choose, I’m struck as I look back at how incurious both young men were about the world in which they would pass their maturity. I can’t recall ever giving much thought about what the world of the twenty-first century might be like. I suppose there was a vague notion that urban architecture would resemble the skyline depicted in “The Jetsons” (as it does indeed now in parts of China), and perhaps there was an expectation of flying cars, which I’m grateful, observing the behavior of drivers down below, has not yet come to pass.

I did take for granted, I think, the civic mythos with which my cohort had been raised: infinite upward mobility. Every year, things were going to get better. Middle-class families—I knew no other—would move up the sequence in automotive lines (in General Motors terms, Chevrolet to Pontiac to Oldsmobile to Buick to, eventually, Cadillac), and to progressively larger and better-appointed homes. There had been signs, of course, of strain in the system, including the debasement of the coinage in 1965, but, not alone among the citizenry, I hadn’t paid much attention to these. I did not foresee, for example, that after 1968 I would not again reside in a single-family dwelling with more than one toilet until late in 1999.

The 1973 oil embargo—I was twenty-one by that time—that got my attention, and around the same period the price of residential real estate began to climb at rates which appeared steep at the time, although mollusc-slow by the standards of our recent bubbles. It occurred to me by 1974 that perhaps the economic escalator might not have room for all of us, and still I did not attempt to form a mental picture of The Future, which I assumed would take care of itself, and which in any event was a long way off.

Digression: until around that time, it was rather easy for those of us who had been raised in stultifying suburban comfort to dispense with the bourgeois amenities, but this owed in part, I believe, to our awareness that if we ever did tire of going without these conveniences, we could at any time shrug off our renunciation and sit down at the table again. Gradually it dawned on us that the table had a finite circumference, and that it was rimmed by only so many chairs. As a friend of mine observed in 1987, anent the rise of the so-called yuppies, “People have realized that some of us are going to be left out, and they’re saying not me.”

Still, The Future. In the early nineties, when I was about forty, the pace of technological change appeared to have gone on afterburners, and this seemed exciting. I can’t claim to have been exactly au courant in my thinking: for example, I thought that this whole “internet” thing was a passing fad, a misapprehension shared at the time, to their subsequent sorrow, by numerous captains of industry who have spent the intervening decades attempting to corral the thing. And indeed, the pace of change appears in substantial part to have moved into cyberspace. An American plucked from, say, downtown San Francisco in 1948 into the same spot in 1968 would instantly notice the change in tailoring, grooming, automotive styling. Notice? Hell, he’d be gobsmacked; would fall to the sidewalk shitting himself and bleeding from the ears. Move a San Franciscan from 1998 to 2018 and he’d likely register a shift, but it would be the online environment (if he could find a “cyber cafe”—remember those?) that would appear outlandishly foreign to him.

But here we are. Occasionally, as I walk to the corner Whole Foods Market (the “Food Hole” as we call it, with latterly imperfect affection), I play a mental game, imagining either of my two baseline selves to be vouchsafed or cursed back then with a view of the world through my 2018 eyes. What would they make of it? The apparel of the XXI century would not appear far removed from 1972, although the tattoos—these were a class-signifier back in the day, and not a positive one—and the piercings would be startling. I suppose also that I imagined by now that we’d be going about in outfits with ribbed fronts and flared shoulders (we almost got to the latter element, at least in women’s “power” attire, in the early eighties), whereas jeans and apparel that would not have appeared inconsistent with these still abound in the visual field I’ve granted to my boggle-eyed youthful voyeurs.

The sheer shabbiness of the urban environment would, I think, have astonished my younger selves. Again, the idea of eternal upward mobility, of prosperity ever expanding, was part of the package my cohort was raised on. Beginning in 1979 I began to commute each day from Oakland to San Francisco, and as I passed the Mechanics Monument at Battery and Market streets marked the presence of the “potato lady,” as I and a coworker called her, who stood beside that civic statue, begging for change in her shabby brown coat (she resembled, as we thought, a largish baked potato. It must have been humiliating for her—she looked fiftyish to us—but we regarded her with dismissive contempt: compassion is not an affliction of the young). It occasioned remark because there were no other mendicants routinely to be seen in the Financial District back then.

Fast forward to 2018. San Francisco is overrun with beggars. I never, for the last quarter-century of my alleged career, made it between work and home without being solicited. Nor indeed, for longer than that, did I dwell in Oakland without a sharp awareness of the city’s criminal lumpenproletariat. This, too, would not have figured in my youthful picture of the present century, had I troubled to formulate one. Until I moved to Oakland, and actually for three or four years thereafter (for I fetched up at first in one of the tonier districts of this troubled city), “crime” was something that happened to other people, whereas for many years awareness of it has been a natural condition of my existence here, something akin to the tetanus that keeps our fingers slightly curled by our sides.

In 1962 we had “The Jetsons.” Placed before us just twenty years later, the vision of the twenty-first century, still distant, was Blade Runner, and I think we can all agree that while neither prophecy was perfect, Ridley Scott and his production team landed closer to the mark than did the showrunners at Hanna-Barbera.

And politics? The Soviet Union appeared to be a permanent feature of the global landscape. In 1970 or thereabouts I read an article ludicrously titled “Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?” What a joke! In the event, of course, the author, who predeceased his subject by just eleven years had a better take on it than I did in my late teens. So, communism essentially dead. And fascism of course, except—what the fuck?—in the United States of America, in the XXI century promised by the Jetsons or at least by Stanley Kubrick, fascism claws its way out of the six feet of earth and loam heaped upon it, yanks out the stake pounded into its heart in 1945, and rises gibbering, vicious and ravenous seventy years later incarnated—“the second time as farce”—as President Donald Trump.

I did not see this coming. And I think that the late USSR may serve as a cautionary example that a Great Power in decline can vanish, historically speaking, in a heartbeat. Indeed, if there are historians still doing business half a dozen decades from now, I suspect that they will record that the two global empires of the late twentieth century ultimately committed suicide out of sheer self-loathing. And the coroner may report that in each instance it was assisted suicide.

Somehow we have blundered into a future wherein the American genius has contrived to deliver a society combining most of the worst features of anarchy and authoritarianism while signally failing to deliver the putative benefits of either scheme. I want my money back.

I want my future back.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Dreams May Come

Seventeen months? Well, there were issues. Also, the election cycle became increasingly alarming and dispiriting, although I won’t claim not to have been gobsmacked by the triumph of the short-fingered vulgarian. What I expected was that Clinton would prevail, and preside over a critically injured polity. The actual outcome was, of course, incomparably worse, but this is properly the subject of another post.)

A century ago, and certainly by the time I was born, Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams was considered canonical in many circles, although since that time, like Freud himself—these latter decades the object of some spirited iconoclasty—his take on these things has fallen out of favor. Even the “Viennese quack,” as Nabokov styled him, reportedly acknowledged that too much could be read into a cigar.

The modern thinking, I believe, is that our dreams consist largely of random imagery, albeit with a bias toward recent input and experience, and that to the extent we may draw conclusions from these regarding the psyche of the dreamer, it is properly from the narrative that the sleeping mind attempts to impose upon the farrago of pictures and situations it has spontaneously spewed forth. I regard this approach as generally plausible.

Most evenings my own dreams are as random, I suppose, as the next fellow’s, but certain scenarios, all of these in some measure of a stressful character, recur rather regularly, and I suspect that taken together they limn in broad outline a picture of my personal anxieties. In no particular order:

The Week of Reckoning

This one I apparently share with millions of others going back decades: I’m back in college. It’s finals week. I have barely attended class all quarter; have never cracked a textbook; have certainly not studied for the test. I’ve a day, if that, to make up all the neglected work, write the papers, master the subjects, pass the exams. I am not filled with optimism.

Oddly enough, I lived that dream back in 1971. It was notably less stressful in real life. Of course, I did flunk out of school (one professor told me shortly afterward that he regretted that the University of California did not provide for a grade lower than “F”).

Icarus Descending (not):

I prefer those dreams of flight in which I soar effortlessly, without even the occasional exertions of birds. Usually, though, my airborne course is a chore, like doing the breast stroke through a viscous, unforgiving medium. When finally I attain some ledge analogue, generally a narrow and unwelcoming perch, I linger to catch my breath and then find myself assailed by crippling doubts as to whether, once I leap back into the vast spaces above the unforgiving pavement, my aerial powers are to be entirely relied upon.

Drive, He Said

At—or near—the wheel of a motor vehicle, usually in highly inclement weather, usually at night, usually at high speed; in every scenario imperfectly in control of the said motor vehicle, sometimes even attempting to steer in from the passenger or even the back seat.

Smoke Signals

I quit smoking—well, a long time ago. I dream that I have taken it up again, and wake up with a sense of crushing disappointment in myself.

Funny Money

I retrieve my wallet in a retail environment and am appalled to realize that my last retail transaction returned to me several bills so nakedly counterfeit that they will not possibly pass muster here. The faux currency is always on coarse green newsprint, and resembles crudely printed retail coupons. Semi-related: I drop something of great value; am unable to locate it in the fog at my feet.

Room for More

I’ve lived here at The Crumbling Manse™ for eighteen years, longer than the second-place finisher among my residences (see below), and although I’m devoted to the place, it could frankly use a bit more space (or we could use a bit less in the way of inessential chattel, an issue I’m hoping to address in the coming months). The space I have in mind has nothing to do with this recurring dream, in which I am startled to discover two or three hitherto undiscovered, neglected and vaguely sinister rooms on one side of the house.

Home Again, Home Again

From 1977 until early 1993 I dwelt in a handsome craftsman bungalow, rather similar to this one, in Oakland’s then-affordable—though not at that time by me—Rockridge neighborhood. It was sold out from under me after 186 months, and I quit the premises with bitter regret in March 1993. I’ve never been back thereafter except in my dreams, but in my dreams I am a regular, panicked visitor: Shit! What the hell am I doing here? I need to get the fuck out before the real owners get back home!

Spouse Again, Spouse Again

I was married from 1976 to 1986—technically to 1988, but the domestic arrangements had fallen to flinders by this time in ’86—to a woman who’d first caught my eye in 1968, and whom I’d actively begun courting by the end of the following year. The endgame was dreadful, and the anguish considerable, and the wounds, on this end at least, still raw the last time I saw her over a quarter of a century ago. I like to think that I’ve moved on, but she certainly has maintained a claim in Freudland, appearing there at intervals overnight—sometimes cordially, oftener not. The recurring dream, though, is invariably framed as a memory: it is the early 1990s, and she has returned from Europe and announced that we are to be reconciled, and I, as I might very well have at that nadir of my spirits, readily consent. And then, in the dream-alternate, things go south very quickly. I wake from these, and they have the force and immediacy of a “recovered memory,” and I groggily think, “Wait, did we actually—” before I reassemble my world. I’m grateful that these visitations, formerly more frequent, are down to a couple of times a year.

Let There Be Light, Or Not

This actually does not relate to a specific series of dreams, but I find that electric lighting does not work in my dreams: when I attempt to engage one of these things it either does not work at all, or emits a flickering, useless glow. For many years I took this to be a peculiarity of my individual interior landscape until I happened upon an allusion to it in the film Waking Life. This remains a reliable indicator that one is dreaming; but its remains as well an indicator I reliably though not invariably fail to take into account on these occasions.

Piss Me Off

From time to time my dreams will steer me toward a public or private convenience in an irregular (sometimes gruesomely so) state of maintenance, but occasionally these facilities will present themselves as plausibly unobjectionable. I’ve trained myself to test these for reality in sleep, but as with the lights, above, it’s not infallible. Fortunately a number of factors, including a clogged prostate with hundreds of thousands of miles upon it, have thus far spared the bedsheets.

These then, are my anxiety dreams. And yours?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

“The Day the Earth Caught Fire”

I have a weakness for British science fiction films of the fifties and early sixties. They appear as a rule not to have had enormous budgets available for purposes of visual spectacle, and accordingly worked on smaller canvases. The results were generally more intelligent than those yielded by the more lavishly-funded American productions of the same era, not that this is a terribly difficult bar to clear. The 1960 Village of the Damned, based on John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos, was a good example, delivering a ripping yarn, intelligently scripted, with a minimum of elaborate sets or special effects.

Recently some arbitrary chain of associations recalled a few seconds viewed in childhood, a scene caught on a television broadcast of a man, hideously blackened and burned, staggering down a stairway along the side of a large spherical storage tank. With no more than that vague memory, I was able to coax the title, which I probably never knew, from my default search engine. Indeed, there was a link on the first page of results, because I was apparently not the only tyke in whose memory that image had lodged. The film in this case was Quatermass II (released stateside as Enemy from Space, for pity’s sake!), an Invasion of the Body Snatchers-style thriller in which the hostile extraterrestrials mount their incursion from a supposed synthetic food plant, played in the film by an oil refinery. Watchable, despite the unfortunate casting of Brian Donlevy as Professor Quatermass, and it brought director Val Guest’s name to my attention, which in turn put me onto The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

The title is regrettable, although probably catchier than The Several Weeks Over the Course of Which the Weather Got All Fucked Up and Eventually Much Hotter, but the film is eminently satisfactory. The scientific premise is sheer codswallop, of course, but it’s not as though our current multiplex-bound franchise series are guiltless on that count: the story has it that the US and the USSR have each detonated weapons of unprecedented megatonnage simultaneously at each of the poles, and this has not merely knocked the earth off kilter by eleven degrees, but has also sent it spiraling toward the sun, an “inconvenient truth” that the sundry national authorities are reluctant to make public because they correctly anticipate that the masses will get all pissy about it.

Much of the action is set on the premises of a London newspaper (the Daily Express made its physical plant available), where former star reporter Peter Stenning is inexplicably still employed, notwithstanding his steady descent into alcoholism and the concomitant decline in the timeliness of his work product. Edward Judd’s portrayal is perhaps intended to convey raffish charm, although if so this eludes me. More entertaining is Leo McKern, then about forty, as the paper’s cynical science editor who looks out for Stenning and is one of the first to recognize the implications of the story that the semi-disgraced newsman has stumbled upon. Equally entertaining, and easier on the eye, is Janet Munro as Jeannie Craig, who occasionally works the switchboard at the Meteorological Office and picks up some intelligence which she irresponsibly leaks, Snowden-style (not that London is going to see snow ever again) to our sottish and besotted hero. There are, surprisingly for the era and the genre, a few flashes of nudity, which must have seemed almost subliminal to theatre audiences of the time, but which yield themselves up to the magic of modern consumer video, and which did not in the event and at the time elude the trained and vigilant institutional eye of the British Board of Censors, which forbade the film’s exhibition to persons under the age of sixteen.

The portrayals of the broiling earth, including a set piece of a hot fog rising off the Thames to engulf the city, and later shots employing competent matte paintings to depict a parched London, are well done. The screenplay is mainly intelligent and the cast performs by and large ably, although I suspect that Stenning’s line of patter, to which Jeannie readily succumbs following some rather pro forma resistance, would not get him far with a twenty-seven year-old today (I do not claim to be privy to the courtship protocols currently obtaining among that demographic). The production rather presciently raises questions about how humankind would cope with changes to accustomed climate patterns, although needless to say it can no more than provide a gloss on these over the course of its ninety-eight minutes running time, and its producers were likelier more interested in exploring cold war anxieties than in atmospheric carbon content.

One considerable, and one lesser downside: first, the post-synching is atrocious, distractingly so. At times it’s like watching a badly-dubbed foreign film, an ordeal to which I’m ordinarily unwilling to subject myself. Second, late in the film (following an uncredited appearance by Judd’s chum Michael Caine as a traffic cop) we are subjected to a few minutes of rioting teenagers, portrayed as stereotypical anarcho-beatniks about as plausibly as Hollywood was to do “hippies” a few years later. This also involves Stenning in a brief bout of fisticuffs that appear to have been choreographed by the same guy who did the post-synching. There is as well a small concluding outrage in that the film’s deliberately ambiguous ending was compromised by the American distributors, who insisted on the addition of pealing church bells over the final seconds to suggest that the boffins’ desperate scheme to put the planet back into its proper orbit had succeeded after all. But as against these cavils the film nevertheless holds up very well after half a century and more, and is well worth a look. Indeed, the curious can find it online here.

Above: As the planet heats up, actress Janet Munro cools off.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

“When the rapture comes, can I have your t-shirt? Uhh…never mind.”

In today’s NYT:

By seizing the Republican presidential nomination for Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night, he and his millions of supporters completed what had seemed unimaginable: a hostile takeover of one of America’s two major political parties. 
Just as stunning was how quickly the host tried to reject them.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Going out in stele

A dear friend died suddenly last month, not long after we had discussed the necessity of putting his affairs in order. Regrettably, he had not committed his estate management plans to writing by the time he was taken short. The same cannot be said of Esarhaddon, who ruled Assyria for a dozen years in the seventh century BCE. Wishing to secure the succession on behalf of his son Ashurbanipal, the king directed that his allies and vassals affix their names to a declaration of loyalty to the heir. What makes it particularly memorable is the length and detail of the sixty-two no-contest provisions appended to the oath. Here they are, as published in Horizon Magazine (see my entry for Mid-Century Middlebrow) in 1959, transcribed and translated by Donald J. Wiseman of the British Museum (lacunae indicate lost bits of the original):

You will not make a claim against this document bearing the seal of the god Ashur, king of the gods. It has been applied in your presence, you will serve him as your own god. 
You swear that you will not alter it, nor consign it to the fire, nor bury it in the earth, nor destroy it by any cunning device, nor make it disappear nor sweep it away. If you do so may Ashur, king of the gods, who decrees the fates, decree for you evil and not good. May he grant that you never become a father nor reach old age. 
May Ninlil, his beloved wife, interpret the utterance of his mouth as evil, may she not intercede for you. 
May Sin, the bright luminary of heaven and earth, clothe you with a leprosy. May he forbid your entering into the presence of the gods or king, saying “Roam the desert like the wild ass and the gazelle.” 
May Shamash, the light of the heavens and earth, not judge you justly, saying “May it be dark in your eyes. Walk in darkness.” 
May Ninurta, chief of the gods, fell you with his swift arrow; may he fill the plain with your corpses; may he feed your flesh to the eagle and the jackal. 
May Venus, the brightest of the stars, make your wives lie in the lap of your enemy before your very eyes. May your sons not inherit your house; may a foreign enemy divide your goods. 
May Jupiter, exalted lord of the gods, not show you how to enter the temple Esagila, may he destroy your life. 
May Marduk, the eldest son, assign for your fate a serious punishment and an indissoluble curse. 
May Sarpanitum, who gives name and seed, destroy your name and seed from the land. 
May the Lady of the Gods, mistress of creation, cut off birth from your land; may she make rare the cries of little children in the streets and squares. 
May Adad, controller of the waters of heaven and earth dry up your ponds…may he submerge your land with a great flood. May the locust which diminishes the land devour your harvest. May there be no mill or oven in your houses; may there be no grain for grinding and instead of grain may they grind your bones and those of your sons and your daughters. May your fingertips not dip in any dough, may dough be lacking from your kneading troughs; may a pregnant mother [and] her daughter eat the flesh of your sons; in your extremity may you eat the flesh of your sons. Through hunger may one man eat the flesh of another; may one man clothe himself in another’s skin; may dogs and swine eat your flesh and may your ghost have no one appointed as a funeral-libation pourer. 
May Ishtar, lady of battle and war, smash your bow amid a fierce battle. May she bind your arm and so may she end your life in the presence of your enemy. 
May Nergal, hero of the gods, extinguish your life with his merciless dagger; may he send slaughter and pestilence among you. 
May Ninlil, who dwells in Nivenah, tie a flaming sword at your side. 
May Ishtar, who dwells in Erbil, not grant you mercy and kindness. 
May Gula, the great physician, put sickness, sleeplessness, poison, and torment in your body, may she make you sweat blood instead of water. 
May the Sibitti…[two curses here broken]. 
May Ishtar of Carchemish put a strong rimtu-disease within you, so that your flesh sinks in like…to the ground. 
May the great gods of heaven and earth who inhabit the world, as many as are named in this tablet, strike you, look grimly at you, and curse you angrily with an evil curse. Above, may they take possession of your life; below, in the underworld, may they make your ghost thirst for water, may they make you grope in shadow and twilight, yet may you never stand in privacy. May food and water abandon you, may want and famine, hunger and plagues never be removed from you. May your maidservants be ever feeble and your male workers perpetually hostile. May dogs and swine drag you to-and-fro in the public squares of Ashur. May the earth not receive your corpse in burial; may you be food in the belly of a dog or pig. May your days be dark, your years be dim, may they decree dimness without any brightness. On a bed may sleeplessness put an end to your life. May an irresistible flood come up from the earth and devastate you. May anything good be an abomination to you and anything ill your share. 

May tar and pitch be your food, may the urine of an ass be your drink, naphtha your ointment, and duckweed your covering. May demon, devil and evil spirit choose your houses. 
[Here follows an affirmation to abide by the treaty.] 
If you transgress against this treaty, which Esarhaddon, king of Assyria, has made with you…  
May Ashur, father of the gods, shatter you with his weapons.
May Palil, lord… 
May Ea, king of the Deep, the lord of springs, give you unhealthy water to drink; may he fill you with dropsy. 
May the great gods of heaven and earth set water and oil… 
May Girra, who gives food to small and great, burn up your seed and your seed’s seed. 
May as many gods as are cited in this tablet cut up your ground into as many bricks, may they make your ground as hard as iron so that none of you flourish. 
As rain does not fall from a brazen heaven, so may rain and dew not come upon your fields and your meadows; may it rain burning coals instead of dew on your land. 
As lead melts before a fire, so may you not stand before your enemy; you will take your sons and your daughters in your hands [to flee]. 
As a hinny is sterile, so may your name, your seed and the seed of your sons and your daughters be destroyed from the land. 
As the horn of…grows in when it does not flourish, you will not turn… 
May your seed and the seed of your sons and your daughters be destroyed from the land. 
May Shamash with his iron plough cut up your cities and country regions. 
As a starving ewe puts the flesh of her young in her mouth, so may he feed you in your hunger with the flesh of your brothers, your sons, and your daughters. 
As when male and female kids and male and female lambs are slit open and their entrails roll down over their feet, so may the entrails of your sons and daughters roll over your feet. 
As a snake and a mongoose do not enter and lie down together in the same hole without thinking of cutting off each other’s life, so may you and your womenfolk never enter the same room without thinking of cutting off each other’s lives. 
As bread and wine enter the intestines, so may they cause this curse to enter into your intestines and into those of your sons and daughters. 
As you blow water out of a…so may they blow you, your women, your sons, and your daughters…May your streams, your springs, and their sources be dried up. 
May they make the working of gold go from your land. 
As honey is sweet, so may the blood of your women, your sons, and your daughters be sweet in your mouth. 
As you do not eat shazpu raw, so may you taste and eat, while you are alive, your own flesh and the flesh of your wives, your sons, and your daughters. 
May they shatter your bow and cause you to sit beneath your enemy; may they cause the bow to come away from your hand; may they cause your chariots to be turned upside down. 
As a stag is overtaken and killed, so may the avenger overtake and kill you, your sons, and your daughters. 
As a butterfly which leaves its chrysalis does not return to its cocoon, so may you not return to your wives in your homes. 
As one seizes a bird in a trap, so may brothers and your sons place you in the hands of the avenger. 
May they make your skin and the skin of your wives, your sons, and your daughters dirty. May they be black as pitch and crude oil. 
As a…is caught in a snare, so may you, your brothers and your sons and your daughters be seized by the hand of your enemy. 
May the flesh and the flesh of your women, your sons, and your daughters change color like the chameleon. 
As a honeycomb is pierced with holes, so may they pierce your flesh, the flesh of your women, your brothers, your sons, and your daughters with holes while you are alive. 
As locusts and caterpillars eat up vegetation, so may they cause your towns, your land, and your district to be devoured. 
May they treat you as a fly caught in the hand; may your enemy squash you. 
As urine stinks, so may you smell before god, king, and mankind. 
May they strangle you yourself, your women, your sons, and your daughters with a cord. 
Just as one burns a wax image in fire and dissolves one made of clay in water, so may your figure burn in the fire and sink in the water. 
As this chariot with its base-board is spattered with blood, so, in battle with your enemy, may they spatter your chariots with your own blood. 
May they pin you down with a distaff. May they treat you like a woman in the presence of your enemy. 
As for you, your brothers, your sons, and daughters, may they cause you to be turned upside down like a tortoise. 
Like fire, may something neither good nor pleasant come upon you. 
As oil enters your flesh, so may they cause this curse to enter into your flesh, the flesh of your brothers, your sons, and your daughters. 
Just as they who sin against a god or lord are cursed and thus their arms and their legs become stiff and their eyelids twitch, so may they annihilate you. May they rot you like a reed-bucket in water; may your enemy wring you out like blood from a bandage. 
You swear that you will not lose yourselves from Esarhaddon, king of Assyria and Ashurbanipal, the crown prince. You will not go to the right or to the left. May scorpions devour him who would go to the right and may scorpions devour him who would go to the left. 
As an insect which slips into a grinding mill, so may you, your women, your sons, and your daughters have no rest or sleep. May your bones never rest together. 
As the inside of a hole is empty, may your inside be empty. 
When your enemy runs you through, may there be no honey, oil, or cedar resin available to place on your wound. 
As a gall bladder is bitter, so may you, your women, your sons, and your daughters be bitter towards each other. 
May Shamash clamp a bronze trap over you; may he throw you into a trap from which there is no escape; may he never let you out alive. 
As the water leaks out of a split leather water bottle, so in a place of thirst and want may your water bottle be broken so that you die from lack of water.

The exhaustiveness of this catalogue of maledictions makes me suspect that Esarhaddon was able to draw upon the services of a crackerjack legal team, In fact, for a matter of this import he probably didn’t rely on in-house talent: I see him bringing in some powerhouse counsel to put it together, and imagine this scene at the venerable firm of Tigris, Euphrates, Nivenah, Sidon & Tyre, LLP as a senior partner (SP) confers with a trusted associate (TA) on the final wording:

SP: This will do, I think. Very thorough. Crops blighted, fields flooded, daughters raped, sons eaten, flesh devoured by jackals, land afflicted by famine and plague. Military setbacks, economic dislocation, rectoccygeal violation on the battlefield. Disembowelment, edema, psoriasis, gangrene, blindness, severe B.O., terminal dessication. Infidelity and domestic discord. Locusts, caterpillars and scorpions. Nice work with the scorpions, by the way. Ashur, Marduk, Ishtar, Gula, Sarpanitum and the other heavy hitters in the pantheon all on board. All good. Have we left anything out?
TA: Feet, sir.
SP: Feet?
TA: We should include a noncompliance curse on feet.
SP: Good thought. Who, ah, remind me, which one does feet?
TA: That would be Mukluk, sir.
SP: Mukluk, of course. Draw something up.
TA: I’ve taken the liberty of drafting some language, sir: May Mukluk, podiatrist to the gods, afflict your feet with fallen arches and painful bunions.
SP: Excellent, Smithers. Just…punch it up a little. Don’t say feet, say “nether extremities.” Sounds more wrath-of-the-gods, don’t you know, and half of those illiterate yokels will think we’re talking about their dicks. Lose the arches, throw in some gout. Maybe a touch of toenail fungus and a couple of lesions.
TA: Right, sir.
SP: Have a draft stele on my desk tomorrow morning by ten.
TA: By ten. Yes sir.

(This obviously would have been one of the missing curses.)

Friday, April 8, 2016

Bobo explains it for us

David Brooks is off his meds again.

Well, that’s the charitable explanation for “The Lincoln Caucus”, today's column by the second-dumbest man ever to hold a regular gig at the NYT. The less charitable explanation is that he knows this is bullshit and published it anyway:
...I’m suggesting some number of delegates organize themselves into a caucus called the Lincoln Caucus. The Lincoln Caucus would not be an explicitly anti-Trump caucus or an anti-Cruz caucus. It would just be a caucus made up of delegates who are not happy with the choices currently before them.
I'm not sure a single hotel room will hold this crowd. You might want to reserve a suite. Please proceed, David.
I’m suggesting that the delegates who signed up to be members of the Lincoln Caucus make a pledge to work and vote together at the convention. The first thing the Lincoln Caucus would do is plant a flag for a different style of Republicanism. Members of the caucus would remind the country that there still are Republicans who believe in prudent globalism, reform conservative ideas to lift up the working class. There are still Republicans who believe in certain standards of polite behavior in public and pragmatic compromise.
And all fifty of them are right here in this cloakroom! It’s for damn sure none of ’em are in the House of Representatives.
If the Republican ticket gets devastated in November, members of the Lincoln Caucus could say, “We stood for something different,” and they’d be in a good position to lead the rebuilding process.
Because there's nothing that the misogynistic, white supremacist, snake-handling, knuckle-dragging, dominionist brownshirt fuckwits comprising the GOP “base” are yearning to hear more than “We told you so, you appalling rustics!”
But the Lincoln Caucus would primarily serve more immediate ends. First, the Lincoln Caucus would work with the rules committee to get rid of any party bylaws that inhibit delegate flexibility at the convention.
Uh-huh. Why shouldn't the delegates have the flexibility to ignore the will of the voters, fuckwits though they be, who sent them to Cleveland? Starting in November, I imagine Brooks will be telling us that we need more flexibility in the Electoral College.
[This process] would also create a democratic path toward a Republican nominee who is not Trump or Cruz. Remember, the members of the caucus would be delegates, not Washington insiders. They would be a committeeman from Missouri or a state rep from Ohio. They’d be tied to the grass roots, and the press would be all over these people at the convention. This is the best way to get a non-Trump/Cruz candidate without sparking riots in the streets.
Yeah, good luck with that, Dave. Also, your average committeeman from Missouri and state rep from Ohio isn't the chamber of commerce type you used to run into at the Applebee’s salad bar. He's likelier to be a raving teahadist. Hell, he's likely to be leading the riots after he learns that his betters have settled upon Connecticut Republican Rodney F. Richpigge IV as the party's standard bearer.
Mostly, members of the Lincoln Caucus would stand up for the legitimate rights of the party. In our republican system, it is parties that choose nominees; not primary voters. Parties are lasting institutions that manage coalitions, preserve historical commitments, protect us from flash-in-the-pan demagogues and impose restraints on the excessively ambitious.
In other words, the passions of the rabble should properly be guided, corrected and, if need be, overridden outright by sensible chaps who think like…David Brooks. I am so looking forward to this train wreck.

For the rest, I'd observe, at the risk of irking Godwin's ghost, that today’s GOP has as about much right to name a faction after Lincoln as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party would to have formed a Dietrich Bonhoeffer Caucus.