Sefer Yetzirah

Books and Literature, Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Education, Media, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, Things that Actually Happen, War and Politics

Capture

An expert I spoke with highly recommends
that America needs to appoint a reality czar:
no more lying to your buds at the corner bar;
the rack for all of your weirdo Facebook friends.
Plenipotentiary in all his means and ends,
affixed to Christlike truth like the wise men’s star,
remit of heights and depths, the near and far
corners of creation, where time or being bends
beyond the expanding cone of present light,
the baryonic effluence of matter, and the dark
deep gravities of truths unseen, unfelt,
perfectly wise and gifted with prescient sight,
Osiris, God, ayin sof, and holy ark,
proclaim on high what he who smelt it dealt.

22 Schnooks

Art, Books and Literature, Education, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, War and Politics

What books should Biden read? We went and asked
some of our best of midlist middlebrow
semi-celebs, and some replied. But how
can one find time to read when one is tasked
with convincing a doomer culture to put on masks,
building past glory back, and better, now,
projecting the saintly calm of a teenage cow.
It’s enough to make one wish for a starving asp
to clasp against one’s own bared breast,
the servants, in their startled Greek, aghast,
while at the harbor, underpaid stevedores
who don’t know Ptolemy from Rameses
are loading wheat as they’ve done for the last
two thousand years; a bored scribe snores;
a librarian pilfers some scrolls and coins and flees.

Chary Tree

Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Justice, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, War and Politics

Screenshot 2020-12-19 092112
I declare and verify under plenty
of perjury: I cannot tell one lie;
they must be numbered as stars in the southern sky;
gorgeous as guys on Grindr claiming they’re twenty-
something long into their salted, empty
middle thirties; arthritic, old, and spry;
a shout as loud as a lover’s sleeping sigh.
Bullshit for the art of lying’s cognoscenti:
the facts contained in the foregoing complaint
are each correct and true, except when not;
valid to a point, believable when viewed
at the proper angle, under properly faint
and fading light: how Faust’s blood bought
not youth, not beauty, but the right to not be sued.

Exiled Thucydides

Art, Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

As an empirical matter, democracy,
hallowed by usage and consecrated by time,
has never turned up, hastily dusted with lime
in a hole, shot in the back as it tried to flee
its own cackling imago, autocracy:
yes, some serene republics have declined,
but there their franchise was mere pantomime;
no well-begged question but can burst to be
its own best answer; the universe ordains
that if a country goes to shit, it must
be bad, its laws a sham, its votes a lie,
enraptured by its petty Charlemagnes,
pre-captured by its lack of civic trust:
it doesn’t happen; thus in this essay, I

Chasing the Clouds Away

Books and Literature, Culture, Education, Media, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, War and Politics

Shapiro

Are the muppets biased to the left? Of course. That was
the point of Sesame Street, as I discuss:
provocateurs like Snuffleupagus
preach Maoist leveling while Ernie does
his LGBTQI-best to shove
both his and dear Bert’s sinful “love is love”
anti-Judeo-Christian cant at us,
telling mere children, “Mom and Dad are sus.”
Hashem forfend! Miss Piggy may be trans,
sharing Kermit’s bathroom and his bed;
Statler and Waldorf swooned for Hamilton;
Big Bird’s Khmer cabal now favors bans
on “racist” speech; The Count is dead
by firing squad for saying one is one.

Cognitively There

Culture, Justice, Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

Like, you’ll go: “Person, woman, man
camera, TV.” So they say,
“Could you repeat that?” Someday
the words won’t come; your lips will fan
the toaster-oven air; you’ll say, “Woman?
TV? Radio? Opera? Fannie Mae?
Elephant? Alligator? Matinee?
Mother? Birthday boy? Afghanistan?”
If you get it in order you get extra points,
although they say no one gets it in order, but for me
it’s easy. Nevertheless I sometimes fear
that each word unremembered thus unjoints
its ordered re-remembering. Words flee
the fit mind. The mouth speaks. I’m here.

Ashokan Farewell

Media, Poetry, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

War

I was one of one hundred and fifty-three
signers, and am a veteran of the Twitter
wars; many good men, and brave, now litter
the twilight screens; they yearned to live as free
Americans: now their souls flee
the quiet fields; their blue checks glitter
amongst the angels: absent God’s transmitters
of this dream: that we might disagree
about how many Jews died in the camps
or whether white folk are permitted words
that black folk use between themselves without
the ad hominem and vitriol that stamp
out freedom, turn men into beasts, mere herds
of cows denied their human birthright: clout.

An Open Letter

Culture, Education, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, War and Politics

Our cultural institutions now must face
a trial unlike any faced before:
@litboner69 called me a bore;
a sophomore undergrad said that my race
informed my sense of self, and worth, and place;
they didn’t put my book in the front of the store;
they added diaspora studies to the core
curriculum; now my promotion case
is held up with the provost just because
I hold a few unorthodox views:
that Blacks are more athletic by design;
true women lack men’s moral flaws;
Arabs just aren’t quite as smart as Jews.
For this you’re telling me I should resign?

Adjudicating Claims of Truth Using Math, and Not Convenience

Culture, Economy, Education, Justice, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Uncategorized, War and Politics

I don’t believe it just because it’s true.
An interim beyond a certain length
of time attenuates the tensile strength
of a claim; our years on earth, though brief and few
against history’s vast, impersonal view,
reduce the truth each rainy spring by a tenth:
T-zero times (one minus point one) to the Nth.
It’s simple math. There’s nothing you can do.
Had you told me right away, or yet
mentioned it in 1999,
or even yesterday, I would achieve
true belief, quite against any threat
to my politics’ necessary bottom line.
Your deadline’s passed, alas. I disbelieve.

All Good Things

Books and Literature, Culture, Economy, Media, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized

Last night I woke in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall asleep, so I did what any normal person would do: I lay in bed in the dark and fixed Star Trek: Picard.

Picard was a hash, the obvious product of too many cooks combined with network pressure to turn a show about a retired near-centenarian in a Utopian future, in which starship captains teach androids to play Cyrano de Bergerac more convincingly as a hobby while they whisk across the galaxy faster than the speed of light, into a hack action feature, Flash Gordon meets  The Expendables. But Michael Chabon, the American novelist who became, in Hollywood’s dour argot, the “showrunner,” had at least a glimmer of a good idea. Utopias only remain interesting for so long; eventually, the capacity for drama is exhausted by the absence of internal conflict.

The problem: Star Trek already examined—and already examined better—the “darker” side of its universe in Deep Space Nine, which set its characters on a frontier and considered what happens when this advanced society brushes against remnant capitalism, labor unrest, the fallout of previous wars and occupations, the rebellions of its own borderland citizens, and finally faces a war of near total mobilization and all the compromises and crimes it is willing to commit and suborn in order to win and to survive. Against the latter seasons of DS9, Chabon et al. didn’t stand a chance.

Well, they were either too clever or too arrogant to recognize that, and so they tried, depicting a Federation exhausted by its own principles, closing its borders to refugees and fighting an internal conflict against a class of artificial un-people and swearing and generally enacting an incredibly on-the-nose, Very-Special-Episode, Have-You-No-Decency-Mr. Trump version of Earth and the Federation at the turn of the 25th century. With a sword-wielding warrior monk. In Star Trek. It . . . did not engage.

But Chabon’s instinct wasn’t entirely wrong. There was an interesting story to be told about an exhausted Utopia, but it required a subtler touch. The setting should not be that different. The Romulan homeworld has still been destroyed, but unlike Picard, which imagined that the destruction of a single world in a vast “Star Empire” somehow sent every Romulan fleeing toward the neutral zone, this was a terrible but localized catastrophe: a Hurrican Katrina of the galaxy’s future. Ever since the Dominion War, a fraught but durable peace has prevailed. Many Romulans have ended up resettling on Earth and throughout the Federation. Picard can even have his former Tal Shiar friends and caretakers.

Picard is still old and grouchy, frustrated with what Starfleet and the Federation have become, but emphatically not because they have become Space MAGA. Rather, he is exhausted because, contra the Picard that was made, true artificial intelligence has become commonplace. Bruce Maddox unlocked the secrets of the positronic brain, and with Voyager’s return, The Doctor’s sentient holomatrix has been replicated thousands, millions of times. There are not automatons; they are full, independent people. Moreover, they are more than people, and far from the race of super strong, super intelligent slaves that Picard fretted about in the courtroom drama of Measure of Man, they have come to dominate those areas of the Federation—Starfleet in particular—where once the highest peaks of human achievement were attained. Picard is not prejudiced against them; he is not an anti-android racist. He just looks at a society that more than ever has sunk into mere luxury—travel, food, consumption, fine wine—without the countervailing force of achievement and exploration, of striving and struggle for knowledge, and feels . . . exhausted. Has humanity become little more than a tired race of cosseted pets?

Then, in flashback, we see a precipitating event: a Borg Cube (yes, the same Borg Cube that the actual show cursed us with) en route to attack the Alpha Quadrant. But this time it is dispatched with almost comical ease. A fleet of Federation ships—neat-sentient ships, crewed by superhuman androids and holograms—sets upon it near the former Romulan neutral zone and easily defeats it. (Before, by the way, the Romulan sun goes nova.) It founders in space. Humans and Romulans begin the Borg Reclamation Project. Only . . .

Years later, in the show’s present, a slow-dawning and then terrifying realization. AI is beginning to die. A (apologies for the gross topicality) sort of virus has entered their systems, incurable and seemingly contagious. And then . . . Bruce Maddox disappears.

And then mad, bad Admiral Janeway calls Picard out of retirement to pursue the mystery. For who now can command a starship, at least among the mere humans. And here Picard puts together his ragtag team on an old, pre-AI ship. Seven of Nine, who instead of a new character we don’t care about is the one living in ragtag isolation, so far from her former place in a collective! Hey, a couple of the kids from Below Decks, now All Grown Up. His Romulan friends, who may have motives of their own. And thus they quest out into the galaxy, a crew on a ship trying to solve the mystery of what happened to the androids, what happened to Bruce Maddox, leading them eventually to the Borg Cube, the mystery of the android plague, the destruction of the Romulan sun, and the question of whether a Utopia can remain vital forever.