alchemy, hermetically-sealed trump, zosimos of panopolis, and other stuff

A lot of folks I know are baffled by Comrade Trump’s apparent popularity among Republicans. As of this week, 84% of Republicans approve of his job performance. That’s huge. How is it possible, they wonder, for them to support a president who blatantly tells lies, who has repeatedly cheated on his wife, who routinely bullies and vilifies his critics, who brags incessantly, who claims to be a Christian but is ignorant about Christianity, who deliberately undermines the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence services for his own political purposes? How the hell is that possible?

The simple answer is…wait. Hold on. Have you ever known me to give a simple answer? No fucking way. So allow me to digress. And I mean seriously digress. I’m going to explain Comrade Trump’s apparent popularity by turning to Zosimos of Panopolis.

Zosimos of Panopolis, with an alembic.

You’re almost certainly asking yourself (well, you’re actually asking me, but…wait, never mind), Who the hell is or was Zosimos of Panopolis? He was an Egyptian alchemist and mystic who lived at the end of the 3rd and beginning of the 4th century AD. Zosimos wrote one of the earliest books on alchemy. In it, he describes several devices invented by an earlier alchemist known as Mary the Jewess (who was also known as Mary the Prophetess…because apparently only men can be prophets, which is a whole nother thing I haven’t time to get into, along with that whole ‘Jewess’ business). One of those devices was a…okay, wait, I feel another tangent coming on. The early alchemical practices were known as the ‘hermetic arts’, for Hermes, the Greek god of science and art. One of the devices invented by our Mary — not the one I’m going to mention in a bit, but a different apparatus — was an airtight container. This is where the phrase ‘hermetically sealed’ comes from. Cool, huh? I now return you to the original digression.

Zosimos’ book credits Mary with inventing the alembic (although this is probably not so). What’s an alembic? It’s a sort of gourd-shaped container with a hollow half-ball thingum on top, from which a tube runs…well, hell, just look at the illustration below.

An alembic.

An alembic basically works like a moonshiner’s still. You put a liquid in the container, heat it until it creates steam or vapor, the steam rises into the upper ball where it cools by contact with the walls and condenses, the condensation then drips down the tube into another container. This is the process of distillation, and it works whether you’re trying to create alcohol or perfume or medicine.

That distilled liquid is the essence of the original liquid. If you take that essence, put it back into the alembic and distill it again — and do it a total of five times — you end up with a quintessence. A very pure form of the original liquid.

Right. Now apply that concept to political parties. In 1944, 38% of U.S. registered voters identified as Republican (41% were Democrats, 20% were Independents). As of July 11th of this year only 26% of voters identify as Republican. Although the numbers have fluctuated, there has been a steady decline in Republican numbers (as well as a more gradual decline in those identifying as Democrat (30%), with a corresponding increase in Independents (41%)).

We’re talking political distillation here. A slow process of separating out impurities. Both political parties have been distilled, though Democrats, who’ve historically been more tolerant of ideological impurity, remain considerably less pure. Both parties have boiled off Independents, though at radically different rates.

But here’s the thing: after the distillation process — after all the good stuff has been boiled away — there’s still stuff left in the bottom of the alembic. That, you guys, is the modern Republican party. After a few decades of boiling, Republicans are left with a residue of mostly older white Christian uber-nationalist racists. Among whom Comrade Trump is immensely popular.

Faust, with an alembic and your basic homunculus.

Oh, and back to our boy Zosimos of Panopolis for a moment. In his book, he includes a series of mystical dream/vision sequences (remember, we’re talking 3rd and 4th century Egypt here; they were hot for that dreamy-visiony stuff). In his dream, Zosimos meets “a priest of inner sanctuaries” who proceeds to chop Zosimos up. boils the bits, and from the steam he creates a creature that is “the opposite of himself.”

The idea of an alchemically-created homunculus is said to have influenced an alchemist named Johann Georg Faust, who was possibly the inspiration for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s drama of a man who made a pact with the devil. The notion also intrigued another alchemist named Johann Conrad Dippel, who was born in (and I swear I am NOT making this up) Castle Frankenstein in the village of Darmstein. Dippel was almost certainly the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s character Victor Frankenstein, who created the monster that…well, this could go on forever, couldn’t it.

The residue left at the bottom.

Anyway, it’s all down to alchemy, Zosimos, Mary the Jewess, Mary Shelley, and…and at this point I’ve totally lost track of my point. But that’s why Comrade Trump is so popular.

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civility

It all goes back to ancient Rome. It was the first real city of the Western world; it’s been a city for twenty-eight centuries. In the early days of Rome, its citizens were known as cives. To be a citizen of Rome was a big deal. A huge deal. An absolutely massive deal. Being a Roman citizen meant you had civitas — you belonged to collective body of all citizens, you were an integral part of the social contract that bound all cives together.

Being a citizen conferred both rights and responsibilities on a person, and one of those responsibilities was to be civil — to behave in public life in a manner befitting of a Roman citizen so as to maintain civic order. As the Roman empire stretched out across Europe, it spread the idea of civitas — a process by which other peoples in other lands were civilized. Important people in ‘client’ states could become civitas sine suffragio, citizens of Rome (lacking only the right to vote). It was said a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world without any fear of molestation, shielded by the words Civis Romanis — “I am a citizen of Rome.”

It was largely bullshit, of course. The Roman army was full of murderous bastards who engaged in all manner of appalling war crimes. Roman politicians were as greedy and corrupt as any. Those ‘client’ states undergoing ‘civilization’ all began as conquered nations. The glory of Rome came at the expense of subjugated people.

But the concept of civitas was, and still is, important. The concept helps make the world a better place — a place where people treated each other decently, with respect and courtesy, with civility. That’s a fine thing.

Today, a member of the Trump administration can’t walk the face of the known world without molestation; they can’t even order a meal in a decent restaurant without being harassed. A lot of folks today are decrying this lack of civility. They’re right to do so.

But they need to remember that civility — that civitas — is a social contract that begins at the top of the social food chain. Civitas confers rights on its citizens, but it also burdens them with certain social responsibilities.

This is really pretty simple. If you belong to a political administration that enforces cruel policies on its people, a political administration that routinely lies to the people about matters large and small, that protects and enriches the powerful at the expense of the weak, then you’ve violated the concept of civility and you aren’t worthy of its protection.

If Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants to be treated with civility, then she has a moral duty to treat others with civility. That’s the contract. Civility has to work both ways.

literally a moron

Yesterday Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, actually had to stand in front of a microphone to dispute the claim that he called Comrade Trump a moron in a meeting of White House national security officials and members of the cabinet. And he didn’t deny the remark.

He didn’t confirm the report, of course, but Tillerson danced around the issue, calling it ‘petty nonsense’ which means he probably did call the president a moron. And that’s okay with me, because the guy literally is a moron. I am NOT just calling him names.

Not an idiot, not an imbecile, but absolutely a moron.

Back in 1910 the American Association for the Study of the Feeble-minded (and if you find that name offensive, consider that it was originally called the Association of Medical Officers of American Institutions for Idiotic and Feeble-Minded Persons) released a report classifying developmentally disabled folks. This was actually a scientific advance, a result of the research the ASSFM (yeah, I know, not the best acronym, but hey…it was 1910, give them a break) conducted into “the causes, conditions, and statistics of idiocy, and the management, training, and education of idiots and feebleminded persons.” The idea behind it all was that classifying folks into categories would allow more focused treatment.

Here’s what they came up with:

The feeble-minded may be divided into: (1) Those who are totally arrested before the age of three so that they show the attainment of a two-year-old child or less; these are the idiots. (2) Those so retarded that they become permanently arrested between the ages of three and seven; these are imbeciles. (3) Those so retarded that they become arrested between the ages of seven and twelve; these were formerly called feeble-minded, the same term that is applied to the whole group. We are now proposing to call them morons, this word being the Greek for “fool.” The English word “fool” as formerly used describes exactly this grade of child–one who is deficient in judgment or sense.

So it would be inaccurate to call Comrade Trump an idiot. Or an imbecile. He’s more likely to be a moron. Of course, I can’t say with any high degree of accuracy that his intellectual development was arrested between the age of seven and twelve. But neither can I say with any certainty that he’s progressed beyond that.

Consider the fact that he has packed his cabinet with people who are either actively hostile to the agency they run or are manifestly incompetent to run it. That’s the act of a twelve-year-old boy going Nyah nyah nyah, you can’t stop me. Consider the fact that just this morning Comrade Trump sent this on Twitter:

Why Isn’t the Senate Intel Committee looking into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!

Tell me that’s not moronic. That’s a twelve-year-old boy shouting I’m rubber, you’re glue; it bounces off me and sticks to you! Consider the way Comrade Trump signs and executive order, then shows it to everybody like he expects them to stick it on the National Refrigerator along with his artwork. And consider this:

If you consider all that, it’s hard to escape the fact that right now These United States are being led by somebody who is ‘deficient in judgment or sense.’ It’s hard to escape the fact that this guy is a fucking moron.

my day so far

Woke up. Always a good start.

Checked the perimeter (by which I mean the cat and I stood for a minute or so looking out at the back yard). Light breeze, sunny. The breeze made a small greyish feather skitter across the deck. The cat watched it with a sort of philosophical detachment until it blew off the deck. The cat lost interest and wanted fed. The perimeter was secure. I fed the cat.

Poured myself a large cold brew coffee. During the summer months I drink nothing but cold brew in the morning. Summer is basically over; tomorrow I’ll run out of cold brew and will return to hot coffee. Read the news. Donated another small sum to the Houston flood relief, this time to Operation BBQ Relief — a group of caterers, restaurateurs, and competitive barbecue teams that respond to disasters and feed victims and responders.

Edited the stuff I wrote yesterday. I always begin a writing session by editing the previous day’s work.

The cat complained about the lack of attention. Gave the cat some Laxatone, allegedly tuna-flavored (though how the hell would I know?), to reduce the odds that she’ll hack up a hairball someplace where I’m bound to be walking barefooted.

Thought about that feather. Not a particularly interesting feather, but I’d enjoyed the way the breeze made it sort of wiggle-waggle across the deck. Wasn’t a major flight feather; Maybe one of those smaller feathers from the upper part of the wing. Googled ‘types of feathers’  Discovered the feather the cat and I observed was probably an upper wing covert feather, which I’m told overlay the secondary flight feathers and serve to smooth the airflow over the wings. Nice.

 

Wrote maybe two or three hundred words.

Thought about the term covert, so researched the etymology, which was about what you’d expect. It comes from the Old French covrir which meant ‘to cover, protect, or conceal’. Made me think of a television show, Covert Affair, of which I watched the first episode a million years ago — mainly because it starred an actor with the improbable name of Piper Peribo. I remembered her name from a brilliant Christopher Nolan movie called The Prestige, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember what role she played. In the first episode of the television series, she played a CIA trainee who spoke a couple dozen languages and so was made a field operative. It was pretty awful. I never watched another episode, but I still like the actor’s name. I’ve no idea if she’s done anything else.

The improbably-named Piper Perabo

Picked up the cat’s dish and clean out the leftover Laxatone. The cat has disappeared to wherever the cat disappears to.

Wrote maybe dozen paragraphs, mostly dialog. Dialog is easy. Doesn’t take long.

Still thinking about the feather. Figured there was probably a website somewhere that cataloged feathers. Googled ‘feather atlas’ and hey bingo, there’s actually a feather atlas. Told myself I would NOT get distracted by looking at bird feathers. Did NOT get distracted by bird feathers. Got distracted by this:

READ THIS FIRST: Feathers and the Law.

Feathers and the Law — four words I’d never expect to see together. Totally clicked on the link, which opens a window with a few other links and begins with this alarming warning.

Feathers are beautiful and remarkable objects.  If you find feathers in nature, appreciate, study, and photograph them, but leave them where you found them.  It is illegal to take them home.

No fucking way is that illegal. Is it? Yes, it is. Sorta kinda. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 makes it illegal to hunt, take, capture, kill, or sell migratory birds or any part of a bird, including feathers, eggs, and nests. Of the 900+ bird species in North America, more than 800 are considered migratory. We’re talking birds like crows and mourning doves and chickadees — and it’s actually illegal to take their feathers.

This feather (not the actual feather mentioned) is TOTALLY illegal. Probably.

Of course, in reality, the government is only really interested in protecting a few endangered species, but you can’t expect a wildlife enforcement officer to be able to distinguish between the covert feather of a barn swallow and the covert feather of a Gunnison sage grouse. So the law covers just about all the birds and puts the burden of proof on the poor sumbitch who picks up a feather to prove it’s NOT from one of these protected species.

Got a wee bit distracted by the feather atlas.

From the Feather Atlas

Got interrupted in my distraction by a phone call reminding me I have a doctor’s appointment on Friday.

I confirm that I’ll be there, but I’m not actually thinking about the appointment. I’m thinking that somewhere in that illegal feather business are the bones of a story. But it’s not the story I’m working on, so I close every goddamned window on my computer and bang out another hundred and fifty words or so.

The cat reappears and wants fed. It’s noon. I haven’t had breakfast yet.

Ate breakfast, caught up on the news, Melania Trump wearing stilettos while touring the flooded parts of Texas. Wrote this.

My day so far.

 

a roach in the spaghetti

Yeah, it’s not treason. This is treason: 18 U.S. Code § 2381 – Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Do you see the problem? Did Comrade Trump Jr. levy war against the U.S.? Nope. Did he adhere to any enemies? Nope. Adhere, in this context, basically means ‘join’. Did he give aid or comfort to the enemy? Nope, not really. Aid and comfort — that phrase doesn’t have any strict legal meaning, but in general it’s about giving (or even making an attempt to give) some sort of substantial assistance or material support. Trump the Lesser is a despicable creature, but he didn’t commit treason.

Nevertheless, you could make a solid argument that Comrade Trump Jr. is still a traitor. A traitor, after all, is just somebody who betrays their country. Colluding with Russia to influence the election makes him a traitor, even if he didn’t commit treason.

This oleaginous, French-cuffed fuckwit cannot be trusted.

I’ve heard some folks arguing that all Trump Jr. was doing was gathering opposition research. Balderdash (this is a wonderful word, by the way; it was originally an Elizabethan term for a jumbled mix of liquors — you know, like at a party when folks pour three kinds of wine, some beer, and half a bottle of gin into a bowl and call it ‘punch’ or something. When you drink balderdash, you speak balderdash).

Okay, I got distracted there. As I was saying, balderdash. I’ll even add an exclamation point here, because it’s warranted. Balderdash! Opposition research is a sleazy but common practice. What Comrade Trump the Lesser did was sleazy, but not at all common.

It’s important to remember that Putin wasn’t supporting Trump the Elder because he thought he’d be a good president. He wasn’t really supporting Trump at all. He was just fucking with the electoral system in order to destabilize the U.S. If Russia could cast doubt on the legitimacy of the electoral process, then that would weaken the authority of the next president, regardless of who got elected.

Let’s not forget, Russia didn’t just illegally obtain and distribute emails. They also invented and promoted false narratives. Like that Pizzagate bullshit. Like the bullshit about Hillary Clinton’s health, or her relationship with her aide. They flooded social media with bots that promoted bullshit stories. Putin-Russia deployed a LOT of different attacks. If one failed, there were a dozen others. None of them needed to succeed entirely in order for the plan to work. The combined effect was enough to cast doubt on the authenticity of the election.

I got a bowl of pasta for you, tremendous bowl, best ever, just for you. Don’t ask questions, just eat.

The lawyer with whom Comrade Trump the Lesser met — even if she was entirely innocent (which is exceedingly unlikely, but still possible) — is inextricably linked with the folks who DID do all that other stuff.

Right, time for an analogy. What do you do if you see a cockroach sitting in a bowl of spaghetti? Do you try to untangle the roach-touched noodles from the rest of the bowl? No. You chuck out the entire bowl of spaghetti.

That Russian lawyer is a noodle in a roach-tainted bowl of spaghetti. Trump Jr. knew the spaghetti was tainted. But he was willing — even eager — to serve it to the public.

led by a donkey

Okay, then. Let’s face it, when a Republican candidate can grab a reporter by the throat, throw him to the ground and punch him, and still get elected to Congress, it’s time for Republicans to officially change their name from the Republican Party to the Republican Horde. Or, if you prefer, the GOH — the Grand Old Horde.

It’s an appropriate term. horde. It comes from the Turkic and Mongolic term ordu, which originally referred to a nomadic encampment. Over time the term was applied to a roving patriarchal militaristic social system grounded in the concept of raiding for plunder. Raid other nations, raid other cities, raid other tribes, raid related tribes if necessary. Take what you can carry, burn the rest, move on. By the early 1600s, the term horde was used to describe any noisy, unruly, uncivilized gang.

Actual Mongol Horde

We have a president who has no political or religious ideology other than personal profit and self-aggrandizement. We have a president who doesn’t just lie, but whose lies are totally self-serving and are easily revealed as lies. He leads a Republican Horde intent on enriching themselves at the expense of others, with no long-term consideration for the future. Think of the Mongol Hordes, only instead of guys with long mustaches riding on ponies, drinking kumis and airag, and shooting at folks with little bows, it’s white guys in suits sneering at liberal snowflakes. Think of the Dothraki from the Game of Thrones, only instead of brawny, bare-chested warriors, it’s pasty white guys who brag about grabbing women by the pussy while denying them health care.

Republican Horde

Actually, I’m being unfair to Mongols (and probably to Dothraki). The Mongols may have been plunderers and pillagers, but they had some strict codes of behavior. For example, the Yasa forbade Mongols to eat anything in the presence of another without inviting that person to also partake in the food. It also forbade anybody from eating more than his comrades. It insisted any passing wayfarer who arrived during a meal should be allowed to join in the meal without asking permission. Of course, it also demanded that a hunter who let an animal escape during a hunt be beaten with sticks, and that anybody who urinated into a stream be put to death — which seems a wee bit harsh, but those things put the health and welfare of the community at risk.

Republican Horde

I’m inclined to think the folks who belong to the current Republican Horde wouldn’t hesitate to eat in front of the hungry. I think they’d casually deny wayfarers from joining a meal. I think they’d protect a member who let an animal escape during a hunt (so long as the Republican Elders had enough to eat) and they’d probably cheerfully piss in the river — not just because they don’t care who lives downstream, but because it would amuse them.

Republican Horde

There’s a saying often attributed to Genghis Khan:

An army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey.

He might have actually said that, I don’t know. I do know Chabrias, the Athenian general, said something very much like it some fifteen hundred years earlier. I wouldn’t put it past old Genghis to have stolen the line. I’ve no doubt modern Republicans would lift if without a moment of hesitation. It is a good line, after all; I might steal it myself some day. However, it doesn’t apply to the current Republican Horde.

They’ve become an army of donkeys led by another donkey.

astonishing

These last few days have been astonishing. Literally astonishing. Astonishing in the oldest sense of the term. You know — stunned, made senseless by the crash of thunder. From the French estoner and the Latin tonare — to thunder. Astonish.

Last week we learned the newly elected President of These United States, who is under investigation for colluding with the government of Russia to disrupt and interfere with the presidential election, held a private meeting with the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office. In any other administration, that alone would be astonishing. But that’s not the most astonishing thing. In that meeting, Comrade Trump told the Russians that he’d just fired the Director of the FBI, who was heading the investigation into the campaign collusion. And no, even that isn’t the most astonishing thing. The most astonishing thing is he told them he’d fired the FBI chief because of the investigation.

Think about that for a moment. The target of what is essentially a conspiracy investigation tells the people with whom he’s accused of conspiring that he fired the investigator because he was investigating the conspiracy. And the target is the President of These United States.

That is just fucking astonishing. You’d be justified in thinking Clan Trump had fulfilled its monthly quota of astonishing things. But no. Trump went to Saudi Arabia. And he took his daughter. The tall, smart one with the long neck. And she spoke about women’s economic empowerment to a group of fifteen Saudi women described as “leaders in society, businesswomen and elected government officials”. Prepare to be astonished. This is part of what she told them:

“In every country around the world women and girls continue to face unique systematic, institutional, cultural barriers, which hinder us from fully engaging in and achieving true parity of opportunity within our communities. Each of you know this to be true. And yet the stories of Saudi women, such as yourselves, catalysing change, inspire me to believe in the possibility of global women’s empowerment.”

Yeah. Those 15 Saudi women leaders? The ones who inspire Ivanka as catalysts of change? They can now vote in local elections. Local elections. Of course, they need their husband’s permission to vote. No, wait — that’s not fair. They don’t need their husband’s permission to vote; they only need their husband’s permission to travel to the voting site. Women in Saudi Arabia aren’t allowed to drive. As you almost certainly know, they can’t go anywhere outside the home unless they have the permission of a male family member — husband, father, brother, uncle, son (yes, that’s right — if no other male family member is available, a woman would have to get permission from her son). Oh, and they need to be accompanied by a male family member too. They also need a male family member’s permission to go to school. Or get a job. Or open a bank account.

The Saudis wore black, Ivanka wore powder blue.

And if they go out in public, those 15 women leaders have to abide by a strict dress code. At the very least, they have to wear a head scarf and a long cloak. But hey, they’re no longer required to cover their faces. Progress! Of course, most of the places these Saudi women can visit are gender segregated — public buildings, universities, parks, even amusement parks. If they go shopping, they’re generally not allowed to try on the clothes, because that would require getting undressed. In a private dressing room. In a gender-segregated shop. You can’t be too careful.

But hey, if they want to buy the clothes they can’t try on? They can use their own credit card! The one they received from the bank when they opened their account. Which they were allowed to open with the permission of their husband or father.

“Saudi Arabia’s progress, especially in recent years, is very encouraging but there’s still a lot of work to be done and freedoms and opportunities to continue to fight for.”

Oh, Ivanka. She’s so right. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s so very encouraging. And yes, there are so many opportunities to fight for. Ivanka knows an opportunity when she sees one.

Speaking of opportunities, did I mention that after Ivanka spoke about the encouraging progress made by Saudi women, she announced that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had contributed US$100 million to a women’s empowerment fund? Oh, and did I mention that the fund was spearheaded by Ivanka Trump?

After Ivanka’s speech on empowerment and the announcement of the $100,000,000 donation, the fifteen Saudi women leaders left through the separate women’s entrance and, with the permission of their husbands or fathers, were driven home, where they’re allowed to remove their cloaks and head scarves.

Astonishing, isn’t it.