Monday, May 30, 2022

Tales from the Old New Land - Tale 4 - More Interludes

 



Jews exist out of time. We are simultaneously and always ahead and behind the rest of the world. Consciously, we're always behind. Unconsciously, we're always ahead....


Think of 110 years ago... everybody in the Austo-Hungarian Empire wanted their own state for their own people - even the Austrians wanted to be German. ...Except the Jews. Only Jews wanted to be Austrians, living amid a multiethnic coalition with Austrians as the rulers and Jews, as usual, being the 'model minority' who manages the money. By the time of World War I, Jews were the only people in the world in whose interest it seemed for this loose baggy monster to go on forever. 


But were the Jews right? Of course they were! We're always right! 


Come on,... sure,... most Europeans live in democracies now (though we'll see for how long), but tell the near 100 million slaughtered Europeans that their deaths made the 20th century come out the other side better. Tell the 100 million in China. Tell the tens of millions of Africans and East Asians who lost their lives to Marxist dictatorships (and everybody seems to forget about them these days...) that their deaths were made worthwhile in the pursuit of a greater world. 


Democracy is great, democracy is essential, probably... but for fifty years of his seventy year reign, Emperor Franz Joseph guaranteed rights which no American minority still ever gets. Businesses and civil functions were conducted in the language of every minority. Hungary was literally allowed to be its own separate country with its own legal system based upon its own stare decisis traditions. The fiscal and economic policy of the empire had to be renegotiated between Austria and Hungary every ten years. The only imperial expansion in Austria was to its south, which for 300 years prevented untold dozens of civil wars. 


Obviously, there are all sorts of people who will read this and say that I have no idea what I'm talking about, that this opinion is long on conclusions with not a micro-cubit of supporting evidence. Ignore those readers during your book club discussions. They are obviously of character dubious and intellect blunted, while this writer... oh... by the way,.. this book is going to have a lot of arcane shit discussions in it. Buckle up to be fascinated! 


But in the meantime, while the Austro-Hungarian Empire's two-dozen nationalisms incubated everything from Hitler to Mussolini to Milosevic (remember him?); the one nationalism that continues to this day in a straight line without ambiguity is Zionism - formented in 1897 by Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl (who's kinda important to this book...). Zionism is 19th century nationalism transferred via the future to the only Austro-Hungarian people who abjured nationalism at the time. It continues to this day, a vestigial tail in the world's cultural history. The one utopian state which was actually founded in exactly the place it was supposed to be founded, and continued for an entire lifetime now, in a world epoch when all progressive thought forswore nationalism at the very moment of Israel's founding. 


This is the state of Jews in every time... making due with last year's fashions. Because that's what they always are: only fashions: Democracy, Empire, Dictatorship, War... these are all just phased facades. The world itself may be just a passing phase before we arrive at the gates of a truer world. Nobody knows why or how Jews are still alive - we should have been dead by 135 AD (and it's fucking AD, not CE...), but we are still here. We're still here because we've made due with situations nobody else wants. The entropy of evolutionary death has chased us for two thousand years (and arguably much longer), but we have survived. God knows, we didn't survive by fighting. We survived by making due, doing the best we can, and reconciling ourselves to the fact that while we introduced the world to the idea that humanity should aspire to a greater morality and a larger purpose, all those aspirations to greater morality will come at our expense. So therefore, Jews do the only thing they've ever been able to do. We just make do.



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 My Dearest Oldest Love,

Moses is dead. He was a full 120 and to the end, the vigor of a man one quarter his age. People say he was carried on a chariot to heaven, but he very well may have simply jumped off the cliffs of Moriah. For forty years, I saw him eat nothing, drink only water, sit in contemplation of the divine voice within him, and walk the tents of Israel at night at a speed even Joshua found exhausting. He ever spared me but a few words for every hour in his presence. And now he's made me his successor. 

Because Moses, the divine instrument, died in rebellion from his god. Moses told us that Yahweh would not permit him to enter the Promised Land because he struck a rock to obtain water which the rock only gave to us in droplets when a droughted nation needed a river. But that was just another of Moses's divinely clever misdirections, imparting to his people the lesson that God believes negotiated settlement is better than war. 

And yet Aaron told me, God spoke to Moses precisely the opposite. The only way forward into Israel is war: expulsion, extermination; cleansing the land and watering crops with blood. Moses wanted his people to leave Yahweh and pursue a more divine calling. 

No one doubted Moses's goodness during his lifetime, yet we all doubted it - every minute. We doubted his mental faculties, we doubted his administrative aptitude, we doubted his better angels, and even after all those miracles, we doubted his god. With every new miracle we doubted Moses and Him more, not less. So seldom did Moses emerge from his tent for us that many even wondered if Aaron, not Moses, was the true medium of God. Moses was always slow of speech, even in Egypt, and he just seemed to grow taller and stronger every year. Meanwhile, Aaron, who by the last twenty years could barely hold himself up by the shepherd's rod, was three years older than Moses, and not a single Israelite doubted his mental competence for a moment. 

And Yahweh knows, we had reason... there were whole years when Moses went unseen, and then he would emerge with a new draconian edict whose logic defied description and proscribed solutions to problems none of us had. Those of us who believed entirely in Yahweh worried that with every new rebellion, Yahweh would punish us, abandon us, scourge us with greater force than he scourged any Eygptian. Those of us who didn't believe rebelled still more. 

But for forty years, Moses was the simple fact of Israelite/Hebrew life. How many from either tribe are even alive from the Exodus besides Joshua and me? How did an octogenarian enact such miraculous feats? How could he enact them again and again unless this was the leader who spoke to Yahweh, the leader who spoke for Yahweh? And yet he was a barely visible prophet who communicated all through his older brother until a month before his dying day. 

Give or take his like, the world has not seen a leader like Moses in the thousand years since Theseus - at least if that "Dead Sea Scroll" is to be believed, they ruled through exactly that same mixture of vigor, patience, cunning, humility, and terror. They had the same immaculate eye for political theater, and that vision or inspiration for the future which we can only call divine. He survived forty years performing the most impossible feats within the most impossible job leading the most impossible people on earth. 

I have no divine voice in me. I certainly have no calling to holiness. I have only memories of you, dear Rahab, and I must call upon you again my dear, whom I have not seen in decades and with whom my stream of endless loving correspondence got slower and less urgent every year until seventeen years ago it ceased (and I must ramishly admit that I have counted every year, month, and day), to help me prevail upon the leaders and elders of Canaan's seven nations to give some kind of asylum to a desperate nation of immigrants in this fecund and not overpopulous land.

A land without people; land without people. You cannot understand the tower of privilege, that. As for me, birthed in the Nile banks where population is legion on every inch, and my people of the desert where all is barren, emigrating to a land where wheat and sorghum and corn ripple with the wind, there surely is no holier more bounteous place in all the earth. (You remember our promise of a land of milk and honey, fuck that, we need bread that rises!)

Of course, there are people here. So many... varied people. But so much land without settlement - surely there is space for all and a negotiated accord letting us dwell among Canaanites with a place among the nations. 

My dearest Rahab, you remember surely our valley of refuge with its clusters of fruit and mounds of wheat: our ascent alone to the top of Mount Hermon where Gilgamesh killed Humbaba and dwells the palace of Ba'al (and I still have multiple bones to pick with you about that my dear...), and whereupon this once youthful Caleb could devour entire the loot of the north with his eyes, while, unbidden and unpaid, you introduced me to all those things most Jewish women never do. 

Twelve of us were sent to Canaan, ten prognosticated we could not take it. The eleven others went to the Negev, that disgusting dump of sand and salt where fuckall grows and everything dries and dies. But you showed me what was really there: in the North, the Golan and the Galilee, the ancient ports of Acre and Jaffa that go back to the age of your gods (again, as I said at the time... what??), and especially, oh..., that river's west bank... where all is green and life. THAT is the chosen land, if there is any such thing... fat where the South is lean, weak where the South is strong, few where the South is many. 

Between me and you, my oldest and greatest love, I never understood why my people couldn't settle on the other side of Hermon. All things considered, it's been a relatively uneventful forty years and we're probably better off not crossing over to that fucking promised land... but I promised my leader I would settle Canaan. Even among those ample green valleys of Galilee and Jordan, surely there is some small strip the Israelites might call our own that feeds our people. We depend on this awful thing for our diets called manna, a sugary coriander wafer which Aaron constantly told us fell from the sky, but we smell it baking for a week every month and tribal leaders like me have to pretend for our followers that we believe him. There's a week every month when the priestly class disappears and suddenly the entire nation of Israel smells as bitter as burnt molasses. Meanwhile, Moses insisted we continually walk the Sinai Peninsula - back and forth, back and forth, but after our diet switched to manna every quartogenarian's feet would swell sometimes to twice their size. So I'm sure you understand now that I am not the same Caleb. I'm certain you can still turn heads a third our venerable age, but as a man I'm too old for love now. Isn't everyone over fifty? 

I still have my wife, Azubah, dutiful and loving in every way. I have ten concubines from my days of love - Israelite, Hebrew, Midianite and Edomite... and known many harlots besides, but there is only one woman whom ever I worshiped. But now, in the sterility of my dotage, premature only by Mosaic standards, I can offer only a dearest friendship to the woman who was to me most dear, and who can end her days as dreams every harlot, a concubine who rules beside a nation's leader, viceroy in all but name. For good or ill, you and your resourceful ways determined the fate of my people once upon a time - determine it again with me as the only one among us who knows this all too promised land, so that you may save us from our certain starvation.  

Remember the palm tree,

Caleb

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Dear Caleb,

Challenge Accepted :). But only if you come to Jericho right away. We'll talk on the roof deck... 

<3

Rahab 

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Dear Caleb,

Upon receiving this letter, you will have just met up with your dear Rahab for the first time in forty years. I wish I could capture your attention by deflating a much less joyous moment, but this is the only time when I could ever be positive of your whereabouts, and therefore must send you this letter so that I know you will understand what I propose. I have no way of knowing anything about the pronunciation of the Hebrews until I meet you, nor is there reliable information in my day about how other semitic languages of your era are spoken. I therefore have no guarantee of making myself understood in any manner but by writing. 

 I have learned Ancient Hebrew merely to write you. I realize this may be very difficult to believe, but among a people whose god appears to make all things possible, perhaps you would believe me when I write that I come from exactly 3300 years in the future. My name is Nikola Tesla. I am a practitioner of arts which you have only seen exist within your time in the most rudimentary state. My practice is technology and science, my craft is invention. That which you call magic is in fact the most basic form of science and technology, which is achieved only with a precision and tenacity that far exceeds that required to construct any building you've ever seen. At the moment which you read this, I am being summoned from the outskirts of Jericho so that I may make demonstrations to you of my inventions so that you may see that I am, in fact, who I say I am, and am not, in any sense, a god or spirit but a mere mortal such as yourself. 

After moving back and forth throughout a number of centuries in an invention you have no need to understand, I have dwelled in your time for roughly half a year amid what we now call the Judean Desert, and I have learned much which your sacred texts have not related. I have also learned of your great reputation throughout the Levant as both a man of letters and a man of peace. I had further assumed, from reading your sacred texts, that Joshua would be the new leader of the Israelites rather than you. A book is written about precisely your era called the Book of Joshua, and it is Joshua, not you, who is the leader of the Israelites, who leads the Hebrews to glory, conquers the whole of the Canaanite land. 

But Rahab shows me the letter you wrote that Moses designated you leader rather than Joshua. I have no reason to suspect that Joshua would lead any sort of insurrection against you: the sacred texts assure us even in my time that Caleb lived to a great old age in a blessed tenure of eldership upon the State of Israel's most prosperous region. However, all other Canaanites must fear Joshua with the most dreadful terror. 

The Book of Joshua relates that Joshua successfully pursued a war of extermination against all the Canaanite peoples, and from this moment onward in history, the great virtues of the Israelites are indivisible from the blood which spills by millions of gallons from this moment onward. Your people are about to become inflictors of great suffering, causes of suffering in billions of others, and yourselves the longest suffering people upon all the earth - slavery is a mere prelude to the vicissitudes of horror inflicted upon your descendants. Surely, you, a member of the now dwindling final generation of Israelite slaves, have all too great a knowledge of the oppression caused by violence and murder. It is particularly at this moment in history, when Jews stand upon the cusp of their historic homeland, that the entire history of all later generations may be rewritten from its inception. There is so much within the story of your people which offers comfort and consolation, surely the story of the future can be rewritten so that mankind may abide in a world of life rather than death. 

Therefore I propose as follows: I want to illuminate the whole world. Mankind in my day is not ready for the great and the good, but if we can begin the process of extending all the benefits of science in my era to your era, which formented the inception of ethics, we ought be able illuminate everything of the earth; all people fed, all endeavors fulfilled, all spirits raised, all barriers between people mere myths. The nation of Israel would truly become the light unto nations my world still needs them to be. 

I come to you in nothing but good will, faith, and peace, so that we may preserve the energy of human light. May the light that shines through the universe and through your god lead us to the better world this world has always been possible to be,

With the greatest anticipation for our meeting,

Nikola Tesla

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And what of Jews today? Goyim?


The rest of the USA will go entirely QAnon and Antifa before Jews stop clinging to the liberalism of the American Dream. America has already moved on to a world past the American Dream. Both sides of American discourse declare the American Dream dead and buried, but it would seem that my generation of Jewish overachievers are the only people in America still acting as though their success will be permanent. Why? 


Why else could it be? Because success happened late for Jews. Here as elsewhere, it always does. Jews are the bellweather of a society's health and age: an economic, social and cultural seizmograph. Once a godly mass of Jews makes it into a country's upper class, that's it; the door is slammed, the upper class is stratified, social mobility is over in every country, and the civilization is now in the second half of its lifetime, because it's bad enough to let people as filthy as Jews into the upper class, to let still dirtier people in is one humiliation for the smart set too far. 


We were, as all Jews are, late to the party; and my generation of American Jews is the true Baby Boomers of the Jewish world. We will cling to the idea that success and security is possible in America long after the entire world decides our dream is a nightmare. American Jews will cling to the 3 M's of McMansion, Mercedes, and Malachite long after everybody else perceives our conspicuous wealth as flaunting, and Jewish success will be seen as achieved on the backs of the rest of the country - a notion that, between you and me, you poor reader, is absolutely true, but only by accident. 


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Dear Joshua,

You told me not to go, not to trust Rahab, not to trust Tesla-ben-Nikola, and you were right. Not for the reasons you thought you were, but Reb Tesla and I are literally stuck in a tiny courtyard on Rahab's roof she claims known to no client but us, reached via a secret passageway whose directions only Rahab knows of herself, unable to leave because the Jericho royal guard knows that we're probably hiding somewhere in the house. Please be assured, her house is by an exponent the most sophisticated and secure structure in Jericho. 

The Emperor of Jericho, a superstitious and violent man named Shobach, would have no interest in capturing me, but he is convinced that Mr. Tesla is a hostile god, and that since I was seen in his presence (we were discussing how to properly make peace overtures to this great king...) the Israelites must ergo be hostile invaders. Reb Tesla's inventions are far more numerous, innovative, potentially both beneficial and destructive than we could possibly have foreseen. Should Reb Tesla and I make it out of this situation alive, we will explain whichever of these inventions survive the siege. The emperor became convinced of Mr. Tesla's diabolical character by hearing of a machine that could take pictures of our thoughts. 

Mr. Tesla did not intend to display such wonders to anyone but me, but the Jerichites, who are as expert at hunting as they are incompetent at building, were tracking his movements for six months. When he came to Rahab to meet with me, they were fully prepared to intercept us to ascertain the nature of the meeting. Reb Tesla was forced to show them a number of inventions; many of which neither they nor I understood. But we surely understood the divine power of how he harnessed lightning bolts to illuminate bulbous glass like a torch from hundreds of cubits away. We surely understood the utility of his ship that flies. We surely understood the power in his ability to make images of our inside bones on pieces of wooden papyrus. And had we not known the secret from when Reb Tesla hails, we would surely have been convinced he was divine when he literally took pictures of our thoughts as though he were an artist who draws them. 

Mr. Tesla tells me that he does all this by an undetectable force within all the light around us called 'electricity.' I cannot make tohu or vohu of his explanation, but so far as I can tell, he quite literally summons up the power of Yahweh from the air. These were sights as awesome as anything done by Moses to the Nile or the Red Sea. And like the Red Sea, we surely experienced a moment of transcendent dread when he harnessed the power of Yahweh into beams of light that cause death to every animal to which he aimed them with a mechanism not entirely unlike a bow-and-arrow he calls a 'gun.' This terrifying instrument of wrath was immediately confiscated. 

Mr. Tesla assures me that he has a childproof lock on his death beam is quite secure and unable to be deciphered by what he terms 'primitive men.' But I believe there is a chance, however unlikely, that they will decipher how to use it, in which case the entire nation of Israelites is endangered, along with all the peoples of Canaan and the entirety of the known world. It is quite possible that Yahweh himself would not be immune to the death beam's power. Even if there is a small fraction  (I'll explain what those are later...) of a chance the Jerichites will ascertain how to use the death beam, it is absolutely imperative that you come with an army to Jericho and conquer the city before they conquer us. 

Mr. Tesla fortunately has such a weapon which he has stored in an extremely secure location called Mount Zion, in almost the exact center of Canaan's west bank. It is a fairly large contraption that will require wheeling to Jericho by hand by seven strong men. This weapon is called an earthquake machine and it works by something called a remote. I now turn this letter over to Mr. Tesla.

Shibboleth,

Caleb


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Every time I begin this novel find myself with deep writers block after a few weeks as the mind wanders yet again to unvisited pastures, which are inevitably more interesting than cleaning the damn barn. I do not know what it is within me that bars completion of a thousand different plans, but this 'off-switch' is always there and always being used. It's shafted my future in a hundred thousand  ways, and I have to imagine such an off-switch exists among all the world's misfits in so many millions of places around the human body that it's impossible not to trip on them. I have to imagine I'm just one of billions whose life is dictated by our clumsiness around the off-switches. Just to get myself re-started on this project necessitated resuming another stalled project so that I could distract myself with this one.


This novel has been through twelve years of planning, six years of false starts, and is necessitated by twenty-two years of delusions, to which there surely has to be purpose - any at all. Were all my mental distress just suffering, only suffering, it would surely be reason sufficient to kill myself - but then again, I'd probably procrastinate that too for years and only do the deed finally at a moment I'm tempted to murder someone else.  


It is now a year and a half since I began this version, and every time I begin the novel is completely different from the one before; different perspectives, different timelines, different plots, even different forms - I've tried doing this work as an epistolary novel of letters, a narrative of digressions that never tells the actual story; a series of plays in podcast form, a non-fiction commentary, and, god help me, as a straightforward novel. But the eternal series of visions continues as it ever has, and this long, bombastic, and deeply self-important narrative finds yet no form to house it. 


So in case I never do find one, here's the basic plot: in case you haven't figured it out yet, it's about Jewish history. But.... it's the history as it.... didn't happen? Could have happened? Should have happened? May have happened? Did happen?  


It's Jewish history as exists in my head in thousands of visions so tactile as to seem of divine mandate, but may in fact be the coinage of a deeply sick brain. But if this brain is sick, is it possible that a deeply Jewish higher being formed it to be that way? And would that not mean that this brain is, in fact, well and healthy? How could a deeply sick brain have visions not only this vivid, but this coherent? A true schizophrenic would not be able to sift through the real and the semi-real in this way, but a truly healthy person would not experience these visions at all. 


So perhaps this writer is, in fact, a chosen prophet of god like Jeremiah or Ezekiel, or perhaps he's just a narcissist, but what he's not is unable to shake these visions which seem to have chosen a vessel which, he assures you dear reader, is entirely uncooperative to them and deeply tired of having them.  


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And yet these visions remain utterly incomplete.  They are just fragments, embedded like glass into brainy fibres where the brain itself fragments with episodes within thousands of historical events as vivid as the dining room tablecloth upon which I write. 


This book not about retelling Jewish history in the filter of a modern sensibility, it's not even 'about' anything except the writers' own madness. But if it can be said to be 'about', it's about finding the inner continuity between one era and the next as its writer attempts to find continuity within his own life; but just as Jewish history does, every hinge upon which Jews attain security collapses upon the weight of the burden as society after society is asked to accommodate the inconvenient and provocative notions which Jewish life introduces to every society, which leads to the same disasters that befall it in every century since the inception of the Jews. 


If this is hard to understand, don't worry, the writer isn't sure he knows what he's talking about either, and that is precisely as God wills it. 


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I will tell you exactly what your God is said to have told: Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war And the Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land:



Saturday, May 28, 2022

Manfred Honeck part ?????????

 One more Honeck. A number of people on here have seen or heard Honeck's Dvorak 8 and commented on how they hate it like anything - the same happened with the late Mark Beaulieu, briefly my closest musical friend.

I LOVE that performance. Along with Kubelik and Bruno Walter, it's my favorite Dvorak 8, and may edge them out.
So listen to this Tchaikovsky 5... a work that is the sight of world champion maestro parasiting. Compare Honeck in it to the grubby claws of everyone from Mengelberg to Bernstein to Furtwangler to Stokowski to Celibidache to recent Gergiev; Honeck's are downright mild.
It's still, without a doubt, a capital-I Interpretation, but unlike, say... all of those others, Honeck is not interjecting in any manner that grinds momentum to a halt mid-phrase. His one truly annoying habit is the subito-piano crescendo thing that virtually everybody else does (that habit needs to die a girsly death), but otherwise, who cares? Listen to the infinite and volcanic dynamic range from five pianos to five fortes. Listen to the infinite variety of string color and the way the orchestra blends with each other in lyric passages like a single instrument. Listen to the unbelievable presence of bass line. There has not been romantic musicmaking of this heart since Klaus Tennstedt.
Tchaikovsky 5 is not subtle music. In my opinion, it's easily the weakest of the 'big three' (Tchaikovsky agreed). Unlike the bold originality of 4 and 6, it's kind of a 'symphony by check box' that duly goes through all the motions of Beethovenian form. A lot of performances go in the other direction, follow the formal outline, make it subtler than the score calls for, and are just dull and/or cold. So if Honeck slows up more than usual on second subjects, why would it matter? If he exaggerates already specified retardandi, well... it's in keeping with the music's blatant spirit. If he speeds up for that weird Russian folk song quote in the finale, well... that's exactly what Tchaikovsky marks, and hardly anyone honors it.
Honeck/Pittsburgh is one of the work's great recordings. This Frankfurt performance is entirely in keeping with their spirit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_B02BZp-5Y

Friday, May 27, 2022

Underrated Classical Musicians: Manfred Honeck Part 23454563467

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lurl-klLJWo

I promise I'll get back to Martinu, but as I got home from band practice last night, the radio was playing the Pittsburgh Symphony broadcast of Haydn's Creation I drove to Pittsburgh to hear a few years ago. Haydn's Creation is one of my top 5 pieces of music in the world. It's pure joy, and I never expected I'd hear as great a performance of it in my lifetime as I heard Manfred Honeck conduct.
Honeck is controversial. He divides opinion as nearly no other conductor does in our time because his interventions are so obvious and radically different from anyone else's. I dislike a lot of musicians like that, I find them exploitative and cynical, trying to make a splash rather than make real music. I won't mention any names for the moment, but so many of them do it from a place of self-aggrandizement rather than knowledge and love.
Not Honeck, not Adam Fischer. These are musicians who know and love what they're doing, and when they change the scores, they do it not because they want to impose a concept, but because they want to illuminate things within the score that were already there. These are musicians who do the homework and whose individuality comes out of thousands of hours of study. I don't agree with how Adam Fischer interprets Mozart, but when you hear what he does, it's clear he's clearly studied every bar, noticed a hundred details of color and harmony we haven't, and wants to bring them out. Ditto Honeck's Beethoven, ditto a hundred things from Harnoncourt before them. This is real musicianship that has everything to do with engaging the score. You don't have to agree with the interpretation to find it enthralling. Music shouldn't just tell you everything you already know. If you want to keep discovering things within music, you have to open yourselves up to new possibilities, even as you retain your bullshit detector to protect against charlatanism.
It's a shame there isn't more Honeck/Pittsburgh on youtube, but there's plenty of Honeck guesting around Germany, especially lately. You simultaneously hear how radically different Honeck is, and how the difference is so needed if you're going to hear the 123452356456756785697th performance of the classics.
Honeck is often written off as a Carlos Kleiber wannabe. That is a terrible mistake. Even if his stick technique is based on Kleiber, his musicianship is altogether different. I think of him as a kind of Austrian John Barbirolli. The interpretation is outsize and self-conscious, the playing can be spotty, but the spirit is so outrageously huge and generous. This is upper-case Romantic, Dionysian musicmaking at its very best, in which interventionism is invariably done with an infinity of heart, sincerity, study, and knowledge.
There are only a very few absolute masters of trad repertoire the older generation over 60 (not counting the OLD old, like Dohnanyi and Zinman, or Blomstedt, who's only 34). Ivan Fischer is perhaps today's greatest, a man of pure music. Perhaps Franz Welser-Most too, but most of our documentation of him are from the early 90s when he wasn't much.... Fischer's older brother Adam, like Honeck, represents the best of the romantic, Dionysian tradition. While Semyon Bychkov represents the very best of the classical, Apollonian tradition. Otherwise, we have a lot of masters of 20th century rep, or masters of the Bach-era, but very few who continue the world of classical music at the height of its influence and gave the world what's sadly still its biggest reason to go to the concert hall.
Do not dismiss Honeck lightly. Having him around makes music better. There aren't many like him left, and if his ilk disappears, what in classical music will be left?

Underrated Classical Musicians: The Pittsburgh Symphony

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF70PhwPO6Y&fbclid=IwAR2Zh6OC3ntJKoazmYtOD4TGZh4LJ9s0E0Md6FK52BO3SWiQF54_09UEx-s

The Pittsburgh Symphony is America's greatest orchestra. Full stop. It's not Cleveland; great as they are, they're still a little bit too cold and 'respectable' for that title, and it hasn't been Boston since the 50s. The California orchestras are more exciting in both the repertoire they pick and the performances they give, and thank god for that, but it's not a differentiated enough model to make up the distance classical music has lost to make our music relevant again. And god knows, it's not New York, Philly or Chicago.
The 'great' modern orchestras make no mistakes, and that's the biggest mistake of all. With the Pittsburgh Symphony, at least under Honeck, you hear a wrong note, imprecise ensemble, or intonation problems every less than thirty seconds, and it doesn't matter at all because they are one of the few orchestras in the world who truly attempt communicating something with every bar. Who in their right mind would rather listen to Pollini than Schnabel or Kempff? It's the same with Pittsburgh vs. the modern Orchestras with a Capital O of every world metropole who play as though virtuosity and 'sound culture' is all that matters. That's the difference between listening to an orchestra like Pittsburgh and listening to an orchestra like... insert big name Orchestra here...
When I heard them do Bruckner 8 with Manfred Honeck conducting, it was like seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time. When I heard them with Mariss Jansons do The Firebird from the front row right behind 'the maestro,' it felt like being present the creation of the world itself. Hearing them do Haydn's Creation and Beethoven's Fidelio live left me with my jaw on the floor and my tear ducts empty. This orchestra is both louder and softer than any other in America, warmer and richer, more bass heavy and more flexible, and it's expression filled with the deepest humanity. It's like hearing a gigantic organ with an infinity of pipes and colors. I wish they did more new music, but I'd rather hear them in 'classic' rep than nearly any orchestra in Europe.
There is a gigantic treasure trove of Pittsburgh Symphony broadcasts waiting to be released of music never recorded in the studio by Steinberg, Honeck, Jansons, untold legendary guests, and other music directors less worth mentioning.
There are much more refined and sophisticated orchestral 'Nachts,' but no performance I've ever heard throws itself into it with this much passion, and yet there is no 'show' here, no calculation for effect: it's pure content, played from pure inner fire. The reason is partially because they had the greatest conductor of my lifetime igniting them (one of only two Jansons/Pittsburgh performances you can find on youtube, and Jansons was never better than he was in Pittsburgh), but he can't do it without an orchestra ready to work as no other orchestra does. Whether in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati, Nashville, Louisville, or Minneapolis, you have American orchestras of musicians who were not the stars of their conservatory 'studios', but because they weren't, they had something greater to prove, and they work like dogs in a way the stars who make to New York and Chicago rarely do. The reason is the horrible truth they know in their bones: that if they give anything less than their best, they will disband. They're cultural glories of America, glories well past the contemporary Boston Symphony or Philadelphia Orchestra, and every one of them is in danger.
Travel to their cities, hear the extraordinary things they do, because you may not be able to hear them for much longer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Conducting Ideal

What conductors, if any, get somewhere reasonably close to your orchestral ideal? Not necessarily best, not necessarily favorites, but the conductors who best represent the way you want music to sound? Personally, I want music that flows, glows, and breathes. I want a conductor without a capital c and an orchestra without a capital o. I don't need every detail to be exactly right, I almost don't like when details draw attention to themselves. I want to hear how everything connects to itself as a whole in the larger sweep of it all, as though part of a great river. I want lots of flexibility in the pulse, but only in certain moments. The crucial places to have that irregularity in the pulse is in the moments of structural flaws, which great composers often write deliberately - where the composition has too much sequential vamping, or unprepared modulations, or an awkward transition to a new subject, or when the music is impossible to articulate properly at the set tempo. I generally prefer tempi that are a little bit above average speed, but there are many times when slower-than-average tempi are more obviously preferable, and more often than not, tempi that dramatically differ from the norm rarely work particularly well, precisely because the orchestra won't have enough control to be flexible. I want beautiful sound, but never beauty for its own sake. I want risk-taking, but for the risks not to be too large and managed so that they pay off. I don't really care about the size of the orchestra, a great large orchestra is perfectly capable of sounding small, and a great chamber orchestra can sound large. I don't care about precision, I almost don't like it and past a certain point, I find it anti-musical. Much more important than hearing the precision of attack is hearing the overtones, which is where expressive stuff happens that most affects us, and that depends on a fully present and rich bass line and a cantabile sound (which does not mean constant beauty of tone or vibrato either). I want what I hear to sound as if each player feels empowered to express themselves like a soloist. I think it's crucial to have an enormous range of dynamics, but never to overdo the rhetoric either - something that can build enormous force when called for, but never sound 'forced.' Maybe it's the American in me, but I want classical music to sound like folk music or street music. I want it to feel as though the conductor is in dialogue with the orchestra, contributing his own ideas but also accepting other people's individual expression. I want a story that matches the expression to the need of the moment that feels as individually creative as improvisation, and simultaneously as though it could never be any other way.

So, amid all that descriptive bullshit, my ideal is Rafael Kubelik and Fritz Busch, with particular honorable mentions to Ferenc Fricsay and Pierre Monteux, and among contemporary conductors, Ivan Fischer and Markus Stenz. Other honorable mentions should probably include Bruno Walter, Paul Kletzki, Maurice Abravanel, and Karel Sejna.

Sometimes I think the ideal is much more classical, and would cite as the ideal an Apollonian glow with much more elegant proportions and steady inevitability pacing. Other times I'd envision the ideal as a Dionysian romanticism with outsize dynamics and tempo changes as the ideal, that sucks the listener into the undertow of its storm and stress. So obviously, the way I mentioned is not the only way to greatness, but this is the way to musical greatness that generally exists when I hear the music in my own head.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Tales from the Old New Land - Tale 4 - First 4 1/2 Letters + interludes

 


Jews exist out of time. We are simultaneously and always ahead and behind the rest of the world. Consciously, we're always behind. Unconsciously, we're always ahead....


Think of 110 years ago... everybody in the Austo-Hungarian Empire wanted their own state for their own people - even the Austrians wanted to be German. ...Except the Jews. Only Jews wanted to be Austrians, living amid a multiethnic coalition with Austrians as the rulers and Jews, as usual, being the 'model minority' who manages the money. By the time of World War I, Jews were the only people in the world in whose interest it seemed for this loose baggy monster to go on forever. 


But were the Jews right? Of course they were! We're always right! 


Come on,... sure,... most Europeans live in democracies now (though we'll see for how long), but tell the near 100 million slaughtered Europeans that their deaths made the 20th century come out the other side better. Tell the 100 million in China. Tell the tens of millions of Africans and East Asians who lost their lives to Marxist dictatorships (and everybody seems to forget about them these days...) that their deaths were made worthwhile in the pursuit of a greater world. 


Democracy is great, democracy is essential, probably... but for fifty years of his seventy year reign, Emperor Franz Joseph guaranteed rights which no American minority still ever gets. Businesses and civil functions were conducted in the language of every minority. Hungary was literally allowed to be its own separate country with its own legal system based upon its own stare decisis traditions. The fiscal and economic policy of the empire had to be renegotiated between Austria and Hungary every ten years. The only imperial expansion in Austria was to its south, which for 300 years prevented untold dozens of civil wars. 


Obviously, there are all sorts of people who will read this and say that I have no idea what I'm talking about, that this opinion is long on conclusions with not a micro-cubit of supporting evidence. Ignore those readers during your book club discussions. They are obviously of character dubious and intellect blunted, while this writer... oh... by the way,.. this book is going to have a lot of arcane shit discussions in it. Buckle up to be fascinated! 


But in the meantime, while the Austro-Hungarian Empire's two-dozen nationalisms incubated everything from Hitler to Mussolini to Milosevic (remember him?); the one nationalism that continues to this day in a straight line without ambiguity is Zionism - formented in 1897 by Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl (who's kinda important to this book...). Zionism is 19th century nationalism transferred via the future to the only Austro-Hungarian people who abjured nationalism at the time. It continues to this day, a vestigial tail in the world's cultural history. The one utopian state which was actually founded in exactly the place it was supposed to be founded, and continued for an entire lifetime now, in a world epoch when all progressive thought forswore nationalism at the very moment of Israel's founding. 


This is the state of Jews in every time... making due with last year's fashions. Because that's what they always are: only fashions: Democracy, Empire, Dictatorship, War... these are all just phased facades. The world itself may be just a passing phase before we arrive at the gates of a truer world. Nobody knows why or how Jews are still alive - we should have been dead by 135 AD (and it's fucking AD, not CE...), but we are still here. We're still here because we've made due with situations nobody else wants. The entropy of evolutionary death has chased us for two thousand years (and arguably much longer), but we have survived. God knows, we didn't survive by fighting. We survived by making do, doing the best we can, and reconciling ourselves to the fact that while we introduced the world to the idea that humanity should aspire to a greater morality and a larger purpose, all those aspirations to greater morality will come at our expense. So therefore, Jews do the only thing they've ever been able to do. We just make do.



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 My Dearest Oldest Love,

Moses is dead. He was a full 120 and to the end, the vigor of a man one quarter his age. People say he was carried on a chariot to heaven, but he very well may have simply jumped off the cliffs of Moriah. For forty years, I saw him eat nothing, drink only water, sit in contemplation of the divine voice within him, and walk the tents of Israel at night at a speed even Joshua found exhausting. He ever spared me but a few words for every hour in his presence. And now he's made me his successor. 

Because Moses, the divine instrument, died in rebellion from his god. Moses told us that Yahweh would not permit him to enter the Promised Land because he struck a rock to obtain water which the rock only gave to us in droplets when a droughted nation needed a river. But that was just another of Moses's divinely clever misdirections, imparting to his people the lesson that God believes negotiated settlement is better than war. 

And yet Aaron told me, God spoke to Moses precisely the opposite. The only way forward into Israel is war: expulsion, extermination; cleansing the land and watering crops with blood. Moses wanted his people to leave Yahweh and pursue a more divine calling. 

No one doubted Moses's goodness during his lifetime, yet we all doubted it - every minute. We doubted his mental faculties, we doubted his administrative aptitude, we doubted his better angels, and even after all those miracles, we doubted his god. With every new miracle we doubted Moses and Him more, not less. So seldom did Moses emerge from his tent for us that many even wondered if Aaron, not Moses, was the true medium of God. Moses was always slow of speech, even in Egypt, and he just seemed to grow taller and stronger every year. Meanwhile, Aaron, who by the last twenty years could barely hold himself up by the shepherd's rod, was three years older than Moses, and not a single Israelite doubted his mental competence for a moment. 

And Yahweh knows, we had reason... there were whole years when Moses went unseen, and then he would emerge with a new draconian edict whose logic defied description and proscribed solutions to problems none of us had. Those of us who believed entirely in Yahweh worried that with every new rebellion, Yahweh would punish us, abandon us, scourge us with greater force than he scourged any Eygptian. Those of us who didn't believe rebelled still more. 

But for forty years, Moses was the simple fact of Israelite/Hebrew life. How many from either tribe are even alive from the Exodus besides Joshua and me? How did an octogenarian enact such miraculous feats? How could he enact them again and again unless this was the leader who spoke to Yahweh, the leader who spoke for Yahweh? And yet he was a barely visible prophet who communicated all through his older brother until a month before his dying day. 

Give or take his like, the world has not seen a leader like Moses in the thousand years since Theseus - at least if that "Dead Sea Scroll" is to be believed, they ruled through exactly that same mixture of vigor, patience, cunning, humility, and terror. They had the same immaculate eye for political theater, and that vision or inspiration for the future which we can only call divine. He survived forty years performing the most impossible feats within the most impossible job leading the most impossible people on earth. 

I have no divine voice in me. I certainly have no calling to holiness. I have only memories of you, dear Rahab, and I must call upon you again my dear, whom I have not seen in decades and with whom my stream of endless loving correspondence got slower and less urgent every year until seventeen years ago it ceased (and I must ramishly admit that I have counted every year, month, and day), to help me prevail upon the leaders and elders of Canaan's seven nations to give some kind of asylum to a desperate nation of immigrants in this fecund and not overpopulous land.

A land without people; land without people. You cannot understand the tower of privilege, that. As for me, birthed in the Nile banks where population is legion on every inch, and my people of the desert where all is barren, emigrating to a land where wheat and sorghum and corn ripple with the wind, there surely is no holier more bounteous place in all the earth. (You remember our promise of a land of milk and honey, fuck that, we need bread that rises!)

Of course, there are people here. So many... varied people. But so much land without settlement - surely there is space for all and a negotiated accord letting us dwell among Canaanites with a place among the nations. 

My dearest Rahab, you remember surely our valley of refuge with its clusters of fruit and mounds of wheat: our ascent alone to the top of Mount Hermon where Gilgamesh killed Humbaba and dwells the palace of Ba'al (and I still have multiple bones to pick with you about that my dear...), and whereupon this once youthful Caleb could devour entire the loot of the north with his eyes, while, unbidden and unpaid, you introduced me to all those things most Jewish women never do. 

Twelve of us were sent to Canaan, ten prognosticated we could not take it. The eleven others went to the Negev, that disgusting dump of sand and salt where fuckall grows and everything dries and dies. But you showed me what was really there: in the North, the Golan and the Galilee, the ancient ports of Acre and Jaffa that go back to the age of your gods (again, as I said at the time... what??), and especially, oh..., that river's west bank... where all is green and life. THAT is the chosen land, if there is any such thing... fat where the South is lean, weak where the South is strong, few where the South is many. 

Between me and you, my oldest and greatest love, I never understood why my people couldn't settle on the other side of Hermon. All things considered, it's been a relatively uneventful forty years and we're probably better off not crossing over to that fucking promised land... but I promised my leader I would settle Canaan. Even among those ample green valleys of Galilee and Jordan, surely there is some small strip the Israelites might call our own that feeds our people. We depend on this awful thing for our diets called manna, a sugary coriander wafer which Aaron constantly told us fell from the sky, but we smell it baking for a week every month and tribal leaders like me have to pretend for our followers that we believe him. There's a week every month when the priestly class disappears and suddenly the entire nation of Israel smells as bitter as burnt molasses. Meanwhile, Moses insisted we continually walk the Sinai Peninsula - back and forth, back and forth, but after our diet switched to manna every quartogenarian's feet would swell sometimes to twice their size. So I'm sure you understand now that I am not the same Caleb. I'm certain you can still turn heads a third our venerable age, but as a man I'm too old for love now. Isn't everyone over fifty? 

I still have my wife, Azubah, dutiful and loving in every way. I have ten concubines from my days of love - Israelite, Hebrew, Midianite and Edomite... and known many harlots besides, but there is only one woman whom ever I worshiped. But now, in the sterility of my dotage, premature only by Mosaic standards, I can offer only a dearest friendship to the woman who was to me most dear, and who can end her days as dreams every harlot, a concubine who rules beside a nation's leader, viceroy in all but name. For good or ill, you and your resourceful ways determined the fate of my people once upon a time - determine it again with me as the only one among us who knows this all too promised land, so that you may save us from our certain starvation.  

Remember the palm tree,

Caleb

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Dear Caleb,

Challenge Accepted :). But only if you come to Jericho right away. We'll talk on the roof deck... 

<3

Rahab 

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Dear Caleb,

Upon receiving this letter, you will have just met up with your dear Rahab for the first time in forty years. I wish I could capture your attention by deflating a much less joyous moment, but this is the only time when I could ever be positive of your whereabouts, and therefore must send you this letter so that I know you will understand what I propose. I have no way of knowing anything about the pronunciation of the Hebrews until I meet you, nor is there reliable information in my day about how other semitic languages of your era are spoken. I therefore have no guarantee of making myself understood in any manner but by writing. 

 I have learned Ancient Hebrew merely to write you. I realize this may be very difficult to believe, but among a people whose god appears to make all things possible, perhaps you would believe me when I write that I come from exactly 3300 years in the future. My name is Nikola Tesla. I am a practitioner of arts which you have only seen exist within your time in the most rudimentary state. My practice is technology and science, my craft is invention. That which you call magic is in fact the most basic form of science and technology, which is achieved only with a precision and tenacity that far exceeds that required to construct any building you've ever seen. At the moment which you read this, I am being summoned from the outskirts of Jericho so that I may make demonstrations to you of my inventions so that you may see that I am, in fact, who I say I am, and am not, in any sense, a god or spirit but a mere mortal of flesh as yourself. 

After moving back and forth throughout a number of centuries in an invention you have no need to understand, I have dwelled in your time for roughly half a year amid what we now call the Judean Desert, and I have learned much which your sacred texts have not related. I have also learned of your great reputation throughout the Levant as both a man of letters and a man of peace. I had further assumed, from reading your sacred texts, that Joshua would be the new leader of the Israelites rather than you. A book is written about precisely your era called the Book of Joshua, and it is Joshua, not you, who is the leader of the Israelites, who leads the Hebrews to glory, conquers the whole of the Canaanite land. 

But Rahab shows me the letter you wrote that Moses designated you leader rather than Joshua. I have no reason to suspect that Joshua would lead any sort of insurrection against you: the sacred texts assure us even in my time that Caleb lived to a great old age in a blessed tenure of eldership upon the State of Israel's most prosperous region. However, all other Canaanites must fear Joshua with the most dreadful terror. 

The Book of Joshua relates that Joshua successfully pursued a war of extermination against all the Canaanite peoples, and from this moment onward in history, the great virtues of the Israelites are indivisible from the blood which spills by millions of gallons from this moment onward. Your people are about to become inflictors of great suffering, causes of suffering in billions of others, and yourselves the longest suffering people upon all the earth - slavery is a mere prelude to the vicissitudes of horror inflicted upon your descendants. Surely, you, a member of the now dwindling final generation of Israelite slaves, have all too great a knowledge of the oppression caused by violence and murder. It is particularly at this moment in history, when Jews stand upon the cusp of their historic homeland, that the entire history of all later generations may be rewritten from its inception. There is so much within the story of your people which offers comfort and consolation, surely the story of the future can be rewritten so that mankind may abide in a world of life rather than death. 

Therefore I propose as follows: I want to illuminate the whole world. Mankind in my day is not ready for the great and the good, but if we can begin the process of extending all the benefits of science in my era to your era, which formented the inception of ethics, we ought be able illuminate everything of the earth; all people fed, all endeavors fulfilled, all spirits raised, all barriers between people mere myths. The nation of Israel would truly become the light unto nations my world still needs them to be. 

I come to you in nothing but good will, faith, and peace, so that we may preserve the energy of human light. May the light that shines through the universe and through your god lead us to the better world this world has always been possible to be,

With the greatest anticipation for our meeting,

Nikola Tesla

-----------------------


And what of Jews today? Goyim?


The rest of the USA will go entirely QAnon and Antifa before Jews stop clinging to the liberalism of the American Dream. America has already moved on to a world past the American Dream. Both sides of American discourse declare the American Dream dead and buried, but it would seem that my generation of Jewish overachievers are the only people in America still acting as though their success will be permanent. Why? 


Why else could it be? Because success happened late for Jews. Here as elsewhere, it always does. Jews are the bellweather of a society's health and age: an economic, social and cultural seizmograph. Once a godly mass of Jews makes it into a country's upper class, that's it; the door is slammed, the upper class is stratified, social mobility is over in every country, and the civilization is now in the second half of its lifetime, because it's bad enough to let people as filthy as Jews into the upper class, to let still dirtier people in is one humiliation for the smart set too far. 


We were, as all Jews are, late to the party; and my generation of American Jews is the true Baby Boomers of the Jewish world. We will cling to the idea that success and security is possible in America long after the entire world decides our dream is a nightmare. American Jews will cling to the 3 M's of McMansion, Mercedes, and Malachite long after everybody else perceives our conspicuous wealth as flaunting, and Jewish success will be seen as achieved on the backs of the rest of the country - a notion that, between you and me, you poor reader, is absolutely true, but only by accident. 


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Dear Joshua,


You told me not to go, not to trust Rahab, not to trust Tesla-ben-Nikola, and you were right. Not for the reasons you thought you were, but Reb Tesla and I are literally stuck in a tiny courtyard on Rahab's roof she claims known to no client but us, reached via a secret passageway whose directions only Rahab knows of herself, unable to leave because the Jericho royal guard knows that we're probably hiding somewhere in the house. Please be assured, her house is by an exponent the most sophisticated and secure structure in Jericho. 


The Emperor of Jericho, a superstitious and violent man named Shobach, would have no interest in capturing me, but he is convinced that Mr. Tesla is a hostile god, and that since I was seen in his presence (we were discussing how to properly make peace overtures to this great king...) the Israelites must ergo be hostile invaders. Reb Tesla's inventions are far more numerous, innovative, potentially beneficial and potentially destructive than we could possibly have foreseen. Should Reb Tesla and I make it out of this situation alive, we will explain whichever of them survive this siege. The emperor became convinced of Mr. Tesla's diabolical character by hearing of a machine that could take pictures of our thoughts. 


Mr. Tesla did not intend to display such wonders to anyone but me, but the Jerichites, who are as expert at hunting as they are incompetent at building, were tracking his movements for six months. When he came to Rahab to meet with me, they were fully prepared to intercept us to ascertain the nature of the meeting. Reb Tesla was forced to show them a number of inventions; many of which neither they nor I understood. But we surely understood the divine power of how he harnessed lightning bolts to illuminate bulbous glass like a torch from hundreds of cubits away. We surely understood the utility of his ship that flies. We surely understood the power in his ability to make images of our inside bones on pieces of wooden papyrus. And had we not known the secret from when Reb Tesla hails, we would surely have been convinced he was divine when he literally took pictures of our thoughts as though he were an artists who draws them. 


Mr. Tesla tells me that he does all this by an undetectable force within all the light around us called 'electricity.' I cannot make tohu or vohu of his explanation, but so far as I can tell, he quite literally summons up the power of Yahweh from the air. These were sights as awesome as anything done by Moses to the Nile or the Red Sea. And like the Red Sea, we surely experienced a moment of transcendent dread when he harnessed the power of Yahweh into beams of light that cause death to every animal to which he aimed them with a mechanism not entirely unlike a bow-and-arrow he calls a 'gun.' This terrifying instrument of wrath was immediately confiscated. 


Mr. Tesla assures me that he has a childproof lock on his death beam is quite secure and unable to be deciphered by what he terms 'primitive men.' But I believe there is a chance, however unlikely, that they will decipher how to use it, in which case the entire nation of Israelites is endangered, along with all the peoples of Canaan and the entirety of the known world. It is quite possible that Yahweh himself would not be immune to the death beam's power. Even if there is a small fraction  (I'll explain what those are later...) of a chance the Jerichites will ascertain how to use the death beam, it is absolutely imperative that you come with an army to Jericho and conquer the city before they conquer us. 


Mr. Tesla fortunately has such a weapon which he has stored in an extremely secure location called Mount Zion, in almost the exact center of Canaan's west bank. It is a fairly large contraption that will require wheeling to Jericho by hand by seven strong men. This weapon is called an earthquake machine and it works by something called a remote. I now turn the remainder of this letter over to Mr. Tesla.


Shibboleth,


Caleb-ben-Jephunneh



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 Our religion is designed to move as slowly as possible; because the point in Judaism is ultimately not the practice of the religion itself but the debate as to what the religion is - the weighing out of every practical consideration bit by bit until we figure out the best course of action. Hinduism is the only other religion that seems to exist on this near-eternal timescale that can't possibly be measured in a lifetime. Christianity finds an elegant way around it by saying that everything in this world is just a foretaste of eternity, so if we don't get it right in this world... not the biggest deal. In Judaism, what matters is here, not the next world, but 'here' is a very different concept than in secular life, because what should be done to increase quality of life is not measurable in any conception of 'now.' The conception of 'now' is hundreds of years long as every problem is studied in the context of every other problem, and therefore, our individuality means a little less than it does in Christianity, and that's not entirely to our credit...



It's not that our individual problems don't matter in Judaism, it's that our concerns are but one small axle in our History's possibly eternal unfolding, to which each of us writes our own chapter in the story, and the individuality of each of our personalities is only strengthened by the tensions that exist in our interactions with both each other and with the larger world - tensions that are usually burdensome, because burdensome they're supposed to be. 


Many Jews try desperately hard to leave the covenant behind. What sane person wouldn't if they could? Being Jewish in the best of times is an infinite recursion of annoyances, and at the worst of times.... But for so many, the attempt to leave Judaism behind has been to place an unfathomably enormous psychic toll, either upon themselves, or the families they left behind, or on the directionless children who grow up with insufficient sense of who they are. So we are, for better or worse, utterly glued to this religion, and by modern standards we're emotionally blackmailed to stay in; any fulfillment in our lives might be dependent on finding any place within it at all. 


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Dear Joshua,

It is truly an intimidating honor for you to read my words as I read stories of you for so long as billions of others have. I wish I could say I found my knowledge of your deeds more to my taste, but such are the value judgments one assigns inappropriately from one era to the eras before. I have learned that my judgments of you are more inappropriate than ever, as, while I believe that you are in danger nowhere near as grave as Caleb does, I am nevertheless in dire need of your assistance. 

As Caleb tells me you've been notified, I have traveled back in time in an effort to persuade you and the Israelites that such a genocidal course of action is completely without necessity. I come in peace to offer you all the potential for a peaceable existence for you, your children, and all their descendent progeny. I offer you vastly improved quality of life, and a greater proof of the existence of a universal spiritual world-creative force than Yahweh ever could.  

The Joshua of history, of whom all generations after you will hear so much, is designated leader of Israelites by Yahweh after Moses, and is one of the most successful generals in the history of the world - and also one of the most murderous. Between now and the end of your life, you will have cleansed Canaan of all its seven nations, and embark the world upon millennia-long holy war - a world which is much larger than you even know and for which every corner will be implicated. 

You do not, Joshua son of Nun, bear fault for this bleak future, but you do not realize you exist at an historical fulcrum. Alone among all people within history, you have the power to turn the world to the other side for which Moses, Aaron, and Miriam fought so assiduously and so long. Moses has so recently given the world a divine law from which all mankind may learn lessons of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and even unto my day, these lessons exist as virtues more honored in the breach than the observance. Even 3300 years from now, the life of most men is one of continual fear and danger: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. 




Saturday, May 21, 2022

Musical Purpose

I'd like to write a book one day about music that is not unlike 'The Great Tradition' by F R Leavis (which is about Brit Lit). It would be about the aim and purpose of music. Leavis is much too dogmatic, but when he leaves his snapflash judgements aside, he is right about many, many things. Music is not just itself, and if it's used as just itself, it's a pursuit that will only sap people's quality of life rather than help it. Music, art itself, has a moral purpose. The purpose is not instructional, but at its best, it's about morale. Even at its darkest and most pessimistic, the world of music and art is about showing people in their darkest hours why life is not worth giving up on, and fostering connections between humans who otherwise would be isolated. We use music to express those things that foster connection. A lot of people say that music can't express specific things and is 'not about anything....'
Stone them. Charge them with war crimes in show trials and kangaroo courts. Make sure their atrocities appear in every major newspaper in the world every day, put their trials on television, and make sure they're kept in glass cages while they're tried like Adolph Eichmann so that no one assassinates them before they're executed on television.
(note to facebook algorithms, I'm being ironic.)
The purpose of music is to express the world of the soul, and whether the soul exists, the world of the soul very much does. There is a truer world out there of deeper meaning. Music is our only reliable evidence that this world of greater meaning exists, and this greater world of photons, air and light exists everywhere on earth. Every moment has the potential to glow in a space of spiritual purpose, meaning, and blessings. Life flows onward, event by event, instant by instant into the broader flow of time and memory.
I find it impossible not to hear all that when I hear the music of Monteverdi, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Faure, Janacek, Mahler, Nielsen, Vaughan Williams, Ives, Cowell Gershwin, Weill, (yes, they all belong), Bartok, Shostakovich, Kurtag, Berio, Schnittke, when I hear the conducting of Walter, Monteux, Busch, Fricsay, Kubelik, Harnoncourt, I. Fischer, Stenz, or when I hear the pianism of Firkusny, Solomon, Lili Kraus, Moisewitsch, Schnabel, Cherkassky, Curzon, Stephen Hough, Helene Grimaud, or when I hear the violinism of Kreisler, Enescu, Thibaud, Gitlis, Huberman, Janine Jansen, Rachel Barton Pine,... when I hear a whole gaggle of opera singers (amid so many terrible ones...), or the songs of Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, John Prine, Jacques Brel, The Beatles, I, personally, feel connected to something very near us that is clearly not material we can perceive, and I wouldn't believe anyone who says that's not what everybody else feels too.

Meaning, stenographing the many seasons of life, is simply what they do. What they provide is a multi-dimensional mixture which can be understood differently upon every new acquaintance - the glow of space and the flow of time, optimism and pessimism, sophistication and naivete, high sublimity and street vulgarity, street noise and the sounds of nature, sincerity and irony, distant worlds and immediate conditions, time fast and time slow, space great and space narrow, past and future in a present that is more than what we know. 

Tales from the Old New Land - Tale 4 - First 4 Letters + more

 


Jews exist out of time. We are simultaneously and always ahead and behind the rest of the world. Consciously, we're always behind. Unconsciously, we're always ahead....


Think of 110 years ago... everybody in the Austo-Hungarian Empire wanted their own state for their own people - even the Austrians wanted to be German. ...Except the Jews. Only Jews wanted to be Austrians, living amid a multiethnic coalition with Austrians as the rulers and Jews, as usual, being the 'model minority' who manages the money. By the time of World War I, Jews were the only people in the world in whose interest it seemed for this loose baggy monster to go on forever. 


But were the Jews right? Of course they were! We're always right! 


Come on,... sure,... most Europeans live in democracies now (though we'll see for how long), but tell the near 100 million slaughtered Europeans that their deaths made the 20th century come out the other side better. Tell the 100 million in China. Tell the tens of millions of Africans and East Asians who lost their lives to Marxist dictatorships (and everybody seems to forget about them these days...) that their deaths were made worthwhile in the pursuit of a greater world. 


Democracy is great, democracy is essential, probably... but for fifty years of his seventy year reign, Emperor Franz Joseph guaranteed rights which no American minority still ever gets. Businesses and civil functions were conducted in the language of every minority. Hungary was literally allowed to be its own separate country with its own legal system based upon its own stare decisis traditions. The fiscal and economic policy of the empire had to be renegotiated between Austria and Hungary every ten years. The only imperial expansion in Austria was to its south, which for 300 years prevented untold dozens of civil wars. 


Obviously, there are all sorts of people who will read this and say that I have no idea what I'm talking about, that this opinion is long on conclusions with not a micro-cubit of supporting evidence. Ignore those readers during your book club discussions. They are obviously of character dubious and intellect blunted, while this writer... oh... by the way,.. this book is going to have a lot of arcane shit discussions in it. Buckle up to be fascinated! 


But in the meantime, while the Austro-Hungarian Empire's two-dozen nationalisms incubated everything from Hitler to Mussolini to Milosevic (remember him?); the one nationalism that continues to this day in a straight line without ambiguity is Zionism - formented in 1897 by Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl (who's kinda important to this book...). Zionism is 19th century nationalism transferred via the future to the only Austro-Hungarian people who abjured nationalism at the time. It continues to this day, a vestigial tail in the world's cultural history. The one utopian state which was actually founded in exactly the place it was supposed to be founded, and continued for an entire lifetime now, in a world epoch when all progressive thought forswore nationalism at the very moment of Israel's founding. 


This is the state of Jews in every time... making due with last year's fashions. Because that's what they always are: only fashions: Democracy, Empire, Dictatorship, War... these are all just phased facades. The world itself may be just a passing phase before we arrive at the gates of a truer world. Nobody knows why or how Jews are still alive - we should have been dead by 135 AD (and it's fucking AD, not CE...), but we are still here. We're still here because we've made due with situations nobody else wants. The entropy of evolutionary death has chased us for two thousand years (and arguably much longer), but we have survived. God knows, we didn't survive by fighting. We survived by making due, doing the best we can, and reconciling ourselves to the fact that while we introduced the world to the idea that humanity should aspire to a greater morality and a larger purpose, all those aspirations to greater morality will come at our expense. So therefore, Jews do the only thing they've ever been able to do. We just make do.



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 My Dearest Oldest Love,

Moses is dead. He was a full 120 and to the end, the vigor of a man one quarter his age. People say he was carried on a chariot to heaven, but he very well may have simply jumped off the cliffs of Moriah. For forty years, I saw him eat nothing, drink only water, sit in contemplation of the divine voice within him, and walk the tents of Israel at night at a speed even Joshua found exhausting. He ever spared me but a few words for every hour in his presence. And now he's made me his successor. 

Because Moses, the divine instrument, died in rebellion from his god. Moses told us that Yahweh would not permit him to enter the Promised Land because he struck a rock to obtain water which the rock only gave to us in droplets when a droughted nation needed a river. But that was just another of Moses's divinely clever misdirections, imparting to his people the lesson that God believes negotiated settlement is better than war. 

And yet Aaron told me, God spoke to Moses precisely the opposite. The only way forward into Israel is war: expulsion, extermination; cleansing the land and watering crops with blood. Moses wanted his people to leave Yahweh and pursue a more divine calling. 

No one doubted Moses's goodness during his lifetime, yet we all doubted it - every minute. We doubted his mental faculties, we doubted his administrative aptitude, we doubted his better angels, and even after all those miracles, we doubted his god. With every new miracle we doubted Moses and Him more, not less. So seldom did Moses emerge from his tent for us that many even wondered if Aaron, not Moses, was the true medium of God. Moses was always slow of speech, even in Egypt, and he just seemed to grow taller and stronger every year. Meanwhile, Aaron, who by the last twenty years could barely hold himself up by the shepherd's rod, was three years older than Moses, and not a single Israelite doubted his mental competence for a moment. 

And Yahweh knows, we had reason... there were whole years when Moses went unseen, and then he would emerge with a new draconian edict whose logic defied description and proscribed solutions to problems none of us had. Those of us who believed entirely in Yahweh worried that with every new rebellion, Yahweh would punish us, abandon us, scourge us with greater force than he scourged any Eygptian. Those of us who didn't believe rebelled still more. 

But for forty years, Moses was the simple fact of Israelite/Hebrew life. How many from either tribe are even alive from the Exodus besides Joshua and me? How did an octogenarian enact such miraculous feats? How could he enact them again and again unless this was the leader who spoke to Yahweh, the leader who spoke for Yahweh? And yet he was a barely visible prophet who communicated all through his older brother until a month before his dying day. 

Give or take his like, the world has not seen a leader like Moses in the thousand years since Theseus - at least if that "Dead Sea Scroll" is to be believed, they ruled through exactly that same mixture of vigor, patience, cunning, humility, and terror. They had the same immaculate eye for political theater, and that vision or inspiration for the future which we can only call divine. He survived forty years performing the most impossible feats within the most impossible job leading the most impossible people on earth. 

I have no divine voice in me. I certainly have no calling to holiness. I have only memories of you, dear Rahab, and I must call upon you again my dear, whom I have not seen in decades and with whom my stream of endless loving correspondence got slower and less urgent every year until seventeen years ago it ceased (and I must ramishly admit that I have counted every year, month, and day), to help me prevail upon the leaders and elders of Canaan's seven nations to give some kind of asylum to a desperate nation of immigrants in this fecund and not overpopulous land.

A land without people; land without people. You cannot understand the tower of privilege, that. As for me, birthed in the Nile banks where population is legion on every inch, and my people of the desert where all is barren, emigrating to a land where wheat and sorghum and corn ripple with the wind, there surely is no holier more bounteous place in all the earth. (You remember our promise of a land of milk and honey, fuck that, we need bread that rises!)

Of course, there are people here. So many... varied people. But so much land without settlement - surely there is space for all and a negotiated accord letting us dwell among Canaanites with a place among the nations. 

My dearest Rahab, you remember surely our valley of refuge with its clusters of fruit and mounds of wheat: our ascent alone to the top of Mount Hermon where Gilgamesh killed Humbaba and dwells the palace of Ba'al (and I still have multiple bones to pick with you about that my dear...), and whereupon this once youthful Caleb could devour entire the loot of the north with his eyes, while, unbidden and unpaid, you introduced me to all those things most Jewish women never do. 

Twelve of us were sent to Canaan, ten prognosticated we could not take it. The eleven others went to the Negev, that disgusting dump of sand and salt where fuckall grows and everything dries and dies. But you showed me what was really there: in the North, the Golan and the Galilee, the ancient ports of Acre and Jaffa that go back to the age of your gods (again, as I said at the time... what??), and especially, oh..., that river's west bank... where all is green and life. THAT is the chosen land, if there is any such thing... fat where the South is lean, weak where the South is strong, few where the South is many. 

Between me and you, my oldest and greatest love, I never understood why my people couldn't settle on the other side of Hermon. All things considered, it's been a relatively uneventful forty years and we're probably better off not crossing over to that fucking promised land... but I promised my leader I would settle Canaan. Even among those ample green valleys of Galilee and Jordan, surely there is some small strip the Israelites might call our own that feeds our people. We depend on this awful thing for our diets called manna, a sugary coriander wafer which Aaron constantly told us fell from the sky, but we smell it baking for a week every month and tribal leaders like me have to pretend for our followers that we believe him. There's a week every month when the priestly class disappears and suddenly the entire nation of Israel smells as bitter as burnt molasses. Meanwhile, Moses insisted we continually walk the Sinai Peninsula - back and forth, back and forth, but after our diet switched to manna every quartogenarian's feet would swell sometimes to twice their size. So I'm sure you understand now that I am not the same Caleb. I'm certain you can still turn heads a third our venerable age, but as a man I'm too old for love now. Isn't everyone over fifty? 

I still have my wife, Azubah, dutiful and loving in every way. I have ten concubines from my days of love - Israelite, Hebrew, Midianite and Edomite... and known many harlots besides, but there is only one woman whom ever I worshiped. But now, in the sterility of my dotage, premature only by Mosaic standards, I can offer only a dearest friendship to the woman who was to me most dear, and who can end her days as dreams every harlot, a concubine who rules beside a nation's leader, viceroy in all but name. For good or ill, you and your resourceful ways determined the fate of my people once upon a time - determine it again with me as the only one among us who knows this all too promised land, so that you may save us from our certain starvation.  

Remember the palm tree,

Caleb

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Dear Caleb,

Challenge Accepted :). But only if you come to Jericho right away. We'll talk on the roof deck... 

<3

Rahab 

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Dear Caleb,

Upon receiving this letter, you will have just met up with your dear Rahab for the first time in forty years. I wish I could capture your attention by deflating a much less joyous moment, but this is the only time when I could ever be positive of your whereabouts, and therefore must send you this letter so that I know you will understand what I propose. I have no way of knowing anything about the pronunciation of the Hebrews until I meet you, nor is there reliable information in my day about how other semitic languages of your era are spoken. I therefore have no guarantee of making myself understood in any manner but by writing. 

 I have learned Ancient Hebrew merely to write you. I realize this may be very difficult to believe, but among a people whose god appears to make all things possible, perhaps you would believe me when I write that I come from exactly 3300 years in the future. My name is Nikola Tesla. I am a practitioner of arts which you have only seen exist within your time in the most rudimentary state. My practice is technology and science, my craft is invention. That which you call magic is in fact the most basic form of science and technology, which is achieved only with a precision and tenacity that far exceeds that required to construct any building you've ever seen. At the moment which you read this, I am being summoned from the outskirts of Jericho so that I may make demonstrations to you of my inventions so that you may see that I am, in fact, who I say I am, and am not, in any sense, a god or spirit but a mere mortal such as yourself. 

After moving back and forth throughout a number of centuries in an invention you have no need to understand, I have dwelled in your time for roughly half a year amid what we now call the Judean Desert, and I have learned much which your sacred texts have not related. I have also learned of your great reputation throughout the Levant as both a man of letters and a man of peace. I had further assumed, from reading your sacred texts, that Joshua would be the new leader of the Israelites rather than you. A book is written about precisely your era called the Book of Joshua, and it is Joshua, not you, who is the leader of the Israelites, who leads the Hebrews to glory, conquers the whole of the Canaanite land. 

But Rahab shows me the letter you wrote that Moses designated you leader rather than Joshua. I have no reason to suspect that Joshua would lead any sort of insurrection against you: the sacred texts assure us even in my time that Caleb lived to a great old age in a blessed tenure of eldership upon the State of Israel's most prosperous region. However, all other Canaanites must fear Joshua with the most dreadful terror. 

The Book of Joshua relates that Joshua successfully pursued a war of extermination against all the Canaanite peoples, and from this moment onward in history, the great virtues of the Israelites are indivisible from the blood which spills by millions of gallons from this moment onward. Your people are about to become inflictors of great suffering, causes of suffering in billions of others, and yourselves the longest suffering people upon all the earth - slavery is a mere prelude to the vicissitudes of horror inflicted upon your descendants. Surely, you, a member of the now dwindling final generation of Israelite slaves, have all too great a knowledge of the oppression caused by violence and murder. It is particularly at this moment in history, when Jews stand upon the cusp of their historic homeland, that the entire history of all later generations may be rewritten from its inception. There is so much within the story of your people which offers comfort and consolation, surely the story of the future can be rewritten so that mankind may abide in a world of life rather than death. 

Therefore I propose as follows: I want to illuminate the whole world. Mankind in my day is not ready for the great and the good, but if we can begin the process of extending all the benefits of science in my era to your era, which formented the inception of ethics, we ought be able illuminate everything of the earth; all people fed, all endeavors fulfilled, all spirits raised, all barriers between people mere myths. The nation of Israel would truly become the light unto nations my world still needs them to be. 

I come to you in nothing but good will, faith, and peace, so that we may preserve the energy of human light. May the light that shines through the universe and through your god lead us to the better world this world has always been possible to be,

With the greatest anticipation for our meeting,

Nikola Tesla

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And what of Jews today? Goyim?


The rest of the USA will go entirely QAnon and Antifa before Jews stop clinging to the liberalism of the American Dream. America has already moved on to a world past the American Dream. Both sides of American discourse declare the American Dream dead and buried, but it would seem that my generation of Jewish overachievers are the only people in America still acting as though their success will be permanent. Why? 


Why else could it be? Because success happened late for Jews. Here as elsewhere, it always does. Jews are the bellweather of a society's health and age: an economic, social and cultural seizmograph. Once a godly mass of Jews makes it into a country's upper class, that's it; the door is slammed, the upper class is stratified, social mobility is over in every country, and the civilization is now in the second half of its lifetime, because it's bad enough to let people as filthy as Jews into the upper class, to let still dirtier people in is one humiliation for the smart set too far. 


We were, as all Jews are, late to the party; and my generation of American Jews is the true Baby Boomers of the Jewish world. We will cling to the idea that success and security is possible in America long after the entire world decides our dream is a nightmare. American Jews will cling to the 3 M's of McMansion, Mercedes, and Malachite long after everybody else perceives our conspicuous wealth as flaunting, and Jewish success will be seen as achieved on the backs of the rest of the country - a notion that, between you and me, you poor reader, is absolutely true, but only by accident. 


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Dear Joshua,


You told me not to go, not to trust Rahab, not to trust Tesla-ben-Nikola, and you were right. Not for the reasons you thought you were, but Reb Tesla and I are literally stuck in a tiny courtyard on Rahab's roof she claims known to no client but us, reached via a secret passageway whose directions only Rahab knows of herself, unable to leave because the Jericho royal guard knows that we're probably hiding somewhere in the house. Please be assured, her house is by an exponent the most sophisticated and secure structure in Jericho. 


The Emperor of Jericho, a superstitious and violent man named Shobach, would have no interest in capturing me, but he is convinced that Mr. Tesla is a hostile god, and that since I was seen in his presence (we were discussing how to properly make peace overtures to this great king...) the Israelites must ergo be hostile invaders. Reb Tesla's inventions are far more numerous, innovative, potentially beneficial and potentially destructive than we could possibly have foreseen. Should Reb Tesla and I make it out of this situation alive, we will explain whichever of them survive this siege. The emperor became convinced of Mr. Tesla's diabolical character by hearing of a machine that could take pictures of our thoughts. 


Mr. Tesla did not intend to display such wonders to anyone but me, but the Jerichites, who are as expert at hunting as they are incompetent at building, were tracking his movements for six months. When he came to Rahab to meet with me, they were fully prepared to intercept us to ascertain the nature of the meeting. Reb Tesla was forced to show them a number of inventions; many of which neither they nor I understood. But we surely understood the divine power of how he harnessed lightning bolts to illuminate bulbous glass like a torch from hundreds of cubits away. We surely understood the utility of his ship that flies. We surely understood the power in his ability to make images of our inside bones on pieces of wooden papyrus. And had we not known the secret from when Reb Tesla hails, we would surely have been convinced he was divine when he literally took pictures of our thoughts as though he were an artists who draws them. 


Mr. Tesla tells me that he does all this by an undetectable force within all the light around us called 'electricity.' I cannot make tohu or vohu of his explanation, but so far as I can tell, he quite literally summons up the power of Yahweh from the air. These were sights as awesome as anything done by Moses to the Nile or the Red Sea. And like the Red Sea, we surely experienced a moment of transcendent dread when he harnessed the power of Yahweh into beams of light that cause death to every animal to which he aimed them with a mechanism not entirely unlike a bow-and-arrow he calls a 'gun.' This terrifying instrument of wrath was immediately confiscated. 


Mr. Tesla assures me that he has a childproof lock on his death beam is quite secure and unable to be deciphered by what he terms 'primitive men.' But I believe there is a chance, however unlikely, that they will decipher how to use it, in which case the entire nation of Israelites is endangered, along with all the peoples of Canaan and the entirety of the known world. It is quite possible that Yahweh himself would not be immune to the death beam's power. Even if there is a small fraction  (I'll explain what those are later...) of a chance the Jerichites will ascertain how to use the death beam, it is absolutely imperative that you come with an army to Jericho and conquer the city before they conquer us. 


Mr. Tesla fortunately has such a weapon which he has stored in an extremely secure location called Mount Zion, in almost the exact center of Canaan's west bank. It is a fairly large contraption that will require wheeling to Jericho by hand by seven strong men. This weapon is called an earthquake machine and it works by something called a remote. I now turn this letter over to Mr. Tesla.


Shibboleth,


Caleb


Dear Joshua,


It is a truly intimidating honor to speak to you. 


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