Thursday, November 9, 2023

Hamas and the “Unveiling”

It’s now been a month since Hamas entered Israeli territory and brutally murdered hundreds of civilians, kidnapping more than 200. Israel currently sets the death toll of the attacks at around 1,200. The event in itself is horrific, but also horrific has been reaction from the left in the US and Europe. Rod Dreher has called the double shock of these weeks an “Apocalypse,” in its original meaning of “unveiling”.

Which is to say that something has been revealed. But what?

Here I’ll try to gather some of the best, most provocative writing on this question. Note that this is not writing on "biblical apocalyptic". Also, I’m certainly not part of the woke left, neither am I looking at this war in terms of white hats vs. black hats. In my view, the Israel-Palestine conflict is one in which no side is completely in the right, and worse, it’s a conflict for which there are no good solutions. Anyone who pretends there are clear, morally unambiguous solutions, is either lying or shallow. And probably both.

But one key crux can be neatly summed up as follows: If tomorrow the Palestinians were to lay down their arms and sue for peace, they’d get peace. If the Israelis were to lay down their arms and sue for piece, they’d get genocide.

This is a truth that’s been clear for decades. And part of what's been “unveiled” in recent weeks is that much of the western left really thinks the Israelis should get genocide.

The pieces I’ve chosen relate to this cluster of questions: not just the two sides in the war, but the two sides in the West, and the two sides in all of us. Yes, it’s a question for me of good and evil, because I believe in good and evil.

One of the wisest early reactions to the atrocities came from a writer on the left, Sam Kriss. Kriss needs to be more widely read. In this piece he doesn’t get right into the events of October 7, but begins with some paragraphs on Poland and ghosts. It’s a subtle, brutally honest essay, especially powerful because it comes from Kriss, known for his phantasmagoric satire. Read Kriss’ “But Not Like This”.

On the theme of unveiling, Konstantin Kisin sees in the left’s celebration of Hamas atrocities a wake up call.

When Hamas terrorists crossed over the border with Israel and murdered 1,400 innocent people, they destroyed families and entire communities. They also shattered long-held delusions in the West.

Many people woke up on October 7 sympathetic to parts of woke ideology and went to bed that evening questioning how they had signed on to a worldview that had nothing to say about the mass rape and murder of innocent people by terrorists.

The events of the last two weeks have shattered the illusion that wokeness is about protecting victims and standing up for persecuted minorities. This ideology is and has always been about the one thing many of us have told you it is about for years: power. And after the last two weeks, there can be no doubt about how these people will use any power they seize: they will seek to destroy, in any way they can, those who disagree.

Read the whole piece. Kisin lays out Thomas Sowell’s classic explanation of why people disagree about politics, the difference being that some of us have an “unconstrained vision” of human nature while others have a “constrained vision”.

Over on X, Carl Benjamin underlines the ever-more-glaring conundrum our liberal West has gotten itself into thanks to "unconstrained" tolerance. Needless to say, Sam Kriss wouldn’t agree with Benjamin on much, but I find Benjamin irrefutable on this aspect of the unveiling. He writes:

The pro-Palestine protests that are currently being held across the West elicit such a deep and pre-political feeling of revulsion because they evidently represent a foreign nation asserting itself in our midst. Liberals are suddenly taken aback by this because it hits liberalism in a particular blind spot. Liberalism processes the world in terms of indistinguishable individual agents each of whom is, theoretically, a rational, self-authoring individual that is consciously following their own conception of the good life.

This conception of a person is demonstrated to be shockingly wrong, as the protests reveal a tribal mindset in which the individual is not something separate from the religion and community, and is certainly not considered to be self-authoring and rational. In fact, devotion to and willingness to act upon the creed is the metric of worthiness, a collective self-denial which is antithetical to the individual self-aggrandisement worldview of liberalism.

Suddenly, it becomes apparent to the average liberal-minded Westerner that there are some things which actually shouldn't be tolerated if the liberal order is going to persist, but it is far too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

What are our options, exactly? These protesters have human rights. They have the right to protest, to speak, to denounce our civilisation and tell us to our faces that they plan to take over. What can we do about such things? Nothing, of course, liberalism demands we tolerate such ill-faith. But should we have such people in our societies and organising in such a fashion? Evidently not.

The pre-political revulsion is still there and reveals us not to be the liberals we once thought we were. We know, in our heart of hearts, that we cannot have a safe and stable civilisation without the good will necessary for such an endeavour, and now we are trapped with people who outright repudiate us. Since the only test liberalism could impose on newcomers was "can you follow our rules?" and not "will you join our tribe?", we are conceptually helpless to organise or resist such forward motion on their part.

Nations are held together by the sentimental bonds which provide a tribal framework of agreement and kindness that goes unspoken because it does not need to be said: we are countrymen, therefore we will show one another we have good intentions, respect for each other's interests, and mutual concern for our standing in society.

Put simply, Aristotle was right when he said that the basis of a nation is the bond of friendship.

We can see that many of the pro-Palestinian protesters and their supporters did not consent to joining our tribe and do not extend the hand of friendship to the peoples amongst whom they reside. They hold to the ways of their old countries, and in many aspects view us as rubes who, for reasons unknown to them, allow all of this to happen.

The rules-based worldview of liberalism permits this. Prior to its establishment, in any other time and place, it would be simply unthinkable for a foreign community to desecrate the statues of national heroes and the local idols of our social values. Yet here we are, and the police do nothing to stop it. In other times and places, such transgressions against the gods of a society would be punished most harshly because it would be understood that a foreign community resides here at our pleasure and not from some abstract right, but our authorities cannot even recognise a crime has been committed against the dignity of our country.

The newcomers are not liberals. They are from the old world of tribes. They don't understand why we permit this either, and make no mistake, they don't respect us for this tolerance. They think we are weak when we do not assert ourselves and our interests, and they are not wrong.

Since I quote Rod Dreher above, and it was Rod who first noted Benjamin’s tweet, I should include one of Rod’s more knock-down recent essays. Dreher quotes Solzhenitsyn on where good and evil are to be found, and his follow up series of examples drive home the point. Solzhenitsyn’s are words to live by.

And Dreher’s is a voice that has helped keep many of us sane. Which is odd, because as a writer he’s rather, shall we say, hyped up. Many consider him shrill. Nonetheless, after years reading him, I have to agree he’s guided by a reliable moral compass. His book Live Not by Lies was brilliantly conceived and landed at just the right time. And he’s been rock solid on rejecting the temptations many on the right are succumbing to in reaction to wokeism. Dreher recognizes race politics as toxic no matter who is practicing it, and no matter what the provocation.

Many on the right, especially the young, are saying “Fight fire with fire.” Dreher is a Christian. He opts for “Fight fire with Christ, and take your knocks.” I suspect he’s saved more than a few people from the abyss.

Finally, I’ll present a more military/political analysis, an interview with former Israeli intelligence chief Amos Yadlin. I take Yadlin to be a reliable source regarding Israeli intentions at present. The interview is revealing, and Yadlin offers plausible interpretations of the combatants and their motives.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Synodality to Synodolatry: The Imperial Narcissism of Team Francis

The pope with participants at the Synod on Synodality, 2023

Much digital ink has been spilled by faithful Catholics pretending to be confused by the Synod on Synodality. One can’t really blame them for adopting the pretense. It allows them leeway to maintain some of the reverence due the pope and our bishops. Still, what is happening at this synod is not confusing. So I will spill much less ink.

What they are doing in Rome at present is making an idol of the Church. They have largely written out Our Lord from the synod documents, and seek to worship in His place a Church reconceived as a progressive, well-meaning “community”. To judge from reports and documents so far, the essential core of this new religion is this mere fact of community itself, figured as “walking together”. According to one German bishop, such “walking together” is now to supersede Apostolic tradition.

That’s it. It’s a trite and shallow idolatry. It’s the self-worship of a right-thinking collective, with the “right-thinking” to be gleaned by "listening to" the western secular left. To do this particular listening is to hear “the voice of the Spirit”. Amazingly, this is the claim we get from clerics who otherwise can’t stop talking about the importance of “discernment”. Larry Chapp, always a sensitive interpreter, has got their number.

The ”synodal Church” is the Church reconceived as social media. It’s the Church looking for likes and shares. And they hope to pull this off by means of a clumsy sleight of hand.

Clumsy? Consider: They offer 1) a single neologism, synodality, and 2) the assertion that the queried desires of a hand-picked group of Catholics can tell us where the Spirit is leading. Based on these two magician’s tricks alone, they intend to remake the Church. “Everything will change!” they say.

Yes, the Church is to become yet another site for the self-worship of the current West.

Which raises a larger, universal meaning. After all, through “synodality” the West’s therapeutic self-worship will be imposed on the Church in Africa and Asia too. More than just a shoddy bait and switch on the part of western clerics, then, this synod is also a matter of cultural imperialism.

“Listen to the margins!” they tell us. Then they choose the same margins American corporate culture now chooses. They impose the same idea of “marginal” our State Department now imposes. Except note: Corporate America and the State Department got there first. Does the Holy Spirit then take directives from US coastal elites? Apparently.

Our current pope is supposedly a strident critic of American capitalist culture, yet we see in this synod that he hears the same Zeitgeist our corporate CEOs hear. And just as these corporate CEOs now pretend to make their companies into “diverse and inclusive communities” of the right-thinking, putting their products and customers and investors in second place, so the men around our pope seek to do with the Church. No longer is it the faithful Bride of Christ who serves His will, but a sublimated “walking together” during which “every voice will be listened to”. And just as with our corporations and fallen universities, that assertion regarding “every voice” is a bald-faced lie. Watch what happens to those who disagree with this new version of the Church, who seek to keep faith with long-established magisterial teaching. Such people are “rigid”, or even "dead". They are to be mocked or excluded.

Our pope then, by presiding over this remaking of the Church, makes himself the criterion by which Catholics are or are not part of the community. Given the context, it is a gesture of self-deification. He is the Vicar of Christ who presumes to change his Master’s teaching according to his own “right-thinking” as vicar, then to exclude those who point out what he is doing. He cannot cite magisterial teaching against them. All he can do is scoff and offer a version of the claim that they are “not in line with the values of our community”—values which are increasingly those of the secular western left.

The ideology driving the statements of synod participants and dictating the documents is thus more than familiar. It’s boilerplate 21st century identity politics. It’s the imperial narcissism of the self-obsessed western left. The only thing newsworthy about this synod is the fact that a pope and bishops are present, consenting to it. Yet that is very newsworthy.

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will found my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

I believe those words. Yet these men in Rome, the gates of secular self-worship have prevailed against them. So how will they fare with the gates of hell?

I believe it is still His Church. Which means I have to decide who these men are. These men who babble nonstop about discernment are finally forcing many of us to discern, though not along with them.

Saturday, September 23, 2023


Ms. Huang, ivory and proper, contorts her face in horror, reaches down for a slipper, and lunges toward the cockroach. She jostles the table, spilling the tea, and missing the roach, leaves a mark on the wall. 

Two of her guests stood up in sympathy. I remained seated.

Really, Ms. Huang, you should think of the roach as a tiny folded amber fan, a silent listener, with breath likely sweeter than that of your aunt, who nearly knocked over her chair. And did you know, Ms. Huang, that roaches groom themselves ceaselessly, are even cleaner than your cat, whose hair now clings to my slacks? In fact, sorry to tell you, the roach’s body hosts less bacteria by far than either my or your fingers—-yes, even your delicate fingers—-not to mention your aunt’s mouth, which just now has bitten a cookie, and soon will start gossiping again. 

A folded amber fan, a slim gold fingernail, hardly heavier than confetti—-and you’ve put a gray mark on your wall. 

QED: Idiocy, Ltd.

Chinese edition / 中文版 : Idiocy, Ltd.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Space Available 1970-2023


Our only world was spread over space, a stretch of road to be pedaled on a bike, or a field of tall grass full of green leafhoppers, or the darker, uneven soil of a forest, where we buried coins and effigies. We communicated with shouts or things thrown, competed in speed or the height one could climb a tree. Withdrawn from the open spaces, the cave of one’s “room”. In the “living room” below, a skin of rough, overcolored pixels hung down the front of an electric box.


Our only world drew its lines crisscross over roads and county highways, always the same roads and highways, cassette tapes and CDs strewn, half shy girls willing by the lake, but not fully willing. We communicated through hair styles and beer buzz, our “rooms” become temporary cells for mulling and fury and carefully hidden baggies of pot.


Our only world was stretched over oceans but on paper, newspapers and books under the hegemony of Empire, waves of students and their profs marching against the shore to no avail, themselves being Empire. Aslant in cafes and diners, we communicated through quotes, editorials, withering looks; crashed on tatty sofas in cheap apartments. We wondered if it was wise to start using “e-mail”. When our computers crashed, as often, the screen would freeze, the screed was lost, but other screeds were saved on floppy disks. Somehow the vain wide expanse of oceans began to parallel the flat expanse of our screens, until the former was collapsed into the latter, a watery death of the real without even water.




Their only world is tight against them, personal, its single line reaching the distance between thumb and eyes. At one end of the line, near their thumbs, they swipe the real up or down or back and forth, all beings flicked swiftly in and out of existence in a space not three inches across. They communicate through digital traces, cartoon winks, words half spelled. All other spaces and actions, their gestures and dress, the form of their bodies, even the food they eat—it all exists to be gathered into the tiny screens, only becoming real once it is glanced over by other eyes, flicked into relevance by other thumbs. They compete through digital traces, scores tallied up for all to see in devices that spy on them as they spy on each other. Empire.

QED: Idiocy, Ltd.

Chinese edition / 中文版 : Idiocy, Ltd.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Pipe-Dream of Strong AI; The Nightmare of “Weak” AI

Are “thinking machines” possible? Will AI develop to a point where it surpasses human IQ, after which, improving itself, it will advance so far beyond human thinking that we won’t even be able to comprehend what it’s trying to tell us? Will AI “take over the world”?

There are very good reasons to see AI as a threat, but based on our best understanding of what is meant by “thinking,” the answer to all these questions is probably No. We’re never going to reach Ray Kurzweil’s “Singularity”. AI is never going to be making scientific or technological breakthroughs.

As a friend in data security puts it: “AI could watch Newton’s apple fall millions of times over but could never take the next step and theorize gravity. If you think it will, it means you don’t understand how AI works.”

I’m a newbie in this area, but less so in philosophy and linguistics. I know enough about AI to grasp the point. But my friend was referring to large language models (LLMs), the kind of AI that grounds ChatGPT. Will his point prove true once AI programmers push into other directions?

To understand why his point will likely prove true no matter what programmers get up to—well, that requires a bit of effort. But if you're interested in such questions, a great place to start is Paul Folbrecht’s quick summation, “Why Strong AI is a Logical Impossibility”. Folbrecht presents two key arguments, and his strategy for bringing the reader into the harder argument (based on Gödel’s incompleteness theorems) is spot on. He conveys the gist with no wasted words. Read it.

Since Folbrecht does the work so well, I won’t rehash the arguments here. Based on these arguments, and a few related ones, I too doubt we’re entering an era of truly “thinking machines”. What I wonder however is whether it will really matter. Because I’m convinced we’re entering a very perilous era in any case.

That AI will never be able to think in anything strongly analogous to what we do when we think may in fact make little difference. Sure, it will make a difference in the long run, given that AI won’t be making scientific breakthroughs. But in the short run? No. Because the real threat is not that envisioned in 20th-century sci fi. It’s not that AI will take over. Rather, it's that government or other elites will use AI to control mass populations, finally achieving immunity to citizen resistance.

This is the actual threat, and like it or not, it's all too viable. AI will never have to attain “thinking” capabilities to be the perfect tool for implementing total state control. The technologies already available are stuff such as Stalin or Hitler never dreamed of. And is our American population ready to resist encroachments on our liberty from AI-enabled state bureaucrats? From monomaniacal ideologues using “safety” or “progress” as buzzwords to gain power?

Hardly. We are far from ready. Much of the American population seems actually primed for just such power grabs. Which is perhaps not by accident. And it’s this America that will negotiate its future with AI-wielding bureaucrats? It’s a depressing thought.

Making our situation yet more perilous is something I’ve written about recently: our human susceptibility to AI simulations of personality, our hardwired tendency to assume that anything that says “I” and can string sentences together is actually an “I”. That this delusion will be exploited by those who seek to corral and control us is certain. Consider the case I lay out.

As it melds with social and other media, as it’s incorporated in ever more humanoid robots, so-called "weak" AI is going to insinuate itself into our culture and access our lives in ways that even social media could not. It won't matter that this AI can't think. Within a few short years it will already be powerful enough to “work wonders”.

Paul Folbrecht, whose article doesn’t address these questions, would likely agree. Strong AI is almost certainly not on the horizon. But the AI that is on the horizon is an immensely dangerous tool, especially given our current political and social order, softened up by social media and our willingness to give up privacy for the slightest convenience.

With Americans now entirely transparent to Big Tech, weak and distracted by circus diversions and identity politics, with an over-the-top cult of “safety” dominating public discourses, our culture looks something like the opening pages of a User’s Manual explaining how best to politically weaponize AI.

"Mass control will be easier to establish if you begin with a population like this: ..."

QED: Idiocy, Ltd.

Chinese edition / 中文版 : Idiocy, Ltd.

Saturday, September 2, 2023

Roethke at the Root of Things

When Theodore Roethke died in 1963, he left behind 277 notebooks of poetic and prose fragments. His student the poet David Wagoner eventually gathered selections from this material and published them in 1973 under the title Straw for the Fire. It’s a wonderfully wrenching volume.

Roethke is congenial for many reasons: his poetics of the soil and its slow, slimy things; his engagement with western mysticism; his fanatical respect for words—finally, his self-effacing clownishness. High dedication for Roethke never meant he couldn’t laugh at himself. He knew what he was. Or perhaps: he was troubled to no end that he couldn’t quite figure out what he was. Which points up his work’s philosophical burden, everywhere evident in these notebooks.

Reading Straw for the Fire, I found myself taken up with the problem of which texts were crucial, which were at the core of Roethke and what he was up to. Yes, this inevitably meant crucial for me, or in terms of my own approach. But I started marking these core texts, and now I’ve typed them out. In document form, the selection comes to around 7 pages. Just about right.

In my choices, I neglect certain of his themes. I ignore the fragments about the women in his life, his wrestlings with memories of his father, and his many really brilliant insights (mostly short prose) on teaching. (Roethke was widely recognized as one of the great poetry teachers of the century, and the notebooks convey much about his classroom approach: his dedication, his provocations, his antics.)

Straw for the Fire gathers more than 250 pages of fragments. My choices are those of one reader, trying to distill a certain approach to writing and a certain being in the world: Roethke's. There are many places in his thought I wouldn’t follow him, but his notion of what the blank page is for—that’s a different matter. He was writerly in the most important way.

At the end I place his villanelle, “The Waking”, not included in Straw for the Fire.


From Straw for the Fire

What dies before me is myself alone:
What lives again? Only a man of straw—
Yet straw can feed a fire to melt down stone.


I always wonder, when I’m on the podium, why I am there:
      I really belong in some dingy poolhall under the table.


I don’t know a thing except what I try to do.


In the very real and final sense, don’t know anything. That is what saves me—from you, dear class, and from ultimate madness.
      In every man there is a little woman.
      A teacher needs his students to stay human.
      Suppose you master one cliché—
      You’re a step beyond a horse: a horse’s A.


A breath is but a breath
And the smallest of our ties
With the long eternities,
And some men lie like trees,
The last to go is the bark,
The weathered, tough outside.


What words have good manners? None.


Dear God: I want it all. The depths and the heights.


Give me the pure mouth of a worm;
I’ll feed on leaves; I’m a knob waiting for the opening squeak.


Who else caught the burning bush?
I’m blistered from insights.
Several times I’ve heard the slow sigh of what is,
The moaning under the stones,
And the flames flashing off wings, burning but not consuming.


I must be more than what I see. O Jesus,
Save this roaring boy riding the Devil’s blast.


An intense terrifying man: eating himself up with rage.

Such a one as never milked a mother.

I practice at walking the void.


Shine forth, you idiot forms,
With what I cannot see.
Of all ground-seeking worms.


I have no native shape.


I am by way of becoming
No more or less than I am.


I knew a fool for luck
Who never changed his ways
Until his own soul’s lack
Disturbed his later days.


I slept with Yes, but woke to No.

Show me what rest I have, and I’ll become restless.

I ate the Lord, and choked.

I ate myself to live, and woke a fiend.

The familiar longing to be ill.

My babbling’s nearer; I will feed the moth.


To possess or be possessed by one’s own identity?

The self, the anti-self in dire embrace. Instead of embracing God, he hugs himself.

I spent myself in mirrors, like a whore.

The mirrors laughing with their dreadful eyes.


I can become what I will,
He cried, and grew a tail.

Can I become that philosophic man
Without the sanction of philosophy?
One thinks too long in terms of what to be—
That grandeur of the crazy man alone
Who thinks imagination is the Soul
And that its motion is perpetual.


Acting one’s age is just a form.


I sing other wonders
Than my heart’s slowness:
In the inner eye
A bird quivers
Throbbing my heels
With a throat’s shimmer.


Five songs away, a whistler by himself
Stayed to his branch, a working fellow too,
And gave against the wind his throaty throb.


Granite on granite pressing the earth down,
Each singing thing straining to come to form,
Made one by light on dark, stark in the sun.


That question cries again—
What is the least we know?
I call the slug my kin,
And move with those born slow.


By singing we defend ourselves from what we are.


I see what I believe.


Between the soul and flesh
What war? I never heard:
I know a singing fish,
A silent bird.


Things dance in a young mind
Until the soul is blind.

Sometimes it’s well to leave things in the air.
Let me remember me: not my despair.


Am I a vanished type, a mastodon
Lunging this way and that in the great damp?


She. Woman’s the noble word for the bright soul.
He. Things as they are beat at me like a flail.
She. Deep dreamless sleep is true beatitude.
He. Or frenzy called up by a gush of blood.


My soul shrinks to a bird;
I am less than a child,
A vein beating, unheard,
In the close, in the coming dark,
My spirit turns to its work.


That ultimate seed, the soul,
Growing between two stones,
Heard a mandrake’s groans,
A sound altering all
Bird-songs and bird-bones.


I ask a question of the supernatural.
At what point does the self become a soul
When it deserts this clumsy animal,
This bear-like shape that lumbers down a hall
Or clambers up a hill?


I went into a flame,
A priest of kingdom come,
The false light cried my name,
“You are no one.”

I saw a shape in a crowd,
Grisly, amorphous, lewd;
I cried, and loud,
“Here! Here is our God!”

A pure light came;
And stole me away
From time.


In the hot sweat of why not,
In the cold dark of who did,
In the battered dish of she dares
In the absolute dead middle of all-around
—I dug my flesh until I was a wound
     And the day sighed out its light, and the white kingdom came.


Long, fruitless introspection, characteristic of the German, relieved by occasional dim flickers of light.

Teetering precariously on the brink of the navel.

Many meditations destroy.

A love for the bottoms, the fell last roots of things.


Body drags soul into the changeable.

I am the edge of an important shadow.

Lord of Laughter and Light, attend me.

God robbed poets of their minds that they might be made expressions of his own.


Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.


Observe, random energist, the bear’s placidity.


There is no end to what should be known about words.


Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.



I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.


QED: Idiocy, Ltd.

Chinese edition / 中文版 : Idiocy, Ltd.

The Truth about Scorsese’s "Vandals"

A young Martin Scorsese visiting the set of Vandals

My dreams are not typically nightmares, but they often involve oblique exclusions, subtle usurpations. I usually don’t remember my dreams (beyond a feeling of befuddled let-down) but today was an exception, probably the longest chunk of narrative I’ve ever dragged up from the dreamwork.

It was a cool early morning, around 7:00 a.m., and I was riding a bus through some California suburb. I wasn’t sure where the bus was headed, but when I saw we were passing through an Asian neighborhood, mostly Chinese, I decided to get off.

I stood on the sidewalk in the clear morning air, surrounded by suburban houses, grass yards. Two boys in a yard noticed me, began talking about me in Chinese, not knowing I could understand. A face glanced out at me from a window. Typical quiet morning reactions to a newcomer.

I saw a little café on the corner, decided to go in. There were no customers. An olive-skinned woman of about 25, Central Asian rather than Chinese, brought my coffee to the table, then sat down across from me. She wore a skin-fitting powder blue silk top. She was beautiful, educated, oddly animated for so early in the morning. She started telling me about her life. She gestured, joked, and as I was just beginning to get seriously charmed, I realized that her younger brother was inside her left sleeve—that he was, somehow, also wearing the blue silk top. His head finally emerged from near her shoulder.

Then I was at another table talking to the patron, her father, a melancholy Sikh man in his 70s.

“I used to be a director, you know,” he said. “I mean, before this café. I directed two films you might have seen. One was [title I don’t remember], the other was Scorsese’s Vandals.”

I thought about the titles, told him I was sorry I hadn’t seen either, but that I considered film “important”. He sensed my confusion.

“Look, here’s how it happened,” he said. “I was going to direct Vandals, then when shooting began, Scorsese showed up on set one day. Then he showed up again, and then again, making little suggestions, getting more and more involved. Finally the producer just decided to use Scorsese.”

His sense of deep defeat still weighed on him. He burst into tears. I began crying with him. We sat there crying.

“I’m the man who directed Scorsese’s Vandals,” he said through sobs. “It was me.”

Later, outside once more, I glimpsed the Pacific peeking between a line of houses, hardly a block away. I walked to the beach, stripped down to my shorts, and swam a bit along the rocky shore. The water was cool and clear. But realizing I was still lost, I decided to get out.

When I tried, however, the rocky, sandy shore had become a kind of stone embankment. I couldn’t get a grip on it. I began to tread water, scanning the shore for breaks in the wall.

This, I’m confident, is the tenor of nearly all my dreams.

QED: Idiocy, Ltd.

Chinese edition / 中文版 : Idiocy, Ltd.