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This was one of the strangest dreams I ever had.

First, a little context: In the Biblical narrative, the Israelites were not enslaved immediately on entering into Egypt. At first they came as guests, welcomed by a Pharaoh whose advisor was Joseph (as in the coat of many colors). It was only after a generation or two that the Egyptians enslaved them. This dream was set at the brink of that enslavement.

I was a young man of the Israelite community in Egypt. We were worried. It was obvious that threatening local forces were aligning against us. I was attending a secret meeting of the elders of our community, who were unsure what to do. It was time to seek God’s guidance through grape must.

Yes, grape must. The community had a large device consisting of a wooden frame supporting a large roll of paper towels on sprockets, with a cauldron full of grape must beneath. The elders used this device to divine God’s will, as the Urim and Thummim may have been used. By turning a crank, the paper towels were lowered into the grape must, and the elders interpreted the resulting blot. They even had special paper towels for the machine, with a square printed on them, labeled BLOT WILL APPEAR HERE.

With all due ceremony, with everyone watching tensely, the machine was cranked, the paper towels dipped into the grape must and then lifted.

The box was blank. God was silent.

In that horrified moment, Egyptian soldiers burst through the door. They carried hand axes, fitted with small bronze blades shaped like the Hebrew letter Yod. Everyone screamed and ran. One of the soldiers dashed at me and planted his axe in my face.

I woke. That was circa 1996 and I still remember the dream vividly.

Went down to the Boston Public Library for the first time since the renovations. There are now two cafes, plus a sit-down restaurant, in the building. It got me to thinking that in our day Americans demand three things of all public venues:

-Refreshments, particularly coffee
-Video screens (displaying something, it doesn’t matter what)
-Wifi

If you don’t have those three, forget it. Americans aren’t interested. Malls, rest stops, libraries, college campuses, churches–all must have them.

I do not wish to see the modern funeral parlor.

(Lest I seem too grumpy, let me add the renovations turned out very nice, greatly mollifying the harsh Brutalist interior of the new wing. Also, I had a quite toothsome lunch in the new cafe)

For many years now Adrienne Martini has been posting periodic collections of links on her blog. In imitation I do the same, in order to display the shiny things I’ve picked up around the Interwebs, and, more crucially, to get the damn things out of my Tabs.

and the following Wikipedia entries, presented at random:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, or MBS as his branding efforts have dubbed him, made quite a splash in the American media recently, with a major interview in The Atlantic, and lengthy profiles in The New Yorker and the New York Times. The idea that the new de facto ruler of the kingdom is a Dynamic Young Reformer is catnip for these outlets. The stories drool over the possibility that he might end both the cultural domination of Wahabi theology and the 70 year Arab-Israeli Cold War.

I’m going to toot my own horn a little here. I saw this all coming last fall, when the Crown Prince announced plans for a Special Economic and Cultural Zone in northwestern SA, a place where the religious police would have little power and high-tech companies encouraged. The region in question is far from the population centers of the Arabian Peninsula—but right next to Eilat, the Israeli port on the Gulf of Aqaba.

Since that announcement, the SA and Israeli governments have been dancing a minuet. Though nothing is being rushed on either side, for right now the momentum looks to be going toward greater contact, and perhaps moves toward full relations. And then alliance?

The geopolitical advantages are obvious. Iran, SA and Israel’s mutual arch-enemy, has established a zone of influence across the Middle East, through Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The Saudis appear to be attempting to establish a counterzone: the Gulf States, Jordan, Egypt and…Israel?

It’s a good strategy. The Saudi Zone would have its back to the sea, whereas the Iranian Zone has to watch out for the Turks and Russians. The U.S. would, in most ways, be pleased to see greater co-operation between two of its closest allies.

The trick is that Iran has deposited a rabid badger in the Saudi backyard, in the form of Yemen. If the Saudis wants to pursue a full-on press against the Iranian Zone, they’re going to have to pacify Yemen first, and there is no sign of that happening so far.

(It occurs to me that if the Saudis wanted to set a similar rabid badger in the Iranian Zone, they might make overtures to the Kurds—but that would decisively swing Turkey to the Iranian side.)

The big question is how likely all of this is to develop into open conventional line warfare. It’s is a dicey prospect for both sides, since the Persian Gulf—the principal economic engine for both zones—would become a battlefield. Even a short conflict would wreck years of carefully built-up infrastructure. Granted, the two Gulf Wars demonstrated how quickly oil & gas production can be re-established, but still, it’s a considerable risk.

And if open war broke out, what would be the greater effect in the Roomful of Dust? What would the Russians do? Would Pakistan take a side, and if so, what reaction would this get from India? Would China consider this a problem or an opportunity?

For now, it will be interesting to see how far MBS can push his new policies without risking popular backlash. The Crown Prince appears to be betting that the young adults of the Middle East are sick of hearing about the wonders of Sharia & the evils of the Zionist Entity. Can the Arab Street—that amorphous mass on which so much ink has been spilled these past 17 years—give up the old sureties for a high-tech future? We’ll see.

Addendum: If you compare the armed forces of Iran to those of the Saudis/Gulf States, Iran looks better. The Saudis have a lot of expensive equipment, but the Iranians have more, and the conventional wisdom is that Saudi troops aren’t very good.

So if the Saudis want to pose a credible military threat, they need some help. There are two obvious possibilities: Israel and the U.S.. The Israelis are at the wrong end of the Middle East for a land offensive into Iran, and if MBS were to invite an Israeli Expeditionary Force onto the sacred soil of the Two Shrines, he’d really be tap-dancing through a minefield. Could the Saudis actually swing American involvement? Even given Iranian unpopularity in the States, the cost in blood and treasure would make it a very tough sell.

Runnin’ with the Devil: A Backstage Pass to the Wild Times, Loud Rock, and the Down and Dirty Truth Behind the Making of Van Halen, by Noel Monk

I have no real liking for 95% of Van Halen’s music and never have. So why did I read this book?

Because it’s a case study of the 20th century music industry. Noel Monk was Van Halen’s manager in their prime, between 1978 and 1985. His story delivers the nitty-gritty work of management: keeping the band going, keeping the support staff going, dealing with chaos, making sure the merchandising comes through, and, most importantly, keeping a hawk’s eye on the money. It’s all anecdotal, but it’s vibrant, funny, and involving.

Unfortunately, it’s also a case study of how Celebrity destroys character. When Monk first meets Van Halen, they’re four decadently naive L.A. party teens, eager to please. By the end, three of them are cutting the fourth, their old friend Michael Anthony, out of the band proceeds, surgery without anesthesia. We watch Eddie Van Halen, a shy guitar genius, devolve into a slurry of cocaine and vodka. Roth’s ego sprouts wings and carries him off. Alex Van Halen gets mean, honing his paranoia like a razor in a sock. Finally Monk himself is shitcanned after years of faithful service. It makes for depressing reading, and reminds one of Robert Hunter’s tenth commandment of Rock ‘N Roll: “Destroy yourself physically and morally, and insist that all true brothers do likewise as an expression of unity.” If this is what success means, no one should want it.

As of today, The Library You See In Dreams is no longer just a free sign-up blog, but a fully paid account, cash money. This upgrade was made possible by a donation from our good friend Paul Starr.

To demonstrate my appreciation, I tell you, oh reader: this post is not a post. It is a plaque. There is, right now, riveted to the surface of your laptop or mobile screen a slab, five inches by seven inches, of heavy bronze (or, if you prefer a racier appearance, brushed steel).

It reads:

Dedicated in Honor of

PAUL STARR

With Utmost Gratitude for His Generosity and Support

April 2nd, 2018

Since this is not a post, but a plaque, there is no way to link to Paul’s Glitch site, a catalog of his many literary, editorial, musical and miscellaneous creations. This is a great pity. If you ever get a chance to follow that link, you should, because it’s an extravaganza.