aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Interludes ‎פ and צ‎: 80s and 90s

In Daniel 5, King Belshazzar throws a feast which is interrupted by a giant disembodied hand writing on the wall: MENE TEKEL UPHARSIN. The wise men of the kingdom are confused; they recognize these words only as measures of silver (“mene” is cognate with the classical “mina”, “tekel” with the classical “shekel”, and “upharsin” is about half a mina.)

Belshazzar summons the prophet Daniel for explanation, and Daniel interprets the inscription as a complicated kabbalistic pun. MENE represents not a literal weight of silver, but the concept of weighing or judging. TEKEL represents not just a shekel but a small and insufficient amount of money. And UPHARSIN is a pun on the Persians, the Babylonians’ arch-enemies. So he interprets the words to mean “You have been judged against the Persians and found wanting” – in other words, by exiling the Jews, Babylon had displayed such wickedness that God would allow the Persians to destroy them.

The prophecy was fulfilled when King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and executed Belshazzar for his wickedness. In 538 BC, the triumphant monarch allowed the Jews to return to Israel.

From these events kabbalists derive a correspondence between silver, the number 538, and accurate prediction of changes in political leadership.

— Gebron and Eleazar, Kabbalah: A Modern Approach

I. 1981

WASHINGTON DC – President Reagan is expected to make a full recovery after being shot in the head by an assassin while leaving the Washington Hilton.

Spectators report that the assassin, later identified as a mentally ill man named John Hinckley, pulled out a gun and shot six times. Five of the bullets hit members of the President’s retinue, one of whom is currently in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital. The sixth hit the President in the head. According to three separate eyewitnesses interviewed by The New York Times, the bullet passed straight through Reagan’s head and out the other side. Despite the injury, the President tackled the assassin and held him pinned to the ground until Secret Service agents could respond. Then, say the eyewitnesses, the President stooped to the ground, picked up a handful of earth, and filled the hole in his head as if nothing had happened.

Reagan’s press secretary James Brady was himself injured in the attack, but his position is being temporarily filled by Larry Speakes, in accordance with nominative determinism.

TIMES: Mr. Speakes, people are reporting all sorts of stories out of Washington today.

SPEAKES: Yes, you know, there’s a lot of research showing that people’s eyewitness accounts are inherently untrustworthy. In a crisis, with all the adrenaline flowing, people see some pretty crazy things.

TIMES: Did the bullet go through the President’s head?

SPEAKES: I would say “through” is an exaggeration. The bullet definitely hit the President. But you know, there are a lot of stories about people having bullets hitting their heads and doing just fine. I mean, in the 19th century, there was this man, Phineas Gage, who was too close to an explosion and had an iron spike get blown through his brain. And he was still able to function for the rest of his life! The thing is, the effects of these kinds of injuries aren’t always predictable.

TIMES: Didn’t Phineas Gage become insane, aggressive, and unpredictable?

SPEAKES: President Reagan will not become insane, aggressive, and unpredictable.

TIMES: But what about all the stories that the President filled in the hole in his head with dirt?

SPEAKES: Listen. The Untied States is at war. I think this kind of speculation about a sitting President is irresponsible. I can assure the American people that the President is not made of dirt.

II. 1987

WASHINGTON DC – To the horror of onlookers, President Reagan melted away today when a heavy rainstorm struck the rally where he was speaking.

It seemed to be a clear day as Reagan prepared to address a pro-religion rally from the Capitol Steps. But just a few minutes into his speech, a freak thunderstorm broke out, causing the President’s body to sag and, finally, melt into a pile of mud. The entire process took less than a minute.

Conspiracy theorists, who had long claimed the President was a golem, declared victory. “There was something about him,” Colonel Oliver North told the Times, “and that time he survived a bullet right through the head, it wasn’t natural.” The White House urged people “not to jump to conclusions,” saying they were still trying to figure out exactly what had gone wrong.

Meanwhile, Vice President George H. W. Bush has been sworn in as President in a short ceremony on the White House lawn. Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd demanded an amendment saying that all future President-elects will have to be examined by a doctor who could certify they are human, a proposal which met with near-complete bipartisan support.

White House Press Secretary Larry Speakes told the Times, “President Reagan led this country during a difficult time. Although we are still investigating what happened on Tuesday, he has the thanks of a grateful nation, and we appreciate the sacrifice he made for the American people.”

The pile of mud will be available for viewing in the National Cathedral for the next three days.

III. 1993

NEW YORK CITY – Jalaketu West, King of Royal Colorado, spoke to the United Nations today about his proposal for an international treaty regulating the use of Divine Names.

“A strong international intellectual property framework is the only way to incentivize a global theonomic industry capable of developing weapons that can protect the human race from supernatural threats,” the so-called Comet King told the meeting in a speech punctuated with references to his own defeat of the Drug Lord a decade earlier. “As long as it is more profitable to pirate Names discovered by each other than to invest in the scholarship and hard work of discovering new incantations, we will never create the capacity necessary to fight off the forces of Hell, let alone protect the world in the case of a sudden breakdown of Uriel’s machine.” He repeated his theory that the laws of physics will catastrophically fail sometime in the early twenty-first century, and that humanity needs to be ready for a sudden increase in the power of demons and other mystical entities at that time.

According to Coloradan sources, negotiations have been entered by over fifty countries, including the Untied States, Britannic Canada, Cuba, Trinidad, Tobago, El Salvador, El Pais Del Diablo, the Most Serene Empire of the Darien Gap, Brazil, North Peru, South Peru, Ecuador, Primer Meridiano, New Country, the European Communion, Neu Hansa, the Icelandic Empire, Norway, Desmethylnorway, Finland, Britain, Vatican Crater, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sloviria, Slovobia, Switzerland, Estonia, the Cyrillic Union, Novaya Zemlya, Multistan, Iran, the Israel-Palestine Anomaly, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Eridu-Xanadu Consortium, the Lotophagoi, Ethiopia, South Africa, the Malabar-Zanzibar Consortium, Somaliland, Ouagadougou City State, the Harmonious Jade Dragon Empire, Indonesia, the Sulawesi Conspiracy, Lesser Mongolia, Greater Mongolia, the Platinum Horde, the Distributed Republic, Kerala, Uighurstan, Thailand, the United Hydrological Basins, Swiss Polynesia, Armenian Samoa, and honorary non-observer member THE REAL.

Untied States president Bill Clinton praised the effort, describing it as “a new step towards international free trade and cooperation.”

IV. 1996

CHICAGO – Ralph Nader reached out to voters in a rally here today, describing his Green Party as the only force in American politics willing to stand up for the poor and middle-class. The centerpiece of his campaign is opposition to UNSONG, the free trade and intellectual property agreement supported by both Democrat Bill Clinton and Republican Bob Dole.

“This is nothing more than a corporate takeover,” he told a cheering crowd of supporters. “Why should you have to pay Wall Street hundreds of dollars for a piece of paper with a Name on it, when the cost is just a piece of paper and some ink?”

Nader’s campaign received an unexpected boost after the publication of The Temple and the Marketplace, a two-hundred fifty page book by Raymond Stevens, a crotchety Unitarian minister who argues that Biblical passages predict the advent of the Divine Names and command their universal spread according to communal utopian principles. His followers, who called themselves Singers after their habit of singing the Divine Names in public, have become a centerpiece of Nader’s rallies, frequently singing Names that result in pyrotechnics or other impressive displays.

Stevens himself has stopped short of endorsing Nader, but believes his victory has been foretold in Job 5:11 – “he puts those who are in low places up to high places” – the “low place” being a reference to Mr. Nader’s name.

V. 2000

VANCOUVER – The third recount to determine who will receive Salish Free State’s twenty electoral votes has begun here today amidst scattered reports of violence by Gorist, Bushist, and Naderist factions on the East Coast.

Meanwhile, statistician Andrew Gelman reports that the chances of all three candidates receiving an exactly equal number of popular votes in the Untied States’ most northwestern territory is more than 1/100,000,000,000, suggesting that something has gone terribly wrong.

All three candidates urged restraint. Vice-President Gore appeared on the White House steps with outgoing President Clinton, stating that it was important Americans of all political beliefs remained calm and let the Salish vote-counters do their work. Governor George W. Bush of the Texas Republic made a similar statement from his Texas ranch. And pro-consumer firebrand Ralph Nader, whose disappointing third-place finish in the 1996 elections was nevertheless the best performance by a third-party candidate in recent history, urged his followers – mostly enthusiastic young people – to keep their protests peaceful.

Police are investigating reports that Raymond Stevens, an anti-corporate agitator whose philosophy of open-sourcery helped kickstart the Nader campaign, urged violent revolution in a message from his California home. Stevens previously made waves when declaring that the exact equivalence of votes for every candidate was a message from God, predicted by Isaiah 40:4: “Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain”.

The military is standing by in case of any disturbances.

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