"Qui desiderat acetariam, praeparet lactucam." *

- Vegetivius, 203 (Old Calendar).

*("He who wants a salad, should prepare lettuce.")

"Yes," muttered the old Professor, turning the emblem over and over in his hand, "it seems to say USA, although some of our u2018scholars' read it as ASU. They have a lot of silly theories about Norse gods setting up the civilization whose ruins we now dig through. Bosh!"

Growing livelier, he added: "In my opinion, the Late Period Americans wrote from left to right, even though their politics went the other way round. On that assumption, we can grasp much of the written material which survived the Great Annihilation. I'd say we have about a tenth of what must have existed, and of that, we have translated perhaps a sixth, so far.

"Naturally, some of it ought to have been lost. There are those u2018novels,' for example, by this Updike and this Sheldon. Utter rubbish."

"Mind you, there are some real puzzles remaining, even where we have pretty good translations. Right now, I am trying to work out the inner meaning of the terms u2018Potus,' u2018Cotus,' and u2018Scotus.'"

"That's right," he said, noting my discomfort, "in our language they do sound a bit obscene, but in fact they appear to be keys to the institutional and symbolic life of the Late Phase of the Empire to End All Empires. There is no room for timid prudery in these things."

"After all, these terms go to the heart of the matter. My friend, Professor Gord Doomzeal, holds that Potus presided over a great priesthood, that Scotus dabbled in the mystical interpretation of 18th-century grocery lists, and that Cotus chiefly dealt in pork. He is thus able to assimilate these u2018structures' to a body of ancient lore dating back 5,000 years Before Petroleum. Myself, I shun such fables and look for concrete institutional and economic facts."

"My colleagues Huzon Ferst, Watson Seckund, and Ida Nozon III support my position, and have done, quite consistently, in the Journal of Post-Conflagration Archeology. This debate has been running longer than u2018Mash.'"

"Anyhow," he said, "over time, people in the Late Phase gathered the three names into One, giving u2018PCSCOTUS,' that is, /*pkskótus/, which only a Kartvelian-speaker could pronounce. We therefore add vowels arbitrarily and call it u2018Pocoscotus.' We think the Late — or certainly very tardy – Americans did that, too. Contrary to Herr Professor Lipps-Wudei's claims, there is no connection with Pocahontas."

"Of course by the Late Phase, Americans called themselves u2018Usans,' from USA, the acronym of the original name of the place. By then, they saw Pocoscotus as a kind of trinity supercharged with mystical powers, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, able to see everywhere simultaneously in u2018real time,' as they put it, and — most important — able to see into men's hearts. This conception of their state apparatus as a trinity was a kind of blasphemy from the standpoint of the Usans' earliest religious beliefs, but the Late Phase generations were not much bothered by such things. We have learned a lot about their popular cultural practices from surviving tapes of something called u2018Seinfeld.'"

"From this last source, we conclude that the Late Bloomers believed in u2018Nothing,' which they reified and recommended to people everywhere. The term u2018nihilism' would fit, though they seldom used it. The connection between nihilism and the Great Annihilation contains many riddles and some of my colleagues refer to the Late Phasers as the Pre-Nils. Hmmm."

There was an awkward pause, but the Professor was soon back on his thought thread.

"Well, yes, where was I? Right! Now having thrown aside their forebears' ways across the board, the Usans asserted that no one should have any beliefs or practices that were not up-to-date in an up-to-the-minute kind of way. Their latest u2018norms' should prevail worldwide, they held, and in their deracination and alienation they waged a great crusade to raise Everyman up to their new-found heights, worldover."

(Here the Professor misspoke. The Late Phasers would have said "Every Being." Warming to his topic, he went on: )

"The Usans' leaders created a special strike force called the Hellstorm Swarm, armed with the latest technolgy for searching out Bad Thoughts, and with WRD, or Weapons of Righteous Destruction. Their writ ran everywhere and they undertook many a Dirty Urban Warfare Campaign. Their motto was u2018Precision and Excess, One and Inseparable.' Funnily enough, it was a group of mild-mannered Professors writing in the American Journal of International Law who came up with the name u2018Hellstorm Swarm.' Go figure."

Flushed with excitement, the Professor unlocked yet another word hoard:

"Well, you know, there was this man, Robert Capstone Pagan, who became the great theoretician of the Late Phase Usans. He made the Honors List and took the titles C. I., Court Intellectual, and O.D.P., Old Doctrine Peddler. He did well by doing good, or so his many friends and onhangers said."

"Pagan became the Chief Rationalizer for the deeds of the Hellstorm Swarm and other like agencies too numinous to mention. Soon these agencies were fighting forty to sixty wars at a time. They referred to these wars as u2018peace-making,' perhaps recalling a line from Tacitus."

"Meanwhile, in the Usans' original homeland fastness, which Usan leaders grandly called u2018Here,' all was not well. Here is something from the annals of the Late Times: u2018Cattle die, kinsfolk die, oneself dies the same…' Oh wait, that's a much earlier text. But even so, the tone of the Late writings is like that; it's very Old Norse or Kali Yuga, you know. It's all gloom, doom, wrack, and ruin."

"And why not?" he cried, eyes ablaze. "This story's got everything! Hell paved over with good intentions… The throbbing gristle of a Living Constitution and the farcical Unfolding of History's Will in another preposterous text called The Charter… There is the u2018last best hope of mankind' which became so unbounded and ruthless that, in time, all mankind hoped it would go indoors for a nap… This tale's got everything from Greek tragedy to low-budget slasher film. It's epic! Two thumbs up!"

I decided it was time to leave the agitated old Professor to his thoughts. He was slumped in his chair, shaking his head sadly. On my way out I could not help noticing a jumbled book manuscript on a side table. The title page read: On the World's Loom, volume I: Neo-Con Doom.

January 20, 2003