Saturday, December 20, 2003

copeland morris EARLY SNOW

Soon Eurydice, there is early snow,
When the nightingale puts down her head.
Whenever bobbie pins mark the places in Auden,
A suitcase is snapping shut. A taxi signals.

Ribbons of narrow cursive begin to print,
A sleepless cigarette in your other hand,
The snow, my ghostly sense of falling back,
Jumping overgrowth with wheels on my feet.

Later, in your arms, I have dreamed of skating;
And where we turn into autumn, words appear,
A poem beside a sidewalk buried in snow.

Monday, December 15, 2003

V For Victory

Well, they've got Saddam. Bush's evil twin has been smoked out of his rat hole, just like the gunslinger said he would be. Well, actually he said the rat that bombed the trade center would be the one we would smoke out. And we know that wasn't Saddam, it was Osama, wasn't it? Ah, well, who's keeping score at this point? Rat catching's not an exact science, after all.

As they showed a video tape of a doctor poking and prodding the beleaguered s.o.b. to a roomful of cheering army personnel, the bloodlust was almost palpable. I'm sure it was equally palpable around a good many firesides in America, as we watched it played over and over and over on the news. Every time I switched the channel, there was old Saddam again with his mouth gaped open like a horse under inspection. Or getting nits picked out of his hair.

I suppose it's inevitable. The one who "got Saddam" will win the next election. I look for a dismal year of gory nationalism leading up to a big finish--an execution set for mid-October. That will give FOX News a good three weeks to replay the execution over and over and over before the election.

Here's a little something maybe we could all use right now.


Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
the sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Diary of A Rag And Bone Man

No. 4. Ode To Santo Nino
By Jack Rafter.


November 30. Dear Mr. Mowgli. Well, another Thanksgiving came and went. Another jillion turkeys killed and eaten by all the flesh eaters in every city and hamlet in America. And, yes, Vincent and I were among the flesh eaters. Vincent, being a dog, is a natural-born flesh-eater, of course. It’s funny. You don’t find too many vegetarians among us bums. Only people who have plenty to eat can afford to leave off meat. Bums have to take what they can scrounge, or whatever’s handed them.

The day didn’t start out too promising. Since I last wrote you, I’ve been spending some nights in boxcars at the train yard—the big Centennial Yard here in Fort Baird. Seemed like the best place to get out of the cold. I put on my wool overcoat, wrapped an army blanket around me, then rolled up inside a big piece of cardboard. There’s always lots of cardboard in boxcars. So I managed to stay warm.

Then, on Thanksgiving Eve, I took sick. Must have been something I ate. I was up and down all night, retching, battling chills and fever. What made it worse was having to roll out of my cardboard cocoon every half hour, then drag myself over to the door to heave out on the rocky railroad bed. Poor Vincent didn’t sleep much, either. Every time I crawled out, he was up shadowing me, thinking we were going somewhere, then he’d follow me back, watch me roll up again, and plop down next to me with a heavy sigh.

Finally, I passed out. I don’t know how long I slept, but the dream I had was a little strange. In this dream, I was roaming the streets in a town that looked like the dingy East End of London in the 19th century, even though I knew it was really Fort Baird. I was walking along the avenue with this mop-haired teenager dressed in the most ragged, filthy clothes I’d ever seen. He was a thief, a pickpocket, and he talked a mile a minute. He gestured a lot as he spoke and I could see his hands and fingers were brown with dirt, his over-long fingernails had'nt been cleaned or trimmed in years. He seemed to find himself quite the entertainer and laughed at every other sentence. I winced at his teeth and gums, which were black and rotted. Suddenly, I had a realization. I turned to him and said, “You’re the Artful Dodger, aren’t you? And I’m Oliver Twist.” He smiled and winked at me, as if it was a secret between us.

“C’mon,” he said, “I’ll introduce you to the King of Thieves.”

Suddenly, we were in a huge room. It wasn’t the poor surroundings of the robbers’ den in Dickens’ story. More like a room in a palace, filled with expensive antique furniture. Rich tapestries and paintings hung on the walls; huge chandeliers flew from the ceiling. Open chests filled with gold coins flanked the walls. A grand table of polished mahogany twenty yards long stood in the center of the room, all set for dinner with the finest china, gleaming silver place settings; its center-piece was an enormous ice sculpture in the shape of an elephant, flanked by vases of flowers. The room was crowded with people decked out like royalty from the 18th century. They wore the finest silks, powdered wigs capped by tri-fold hats, festooned with colorful ostrich plumes. I realized it was an elaborate costume party, and I felt nakedly out of place in my pauper’s raiment. The Dodger, standing nearby, whispered, “Just do what everyone else does, and no one will notice you.”

I nodded and stood there, not quite believing it. But it seemed to work just as he said.

Suddenly, everyone broke into applause and cheers. The Dodger called out: “Don’t just stand there, Oliver. Clap hands!” So I clapped with enthusiasm. Then, I saw what everyone was applauding. At the far end of the room, a carriage was brought in, the kind mounted on poles, carried by dusky skinned servants, two in front and two in back. The carriage was studded with glimmering jewels of jade, diamonds and gold filigree. They set the carriage down on a stand with steps leading up to the door. The servants stood at attention. Then, one of them opened the door. A spotlight clicked on and the whole thing was bathed in white light. Into the light stepped a little man wearing a jeweled crown, carrying a scepter. Unlike the others, he was dressed in a slick suit and tie. As he filled the doorway, he suddenly looked up and flashed a big smile. The light radiated on his ruddy cheeks and sparkled on flashing teeth. With a jolt, I recognized George W. Bush. Glancing around, I now found I could pick out faces in the crowd—off over there was Ken Lay, and beyond him was Donald Rumsfeld, and there was John Ashcroft, and Condi Rice, and Paul Wolfowitz. I blinked stupidly as I recognized each one. Then I blinked again, as I beheld the man standing right next to me, applauding and cheering. It was none other than Oliver North, dressed like a four-star general. He bit down on a big cigar and shined like a monument. He was shouting: “That’s my boy! Go get ‘em, Georgie!”

Standing next to Ollie was the almost cartoonish looking John Poindexter. “My God,” I thought to myself. I wasn’t about to quit applauding. Then, I looked to my left. I was shocked to see the nasty little Dodger hungrily groping some woman. She had long blonde hair like a surfer girl, and she just gleamed and sparkled next to the Dodger, who looked and smelled like a hyena. He had his filthy hand up her short skirt and he was sucking on her neck. You could almost hear him smooching and slurping. Then, for a moment, I caught her eyes as she looked at me wantonly over his shoulder. “Sweet bleedin’ Jesus!” I said under my breath. “It’s Ann Coulter!”

I averted my eyes and kept applauding like a mad fool. The little Prez-King stepped down to the floor, waving his scepter at the crowd, as if blessing them, like a Pope. Another man stepped into the doorway of the carriage. The spotlight flashed off his bald dome as bright as a camera flash, temporarily blinding me. Then, he looked up. It was Dick Cheney. He, too, was dressed in a suit and tie. Pinstripe. Big cigar in his pudgy hand. He waved the cigar at the crowd. People were going ape-shit.

Suddenly, a shower of confetti was unleashed. The lights swung this way and that way, glancing and glinting off green pieces of paper fluttering down. “God!” I thought, “It’s money!” Green backs! All crisp, newly minted. They fell over the carriage, over the two gloating men, over everyone and everything in the room. And it wasn’t just ones or even tens or twenties. But hundreds, five-hundreds, thousand-dollar bills! A gully-washer of cash!

As I stood there, I felt the floor surge and move under me. The room began to spin till I was dizzy. Then it seemed to go black, the mindless cheers and applause faded to a low roar. I felt as if I were being sucked down and swallowed by some huge throttling, rolling machine.

It took awhile to realize that the machine was the train moving. My eyes blinked open. I sat up and looked around. No longer surrounded by opulence and cheering revelers, but by the dark, grimy insides of the boxcar. At first I couldn’t figure out where I was, the dream seemed so real. I focused my eyes on the big open door—trees and telephone poles whooshing by. Yes sir, moving at a good clip, she was.

All of a sudden, I forgot about being sick. In fact, the nausea seemed to have vanished. I rolled out of my cardboard, drunk-walked over to the doorway, and had a look. Right off, I could see we weren’t in Fort Baird anymore. It was all rolling hills, dark woods and cedar breaks. Not a house or car in sight.

How long had I been asleep? For a moment I panicked. I thought of jumping from the train, but it was impossible. We were moving too fast. I watched the land roll by. The night seemed to be lifting. The moon sat low in the West. The sky to the East, far behind the train, showed a river of pale blue broken with long finger islands of pink and red. Gradually, the blue river spread out and began to lighten the tops of trees and hills. Vincent looked up at me, smiling, wagging his tail. That is one dog that loves to travel. Most times, I do, too. But this wasn’t one of those times.

Still, there wasn’t much I could do but ride this train. I gave up and tried napping awhile, rolled up in my cardboard, but the racketing rolling motion of the boxcar made it impossible to sleep. So it was back to the doorway, where I sat cross-legged, my army blanket pulled around me, and Vincent making a warm spot on one side.

We crossed a big railroad trestle and saw pockets of mist snuggled in creeks, hovering over the shadowy parts of the river far below. The sun climbed the sky and the mist burned off. It was actually starting to get warm. I let the blanket slide off my shoulders and dozed awhile, sitting up.

Every so often, I’d wake up and see a house or a farm go by or the highway come up close for a spell, then drift away again. There weren’t many cars. Then, I realized it was Thanksgiving and everybody was most likely at home eating turkey and sweet potatoes, cornbread and pumpkin pie. The thought of it made me feel nostalgic and hungry.

Then, around what I guessed was ten o’clock, I felt the train lurch and start slowing down. There was the highway running along, and scattered buildings, warehouses, stores, houses made of cinder brick or shacks with hog wire enclosing dirt yards and chicken coops. We were rolling into a small town somewhere. I got up and looked out the door toward the front of the train. We were just pulling into the yard. A sign went by that said, “Jeffords.” Now, I knew where we were. We were about a hundred fifty miles west of Fort Baird.

The train slowed to a crawl as it labored into the yard. By now, Vincent was up, watching everything with the keen interest in the most routine things that only a dog seems to possess. I swung my legs out the doorway as we rode along. Then, with a slight jolt, the train came to a halt, shivering through the cars, like a row of dominoes clacking into each other.

I sat there. Vincent paced and whimpered a little, as if to say, “Now what?” But I wasn’t in any particular hurry to wander off somewhere. Where would I go? The train sat, huffing and sighing. A blustering breeze made a humming sound as it blew through metal sleeves and crevices, and whipped and scattered dust around me in the boxcar. But the sun slanted down, kept the chill at bay. Not a cloud in the sky. I told myself things could be worse. It could be freezing rain.

I scooted over and leaned against the doorframe. Vincent sighed and lay down again. I only had to figure out when a train might be headed in the opposite direction. Hitchhiking was out of the question. Riding in a boxcar leaves you looking filthy and unsightly. Doubtful anyone would stop.

Sitting there, I thought about food again. I pictured myself knocking at the back door of the Busy Bee Griddle in Fort Baird. The morning cook is Johnny Blair, who also happens to be the owner. Now, there’s a real character. His head is completely shaved and most of his body covered with tattoos. He still has a few bare spots, but his goal is to cover every square inch. Except for his head, I suppose. And he might have plans for that, as well. The whole effect of the shaved head, the black goth t-shirts he wears, and the tattoos, makes him look a little scary to people who don’t know him. But he’s gentle as a lamb. And generous to a fault. If I show up at the right time, he’s liable to scramble me up some eggs, throw in a couple of strips of bacon and some hash-browns—not the processed kind, but real honest-to-god hash-browns, made out of chunks of new potatoes fried to a golden brown in onions and paprika. Pure heaven. When I have any money, I give it to him. If I’m short, he winks and says, “I’ll put it on your tab.”

And he always tells me to come back for lunch, though I never do. You don’t want to wear out a good thing.

You’ll never catch me waxing romantic about being broke or poor, or acting like money ain’t important, ‘cause by God, nothing is more important to them that don’t have any. But there are other ways of paying people, and some of those ways may actually be better than money. For instance, Johnny Blair has a love for anything odd or interesting. So if I happen to find something in my wanderings that I think might catch his fancy, I take it to him. I found a minieball one time lying next to a park bench. I found a beautiful conch shell in a pile of rubbish in front of a dilapidated house where someone had been evicted. I found a three-foot long rattlesnake skeleton—completely intact, including the rattles—in a shelf of limestone in a coulee near the train yards. I gave them all to Johnny one time or another, in return for all the breakfasts he’s given me at the Busy Bee.

But just then, Johnny Blair's hot grill seemed a long way away. Thanksgiving was even further. In Fort Baird, there’s a few churches and shelters where folks down on their luck can score some turkey, a scoop of brocolli-cheeze casserole, a slice of Wonder bread and a dab of canned cranberry sauce. But sometimes I just get to thinking about my family on Thanksgiving, my wife and children, and then I just want to hole up somewhere and declare a day of fasting, in respect of better days.

Now, stuck in this strange town, I didn’t know what to do or where to go for food. Takes awhile to get to know a town, you see. I hated to walk off, especially if it meant missing the only eastbound train that day.

Maybe there was someone I could ask. A switchman or a signalman. I leaned out, looking up and down the train. But there wasn’t a soul in sight. Maybe they all went home. It was a small yard, after all. There were only a few other trains parked here and there, all dead quiet, except for the wind gusting through their doorways.

Finally, for want of better ideas, I gathered myself and hopped down. Vincent was up in a flash, whimpering and pacing. The jump was too much for him. I reached up, grabbed him and set him on the ground. “Don’t wander off, Vince,” I said. I pulled a length of clothesline out of my coat pocket and tied it on his collar. We started walking up beside the train, then crossed the tracks, climbing over a coupling or two, weaving between trains. Then, we went out of the yard and walked along the highway.

Most everything was closed, only a few cars driving around. We spotted a guy sitting on a guardrail, having a smoke. He wore an old fedora, a filthy plaid suit jacket and mismatched pants. I took him for a stray from the train yard. He glanced sideways at us as we walked up. I wasn’t sure whether to talk to him or not. You have to understand—so many of these homeless folks are just batshit. Once you start a conversation, they’re liable to cling to you like flypaper. It was hard to avoid him, though, so I nodded as I came up.

“Hello, pardner,” he said with a gap-toothed smile.

“Hello,” I said. His eyes were noticeably bloodshot, but otherwise, he looked more or less level and plumb, so I said, “Could you tell me where me and my dog might get us a bite to eat around here?”

He chuckled. “Well, sir, I just was sitting here wondering the same thing, myself.”

“You’re not from here?”

“Who me? Oh, no, I’m from over Fort Baird way.”

“So am I. How’d you get here?”

“That train over there delivered me here.”

“Is that right? Well that train delivered me here, too.”

“Ain’t that a caution!” he slapped his knee, laughing.

“Did you mean to come here?” I asked him.

“Hell, no, I didn’t mean anything of the kind. But then, I ain’t meant to do anything in twenty years.” He laughed again, snorting, like a horse. “Drank a little too much hooch last night, I guess, and passed out in one of them cars. Next thing I know I’m wakin’ up in a different freight yard, in a different town. Thought I was dreamin’. Guess I’m lucky I’m still in the country. What happened to you, friend?”

I told him my story. Then I asked him if he had any money on him.

“Got exactly four bits,” he said, grinning.

“I’ve got a dollar and some change,” I said.

“Wow, finally met a rich man!” he chuckled. Then, he nodded up the highway. “There’s a convenience store up yonder. It’s open, too. This is Thanksgiving, ain’t it?”


“Well, it’s open. I was gonna buy me a banana, but he wanted seventy-five cents. Can you believe that?”

“We could get more for our money if we could find a supermarket,” I said.

“I don’t know where anything is.” He shook his head.

I looked around. “Well, I hate to leave the yard. I wonder if there’s another train going back today.”

“I wondered that, too,” he said. “But I couldn’t find nobody to ask. An’ if I did, I’d be skeard they might arrest me.”

We both shrugged, fell into step, and started toward the convenience store.

“Nice dog,” said the man. “What’s his name?”

“Vincent. And I’m Jack Rafter.”

“Glad to meet you, fellas. My name’s Brewer. Finster Brewer. He don’t bite, does he, Jack?”


He reached down, patted Vincent on the back. As we walked along, a police car slinked by, gave us the once-over, and moved off.

“Just keep on goin’, my friend,” said Finster Brewer, smiling and waving at the cops. The cops looked back without smiling.

We crossed the highway and entered the convenience store. We poked around awhile, counting and recounting our money, trying to figure out what we could buy. The shopkeeper, who was either Pakistani or Indian, watched every move we made and seemed to go out of his way not to look too cheerful. I tried to make small talk with him, but he just grunted “yes” or “no” or “uh-huh,” and about all he could do was form incomplete sentences. And it wasn’t because he couldn’t speak English.

At one point, Finster, smiling, said to him, “Hey, bet you wish you were home for Thanksgiving, huh, friend?” The guy said, “I don’t care about Thanksgiving. I’d rather be here, making money.” But he didn’t look like he wanted to be there at all. Then, he said, “You gonna buy something or you just gonna look?”

So we made our purchases and got out of there. Finster said, “What’s the matter with him?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

We came out with two bananas and a six-pack of peanut butter crackers. “Here,” I said, opening the package. “There’s three for you and three for me.”

“Well, this oughta hold me till lunch,” Finster chuckled. Then, he popped one of the little cracker sandwiches in his mouth. “Mm, not bad,” he mumbled.

We peeled our bananas and ate them as we walked back to the yard. Finster said, “Well, lucky for us it ain’t freezing, eh?”

“Damn right,” I said. He smiled, jovially, his cheek pooched out like a squirrel's. I said, “Finster—that’s an unusual name, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is,” he said.

“Where’d you get that name from?”

“Well, my mother give me that name. She was an artist. She named me after this fella, Howard Finster. Maybe you heard of him.”

“Don’t think so,” I said.

“Well, he’s kinda famous, now. Been written up in some of the magazines. Time and Newsweek, and them. He was what they call a primitive artist. Meaning somebody that didn’t actually go to school to be an artist. You know, they just start in one day doin’ whatever the hell they want to do, paintin’ on scraps of wood or tin or whatever they happen to pick up here and there. You know, what most other people see as trash, they’ll see it as somethin’ that could be beautiful and then sure nuff make somethin’ out of it. Of course, you never hardly find their work in a gallery or a museum because it’s not done on canvas or it’s not framed properly or it ain’t considered proper by the experts—you know, it’s not impressionism or realism or any other isms, so they call it primitive, just like we once called the aborigines primitives or savages because they weren’t us. So these artists just have to get along, somehow, do whatever they can to get their work out there. And if that means putting their paintings out by the road so people in cars can see ‘em as they drive by, or stickin’ ‘em up on fence posts, then that’s what they do. And that’s what ol' Howard Finster did. He started puttin’ his work up around his house. Then out in the yard. Then, up on the fences. And then on the sides of his house. And even on the roof. Till gradually, over the years, his house, his yard, his trees, and just about everything he owned, became one great sprawling work of art. I swear his place looks like something out of a storybook. I haven’t been there, but I’ve seen pictures of it. It’s like a weird fairy tale. He’s very religious, too, Howard Finster. Lots of religious themes running through his work. Quotes from the Bible. All kinds of lessons and warnings and forebodings. Yep, Finster’s very religious.” He paused a moment, thinking with a frown. “He just died recently, I believe. He was livin’ in Georgia. Somewhere near Athens, I think. His house is a tourist attraction, now. His wife's in charge of it. I always wanted to go see his house and meet the man I was named after. But I never got around to it. Maybe I’ll do that one of these days. Maybe I’ll go meet Finster’s wife. That would be something, wouldn’t it. Hi, I’m Finster Brewer. I was named after your late husband.”

We paused at the entrance to the yard.

“I named my dog after an artist.”

“You did?”

“Yeah—Van Gogh.”

“Wow! Is that right? Now, there was a great man. He painted some beautiful things. Like Starry Night. Now, that’s my favorite painting in the whole world. I love that painting. Wish I had a copy of it. You don’t have a copy of it, do you, Jack?”

“No, I don’t.”

“I almost think my life would be complete right now if I could just get me a copy of that Starry Night. Yeah. I think that would do it for me.”

“You say your mother was an artist?”

“Oh, yeah! My mother was a great artist! She could paint and draw whatever she wanted. She was trained. Chicago Art Institute, nineteen-fifty—lemme think. Fifty-two? Or was it fifty-three? Look here.” He reached inside his coat, brought out a folded piece of paper. Stained and yellow. Carefully, he opened it up--it was about to fall apart at the creases—to reveal a pencil sketch, lightly drawn. It was of a boy with a dark crop of hair, a careless droop over the eyes. I studied it a moment. Finster was quiet. The lines were delicate, drawn by a sure hand. Signed, Nina Brewer, 1964.” I looked at Finster. “Is this you?”

“Yeah, it’s me,” he whispered. “I was twelve years old.” Suddenly choked, he covered his face with a grimy hand. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled.

“It’s all right,” I said.

“I can’t bear to think of her. She went mad. She died all alone in some bad place.”

He stood there a moment, sobbing quietly. I rested my hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Finster,” I said.

“I’ll be okay,” he said under his hand. “I’ll be okay in a minute.” Then, sniffling, he looked up, managed a smile. “Really, I’m okay. Just caught me by surprise. She does that to me sometimes. Haven’t thought of her in awhile.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah.” He carefully folded the sketch, slipped it back inside his coat over his heart.

“C’mon,” I said, and started into the yard. He hung back. “Aren’t you coming?”

“No,” he smiled. “Think I’ll try it here awhile. Might be easier bein’ broke here than broke in the big city.”

“Maybe so,” I said. “Well. . .see ya, Finster. Good luck.”

“Wait.” Reaching in the side pocket of his coat, he pulled out a slender glass object and held it out. “Here,” he said.

“What is it?”

“It’s a candle. A luminaria. Found it in the boxcar last night. Somebody musta used it before me. You take it, now. Might need it some dark night. See? It has a saint on it. Santo Nino de Atocha. She’s an infant saint. If you pray on her real hard, your wishes will be fulfilled.” He held it out. “Take it, Jack.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “Thanks, Finster.”

“Don’t mention it.”

I slipped the candle in my coat pocket. We stood looking at each other a moment. Then, we both nodded. I turned and walked off. When I got to the first train to cross over the coupling, I looked back. Finster was sitting on the guardrail by the yard, smoking, staring off at the highway and the passing cars.


There weren’t any trains pointed east, so Vincent and I went back to the one we came in on. It was still sitting there. We went to the same boxcar, climbed up inside and sat in the doorway. I gave Vincent a peanut butter cracker sandwich to assuage his hunger, then I ate the last one. We sat watching the yard. It was pretty quiet. The wind whistled through the crevices.

After awhile, I took out the glass luminaria and studied it. There was just a dab of candle left in the bottom. It would be hard to light without a long match. The young girl saint was pictured on the front, sitting on a little throne. She wore a red cape with a seashell attached, like a brooch. The cape had a broad white collar with ruffles. She wore a little blue hat turned up in front with a plume billowing out the top. She wore a matching blue dress with sandals. She had long dark locks and loving eyes. In her right hand, a basket. In her left, a scepter and several shoots of wheat. On the back were these words printed in blue:


Gracious infant of Atocha! Infant of a thousand
Wonders. I salute thee and glorify thee on this day
and offer this novena in memory of thy tender
love that was always evident to your sainted mother
and father. Look favorably on this favor and
request and grant that which I humbly solicit. Amen.
(Concentrate on your petition)

In small print below, it said: “Reed Candle Co. San Antonio, Texas.”

I turned the candle around and looked into the soft, kind eyes of Santo Nino de Atocha. I said: “Dear little Saint. My dog and I would sure appreciate something good to eat right now.” I looked at her a moment longer, concentrating hard. I closed my eyes and meditated on the thought of wonderful food. When I opened my eyes again, she seemed to be looking at me with a pleased expression on her face. Then I slipped the luminaria back in my coat pocket.

We sat there about an hour, Vincent snuggled against me. I was just dozing off when I felt him jerk awake, then he was up on his feet with a slight whimper. I turned and looked at him. He was staring out the door toward the back of the train. There was a man coming. He wore blue overalls, a blue-jean jacket and a pin-striped cap. Red bandana at his neck. He was dark-skinned and as he drew closer, I noticed a short growth of beard on his chin, almost white, no mustache. He looked about sixty years old. But he walked with a purpose and a vigor, despite his years, and barely glanced at me as he passed.

I nodded to him, but he just kept moving as if to say: “Don’t bother me, now, I’m busy.” Vincent and I watched him walk up the track beside the train. He raised his arms over his head and waved at someone—probably the engineer, but never slowed his pace.

I heard the clacketing all the way down through the cars and braced myself, then felt my boxcar buck as it jerked forward. The switchman reached out, grabbed a ladder on the side of a boxcar and leaped up in one fluid motion. I debated whether to jump down or stay put. The train crawled further into the yard, maybe an eighth of a mile, then abruptly stopped. The switchman swung down, graceful as a dancer, raised his left arm and waved like a clock hand starting at “twelve,” and arcing backwards to “nine.” Then, he turned, and started back in my direction. Moving quickly, he bent at the waist and glanced under the cars as he came. Now and then, he’d reach under, pull something, then move on. When he got to my car, he stopped, checked the air hose by the coupling, then looked under the car. Vincent and I sat quietly watching him. He was big, broad across the shoulders, like a prizefighter. His face was serious. There was something formidable about him. I had a feeling he was going to speak to me. I thought he was going to tell me to get lost.

Instead, he said “Hello,” as he moved by me.

“Hello,” I said.

He went back and checked between the cars, then turned, looked toward the front of the train, and waved. Then, pausing, he looked at me. He didn’t speak right off, but when he did, he said: “This train’s laid aside.”

“Oh, it is?” I said.


It sounded like a nice way of saying, “Get lost.” I started to move.

“That’s all right,” he said, “stay there, if you want. I’m just tellin’ you so’s you’ll know.”

“Thanks,” I said.

He glanced toward the front of the train, waved again. This time, it looked more like a friendly wave than a signal. I looked that way and saw a man walking away from the engine.

The switchman said, “He’s goin’ home.” He paused and looked at us. “That’s some dog you got there.”

“His name’s Vincent,” I said.

“Oh. You two on your way somewheres?”

“Tryin’ to get back to Fort Baird,” I said.

“Ah, you come out here on this train, didn’t you?” He smiled slightly.

“Yup, sure did.”

“Fall asleep in there, did you?”

“Somethin’ like that.”

“I see ‘em do that a lot on this train.”


“Uh-huh. Don’t know what it is about this ol’ girl. Just seem like she wants to bring folks out here, for some reason. Then leave ‘em stranded. She oughta know better, but she’s a mischievous ol’ thing.”

“Where does she go from here?”

“Ain’t goin’ nowhere now. Goin’ back to Fort Baird in the morning, though. She just runs between here and there. Little ol’ pack train. Number 7 out of Fort Baird.”

He shook out a cigarette, held out the pack.

“No, thanks,” I said. “Is there another train going back today?”

“Nope, not a one.”

He lit his cigarette with a silver flip-top lighter, snapped it shut, slipped it back in his pocket. He took a long first drag, letting it out slow. While he did that, he stood there looking at me and the dog, as if quietly sizing us up. The smoke made his eyes squint a little. After a moment, he said, “You hungry?”

“Yes, I am.”

He took a watch out of his overall vest pocket. It was a nice one—old and smooth, hooked on a chain. He glanced at it, then put it back. “’Bout noon,” he said. “C’mon.” He turned and started off. I grabbed Vincent and jumped down. We followed him to the rear of the train, about fifty yards. To my surprise, there was a rusty red caboose attached at the end.

“I thought they did away with cabooses,” I said.

“Not on this train,” he replied. “I been workin’ trains almost thirty-five years. When they asked me if I wanted this line, I told ‘em they had to give me a caboose or I was gonna retire. So they give me a caboose.”

He started up the steps, then paused and looked back at me. “By the way,” he said, “I’m Spencer Dupree. What’s yours?”

“Jack,” I said. “Jack Rafter.” I started to tie Vincent outside.

“That's all right, bring him on in.” Spencer opened a door and stepped inside. Vincent and I followed him in. We filed through a narrow passageway, and entered a small room. I was stunned by what I saw. The table by the window was covered with white linen. There were two place-settings with fine old china, a silver tray in the center arrayed with nice cuts of turkey, light meat on one side, dark on the other. Next to that, a silver pitcher of mushroom and giblet gravy. There were bowls with green beans, black-eyed peas, home-made cranberry sauce, a platter of sweet potatoes, a black skillet of cornbread. Sunlight angled in the window made it all look even more magical and delicious.

Then, I noticed the silver-haired woman sitting at the end of the table. She wore a beautiful blue silk dress with a white rose over her breast. She smiled. The switchman removed his hat. “This is my wife, Jewel,” he said. “And this is Jack Rafter. Jack’s joinin’ us for dinner, honey.”

“Very pleased to meet you, Jack,” she said.

“Oh, Lord, I’m not dressed for this,” I said, backing up a little.

“No, no, don’t worry about it,” said Spencer, grabbing me by the arm. “Honey, I think we’re gonna need an extra place setting.”

“Coming up,” Jewel said. She got up, went back to a closet, brought out another plate and silverware, setting them on the table between hers and Spencer’s.

“Spencer, I’m a wreck,” I whispered. “I can’t sit in front of your wife like this. Maybe if I could wash up a little--?

He nodded, slipped his arm around his wife's waist and kissed her on the lips. "We're goin' back here a minute, honey. Be right back."

"I'll be here," she smiled, and kissed him back. For a moment, they seemed to gush over each other.

Then, he lead me to a bathroom at the other end of the car. There was a shower stall inside. I must have looked at it with longing.

“Would you like to use that shower?” Spencer said, smiling.

“Yes, sir, I sure would.”

The shower had hot water and was a pure dream. I couldn't get enough of it--I'm sure I took too long. Afterward, drying off, I gazed on my pile of filthy clothes with dread. Then, there was a knock. I opened the door a crack, and a womanly hand slipped through the opening holding a hanger of fresh clothes. “Thanks,” I whispered. “You’re welcome.” The voice sounded like honey on the other side of the door.

My beard was still a bit scraggly, but at least it was clean. There was a comb in a glass by the sink. I combed my wet hair and parted it on the side. Then I put on the clean flannel shirt and khaki pants. Both were too big for me, but I rolled up the sleeves and the cuffs and cinched the waist up with my old belt, and never felt better.

Saturday, December 06, 2003


The Republican leadership are notorious for not recognizing a bad idea when one occurs to them. Majority House Leader, Tom DeLay, wanted to take such an idea for a cruise up the Hudson River. Wouldn't it be nice if the Party had an enormous, floating hotel accommodation and restaurant venue for delegates and congressional personnel, during September's National Republican Convention, in New York City? Yes. The Norwegian Dawn, a colossal ocean liner, would be docked alongside the symbolic, September 11th Metropolis.

As one would expect, this made many New York hotelkeepers, restaurateurs, and theatre owners indignant. Certainly there was the matter of revenue which had been promised to NYC small businesses and hotels, under negotiations between the City and the Party; but more galling was the insult to New Yorkers, which many took personally.

Michael Slackman's New York Times article (Dec 1, 2003) records a few of these complaints. Democratic Representative Charles B. Rangel reacted: "What is it? They don't want to be contaminated by us?"..."It is a very, very unfriendly thing to do."

The Times article also mentions considerable Republican "hand-wringing", both in Washington and New York. "I think DeLay felt there was a benefit of being on a cruise ship", said one congressional Republican, under condition of anonymity, "He felt it was classy and upscale." (Indeed.) According to the reporter, "The [RNC] has booked 22,000 hotel rooms for the convention at an average rate of about $196 per night; in comparison, the rate on the ship is about $240 to $430 a night."

"...few Republicans are willing to challenge Mr. DeLay." On the other hand, some balkers were upset: "In an era of nonstop news and visuals, do you want a visual of the convention to be a group of of people sequestered on a cruise ship?"

The weblog, Sisyphus Shrugged, gives a priceless quote from New York's Republican Mayor. "It gives you a good visual", Bloomberg offered sarcastically at his press conference, on the day after the cruise ship idea was floated. "The ship even boasts a talking Statue of Liberty for those who don't want to visit the silent one in New York Harbor."

And what of Tom DeLay? What end of his riddle? Well, without ever admitting he was wrong, he agreed to scuttle his own idea, roughly 24 hours after it was submitted to the City.

Image via Chris's Planet of the Apes Page.

Sunday, November 30, 2003


Dreadful memories of public strife in the 1960s, during the Vietnam War , are the closest parallel to what happened in Miami, during the FTAA demonstration in late November, 2003. There was a police riot and somewhere near 200 were arrested and many others were brutalized during the days of protest.

The programed aspect of the melee and its paramilitary organization is the most disturbing part of the story. As authorized by Mayor Diaz and carried out by Police Chief John Timony, this violent interdiction has the fingerprints of Homeland Security all over it. It's bad enough when an offense against public order is committed by the police themselves; but worst of all, is the implication that this is sanctioned by higher authority and constitutes a schematic for repression, now dubbed the Miami Model.

The US Constitution may guarantee the right to assembly and protest; but the ominous threat to citizens who disagree with policy is being framed in such a way, as to confuse the boundary between acts of terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience. The ground rules are being altered to allow the use of paramilitary violence to crush dissent in the streets.

In an open letter to Miami's Mayor Diaz, dated November 20th, Michael Avery, President of The National Lawyers Guild writes:

"The actions of the Miami Police Department this week have violated the fundamental due process and First Amendment rights of thousands of peaceful protesters gathering to voice their opposition to the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit."

"The National Lawyers Guild is on site observing numerous illegal practices that Miami City leadership has referred to as a "blueprint for Homeland Security," including:

indiscriminate, excessive force against hundreds of nonviolent protesters with weapons including pepper spray, tear gas and concussion grenades, and rubber bullets;

Singling out of [National Lawyers Guild] Legal Observers wearing highly visible neon green caps. We have confirmed reports that five Legal Observers were arrested, and four of those assaulted by police officers;

Police stopping and snatching protesters, seemingly at random, into unmarked vehicles;

Police shooting protesters with rubber bullets and trapping them by police lines, resulting in major injuries. Police repeatedly refused to allow Medics into these areas to treat the injured."

"Such paramilitary tactics are ill-conceived and self-defeating and have no place in a democratic society. Such tactics are not only in direct violation of the constitutional rights of protesters, but also make young and inexperienced police officers more nervous, increasing the likelihood of serious bodily injury to many."

Writing for the Guardian, Naomi Klein observes that this working Miami Model is setting a new standard: ..."Police violence outside trade summits is not new; what is striking about Miami was how divorced the security response was from anything resembling an actual threat. From an activist perspective, the protests were small and obedient, an understandable response to weeks of police intimidation" Klein goes on to say that in order for this kind of model to work, "the police had to establish a connection between legitimate activists and dangerous terrorists"..."and Police Chief, John Timony, an avowed enemy of activist "punks",..."classified FTAA opponents as "outsiders coming in to terrorize and vandalize our city....Miami [thereby] became eligible for the open tap of public money irrigating the "war on terror". In fact, $8.5 [million] spent on security during the FTAA meeting came out of the $87 [billion] Bush extracted from Congress for Iraq last month."

Klein focuses her criticism on local media:

"Miami police...invited reporters to "embed" with them in armoured vehicles and helicopters. As in Iraq, most reporters embraced their role as pseudo soldiers with zeal, suiting up in combat helmets and flak jackets."

"The resulting media coverage was the familiar wartime combination of dramatic images and non-information"..."Local TV stations didn't cover the protests so much as hover over them. Their helicopters showed images of confrontations, but instead of hearing voices in the street--voices pleading with police to stop shooting and clearly following orders to disperse--we heard only from police officials and perky news anchors commiserating with the boys on the front line."

Democracy Now! reports other significant developments: "The United Steel Workers of America is calling for the firing of John Timony following last week's protest against [FTAA] and the dropping of all charges against peaceful protesters."...And the president of the steelworkers union [Leo Gerard] called for a congressional investigation into why $8.5 million from the Iraq reconstruction bill was used to pay for security at the protests. He said the money went towards "homeland repression"...

"The Alliance for Retired Americans also held a rally Tuesday in Miami to protest how the police handled senior citizens who attended the FTAA demonstrations. One 71-year-old man, Bentley Killmon, told the Associated Press he was arrested while he was looking for his organization's bus. But then he encountered police dressed in riot gear. They pushed him to the ground, arrested him, handcuffed him for 12 hours and denied him water or a chance to make a phone call. Killmon said, "The way I was treated, you would expect in a third world country, not in this country."

Global Exchange's Medea Benjamin offers this testimony: "I was on my way home one evening"..."in a van and got stopped by 12 police with guns put to our heads, forced out of the car, frisked, held, every piece of paper in the van gone through, and no markings on the police. They wouldn't tell us their names. They wouldn't tell us who they were with. They wouldn't tell us who was in charge. As we kept complaining, and yelling, and they kept threatening us. Finally one of them took me over to show me the booty they had collected from other cars. And they said, "Look, the reason we have to search everybody is because we came up with this"--and this was two hockey sticks and a baseball bat and one slingshot."

The largest contingent of protesters came from the ranks of the unions, and although the police actually prevented the timely arrival of a number of buses carrying union members, these marches went peacefully since they had permits. But as Jeremy Scahill reports:

..."as soon as the unions and their permits began to disperse, the police seized the moment to escalate the violence"...Fresh from their break during the union rally, Timony's forces ordered the protesters to clear the area in front of the Inter-Continental. Some of the demonstrators shouted back that they had the right to peacefully protest the FTAA.

Boom. The concussion grenades started flying.

Hiss. The tear gas was sprayed.

Rat-a-tat-tat. The rubber bullets were fired.

Bam, bam. The batons were swinging."

Monday, November 24, 2003


New FBI scrutiny of anti-war activities in the US is the subject of a New York Times article by Eric Lichtblau. And Juan Cole, a University of Michigan History Professor, raises concerns on his weblog about government intrusion and potential limits to civil rights in the US and UK. Professor Cole's article also deals with recent comments by US General Tommy Franks, where the career soldier describes a scenario in which the US Constitution might be suspended, placing America under military rule.

Lichtblau quotes Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, "The FBI is dangerously targeting Americans who are engaged in nothing more than lawful protest and dissent"..."The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred, and I have serious concern about whether we're going back to the days of Hoover."

Lichtblau later adds that "Critics of the Bush Administration's Iraq policy, for instance, have sued the government to learn how their names ended up on a "no fly" list used to stop suspected terrorists from boarding planes. Civil rights advocates have accused federal and local authorities in Denver and Fresno, [California], of spying on antiwar demonstrators or infiltrating planning meetings."

The reporter reminds us of the J. Edgar Hoover controversies of the 60s and 70s, "which included efforts by the FBI to harass and discredit Hoover's political enemies under a program known as Cointelpro"...These abuses..."led to tight restrictions on FBI investigations of political activities."

"These restrictions were relaxed significantly last year, when Attorney General John Ashcroft issued guidelines giving agents authority to attend public rallies, mosques and any event open to the public"..."What the FBI regards as potential terrorism," Mr Romero of the ACLU said, "strikes me as civil disobedience."

"The Republic and the Constitution are what America is about," writes Professor Cole. And he holds that General Tommy Frank's recent comments are scandalous. "Franks has speculated that in the wake of a major WMD attack, the US will scrap its constitution and adopt a military government." Professor Cole says that he "can't imagine a more fascist, irresponsible thing for [Franks] to say. George Washington, who faced ...proportionally much more devastating attacks and loss of life after 1776 (the population was 4 million then) never threw in the towel on democracy like that."

Journalist David Neiwert is in basic agreement with Cole and quotes the General,... "Franks says...that if terrorists obtain and use weapons of mass destruction..."the Western world, the free world, loses what it cherishes most, and that is freedom and liberty we've seen for a couple of hundred years in this grand experiment we call democracy."

The General elaborates:

"It means the potential of a weapon of mass destruction and a terrorist, massive, casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world--it may be in the United States of America--that causes our population to question our own Constitution and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution. Two steps, very, very important."

Professor Cole is horrified by the implication of General Frank's comment, and goes on to express concern for an analogous threat posed by legislation pending in the UK. "What is really alarming is that the British, who lack a Bill of Rights and have all along suffered from Government withdrawal of civil liberties at will (Thatcher sent SWAT teams to the offices of the Guardian once) are already moving in a fascist direction. The only hope of the British public for retention of what civil liberties it has is that the human rights laws of the European Union might impede the nation toward donning jackboots."

Political Editor, Andy McSmith, of the UK's Independent uses the Franks scenario to illustrate the heightening of fears around these civil rights issues. His article examines the Civil Contingencies Bill and its "sweeping measures"..."giving the Government power to over-ride civil liberties in times of crisis, and evacuate threatened areas, retrict people's movements and confiscate property."

"Some of the proposals in the draft version of the Bill, drawn up last summer, have alarmed civil rights activists, notably a clause that gives the Government the power to suspend parts or all of the Human Rights Act without a vote by MPs. Once an emergency has been proclaimed by the Queen, the Government can order the destruction of property, order people to evacuate an area or ban them from travelling, and "prohibit assemblies of specified kinds" and "other specified activities"...

"Civil liberties groups have been alarmed by the Cabinet Offices' sweeping definition of an "emergency" and the powers it confers."

image via indymedia uk

Friday, November 07, 2003


"Some losses cut as dearly as this, a son,
Two siblings that sheltered in the same womb;
But mourning, weeping, there comes an end of tears.
The Fates gave the human heart a means to endure."

--Homer, THE ILIAD, Book 24, [54-57]

From the safety of shelter the victors watch the storm; but stripped by fear and shame, they do not find peace at the end of the conflict. They are surprised at first, and then no longer surprised, by the persistence of conscience. And as the conflict ends without a sense of peace, the same pretenders find that they inhabit a cruel universe, where even their own gods have turned against them.

NOTE: These children were killed by American bombs in Afghanistan. Their father attends to their bodies. Photograph via freepressed


Note: “Dear Mr. Mowgli. . . .” From Jack’s Diary (see below entry.) Jack refers to his Diary as “Mr. Mowgli.” I recall that Mowgli was the boy raised by wolves in the forests of India, in Kipling’s Jungle Book (1894).

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

No. 3. Goodbye To Summer

by Jack Rafter

Am I reduced to poverty?
Am I reduced to penury?
Then let me sift through the leavings
And see what I can see.

October 30. Dear Mr. Mowgli. Vincent and I spent our last night in the hedgerow of the art museum. We bedded down there most of the summer. People strolling along the sidewalks or driving by in their Hummers have no idea what’s just out of sight in those nicely manicured hedges. There were at least a dozen homeless folk tucked away in there that I know of.

Now, the weather is starting to get chilly, and everybody’s looking for a warmer place. I hate the thought of going to the shelters. A bum I know, who goes by the name of Brownie, says he's got a tent. He says there’s a nice big wooded area over by the freight yards and he's going to stake out a place down there. He said there was plenty of room for me and Vincent, if we wanted to join him. I don’t know where he got the tent or how good it is. I asked him if he thought it would keep the rain out. He shrugged and said, “Guess we’ll find out, eh Jack?” Well, that doesn’t sound too good, somehow. I don’t like the idea of sharing a place with some stranger. What if he has a lot of bad habits? They almost always do. Maybe something better will turn up.

I read in the paper that a lot of city councils are passing more laws against homeless folks. They’re starting to arrest more panhandlers. Easier, I guess, than pursuing real criminals, like Ken Lay or Dick Cheney. They haven’t started in my town, yet, but it’s coming, I imagine. Everybody follows the herd, like sheep.

Yes, we’re all just a bunch of bums, too lazy to go out and get a job. That’s the answer to everything—jobs, even when those who actually have gotten decent ones are being laid off by the thousands, while their CEO’s go on enriching themselves. Those same CEO’s drive down the street in their Mercedes and complain about the panhandlers, and put pressure on their city councils to do something about this blight. They’re the same ones who back the politicians who are cutting back or eliminating any assistance or health care for the poor. Let them get jobs, they say. I’m sure Burger King and McDonalds are just dying for the chance to hire someone who is filthy, dressed in ragged clothes, has no car to get to work in, who is schizophrenic or had a mental breakdown, or is diseased or has no work history for months or years, or some combination of these things. Yes, I run across people like this holding down good jobs every day.

And now they want to start putting the bums in jail. Well, I hope it teaches them a lesson.

Vincent and I have been doing a lot of walking around, lately. I found a Sunbeam toaster the other day in a trash bin behind this huge house. The house was in one of those newer developments, full of big houses that all look alike. McMansions. The driveways are pebbly concrete and the mailboxes are built out of solid brick, lined up along the curb like soldiers. I've seen people whose houses were less substantial than these little mail mansions.

So, I took this toaster over to the downtown YMCA to check it out. They have an outside plug at the back of the building. I discovered it one day on my rounds and remembered it, just in case. I doubt if the Y people know it’s there. Up until now, I haven’t had a reason to use it, myself.

So, I plugged in the toaster, and by golly, it worked! I couldn’t believe it. I thought sure I’d have to tinker with it some. Figured it for a broke spring or a faulty cord or something. But I put in two slices of cast off Roman Meal that I snagged out back of Luby’s, and a minute later, up they popped, a perfect golden brown—on both sides!

And I didn’t have to eat dry toast, either! I had some of those little packets of butter and gourmet strawberry preserves in my pocket, found them in the trash behind Clarke’s Deli. Restaurants and diners throw them away by the ton, you know. And the little catsup packets, too. I don’t know a bum living that doesn’t have catsup on his person. Ask any of them. Hundreds of years from now when the archeologists are digging us out of the rubble, they’ll discover—along with all the other stuff we’ve thrown away—thousands and thousands of those little plastic packets. I wonder what they’ll think about that. Maybe they’ll sit down in the rubble and have some toast.

So, I made out all right, there behind the Y. Needless to say, I’ll be returning to the neighborhood where I found that toaster. I may even go back to the same McMansion. No telling what those people are throwing away over there.

Poor Vincent has fleas. Must get him some medicine, somehow. They’ve cut health care for humans. I guess the next thing to go will be the Humane Society. By golly, these lazy, no account stray dogs will just have to do better. Maybe they’ll start putting them in jail.

I’ve been studying people lately. Been watching them on the streets, as they scurry here and there, looking very serious in their nice clothes, with their brief cases made out of genu-wine cowhide, always talking on their cell phones, telling someone or other where they are and where they’re going. As if it actually mattered. I see them sitting in the Starbucks coffee shops with their lattes and computers and little cell phones. I see them running in the park in their slick running costumes, with wires plugged in their ears, and cell phones on their waste bands. Sometimes they stop right in the middle of running and have a conversation on their phones. I look through the windows of fancy restaurants and see them eating big piles of food that costs fifteen or twenty or thirty dollars a plate. Sometimes they’re talking on their little phones and eating at the same time. I see them in the bookstores, wandering in the aisles, talking and laughing on their cell phones while people try to look quietly for something to read. I see them driving around in their SUV’s, their big bright Hummers. I see them jabbering on their little phones, an incessant buzzing, like swarms of mosquitoes.

And everything is so dreamlike and unreal. And people are just going around looking like contented cows.

Monday, November 03, 2003


Uncle would be killed by coincidence, Uncle Sam.
The Via Dolorosa passes his house.
The workmanlike uncle starts by reading a plaque
Inscribed by Albert Einstein, "Problems cannot
Be solved by the level of thinking that created them."
But after a couple of whiskies uncle laughs
Because he doesn't get it.
Dear Uncle doctors the book; he puts the U
In Unilateral. He farts, he signs Executive Orders.
He lies face down on the floor of the Oval Office
And people say he is praying.
A woman is in the Rotunda, a body of perfume;
The resumption of hostility is sensual to him.
Uncle Sam uses polystyrene instead of paraffin
To make the napalm worse. Uncle Sam
Sometimes smiles like a small, wicked boy, looking
Out the window. Uncle Sam has fragged his allies
And all the enemy tribes. The whole nursery, the walls
Surrounding it have been blown into confetti.
Heavens. No one can find a drop of blood.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

No. 2. The Reader

You will recall I met this homeless person awhile back. I was at Clarke’s Deli reading the help-wanted ads when he walked up. His name is Jack Rafter. For the full story of how we met, you’ll have to skip back a few entries. No, I still haven’t found a job, and I must say, things are getting a little desperate.

Jack has a dog with a patch-eye. He named him Vincent, after the painter, the one who took his own life, using a small caliber handgun. That was sometime back in the century before last. In the meantime, I’m sure any number of artists, poets, etc., and even some non-artists and non-poets, etc., have followed Mr.Van Gogh’s example.

It so happens that small caliber handguns are well-suited for that kind of close-in work. And there are plenty of them lying around. If you need to locate one in a hurry and are having trouble doing so, just ask any small child. For some reason, children never seem to have a problem finding our handguns, especially the loaded ones.

Yes, I did ask Jack how he came to be homeless, but so far, he’s been reluctant to talk about it, much. He did mention that he has a wife and two children. I suppose they must be living with her parents. He visits them sometimes, but I think it’s mostly the children he goes to see. I have a feeling he and his wife are divorced, though I can’t recall if he actually told me that or not.

Anyway, he’s been letting me read his diary, which he carries on his person in a draw-string canvas bag. It’s just an assemblage of notes on scraps of paper he picks up off the street, or used napkins from Clarke’s Deli. The scraps are rubber-banded in the cover of an old book-binding he picked up somewhere. I told him I would be glad to buy him a spiral notebook to write in, but he said he didn’t think his opinions were worth the life of a tree. “Besides, I like recycling trash,” he says with a smile. “And anyway, nothing new has been written since Plato and Homer were around. All our ideas and writings are recycled.” And so, too, is history, I might add.

Actually, his diary is not as bad as its appearance might suggest. I asked him if I could put some of it on the blog, here—you know, just when I can’t think of anything to write on my own, and he said, “Fine.” Yes, he knows what a blog is. He is computer-savvy. He says he goes to the library and surfs the net at least a couple times a week. More often in cold weather. He has a library card and checks books out all the time.

To get a library card, he had to give them an address and a phone number. On the little form they gave him to fill out, he wrote down the address for Clarke’s Deli, since it’s one of his hangouts. And then he wrote down the phone number for the Humane Society.

He said back when everything in his life started going to shit, and the bill-collectors were hounding him every day, he put this message on his telephone answering machine: “Hello. This is the Rafter residence. If you are calling about an unpaid bill, please hang up and call my business manager at the following number.” And he gave them the number for Dial-A-Prayer.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


"I hoped that the pilot who hit our house would be burned as I am burned and my family were burned."

--Iraq war orphan, Ali Ismail Abbas, 13 years old

"The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth
As the gentle rain from heaven upon the place
Beneath. It is twice blessed - It blesseth him
That gives and him that takes."

-- William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice

"Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die. Perchance he for whom this bell tolls--may be so ill
that he knows not it tolls for him"..."all mankind is of one author--and is one volume;... when one man dies, one chapter
is not torn from the book, but translated into a better language."

"The bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all."
"There was a contention--as far as--which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning,
and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell

that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application; that it might be ours
as well as his whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him who thinks it doth. Who casts not up his eye
to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out?

Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing
a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe would be the less,

as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or thy own were. Any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

-- John Donne
From Meditation XVII, 1624

This Iraq War will continue to make Americans feel that they are not respected. The same goes for the Occupation, which is aimed at enriching those who are already privileged. This war will test our capacity to ignore the dead.

And who are these invisible wounded?

Why is it not surprising that the George W. Bush Administration has banned all images of flag-draped coffins? Why are we not inside hospital wards?- acknowledging the sacrifice?- investigating low morale among American soldiers in Iraq? Why is there no serious accounting of Iraqi casualties?

One man dies, and then another.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Who Are These Men?

We are confronted with the most lawless administration in our nation’s history. So crudely are they invested in winning—from promoting their agenda to getting their candidates elected (using the word “elected” loosely)—that they seem to have lost all regard for the democratic process, if, indeed, they had any in the first place.

We have seen that there is nothing they won’t do to achieve their ends, from using rigged electronic voting machines that leave no paper trail, to redrawing the congressional maps of as many states as possible, in order to virtually assure that only Republicans can win elections. They use push-polls to slander their opponents. They lie daily and blatantly on the issues, from health care, to tax cuts, to the environment. They brutishly attack those who oppose them. They fabricate out of whole cloth reasons for wars.

Meanwhile, the President's and his family’s business connections to the Saudis and the bin Ladens, except for the brave voice of Michael Moore, and a few others, remain virtually unchallenged by the media, Congress, Democrats running for President, or anyone else.

In his just released book, Dude, Where’s My Country?, Moore poses seven questions of the President, one of the best ones being, why did his administration assist 24 members of the bin Laden family in getting out of the country after the attack on September 11th? In fact, as he points out, their private jets were actually in the air after the rest of us had been grounded. The F.B.I. was outraged that they were not allowed to interrogate family members of a key suspect of one of the biggest crimes in history.

Among other things, Moore goes on to point out that:

* After leaving office, Bush, Sr. became a highly paid consultant for a company known as the Carlyle Group, that one of the investors in the group was the bin Laden family, to the tune of a minimum of 2 million dollars. The people who run the Carlyle Group include Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary, Frank Carlucci, Bush Sr.’s secretary of state, James Baker, and former British Prime Minister John Major.

* While Bush, Jr. was Texas gov, members of the Taliban traveled to Texas to meet with his oil and gas company buddies.

* The Taliban met with Unocal, the huge oil and energy giant, to build a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan under the Caspian Sea into Turkey. Ken Lay’s Enron was in on the deal. Cheney’s Halliburton was in on the deal. So members of the Taliban were having big meetings with the major contributors to the Bush campaign. While governor, Bush personally met with Uzbekistan’s ambassador on behalf of Enron.

* Everything was going fine till Osama bin Laden blew up two American embassies in Africa. That was enough for then-President Bill Clinton to put a stop to all dealings with the Taliban. Clinton was not about to let Unocal, Halliburton and Enron be in business with terrorists.

* The new president, Bush, continued meeting with the Taliban. They still wanted those billions from the gas pipeline. Now, they were trying to work out a deal which would involve kicking Osama out of Afghanistan. These talks continued right up until just days before September 11th.

* After that, we swooped down and chased the Taliban and al Qaeda out of Afghanistan. All the big shots escaped.

* We turned Afghanistan over to Unocal. “The new American ambassador to Afghanistan? Unocal consultant and National Security Council member Zalmay Kahalizad. The new American-installed leader of Afghanistan? Former Unocal staffer Hamid Karzai.”

* On December 27, 2001, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan sighed the pipeline deal.

If this President, his cronies, and his family, are in bed with the true enemies of our country, then, is it just possible that he may not be the best person for the job of Commander In Chief of our nation’s military? It certainly might explain why he may have needed to fabricate a scapegoat enemy to go to war against, instead of seeking out the real culprits of 9/11.

All we can do is go on their past behavior—that’s the way you’re supposed to bet. Will they do anything to win the next election? Count on it.

We have a problem, here. We must ask ourselves—who are the real enemies of our country? Who are the real foes of our democracy? And how do we fight them—without becoming them?

As I write, I think of this poem, by Charles Reznikoff:

I will write songs against you,
enemies of my people; I will pelt you
with the winged seeds of the dandelion;
I will marshall against you
the fireflies of the dusk.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Diary Of A Rag And Bone Man

“Am I reduced to poverty?
Am I reduced to penury?
Then let me sift through the leavings
And see what I can see.”

Presenting excerpts from the diary of my friend, Jack Rafter, if, indeed, “diary” is the proper name for something that consists of daily scrawls on coffee shop napkins or scraps of paper retrieved from sidewalks, gutters, and waste bins.

But first, a little background on Jack, beginning with how we met. It happened like this:

I was sitting in my favorite deli one afternoon when this man came shuffling up the walk, wearing a ragged canvas coat that hung past his knees. He was pulling a battered red wagon filled with an assortment of found objects, smashed cans, discarded clothing and a fairly decent looking toaster.

Coming behind the man and the Radio Flyer was an equally ragged dog, tied to the wagon on a four-foot clothesline. I don’t know breeds of dogs, so I couldn’t tell you what this one was, even if I had to narrow it down to three or four out of God-knows-how-many were mixed up in him, but he had floppy ears and curly brown to rust-colored hair with large patches of black, including a patch over one eye that put me in mind of a pirate’s dog.

The man pulled his wagon and dog caravan near the window, close to where I was sitting, enjoying my Ruben sandwich, while going over the help-wanted ads. When the wagon stopped, the dog sat down with an almost cheerful expression on his face. Clearly, he knew this was a deli; I surmised it must be one of their routine stops. The dog turned his smile up at me, and proceeded to lick the glass. From my side, I had a perfect view of the dog’s pink tongue slathering the window with a thick film of drool.

Then, I looked up and saw the dog’s owner’s eyes—the color of my grandmother’s blue china plates—looking back at me. There was something sad, but friendly, there. He smiled and shrugged over his dog’s rather forward, but still probably innocent behavior. I guardedly smiled back, sensing—correctly, as it turned out—that his next move would be to put the squeeze on me.

The man gave his dog a pat on the head, turned and walked inside. I took another bite of my Ruben and buried my nose in the paper, hoping to make myself look as off-limits as possible. But he was already headed in my direction, as if following a homing device.

Approaching my little ace by the window, he gave a slight bow. “Sorry about Vincent,” he said. “My dog,” he gestured with his chin at the critter outside. Vincent was still busily lapping the glass. “Sometimes he forgets himself. See, he really likes this place. He licks things that he likes. It’s just his way.”

“It’s all right,” I said. “No harm done.”

“Do you happen to have a dime on you, Mister? I’m just short a dime for a cup of coffee in here. I’d be much obliged.”

All I had in my pocket was a quarter and some pennies. “Here, I said.”

“I’ll bring you the change,” he replied.

“That’s all right. Keep it.”

He went off and got his coffee. In a minute, he was back. “Mind if I join you, mister? They don’t like low-spenders taking up space in these places.”

“Sure,” I said.

He slid a chair over and sat opposite me. I noticed he had an old canvas bag slung over his shoulder on a rope. Once upon a time it was probably white. I supposed he kept his valuables in it, such as they might be. He smiled. Up close, his blue eyes stood out even more against his weathered and sunburned face. His sandy hair was longish and out-of-sorts, but other than his clothes, which were dirt stained and threadbare around the edges, he looked fairly clean. He may have been living on the streets, but apparently, he had access to soap and water. He glanced down at his dog. The dog returned his look with something like adoration.

“I found him wandering around the freight yards about six months ago,” he said. “Wouldn’t have anything to do with me at first, but then I gave him half a turkey leg, and we’ve been pals ever since. I named him Vincent, after the painter. I’m a big admirer of the arts.”

I nodded. Van Gogh, I thought. Another marginal citizen, manic-depressive, unemployable, who, but for the love of his brother, Theo, probably would have ended up on the streets.

The stranger offered his hand. “Name’s Jack Rafter,” he said.

“Grayson Harper,” I replied, shaking it.

“What you reading, there?” he said.

“The help-wanted ads,” I said.

“Ah, lookin’ for work, huh?” he smiled.

“Yep. It’s come to that.”

He sat for awhile watching me. I tried to concentrate on my business, there, but every time I looked up, there were his blue eyes, his smiling face, an expression much like his dog’s.

Suddenly, I became self-conscious about eating in front of him. “Would you like a sandwich?” I asked him.

“I’d love one,” he said, grinning.

“What kind would you like?”

“Ah, roast beef on rye, with a dill pickle on the side.”

I gave him the money. He returned a few minutes later with the sandwich. “Hey, you want to sit outside?” he asked.


“They got tables out there, you know. It’s a nice day.”

“Well, all right,” I said, not quite certain what I was getting myself into. Picking up my paper, I followed him outside. When we got to the table, Vincent, the dog got up, circled once, then laid down at Jack’s feet. Every so often his master would break off a piece of bread and toss it to the pigeons. Vincent didn’t seem to mind the birds at all, even letting them walk right up to him to snatch a crumb or two.

“What about Vincent?” I said. “Isn’t he hungry, too?”

“Ah, don’t worry about him. We’ll find plenty for him out in the back. People in this country throw away tons of food, you know.”

I went back to my want-ads, but it was impossible. When I looked up, there was the smile again. A smile that seemed to say that he was on to something. After a moment, he said, “Helluva thing, isn’t it?”

“What is?” I said.

“Oh, just life, I guess.”

“Yes," I said, "it is.”

Then, he said, “You want to see something?”

“Sure,” I answered—a little nervously.

He reached in his canvas bag and pulled out a kind of—thing. Then, slid it across the table to me.

“What’s this?”

“Have a look,” he said.

It looked like an old cloth-bound book held together with rubber bands. The title on the faded red cover was Belleview—A Story of the South From 1860 to 1865. But the book itself was missing. Removing the rubber bands and opening the cover, I found in place of the book a stack of papers of various sizes and types, including numerous napkins from the deli. All the papers, front and back, were covered in writing. Pretty chaotic, except that every page was numbered, and they were all in good order.

“My diary,” Jack said. “I’m a writer, now.”

“Oh, you are, huh?”

“Yep, I been writing about our corrupt government. Lemme ask you something. You ever seen such a bunch of low-down, thieving hooligans in your whole life?”

“No, I guess not,” I said.

Then, he started in. It was like somebody had lifted the lid on an overfilled jar and the contents just gushed out on the table.

“This president of ours is the prince of liars. But I guess you know that.” He took another bite of his sandwich, and went right on. “But all his disciples are liars, too, every last rotten one of them. Never seen anything like it. They make Nixon look like an amateur. Next to them, Nixon looks positively quaint. But that’s because, when all was said and done, ol’ Dick was still capable of being shamed. He still had a conscience. You see, it actually mattered to ol' Mill House what people thought of him. He really couldn’t bear to be thought of as a liar or a crook or a no good oily rat. But these people—this Bush character, and this Rumsfeld, and Cheney and Ashcroft, well, they’re just conscienceless. Whatever moral compass they may have had—if they ever had any—is completely dead—a light burned out. Public opinion is nothing to them. And I don’t just mean the masses of people, millions and millions, but even the most honored, most revered, from the Pope to Nelson Mandella, to the leaders of most countries, to writers and thinkers and playwrights and poets, winners of Nobel Prizes and Pulitzers. Bush and his circle no more care what good, decent people think than a fly cares where it lays its eggs.

"Well, that’s my opinion. Only it’s not just an opinion, it’s a proven goddamn fact. Half the people Bush has put in positions of power, who are nothing but his father's cronies, are convicted felons, or should be. I tell you, there are people in prison who are more honest than these frauds, who are better qualified to run the country. I couldn’t keep quiet about it anymore, so I started writing it all down. I mean—everything that's happening, now, is so outlandish and unbelievable. And nobody says anything. Isn’t that weird? It’s like living in the Twilight Zone. Everything's fine, hunky-dory. Meanwhile, on any given day, there’s nineteen jillion people filling these Walmarts and all these Superstores and giant shopping malls. Like lemmings, they follow each other into these places--Abercrombie and Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic--and they follow each other out with huge bags full of stuff. Expensive stuff! Then they hop in their SUV’s, their Hummers and their Urban Assault Vehicles—‘cause I swear-to-god that’s what they’ll be driving next—and head for the nearest Starbucks, where they sit for hours with their lattes and their lap-tops and their little telephones straight out of Buck Rogers. The whole country is living in a make-believe world, a fantasy brought to life by Walt Disney, McDonald's and Chevron, which has an oil tanker named after Condoleeza Rice! They just yanked one guy out of office in California, and who did they install in his place, but a serial groper, a walking cartoon with six Hummers. What does this prove? It proves the country loves assholes. Worships them!

“So I started writing about it. I don’t know. I just had to get it down on paper, somehow, where I could look at it. I couldn’t be one of the millions of sheep just smiling away the hours, or staring vacantly at the TV--not that I have one, actually. But to look at all these smiling people, you wouldn’t know we just invaded a sovereign country against the wishes of the entire world, that our citizens and theirs are dying for no good reason, but simply on the whim of a nest of liars. The President just asked for another 87 billion for his war, an amount of money so vast, nobody can even grasp how much it is. Meanwhile, here at home, half the states are going broke, they’re slashing health care for children and old people. And literally thousands are being evicted from their homes every month.

"I just keep hearing the words of this song going around in my head, a fine old song by John Prine:

‘How the hell can a person
go to work in the morning
come home in the evening
and have nothin’ to say?’

“So. . .” he said, “I’ve been writing.”

He watched me. I was looking closely at his diary. Page after page of copious notes. . . .

Friday, October 10, 2003


Pundits on the abrasive side of political discourse are driven by the heat of emotion, pushed by compulsion, toward personal attacks against their partisan enemy. American talking-head and author, Ann Coulter, is a very focused sort of character, who transforms the otherwise banal and scurrilous war of words into something far more methodical and dangerous. She is pleasing to the eye, telegenic, always elegantly dressed and poised. It is George Gurley, in his interview, who describes the look of her: "The cab stopped outside the Empire State Building. Her long, skinny legs stretched to the sidewalk,"..."I looked up at her from the taxi. She seemed very tall against the sky." Despite reports of her high-riding mini-skirts and her own admission - "I've dated every right-winger" - the fact remains that Ann Coulter is not a cheap woman. It's illogical to confuse her commitment with promiscuity. She is considered to be something of a thoroughbred. Born in Connecticut, she emulated her father by pursuing a Law Degree. Her course of study led her to Cornell University and the University of Michigan Law School. After the Newt Gingrich Republicans took power in 1994, she came to Washington to join the staff of the then Senator Spencer Abraham. Ms. Coulter intervened with advice and suggestions for Paula Jones and Linda Tripp, with respect to those witnesses and America's long national melodrama. And her first fully matured obsession was concentrated on the President, her visceral dislike for Clinton and anything to do with him, and of course his sexual scandal, and anything likely to lead to his impeachment. But to understand Ann Coulter, you must take into account her rapid rise to notariety in television interviews and especially in book sales, in the aftermath of 9/11. It is disconcerting to consider the avid readership of a book like Slander, which came out shortly after the catastrophe in New York. Treason, a book every bit as strange as its cousin, is now released in hardback.

It is important to look at the virulence that is embedded in Ann Coulter's language, and to examine how it has been trivialized and made to appear harmless in some establishment press, The Wall Street Journal, for example. Consider Melik Kaylan's column (WSJ, Aug. 31, 2003) and his flippant treatment of Coulter's post 9/11 article, which appeared in the National Review. It was the harshness of her language, and her subsequent refusal to accept moderate advice from her editors, that led to her departure from that online magazine. In this widely quoted column she wrote...

"We know who the homicidal maniacs are.
They are the ones cheering and dancing now.

We should invade their countries, kill their
leaders and convert them to Christianity.
We weren't punctilious about locating and
punishing only Hitler and his top officers.
We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed
civilians. That's war. And this is war." (NRO)

And some time later she was quoted in an interview with George Gurley. She asks Gurley to turn on the tape recorder, and makes this statement:

"My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he
did not go to the New York Times Building."

But Kaylan's comment is more than just deficient in addressing her violent streak. His commentary is filled with celebrity and entertainment buzz-words. She is described as the "celebrity firecracker" ..."She surprises at the most basic level, by her effortlessly guilt-free flights of extroversion, her fierce--but never humorless--conservatism." Kaylan goes on to compare her to funny and not-so-funny people: Reverend Farakhan, Angela Davis, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce. And indeed there is no intimation that American virtues must include killing people. But Kaylan thinks there are killjoys among us who are suffering from "a lazy assumption". The Black Panthers played for keeps; but according to Kaylan, Ann Coulter is a very funny woman, she's a kidder. "Why would anybody even pretend to believe that Ms. Coulter wishes any real harm to the New York Times or wishes to convert all Muslims forcibly to Christianity." But then of course, Ms. Coulter's ethic belongs to a society without any fragility, without "rifts" or "flaws". Yes, hers is a "sturdier America", "self-confident", "unapologetic", "centered somewhere in the heartland". It's journalist, David Neiwert, who offers the most telling critique of this article and others like it: "This kind of meshing of mainstream corporate interests with right-wing thuggery is in fact a hallmark of incipient fascism. A compliant media that portrays this kind of phenomenon as unremarkable is also important in its development." We don't have to read between the lines in Coulter's harsh column: she is saying we should kill indiscriminately, just as we carpet-bombed those cities in World War II. She is saying convert them to Christianity by the sword; she is saying invade countries, kill leaders. And that business about Timothy McVeigh going to the New York Times Building; it's just eerie that she asked her interviewer to turn the machine on, to get it on tape.

In her new book, Treason, Ms. Coulter maintains through her thesis that Democrats [liberals] are naturally disposed to be traitors. As she puts it, "Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason." She goes even further by saying, "The only patriotic liberal in the world is Tony Blair, and he's in England." She expands her thesis into three main points:

(a) Liberals are disposed to be traitors.

(b) Unlike conservatives (who are pious) liberals worship Man, and consequently betray both God and Country.

(c) In the final analysis, liberals consider that they themselves are gods.

This constitutes the entire arc of Coulter's design and must represent a kind of core belief in her avid readers. She is in a hurry to leave the realm of history, fact, and rational inference; since few Democrats, living or dead, seem excluded from the rigor of her conclusion.

Joe Conason expressly reminds us that her strange book omits any reference to conservatives who are opposed to the Iraq War. Why? "Their existence can't be acknowledged--because if they do exist they are traitors too." Unsurprisingly, if Pat Buchanan, Cato Institute people, Congressman Ron Paul and other like-minded conservatives are opposed to Bush's War, it becomes an unwelcome distraction from her thesis. Moreover, it's no small comfort to liberals to know that there are conservatives who also oppose preventative war. Coulter, on the other hand, insists that you hate your country if you hold to this principle.

But her most sinister ambition is aimed at historical revision and the rehabilitation of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Her center of gravity seems to reside in his personality. She takes her reader back to the 1950's. McCarthy was mentally ill and he drank to excess; history is not wrong about that. His process in the Senate was described as "red-baiting" and he held the door open for a kind of hysteria. The accused were marginalized, demonized, stigmatized. In the end McCarthy was censured by the Senate, having been cornered by the Army-McCarthy Hearings. "McCarthy was brought down by his own televised misconduct during those hearings--and by the outrage not of Democrats but of Republicans, including President Eisenhower and a caucus of courageous GOP senators"(Conason). Ann Coulter tries to impeach this history with dishonest scholarship, counterfeit logic, and illegitimate power.

Her hero, Senator Joe McCarthy, means everything to her.

"The rote smirking at McCarthy by conservatives is
linked to their psychological compulsion to snobbery.
McCarthy was a popularizer, a brawler." (Ann Coulter, Treason, p. 70)

"The Communists may have had patricians like Franklin Roosevelt.
They may have had the diplomats, the Supreme Court justices,
the scribblers, the ponderers, and the Smith College girls. But
McCarthy had the hearts of American workers." (Ibid, p. 70)

"Normal Americans could not believe their fellow countrymen
could be so dastardly as not to love their country. For them,
McCarthy was a poet." (Ibid, p.69)

"In 1954, when the liberal loathing for McCarthy had reached
a fever pitch, CBS ran a vicious, deceptive hatchet piece on
him viewed by millions of Americans. It was produced by
Edward R. Murrow, friend of Soviet spy Laurence Duggan.
Other organs of establishmentarian treason followed suit.
The Senate voted to hold a censure resolution against McCarthy." (Ibid, p.120)

An essay written by Joseph Wershba, a colleague of Murrow's at CBS, describes the atmosphere of the McCarthy Period:

"Murrow did not kill off McCarthy or McCarthyism, but he helped halt America's incredible slide toward a native brand of fascism. Unbelievable. You had to live through the times to know how fearful--indeed, terrorized--people were about speaking their minds. The cold war with Russia, and the threat of a hot war with China, security programs and loyalty oaths--all had cowed the citizens of the most powerful nation on earth into keeping their minds closed and their mouths shut."

"When we looked at the near-final cut of the McCarthy broadcast" (for CBS's SEE IT NOW)..."and the staff showed fear of putting it on the air, Murrow spoke a line that landed like a lash across our backs: "The terror is right here in this room.""

But it's best to take a look at the transcript of SEE IT NOW from the television broadcast of March 29, 1954:

"Edward R. Murrow: Senator McCarthy claims that only the left wing press criticized him on the Zwicker case. Of the 50 large circulation newspapers in the country, these are the left wing papers that criticized. These are the ones which supported him. The ratio is about three to one against the Senator.

The Chicago Tribune: McCarthy will better serve his case if he learns to distinguish the role of investigator from the role of avenging angel.

The New York Times: The unwarranted interference of a demagogue--a domestic Munich.

The Times Herald, Washington: Senator McCarthy's behavior toward Zwicker is not justified.

Milwaulkie Journal: The line must be drawn and defended or McCarthy will become the government.

The Evening Star of Washington: It was a bad day for everyone who resents the bully boy tactics which Senator McCarthy often employs.

The New York World Telegram: Bamboozling, bludgeoning, distorting.

St. Louis Post Dispatch: Unscrupulous, McCarthy bullying. What a tragic irony it is that the President's political advisors keep him from doing what every decent instinct must be commanding him to do.

Well, that's the ratio of a three-to-one, so-called "left-wing" press."

Five decades ago, Edward R. Murrow said "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty"..."We will not walk in fear. We will not be driven into an age of unreason"..."No one man can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices."

"If none of us ever read a book that was 'dangerous', nor had a friend who was 'different', or never joined an organization that advocated 'change', we would all be just like the kind of people Joe McCarthy wants."

Ann Coulter, who has called herself "an open controversialist", metes out charges of treason on the likes of former President Carter, for his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway, in December of 2002. The Pope, of course, is not an American, but don't be surprised if Coulter holds him up as a traitor; after all, he agrees with Carter and opposes the Iraq War.

Historian Anne Applebaum says "whatever side this woman is on, I don't want to be on it." But we are left with Coulter's alarming words, and so we ought to reflect as carefully as possible on her methods, and judge her simply by those words.

"What the country needed was Joe McCarthy. His appeal was
directed to a sturdier set - the mass of ordinary Americans." (Ibid, p.69)

"When Republicans ignite the explosive energy of hardhats,
liberals had better run for cover." (Ibid, p.69)

Ann Coulter must be in some spellbound meltdown with the late Senator Joseph McCarthy; like him she's capable of brutish, menacing language, and a sudden flippancy and laughter, that tries to brush it off as a joke. She is half-condescending, half-manic. She inhabits a world of ludicrous victimhood, and an avenger's world, where the deviant and the treasonous are one class of objects. What would her All-Republican America look like? It would be seamlessly patriotic, to be sure. No protest, no demonstration, just good little girls and boys. The streets would be swept clean of strangers.

copeland morris ENTWINED SONNET

Her shaded eyes, her necklace black velvet, onyx. Anguish she spoke; and he carried on, obsessed As only a young man could. An odd harm...