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Essays and Analyses for a Generation that doesn't really like to Read
THREE WEEKS, VOLUME 1 ISSUE 3 - November 27, 2001

"Time makes more converts than reason."

Cover
Your Congressional Representative Has Already Betrayed You, by Henry William Brownejohns
Notices
Alexander Calder in the News,
Our Neutered Constitution, Our New Mayor, and Five Questions Nobody Knew They Needed to Have an Answer To, by Alexander Swartwout
Public Health in Wartime, by Jonathan Ephrain Underhill
The Distinction Between Horror and Terror
The Eavesdropper
The Weather, by Eliza Anne Bonney

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AN EDITORIAL

YOUR CONGRESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVE HAS ALREADY BETRAYED YOU

What They Have Been Doing While No One is Paying Attention 

and

THE PRESIDENT’S WORST PERFORMANCE

 

Mr. Bush Acts Appallingly, and Seemingly in spite of the Constitution Itself

 

The ‘Military Tribunal’ is Brought into Currency

 

by Henry William Brownejohns

If you found it difficult to part with the measly dollar that this paper typically costs, it may well be because you are but another hapless cog in a floundering economy.  And if you have lately been too busy accounting for the survival of friends, family, pets, and celebrities to keep an eye on what your Congresspersons are doing to salvage the well-being of your nation, you will probably be disappointed to finally hear it.

For, while no-one was paying any attention and under the pretext of instigating an economic recovery, the House of Representatives has done nothing less antisocial than approve a colossal cash giveaway to a favored handful of corporations, and repeal the alternative minimum tax, which is levied not so much on solitary citizens, as it is on companies.  The tax repeal, even more astonishingly, is retroactive - meaning that the Treasury would pay back all the money it has collected by this tax for the past fifteen years.  In the case of IBM, for example, that means a check from the government for $1,400,000,000.00 without an adherent string  .  $70,000,000,000.00 in all would be doled out to America’s most influential corporate lickpennies.  By contrast, the House plan offers nothing to anyone with their own social security number, or driver’s license, or wife and children, or inflamed appendix.  No tax cuts, no supplemental unemployment funds, no health insurance subsidies.  The economy would be left to fix itself, and do so in spite of the tremendous advantages conferred upon the private sector by your representatives. 

Subsequently, the Senate has begun jabbering away at a comparatively less offensive bill, but only barely, and only in view of the skewed standard set by the House.  But even any concession at all has proven to be too much for the House; they are unilaterally refusing to meet with Senators or the President to negotiate a compromise bill.  Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s office said, through the peephole of their iron door, that a conference would only take place if Senate Majority Leader Daschle and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Byrd, Democrats both, were singled out and excluded from the talks.  The House then closed its blinds and went off to their ranches for the holidays.

I think, and am encouraged to by these obnoxious gestures, that the U.S. House of Representatives, as an organization, is only marginally preferable to Al Qaeda itself.  I cannot be sure which I would rather have staying in my guest room, and when I begin to incline towards the representatives, I remember that at least Al Qaeda had the courtesy to declare America its enemy after they attacked.  The House, meanwhile, continues to claim that they are working for us.  Their betrayal of America affirms that they are the infidels that they have been accused of being.  The only thing left which makes the hobgoblins of Washington favorable over the hobgoblins of Kandahar is that the reps have offices with telephones, and they’re in the phone book.

So, reader, do you have hands and a brain?  Then call these louts - they may be insensate to words and meanings and certainly reason, but they can be intimidated.  In fact, it is the primary characteristic of their kind.  Shake off your stupor - they have earned your ire - and realize that the Congress’s negligence will bear upon you, shortly.

 --

And while I realize that our readers are, at best, only able to absorb the implications of real-world political events in picayune amounts, the current climate in the halls of power is as dire as this generation will ever see.  THREE WEEKS would be betraying its mission of enlightenment, and its humanitarian standards, if I were to here avoid expounding on the President’s recent misdeeds simply because the audience is shallow and inattentive.  The readership shall doubtless continue to offer their unquestioning approval of him to the pollsters, but just possibly, by exposing the depravity of Mr. Bush’s ethics, I might sow a critical seed of uncertainty in their uncomplicated minds.

To begin, the President has lent his signature to an order suspending the Presidential Records Act, which was passed in 1981, and which did nothing more baleful than provide that the papers of a presidential administration shall become partially available to the public, by request, five years after the end of its incumbency, and entirely available after twelve years.  Naturally, those documents which need to remain classified, in the name of national security, would remain so; and therefore the Presidential Records Act did nothing more than provide sleepless historians and obsessive researchers the opportunity to put together an accurate account of a presidency, long after it is defunct.  In the coming months, the Act was due to have its premiere, when the papers of Ronald Reagan’s White House were to enter the public domain.  But Mr. Bush has well-known loyalties to the Reaganites, and even has many of them still at work in his own throwback administration - and of course much of the present adversity Mr. Bush is slogging through is a regurgitation of the Reagan administration’s own bad behavior, such as terrorists using American weapons given to them in the eighties, and third-world governments - set up by Mr. Reagan - collapsing and giving way to civil wars and inevitable anti-American zealotry.  So, as a roundabout means of covering his own credibility, Mr. Bush has taken the enormous liberty of disabling the Presidential Records Act, and ensuring that what went on in the Reagan White House, and subsequently Mr. Bush’s own pater’s - whether relevant to today’s strife or not - will never be known to the public. 

It is remarkable that something as benign as the papers of a president twelve years gone could be so dear and troublesome to the current one, but our present Mr. Bush doesn’t have the problems of a president - he has the problems of a prince.  In a government determined by a familial order of succession, such as a monarchy, of course the prince will have to answer for the king, because they represent the same being - the head of the nation, by name and by blood.  Louis XVI was arguably beheaded for the extravagances of Louis XIV, because to their subjects, they were a continuance of one another, they were the monarchy itself.  For a while, our country had prevented such drawbacks of hereditism by insisting that its executive be elected by the people, from a limitless pool of candidates, and not chosen by genes - but that system has given way to a new kind of American monarchy.  I am pointing out nothing new by suggesting that Mr. Reagan is as close to our own Mr. Bush’s grampa as anyone can be, and certainly politically, he is exactly that.  Reagan begat Bush, and Bush, in spite of every effort of democracy and due process, begat Bush Jr; and he, ever the dutiful scion, is keeping the family secrets safe from the prying eyes of the American people.  His own administration is fraught with the same ghosts, in the same suits, as Mr. Reagan’s; and surely, if there weren’t something in the Reagan Administration’s papers that would shine ill light upon the new Bush’s, there would be no reason for Mr. Bush to short circuit the Records Act.  If suspicions about junior Bush and his cronies had faded at all, they have been fully resuscitated by this dubious obfuscation.

And this, exhausted reader, is the best thing Mr. Bush has done in November.  More garishly, and even less constitutionally, Mr. Bush has ordered that foreign citizens accused of terrorism shall be tried in a military tribunal, and not a court of law.  There are a number of interesting facts about military tribunals, and I expect you will get to learn a good deal about them in the coming weeks, if you are not somehow already a scholar of military law.  Firstly, they can take place anywhere; they do not need to occur on American soil, which is an advantage for the prosecution, because they are not meant to be seen by journalists, or judges, who are spared from having to get up in the morning and go to work and exercise their objectivity.  If they could even find the tribunal, they would not be allowed in.

Military tribunals are presided over by officers of the U.S. armed forces, and officers of the U.S. armed forces are not subject to judicial review, and their opinions cannot be appealed, even to other officers of the U.S. armed forces.  Their first decision is final.  Their only obligation is to the president himself, who gets the last word in a tribunal.  As a means of trying accused international criminals, it is an understatement to say that What-the-President-Says-Goes is an egregious perversion of every law ever composed by a democratic institution.

The Bush Administration has also made a point of their intention to abolish attorney-client privilege in such cases.  Everything a defendant says, to anybody, is evidence.  And you can throw away your layman’s legal expertise; all those terms like ‘hearsay’ and ‘circumstantial evidence’ and ‘badgering,’ so often uttered knowingly by viewers of TV courtroom drama, are acceptable practice in a tribunal.  Rumors, in a tribunal, are as good as facts.   The sentencing of a defendant who is found guilty is also done by  officers, and their decision is made for them by the president. The death penalty is applied, almost certainly, and without the interference of a grand jury, or  the opinion of a single American civilian.  The entire process is completed before the public is ever informed that it took place.

The objections to the tribunal process are countless, but disbelief chokes off my ability to verbalize them completely; it is simpler to just reiterate my preference for the Constitution of the United States as a model for law and due process, and not Mr. Bush’s moods.  Attorney General Ashcroft and Vice President Cheney have both said that they do not feel that international terrorists “deserve” the right to a legal proceeding, and they adamantly oppose the prospect of their nemesis, Mr. bin Laden, being tried in an international court.  For crimes against all of humanity, the Bush administration would leave the responsibility of delivering justice to five starched uniforms, and not telling anyone else about it. 

Not one of our national leaders seems to have gotten the gist of the Constitution, if they have read it.  Like all the great tracts of the Enlightenment, it is a general document, more than it is a specific one.  It is a statement of purpose, meant not to delineate every single Do and Don’t for the American people, but to provide them with a framework for how humans ought to govern their societies, and meant to outline the principles by which we ought to act, as Americans - and not exclusively for Americans.  By the Bush Administration’s logic, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ would only apply to the Jews.  It’s their law. 

The Constitution is also a companion piece, an elaboration, to the Declaration of Independence, which is quite clear about self-evident truths, such as ‘that all men are created equal,’ and are endowed with certain inalienable rights.  Mr. Bush, in ordering unregulated,  secret military courts to be set up for the trial of humanity’s enemies, is unabashedly spiting his own nation’s founding document, its laws, its essence, and the will and trust of its people.  If a single trial is held under these conditions, there is no reason that the administration, wielding unchecked powers, cannot hold one after another, against any foreign citizen they wish.  And I say, adhering to the same logic, that there will also be no reason that a tribunal might not be held for Mr. Bush himself, for he is acting in a way that is a peril to national security, and a threat to the continuance of the United States, as it was founded by our bewigged forebears.   

Playing by the loose rules of Mr. Bush’s rationale, one could also say that the U.S. Constitution only applies to the thirteen original colonies, and the rest of the world needs to find its own laws altogether.  Now, even a man of his low wattage ought to detect the consequences of such a dim view.  The spirit of the Constitution makes it a document applicable to the whole of humanity, and it would be a crime against that considerable body to suggest that even one person was not subject to its fundamental protections because of their transgressions, or their national background.

Need it be pointed out that American civilian courts, in spite of their shortcomings, have never had a problem bringing international criminals to justice?  This alone ought to preclude the need for extrajudicial military tribunals.  But as the enemies of America are increasingly becoming the enemies of the world, it is appropriate to realize the potential for the extension of American-style constitutional processes to the wider world.  Slobodan Milosevic, that bland but potent Yugoslavian dictator, has been adequately tried and found guilty in an international court, which is not only good for the human race, but good for the reinforcement of the world’s democratic egos, and by extension for democracy itself.  The more often democracy works, the more often it will be tried out by young nations in the market for a governmental model.  The more often its modern torchbearer, the United States, subverts it and reverts to its leader’s worst fascistic impulses, the more enemies we’ll be obliged to secretly convict and conceal.

THREE WEEKS only hopes that the reader is half as terrified as he should be, and one-quarter as outraged as he needs to be.  And that the next time he hears this word of the moment, ‘military tribunal,’ he will shudder and shriek, as if a hypnotically induced trigger-stimulus has been set off, and he will tell the pollster, filthy with pudding-headed presidential approval ratings, that he’s begun to recover his doubts about the junior Bush.        3W

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NOTICES

OUR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENTS, YET AGAIN

We have, after three issues, finally received word from a few of our foreign correspondents, whose insights and perspectives we promised to our public on Day One.  However, all we have heard from them is that they haven’t got anything for us.  At this point, we must directly address those snobs among our readership who require that their literature be international in nature, or else they will banish it from their coffee table: if this is how you feel, then be gone.  We have tried to placate you with assurances that our foreign correspondents would soon offer some of that multicultural tripe that you so require, but frankly, we are tired of doing so.  When our correspondents get around to sending us something, we shall print it.  In the meantime, we refuse to cower to the jet-setters who would otherwise subscribe to us - our mission, as stated at the outset, is not to please anybody but ourselves.  So far, our man in Berlin, our man in Sydney, and our man in London have all cabled, to tell us they are too distracted or depressed to report to us.  If that is so, then fine - we would rather print nothing, than print something written by a compromised intellect.

 

READERS RESPOND

A complaint has been filed by a reader of the last issue that in our article ‘On Turkey,’ we misrepresented the European aristocracy of the Middle Ages, and in ‘A Visit to a Rally,’ we were too hard on the dishevelled anti-war protesters  in Times Square.  Our critic points out that Europeans of the Middle Ages didn’t believe the world was flat, as many of you were taught in grammar school.  But not us.  We looked at our article, and confirmed that all we had said was that Europeans of a certain era were unaware that the world was round.  This is true, for most medieval Europeans (who cared about such things) were actually inclined towards a pear-shaped model of the Earth; and we happen to know that Mr. Columbus himself, that rogue, believed the world was shaped like a woman’s breast.  His route towards the Americas, and his faith in the Northwest Passage, were both based on this belief.  He was going to China via the business end of that estimable object, which, with 20-20 hindsight, all of mankind now realizes is utterly impossible.  Dinner, at least, is prerequisite.  If we concede anything, it is that we might have used the word ‘spherical,’ to better effect, and to satisfy the topologists among our audience.  As for our treatment of the protesters, we have looked back over that, too, and would do it again exactly the same if we had to.

 

THE THREE WEEKS CONFLICT RESOLUTION PROGRAM

We announced in our last number the foundation of the THREE WEEKS Conflict Resolution Program, which is our contribution to the order and stability of society.  Parties with complaints or civil conflicts are invited to present them to us, the editors of this paper, with adequate information by which we may make judgement, and we shall review every case and declare a solution, using our unsurpassed standards of reason, rationality, and practicality.  This endeavor shall both relieve some of the strain on the American judicial system, and provide an alternative to  those television judges, for those in an ethical or civil pickle, and who desire something more substantial than that kind of dunderheaded schoolmarmish problem-solving. This helpful (and free) program awaits participants.

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ART

ALEXANDER CALDER IN THE NEWS

One of Those Obstructive Public Sculptures, Among Other Things, Destroyed in the Attacks

 

The Apparent Conspiracy of Middle-Eastern Religious Extremists against a Twentieth-Century American Mobilist

 

And an introduction to the illustrations found throughout this issue

If you, in your misfortune, were one of those conceptual artists who compiled written lists of things, and displayed them strewn about bare-walled galleries for the benefit of faint-minded critics and hipsters, and you wanted to make a list in this manner of every object that was lost in the attack on the Twin Towers, we can help get you started.  Put down “Bent Propeller,” a large, red, public sculpture put into the plaza at the World Trade Center in 1970 by the American artist Alexander Calder - or as he is known to the vast majority of museum visitors dredging the deepest crannies of their undergraduate art history scholarship, the Mobile Guy.  That is because Mr. Calder is most remembered for his simple geometric cutouts dangled by wire from the ceiling, keeping each other in elegant, precarious balance, and giving viewers the impression that they have stepped into the nursery of some Neptunian infant, or are seeing leaves suspended in a stilled gust of wind.  But he has done much more than that, including “Propeller,” which took three iterations of his familiar shapes and stacked them together in big, red steel, and plopped them right in the way of commuters formerly rushing across the plaza for their trains.  Sadly, “Propeller” is no more, although the sadness is more atmospheric than specific to that piece of art.

In the spirit of never-give-up-even-if-most-people-think-you-really-ought-to-already, the estate of Alexander Calder, run by his grandson, Alexander S.C. Rower, has issued fliers to the recovery workers at the site of the Trade Center, requesting that if they happen upon any fragments of red steel that might have been part of the sculpture, would they please deliver them to the Calder Foundation.  While the original Mr. Calder himself has not been with us since 1976, Mr. Rower intends to reconstruct “Bent Propeller” from its fragments, based on models in the Foundation’s possession.  So far, a few dozen bits and pieces have been uncovered, bent and busted, but the optimism of the Calder people remains undimmed, in contrast to the clarity of their aesthetic judgement.  “Bent Propeller” is not anywhere near the finest thing Mr. Calder ever did, and the tragedy of its loss is itself a more inspiring thing than the sculpture itself ever was.  In fact, the fliers, which resemble those ubiquitous Missing Persons posters that bloomed so eerily throughout the city in the week after the attack - except that the Missing Person is this bright red geometric entity, an interstellar sea-creature perhaps - are themselves more fascinating to behold than the piece itself was. 

It is uncertain just what it is about Mr. Calder’s work that might bother the typical mujahedeen, but the sculpture at the Trade Center was not the only deprivation suffered by his legacy as a result of the hostilities.  In  Las Vegas, the Bellagio Hotel, Casino, and Gallery of Fine Art had been planning a major exhibition of Mr. Calder’s works from 1926 to 1976, which would have involved a lot of eye-hooks in the ceiling, to dangle so many lovely mobiles.  But remarkably, Americans have lost their taste for Las Vegas to such a degree that the Bellagio had to lay off 6,000 people - a number that sounds so high to this reporter that it is no wonder I find myself so nervous in that town.  This resulted in a closing of the Gallery, and the Calder show.   While the Bellagio promises to rehire at least 2,000 of their people back, when attendance picks up with people’s reemergent craving for lights and games, the Gallery itself will remain closed for several months, at least. 

So Mr. Calder’s tranquil shapes shall hang quietly in the dark for now, but for anyone who has ever seen them, it is sufficient just to know that they are somewhere, twisting slowly as they do in the faintest eddies of air, even in a windowless gallery. 

Preferable to the behemoth and mechanical “Bent Propeller,” are some of Mr. Calder’s drawings, especially those he did to illustrate the Fables of Aesop.  To show our sympathy for the plight of the Calder Foundation and that too-devoted grandson Mr. Rower, and to show off our more refined aesthetic judgement, it seems a perfect gesture to commandeer some of these drawings, and run them, with their eternally useful fables, as a means of maintaining the continuity of Mr. Calder’s presence in the world, and of thwarting the intentions, however cloudy, of the zealots with a grudge against abstract sculpture.     3W

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POLITICS

OUR NEUTERED CONSTITUTION; OUR NEW MAYOR, THE TYCOON; AND FIVE QUESTIONS NOBODY KNEW THEY NEEDED TO HAVE AN ANSWER TO

THE GRIM ABSURDITY OF THE POLITICAL MOMENT IN OUR HAGGARD CITY

by Alexander Swartwouy 

We can only hope that one day in the distant future, our descendants will be able to look back to our own age and see what sniveling self-conscious imbeciles we were, and be able to glean at least some mild entertainment out of it.  Otherwise, there is no purpose to our actions this recent election day, when, as a democratic corps, we decided that someone must go through the New York State Constitution and change every ‘his’ to an ‘its’ and every ‘man’ to a ‘person’ - to gender neutralize the whole poor document.  It seems likely that nobody, pulling aside the curtain of the voting booth, and preoccupied with global war and shameless political scuffling at home, was quite aware that such a silly decision was waiting to be made, and yet, we made it.

This initiative reveals at once the height of our pettiness and the depth of our insecurity.  Nothing is accomplished by the transformation of pronouns in the state manifesto, and as a self-satisfying gesture of our enlightenment, it is hollow and demeaning.

As it is, the New York State Constitution is just a hodge-podge of a document, a thing scotch-taped together, and worn by erasure and revision - it is not a solitary hallowed leaf in the manner of the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution.  So the crime of gender neutralization is not one against the sanctity of an historic icon; it is a crime against good sense.

The New York State Constitution is indeed riddled with references to the society and  citizens it protects as ‘men,’ and refers, when in the singular, to ‘his’ rights, and laws applicable to ‘him.’  This is not because it does not apply to the fairer half of the population, but because at its drafting, this was the fashion of the language - this was proper prose.  Yet some present-day politico, with an utterly embryonic concept of feminism, decided that it was necessary to neuter the Constitution, in order, I suppose, to convince the women of New York that they, too, are subject to its laws, and harbored by its protections; or else the author of this proposition was convinced that the antique language of all our founding documents needed to be updated, in order to remain either binding, or hip.  I contend that it would be as worthwhile to change every utterance of ‘good’ in the law-book to ‘awesome;’ to alter every usage of ‘legal’ to ‘cool;’ and to replace the entire array of second-person nominatives with ‘Yo.’

By voting for the neutralization, we have not voted for equal pay for equal work, or even equivalence for women under the law; we have voted only for the further obfuscation of the language, and the perpetuation of our delusions about our own progress.  In spite of our worsening diction, and our inflating sense of our own social righteousness, women are still typically paid less for their work, harassed and inhibited from receiving equivalent medical care, and subject to dozens of demeaning loopholes and lapses in the law.  Such empty gestures as emasculating the terms of the State Constitution are aimed at salving our guilt, while reforming nothing.  Initiatives like this should themselves be outlawed, for the prejudice inherent in their pregnant meaninglessness.

The disingenuousness of the measure is only one of many reasons why the thing ought to be chastised, even as it is being realized.  Another reason, and one close to this paper’s heart, is the reckless abandon with which it enfeebles the language.  Until social politics confounded the world, someone could use the word ‘mankind’ and there would little room for misunderstanding - it meant Homo sapiens, and all its genders.  This was not a sign of embedded prejudice, but a fact of etymology, and one which at least enabled a speaker to construct a clear, strong sentence, free of vagary and hedging.  The crimes and repression suffered by women at least since Alexander impressed the Amazons is not liable to be cured by the dilution of the English language.  In fact, if multisyllabic gender-neutral pronouns turn speaking and writing into a tantarella of uncertainty, then we shall never achieve the enlightenment we seek, simply because we will not be able to make ourselves understood.

The reader who is graced with common sense can figure out for himself that ‘mankind’ is half woman; that ‘manholes’ can be traversed by engineers of any gender; and that ‘the reader himself’ may well be of the fair, fairer, or fairest, sex.  The primary beauty of English (already a gender-neutral tongue, compared to the Romances, where every object is either a boy or a girl) is that a single word is so readily altered by its context, and by the circumstances of the reader.  ‘Man,’ to a sensible reader, will mean whatever its author intends, and even some of what he doesn’t.  If we refer to the ‘rights of man’ in a humanistic treatise, we do so because it is more eloquent and rhythmic than the ‘rights of people,’ or ‘his or her rights,’ and it makes our argument more forceful, for its grace.  If we say it in the midst of a diatribe against coeducation, the ‘rights of men’ is shaded differently, and its meaning can be sniffed out by the reader.  Let us have as many words as we can in our lexicon, and give to each of them all the meanings necessary for expression.  To remove words from the language for being unsuitable, or for having a socially inappropriate gist, is to tie our own tongues, and makes us more Paleolithic than Utopian.

The gelding of the State Constitution is further shameful because it was chosen by an electorate, as mentioned earlier, that almost certainly did not know what it was voting for.  Every indication before and after the election points to the fact that the populace was utterly preoccupied, and not at all sure what any of the ballot proposals actually meant.  Informal surveys still show that even among those who actually voted, there is almost no recognition of what was asked of the electorate, even as they approved it.

If the words firefighter, Osama bin Laden, or Special Forces do not appear in a sentence, it is likely these days that the reader’s brain is disengaged, and is taking a much needed sabbatical from comprehension.  I challenge any citizen to present evidence that they fully understood this ballot proposal, that they arrived at the polling place prepared to vote one way or another on it, and if they voted affirmatively, to give a single good reason for doing so. 

It is this editor’s contention that Americans in voting booths are unreformed optimists, and the less they know the details of a thing, the more likely they are to pull down the ‘Yes’ lever, just to be sure.  This seems to be what happened November 6, in New York, and I dare the readership to dispute this, if they think they can.

 --- 

In the same haze of desperation and negligence, the terrorized electorate recently made Mr. Bloomberg, the tycoon, our new mayor.  There is no practical purpose in disputing Mr. Bloomberg’s politics or his principles at this belated moment, but - as any innocent who has been socked in the eye would display his bruise for his attacker to see, in the hopes of mustering up the beginnings of remorse - I shall here show the voting population the extent of the wound it has inflicted upon the visage of democracy.

The theme of Mr. Bloomberg’s candidacy was, as the New Yorker succinctly put it, that being mayor of New York isn’t really so hard.  Given the chance, anybody can do it, and you might even be surprised.

The moral of his campaign, meanwhile, is that - ideals be damned at last - anything in America can be had for a price.  Many of us have suspected this for a long time; Mr. Bloomberg has simply dispelled the last vestiges of uncertainty from those few Pollyannas still among us. 

At the center of the sour grape of American democracy there was still a seed, a core of possibility, that anybody - really, truly - could one day be elected to office, and make his mark upon the republic.  Children on swingsets across the fruited plain still boasted optimistically that just maybe they might become president one day.  In school, it was taught that in America, just like old Athens, it is not actually supposed to be any more difficult for a peasant to hold office than a tycoon - if you can shed that many layers of jade, and remember the issue clearly.  And here in New York City, in a remarkable affirmation of that possibility, a system of campaign finance controls was instituted that was unlike anything else in the country, and which largely reduced the effects of a candidate’s social status.  Anybody, quite literally, could apply himself and become eligible for elected office, and for the funding necessary to campaign for it.  Mr. Bloomberg, while he was at one time just another hopeful child on a swingset, made a point of refuting this system, now that he is a baron.  He insisted on applying his own disproportionate fortune to his campaign, which, rather than ‘leveling the field for an outsider’ - to paraphrase his own rationale - instead projected the stark contrasts of opportunity and class in America on to the race for the office of mayor.  Nobody can compete with sixty million dollars, and nobody ought to even try, he tells us.  The purpose of New York City’s Campaign finance Program was short-circuited by Mr. Bloomberg’s private fortune, and the only effect it had was to handcuff his opponents, who all resorted to tactless sniping and distasteful attacks, out of desperation.  The combined spending of all the other mayoral candidates, in primaries, runoffs, and the election, and in all parties, does not equal what Mr. Bloomberg spent on his own private, unregulated crusade.

New York, of course, is ever blessed with its considerable contingent of Murdochian meathead ‘pragmatists,’ who argue that, this being a free country, a magnate ought to have every right to buy whatever he likes, and that political office is no exception.  They see nothing wrong with elections going to the highest bidder, and what’s more, a billionaire in office on his own dime is beholden to no one - no special interests, no cronies, no lobbies.

Well, I still call a billionaire in office with no allegiances a king.  He is not pledged to his constituency, because he is not pledged to the system that his constituency has established for choosing a leader.  His only loyalty is to his fortune, which is the source of his power.  Rather than opening up a closed political system to the disenfranchised, as Mr. Bloomberg seemed to think he was doing, he was actually closing out a surprisingly open system, by insulating himself with his own money.  And Mr. Bloomberg is hardly an outsider - he seems to be Caucasian, and male, and excessively wealthy, and disproportionately influential; all of which fit snugly into the profile of the Standard Executive that this country seems to be infested with, and which does not describe too many of the rest of us.  If New York City represented the last bastion of democratic potential, where a citizen was prevented from a public life only by his own inertia and lack of imagination, then Mr. Bloomberg, seemingly full of good intentions, is in fact the final pallbearer of political equivalence.  Citizen, put your aspirations away.

To treat the whole situation more specifically, it needs to be mentioned that Mr. Bloomberg, politically, is actually a New York leftist - a self-described liberal, even - which has only surprised the Republicans who were fooled by the niceness of his suits.  So why shouldn’t the Left be glad to have sneaked in one of its own? 

Frederick the Great, at the end of a long line of political philosophers, described the ideal form of government as ‘benevolent despotism,’ where an absolute monarch presides, but is such a good fellow, that the country prospers, and justice reigns.  Of course, accounts of Frederick the Great himself are hardly gushing, and therein lies the major flaw with benevolent despotism - it is despotism, and in the best case, won’t stay benevolent for longer than a generation.  Mr. Bloomberg will come and go, and he won’t likely have the citizenry marching down Broadway in lockstep anytime soon; but he’s set a tragic electoral precedent where we must merely hope that our next paladin is a friendly one.  There are no leftist kings.

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And in a final mindless act of self-abuse - one can almost picture the bullyish big brother Fate beating the people of New York with their own hand, taunting, “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself...” - the electorate approved five propositions that they most certainly didn’t know the meaning of, and which confer new untoward powers upon the neophyte mayor, Mr. Bloomberg.  Each one proposed the creation of some new city office to replace some already extant city commission.  The difference between one and the other is this: an office answers only to the mayor, while a commission exists and acts at the discretion of the City Council and the mayor.  None of these organizations - the Administration for Children’s Services, the Human Rights Commission, the Office of Immigrant Affairs, the Office of Emergency Management, or the Organized Crime Control Commission - was doomed to extinction.  The questions put to voters were simply a matter of letting the people, in their wisdom, decide who ought to be the authority over them.  The voters, daftly, chose the untested mogul, Mr. Bloomberg.

If such questions were obscure and even unknown to most voters in a typical election, then these must have seemed like downright Latin to the traumatized balloteers of November, 2001.  Still, regardless of the questionable soundness of the people’s mind, a considerable shift in power has occurred, from the city’s legislature - the Council - to its executive, the high-gloss nabob discussed earlier.  It is nothing earth-shattering, like we’re used to these days, but one must be highly skeptical of both electing a greenhorn mayor and bestowing upon him unprecedented authority and leverage against the legislature.  The closest analogue of the populace in government is its legislature.  The populace has demonstrated what a low opinion of itself it holds.

In fact, nothing much will change in New York as a result of these elections.  Day to day life will remain, as it always does around here -  even under the most extraordinary circumstances - the same.  The emasculated Constitution, the novice mayor, and the bevy of redundant city offices shall hardly spell the end of New York City or its government.  But the fact that the overstimulated voters of New York have approved them all at once, and with so little skepticism, is cause for great concern.  When the calamity of the last presidential election had finally died down, and that office had been soundly palmed by the aristocrats of the Right, the only consolation for believers in liberty,  due process, and democracy was New York City itself - a bubble of sanity and skepticism, a poppy seed in the teeth of tyranny.  It is a dark moment now that New York has been consumed by America, and whatever shreds of idealism that remained here have been auctioned off for sixty million dollars.  Perhaps, the City will wake from its stupor, and recover its characteristic mistrust, in a happier future; but for now, it staggers forward, insensate and assimilated.             3W

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HEALTH

PUBLIC HEALTH IN WARTIME

MINE IN PARTICULAR

An Argument for General Health Care that Seems Irrefutable Under Present Circumstances 

by Jonathan Ephrain Underhill 

In response to every major crisis the United States has ever faced, it has succeeded by taking baby steps towards the Left: the Second World War saw large-scale government regulation of industry; the Depression begat the significantly pink New Deal; the Civil War pitted a Southern preference for class division and agrarianism against the Northern realization that social hierarchies could be blurred to nourish industrialization; even the Revolution itself can be viewed as the world’s first big step to the left of despotism.  And so I think a pattern is fairly established, that might then be projected, speculatively, upon our present crisis - about which I also think it is fair to say is largely a consequence of the robustness of our present capitalism.  So if America is due to take two steps to the Left to balance the last twenty it has pranced to the Right, how might this shift manifest itself, and what may happen to the republic if it breaks with precedent, and stays its conservative course?  I think, indeed, that even some of our most tyrannical politicos of the Right have intimated an inclination towards moderation, though if they were told this up front, they would have an aneurysm for indignation.  But in spite of all the acrobatics and arm-waving in progress in the halls of Congress, I feel a new federalism is in order, and I think an appropriate venue for its realization is in the public health, which is in shambles.

--- 

I happen to number among the millions in this country who crave risk and reject the encroachment of reality - so far as our strained budgets will allow us - and do not have any form of health insurance.  Forty-five million Americans, all of whom, if they fell into a manhole, must hope for a quick death or suffer a lifelong poverty; who, if hit by a bus, will either spend eternity in Paradise or in the judicial system; and who, grazed by a stray bullet, must seek the shooter not so much for justice but more for compensation.  Some of us exist in this precarious state for our own kicks and the thrill of danger, but most do so in order to afford food, housing, and fifty-dollar jeans.  Before the nation became preoccupied with war and firemen, there were a great deal of reasonable people asking ‘how can it be that one in seven Americans can’t get a splinter removed from their finger, let alone be given medicine for cancer, without filing for bankruptcy?’

Most of the world’s industrialized nations provide at least a minimal level of health care to their citizens, and with varying degrees of success.  But to any patient who lives like a prole and not a prince, and who has been treated nevertheless under these systems, that degree of success is high.  Yet, in this country, where much more complicated solutions have been devised to much simpler problems, and we tirelessly pride ourselves on our know-how, the ‘Free Market’ has been so rampantly worshipped that the basic right of a human being to be cared for when sick has been overlooked, in deference to the inhuman machinations of the economy.  A situation presents itself today, though, that may show us the fallibility of this oversight, and ought to get us started on a reformation:

I cannot be blamed for the occasional flash of uncertainty these days, about tripping over the mailman and somehow coming away with a little case of the anthrax.  It is an unreasonable concern appropriate to our unreasonable times - but if only for the sake of contemplation, it must be had.

And if I did contract anthrax - or smallpox, or the Plague - as a result of this current terrorization, I am not sure, but I think that, though perfectly unable to pay, I would be provided with a treatment, either in the haste of the medical officers to contain the disaster, or by their genuine good intentions.  Even as I am ‘uncovered,’ in the condescending parlance of the medical insurance industry, I feel fairly confident that I would be treated with a nice antibiotic and a comfy night in the hospital, again, if only because the situation surrounding such incidents are so urgent and disorganized.  But I think that any reasonable agent of the Centers for Disease Control would insist on it, and even Mr. Bush would concur, for a variety of reasons.

One is that the infection of my person becomes a risk to those around me, and so the disinfection of my person ought to be a priority to the government that hopes to prevent the calamitous extinction of its constituents.  The alternative to treating the uninsured victim of bioterrorism is to quarantine them, until they die off, hopefully before the wind shifts and the insured population gets infected.  This is obviously an unattractive option, and it leads me to the second reason for treating sick citizens, which is the purpose of public relations.

As we are at war, and we have certain enemies, and certain allies, it behooves our country to do what it can to appear noble and righteous and appealing to those allies, and strong and moral and indefatigable to those enemies.  A country that does not treat those of its citizens who are wounded (or infected) in an enemy attack does not give off a favorable image of itself, on any of these terms.  While we click our tongues at the Taliban for robbing and killing their own citizens, our savvy government would be unwise to let a few hundred dollars worth of antibiotics make it appear similarly inhumane in the eyes of the world, by letting its own citizens expire.  Soldiers who are wounded in battle are, of course, treated unconditionally.  Now, civilians stand in the line of fire, and nobody can reasonably think that they aren’t deserving of treatment if they required it - and that for any American to have to worry whether they can afford to survive is an absurd possibility, and a public relations disaster.  As much as the current war is being waged against our society, our economy, and our daily security, every civilian is a soldier, and the most pampered capitalist in Washington couldn’t conscientiously deny an American his Ciprofloxacin.

Every citizen, regardless of his tax bracket, ought to be guaranteed health care also for purely political reasons.  More and more dead people would result not only in fewer and fewer voters, but less contented ones.  The moment some blue-collar family man is left to expire because he wasn’t ‘covered,’ a hundred of his acquaintances will begin cursing his congressional representative under their breath, and it won’t matter if they were the most apolitical couch-potatoes on the green earth - patriots all, they will mutter for this, and they will act.  It is a short route from a House full of capitalists - sticking to their guns on the free market versus the public health - to one which sees the sense in keeping its constituency healthy and feeling protected - see how they came about on federalized airport security.

The public health must thus be assured during wartime for reasons of national security, for propaganda and appearances, for morale, and for political stability.  But why should all of these considerations not be extended beyond wartime?  What is the great danger that a healthy, secure American people pose to those in power?

A simple and convincing case can be made that the health of the public is kept uncertain as a means of class control.  Needless to say, the free-market health care system leaves mainly the lower classes vulnerable, and reinforces their status by draining what resources they possess, all while preoccupying them with the tribulations of being sick.  This tangle is enough to depoliticize them, for sheer lack of energy.  Of course, this argument is so obvious that anyone with a brain-stem is keen to it, and to those more refined of us, it smacks, through repeated use, of reflexive leftist rhetoric.  But it may actually just be this simple.

The unworkable policies that are in place have been put there by politicians and businessmen and doctors, and the benefits of it go to politicians and businessmen and doctors, in the form of donations, profits, and fees.  The danger of adjusting it, to fall more precisely in line with this ‘humanity’ and ‘civilization’ we are always addressing, is that it may too dramatically alter the order of things.  With general public health care, the boxcar hobo’s quality and duration of life will be increased, while the proctologist will miss out on a portion of his revenue.  And the whole thing is spotted with the fingerprints of socialism, that know-it-all whom no one wants to speak to, but whom everyone, deep down, knows is probably right.  Though the Red Scare is half a century past being laughable, anything with even a warm rosy glow still makes Washington go for its gun.

The question at the edge of this scenario is why don’t the uninsured - the lower classes - simply politicize themselves, and insist on change the old fashioned way, by writing letters and hoping that this is still, for the most part, a democratic republic.  Their inability to do so must be partly attributed to the complexity of the health care issue, specifically.  A good deal of certainty can be had, even by the uneducated, that being walloped by a policeman just isn’t right.  But it seems less certain that being refused necessary medications is any less wrong, even though both are acts of neglect on the part of the state, and both have the same end result: a perfectly functional member of society being rendered dysfunctional, and denied the legs with which he ought to be pursuing happiness.  There is something inherent in the issue that convolutes the certainty of right and wrong - perhaps it is akin to the guilt typical among the ill, that they were somehow responsible for their weak immunity.  But with a clear mind, it is evident: being refused medicine is as antisocial as a kick in the shins.

Another likely reason that the cry for a right to health care is so soft is that, in America, those lowest in the social order tend to be new to the country altogether, encountering an unfamiliar language, an unfamiliar culture, and an arcane and unfathomable social bureaucracy.  A man who has just walked into a room wearing a peculiar hat is not so inclined to complain right away about the color of the walls.

And the most marvelous and appalling aspect of America’s capitalism - and ringing proof of its success - is how soon those who succeed at it forget about its shortcomings.  Rarely does a contrarian graduate to the upper echelons of the capitalist society, and still remember that he is a contrarian.

In a perfect ordering of events, the present quasi-military crisis in America may just illuminate the senselessness of sticking to the dictum of every-man-for-himself regarding the public health.  Disease does not acknowledge the credit rating of its host - and if disease is a weapon to be unleashed against a society, that society as a whole had better be able to react in unison for its own preservation.  If the hawks of the free market can be persuaded by these extreme circumstances to concede the health care industry to the public good, that may be just enough of a shuffle to the Left - and to humanity - to survive another age of greed and selfishness.  And if it takes all this to demonstrate the logic of public health to those who are in control of it, then I would gladly be the one to stagger around town struck by a poison bullet, and spreading the bad effects, until my government finally sees the light, and gives me a damned federally-subsidized aspirin.        3W

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ANALYSIS

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN HORROR & TERROR

 

SEMANTIC NITPICKING IN THE FACE OF UNBEARABLE TRAGEDY

If the sturdy people of New York City are going to become connoisseurs of misfortune and disaster - and it seems that we are bound to do just that - then it is worth examining some of the nuances of catastrophe and its effect upon the psyche, so as to improve our judgement of it above that of the layman’s.  With the crash of Flight 587, on November 12th, so close on the heels of Gotham’s grim September, we are provided an opportunity for comparison - not only to heighten our appreciation for the fine points of calamity - but also just to give ourselves something to do, other than mope and shake our heads.  It is, after all, the habit of this city to be unrepentantly opportunistic, and to seize every advantage it can over the rest of the world, and there is no reason that a string of inconceivable disasters should be treated any differently.  If woe is to be our lot, than we shall know it intimately, and as well as anyone in the world can.

The most recent plane crash provides a unique perspective upon our communal response to disaster, because, so far, it seems that it may very well have actually been happenstance, in contrast to the incidents of September, which were the manifestations of intent.  Not typically a subtle people, nor an especially philological one, nevertheless New Yorkers are finding themselves making a distinction between differing senses of dread, distinguishing between horror and terror.

Horror, according to the gnomes in Webster’s workshop, is “the strong feeling caused by something frightful or shocking.”   Terror is simply given as “intense fear, or the person or thing causing intense fear.”  This delicate qualification is the thing that has become so significant to the twice-traumatized citizens of New York.  The origin of the discrepancy between the two seems to have come from the French Revolution, of all places.  Both horror and terror emerged intact from Latin into French, and were indistinguishable synonyms, until, in 1795, following the Revolution, those more enthusiastic insurgents among the rabble beheaded everyone they could get their hands on, royalists or no, and their spree came to be known as the Reign of Terror.  Its perpetrators were the world’s first ‘terroristes,’ and the t-word had taken on that quality of infliction that distinguishes it from plain horror.

As a result, while the violent demise of the World Trade Center inspired people generally with horror,  but more precisely it has terrorized them; and the prospect that Flight 587 was actually a mechanical accident has people feeling peculiarly optimistic, that they may not actually be terrified again, only horrified, for once.

Horror is an emotional reaction that is not contingent on the method of its occurrence.  Terror has assumed the more specific meaning of a horror given to one; thus, a horror that will last as long as the malevolence of its bestower does - and for that, maybe something worse than horror.  For, if bad things are going to happen, and all of our mothers have told us that they will, then generally it’s preferable to have horrible things happen - by misfortune - than to have terrible things happen - by the action of someone or something that doesn’t like us.  There is no more terrible prospect to an American than to not be liked.  Thus, the crash of Flight 587, as long as it is attributed to bad luck and not malicious intent, is, deep in some yankee hearts, being thought of as a kind of victory.  This is just the sort of perverse conclusion that one is due to reach once they achieve such a rarefied expertise in a subject as we beleaguered Knickerbockers have in rationalizing catastrophe.

It has anyway taken a considerable suspension of disbelief to convince most of us that these consequent mishaps are anything other than a coincidence - but the indomitable, puppy-like optimism of the American character has gone a long way towards persuading us of this best possible conclusion.  And the unlikely argument for sheer chance was given a boost on the afternoon of the 12th - the very day of the crash - when the ostensibly random number generated by the New Jersey Lottery was 5-7-8, an eerie anagram.  Coincidence’s case was furthered that evening, when the second New Jersey Lottery drawing actually coughed up 5-8-7 itself.  Granted, New Jersey is not New York,  but the skeptical and the superstitious alike were sold - if not also a little spooked; just maybe that plane did crash for nothing more sinister than the horror latent in any given moment, and it had nothing but geography in common with the terror inherent in our own specific, haywire world.  This is hardly any consolation for the death and destruction we have been bound to bear, and we are still holding our doubts close.  But if nothing else, it is an impressive demonstration of this City’s latest world-class proficiency - savoring anguish like fine wine, and learning to pick the vintage blindfolded.     3W

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THE EAVESDROPPER 

AN ACTUAL CONVERSATION

-I bought some bananas this morning.

-Oh?  How were they?

-Beautiful.  Beautiful.  Big nice yellow.

-Did you get them from the man on this corner here?

-Yup.

-Oh I like him.  I’m glad he’s doing well.

-Sure.  He’s got beautiful bananas.  Fifty cents a bunch.

-Oh that’s good, if they’re nice.

-I give him a dollar, he never gives me any change.

-It’s good that he’s doing well.  It’s nice to have him in the neighborhood.

-Sure he’s doing well - he charges fifty cents a bunch and he never gives me any change.  He forgets.

-And you let him.

-Sure I let him.  These were beautiful bananas.

-Oh, you know?   They were supposed to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge today. 

-What’s that?

-That’s what they said.

-They said they were going to blow it up?

-That’s what what’s-his-face said.

-You just can’t trust them.

-Who’s that?

-Anybody.  Anybody.

 

ANOTHER ACTUAL CONVERSATION

-So do you want to go?

-Where?

-Did you want to go to ground zero?

-Ground zero?

-Yeah, you know-

-Oh god, no.  I thought for a minute it was some kind of restaurant.

-It probably will be.

                            3W

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METEOROLOGY

THE WEATHER

METEOROLOGY, INDEED

 

It has certainly seemed that the world is running headlong through the universe with New York City out in front, bearing the brunt of every cosmic obstacle - Earth’s dutiful pointman, with a face full of scratches.  And for our troubles, we were lately thrust nose-first into a trail of cosmic debris left behind by the comet Tempel-Tuttel, which crosses Earth’s orbit regularly, and which, rather than bring more fire and brimstone to our dented city, brought a silent spectacle in the early-morning sky.  This was the Leonid meteor shower, of the 18th, and even in the light-diluted atmosphere of the humming metropolis, it was magnificent, and not too far short of a divine reward for our travails.

A bit after 4 a.m, roused by duty and a shrill alarm clock, I stumbled through the darkness into a sweater, hat, and gloves, and went, without subjecting my tender eyes to a single quantum of electric light, to the roof.  I emerged into the night in a haze of delirium and discovered, to my surprise, that the Big Dipper was clearly visible high above, in the Northeast.  One is liable to forget all about the stars around here, but on a roof, on a clear dark night, and even against the yellow-grey canvas of the city’s canopy, there they will be - at least the brightest of them - mute and perfect lights.  And on this night the sky was perfectly clear, as it has been for days, and the air was cold, with a slow and steady breeze coming up from the South. 

Being less of an astronomer and more of an astronomeuse, I had unreasonably expected to see the meteors towards the East, near where the sun was due to rise, and where the sky was already flooded with such sodium illumination that daylight would’ve been redundant.  And indeed, not too long after my arrival on the roof, at 4:45 a.m, I saw the first streak of light, an instantaneous linear phantom, in the Eastern sky, heading from the Big Dipper towards the horizon.  I had also expected all the meteors to streak in the same direction, as if the atmosphere were glancing tangentially across the comet’s trail, but this expectation was grounded in nothing but ignorance.  Soon the sky was full of shooting stars, and they did not go in one direction at all.  From horizon to horizon they could be spotted, momentary vectors of luminance, and all radiating apparently from a point directly overhead.  If I had been more astute, I would have not been so surprised - there was the constellation Leo, after which this annual storm is named, and out of which it unfailingly emanates.

Now staring straight up, with meteors streaming out from the center of the sky, I became all the more aware of how directly we were plunging, Gotham-first, through the universe.  Meteors were streaming down directly upon us, and half a dozen at a time would light up, spreading out across the sky like minimalist fireworks.  More and more stars, as 5 a.m. approached, left breathtaking trails of greenish fire in their wake, which were then dispersed into the compromised blackness of the urban night.  The trick, I learned, was to relax my eyes, and let them just bounce around the void without focusing on anything, and then the shooting stars would appear, all through my periphery, and the better ones would be directly above, in my broad line of sight.

And then, as the meteors became larger and more prominent, and the uneasy sense of having iron and stone rained upon me by the infinite heavens themselves was heightened by the cold and clarity of the immediate air, there was a brilliant flash of light directly overhead, and for a second, a lingering spot of greenish fire, about the size of a dime held at arm’s length.  A meteor, presumably headed straight down at old New York, and which had exploded in the upper atmosphere.  The noiselessness of the flashes and fire was surprising, as had been the silence of recent, more terrestrial fireshows; and for a moment, it was impossible not to fold my outstretched legs above me, by way of protection, should any of the meteorites make their way through.  Of course, this was further insanity in an age rife with it, but I was only acting on behalf of my new, innate willingness to believe that the worst could happen at any moment.  Sirens, three months ago unremarkable, were again audible in the distance.  Of course the meteors were harmless, but they were no less thrilling, and humbling for it.

This was, according to the experts, the most active Leonid shower in thirty years, and an ideal one to witness on the East Coast, which isn’t always the unlucky vanguard in the planet’s plunge through the stormy cosmos.  Not a bit do I regret the sacrifice of two hours’ sleep to have seen the  display put on in the sky over the slumbering boroughs.  Using a pair of binoculars I possessed, with no celestial utility in this instance, I perused the adjacent rooftops to see if anyone else had made the same sacrifice.  And as astonishing as the profusion of streaking stars in the sky was, it was equal only to the plenitude of silent crowds sitting and leaning on dozens of rooftops all around.  The whole city had seemingly tiptoed out of bed to the high ground, saying nothing, hoping not to wake those who were probably already sneaked out to their own crow’s nests, and everyone watched, in ones and twos, the perfectly quiet incendiaries streaming through the sky, sent not from earthly enemies, but from Nature’s much grander arsenal.

    Elza. Anne Bonney

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