Wednesday, January 11, 2006


by CK Williams

The first morning of Three Mile Island: those first disquieting, uncertain,
mystifying hours.
All morning a crew of workmen have been tearing the old decrepit roof
off our building,
and all morning, trying to distract myself, I've been wandering out to
watch them
as they hack away the leaden layers of asbestos paper and disassemble
the disintegrating drains.
After half a night of listening to the news, wondering how to know a
hundred miles downwind
if and when to make a run for it and where, then a coming bolt awake
at seven
when the roofers we've been waiting for since winter sent their ladders
shrieking up our wall,
we still know less than nothing: the utility company continues making
little of the accident,
the slick federal spokesmen still have their evasions in some semblance
of order.
Surely we suspect now we're being lied to, but in the meantime, there
are the roofers,
setting winch-frames, sledging rounds of tar apart, and there I am, on
the curb across, gawking.

I never realized what brutal work it is, how matter-of-factly and harrow-
ingly dangerous.
The ladders flex and quiver, things skid from the edge, the materials are
bulky and recalcitrant.
When the rusty, antique nails are levered out, their heads pull off; the
underroofing crumbles.
Even the battered little furnace, roaring along as patient as a donkey,
chokes and clogs,
a dense, malignant smoke shoots up, and someone has to fiddle with a
cock, then hammer it,
before the gush and stench will deintensify, the dark, Dantean broth
wearily subside.
In its crucible, the stuff looks bland, like licorice, spill it, though, on
your boots or coveralls,
it sears, and everything is permeated with it, the furnace gunked with
burst and half-burst bubbles,
the men themselves so completely slashed and mucked they seem almost
from another realm, like trolls.
When they take their break, they leave their brooms standing at attention
in the asphalt pails,
work gloves clinging like Br'er Rabbit to the bitten shafts, and they slouch
along the precipitous lip,
the enormous sky behind them, the heavy noontime air alive with shim-
mers and mirages.

Sometime in the afternoon I had to go inside: the advent of our vigil was
upon us.
However much we didn't want to, however little we would do about it,
we'd understood:
we were going to perish of all this, if not now, then soon, if not soon,
then someday.
Someday, some final generation, hysterically aswarm beneath an at-
mosphere as unrelenting as rock,
would rue us all, anathematize our earthly comforts, curse our surfeits
and submissions.
I think I know, though I might rather not, why my roofers stay so clear
to me and why the rest,
the terror of that time, the reflexive disbelief and distancing, all we should
hold on to, dims so.
I remember the president in his absurd protective booties, looking
absolutely unafraid, the fool.
I remember a woman on the front page glaring across the misty Sus-
quehanna at those looming stacks.
But, more vividly, the men, silvered with glitter from the shingles, cling-
ing like starlings beneath the eaves.
Even the leftover carats of tar in the gutter, so black they seemed to suck
the light out of the air.
By nightfall kids had come across them: every sidewalk on the block was
scribbled with obscenities and hearts.

I forget the exact wording, but the comment I made on BoB that caught Jerry's attention and led in part to his inviting me to be a regular here had to do with Bushco's speculating about the legality of postponing or suspending the 2004 Presidential elections for reasons of national security in a time of war. My comment was along the lines of, wouldn't it be nice to not have to consider the possibility that Bush and Cheney would create just such a scenario if polls showed an imminent loss in the election. Doesn't it suck that I even have to consider the possibility?

Lee posted yesterday and today about this article in yesterday's NYT about a belligerent speech Bush made before a meeting of VFW members, and he makes many of the points that need to be made. Let me add one more. Consider this Bush quote at the end of the article:
"a country that divides into factions and dwells on old grievances cannot move forward and risks sliding back into tyranny."
Just which tyrants is he talking about? When was the last tyrant? Is he talking about Howard Dean and the totalitarian ambitions of Move-On? Those vegans the FBI spied on? I understand his speechwriters believe in maudlin sentimentality as effective speechifying, and no doubt Bush's speech was thoroughly salted with "freedoms" and "liberty" and other purplenesses, and really, is there anything lamer than Bush referring to Saddam Hussein as "The Tyrant?" But still.

Doesn't it suck that I have to consider that beneath the rhetoric is a threat? Agree with me, Bush might be saying, or I will become the king and tyrant. Dwell on your grievances, and I'll take the right to dwell away. Use your civil rights to oppose me and I'll suspend your civil rights. There's no way forward except mine, and no laws can stop me from moving forward.

And then consider the patheticness and cowardice of his rationale: if I have to become a tyrant, it's not my fault. I didn't want to, I had no choice, I gave you fair warning. This is a man who professes his love for freedom and liberty and lives and rules in fear of both.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


by John Ashbery
       Old cathedrals, old markets, good and firm things
And old streets, one always feels intercepted
As they walk quickly past, no nonsense, cabbages
And turnips, the way they get put into songs:

One needn't feel offended
Or shut out just because the slow purpose
Under it is evident,
Because someone is simply there.

Yet it's a relief to look up
To the moist, imprecise sky,
Thrashing about in loneliness,

There has to be a heart to this.
The words are there already.
Just because the river looks like it's flowing backwards
Doesn't mean that motion doesn't mean something,
That it's incorrect as a metaphor.

And the way stones sink,
So gracefully,
Doesn't rob them of the dignity
Of their cantankerous gravity.

They are what they are and what they seem.
Maybe our not getting closer to them
Puts some kind of shine on us
We didn't consent to,
As though we were someone's car:
Large, animated, calm.
It's the Fight

A long, serious article on presidential power. Read. Here's a key paragraph:
The lesson for the balance of powers is a deep one: the prize of power goes to the bold. Right now, the presidency and its supporters have the upper hand. For Congress to regain some of its constitutional prominence, the court will have to keep a level head, and the representatives themselves will have to be willing to take some chances. Such an effort need not be restricted to national security issues - it would be nice if Congress also took more responsibility for making many of the hard domestic policy choices that it currently leaves to administrative agencies. But the national security problem is more pressing, and for the moment it offers Congress the best chance to redeem itself from its recent inaction.
The first sentence precisely describes the difference between Republicans and Democrats as players in today's politics. It echoes Bill Clinton's famous statement that people vote for "strong and wrong" over "right and weak." To me, the overriding meme that Republican's employ against Democrats is that if they are too weak to stand up for themselves, they are too weak to defend America.

What, exactly, do the Democrats have to lose that they are too afraid to change the current political dynamics? I fear the answer may be - probably must be - that those in power within the Democratic Party would rather keep the perks they have as leaders of the minority power than risk losing their positions in a reformist, and ascendant, party.

I'm convinced that a charismatic, eloquent, passionate Liberal demagogue who is as sweeping in his/her reformist rhetoric, who articulates the history of Liberalism as a changing force in American history and in America's future, who is brave and bold, who challenges both the entropy and entrenchment of his/her own party as well as the wretched policies of the Republicans, can sweep to power both him/herself as well as the party.

I'm not sure that person exists. I'm not sure the Democratic Party, in its efforts to become as self-policing and doctrinaire and as lockstep as the Republican Party, would support, much less allow, such a person. I'm entirely not sure that the Democratic leadership is willing to sacrifice their golf junkets and power lunches if that's what it took to regain power. Which is exactly why American Liberalism needs a smart, shrewd, eloquent, brave, and bold demagogue.