Published in the Sept. 23 edition of The Moscow Times. Annotations and sources are available here.
The sea was pink with sunset, the last light draining as high tide slowly reclaimed the beach. A huge harvest moon, flecked with clouds, was hanging just above the horizon in a sky still barely blue. On the distant line where the world curved away, you could see the white speck of the Channel ferry, bound for Calais.
Standing on the high seawall – with no one around, no sound but the insistent boundless roar of the waves – you watched and waited, waited for the hint of wind to rake the clouds away from the moon. The pink sea shaded into gray, first one and then another of the seawall steps was covered by the swarming tide: the waves and the darkness were advancing together. You waited. A horsehead cloud flashed black against the vast yellow presence, then bowed its neck, drifted on – and the moon emerged.
A rapier of light appeared on the surface of the water, a restless, shifting dazzlement, reaching all the way to the foot of the seawall, the edge of the tide. Wherever you stepped it followed, a pointillist blade aimed straight for your eyes. Imperceptibly but swiftly, the moon rose higher, grew harder and smaller, while the band of light, paradoxically, widened: now a broadsword, now a road, now a river of diamonds pouring through the middle of the waves.
Astonishing, unlooked-for, this eruption of beauty, so perfect in its meaninglessness. It was just there, portending nothing, without signification. There was no goddess in the moon, no spirit in the sea: just form, line, curve, light – combining, dissolving, recombining at every moment. A truth emptied of all utility, all contention, all continuity, of everything except the eternal imprint of reality.
How far removed from this realm of ordinary miracle is the sordid world of politics and power. There, meaning and agency, instrumentality and exploitation rule the day. There, the wordless roar of the sea gives way to the ceaseless howl of lies. To deal with politics is nothing more or less than waste management, a necessary evil to preserve public health, trying to keep the corruption down to a reasonable, endurable level.
Of course, corruption is just another word for greed; and greed – self-serving -- is endemic to human nature. No political system is antiseptic in this regard – nor should it be. A little corruption is not fatal; some built-in slack for human failure keeps a system from becoming merciless and inhumane. But when the level of graft rises too high, when it overtops and breaks down the levees of law itself, when it swarms the land, rips out communities and families, when it kills and crushes, when it exalts the mighty few beyond all reason and justice – then it must be resisted, exposed, and condemned. Then, in order to carve out some space for meaningless beauty and reality's truth to flourish, we must plunge into the muck again.
And so here we go: George W. Bush's plan to reconstruct the Gulf Coast is the biggest crony cash-cow in American history (aside from the pork-orgy he's throwing for his pals in Iraq). Bush is using his emergency powers to strip American citizens of their legal protections against exploitation, handing out no-bid contracts to his pals and paymasters and allowing them to pay coolie wages to build their new commercial empires on the bones and blood of the hurricane's victims.