The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent
Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill, Esq.• 12.12.03


The Emperor Napoleon once famously quipped: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is often but a single step.” Perhaps so; but I have found that going the other way -- from the ridiculous to the sublime -- is a long and worthwhile journey, full of wonders, with much to look forward to and much to savor. In the words of the poet Constantine Cavafy:

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.

Students of Western literature will be familiar with the long tradition of re-working the two famous works with which that tradition begins -- Homer’s two epics. Here is a work in progress that imagines both and their author coming together in a new way. It fuses the pagan world that Homer knew with the world as it came to be after the reign of Constantine the Great, who incorporated the Judaeo-Christian system of values into that civilization, and invites you to look into a future shaped by that great synthesis. It may be closer than you think!


Laistrygonians, Cyclops, angry Poseidon -
don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare sensation
touches your spirit and your body.

Way back in the latter part of 1986, word went around that Donald O. Chesworth, then Superintendent of the New York State Police, would be retiring from that office and going into the private practice of law in his native Rochester. As is the way in such affairs, no one could care less about what became of Don -- the King is dead; long live the King, right? All that interested everyone was who would succeed him.

I started to hear a name -- a name that was never uttered without being preceded by the words “Anybody but.”

That name was Constantine.

In due time, Governor Mario M. Cuomo held a press conference and introduced his nominee. Well, lo and behold; it was “Nobody but.” That’s right, Constantine, as in Thomas A., a Buffalo-born career New York State Trooper who, from that day on would never fail to remind everyone that he had risen “through every rank of the New York State Police, served in every position and become the first superintendent to have done so in thirty years.”

In time, he would come to be known by many names and descriptors, many unprintable, but Freddy Krueger, The Puss, He Whose Mug is Owned by Gravity, Commander Worf (after the bossy Klingon security chief of the Starship Enterprise to whom he bears a striking resemblance in looks, self-expression and demeanor) and Tommy Two-Stars. (I never, however, heard him characterized as a Laistrygonian. But then, The Odyssey was not required reading at the New York State Police Academy.)

It was during the early stages of his reign over the State Police that I got to know many of its most senior and interesting members. For some reason, they didn’t mind telling me all about what was transpiring in the several lower circles of the Inferno that their pathetic lamentations suggested its headquarters had become. I listened carefully. I attended a growing number of retirement dinners for individuals who were leaving and expressing no love lost in so doing. Most of them were quite fun because of the humorous presentations that the First Deputy Superintendent, a delightful and witty man named Ed Culhane, would put on featuring finely-observed comic send-ups of the departing comrade and often including his recitation of a little poem created for the occasion.

One day, after having heard so much of this tale of woe that I was overburdened with it, I made the mistake almost as fatal as that of King Midas’ barber when he whispered the secret of the King’s ears into a hole in the ground. Some humorous verses occurred to me, as follows:

Literature is loaded with loony commanders;
Obsessive, compulsive, incessant demanders
Of monomaniacally acute paranoia;
Cross them but once and they’ll move to destroy ya.

Now life mirrors fiction -- with only one hitch --
A book you can close; a channel you switch;
But when it’s reality; if my French you will pardon,
You’re between the blue sea and the Devil with a h****n.

Cap’n Butcher had his palm tree; Ahab his whale;
Tom’s got his eye on the smallest detail.
The palm tree got deep-sixed; the Pequod got sunk
And controlling the world’s not the fun that Tom thunk.

With Queeg, it was berries; with Ripper his fluids.
Tom’s got his colonels with asses well-chewed.
One got a mutiny. One Armageddon.
Tom sees his people just uppin’ and gettin’.

Watch the brass all departing for jobs less well-paid.
Out the door they go streaming in a swelling parade.
Poor Culhane’s growing hoarse from presiding at dinners.
With all of those banquets, he ain’t gettin’ thinner!

Of those who remain, the noose is drawn tighter,
The muzzle’s adjusted, the burden no lighter.
“I want every trooper to leap when I call.
And, you, scrub that handwriting off of the wall.”

Ah, you hate to hate fellas in over their head
But they get so obnoxious, you might wish them dead.
We can take politicians, hacks and deceivers,
But spare us the predations of overachievers!

This fiasco will end and we will muddle through it.
Let’s just hope there’s enough of us left to undo it!

That being written, I called an old friend and read it to him over the phone. “You have made a serious mistake,” he said, horrified. “You didn’t write it down, did you?” When I responded affirmatively, he said, “That was your second big mistake.” And when I breezily informed him that I had given a copy to a friend in NYSP Headquarters, he concluded dejectedly, “That was your final and fatal mistake.”

Well what was done was done and about three weeks later my headquarters mole called to tell me with tremendous glee that the wretched bit of doggerel had landed squarely on Tom’s desk with explosive results. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned that his prime suspect was his own First Deputy, the hapless Culhane, and that the explosion that occurred that day it arrived in an envelope from the Governor’s office, where it had been circulated with considerable amusement, registered on seismographs the world over with a force larger that of Aetna, Vesuvius and Krakatoa together.

I lived for some time after that in a state of mortal dread that I would be found out and meet a terrible fate. Secretly, however, I had been concerned about what appeared to be excesses in his behavior and felt I had probably done a good thing by letting him know that they were not going unnoticed. In fact, the biggest credible complaint against him was the allegation that he insisted upon being surrounded by “yes-men” who could be counted upon not challenge him in any way, even for his own good. (Indeed, as the years passed, I often thought of him as someone who must be handled with a whip, a chair and a bag of raw meat. Not a job for the fainthearted.) That being the case, the Muse came once more out of hiding with this result:

If you’re familiar with our last piece of verse,
You know things were bad. Well, now, they are worse.
Intelligence tells us that Tommy has seed
That appallingly vicious item of screed.

A fly on the wall tells us how he exploded.
The poor little thing had its ears quite eroded.
The words he was using -- we blush at their mention;
But I guess you could say that we got his attention.

His face it got darker. He loosened his tie.
His blood reached full boil. “Who is this guy
(or girl, as the case may possibly be)
Who’s writing these scurrilous things about me?”

He called in Strojnowski, O’Grady and Soc
And Luitweiler, too, for a nice little talk.
Culhane’s not around; by a prior requirement,
He’s home writing jokes for another retirement.

Tom marshaled his forces and gave them their orders.
“All troops hit the road and seal all the borders.
With all of my horses and BCI men
We’ll get this sick bastard and cut off his pen.”

“We don’t have any horses, you scared them away
And the dicks won’t work late without overtime pay.
There’s four thousand suspects, not lots of time,
And their folders don’t say if they know how to rhyme.”

In a war of attrition, the troops melt away
Through disease and bombardment and some run, they say.
But here you’ll see milit’ry history made --
By early retirements, a general unmade.

Yes, the literary bug had bitten me good. There was no holding back the flow of verse and comic tall stories now. The still largely anonymous author had even earned a nickname:


He seeks him here; he seeks him there.
Poor Tommy seeks him everywhere.
The guy who makes old Tom see red;
Who might be hid beneath his bed.

Is he in Heaven or is he in Hell,
That damned, elusive Pimpernel?
That gentleman who’s pleased to bear
The floral nom de plume de guerre?

Who hopes beneath that sobriquet
To lighten up Tom’s etiquette
And show him of his ways the error
Then lift his awful reign of terror!

Actually, I relished the role of chronicler and cheering section for the beleaguered New York State Troopers and their amazing/amusing boss. Truth is, the more I laughed at him, the more I liked him. I have never gotten over the compulsion to pull his whiskers every time I get the chance.


Their hours are long. The pace is fast.
The pressure high. The hassles vast.
But gotta hand it to those guys:
They laugh and joke and still crack wise
And have a ball, to our surprise.
So what's the thing that keeps 'em chipper?
And helps keep stiff that upper lipper?
It's humor of a special brand
Unique to SP Field Command.
Sometimes cynic. Often coarse.
'Bout blood and guts, perhaps divorce.
'Bout working hard and late and long.
And women, wow, and wine and song.
'Bout all those times when comes the Supe
Descending on that hapless troupe.
At times like that, some men might quail.
Their knees might shake. Their hearts might fail.
But with a sense of humor manic,
These guys avoid despair and panic.
Yes, when the Man is OTR
And stomps along the path of war,
They've got a way to clear the air
Of roarings from that dragon's lair.
They wait until his back is turned
Then rub their ears all singed and burned
And sheepishly they all begin
To smile again and even grin.
And soon the Field Command and staff
Indulge in horse or belly laugh.
They laugh about the stuff of life.
They laugh off trouble, pain and strife,
Disappointment, fear, frustration,
The Boss's minor irritation.
And that is how the boys can stand
The stuff they stand in Field Command:
They laugh, cut up, pull out the stops.
Act weird, go crazy, blow their tops.
And that's what keeps 'em happy cops.

As time went on, those in the know would occasionally direct items my way that they suspected might unleash the Muse to amuse at Tom’s expense. From the Governor’s office one day arrived a envelope containing a newspaper clipping with the story of how Tom and John O’Connor, the then chief of the Albany office of the FBI, gave chase to a speeding Cadillac whilst on their way home from a conference in Ottawa. Tom phoned in a press release.

Perhaps you're familiar with the comic -- and perennially embarrassed -- actor cum art and film connoisseur Paul Reubens, a/k/a Pee Wee Herman and his film “Pee Wee's Big Adventure”.


The sky was clear, the weather fine.
Along the road came Constantine.
Cruising in his plush state car
Equipped with sauna, pool and bar.
When passed a car that did exceed
The posted, lawful rate of speed.
Well, though he's scrambled to the top
Tom's still at heart some kind of cop.
And though he's put on years and weight
This is, remember, Tommy's state.
Though thirty years have come and gone
Still Tommy to the chase was drawn.
His sight has dimmed; his knees are stiff.
When flowers bloom, he starts to sniff.
Not quite the stud he was of yore --
Two holes of golf now leave him sore.
His hair is thin; what's left is Grey.
He nods out after half the day.
Well, somewhere Tommy found the pep
To sound his siren and to step
Hard on the gas and get it up.
(His speed, that is)
Down the highway; out for blood.
Tom catches up: "Pull over, bud."
At last the quarry's hunted down
And Tom puts on his sternest frown.
It isn't hard for one to scowl
Or come up with a throaty growl
When you're a sagging, aging gent
And braking caused your back to went,
And opening that heavy door
Has left your muscles taxed and sore.
Yes, stepping out onto the road's
For Tom to lift, a heavy load.
Takes longer than it used to take,
And aggravates each twinge and ache.
Suffice to say he looked a sight
And gave that motorist a fright.
Now Tom's not one to take a risk
Procedure says: "Approach and frisk".
S.O.P. step number one:
Reach in pocket; pull out gun.
Good God, a struggle has begun.
It's Tommy tryin' to draw his gun.
It's been so long since it's been used
The holster to the gun has fused.
He fights and tugs that sticky holder.
Jesus Christ! There goes his shoulder!
When collaring a perp of crime
Best do it quick; don't take your time.
So Tom went jogging 'cross the span
To put the cuffs upon his man.
But 'fore he'd got near halfway there
The poor man came up short of air.
He got real dizzy, his head a-swim,
His wits about deserting him.
At last, he got his pistol out,
Threw back his head and tried to shout.
But poor old Tom could barely wheeze:
"Get up your hands, you dirtbag. Freeze."
Well, someone went and called the press.
It wasn't me, or I'd confess
The truth of what had there transpired --
The Super very near expired.
His press release contains the tale.
It's much embellished; skimps detail.
Between the lines, you have to read
To realize Tom's heroic deed's
Not really all that great or newsy.
On slow days, editors ain't choosy.
As you can see, the story's corn.
It's just Tom blowin' on his horn.
But for his hurts (You'll love this part)
He gave himself a Purple Heart.


It was about this time that Tom started noticing as he hobbed and nobbed with a crowd of increasingly important and cultivated folk, that often, men of accomplishment feel it their responsibility to produce a contribution to the world’s trove of arts and letters. Very often, this takes the form of a large, glossy tome, short on text, but with lots of pictures.

Tom pondered gravely on this for quite a while before he hit upon a suitably Tom-like subject for his book: great monuments of the world.

And so, he got right down to work on this monumental project.

At last, the day arrived for its unveiling. Tom threw a cocktail party and invited everyone who was anyone -- even me! The book was there for all to leaf through. And so, I availed myself of the opportunity to see how the great man had handled so high-toned a subject.

I opened the book to a photograph of the Iwo Jima Monument. A group of US Marines raising Old Glory on top of Mount Suribachi? No. Just Tom raising a flag on Mount Suribachi.

Egypt. The Sphinx. Some long gone pharaoh’s the enigmatic visage that has gazed over the desert for five millennia? No; Tom’s puss.

Easter Island. The colossal, mysterious stone heads for which the island is famous? You guessed it; every one of them the spitting image of Tom.

Mount Rushmore. Four of America’s greatest presidents? No. Just Tom.

In New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the striking natural monument known as The Old Man of the Mountains? That’s right. Tom.

And whose likeness stood inside Grant’s Tomb? That of the great Civil War general and President of the United States? No. Tom’s.

About the colossal head of the great Roman Emperor Constantine I they have in Rome, the less said the better. Wouldn’t you agree?

At the very end of the book was reproduced a beautiful Ansel Adams photograph of huge and brilliant full moon rising in the clear sky over a Southwestern desert. That shadowy visage just barely discernible on the bright disk of the Moon? That’s right. It’s Tom!


Laistrygonians, Cyclops, wild Poseidon -
you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

One day, as these things happen to writers, artists, inventors and humorists, a little story suddenly appeared in my head that changed the course of this growing flood of comic inspiration.

It was yet another of the pinched and dreary years of the Cuomo administration when the Division of the Budget sent a memo around instructing all government agencies to tighten their belts yet another notch. How utterly tiresome. But then, what’s the point of giving a lot of money to a lot of unimaginative bureaucrats when belt-tightening challenges one to make more out of less? And so . . .


It was 1990 and we were having some alarming problems on the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation way up on the Canadian border. Communal strife had recently intensified over illegal gambling activity that had taken root there. Some people were making money. Others were appalled by the flagrant violations of state and federal law that made this profiteering possible. What a terrible example for the children. Even worse was the spectacle of grown-ups driving around brandishing rifles.

As the days went on, tensions built until, down in Albany, Tom decided that there was nothing to do but to intervene.

This would be so memorable a moment in the history of the New York State Police that it would have to be planned meticulously and carried off with great flair and style. Accordingly, Tom summoned his Deputy Superintendent for Administration, Col. Socrates LeCakes, and said, “Soc, I have made up my mind to lead the troopers onto the reservation personally. But we have to do this right. Go scare up a white horse.”

The redoubtable and resourceful Soc searched high and low and in due course returned to the headquarters building leading “a fine caprison’d charger”.

Tom had been watching from his third floor office window. “Yes”, he crowed with delight. And off he went. Down the stairs he ran, taking them three at a time. Across the lobby he dashed, as troopers scrambled to ensure that the automatic door opened fast enough. Across the sidewalk he flew and up the steps of a little step-ladder that Soc had fortuitously place behind the horse.

And so did Tom vault himself directly into the saddle of the splendid steed.

As soon as the searing pain that had resulted as a consequence of this method of mounting subsided, with a hearty ‘High-de-ho!”, he got the stallion to rear for the cameras and was at the point of beginning the long ride northward toward the border, when all turned to see a little vintage Volkswagen Beetle come chug-chug-chugging up the drive. It was plastered with renewable fuels and ”Let’s Recycle Everything” bumper stickers.

When it had pulled to a stop, the door opened and out stepped Carole Stoneheart, Chief of the Public Protection Unit of the Division of the Budget. “I’ve caught you, my pretty,” she shrieked. “If you think you’re going to break the budget with the extravagance of a horse, then welcome back to Kansas.” “Aw, c’mon Carole; this is a big moment in the history of the State Police”, wailed Tom. “That’s just too bad”, sneered the, uh, witch. “And if you keep it up with these fiscally imprudent shenanigans, I’ll get your little K-9, too.” Whereupon she hopped onto her broom and flew away to her office on the west side of the Capitol, cackling all the way.

Poor Tom was crestfallen. But not for long. “Nobody can take our guns away from us”, he said. “Not even from our cold, dead hands -- and we haven’t come to that”. So saying, Tom climbed up onto the little step-ladder and instructed Soc to aim his Glock nine millimeter northward and squeeze off a round. As soon as the Colonel did so, to the amazement of all, Tom leaped astride the bullet and flew off out of sight. It was really nothing. Truth to tell, after the horse thing, he was pretty numb where it counted.

The people of Upstate New York were amazed that day to observe a gray and purple streak arcing across the heavens. Even more amazed were the column of troopers and the cheering crowd of Mohawk Indians who saw Tom descending out of the sky to land safely on the well-cushioned front seat of a convertible that Soc had hastily requisitioned.

And that was the day that Tom and the New York State Troopers brought all of the troubles of the Mohawks to a halt -- at least for a time.


Albany, as New York’s Capital, is the site of many demonstrations by people lobbying for or protesting against one issue or another. Some of these demonstrations get rather large and the demonstrators rambunctious. The New York State Police has the main responsibility for preserving order while people exercise such First Amendment rights as wearing pink ball caps lettered, “I’m a tenant and I vote,” or green ones lettered, “I’m a landlord. So, I’m chopped liver?” These demonstrations and counter-demonstrations can get quite out of hand.

There was one demonstration in 1989 that promised to be the largest and most unusual in memory. The AIDS epidemic that came to light in the 1980s was a great galvanizing force for people in the sexual minorities who were among the first to be impacted. They were not without determination to shake things up and get government to pay attention to this disease and its victims. And they needed it. A lot of people thought they had brought their problem upon themselves and that government money should be spent elsewhere.

In the weeks before the demonstration, its organizers, the New York City-based group called the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, began its planning for an all-out assault on the powers-that-be in Albany. It posed a most delicate public order problem, so the planning had to be thorough and meticulous. This was clearly a job that required Tom’s touch.

And so, one day, I was dispatched to the State Police Academy for a meeting to plan for the security of the Capitol and Legislative Office Building.

I was surprised. The meeting included all the top brass of the State Police, excluding only the Superintendent himself. In fact, he had placed in charge his hand-picked man, the commander of the regional troop, Major Wayne Bennett, a tall, imposing-looking gentleman who was clearly not one to brook nonsense of any kind. The participants included representatives of the Governor’s protective detail, the Capital Police, Senate and Assembly Security, the Albany County Sheriff, the Albany Police Department, several local police agencies, the Albany Fire Department and me.

Major Bennett opened with a little introduction. “This is going to be a very big and high-profile protest”, he said. “These people have stated that their aim is to disrupt the operations of state government. We will not allow them to succeed. But we will ensure that their First Amendment rights to gather, march and demonstrate are respected.”

“Now, some of you may have heard that these people will engage in such conduct as biting and spitting. We have no reason to expect that, so instruct your people accordingly. These people are, however, very determined. They are very theatrical and clever and we have no doubt that they will get in -- and they’ll be sure to have the media with them. So tell your people to have their shoes shined and their ties straight. No incorrect pun intended.”

The day of the demonstration arrived. If they had intended secrecy to shroud their attack, the huge number of press releases, faxes and leaflets they started putting out weeks in advance blew that completely. Another strategic blunder was staging the demonstration on a Wednesday; a crucial, though not fatal, mistake. Their stated objective was “to shut down state government for the day.” Apparently they didn’t know that on a state payday, as was this day, all the state workers would be standing in line at the bank waiting all morning to cash their paychecks, so the government wouldn’t be doing much of anything, anyway. Add to that the fact that the Legislature was in town and, well, ‘nuff said.

A convoy of buses from New York City rolled into town and began discharging the most colorful band of demonstrators this old city had yet seen. There were guys in leathers and guys in feathers. There were dykes on bikes. There were dozens of proto-Mangoes. There were African queens. Particularly impressive was the contingent of the last of the 1970s Greenwich Village clones -- men who adopted a distinctive look that included bomber jackets, high-top work boots, tight bluejeans and plaid flannel shirts both rolled up at the cuffs, short, military haircuts and identical mustaches. George Lucas must have seen newsfilm of their arrival and drawn on it for the climactic scenes of his recent installation of the Star Wars saga “Attack of the Clones”.

The invasion had commenced.

That morning, I had come down to the State Capitol for a routine staff meeting. Already, there were discreet signs of a heavy security presence. Police officers on horses were stationed around the building. Cops manned all the entrances. Inside, office doors were closed and locked. Troopers were hid in every closet. Really, they were. Big stacks of boxed picnic lunches were placed strategically for the officers should the siege not lift at the end of the day, as expected.

I walked into the office where I was accustomed to find the Director of Criminal Justice at his desk and found instead Trooperintendent Tom himself. He had commandeered and turned the office into a command center so he could personally supervise the security operation for this extraordinary event.

My duties took me elsewhere that day, so I was not around to witness personally what then transpired. But, I had my sources and got frequent reports throughout the day.

Indeed, as Major Bennett had conceded, the demonstrators slipped through the security cordon as though it were as full of holes as a Gruyere cheese and ran around the halls of our venerable Capitol shouting, “Shame, shame, shame.” We thought it was the government’s slow pace of responding to the AIDS crisis that they were decrying. In fact, that had to wait momentarily. In part, of course, it was. But what more immediately appalled them was the dreadful condition of our beautiful Capitol building -- a structure known in its heyday as “The Chateau on the Hill.” How possibly could enlightened public policy be made in a place of which Bette Davis would surely have said, “What a dump”.

And so, they swept through the building like a lavender tornado, tearing up the cheap carpeting and tearing down the faded and tattered draperies and replacing them with historic tile-work, custom-loomed rugs of the finest quality, dramatic window treatments of the richest and plushest velvet. Fresh paint and historically correct stenciling replaced decades of built-up layers of muddy institutional colors on the walls. They threw out the dowdy Corcraft furniture and replaced it with choice antiques, works of art and beautifully displayed artifacts of the Empire State’s great history. Bulletin boards covered with outdated retirement party and apartment-to-let notices came down and handsome portraits of great New Yorkers went up. The waiting areas were swept clean of tattered newspapers -- with the exception of The Legislative Gazette, of course -- and current issues of Gourmet and Architectural Digest strewn artfully around.

Then, they turned their attention to the dowdy denizens of the Capitol, in particular, they went after all the secretaries and clerks. They set up a triage center in the War Room manned by New York City’s finest hairdressers, cosmetologists and couturiers. The transformation of the blue-jeans- and stretch pants-clad work force that we were used to was astonishing. Everyone looked fabulous in their new hairstyles and Hallston outfits. You could really run a state properly with a government that looked this good!

Ah, but our fearless and peerless Trooperintendent was still hunkered in his command center. What fate? What transformation? What conversion awaited him?

The door burst open and in they swarmed. It took time, but by the time they were through with him, there he stood, his hair fuller, thicker and freshly moussed. His fingernails perfectly manicured. His habitually glowering face ruddy and gleaming with a fresh coat of bronzer. And his pockets were stuffed full of intriguing recipes. There had been but one difficult moment when the idea of lightening up the shade of his purple tie and hatband to their favorite color was briefly discussed. That idea was, fortunately, abandoned. When they left him, though, he did look marvelous.

Meanwhile, the dashing Major Bennett was up almost literally holding the pass outside the Assembly Chamber. The demonstrators, having put the seat of government in order, now turned in earnest to their policy issue, the subject of their protest. And so, to call attention to the state’s slow pace in doing the necessary to confront the most significant public health threat of the day, they staged a “die-in’. Everyone lay inert on the floor awaiting arrest and removal.

The Major, of course, would have to charge the demonstrators with something. It was suggested that it be the offense of Obstruction. But he thought otherwise. The removal of people for Obstruction might well be applied in a situation where they had blocked access by dumping a pile of trash. No way, decided Major Bennett. Instead, he waited until the official close of business at 5:00 PM and ordered that they be arrested for Trespassing which, under the circumstances, was more analogous to treating them as guests who had overstayed their invitation. Well done, Major Bennett.

It had turned out to be a great moment for the New York State Police. For that we have the personal attention of the Trooperintendent and the inspired response of Major Bennett to the situation to thank. Well done, boys.

(Addendum: The Capitol really did end up going through a most thorough face-lift. But it didn’t really happen as just described. Believe it or not, it was the Republicans who did it and they deserve all the credit.)


In 1991, I had the distinct honor and pleasure of meeting Colonel John Murphy who was, at the time, the Director of the Alaska State Troopers. I was in Anchorage on vacation and learned that the troopers were observing their fiftieth anniversary. I called upon the Colonel with a greeting from the people of New York. The Colonel was a big fan of Tom’s. We hit it off well and subsequently stayed in touch. He also put me on the mailing list for the newsletter of the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

It was on the cover of the newsletter that I saw an extraordinary photo of Alaska’s top law enforcement officer with great, big tears streaming down his cheeks. The cause? The Colonel had volunteered to be the first member of the state troopers to take a shot of Cap-Stun right in the face. That man had guts. Cap-Stun, after all is recommended as a repellent effective on biggest and baddest of Kodiak bears. Be that as it may, there was no way I was going to let Colonel Murphy upstage New York’s Top Trooper.


Down in New York City, there lives a very tough, fierce tribe of individuals known as the Smokeaters. That's right -- the New York City Firefighters. These guys are amazing. Why, when one of them happens to sneeze, smoke alarms go off all over town. They're hot tempered and hot blooded. Don't let one sit on your furniture. He'll scorch the upholstery. If it's naugahyde, it'll melt. They eat everything raw. It cooks on the way down. They are also known for being really foul-mouthed. There are several recorded incidents in which a Smokeater has raised blisters on human skin just by cursing. Some of them even have that effect on leather. Paint has been known to flake when one stubs his or her toe.

Well, one time, the Smokeaters decided to have a contest to see who was the toughest Smokeater of them all. They all went into a room and they lit a smoldering fire in a barrel using as fuel the most noxious and toxious rubbish and chemicals they could find -- a mixture that made huge billows of thick, black , horrible-smelling smoke. They closed the door and sat around in a circle, the idea being to see who could stand the smoke the longest.

As the contest began, some of the participants noticed that there was a stranger in their midst. They couldn't make out his features in the smoke and dark. They figured though, that he must know what he was getting into. So no one objected to his presence.

The minutes ticked by and stretched into hours. Every so often, one of the more pusillanimous Smokeaters would pass out and the EMTs would come in and drag him out. The ones that went on the first day got fired. The were obviously not the right stuff. The ones that went on the second day were sent back to repeat their basic training. By the third day, the number of guys still sticking it out dwindled quite a bit. Those who fell by the wayside were encouraged to apply for disability retirement. On the fourth day, the guys they carried out resembled kippered herring. On the fifth day, the fallen had the look and feel of salt cod. They were distributed to the French and Brazilian restaurants on 46th Street.

At last, only a handful of Smokeaters was left along with -- to the amazement of all -- the stranger.

At the bitter end, when the last Smokeater had slumped to the floor and been carried out, the stranger was still sitting there amid the clouds of smoke. At that moment, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Luckies. Plain-end. He took one out, put it in his mouth and lit a match. And in the flare of the match, they could see that he wasn't a Smokeater at all. He was a New York State Trooper. In fact, he was Tom Constantine the Superintendent, sitting there, calmly drawing on his cigarette.

Is there anything in Alaska that can beat that?


Unfortunately, Mr. Cavafy in his poem doesn’t supply any handy lines reminding us of all the other troubles Odysseus encountered and survived on the long voyage home to Ithaca. Tom hit one that wrapped them all -- Sirens, Scylla, Charybdis, Lotus-Eaters, etc. -- up into one. Essentially, it was the foolishness and venality of people upon whose honorable conduct he depended that nearly brought disaster. Remember, it was Odysseus’ own crew who blew their chances for a swift return home when they let the fair winds the Wind god had given them out of the bag and who sealed their own fate when they slaughtered and feasted upon the cattle of the Sun god.


Through 1992 and 1993, the New York State Police was rocked by the biggest scandal in its history when a nest of investigators was discovered to have been fabricating evidence in a loose conspiracy dating to around 1984 -- the year Tom took over as Field Commander of the NYSP, in charge of oversight of day-to-day operations of the 4000-man force. He boasted of personally reading all message traffic on Division activities at the start of each working day. That he missed the pattern of suspicious activity in the Central New York C Troop shows that he's only human after all.

Anyway, the late Robert R. Haggart, a columnist with the Syracuse newspaper got on Tom's case in a big way -- even making fun of him on the editorial page. Poor Tom, forgetting that one does not wisely pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel, insisted on telling his side of the story in an editorial only to give Haggart even more ammunition to use against him the next day. Haggart lobbed it back in the form of a column titled “The Nose Grows on State Police Superintendent”. The uneven exchange prompted the following and we never heard from Mr. Haggart again.


Appalling, how you do describe
The Chieftain of our Trooper Tribe.
You say the topmost of our coppers
Is telling lies and fibs and whoppers.
That there are apples in the barrel,
Rotten, though in gray apparel,
On him you'd have affixed the blame
And bid him hang his head in shame.
That some retire, you say, 's indic'tive
Of the fact that he's vindictive.
And their successors, you’d submit
As bits of fluff and jugs of spit.

Poor Tom, he makes an easy mark
For journalist and network shark.
In speech, he's not a bit ironic
So you guys make him sound moronic.
Like Troopers all, he's quite direct.
And that makes him, to you, suspect.
To Tom, by nature, serious,
You say: "You bore and weary us".
His forte's action, guys, not words.
That don't impress, I guess, you birds.
When slings and archery begin
He'll stand and take it on the chin.
See, Tom keeps still old-fashioned ways
The job, he'll do 'fore taking pay.
Yes, Tom accepts the way it works:
Responsibilities 'fore perks.
Hey, even Atlas shrugged the sky;
Not Tom, he'll stand and hold it high.

Look around. Through all the land
Police departments undermanned.
And who is quitting in disgust?
Why, every other one of us.
Does anybody realize
The toll this job takes on us guys?
It's like we're hit with neutron bombs.
Now, would you say the fault is Tom's?
The stuff we see on streets each day
Brings ulcers and makes hair turn gray.
And things won't get no easier.
The world's grown meaner, sleazier.
The things that held it all together
Seem gone like snow in summer weather.
We feel alone. We feel like zeroes.
Didn't we used to be your heroes?
Back when they told a Trooper's story
With emphasis upon the glory?

Your calling, Bob, was quite a trade.
Through sweat were reputations made.
On top of that, it helped a bit
To have some talent, brains and wit.
And what they wrote back then was art.
What made your Muse decamp, depart?
Apprenticing in college classes
'Stead of down among the masses?
Or maybe you've a sheltered life
Lived far from city grit and strife
And much prefer the telephone
To plumbing lower depths alone.
No need to venture out at all;
Disgruntled whiners, sure to call,
Will tattle tales and dish the dirt --
They dressed J. Edgar in a skirt.
There's irony and cheap sarcasm.
Between the two, Bob, yawns a chasm.
The one's insightful, bites with wit.
The other, there’s no shining it.
Presumptuous and even daft
To try to teach a pro his craft.
But let me recommend, not classes,
But go and get yourself some glasses.
Bob, your vision, it's myopic.
You've skewed perspective on this topic.
Of course that poor old Trooper's nose
Is longer than Pinocchio's;
But that's because that proud proboscis
Adorns the face of a colossus.
So, next time, Bob, you go to write,
Stand back and take in all the sight.
And, Bob, I'll bet before you know it
You'll find that you've become a poet


1992 had, in fact, been going magnificently for the NYSP. We were observing its Diamond Jubilee and pulled off the most memorable anti-drug operation ever in Tom's home town of Buffalo. Here it is:


Now, from law enforcement lore;
From Buffalo, on Erie's shore,
A tale about our Troopers fearless
And Constantine, their leader peerless.

It's long ago he pulled up roots,
Put his feet in Trooper's boots
And set out in the world to rise.
To those who knew him, no surprise,

His star was rising, bright, ascendant.
They knew he'd end up Superintendent.
But, in his heart, he ne'er forgot
From whence he came, that humble spot.

This Trooper with the surname royal
To home and birthplace, fastly loyal.
Even now, Tom's biggest thrills
Are winning touchdowns by the Bills.

There came a time when our environs
Grew filled with gunfire, lights and sirens.

Fights and hold-ups, shakedowns, lootings,
Burglaries and drive-by shootings.

Appeared in town a crowd of thugs.
Appeared on streets a plague of drugs.
Then gangs arrived, pulled out the stops,
Announced to all: "We're hunting cops."

The city cops put up a fight
From street to street both day and night.
With all their might, each woman and man
Together made determined stand.

No way would they accept defeat.
But every time they cleared a street
Of misfits who were dealing "crack",
A day would pass, they'd slink right back.

Came the Sheriff to the fray.
We looked to him to save the day.
Of himself, gave good account, he
As we'd expect the County Mountie.

He swept the streets and greased the rails
That slid those miscreants to jail
In numbers soon that grew so big
He filled to overflow the brig!

But, though they worked and did their best;
Breaking records for arrests;
Though arms grew tired from throwing books;
The streets were still awash with crooks.

Yes, things were looking pretty dark,
When, in the East, there blazed a spark.
When hope had dwindled down to zero,
Came to our aid our hometown hero.

Came into view that Long, Gray Line
And out in front, Tom Constantine.
He'd on his face, a fearsome frown
To see this stuff in his home town.

They rallied 'round each woman and man.
They strategized and drew a plan.
Then off they charged -- a surging wave
Of cops all stern, determined, brave.

There's Tom, out front, hard set his jaw.
Determined to uphold the law,
End disorder, restore the peace
Or else, he's not the State Police.

So launched they a humongous raid
That swept the streets and promenades.
Awoke the druggies from their stupors
Up to their ears in cops and Troopers.

And everywhere the dealers looked,
They saw their kind were getting booked.
Yes, Tom chased down each street and alley
All tentacles of Cartel Cali.

'Cause folks, no force on earth can stop
The fury of an Irish cop
Who truly, badly takes offense
At those who prey on innocents.

As quick begun, so fast it ended.
The operation's now suspended.
The jails are full and courts so busy
Stenographers are getting dizzy.

Expect, at least, now for a time
A sharp decrease in rates of crime.
Success, though, cops know doesn't last.
They've learned that lesson in the past.

You don't know why they don't get tired,
Throw in the towel, get retired.
What keeps a Trooper's heart afire?
And what's the thing these deeds inspires?

Our Troopers come from every place.
They're of both sexes and every race.
Think of it. Yes, contemplate --
They're from each township in the State.

They're more than sworn to keep the peace.
They're our community police.
Like Tom, each one of them would go
To rescue his own Buffalo.


In the fall of 1993, the word went around that Tom was in the running to take over the nation’s premier drug-fighting agency, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. His candidacy was given a big boost by the well-timed and spectacular culmination of an operation in Schenectady that was almost identical to the one he pulled off in Buffalo in 1992. Over one hundred drug dealers were rounded up within the space of a few hours.

The next day, one of our most prominent and distinguished local journalists, Fred LeBrun of the Times Union, published a column in which he referred to this event as “Constantine’s circus” and suggested that it was more a publicity stunt than anything else -- although he hoped he was wrong.

In the due course of time, Tom departed for the headquarters of the DEA in Arlington, Virginia. Amusingly, this time, I didn’t have to write funny poems about the impact of his management style there. It wasn’t long before I was directed to an Internet web site, DEA Watch, that was doing a quite adequate job of doing that. They even went after me one time, painting a sinister Svengalian portrait of me that suggested that I could have one transferred to Timbuktu for being anti-Tom. Be that as it may, comic ideas certainly did continue to occur to me.

(Cherry Blossoms)

Shortly after his departure, I had occasion to serve as a luncheon speaker for one of our regional police chiefs’ organizations. As it is customary to open with a joke or humorous anecdote, I told them a story about Tom’s first day on the job.

The chiefs all knew of his perfectionism, formality and attention to detail, so it did not surprise them when I told them that I had heard that on his first morning in the Administrator’s office, a Special Agent reported with an urgent message, rushing into Tom’s office in his shirt-sleeves and with his tie loosened and askew.

“Well”, I related; “by the time Tom had finished delivering his opinion on the man’s appearance, every petal of every blossom of every blooming cherry tree around the Tidal Basin had fallen off. This caused huge consternation to the Washington Tourist Bureau. People from all over the world were to be disappointed not to see the celebrated floral display.”

“Tom, naturally, couldn’t permit that. Fortunately, there were several thousand DEA Special Agents standing around waiting for their marching orders. The first order of business? Get out there and put those blossoms back up on the trees!”


To my amazement, on a visit to Vancouver, I learned while leafing through a dusty old history of Canada's Mounted Police that there had been a late 19th Century superstar named Charles Constantine whose most memorable assignment was to bring law and order to the Yukon after the onset of the 1894 Gold Rush. In 1895, he even set up a stockaded encampment called Fort Constantine. The personality profile of this man that I chanced upon was absolutely uncanny in its familiarity.

“Inspector Constantine, now approaching middle age, had brought from his command of the Manitoba Provincial Police an accumulation of experience, and had been with the Force eight years. His bodily endurance was remarkable. He cultivated a brusqueness in manner which kept him from being encumbered with casual friends. To his intimates, however, he showed a different nature, a sympathy that amounted to gentleness, and a practical humor which was almost wit. He was scrupulously honest, exact and exacting, tenacious, and enormously hard-working, inconsiderate of others if the Force was to be served, and serving the Force, himself, with a sincerity which made him precisely the right man for a post of great individual responsibility.”

T. Morris Longstreth
The Silent Force
The Century Co., 1927


In 1994, then FBI Director Louis Freeh had rounded up Tom and other high-ranking law enforcement authorities for a whirlwind tour of the former Soviet Bloc in response to the exploding organized crime problem. Tom had to break off early because of the murder of a DEA agent in New Mexico, but the trip made history and suggested the following.


How things have changed. The Russian Bear
Has thrown his hands up in the air.
Where KGB once kept things quiet
Free market now unleashes riot.
Stolid Russians in endless queues
Are not among your common views.
It seems that now they needn't wait
(And heap all blame upon the state)
'Cause now there's lots of things to buy
It's just that prices are sky-high.
And no, it's not state enterprise
That's caused the price of things to rise.
It's that they've all become devotive
To what we call the profit motive.
Well, that's devolved to jungle law --
If you have, you have; if you don't, you claw.
And so, the multitudes of Slavs
Divided now -- have nots and haves.
And who'd not pity those poor slobs;
So many now are out of jobs.
On many hands there's too much time
Which some do occupy with crime.
Others loaf at home and snooze
Or drown their troubles in rot-gut booze.
Their army, once the biggest sized,
Has pretty much de-mobilized.
For soldiers peace brings no enjoyment.
For them, it's only unemployment.
Afghanistan -- that hellish place --
Has left upon each man its trace.
Its veterans, of a newer breed,
Into this atmosphere of greed
Brought home with them (along with rugs)
A taste for using hard-core drugs.
This nation, huge and vast, until
Just recently was vaster still.
All pride and confidence are shaken
With all the change that's overtaken
The men and women of every station
Throughout this land, this Russian Nation.
For them, the fact of all this change,
At worst is scary, at best just strange.
It's bad, for sure, but what is worse --
Is freedom seems to be a curse.
So, where to find a note of hope
'Midst all the crime, the booze, the dope?
The joblessness, the times uncertain
Since rust brought down the Iron Curtain?
How control these violent gangs
And confiscate their claws and fangs?
The people wailed in rising chorus:
"Deeds not words. Get moving, Boris!"
And Yeltsin did address the crowd
In trademark voice -- immensely loud --
Said: "This is where the nonsense stops.
Ex-Comrades, I have called the cops!"
Now, Yeltsin thought they'd send an army
(Or, more correctly, a gendarmy).
So, you will pardon his dismay
At what blew into town that day.
A plane descended from the air
And from its hold emerged -- a pair!
But wouldn't you know the two would be
Tom Constantine and Louis Freeh.
Well, Robert Service could have told
Much better all that did unfold.
So, I'll just set my humble pen
The task of telling once again
Another time, another deed
When people did cry out with need.
When was that? That time before?
Oh, back 'round 1894.
About that time the word came forth
From way up in the frozen North
That in the Yukon vast and cold
Some prospector had struck rich gold.
From every mouth, from hand to hand
The news like fire swept the land.
And soon a vast and brawling horde
By every means was streaming toward
The Yukon's new-sprung mining camps.
The honest men, the scalawags and scamps,
The poor, the restless, the fools, the dreamers,
The immigrants who packed the steamers,
Every cutthroat and deceiver
Smitten with acute gold fever
Had begged or borrowed, stolen, bought
His passage to that northern spot.
Gomorrah's gentry would have paled
To see what lawlessness prevailed.
They earned and spent the wage of sin.
Drank oceans of whiskey; rivers of gin.
Gamblers placed unheard of bets
And murder settled gambling debts.
Claims were jumped and jumped again
By bad and ever badder men.
No church or cultured institution;
Just gambling dens and prostitution.
At last, some folks grew awfully tired
Of all the violence gold inspired.
To Ottawa went an urgent mission
That bore a simply-put petition
Containing their most earnest plea
To send to them the RCMP.
"One hundred Mounties, we think will do
To domesticate our Yukon zoo."
The folks were shocked and greatly wondered
At what reply came 'cross the tundra.
Across the plain at full charge sped
A single man in coat of red.
And who's this horseman of the line?
Why, one Inspector Constantine.
The rush is over for Yukon gold.
All that's left are stories told
Of that famous Mountie who Yukon saw
Bring Yukon order and Yukon law.
Well, Boris, Mr. President,
You see there's ample precedent
For doing awful lots with less
So long's your lawmen are the best.
A single step begins a journey.
Two knights make quite a smashing tourney.
And crime, you see, is like the weather --
We're in it deep and all together.
So, work with them. That's my advice.
And you'll have your workers' paradise.


May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from those who know.

After his retirement from his service as Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 1999, Tom took on the one-of-a-kind challenge of serving as the Oversight Commissioner for the historic reform of the police agency that serves the long-troubled province of Northern Ireland. I’m very proud of him for so doing. But the poor old trooper must often wonder why I persist in poking fun at him even as he occupies such unquestionably exalted status. Well, that’s what friends are for.

The Indians of our Pacific Northwest believe that at the beginning of time, a powerful being named Raven dived to the bottom of the sea and brought up therefrom a giant clam. Raven opened the clam and we human beings came crawling out.

Having been inside this giant clam since the beginning of time, we didn’t know beans about getting along in the world, so Raven made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. He said that he would teach us all we would need to survive and prosper if only he would forever have the right to play tricks and jokes on us. It turned out to be a good deal because it was through the unexpectedness of Raven’s tricks that we learned and continue to learn.


No one writes more letters that I do. Ask Mr. Collingwood, the Public Information Director of the FBI. His office once claimed to have no record of a mountain of correspondence on a certain subject that I had directed to the Director’s Office. I suggested that they set Scully and Mulder to the task of finding out who or what abducted it.

5 December 2001

Hon. Desmond Rea, Chairman
Northern Ireland Policing Board
Waterside Tower, 31 Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock,
Laganside, Belfast, BT1 3BG
Northern Ireland, UK

Dear Chairman Rea:

Here I am again writing to you on the subject of my favorite retired cop Mr. Tom Constantine. As the Policing Board begins its historic task of guiding the Police Service of Northern Ireland on its way, there are simple and important lessons to be learned from your exposure to my dear friend.

I have it on the authority of Troopers who knew him early in his career that he was hard-working and efficient -- to a fault. They say he wrote so many speeding tickets that the old timers warned: “Tom, lay off. If you keep this up the people will hate us!”

One old A Trooper told me that Tom’s very first investigation, conducted with his partner and lifelong best friend Vince Tobia, resulted in the recovery of a huge cache of stolen skis that no one wanted returned and that the State Police had no room to store. We laughed years later when we caused to be circulated an apocryphal story to the effect that after Tom took over the DEA, he seized such a quantity of illegal drugs that he didn’t know what to do with it all. He called Vince at his law office in Buffalo to commiserate and Vince cheerfully suggested that Tom heap it all up around the Washington Monument, sell lift tickets and rent out all those skis.

Unfortunately, the drug problem and the huge and continuing costs our current policy imposes upon society are no laughing matter. Tom, you see, applied that same efficiency he always did in rounding up drug dealers, most of whom operate at a pretty low level and are easily and quickly replaced; or, if returned to the streets without addiction treatment, go back to their drug abuse which, in turn, leads back to drug dealing. Sadly, there are no wise old troopers or wise-asses like Vince around to confront Tom with the self-defeating nature of this approach.

Mr. Constantine (a/k/a Commander Worf) is, in my humble opinion, a fortunate man because I have made it my business to compensate for his limitations (which lie mainly in the imagination department). It’s a job of work, I can tell you; but it’s a labor of love as well. I hope you will enjoy a visit to our Internet web site -- -- where you may learn some interesting and unofficial things about the peerless and fearless Tom and use this knowledge to guide him toward becoming even now a better cop and an even better example to all others who look to him for leadership. He has always told me that self-improvement is his life-long watchword.
Yours truly,
Terry O’Neill, Esq.


Hope your road is a long one.

Tom gave an interview to The Buffalo News on his confirmation to head DEA in 1994. He told his hometown paper that he had gone into law enforcement as a young man seeking “excitement and adventure.” As you can see, he certainly found them. And if I have enjoyed them, too, it is more from having known him than anything else in life. For that I’m very grateful to him and to the family that has been so generous as to share him with all of us who feel the same way.

One day, Terry packed up all his important stuff and ran away.

As he walked along the road, he met a State Trooper in a gray uniform with a Stetson hat and a purple tie. His name was Tom. Tom said: "Where are you going, kid?" Terry said: "I'm going to join the circus." Tom thought about that for a moment and said: "Great idea. Let's go!"

So, off they went.

Before long, they found the circus and signed aboard.
Tom quickly found a job that suited him to a T -- 5 Ts, in fact. They billed him as Trooper Tom The Tiger Tamer. He would perform every night in a cage with huge, ferocious tigers. He trained them to do amazing things. One time, he taught them to play football and they almost beat the Buffalo Bills in an exhibition game!

Terry learned to do magic tricks and he made up and told stories about Tom and all the people and animals in the circus. Soon, he had all the children and the old people telling his stories and trying out the tricks he had taught them. (They really were magic, but anyone can learn to do them if someone teaches them the secret.) There was a part for each and everyone in all of his stories and the magic showed them the power they had to make the kind of world they wanted for themselves and their children.

Terry had great qualities of leadership. No one has ever done a better job of getting all the performers and the animals -- even the elephants and the donkeys -- to work together to put on a great show.

Eventually they voted to make Terry their Ringmaster. That was a smart move on their part. The circus prospered and drew bigger crowds and performed in more cities and towns than ever before and even went to foreign countries.

Well, that's the story of two friends who found the perfect jobs for themselves.

And of course, everybody lived happily ever after.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what all these Ithakas mean.
-- Constantine Cavafy



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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

13 December 2003


Other Articles From This Issue:


The Right Road to Power
Anthony McIntyre


University Challenge

Seaghán Ó Murchú


Money Talks
Mick Hall


Bloody Sunday Inquiry
Liam O Comain


Stalemate for the GFA
Paul Mallon


The GFA and Other Fairystories
Proinsias O'Loinsaigh


Dies IRAe
Ruth Dudley Edwards


Conversion of Constantine
Terry O'Neill


Republican Prisoner Attacked in Hydebank YOC



Civil Rights Veterans on Prison Situation
October 5th Association


8 December 2003


Electing to Disagree
Brendan O'Neill


The GFA Revisited

Gerry Ruddy


The Problem With the Kurds
Pedram Moallemian


Even Northern Ireland Has Global Responsibilties
Anthony McIntyre


Rafah Today: The Tent
Mohammed Omer




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