Works and Days
  
Get PJ Media on your Apple

Works and Days

The Rules of Racialists — Part One

March 23rd, 2015 - 10:37 pm
starbucks_race_together_3-22-15-2

In a Wednesday, March 18, 2015 photo, a barista at a Seattle Starbucks store writes on a cup for an iced drink as she wears a “Race Together” sticker. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Never should racial relations be better. Intermarriage between various ethnic, religious, and racial groups has become commonplace. Every family that I know can no longer be termed white or Latino or black, despite the efforts of government and academic clerks to insist on such.

Cousins, nephews, grandkids, spouses, and in-laws now all look quite different from each other. Walk downtown Palo Alto, and couples of the same racial appearance are not the norm. The president, the attorney general, the national security advisor, the chief presidential advisor, the director of Homeland Security, the director of NASA, and the former EPA head are black. To watch television commercials is to see all races hawking shared products — quite unlike in the rest of the world, where they would be more likely killing each other.

Yet racial relations have also rarely been worse in the last half-century, illustrating the old sociology adage that the faster things improve and ameliorate, the more they are declared ossified and hopeless.

Perhaps because revolutionaries and the opportunistic fear that with progress for all comes obsolescence for themselves.

We live in such a strange world. Our government compiles exhaustive statistics on race and crime, but to cite them can be racist. Authors write, properly so, according to canons of racial propriety and careful consideration, and then newspapers print scary racist commentary that follows without worry over its repercussions. Elites of all races navigate around race and class in matters of choosing homes, schools, and entertainment, and then lecture others on their illiberal Neanderthalism for trying to poorly emulate, according to their reduced stations, the patterns of picking a home, school, or golf course embraced by a Barack Obama or Eric Holder — or Rev. Wright.

For now we need to review the rules that racialists use and to navigate carefully around them. The stakes are quite high.

1) Noble Ends Sometimes Require Ignoble Means

The nation rightly condemned the repulsive racist chanting of some puerile University of Oklahoma fraternity members. President David Boren even summarily kicked them out of school, closed down the fraternity, and threw out its tenants — without a hearing, and in possible violation of free speech statutes.

But if not to protect such creepy expression, then why have a First Amendment at all? Did the Founders wish to ensure us that someday we could all listen without censorship to an unfettered Julie Andrews freely singing “The Sound of Music”?

Eighty-year-old Donald Sterling, an ex-divorce lawyer and recipient of local NAACP citizenship awards as the Los Angeles Clippers owner, now said to be suffering from prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s, had his incoherent but private musings stealthily taped by a conniving gold-digging young mistress. And so the nation discovered that the tired, old and unhinged codger mouthed racist banalities. His repugnant speech lost him his basketball team and he was banned for life from attending professional basketball games.

Was the reasoning something like: “Why worry about curbing the First Amendment rights of a racist aged billionaire?”

Had he been caught in felonious behavior fixing a game or planning to dodge the IRS, would the punishment have been worse?

Eric Holder’s Department of Justice recently exonerated Officer Darren Wilson in the Ferguson shooting, after the cop had been tried, convicted, and ostracized in the court of elite opinion. Wilson, it found, in self-defense tragically and fatally shot Michael Brown — the latter fresh from committing a strong-armed robbery, walking in the middle of the street (apparently high on marijuana), attacking a police officer, etc. The 300-pound “youth” charged Wilson and lunged at his weapon.

Did that truth matter? Or could it be sacrificed on the altar of racialism?

The ensuing lie cooked up by Brown’s rogue accomplice in the robbery — “hands up; don’t shoot” — is now canonized and has made its way as a cause celebre to the U.S. Congress. I think the logic is that, given slavery and Jim Crow of the past, it is rich of America now to insist on racially blind rules of evidence and speech.

Wilson is marked, finished as a policeman, and cannot safely go out in public. He would have perhaps been wiser to hand over his gun to Brown, and asked to take one bullet, in hopes that he could survive the wound and thereby save his job. Had Brown killed Wilson — as may well have been his intent — there would have not been protests anywhere by any group, racial or not — as there rarely are in Missouri  when blacks are daily gunned downed by other blacks or when Bosnians are attacked by blacks.

Perhaps a liberal can explain the select expressions of outrage that make one death less important than another. Lives matter? Race matters? Context? Historical landscapes?

In matters of racial justice, the noble ends of supposed racial tolerance justify almost any means necessary to reach them.

In the case of George Zimmerman, he can be rebranded a “white Hispanic” to ensure that his multicultural fides do not rival his victim’s. His picture can be Photoshopped to downplay his wounds. His 911 taped voice record can be edited to make him sound callously racist — and all for a good cause of something other than racial harmony and integration.

In our sick society, such fantasies work both ways. Travyon Martin can be portrayed as a lovable preteen in his football uniform, without prior suspensions from school authorities. He eats Skittles, but doesn’t use burglar tools and drugs — or brag on social media of assaults on a bus driver. Martin, we are told by the president in the middle of the tense national debate over the case, might have looked like the son of Obama that he never had.

Editorializing in an ongoing criminal trial and investigation is now presidential habit. Affinity based not on shared values or common interests, but on superficial racial similarity, is proof of racial empathy. Had Trayvon Martin asked to take one of the daughters of Barack Obama to a Justin Bieber concert, would the president have weighed in and welcomed that invitation on the basis of Martin’s apparently shared appearance? Racial solidarity trumps all — or does it?

For the more noble purposes of ensuring racial harmony, Martin can easily be recalibrated as a preteen gunned down in cold blood by a racist vigilante, rather than — in the words of his friend Rachel Jeantel, who spoke on her cell phone to him in his last moments — attempting a preemptive “whoop ass” on a “creepy ass cracka” apparently deemed to be a nosy homosexual on his way to “go get” Trayvon’s “little brother.”

Using racist and homophobic language is now proof of someone else’s racism. Somehow we are supposed to accept that George Zimmerman is a racist and Rachel Jeantel just cannot be, given the history of racial relations in the country.

Had Zimmerman kept his pistol hidden and taken a good whoop-ass head-smashing, he would be just another asymmetrical statistic rather than public enemy number one of the therapeutic state. Could he not have taken one for the nation?

Again, the logic is that with an unrivaled history of racism, Americans have no right at this late stage in the relativist game to insist on racially blind absolutism. Apparently, the assumption is that while whites are collectively assumed to be racist, they are usually too clever to be spotted and exposed as racists by using racist language. Non-whites, in contrast, can use racist language either to show that they are not racist or to expose whites as racist by their reactions to racist language.

When we hear of something creepy like the Oklahoma racist singing or Michael Richards’ unhinged racist rant, we vie with each other to find superlatives of disparagement to prove our own superiority — or future deterrence — in the manner that no one quite knew how to stop clapping when Saddam Hussein or Joseph Stalin ended a four-hour monologue.

Not so when we hear that UC Berkeley black students recently demanded to rename a building after convicted cop killer and fugitive Assata Shakur — as well as the creation of a racially segregated meeting place on campus that excludes anyone not black. Are we to laugh or cry?

Pages: 1 2 | 34 Comments»

A Tale of Four Droughts

March 15th, 2015 - 12:28 pm
california_drought_3-16-1

A warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, California. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

California is not suffering one drought, but four. Each is a metaphor of what California has become.

Nature

The first California drought, of course, is natural. We are now in the midst of a fourth year of record low levels of snow and rain.

Californians have no idea that their state is a relatively recent construct — only 165 years old, with even less of a pedigree of accurate weather keeping. When Europeans arrived in California in the 15th and 16th centuries, they were struck by how few indigenous peoples lived in what seemed paradise — only to learn that the region was quite dry on the coast and in the interior.

Today, modern Californians have no idea of whether a four-year drought is normal, in, say, a 5,000 natural history of the region, or is aberrant — as wet years are long overdue and will return with a vengeance. That we claim to know what to expect from about 150 years of recordkeeping does not mean that we know anything about what is normal in nature’s brief millennia. Our generation may be oblivious to that fact, but our far more astute and pragmatic forefathers certainly were not.

Hubris 

If one studies the literature on the history and agendas of the California State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project, two observations are clear. One, our ancestors brilliantly understood that Californians always would wish to work and live in the center and south of the state. They accepted that where 75% of the population wished to live, only 25% of the state’s precipitation fell. Two, therefore they designed huge transfer projects from Northern California that was wet and sparsely settled, southward to where the state was dry and populated. They assumed that northerners wanted less water and relief from flooding, and southerners more water and security from drought, and thus their duty was to accommodate both.

Nor were these plans ossified. Indeed, they were envisioned as expanding to meet inevitable population increases. The Temperance Flat, Los Banos Grandes, and Sites reservoirs were planned in wet years as safety deposits, once higher reservoirs emptied. As population grew larger, dams could be raised at Shasta and Oroville. Or huge third-phase reservoirs like the vast Ah Pah project on the Klamath River might ensure the state invulnerability from even 5-6 year droughts.

One can say what one wishes about the long ago cancelled huge Ah Pah project — what would have been the largest manmade reservoir project in California history — but its additional 15 million acre feet of water would be welcomed today. Perhaps such a vast project was mad. Perhaps it was insensitive to local environmental and cultural needs. Perhaps the costs were prohibitive — a fraction of what will be spent on the proposed high-speed rail project. Perhaps big farming would not pay enough of the construction costs. But one cannot say that its 15 million acre feet of water storage would not have been life-giving in a year like this.

In any case, Ah Pah was no more environmentally unsound than is the Hetch Hetchy Project, without which there would be no Silicon Valley today as we now know it. One cannot say that hundreds of millions of public dollars have not gone to environmentalists, in and outside of government and academia, to subsidize their visions of the future that did not include food production and power generation for others. They are no less subsidized than the corporate farmers they detest.

One of the ironies of the current drought is that urbanites who cancelled these projects never made plans either to find more water or to curb population. Take the most progressive environmentalist in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and the likelihood is that his garden and bath water are the results of an engineering project of the sort he now opposes.

Pages: 1 2 | 58 Comments»

Israel, Jews, and the Obama Administration

March 8th, 2015 - 9:07 pm
obama_netanyahu_3-8-15-1

Can you feel the warmth? President Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Oct 1st, 2014. (Rex Features via AP Images)

Even some Democrats in Congress have come to the conclusion that after the brouhaha over Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech before Congress, President Obama wants to radically downgrade the long American special relationship with democratic Jewish Israel — and perhaps has a dislike of the idea of Israel. Add up the administration’s initial disparagement on the matter of Israeli settlements, untoward administration remarks during the Gaza War, its assumptions that a future autonomous West Bank had a right to insist on becoming Judenfrei, its downplaying the Iranian nuclear threat, John Kerry’s various editorializing about Israeli supposed overreactions, the constant hectoring of Israel, and rumors of a slowdown in military aid to Israel during the Gaza war, and so on and so on.

These acts seem to fit into a prior landscape of the administration’s anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli supposed slips, gaffes, and smears.

I thought it a bit strange that in 2008 the Obama campaign lobbied the Los Angeles Times not to release a tape of Obama’s remarks at a 2003 dinner honoring Palestinian activist Rashid Khalidi when then-state senator Obama supposedly thanked the latter for reminding him of his own “biases” and “blind spots” on the Middle East. Why not just release the innocuous tape I thought. But then again things happen at dinners.

I thought it a bit strange when would-be national security advisor to the 2008 Obama campaign, Zbigniew Brzezinski, hinted that he might think it a good idea to shoot down Israeli jets should they go over U.S.-controlled Iraqi airspace on their way to hit Iran’s nuclear facilities. But then again everyone says strange things now and then.

I thought it a bit strange that Samantha Power would become such a prominent Obama advisor after she hypothesized about sending U.S. forces into the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to keep both sides honest. But then again it is easy to take things out of context. And who, after all, would even envision U.S. and Israeli soldiers shooting at each other?

I thought it a bit strange that Barack Obama’s minister, whose “audacity of hope” sloganeering became the title of Obama’s second book, whined shortly after his former protégé assumed the presidency, “Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me.” But then again one should not fall into the guilt-by-association trap of “birds of a feather flock together.”

I thought it was strange when Obama’s first call as president went to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. But then again I shrugged that his first interview went to the newspaper Al-Arabiya, and he declared a “special relationship” with the virulently anti-Israeli Prime Minister and now President of Turkey Recep Erdogan.

I thought it strange that Obama in 2009 called in Jewish leaders only to lecture on the need to put “daylight” between Israel and the United States. But then I assumed that these leaders did not seem too disturbed about such comments.

I thought it strange when Barack Obama stormed out of a White House meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and left him to stew alone for over an hour. But then again I noted that he was hungry and wanted to step out for a while to dine alone with his family.

Pages: 1 2 | 69 Comments»

The Liberal Circus

March 1st, 2015 - 2:34 pm
obama_hillary_jarrett_3-1-15-1

This Nov. 28, 2012 file photo shows then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton listening as President Barack Obama speaks in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Lately liberalism has gone from psychodrama to farce.

Take Barack Obama. He has gone from mild displeasure with Israel to downright antipathy. Suddenly we are in a surreal world where off-the-record slurs from the administration against Benjamin Netanyahu as a coward and chickensh-t have gone to full-fledged attacks from John Kerry and Susan Rice, to efforts of former Obama political operatives to defeat the Israeli prime minister at the polls, to concessions to Iran and to indifference about the attacks on Jews in Paris. Who would have believed that Iranian leaders who just ordered bombing runs on a mock U.S. carrier could be treated with more deference than the prime minister of Israel? What started out six years as pressure on Israel to dismantle so-called settlements has ended up with a full-fledged vendetta against a foreign head of state.

Hillary Clinton likewise has gone from a rather run-of-the-mill liberal grandee to a political grafter. She apparently solicited donations from foreign government officials and wealthy foreign nationals to contribute to the Clinton Foundation — and this was while she was secretary of State conducting the foreign policy of the United States. If those charges are proven accurate, how could she ever be trusted to become commander in chief? Unfortunately, in the last year almost every cause that Hillary Clinton has taken up has been belied by her own actions.

Inequality and fairness? At time when students struggle under a collective $1 trillion-plus student debt, much of it because of universities hiking fees and tuitions above the inflation rate, Hillary has serially charged universities well over $200,000 for 30-minute boilerplate speeches.

Women’s issues? We learn that women on Senator Clinton’s staff once made considerably less than their male counterparts. Had Bill Clinton worked at a university, corporation or government bureau, his sexual peccadillos long ago would have had him thrown off the premises. The latest disclosures about his junkets with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein are so bizarre that no one quite knows what to make of them — the would-be first female and feminist president married to a man who serially cavorted with a convicted sexual pervert?

Transparency? Consider the recent disclosures that Hillary knew almost immediately that the Benghazi killings were the preplanned work of terrorists and not due to spontaneous rioters angry over a video — and yet continued to deceive the public that just the opposite was true. The problem with Hillary’s scandals are not just that they reveal a lack of character, but that they are illiberal to the core on hallmark progressive issues of concern for equality, transparency and feminism.

We no longer live in an age of debate over global warming. It has now transmogrified well beyond Al Gore’s hysterics, periodic disclosures about warmists’ use of faked data, embarrassing email vendettas, vindictive lawsuits, crony green capitalism, and flawed computer models. Now Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, has taken the psychodrama to the level of farce in a two-bit McCarthyesque effort to demand from universities information about scientists who do not embrace his notions of manmade global warming. Where are the ACLU and fellow Democratic congressional supporters of free speech and academic freedom to censure such an Orwellian move? Finally, even the American Meteorological Society had to condemn the unhinged Grijalva for his bizarre efforts.

Attorney General Eric Holder came into office alleging racism and calling the American people cowards, and six years later is exiting, still blaming racism for his own self-inflicted failures. In between, Holder became the first attorney general to be cited for contempt by Congress. He stonewalled the Fast and Furious investigations. His plans to try terrorists in federal civilian courts were tabled almost immediately. He ordered electronic taps and surveillance on the communications of Associated Press and Fox reporters for supposed leaks.  He ignored wrongdoing in the IRS mess, a scandal that continues to grow. He got caught using his government jet to take his daughters and their boyfriends to the Belmont Stakes.

Pages: 1 2 | 68 Comments»

obama_fdr_fireside_chat_2-22-15-1

Imagine Obama as an American president in 1939.

“The United States has made significant gains in our struggle against violent extremism in Europe. We are watching carefully aggressions in Czechoslovakia, Austria, and in Eastern Europe. My diplomatic team has made it very clear that aggression against neighbors is inappropriate and unacceptable. We live in the 20th century, where the 19th century practice of changing borders by the use of force has no place in the present era.

“Let me be perfectly clear: Mr. Hitler is playing to a domestic audience. He adopts a sort of macho shtick, as a cut-up in the back of the class who appeals to disaffected countrymen. Our task is to demonstrate to Mr. Hitler that his current behavior is not really in his own interest, and brings neither security nor profit to Germany.

“As for acts of violence in Germany itself, we must express our worry to the German government over apparent extremism, but at the same time we must not overreact. As far as these sporadic attacks on random civilians, as, for example, during the recent Kristallnacht violence, we must keep things in perspective, when, for example, some terrorists randomly targeted some folks in a store. My job is sort of like a big-city mayor, to monitor these terrorist acts that are said to be done in the name of the German people. Let us not overreact and begin to listen to radio commentators who whip us up into a frenzy as if we were on the verge of war. We must not overestimate the SS, a sort of jayvee organization that remains a manageable problem.

“Here let me just say that we must never fall into the trap of blaming the German people abroad, but especially our German community here at home. National Socialism by no means has anything to do with socialism. These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy, and all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like the SS somehow represent socialism because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative. It is true that America and Germany have a complicated history, but there is no clash of civilizations. The notion that the America would be at war with Germany is an ugly lie.

“So make no mistake about it: National Socialism has nothing to do with Germany or the German people but is rather a violent extremist organization that has perverted the culture of Germany. It is an extremist ideology that thrives on the joblessness of Germany and can be best opposed by the international community going to the root of German unemployment and economic hard times. Let us not confuse Nazism with legitimate expressions of German nationalism. Stiff-arm saluting and jack boots are legitimate tenets of Germanism, and the German Brotherhood, for example, is a largely peaceful organization.

“So we Americans must not get on our own high horse. We, too, have bullied our neighbors and invaded them. We, too, have struggled with racism and anti-Semitism, slavery and Jim Crow. And our own culture has at times treated American citizens in the same callous way as the National Socialist do Germans. Before we castigate the Nazis, let us remember the Inquisition and the Crusades.

“In the face of Nazi challenge, we must stand united internationally and here at home — opposing workplace violence and man-caused disasters. We know that overseas contingency operations alone cannot solve the problem of Nazi aggression. Nor can we simply take out SS troopers who kill innocent civilians. We also have to confront the violent extremists — the propagandists working for Dr. Goebbels and Herr Himmler, recruiters and enablers — who may not directly engage in man-caused disasters themselves, but who radicalize, recruit and incite others to do so. One of the chief missions of our new aeronautics board will be to reach out to Germans to make them feel proud of German achievement. I want to remind Americans that Germans fostered the Renaissance, and helped create sophisticated navigation, mathematics, and medicine. This week, we will take an important step forward, as governments, civil society groups and community leaders from more than 60 nations will gather in Washington for a global summit on countering violent extremism. We hope that the efforts of those like Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Daladier and others will focus on empowering local communities, especially in Britain and France.

“Groups like the SS offer a twisted interpretation of German culture that is rejected by the overwhelming majority of the world’s German-speaking communities. The world must continue to lift up the voices of moderate German pastors and scholars who teach the true peaceful nature of German culture. We can echo the testimonies of former SS operatives and storm troopers who know how these terrorists betray Germany. We can help German entrepreneurs and youths work with the private sector to develop media tools to counter extremist Nazi narratives on radio and in newspapers.

“We know from experience that the best way to protect all people, especially young people, from falling into the grip of violent extremists like the SS and the National Socialists is the support of their family, friends, teachers and faith leaders throughout Germany and Western Europe in general.

“More broadly, groups like those headed by Herr Hitler and the National Socialists exploit the anger that festers when people in Germany feel that injustice and corruption leave them with no chance of improving their lives. The world has to offer today’s youth something better. Here I would remind ourselves of our past behavior in waging wars near the homeland of Germany. I opposed the Great War, and further opposed the Versailles Treaty that disturbed the region and stirred up violent passions and extremism.

“Governments like those in Europe that deny human rights play into the hands of extremists who claim that violence is the only way to achieve change. Efforts to counter such violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. Those efforts must be matched by economic, educational and entrepreneurial development so people have hope for a life of dignity. It does no good to talk of wars against Germany or Italy, or to demonize particular political movements as if they are monolithic or in any way represent the feeling of the majority of Germans and Italians.

“Finally — with Nazism and fascism peddling the lie that the United States is at war with Germany and Italy — all of us have a role to play by upholding the pluralistic values that define us as Americans. This week we’ll be joined by people of many faiths, including German and Italian Americans who make extraordinary contributions to our country every day. It’s a reminder that America is successful because we welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds. Germany has always been a part of America, always a part of the American story. The future will not belong to those who slander German culture. I made clear that America is not — and never will be — at war with Germany.

“That pluralism has at times been threatened by hateful ideologies and individuals from various nations. We’ve seen tragic killings directed at particular groups in our country, among them German Americans.

“We do not yet know why at times Germans have been attacked here in the United States.  But we know that many German Americans across our country are worried and afraid. Americans of all faiths and backgrounds must continue to stand united with the German community in mourning and insist that no one should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship.

“Our campaign to prevent people around the world from being radicalized to violence is ultimately a battle for hearts and minds. With this week’s summit here at Washington, we’ll show once more that — unlike terrorists who only offer misery and death — it is our free societies and diverse communities that offer the true path to opportunity, justice and dignity.”

The Reckoning

February 15th, 2015 - 7:12 pm

obama_selfie_isis_2-15-15-1

Let us start our grand tour of an increasingly out-of-control world in Russia. Putin plays a two-bit Hitler in trying to gobble up his neighbors. The West responds with  a one-bit imitation of 1930s Britain and France. ISIS reminds us that beheading and human incineration are contemporary, not premodern, practices. The only difference is that we video them on iPhones now rather hear rumors about them by word of mouth a year later.

Jews are wise to leave Europe in the manner that some of the lucky got out in the 1930s. The danger is not that we are facing a sudden war on any one front, but that all these fronts — the former Soviet republics, the Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria, the roaming Islamic terrorist gangsters inside the West, and the Iranian soon-to-be-nuclear co-prosperity sphere from Yemen to Lebanon — are combining to create chaos as the new normal.

Whole swaths of the globe are becoming badlands that sane people avoid — the former Soviet republics, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, Persia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Cuba, and perhaps soon Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus — as if they were the national no-go-zone versions of our own New Orleans or Detroit.

Ceding prior U.S. influence to regional hegemons — China in Asia, Russia in the former Soviet Union, ISIS and Iran in the Middle East — is turning the world into a pre-globalized Wild West. Think of travel plans. See the Parthenon? But will Greece be bankrupt and on strike from the airport to the Acropolis? See the Dead Sea? Will the rockets come in from Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, or Iran? See South America? Tiptoe around the mess in Argentina, Nicaragua, Peru, or Venezuela. See Paris or Copenhagen? Just don’t walk near a synagogue or kosher market. See St. Petersburg? Make sure there is not the next war nearby in Tallinn. See Turkey? The Hagia Sophia will probably be a mosque again soon.

The American Economy?

Hardly confidence there either. Bill Clinton slashed defense, hiked taxes and at least won a year or two of balanced budgets. Obama slashed defense, hiked taxes, and now brags that a $600 billion annual deficit is success — as if he still might not in his eight years double the amount of debt of all previous administrations combined.

What have zero interest rates accomplished? Another Wall Street bubble to implode, the end of passbook savings as we knew it for a century, and the encouragement of running up more national debt at a low annual service cost?

The Government?

What is terrifying about government now is not just that Obama has made it a tool of fundamental political transformation, by ignoring the enforcement of laws, overriding statutes through executive orders, and expanding entitlements to create new Democratic dependent constituencies. Scarier is the new 1984 state. The IRS is a rogue, but politicized organization that considers your politics in choosing audits. What exactly is NASA doing? The Justice Department sees the law as a hindrance to social justice. We can’t seem to find a secretary of Defense who can stand the White House effort to turn the Pentagon into something other than the military.

Government measurement of GDP and unemployment has been altered to suggest a robust economy. There is no such thing as an enforceable border, or perhaps a border at all. An illegal alien no longer exists. Amnesty is not so much a new law, as simply the relaxation of all immigration laws. The U.S. border is resembling the badlands between Syria and Iraq, where smugglers, cartels, and drug lords do as they please. What exactly is the status of ICE? Do agents arrest and release illegal entrants, or simply not arrest them at all? And if so, what then exactly are they doing?

Popular Culture?

Is Brian Williams our Eric Sevareid? Is Miley Cyrus an update of Shirley Temple? Is Kanye West the new Lou Rawls? Is Fifty Shades of Grey just an updated Lolita? Is global warming just a new phenology?  Is curvy Kim Kardashian just Rita Hayworth? Is Al Sharpton just Martin Luther King? The latest snuff video game just resembles an updated pinball machine? Maybe Tiger Woods is just a petulant young Jack Nicklaus?

Civic Harmony?

Racial relations have hit a new low in the age of “my people,” “punish our enemies,” and a “nation of cowards.” If an African-American entertainer does not win a Grammy, a celebrity rushes the stage to intimidate the winner. If an all African-American Little League team breaks the rules to win a crown, then the enforcement of the rules is deemed racist. If an Israel prime minister speaks to Congress without President Obama’s approval, then he is racist. What can be racism when almost everything is racist?

Is the new racism something akin to integration and assimilation, racially blind criteria for admissions and employment, a wish to make skin color incidental not essential to our characters, and a desire for legal, measured and ethnically blind immigration?

Where Does the Center Hold?

For bewildered and increasingly quietist Americans, the center holds mostly in family, religion, a few friends, the avoidance of the cinema and nightly news, the rote of navigating to work and coming home, trying to stay off the dole and taking responsibility for one’s own disasters — as the world grows ever more chaotic in our midst.

All sorts of escapism from the madness is now epidemic. Home-schooling. Gun ownership. A second home in the mountains. A trunk of freeze-dried food. Kids living in the basement. A generator. Some gold coins. A move to Wyoming. An avoidance of the old big cities. A tough choice between death and going to the nearby emergency room (at least your relatives are safe as you pass away at home). A careful and narrow selection of channels on cable TV. A safe room or escape plan. And on and on.

There is a strange new and dangerous sentiment brooding below the spoken surface that whatever is going on in the world and in America today cannot go on much longer — although as the sages say, there is a lot of rot in the West to enjoy for some time yet.

The postmodern world of our new aristocracy and the premodern world of those they both avoid and romanticize won’t hold. The old caricatured middle shrinks and turns inward. Even if the doomsday mood is a mere construct of the new instantaneous media, it is a dangerous mood nonetheless.

We all know what follows from this — either the chaos grows and civilization wanes and tribalism follows, or the iron hand of the radical authoritarian Left or Right correction is just as scary, or a few good people in democratic fashion convince the mob to let them stop the madness and rebuild civilization.

I hope for option three. I fear option one is more likely at home. And I assume that option two will be, as it always is, the choice abroad.

How to Make Sense of an Incoherent America

February 9th, 2015 - 2:55 pm

vdh_maze_2-8-15-1

The United States can be quite an incoherent place at times. Here are a few examples.

Diversity

Sometime in the 1990s the growing contradictions of affirmative action in a multiracial society became problematic. Ethnic ancestry was often neither easily identifiable nor readily commensurate with class status, and so gave way to a more popular term: “diversity.”

Under diversity, it no longer mattered so much how wealthy or poor one was. Nor was it a concern exactly who one’s grandparents had been — at long as, in some vague way, one was non-“white.” If so, one was diverse. That was deemed in and of itself a good thing. We no longer worried as much whether someone enjoying affirmative action status was upper middle-class or the child of a surgeon.

Nor did it matter that one was only one-quarter “Latino” or, in fact, took the rarer Elizabeth Warren or Ward Churchill route of fabricating ethnic ancestry out of whole cloth. Those were written off as the bothersome details used by reactionaries to jeopardize the noble objectives of affirmative action.

But with “diversity,” that incoherence supposedly abated, and how one looked or how one spelled or accented or hyphenated one’s last name was about all that was needed for some sort of redress or compensation.

The theory of “disparate impact” became a valuable tool of diversity. If an entire field — Silicon Valley techies, employees at the DMV, or school administrators — did not reflect “diversity” (e.g., was more than about 70% “white”), then whether conscious or not, whether accidental or deliberate, the impact, not the intent, was all that mattered, and was by nature bad. Adjustments — legalized discrimination on the basis of race — followed. At least in theory.

Diversity became also a haphazardly selective idea. Some of the highest-paid and most celebrated jobs in America are found in professional sports. Yet the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and National Basketball Association are increasingly the most un-diverse employers around, at least sort of. The owners are mostly white; the players in the majority mostly not.

On the flip side, college swim teams and the National Hockey League are disproportionally white. What strangely exempts these organization from the charge of “disparate impact” — or the idea that these disequilibria need not be deliberate to have a negative impact?

After all, think of the consequences. There are lots of gifted Asian basketball players and African-American hockey players that might enrich the mosaic of these sports and energize non-traditional audiences. Diversity dictates that ipso facto things improve the more we appear differently. Would not a team of basketball or hockey players reflecting the ethnic make up of the country be more inclusive or at least fairer?

I think we know the answers. Money and more money. Owners are billionaires and professional athletes are multimillionaires. Both are free-market, up-by-your-bootstraps advocates of merit or at least their own privilege. Players believe their hard work and natural ability earn them the right not to be discriminated against by mandating replacements of some of them by others with less proven success, but whose appearance and cultural background would “diversify” both the team and its audience.

Owners agree — and all but imply their business brains and work ethic won their riches and with them the right to own anything they want. Finally, society agrees because sports are its de facto religion in a way that university faculties and the Post Office are not. Would you rather watch the 49ers, or hear a classics professor lecture on enjambment? And so we have few black hockey players and few Latino basketball players because the public, in classically liberal fashion, demands racially blind criteria as the sole adjudicator of participation. Ethnic over- and under-representation are not terms that apply to lucrative sports leagues.

Also note the issues with critical industries that we count on for our safety. Take airline pilots: Al Sharpton is badgering the tech industry to become more diverse, but not the pilots association. Eric Holder will not seriously sue the airlines for “disparate impact,” apparently because passengers demand the assurance that the person in control of 300 lives at 30,000 feet, like an NBA basketball star, has a superior, and identifiably superior, record of achievement. Sports and safety demand that perceived merit trumps diversity. Again, these are the truths we dare not speak, but collectively assume and apparently insist upon.

Women in Danger

Lots of college campuses are in so-called dangerous neighborhoods. East Palo Alto is not far from the Stanford campus. New Haven can still be a perilous place for Yale students. Many of the Cal State campuses are in iffy neighborhoods. Women alone walking to cars or apartments in these environs can often be targeted by criminals.

Why, then, is there not a greater campus awareness campaign about the dangers of the street, or at least more attention to insist that felons and convicted rapists are not released early in college neighborhoods? Instead, more emphases recently have been focused on date rape and other college students. The apparent greater dangers to female students are not violent felons on parole or previous offenders, but campus frats and jocks — even to the point of suggesting that campus rape statistics are astronomically higher than those found among the general population, as if it were more dangerous to go to a USC dorm party than to walk through South Central or Watts.

Why the disconnect? Criminal statistics about rape can be politically incorrect, in that persons of color are statistically on a per capita basis more likely to commit such crimes than so-called whites. For campuses to suggest that a convicted felon of an adjoining inner city is the more likely danger than an arrogant, full-of-himself conservative frat boy is largely an exercise in what the president, in another context, called acting “stupidly” or “stereotyping.”

Warning women of the rough areas in the vicinity means race and class issues turn against the speaker. Warning women of the drunken privileged campus jerk breaks in the speaker’s favor.

Which warning is more likely to keep women secure on campus from bodily harm?

Second, our culture has a tendency to obsesses on what we can influence, and ignore what we cannot: banning a fraternity and bringing wealthy lacrosse players up on campus charges are easily within our power; and it’s easy for Lena Dunham or Rolling Stone to invent crimes of conservative college rapists.

But the pathologies of the inner cities are existential crises apparently beyond our imagination.

It is sort of analogous to central California. Out here, the authorities ignore zoning violations: they ignore 10 people living around a rural farmhouse in Winnebagos with porta-potties, Jerry-rigged Romex wire, and unlicensed and unvaccinated pit bulls wandering into the street, because it is far easier and less politically incorrect to focus on the suburbanite who sneaks in an extra lawn irrigation on a no-watering day. The former invites existential and unsolvable issues; the latter addressable inconsistencies that make the enforcer feel empowered and big rather than inconsequential, impotent, and incorrect.

Ethos?

Last week I saw the following: at the local Save Mart, the person ahead of me was grossly obese and in obvious poor health. She had two piles of quite different sizes on the checkout conveyor belt: one consisted of eggs, milk, bread, and diapers; she paid the small sum with her California WIC card. Her other pile that followed had Cap’n Crunch cereal, bags of Oreos, chips, and lots of regular Pepsi supersize bottles. She paid the far greater tab with three twenty-dollar bills. As I exited, she left in a new Honda Accord, with customized rims. Could she not have passed on the rims and the Oreos, and used the savings to spare the state the cost of her milk subsidy? Does she represent the downtrodden that our legislators insist are not served well by supposedly underfunded state agencies?

But why pick only on the supposed poor?

On the same day, I read a story in the local paper about John Welty, the former president of CSU Fresno. He had worked very hard and successfully at fundraising, and earned his sizable state pension — in addition to a long-contracted year’s “transition” vacation pay of $223,000 to adjust to retirement. Now he is teaching one class at a San Bernardino CSU satellite campus that also entails some administrative duties that together pays $148,752.

His years in the hot seat in the unenviable position as a college president certainly should entitle him to a generous pension whose amount was undisclosed. His apparent administrative excellence may well justify such generous additional post-retirement compensations, given they were long ago contracted before the state’s fiscal meltdown and the across-the-board cutbacks at CSU. He surely has a right to work in his retirement to augment his income, even if it’s for the same state that is paying his pension. All of these are the deserved fruits of a successful administrative tenure that saw the CSUF campus infrastructure and grounds noticeably improve and its private fundraising markedly increase, which resulted in more student scholarships and opportunities.

My worries and yours: the classroom component of his job is not really a class, but is described as a “speaker series,” to coordinate others to talk to students rather than demanding his own prepping, lecturing, and correcting assignments. That is hardly “teaching.”

Two, the campus CSU branch that hired Dr. Welty also has recently hired his wife as dean, who, on his retirement from the Fresno campus, left with him to their new home in the Palm Desert area — and then was rather promptly hired as an administrator at the nearby CSUSB branch campus.

Three, Dr. Welty’s spouse had earlier left CSUF under a cloud of some controversy because her return to recent administrative status consisted of a brief tenure as an interim graduate dean at CSUF, when her husband was campus president — reportedly a result of a quick, in-house search in which there were no other candidates seriously considered.

It is difficult not to conclude that her husband’s administrative team hired her without a normally run search for a well-compensated administrative post; then the administrative team she became a part of had earlier also hired her husband for a post-retirement, well-compensated administrative/”teaching” post. Doing that once may not be nepotism at a local bank, but twice for elite positions at a public university?

As a professor at CSUF — a public university with rules far different from those in the private sector — I conducted seven searches, both for full-time, tenure-track and full-time temporary and fill-in openings. Every search, even for sabbatical replacements, was advertised and open. Each had an assigned affirmative action officer in addition to a committee of three faculty members, both to watch for biases and to adjudicate disproportionate impact. There were careful institutionalized timelines that mandated the process went on for weeks on end. CSU does many things wrong, but its faculty searches are usually transparent and conducted according to protocols, reflecting its status as a public university without the leeway of a private counterpart. Had the university hired someone without a normal search, without advertised announcements, and without an affirmative action officer, I would have been in serious trouble — and from the president mentioned above. The point in both cases was not that laws were violated, but that the appearance breeds cynicism at government when government is already seen as cynical enough.

From the application of diversity remedies to the most efficacious ways of curbing campus sexual violence to the expenditure of state funds, this culture is incoherent.

(Artwork created using a modified Shutterstock.com image.)

What Are the Metaphysics of Islamic Denial?

February 2nd, 2015 - 12:45 am

obama_weakness_big_1-27-14-1

After six years, it is no surprise that the Obama administration does not see the Taliban as “terrorists” or that it will not associate “violent extremism” with radical Islam or just Islam.

After all, when Maj. Hasan murdered U.S. soldiers it was nothing more than “workplace violence,” as if he were a disgruntled post office employee of the 1970s. Our two top intelligence chiefs assured us that the Muslim Brotherhood was “largely secular” and that jihad “was a legitimate tenet of Islam.” Add in “workplace violence” and the old “overseas contingency operations.” Do we remember that Ms. Napolitano’s Department of Homeland Security warned us about right-wing returning veterans as the most likely to terrorize us? When someone blows up people at the Boston Marathon, beheads a woman in Oklahoma, or puts a hatchet in a NYPD officer’s head, he is not a terrorist or proselytizer fueled by Islamic hatred of non-Muslims as much as mentally confused. (I suppose in a way that a Hitler or Stalin was not.)

The problem is not that the administration is just too fond of euphemisms. At times it can be quite candid. The Republican House has been characterized as “terrorists” in their efforts to stop more federal borrowing. The Tea Party was slurred as “tea-baggers” — a derogative sexual term.  Mr. Netanyahu is variously a “coward” or “chickensh-t” — pejoratives not floated for even the vicious Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So why the elaborate façade about the Islamic roots of global terrorism and spreading instability in the Middle East? There are a few possible explanations.

I. Strategy

The Obama administration knows full well that the Taliban, ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the rest of the pack draw their zeal from the Koran. But to say such might turn off two or three useful constituencies — the hard Left at home that hates any judgmentalism, “moderate” Muslims in the Middle East who are essential to nullifying the “radicals” in their midst, and the global community that is always suspicious when America goes to war against a particular group or ideology. The Obama administration with a wink-and-nod, then, accepts radical Islam as the problem, but for strategic reasons, and in the manner occasionally of the Bush administration, prefers euphemisms. Nonetheless, the administration goes on Predatoring thousands of suspected Islamic terrorists even as it won’t say what its targeted victims all have in common. Given that Americans know that the enemy is radical Islam, why turn off potential allies by reiterating that fact?

II. Appeasement

The Obama administration is terrified of radical Islamic terrorism, in the manner that Europeans are — and were scared stiff in the 1930s of Nazi Germany. They know full well that caricaturing Islam is dangerous in a way joking about other religions is not. They are afraid of more televised beheadings, more torturing, and more Benghazis. If they can blame a pathetic U.S. resident for making a video for the deaths in Benghazi, then perhaps the appreciative Islamist culprits will leave it at one harvest at Benghazi (especially before the 2012 elections). If the Taliban sense that Obama will not dare to call them terrorists, then maybe they will negotiate in good faith and enter a stable “coalition” government when we depart entirely from Afghanistan. Bowing to a Saudi royal might assuage his anger at the U.S. Carefully avoiding reference any longer to Syrian regime change might win back Assad to our side. When we don’t condemn “Islamic terrorism,” then perhaps even ISIS mutters, “Hmmm, these Americans are not that bad after all; shoot rather than behead the next hostage.”

Note that essential characteristic of appeasement, the narcissism of the appeaser: An FDR lecturing Churchill that he alone had the skills to win over “Uncle Joe” Stalin, a Jimmy Carter’s unique understanding of Iranian theocracy that as thanks would release the hostages, and the locus classicus of Neville Chamberlain alone with the fluency and sensitivity to make Herr Hitler see what is in his real interest. So, too, only the Peace Prize winner Obama can suavely appease radical Islam and convince them why leaving America alone suits their interest as well. The more we accommodate radical Islamists through euphemism and circumlocution, the more likely they might just go away.

III. Postmodern Therapy

The Obama administration has a fuzzy therapeutic view of human nature in general, as does much of America by now. There is no “welfare” anymore, just “pubic assistance” or better “health and human services.” Beau Bergdahl is confused and complex, hardly a “traitor,” a slur that leaves no room for nuance. The purpose of language is not disinterested and accurate description; rather, language is employed for the political, whether you know it or not.

So the unwillingness to use the world “Islam” in connection with global terrorism simply reflects the leftwing, relativist view that nothing is ever absolute. There is not good versus evil, failure or success, but only gradations that are conditioned by the preexisting prejudices of elites who make up these categories largely to protect their own privilege. Generalization is always reactionary stereotyping. “Islam” or “Muslim” hardly can characterize 400 million people from Indonesia to Dubai. (To be fair, I think the Left’s postmodern relativism is itself mostly political and ad hoc; after all, it often enjoys blanket categorization and has no problem with disparagement like “Republicans,” “tea-baggers,” “conservatives,” “males,” or “whites” as inclusive terms that serve well enough to stereotype millions — or for that matter “gays” and “women” in the hagiographic sense.) “Islam” and “Muslim” are meaninglessly vague, and are used as pejoratives rather than descriptive terms; like most of our race/class/gender vocabulary these rubrics cannot be used as inclusive terms when the aim is not laudatory.

Pages: 1 2 | 68 Comments»

Remembering a Few Great Classicists

January 28th, 2015 - 10:31 pm
hephaestus_athens_greece_1-25-15-2

Temple of Hephaestus in Athens. (Photo by Shutterstock.com.)

Few pay much attention to scholars of Latin and Greek. They master languages that are not spoken. They learn to write them only to read them better. They slap your hands when you write a Latin word common in Sallust or Livy, rather than in Cicero.

Classicists learn European languages not so much to appreciate Voltaire or Goethe but to scan dry esoteric articles by 19th-century Frenchmen and Germans on the Athenian banking system or Demosthenes’ use of praeteritio and apophasis.

In our short lives, devoting so much time to philology can result in a life mostly missed. By 21, I could cite passage numbers in Greek texts of what Thucydides and Plutarch thought of Nicias, but not really why exactly Nicias was a mediocre general, the George McClellan or Mark Clark of the Peloponnesian War — the point of reading Thucydides and Plutarch about Nicias in the first place. Classicists can become the proverbial dogs who can dance on two legs, but for what purpose?

Still, I was blessed, if sometimes only for a few hours, by having a few great scholars as teachers who saw their classical educations as the beginning of inquiry, not an end in itself. At 61, I am remembering just how lucky I was to have met them — and how rare their like is now.

Kitto

I had the British scholar H.D.F. Kitto as an undergraduate while in Athens at a junior year abroad program (College Year in Athens). He taught just six of us in a class on Sophocles’s Ajax with the abbreviated blue Jebb (himself a renaissance 19th century classical scholar) text. I say taught, but he mostly just translated the text for us. Kitto asked a few grammatical questions as he pulled out one of his own rolled cigarettes (his paper always became unwound on his lips) and editorialized about everything in our midst (1973-4 was a year of violence, coups, and revolution in Athens) with context rather than animus (“There is a sort of Corcyra going on here, as is sometimes the custom, ancient and modern, in these environs”).

Kitto seemed to us mostly ignorant Americans not especially a nice man or an empathetic teacher. But he knew a great deal about modern (his little-known travel guide to northern Greece is the best of its genre) and ancient Greece (his best-seller The Greeks is still perhaps the most readable introduction to the ancient world). For that matter, he knew something about almost everything: Shakespeare, Britain in World War II, modern Greek grammar, Churchill’s Mediterranean strategy, birds, Stanley Baldwin versus Neville Chamberlain, the strength and weakness of American GIs (optimism and competency versus naiveté and self-absorption), Scottish military history, the American student’s ignorance of geography, and the value of Xenophon. (He once asked us to translate from the Anabasis “until I say stop,” and then went downstairs for fresh air, and almost forgot about us; I ended up writing for an hour until I noticed he was not coming back and the room was empty).

It was also cold that year in Athens due to a bad winter and the heating oil cutoff from the 1973-4 oil embargo following the Yom Kippur War. Kitto’s arthritis acted up. As he creaked up the six flights of stairs to class, we could hear him mumbling about similarities to cold wartime Scotland. He finally entered the tiny classroom with, “I made it up, not quite dead yet, not yet, no bone for Cerberus today.”

I had nothing in common in with him — and yet everything, at least as much as could a ignorant farm kid from central California, who wanted to absorb dates, names, places, rules, ideas — almost anything — from his vast seven-decade-long repertory. He was a 19th Century practitioner of “parallelism” — in this case, the art of explaining Sophocles’ use of a particular word by citing how it was used elsewhere in Euripides or Plato — or in any other Greek author for that matter (all off the top of his head). In passing, we learned from Kitto meter, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and yes, by writing Greek, how to appreciate reading it. (“It was not so easy to write in the language of poor Sophocles, as you Americans are now beginning to see”).

Grant

By the time I had Michael Grant as a 23-year-old graduate student at Stanford (1976-7), Grant was a sixtyish bon vivant, intimate with Jerry Ford and a visitor to the Annenberg estate, and a visiting professor at American universities. He was sometimes snidely attacked as a “popularizer,” a one-man industry who had made a tiny fortune translating, consulting, lecturing, appraising, and through dozens of books, writing surveys of almost every aspect of the ancient world. Grant was a tall, perfectly dressed aristocrat who looked and sounded the part of a PBS host (black plastic glasses that contrasted with his longish side white hair parted behind his ears).

We were told privately by many of our classics faculty that Grant had “blown it” by transmogrifying from a once solid numismatist (an expert on Roman coinage, cf. From Imperium to Auctoritas) to a “vulgarizer” who sought to sell superficial knowledge of antiquity by generalization and a lack of nuance (i.e., he made a lot more money than classics professors and knew something more about the world beyond the faculty lounge). But I remember differently. For almost any year of the empire, Grant would casually cite regional imperial mints, discoursing on the metallurgical ratios of their output, the iconic nature of their imperial portraits, and the Latin propaganda on the coinage — all as a reflection of current economic, political, and cultural conditions in the Empire.

We found his two seminars on Roman emperors and Tacitus not especially demanding, but fascinating. He spoke beautiful English and each time he referenced Nero or Caligula, Grant saw them as ordinary thugs — comparing them to various English monarchs, 1930s bohemians, wannabe artists and writers he had known, and of course hundreds of other monsters that frequent Tacitus, Suetonius, Petronius, and Plutarch.

He had lived a life in other words, liberated, not enslaved, by classics. I was also his gardener for a while. His wife (I recall her as Swedish and from a diplomatic family, or at least Scandinavian and thus interested in my background) would walk out while I pulled weeds in their rented house, asking me all sorts of questions about pruning, weed types, and frost. (I knew how to farm vines but nothing about English gardening).

Each week as I piled up brush in a pick-up, he would come out for 10 minutes to go on about how much he loved California, Americans, and Mediterranean life in general, with learned commentary about Tuscany’s wines, cheeses, breads, and greens. He corrected our seminar papers and scribbled notes all over them (not always normal for a senior professor), with a critical eye for prose and logic as much as footnoted sources. A good point earned: “That’s it!” A bad one, “ … but maybe see what our Syme says about this.”

He illustrated that the mastery of Latin and Greek fueled the ability to speak and write good English — and why the latter mattered as much or more than the former. I had never fully appreciated the relationship; but I saw it in him and therein soon sensed value even in courses that I had hated like Latin metrics and the manuscript traditions of Greek tragedians. He was as courteous and affable as Kitto was cold and curt. But I learned much from both.

Knox

Bernard Knox was a third great British classicist (who had become an American). Like Kitto and Grant, he had lived an entire life beyond Greek and Latin (Google him for the fascinating details). I never had him for a class. But he once reviewed a book I wrote called The Other Greeks, which led to correspondence, and I had dinner with him occasionally in Washington (once in his 90s). His Heroic Temper is the best discussion of Sophocles, and of Greek tragedy in general. Knox had a genius for seeing in Sophoclean characters — especially the less well-known losers like Ajax and Philoctetes — the sort of tragic heroes whom Americans are fond of (think Shane, the Searchers, The Magnificent Seven, or maybe even the more pathological The Wild Bunch). He saw majestic characters out of place in a modernizing world who would rather perish than change — but in a context where their sacrifice schools the lesser around them about what the old breed was about and what was being lost.

It was always better to keep silent and listen to Knox, not because he was loquacious (he was only gracious), but because such moments of free instruction were priceless — when does one hear first-hand accounts of the fighting in the Spanish Civil war or dropping into occupied Brittany? His son Macgregor Knox, also a combat veteran, is one of the great historians of 20th Century wars and popular political movements (cf. the classic Mussolini Unleashed). Knox, in short, was devoted to making America a more humane place, and brought charm and wit to every great thing he did.

Vanderpool

Eugene Vanderpool was an American said-to-be rich aristocrat. I write “said-to-be” because when I met him he was already in his early 70s and looked as if he were homeless or indigent. When I joined his hikes through the Attic countryside in 1973-4, (but more frequently during another year at the American School of Classical Studies, Athens, 1978-9), he was already legendary in the tiny circles of American and European classicists. Vanderpool’s exact educational background (“just a BA?” was whispered) was murky. But his knowledge of the Greek countryside and language was almost frightening (“that new intersection project over there bulldozed an ancient walking path to Dekelea”). He had lived in Greece his entire life (interned by the Germans in World War II), and dressed, to be candid, in rags, most of his teeth gone through malnutrition during the war and not really replaced by dentures.

Vanderpool was the most reserved and kindest classical scholar I ever met. On long hikes (sometimes over 20 miles), he would walk beside the least accomplished of an often obsequious cohort of graduate students. Instead of the usual “so, what are you working on?” or “where are you from?” or “whom do you work with?”, it was always a different sort of question: “How many men do you think a few peripoloi could hold off from that redoubt up there?” “Do you have any idea who really built Aigosthena or why?” Then he almost seamlessly followed with a brief theory, replete with references to classical texts and topographical signposts. He was conservative politically, but a socialist in the sense of erudition: those most in need of it and without connections won his greater attention. He once yelled back to me: “Careful there that you don’t step on this Attic orchard, the first of the spring. Let’s give it a chance.”

All of these classicists shared one characteristic in common: they were beautiful prose stylists. I don’t think I ever read a more wonderfully crafted article than those (and there were not all that many) written by Eugene Vanderpool. By those who were overdressed, Vanderpool was worshiped for his informality. As an aristocrat, he was loved by those who were middle class. As a non-traditional academic, he was respected by those who listed dozens of their graduate degrees. A humble and modest man who was admired by the pompous and pedantic. A natural conservative, he lived and worked harmoniously with liberals. Why such universal devotion? His intellect and knowledge were overpowering. But he was also gentle and kind when most in his midst were often not, and somehow that proves to be all-powerful in a way that rudeness and narcissism are not.

My best memory of EV (as his friends, but not I who was not so close to him, called him) was his kneeling down to read an inscription that was on a courtyard doorstep in a house in modern Marathon. A Greek inside saw this toothless, elderly, man in raggedy coat and worn shoes and told him to skedaddle, as if Vanderpool were an itinerant bum leading beggars searching for morsels. What followed from Vanderpool in reply was mellifluous Modern Greek, spoken in soft tones with polite inquiries (that were really subtle lectures) about the plethora of 4th Century Greek inscriptions embedded into the stones of various houses and churches. The next thing I remember was the rude Greek smiling, running inside, and bringing out blocks of cheese for us. I think most of the Americans’ great epigraphical finds of the 1950s and 1960s came from tip-offs from Eugene Vanderpool, who apprised his students of various inscriptions that he had turned up but urged them to follow up on.

Eugene Vanderpool was beloved by those who knew him far better than I. But I learned from him how to look at the land — bridges, roads, towers, walls — and imagine the Greeks not with ink and papyrus but as men of action, farmers and hoplites, in a rough climate on poor soils. I suddenly envisioned them pruning and plowing in Laureion, the Oropos, and Acharnae, more like the rugged farmers with whom I had grown up with in vineyards and orchards than as the professors in elbow patches who had claimed them.

I have often been critical of classics (cf. Who Killed Homer?, which I co-authored). And indeed the profession can encourage pedantry, snobbishness, and escapism. But not always, given what rubs off from the beauty and power of the language and culture of the singular Greeks and Romans. I have met masterful undergraduate classics teachers (John Heath, Bruce Thornton, John P. Lynch, Mary-Kay Gamel, Colin Edmondson), and brilliant philologists (I think the best were the Berkeley classicists Leslie Threatte and W.K. Pritchett who both knew Greek as they did English), and genius dropouts from the profession who were more gifted than the stay-ins (Larry Woodlock and Frank DeRose). Some classicists were natural humanists (Ned Spofford) and civic models (Mark Edwards).

Classics, at its best, offers the historical, philological, and literary foundation and discipline to apply a critical method to every genera of learning — and living. What I remember from all these brief exposures to these great teachers was their otherness — an eccentricity to become Roman Republicans and Hellenists rather than the scholiasts who study them — that won grudging admiration even from their own orthodox peers. Maybe their success was in their desire to disseminate rather than show-off knowledge, to inform rather than to embarrass, to risk generalizing rather than retreating into safe esoterica. They could all teach, write, and talk — and in their own different ways were men of action as well as thought. I owe them a great deal — and I realize now that I have for a long time.

——————

Related: Check out VDH’s video lecture series, including The Odyssey of Western Civilization and Victor Davis Hanson’s World War II, at the PJTV store.

Untrue Truisms in the War on Terror

January 18th, 2015 - 5:41 pm

mia_farrow_charlie_hebdo_1-13-15-1

In the current tensions with the Islamic World, pundits bandy about received wisdom that in fact is often ignorance. Here are a few examples.

1)  The solution of radical Islam must come from within Islam.

Perhaps it could. It would be nice to see the advice of General Sisi of Egypt take root among the Islamic street. It would have been nice had the Arab Spring resulted in constitutional republics from North Africa to Syria. It would be nice if an all-Muslim force took on and defeated the Islamic State. It would be nice if Iran suddenly stopped stonings and Saudi Arabia ceased public whippings. It would be nice if Muslims dropped the death penalty for apostates.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that any of these scenarios is soon likely. Nor is there much historical support for autocracies and totalitarian belief systems collapsing entirely from within. Hitler was popular enough among Germans until the disaster of Stalingrad. The Soviet Union only imploded under the pressures of the Cold War. Mussolini was a popular dictator — until Italy’s losses in World War II eroded his support. The Japanese emperor only was willing to end the rule of his militarists when Tokyo went up in flames and the U.S. threatened more Hiroshimas. Only the collapse of the Soviet Union and its bloc pulled the plug on the global terrorism of the 1980s.

Until Muslims themselves begin to sense unpleasantness from the crimes of radical Islam, there is little likelihood of Islamism eroding. Were France to deny visas to any citizens of a country it deemed a terrorist sponsor, or to deport French residents that support terrorism, while weeding out terrorist cells, then gradually Muslims in France would wish to disassociate themselves from the terrorists in their midst. If the U.S. adopted a policy that it would have no formal relations with countries that behead or stone, Islamists might take note.

2) The vast majority of Muslims renounce terror.

True, current polls attest that grassroots support for Islamic terror is eroding among Muslim nations, largely because of the violence in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere that is making life miserable for Muslims themselves.

But if even only 10% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims favor radical Islamists, the resulting 160-million core of supporters is quite large enough to offer needed support. Again, by 1945 most Germans would have polled their opposition to Hitler. But that fact was largely meaningless given the absence of action against the Nazi hierarchy.

In truth, the majority of Muslims may oppose Muslim-inspired violence in their homelands, but will do so abroad only if radical Islam diminishes the influence and prestige of Muslims. If terrorism does not, and instead another charismatic bin Laden wins the sort of fear abroad and popularity at home (cf. his popularity ratings in some Muslim countries circa 2002), then it matters little that most Muslims themselves are not actual terrorists — any more than the fact that most Russians were not members of the Communist Party or Germans members of the Nazi Party. Likewise, the idea that Muslims are the greatest victims of Muslim-inspired terrorism is not ipso facto necessarily significant. Stalin killed far more Russians than did Hitler. That Germans suffered firsthand from the evils of National Socialism was no guarantee that they might act to stop it. Mao was the greatest killer of Chinese in history; but that fact hardly meant that Chinese  would rise up against him.

3) There is no military solution to radical Islam.

Yes and no. The truth is that military action is neutral: valuable when successful, and counter-productive when not. In 2003, there were few terrorists in Iraq. In 2006, there were lots. Then in 2011, there were few. Then, in 2014, there were lots again. The common denominator is not the presence or absence of U.S. troops, but the fact that in 2003 and 2011 the U.S. military enjoyed success and had either killed, routed, or awed Islamists; in 2006 and 2014 the U.S. military was considered either impotent or irrelevant. U.S. military force is counter-productive when used to little purpose and ineffectively. It is invaluable when it is focused and used successfully. If the U.S. bombing campaign against the Islamic State were overwhelming and devastating Islamic state territories, it would matter. Leaving a Western country to join the jihad in Syria would be considered synonymous with being vaporized, and the U.S. would find itself with far fewer enemies and far more allies.  Otherwise, sort of bombing, sort of not will have little positive effects, and may do more harm than good.

4) Reaching out to Islam reduces terrorism.

It can. No one wants to gratuitously incite Muslims. But the fact that Mediterranean food and Korans were available in Guantanamo did not mean that released terrorists were appreciative of that fact or that the world no longer considered the facility objectionable. Obama’s name, paternal lineage, apologies and euphemisms have neither raised U.S. popularity in the Middle East nor undermined the Islamic State.

The 2009 Obama Cairo speech went nowhere. Blaming the filmmaker Nakoula Nakoula for Benghazi did not make the Tsarnaev brothers reconsider their attack at the Boston Marathon. The use of “workplace violence” and declarations that the Muslim Brotherhood is secular or that jihad is a legitimate religious tenet has not reduced Islamic anger at the U.S.

The Kouachi brothers did not care much that under Obama Muslim outreach has become a promised top agenda at NASA. Backing off from a red line in Syria did not reassure the Middle East that the United States was not trigger-happy. Had Obama defiantly told the UN that Nakoula Nakoula had a perfect right to be obnoxious while on U.S. soil, or had the Tsarnaev family long ago been denied entry into the United States, then Islamic terrorists might at least have had more respect for their intended victims.  Current American euphemisms are considered by terrorists as proof of weakness and probably as provocative as would be unnecessary slanderous language.

The best policy is to speak softly and accurately, to carry a large stick, and to display little interest in what our enemies think of our own use of language. The lesson of Charlie Hebdo so far is that the French do not care that radical Islamists were offended and so plan to show the cartoons any way they please. If they stay the course, there will eventually be fewer attacks; if they back off, there will be more.

5) We need to listen to Muslim complaints.

No more than we do to any other group’s complaints. Greeks are not blowing people up over a divided Nicosia. Germans are not producing terrorists eager to reclaim East Prussia, after the mass ethnic cleansings of 1945. Muslims are not targeting Turks because Ottoman colonial rule in the Middle East was particularly brutal. Latin Americans are not slaughtering Spaniards for the excesses of Spanish imperial colonialism.

Christians are not offended that Jesus is Jesus and not referenced as the Messiah Jesus in the manner of the Prophet Mohammed. The Muslim community has been constructed in the West as a special entity deserving of politically correct sensitivity, in the manner of privileged groups on campus that continuously suffer from psychodramatic “micro-aggressions.” That Muslims abroad and in the West practice gender separation at religious services or are intolerant of homosexuals wins greater exemption from the Left than a Tea Party rally.  If the West were to treat satire, parody and caricature of Islam in the fashion of other religions, then eventually the terrorists would learn there is no advantage in killing those with whom they disagree. Once Westerners treat Islam as they do any other religion, then the Islamist provocateurs will be overwhelmed with perceived slights to the point that they are no longer slights. The Muslim world needs to learn reciprocity: that building a mosque at Ground Zero or in Florence, Italy, is no more or no less provocative than building a cathedral in Istanbul, Riyadh, or Teheran.

Also read: 

It’s a War of the Gods