» 2007 » February

Works and Days

Monthly Archives: February 2007

February 24th, 2007 - 10:11 am

Global warming or cooling—or both or neither?

Until the recent storm, there was not much more than a few inches of snow, even at 6,000 feet in the Sierra. Yet this dry winter was one of the coldest in memory, destroying much of the citrus crop and freezing pipes up and down the state.

Our only chance for a normal year—much of the state, remember, is a desert that survives in its modern affluence only by virtue of a Sierra snow pack—is a sudden deluge, what we used to call the “March miracle” of Pacific storms that could dump 4-6 feet of snow in a month.

I’ve seen something like that four or five times in my life—often to the lament of fruit-tree growers, who get no rain when they need it, and then at bloom are soaked, causing all sorts of fungal diseases and interrupted pollination.

Still, it is hard to figure out California. I measured the water table in the yard a few months ago—about 40 feet, the water pure and clean, about the same level it was 40 years ago when there were 20 million, not 35 million people. With a 15 horsepower pump (running at a couple of dollars an hour) you can still pump 1200 gallons a minute, with the bowls set at 60-70 feet. It is hard to think of anywhere in the world where such water is so cheap and plentiful—and how long that will be true.

My hunch is that as Central Valley farmland goes out of production, 6-8 houses per acre in its place use less annual acre feet of water than flood irrigating an acre of vineyard or peach orchard. The horror, then, is that when there are solid housing tracts 300 miles from Sacramento to Bakersfield, from the Sierra to the Coast Range we will have more not less water—but, of course, no food grown at all.

Riding a Bike in Fresno County

An odd driver pulled up to me the other day at a rural crossroads, asking why I was biking in rural Fresno County (usually on back roads to places like Laton, Kingsburg, Selma, Parlier, etc) with flannel shirts, jeans, etc, rather than the more streamlined and bright-colored spandex, which is both more comfortable, more practicable, and in its color safer. I asked him to wear all that some time—and report back to me the result of his encounters.

What Are They Thinking?

So what is the consistent logic behind the Democrats’ baffling position of louder and louder rhetoric and more and more inaction? They confirm the surging General Petraeus unanimously, but then try to discourage the surge? Cry out for withdrawals and redeployments, but do nothing to manifest to see that happen?

In fine, the answer of course is partisan and twofold: the polls show that the American people don’t want us in Iraq—and don’t what us to lose either. So scream about the conduct of the war, but do nothing yet until the surge is clearly working or failing, and then adjust accordingly by August: “I warned this foolishness wouldn’t work” or “Thanks to my criticism, they made the necessary adjustments.”

As is always true, watch Hillary Clinton, the past master of triangulation, who wisely has not yet quite apologized for her pro-war stance, since she is waiting, waiting, waiting for the verdict to come in before taking credit for the turn-around—or taking the lead to lash out in anger at “Rumsfeld” or “Bush” or “Cheney” whose flawed three-year occupation ruined her successful three-week victory over Saddam.

Not Iraq—but Pakistan, or Iran, or …

One of the most bizarre anti-war tropes is the refrain “We took our eye off the ball, when the real problem was Afghanistan (or Iran.)”

But does anyone take seriously that a Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, or John Kerry would really take the necessary steps to pressure a nuclear military dictatorship (cf. the recent Pakistani missile launch), blackmailed by an Islamist clique inside the government, to rid Waziristan of bin Laden et al.?

What would Hillary do—invade Pakistan? Bomb it? Send in the commandos? And is such escalation really prohibited just because we are in Iraq—as if we couldn’t invade Okinawa because we were fighting inside Germany at the same time? If Democrats keep harping on losing bin Laden, why not simply authorize a war into Pakistan to get him?

Ditto Iran. When an anti-war critic says, “Iran is the real worry”, then please tell us what you would do, and how that action is precluded by being in Iraq? Otherwise all this hawkish criticism is just the same old rhetoric.

Few grasp that precisely because options are limited at getting al Qaeda inside nuclear Pakistan, it is wise to hit al Qaeda wherever we can on other fronts—like Iraq for instance.

No Man A Slave—Outtake #3

Lichas Talks

From the beginning of the novel. After the defeat of the Spartans at Leuktra, the survivors parley in the night, and the Boiotians decide to let the defeated Spartan army march home. The veteran Lichas conducts the torch-lit negotiations for Sparta after the death of his king Kleombrotos.

Three other Spartans now shouted out their approach. They planted a pole with a torch of fire on it between the two sides. For a moment the Boiotians let out a gasp and grabbed their sword hilts. The Empousa of their childhood stories was now inches away as this fourth Spartan hoplite came out of the shadows. His finger was already pointing in their faces. And now he blurted out slurs before he even reached them. “Cow-lovers and eel-catchers. Who now speaks to Lichas?”

This Lichas appeared as large as he was earlier at noon when Melon had faced him in the melee, though the night and flame and the shadows made him more foul looking still.

He was older than Melon, but younger still than Malgis, had his father lived on this day. The little-seen Lichas was perhaps ten seasons or so on either side of them. Now Melon began to remember something in this disfigured man of the young Spartan who had been on the farm forty years and more ago.

He also understood the widows’ scare stories of just how hideous a thing Lichas was without his helmet. Yes, he was like the debauched satyrs or foul father Selinos he had seen on the pots from Athens—high pock-marked forehead, snub broad nose and jutting jaw, completely bald on top, with a braided beard of dirty white hair, and two white horse tails likewise weaved that grew from around his ears and hung half-way down his chest and now lay on the breastplate of Malgis! In his disgust Melon granted that the Spartan’s forearms were larger than those of any on his own side, as big as Chion’s, or perhaps even stouter.

Lichas had done his own part to make what little nature had given him even worse. So he was now almost unrecognizable as human, more some ossified carcass of sorts that Melon kicked up on the high cow pastures of Parnassos. One long scar ran from the bridge of his nose down his cheek across the jaw. There were plenty of smaller holes and cut lines.

If he had any teeth, they were invisible or maybe as black as his tongue itself seemed. As Melon once again caught another glimpse of the elaborate bronze under his dirty cloak —the aegis of Athena that Melon had kept in the tower of Malgis—he grasped at last that his son was dead and stripped clean this day. And his fresh killer was before him right now.

The stub of what was left of Lichas’s ear was oozing blood. A ball of wool stuck in the hole and honey was smeared on the side of his head. Lichas had another bad wound in his thigh, with a rope tied above the slice and a bloody cloth stuffed inside it.

He had walked up leaning on his spear—defiant, as if he were hale and forty, commanding still at Koroneia perhaps, with 10,000 Spartans or more at his back. Another four of five younger Spartans now suddenly came out of the darkness, but on the sway of Lichas’s back hand stayed still at the edge of the shadows with spears and torches. He either didn’t want a fight tonight or wished to spear these Boiotians himself.

“Pigs of Boiotia, hear Lichas. You took a battle. A big one. But not this war. And you won’t ever win a real war. That you will have in days. Then my men from the coast get here. And with our other king’s son. Now we pass out of your sheep walk. We meet our kin. Then go home. Or will we stay? And kill you all? Your call.”

Whether he smiled or grimaced, few could tell.

Outtake #4

Near the end of the novel. After the founding of Messenê, the four Boiotians head home, along the banks of the Alpheios, in Elis toward Triphylia to find Xenophon the historian, who is being evicted from his estate at Skillos near the river. Alkidamas hopes to persuade him not to blacken the achievement of Epaminondas out of the spite of losing his home, but to report fairly in his Hellenika the great march of the Boiotians and the liberation of the helots.

The Realist

Xenophon now finished softly, and his eyes grew wet with tears. Who could tell whether they were false or real?

“No, for me, Leuktra will be the story that the Spartans were wine drunk at their breakfast and confused—and so lost the battle. Generations not born will know the battle only that way. I am sorry, but nothing your Epaminondas did won the victory. The Spartans merely lost and were addled by drink and the mess of fouled horses. And this Ainias over here, this Tactician who claims some nonsense about the left wing, can write that himself if he wishes, but he will have no voice with me. You did not win it. And if I need anything about the Boiotians in my history, I have Kebês here to instruct me. Such are the rules of inquiry.”

Melon nodded, since he expected no more from these two and wanted even less. Despite his hurt at the loss of Chion to men such as these, he let the old Athenian and Kebês go on.

But then the mood of the kindly Xenophon changed to one of final defiance again when he failed to goad the Thespian and knew his farm was lost, “All this land south of the Isthmos was ordered and quiet under the Spartans, until the firebrands of Thebes chose to shake-up the poleis so that the dogs and ferrets would walk on two legs and eat at our tables as equals. Democracy? People power you say? What is that but to let the worse rule their betters—as if a soot-covered charcoal burner who cannot tell an Alpha from a Lambda should shout down a lettered man of horses and orchards? Yes, with the passing of Sparta, so too goes Hellas as we knew it—our world where the best men took it upon themselves to exercise virtue and to shelter the lesser kind, without any pretense that all men born into this world could possibly be equal by nature. Even you Melon, one of the fine ones, will come to regret tearing down what 300 years of men’s lives had so carefully built up. You have your new order, but cannot yet see that it came on with the flames of a far, far better one now in ashes. Even you will regret the day that you salted the fields that alone sprouted the stock that held the pass at Thermopylai and later freed the cities from the hard yoke of Athens. Accept the world as it is and you will impart less pain for others.”

Still more followed. Now the oligarch’s sermon gave way to furor as his voice cracked, “Helots? These are man-footed beasts that rob us on the byways and bore through our walls at night in search of our strongboxes. The Messenians do well enough under the yoke, but vote? Why do you think such tribes without a polis could ever govern their own affairs? Yes, you and your Boiotians broke the fine ware of Sparta and will learn soon enough you cannot mend it so easily. And even if you can cobble together the chards, what you will end up with will be cracks and breaks far more ugly than what the Spartans had once struggled to leave as finished glaze. What have you achieved? Looting, yes, of course you can’t walk with a purse now in Messenia. Killing? Murder is as much a pastime as droughts there now. Rape? Even age or sex is no exemption, as they use their grandpas and boys as women. Drink? It is the mother’s milk even to their young who pass out at the teat. And these people whose countless tribes and clans slit each others’ throats for play, are to govern themselves? And when you get home, Boiotian, your own will stone you and your mad general for bringing chaos to these helots, for getting good farmers of Boiotia killed for a silly idea of the equality of Pythagoras. Yes, as Hellas shouts and points fingers at this chaos, the chorus will chant, “Epaminondas did it!”

“No, the Persians even have better ways than you Boiotians. So no, I won’t write of you—any of you. You all will be lost to Hellas to come, so much so that ten years after you are gone, no one will know who or what you were. Think of the poetess from Lesbos, and so remember Sappho’s warning, “Unknown, and unheeded you will die, And no memorial will proclaim, That once beneath the upper sky, You had an existence and a name.” Yes, I will write of the Persian prince Kyros and Agesilaos before I would your Epaminondas, even if he circles the entire orb of the world with his walled cities of silly democracies.”

More of the Same

February 19th, 2007 - 12:13 pm

More Al-Qaedism?

Over four years ago, I wrote of a phenomenon I dubbed “Al-Qaedism” to explain why random violence and terrorism by individual Muslims—while not connected with al-Qaeda per se—were still a danger. Often the ill or unhappy try to justify their own failings of inadequacy with a sort of cosmic Islamic rage against the West—one also often abetted by our own failure to counter our enemies’ rhetoric or eagerness to hush up the psychology of such attacks:

“Rather than confront the reality of past character flaws, mental instability, failed marriages, or the bleak future of no money, dead-end jobs, or social ostracism, the al Qaedist — whether an erstwhile Black Muslim, a Middle Eastern immigrant with a criminal past, or mixed-up pampered suburbanites who dabble in fundamentalism — seeks notoriety for his crimes, and therein perhaps at last a sense of importance.”

Beside the numerous examples I listed in that 2002 article, we have witnessed since a number of similar killings—especially Muslim drivers trying to run down others in a sort of politicized road rage, that were officially not listed as acts of terrorism. In this regard, I remember especially the 2006 attack in San Francisco by Omeed Aziz Popal, who apparently chose the area around a Jewish community center to run over people. And then the same year, there was the similar car ramming at the University of North Carolina by Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, a graduate student apparently furious over our treatment of Muslims abroad.

I recall all this in the context of the latest shootings in Utah by Solejman Talovic, a Bosnian Muslim, and the recent ramming of Tennessee students by cabdriver Ibrihim Ahmed.

None of these are organized terrorist acts, much less orchestrated by al Qaeda. Rather, the constant furor against the West and sense of victimhood that reverberates in the radical mosques, madrassas, and in worldwide Islamic media, often enhanced and abetted by Western Leftist hysteria, reaches many in a vague and haphazard way to instill a sort of paranoia and desire to lash out at “them”.

And now and again, those with mental problems, or plagued with a sense of failure, or angry about some such grievance, will strike out in terrorist fashion. Likewise we now learn that the sick Ali Abu Kamal, who in 1997 went up the Empire State Building to kill random Americans (he murdered one and wounded several others), was not just despondent over financial losses as reported. But, as his family now brags, Kamal was furious at Israel and America—again a way of rationalizing personal setbacks through cosmic issues that once again reflects the effects of Islamist propaganda on unhinged minds.

The only mystery is that in our politically-correct efforts to deny the possibility of any and all links between such random violence and formal radical Islam, we then go to the other extreme, and deny there is any loose connection at all with perceived Muslim grievance. And that sadly only results in wide scale public cynicism that once again authorities appear hedging for political reasons.

Keep Quiet

U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced to the world that she wants a 90-day deadline to start pulling American troops from Iraq. Other Democrats in Congress, according to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, will soon declare their intentions to cut-off of US funding for all military deployments in Iraq.

Well aside from the paradox that the Congress had just approved unanimously the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus (the hero in the recent spate of anti-Bush books on Iraq) to take command of coalition forces in Iraq—the planner of a surge over 20,000 American troops into Baghdad—it is always a mistake in war to assure enemies of our intention not to fight any longer (unless of course you are indifferent to losing).

Do We remember all that?

The most famous example was the 1974 Foreign Relations Act. Passed in the wake of Watergate scandal, the congressional resolution cut off all military assistance to the South Vietnamese government. But that pubic stand-down only encouraged the North Vietnamese communists to violate the Paris peace accords and renew the war—without any more worries of U.S arms shipments or air strikes.

The Neutrality Acts of the 1930s, passed by an isolationist Congress, forbade U.S. military assistance to, or trade in war material with, any belligerent, regardless of whether they were aggressors or victims. Such actions of “conscious” only emboldened Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan to attack democracies and other neutral states. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo were convinced that whatever their provocations, the United States had no stomach to stand up to any of them, or even to join Britain and France in a united front of resistance. World War II with its 50 million dead followed.

Often even mere assurances of restraint by American officials, that suggest either inaction or weariness, have had the same effect as congressional resolutions in assuring interested observers that the United States would either not act in the face of aggression—or tire more quickly of ongoing fighting than their our enemies.

In a routine policy address Cold War warrior and Secretary of States Dean Acheson once warned the communist bloc that the American defensive perimeter in the Pacific went from Aleutians to Japan to the Ryukyus and onto the Philippine Islands. But Acheson, perhaps inadvertently, left out the Korean Peninsula. Many argued at the time that this omission gave the green light for the communists to invade South Korea in 1950 on their erroneous assumption that the United States would not intervene in an area outside its sphere of influence. Three years and hundreds of thousands of war dead followed.

Jimmy Carter had a far worse habit of telegraphing his intention to enemies. In 1977 he declared that America had outgrown its “inordinate fear of communism”. But by that time, global communism from Stalin to Mao had killed nearly 100 million of its own and invaded dozens of natural countries. Nothing “inordinate” about that.

So next when Carter made it clear that he would not retaliate immediately against Iran for storming of the US embassy in November 1979, it was not much of a surprise that the Soviet Union quickly invaded Afghanistan—unafraid of an America that wouldn’t use force to free its own diplomats or punish those who took them.

In a July 1990 in a meeting with Saddam Hussein, then American ambassador Arpil Glaspie purportedly assured the Iraqi government that “ we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” Saddam attacked Kuwait a little more than a week later.

In everyone of our wars, there have been terrible setbacks—winter 1776, summer 1864, spring 1918, winter 1942, autumn 1974, and now winter 2007. In almost all of these weeks of depression, there were terrible blunders, and ensuing grumblings about the conduct of the war. Any time we announced our intention in advance to quit or scale back, we later came to regret it; and on the far more numbers occasions when we did not, we did not.

If in peacetime it is wise to keep quiet and carry a big stick, in war it is even more critical not to assure our enemies that we won’t fight to achieve victory.

No Man A Slave—Trailer #2: Melon’s hallucination and the last moments of the Spartans at Leuktra

This is a passage from the earlier part of the story, the muster and fighting at Leuktra. A few Thespians agreed to join the outnumbered Epaminondas at Leuktra to force back the invading Spartans. But despite the odds, the Boiotians manage to surround the Spartan right and close in on the enemy King. Melon surges ahead to be the first to cut down Kleombrotos—and is almost killed for his efforts.

All order collapsed in these final moments. But still the surrounded Spartans brawled from their circle. Hoplites went at each other with bare hands and teeth. Some kicked. Others slapped and clawed when their spears and swords were lost. Melon noticed now that all the enemy flute players were long silent. He then saw two of them at his feet—one youth without a beard, but with a cracked reed, stuck like a dart right through his cheek.

A crazed Spartan threw himself at Melon. No shield or spear. This poor Eurypon was trying to tear off an arm. Or at least he wanted a bite out of his wrist. But Melon had put both hands on his sword, pointed it upright, waited, and caught the Spartan in the lower belly as he had came on, lifting him a palm or so high, as his blade went through the groin and hit the black plate. Then he pulled out and kicked the shrieking Spartan off with his good knee, stepped on this Eurypon’s shoulder, and lumbered ahead.

Melon and Chion then saw something that froze them—something not Antander nor Malgis nor Melon himself had ever witnessed. Not more than a few feet behind the king’s guard, right ahead of them were the crests of his own Boiotians!

Even this final pocket of King Kleombrotos was now completely surrounded.

The Sacred Band of Pelopidas headed toward Chion and Melon, slicing in two what was left of the final Spartan circle. Just for an eye blink, Melon slowed at the sight of these last efforts of the red capes and their Spartan empire. A mistake. In that one pause he forgot that Spartans never do.

The worst of the king’s tent mates, Kleonymos, the son of the dead Sphodrias, came from his side and bashed Melon with his shield. It was a hard blow with the boss to the side of the head. That concussion sent his helmet banging against his temple and cheek, and nearly knocked him off his feet. How Melon caught his balance, he would later wonder, since his skull’s insides crackled deep from within at a hit that Kleonymos knew usually killed others.

He could no longer quite make out all the blurred shapes of battle. In this new nether world of shadows and smoke Melon strained to hear the garbled cries of Epaminondas “One step more”.

But then he thought he at least heard clearly the screeching of the dreaded Keres. And next, for the first time this day, he seemed to make out these hazy shapes that been hovering all along above the battlefield. Yes, there flew, as the old wounded veterans warned, still in this age the winged daughters of Night, who swooped down over the heroes. With their sharp talons they plucked up any who were tottering, assured that the threads of these victims were already cut, and that the Moirai had nodded to these fanged women that the doomed now could be stripped, feasted upon, and whisked off to Hades.

Only the blood-spattered and dying were given the final vision of these winged vultures. They stunk and vomited flesh out of their full craws, as they dove man-level over the battlefield, with their pale breasts, bloody tunics and long white fangs—eyeing any falling hoplites that could be grabbed and torn apart.

But the son of Malgis managed to stay on his feet and so cleared his head. He beat these harpies off, and sent his sword right through the mouth of the closest apparition fluttering above him. She without flesh let out a shrill laugh at the silly effort, veering away more in anger at her lost meal. Yes, swinging his sword in frenzy the Thespian kept both these carrion and the hoplites around off him as he regained his senses. Not quite yet was his thread cut. Blood still was kept safe inside his veins and gave no taste to these daimons.

So he lived for now, after taking the last and best blow of the fading Spartan elite. His head had stopped ringing, as the Keres knew when they alighted instead on that nearby groaning Eurypon far closer to death.

Chion later swore that his master had been stabbing at shadows, like old Ajax in his madness, but not when Melon beat back the shower of Kleonymos’s spear jabs, which after four or five tries still could not quite go through the good oak of Helikon. Even without another hit, still the heat and pounding rushed into Melon’s eyes. Drops of blood ran out his mouth. He knew that what he had done to ten or so Spartans that day, Kleonymos had nearly done to him—but with far greater strength and youth behind the Spartan’s shield hit.

Still, Melon was alive. After these moments of daze he discovered there was nothing now but this towering Kleonymos between him and Kleombrotos. For all the Spartans stabbing furiously at the oncoming Thespians and their efforts to restore a solid front, the old Thespian had got by them all—ducking his way to within one man, one brief nightmare of their King. Was this all there was to the end of Sparta? No more music, no more long lines of oiled breastplates, no more files of tall crests, just a few terrified Spartans shuffling around their trapped king, all about to go down beneath the men of Boiotia?

Something Different

February 14th, 2007 - 1:06 pm

Novel Trailers

I have almost finished a long novel (should be done by July), No Man A Slave, about the great march of the Boiotians under the general Epaminondas, in winter and spring 369 B.C., to liberate the Messenian helots from Spartan rule. While I can’t give away the plot and ending, from time to time I will post a few hundred words in mediis rebus from the narrative. For the first installment, see below.


If one were to substitute “Muslim” for “Christian” in the rants of the Edwards bloggers, would there have been any hesitation about firing them?

If Austrian sniper rifles really were recently sold to Iran, brought into Iraq, and used to kill Americans., what would Europeans think if American sniper weaponry were sold, under our government’s auspices, to those supplying the Basque separatists to kill Spaniards? Why no outcry from the Euro-left about the continent’s amoral propensity to sell the Iranian thugocracy about anything it wants?

Hamas and Fatah have different uniforms. They have two conflicting ideologies and clear antithetical agendas. And now they are killing one another. Why is this not a “civil war,” but the senseless sectarian violence in Iraq is?

Punditing the War

I didn’t think it was such a good idea in 1998 to go to war to remove Saddam Hussein, as the Congress, on Bill Clinton’s prompt, sort of authorized. At least that was the force of the 1998 resolution that “urges the president to take all necessary and appropriate actions to respond to the threat posed by Iraq’s refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs.”

George Bush must have agreed as well, since he did not seem to be considering removing Saddam during his first eight months in office—but surely did after 9/11.

Do we remember the rhetoric in those unhappy Clinton years, when Democrats were outdoing each other to threaten war to remove Saddam? Sen. Tom Daschle bragged that his vote for the resolution would “send as clear a message as possible that we are going to force, one way or another, diplomatically or militarily, Iraq to comply with international law.”

If there were any doubt what he meant, he added, “‘Look, we have exhausted virtually our diplomatic effort to get the Iraqis to comply with their own agreements and with international law. Given that, what other option is there but to force them to do so?’ That’s what they’re saying. This is the key question. And the answer is we don’t have another option. We have got to force them to comply, and we are doing so militarily.”

But after 9/11 I felt we were in a global war, both against Islamic fascists and the dictatorial regimes that sponsored them. That Saddam had harbored killers as diverse as Abu Abas, Abu Nidal, the architects of the first World Trade Center bombing, Zarqawi, the al-Qaedists in Kurdistan, and other liaisons with terrorists was, along with the other 22 “whereas” in the October 11, 2002 resolution, enough for me and most other Americans.


My own position on Saddam was perhaps closest to Sen. Harry Reid, who, in the post 9/11 climate of that October 2002, gave a speech to the effect that Saddam’s violations of the 1991 accords had de facto restarted the war: “That refusal constitutes a breach of the armistice which renders it void and justifies resumption of the armed conflict.”

Since then, like many conservatives, I have had disagreements with the way the war has been waged—mostly the pull-back from the first siege of Fallujah, the reprieve given to Sadr, the restrictions on the use of American force, the ubiquity of American officials in Iraq on television, and the utopian effort to establish the perfect water, sewer, or electrical system rather than the ad hoc one that would do.

But all that said and done, I continue to believe that by any historical standard none of those mistakes needs doom the effort, nor were they exceptional by the benchmarks of past wars, nor can we lose this war on the battlefield. If Gen. Petraeus fails he will be unfairly forgotten, but if he succeeds, and I think he will, he will be fairly canonized.

A Sense of Humility?

Above all, there should be a sense of humility that we over here are not in harm’s way, are not responsible for the frequent choices between the bad and only worse, and usually do more damage by ankle-biting than by offering encouragement for the difficult tasks that faces our military.

The tragic loss of over 3,000 Americans, compared to the horrendous casualties of WWI, WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, is evidence of the skill and efficacy of our military in trying to guard our forces as best it can. Our goals remain noble, unlike those questionable ones in the past when we allowed Kurds and Shiites to be slaughtered, or played Iraq off against Iran.

I say all this because I am surprised not that most, by 2007, have come to challenge that assessment, but that so many earlier supporters have turned not just critics of the war, but vehement critics—with a self-righteousness that is, to be candid, appalling.


As one example, I confess to being embarrased by the kothornos Joe Klein’s serial Time essays not only damning the administration as incompetent and nefarious, but his own self-righteous exculpation of his own past— especially his amnesia over his infamous Russert interview of 2003 calling for the removal of Saddam:

“MR. KLEIN: …This is a really tough decision. War may well be the right decision at this point. In fact, I think it–it’s–it–it probably is.

RUSSERT: Now that’s twice you’ve said that: ‘It’s the right war.’ You believe it’s the wrong time. Why do you think it’s the right war?

Mr. KLEIN: Because sooner or later, this guy has to be taken out. Saddam has–Saddam Hussein has to be taken out.”

Mr. Klein has no tolerance for those he claims were not truthful on Iraq, but then most had no tolerance for the falsehoods promulgaged a decade ago about his authorship of Primary Colors. The point? Be careful about the casting of stones…

No Man A Slave—Trailer #1

The great victory over the Spartans at Leuktra is a year past. It’s now winter, and the Boiotians are still debating whether to take the war home to Sparta. After hearing the Athenian Kallistratos and his Boiotian ally Eteokles damn the notion of a katabasis southward, the general Epaminondas addresses and wins over the assembly to march out the next day. In the tumult following that voice vote, the old sophist Alkidamas steps up to offer one more thought to the unruly crowd before the Boiotians leave.

The excerpt is drawn from halfway in the narrative, after Leuktra, but before Sparta is overrun, in what would to us be the month November, 369 B.C., in the meeting hall of the Boiotians at Thebes.

In a few moments, the hoots quieted down. The crowd itself was stunned at the farmers’ spontaneous roaring, their wild shouts of approval at the furious harangue of Epaminondas, especially his threats to the Athenians in his midst.

No one was quite sure what would next follow. No one in memory had voted to march so far for so long—and for so many others. An eerie silence followed. Would harsh Reason goad them back, back to blame others for the vote?

Then Melon for the first time noticed that the old sophist Alkidamas of all people, the wine-soaked has-been of the symposia, not the Boiotarchs or once again Pelopidas, was approaching the bema. He was already raising both arms to calm the crowd as if he owned it.

“I take this thunder as a voice vote that we are to march under your General Epaminondas in the morning. Pelopidas as his habit will be in charge of the muster. Look out in the plain below—the army is nearly ready and only awaits our nod. Let the Boiotarchs sort out the details. Though the five who had doubts have already ceded their command over to our two leaders. We have no need of the yes-and-no folk, and those who wear the double-pointed shoes. I have nothing to add to the promises of Epaminondas—other than this.”

And here windy Alkidamas himself also grew quiet—not quite sure what he would say next. But speak he did, possessed as he was by some other voice he would say later, out of the mouth of Pythagoras himself. He turned to the loud hoplites in the crowd. And now he shook his finger at them as his voice went into a near whisper and oddly calm.

“No man born knows who is by nature a slave, this curse that so often makes the strong and wise unfree and the weak and dull their master. Beware of those who say the Messenians know nothing of letters as if they were man-footed beasts of dim wits and animal grunts. They are unfree because they live next to the Spartans, as we the Boiotians, and Kallistratos and his fancy Athenians might well have been as well—had our borders butted such a race of granite as those who wear the red capes. Oh yes, the Messenians will be free. But their rebirth will be thanks only to the black spears of the Boiotians. In the year to come, they will have their free city of Messenê—for nature has made no man a slave.”

With that final reminder to the hoplites, the strong arms of the phalanx, Alkidamas stepped down and abandoned the politics of Boiotia for good, for this man of action now had business himself in the Peloponnese.

As the assembly of the Boiotians broke up, the white-haired Alkidamas lumbered over to Melon and slapped him lightly across the face, “I think I have the beginning of a real speech some day from these words that suddenly flew into my head. Such a wild daimon came into me—it was as if the one god of ours were wagging my tongue. Still is it seems.”

“Maybe, so, old man. I hope to be alive to hear it again, this defense of the Messenians, this ‘no man a slave.’ For good or evil, the course of this march, as it’s turned out now, is no longer about Sparta alone. I feel something bigger in the hearts of all us. Though the ideal is still unspoken and we a tough breed are embarrassed over what it has done to us. Yes, it set us on fire—the grim farmers of Boiotia who, until today, brag to go nowhere and don’t do anything for anyone. Still, we know now that Epaminondas will go beyond his tenure that expires at the new year. All of us will then be renegades under the command of an outlaw general. And we’ll be far to the south of the Isthmos. And there will be a death sentence on our heads when—or if—we return. So be it?”

“So be it,” Alkidamas shouted back as he turned to leave, and then paused , “When the law is in service to servitude, and its violation means freedom, then the choice for a good man is not hard. But remember that men, all of them I’m afraid, are fickle sorts. If the helots are freed and we tramp back alive, then our faces will be chiseled in marble up on Parnassos. But if we trip, well, then you know the fate of Epaminondas—and of all who now ride this wild horse of helot freedom.”

Then as he walked out, Alkidamas ended with a final laugh, “There won’t be any Apothetai of the Spartans big enough to hide all our corpses.”

The Middle East Won’t Be California

February 11th, 2007 - 10:22 am

A Stunning Morning in California

February marks the beginning of spring out here. I always counted on Santa Rosa plum (named for the home of the brilliant, iconoclastic, and maverick Luther Burbank’s laboratory) blossoms around February 28. The almond trees even earlier. Bermuda grass starts greening soon. And vine buds swell in March.

After the latest warm rain you can see from the Sierra Nevada to the Coast Range. We needed the air cleared and the snow pack freshened, after a hard and cold dry spell. A drive from the mountains to the coast through the valley explains perhaps why — when thousands in disgust, with degrees and skill, leave high-tax, high-entitlement California — the price of housing, in the midst of slump, still stays high.

That is, for all of California man’s efforts both to ruin what nature gave us, and to squander the hard work and legacy of prior generations of Californians who left us infrastructure, universities, and good government, more people are coming than are leaving. You can see why on a beautiful days like those this week when the sun interrupts the soft and warm rains. No life is better than in rural California in February when all the beauty of spring is in the air, and the great, perennial anticipation of yet another year, of warm weather, and of the emergence from dormancy of natural beauty in the months to come.

In 1976, I drove home from graduate school for a weekend with my 86-year-old grandfather, Rees Davis. He was then the third to live in this present house. On a late February day, we were walking in from the orchard. I remember him stopping near the now 120-year old fig tree, with sun, soft rain, snow on the Sierra all around us, and almost in tears, grabbing my shoulder and proclaiming, “Victor, there is nowhere like this in the world, it is a gift from God. Remember that.”

I try.

No Law Among Outlaws?

But what would our California be like if we embraced the mentality of the Middle East? California would devolve from a kind of paradise into the present hell of Waziristan, Gaza or southern Lebanon in weeks.

There Fatah fights Hamas while Sunnis in Iraq get money from Iran to kill its own brethren Shiites. Russia sends technology to Islamists who have butchered them from Afghanistan to Chechnya. Islamic Saudi Arabia wants to contain Islamic Iran. Secretly the Gulf sheikdoms want the Zionist entity to unload on either Hezbollah or Iran or both, but wouldn’t mind it either if Iran took out the one-bomb-state out and then lost Teheran in the exchange.

There is no apparent logic to all of this but there are at least four constants.

  • Whatever the United States is for most of these outlaws are against.
  • All hate Israel in elemental envy and the rage of anti-Semitism.
  • The desire for oil and the revenue from oil either enable or serve as catalysts for violence.
  • None of these rogues is democratic. As outlaws, they fight and make-up with ease and have no higher calling other than perceived immediate self-interest. Again, a true bellum omnium contra omnes.

If We Fail…

That speculation is now a parlor game. The latest was Gen. Odom’s serial assurances that whatever downside that would follow our departure wouldn’t be as bad as staying on. But surely we will revert to the pre-9/11 world—and what was so good about that? Our enemies realized then, as shown in Lebanon and Mogadishu, that the U.S. military would be withdrawn at the first sign of casualties, that our infantry forces were only effective in old-style WWII, Gulf-War scenarios but not in the real postmodern world, and that a cruise missile or GPS-bomb aimed at a cave or camp wasn’t that much of a deterrent. And then after two decades of cynical realism and appeasement came 9/11.

America in a dangerous world

It is common now to claim that America is isolated and that Europe and our allies drifting away. But I doubt it, for a variety of reasons. John Howard of Australia was recently taken aback by Obama’s promise to pull out of Iraq.

Putin’s comments that poor Iran is being bullied and doesn’t seek nuclear weapons must scare a disarmed Europe in range of Teheran’s long-range missiles and with a long history of Soviet divisions on its border.

And the EU must be shocked that its subsidized Hamas came back from Saudi Arabia still bragging that it thinks Israel never existed. Euros may trash Bush, but what about their godhead Chirac? He recently reiterated the (unspoken) Saudi position in discounting a nuclear Iran, by saying that after Teheran nuked Israel it too would be nuked (e.g. two birds with one atomic stone).

So for a rich and defenseless goose like Europe ready to be plucked, it’s a dangerous world when a rogue, oil-rich, and nuclear Russia supplies weapons to monsters, in a de facto alliance with the radical Islamic states like Iran—something that is not supposed to happen, according to liberal dogma, given its own Islamic problems in Chechnya. I pass on the unassimilated Muslim minorities across Europe, the Turkish EU/Cyprus question, the demographic time-bombs of its member states, and other European strategic worries.

But as we have seen, Shiite Iran backs Sunnis either in Iraq or the West Bank for blood sport; Baathists work with al Qaida when they like; and Russians apparently like to see the West squirm more than they are bothered by helping Islamists who hate them more.

This has nothing to do with Bush and will all continue after he is gone.

What Readers Wrote, Posted, and Called About

February 5th, 2007 - 8:30 am

In this posting I will try to address several themes raised by the commentators here in the last few weeks.

Going for Broke

Whatever one’s prior views on surging more troops (I was skeptical unless it was to be accompanied by a radical change in tactics, which I think it will be), it is incumbent upon all to support the American effort.

It is the last, go-for-broke attempt to save Iraqi democracy, and may well work. My hunch is that the change in American operations will be far more fundamental than we are told, and that very soon there will be a very aggressive effort to secure Baghdad—thus these latest terrible bombings by the insurgents to preempt our preparations.

In any case, the Senate could at least wait a few weeks before passing any resolution. Not only would it be wise, cynical politics to await the verdict of the battlefield, but also it would send a message to the terrorists that a reprieve is simply not in the works for them.

Instead to learn the position of critics, we are left with this existential paradox: hostile Senators—who have condemned the surge, indeed, condemned the entire Iraqi project, and all associated with it— recently unanimously confirmed Gen. Petraeus, the architect of the surge.

The Opposition

So? Is it, ‘We object strongly to the surge, but not the General who is to take command on the premise that a surge was crucial’?

More likely the opposition runs something like, ‘We won’t harp about an iconic general or his ideas on a surge, since he is far more popular than Bush/Cheney; and, if it fails, we can at least say we supported the general and his troops; and if it succeeds, we can at least say we sent over the right guy and bailed out the administration’s failed effort. Ergo, pass resolutions without teeth that may nevertheless encourage the enemy, but don’t quite yet cut off funds.

Pariah Redux

George Clooney is worried that Europe hates us. Kerry felt the same way apparently when he dubbed America a pariah while on stage with a real pariah in Iranian ex-President Mohammad Khatami (N.b., I got a lot of angry mail about my last Tribune column on his Davos inanity, even from the Kerry team). This is the constant complaint of our intelligentsia, politicians, and punditry.

In some sense, they are correct: elite-to-elite across the oceans, anti-Americanism is trendy.

And why not? The genre of the artiste is patently anti- the American President, more blatant even that the old ‘Reagan is a cowboy dunce’ during the nuclear winter/Pershing missile/nuclear freeze hysteria. Novels advocate killing Bush. Documentaries envision his murder. Comedians joke about him being a Nazi. Everyone from Ted Turner to George Soros echoes such slurs.


It is chic to hate Bush, the supposedly Red-State twangy, Christian inarticulate anti-intellectual, as a respectable way to voice anti-Americanism, which on examination derives mostly from envy and perceived grievances.

The script is easy: forget US aid rushed to Iranian earthquake victims or the Tsunami victims. Or the role of the US in fostering democracy in Afghanistan or Iraq, or protecting Europe and Japan, or allowing China to cheat on all trade and commercial agreements in hopes its breakneck prosperity will some day lead to democracy.

Meanwhile we live with the reality. Prince Bandar puts up his Trimalchian ski-mansion for sale. The list of imams, theocrats, and Middle East dictators with students, family and houses in the US is endless. The world sits poised to trash the US for inaction if Iran goes nuclear, or blood-lust if we stop it.

None of this is new or surprising. But there is a growing mood of “enough is enough” throughout this country— of the parent finally taking back the keys and cutting off the allowance after one too many outbursts from the protected and pampered teen, that has not yet surfaced in the political landscape. But that weariness will soon be reflected in political changes, and brace yourself for the world outrage that the United states is not “engaged” and is “turning its back” on the Palestinians, or Darfur or the Sudanese or (fill in the blanks) problem de jour.

What looms next is a superpower China that insidiously translates its huge dollar reserves into a world class sophisticated military that in turn translates its armed clout into political concessions from allies, friends, neutrals and enemies alike. In the next decade we should prepare to hear from our current critical Japanese, Koreans, Europeans, or Middle East “friends” that China is cheating on this accord, or demanding that price, or violated this particular treaty—as is the way of all dictatorships.

The Inexplicable

I watched the posted video of the Muslim Students Union’s disruption of Daniel Pipes’ recent lecture at UC Irvine, and the ghoulish post-riotous celebration where the protestors high-fived and promised to continue such disruption until Israel was destroyed. If they were students, why aren’t they summarily expelled for a criminal violation of free-speech codes, and, of course, violating the university’s much heralded statutes against hate speech? If any were foreign students, they should be summarily deported for violating the tenets of their invitation.

As a footnote, I followed Daniel’s pre-9/11 historical work on warfare in the Middle East. He is a first-class scholar, a reasoned speaker, and a sharp critic of the entire hypocrisy endemic in the present Middle East. Read one of his books, juxtapose it with the taped comments of the Muslim Students, and you can see how far the university has sunk.

Sorry, non hic porcus.

I am reading Dinesh D’Souza’s latest, The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, and confess to a certain sense of shock. The theme seems to be that American conservatives are natural allies with traditional Muslims—that is, if it were not for our own decadent Left. Its supposed export of a bastardized culture worldwide tarred America and thus empowered al-Qaida.

The result is that we must fight this leftist enemy at home and thereby take the argument away from bin Laden—who apparently had some logical reasons to do what he did.

But wait. Bin Laden has NO argument other than incoherent rambling. When he wishes, he can sound just as often a leftist in his demagoguery by blaming us for Kyoto and white racism. Personally, I have more in common with an American rapper or a liberal professor than with the Saudi moral police who whip women who dance or sanction honor killings or stone the promiscuous or kill those who proselytize Christianity.

I think Salman Rushdie who survived a fatwa, contrary to D’Souza, really does not want to see bin Laden win. Nor do most liberals. Being naïve and pathologically hating Bush still doesn’t equate to wanting bin Laden to win, any more than the isolationist Right who despised FDR wanted Hitler to win after 1941.

I was sick of Falwell blaming us for 9/11, just as we all were with the lunatic Michael Moore or the then Dean of Woodrow Wilson school at Princeton. All these who fault us for some such sin—imperialism, Zionism, decadence, Christianity, or atheism—seem to be saying that unless ‘my vision of America is realized, I have no commonality with the America that doesn’t listen to me.’

So I am writing up this week’s Tribune column on the book and this strange phenomenon of blaming the US rather than the terrorists. I had no desire to see Brokeback Mountain or the atrocious Natural Born Killers, but would rather sit through such nonsense than through one of the daily harangues at Middle East mosques and madrassas, hearing imams blaring out about the Jewish monkeys and the apes or the very real need to kill your sister if she goes out alone.

Post Iraq?

Three things are clear about the American effort in both Afghanistan and Iraq if we fail ( that’s what “redeployment” means).

First, both countries will revert to safe havens for terrorists, as they were in the past, whether comparable to the Taliban’s gift of sanctuary to al-Qaida or Saddam’s hosting of individual terrorists and opportunistic funding and support for Islamists, such as those who ensconced themselves in Kurdistan or those who planned the first World Trade Center bombing.

Second, democratization will be finished as a US policy other than in lofty but empty rhetoric. The Democrats’ opportunistic and constant shifting on the war will mean that when they return to power there will be no Republican support for anything like Clinton’s Balkan campaign, much less anything like a messy intervention in something like Darfur.

If they now criticize a Republican who wishes to foster democracy, who can take them seriously if they ever again critique realpolitik, when their new godheads are Jim Baker et al.

You can already see the effects of this retrenchment with Pakistan. Only a few principled Democrats question our laxity to Musharraf, who once again is postponing true elections, de facto is hiding bin Laden, stealthily promoting the Taliban—his ear pressed to the US Congress where he sums up that Iraq is lost and with it any pressure to democratize. Can’t someone plead with the dictator’s family members in the US for their relative to allow to his own over there what he sent his own over here to enjoy?

Third, no Westerner again will listen much to Middle East reformers. In their failure of self-criticism about the anti-democratic forces in Lebanon, Iraq, and the West Bank, they have lost all credibility. Yes, if we fail in Afghanistan and Iraq, the consensus will be not to pay attention to these liberalizing megaphones, who will in the end always privilege either pan Arab nationalism, or Islam, or anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric than genuine support for constitutional democracy.

What will the anti-US policy, pro-Hezbollah, pro-Hamas protestors in Dearborn do, when they get their wish and the next government agrees to keep completely out of the Arab world, neither pressuring a Mubarak to reform nor extending the tab that is now way over $50 billion in cumulative Egyptian handouts?

And the next Saddam who murders his own (and there will be many), will do so in apparent freedom and with immunity, since no American President will dare intervene. I suppose our immigration policy could reflect that hands-off policy as well: please stay at home over there in the Middle East, pass on the great Satan, and solve your own problems without a meddlesome America that will only make things worse for you.

The Kurdish exemplar

Someone should do a complete analysis of Kurdistan and offer a thesis why this Muslim country works without dictatorship or theocracy or brutal internal killing, is relatively free and prosperous, and likes the US. We know the superficial answer, and accept it may be an artifact of our own long Iraqi policy, but nevertheless it easily could have evolved into a factionalized Gaza or Baghdad of self-destruction, and yet did not—at least not yet. And still, we quietly assume it is unique and its pattern cannot be duplicated elsewhere.

The Pulse of the Battlefield

Of all the dozens of liberals and conservatives who have done about- faces, I have yet to read any who (a) discuss candidly their earlier zeal and what initially accounted for it— without scapegoating or seeking the refuge of easy blame; (b) at what point they lost confidence and why, especially a revelation whether their change of heart was predicated entirely on their own sense of our winning or losing; (c) how and why the mistakes of this war both differ in nature and magnitude from the past, and thus preclude a U.S. victory; (d) and, more specifically, what they suggest the United States should do after leaving Iraq.

Unless I am listening to the consistent Noam Chomsky or Pat Buchanan, every time I hear or read a voice of anguish and furor at the war—whether a Sen. Clinton, Biden, or Kerry, or pundits such as Andrew Sullivan or analysts like Francis Fukuyama (who just days after 9/11 signed a letter calling for the removal of Saddam even if he were found to have no connection with September 11)—I assume there is a good likelihood that in late 2001 and most of 2002 they advocated going into Iraq, and thought a victory there and subsequent democratization were both moral and feasible, and would have positive effects of the surrounding region.

Again, if the peace had gone as well as the three-week war, I assume many (besides the caricatured neocons) would be now contemplating “On to Syria!”

“One War at a Time”

That’s what Lincoln sighed when Britain threatened war in November 1861, after the Union navy captured two Confederate diplomats on their way to London.

The hysteria over supposed proposed action against Iran is strange. Right now there is no public support for a simultaneous war against Iran, even it were waged entirely by sea and air.

For all the saber-rattling on the right and the leftwing screaming about further unilateral American action, what is forgotten is that the present US policy may in fact be working. Ahmadinejad is increasingly isolated. The Iranian economy is sliding. Iran has earned powerful regional enemies in the surrounding Arab countries, the US, and Israel. The democratic upheavals in neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq cause it anxiety. If oil hits $40 a barrel, the regime will eventually face civil unrest.

What is the present policy that is so slandered? Goading the UN to press on with sanctions. Prompting the multilateral EU to regain its stature, after its failed EU3 talks, by isolating Iran. Encourage and subsidize Iranian dissidents, coupled with steady military pressure by increased naval forces in the Gulf. Stabilize Iraq.

The question is simply whether there is still time for this strategy of cracking the egg with dozens of taps before Iran goes nuclear, when all bets are then off.

Again, Iran is yet another of these strange paradoxes where restraint (they are, after all, sending, along with Syria, serial assassins into Iraq to destroy the democracy) is pilloried as excessive when there is a logical argument for more, not less, toughness. When nations devolve into that mindset of slandering restraint as too excessive (Athens circa 360 BC, Rome in the 5th century AD, Britain around 1930, the US in the 1970s), then watch out….

Finally, if Hillary or Barack were President, they would both be doing the exact same thing with Teheran as Bush is. They would be praised as sober and judicious—and the cacophony of “let’s talk with Iran” would grow silent.