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Monthly Archives: June 2007

A World in Flux

June 29th, 2007 - 6:01 am

Immigration Implosion

The President never understood why so many Americans were furious about the bill—witness the administration’s condescension toward, and abuse of, its critics.

There is an elemental anger over the issue, even if poorly articulated and sometimes contradictory. But the furor arises from a weariness with 5-pound bilingual phone books or having to select English over the phone as the preferred language.

People were tired of being told by courts that we are a racist society unless we supply interpreters at great cost to those who do not enroll in English classes. There is rampant fraud in areas that Americans were warned since infancy were the third-wires of our legal system such as authentic Social Security numbers and legitimate names. And the most grating was the complete neglect of immigration laws by city- and local officials due to the sanctimoniousness of the race industry on the left and the profit-above-all of the corporate right.

The average, maligned as a racist, middle-class voter (note the bipartisan rejection of the bill) was tired of having to buy insurance, get a driver’s license, ensure his car registration—and then get on highways where thousands simply chose not to. That they did so, because many or perhaps even most were ill-paid and without apparent resources was ironically an argument against more illegal immigration.

In short—the days of ethnic pressures (remember a trembling Gray Davis in California) to issue driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, or the Orwellian effort itself to ban the use of “illegal alien” for “undocumented worker” are for now over. They may return under a President Hillary, but for now the open borders movement has overplayed its hand.

Someone should interview the public relations genius who thought up the May-Day Mexican-flag waving demonstrations the past two years by illegals that came across as more Hugo Chavez than Martin Luther King. He was probably the same one who made the old Cruz Bustamante commercials here in California, replete with the red flags waving among a shouting audience as the candidate whipped them up in Spanish. (I knew that was a disaster when a liberal friend in the Bay Area, who saw one during the recall campaign, called me and asked, “What the Hell are those red flags and screams about?”)

Where do we go from here? First, close the border and all good things arise—more assimilation and integration, less identity politics, higher wages for low-paid American citizens, renewed respect for the law, and a warning to Mexico we will not subsidize its own failure to reform. When the number of illegals is static, the forces of the maligned melting pot will resume. And we will have time to sort out “earned citizenship”, guest workers, and all the other contentious issues that were to be snuck into law under the current legislation—but only when the forces of apartheid are stopped through border security.

Making the Middle East Irrelevant

It happened once before. By 1500 the ever-expanding Ottoman Empire seemed unstoppable, especially when the West was trisected by Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox sectarianism. The Sultan’s galleys roamed even throughout the Western Mediterranean and with impunity raided the Italian coast. But after Lepanto (1571), and by the end of the 16th century— despite the acquisition of Cyprus and with later inroads into eastern Europe, Austria, and more islands still to come—the handwriting for the Turks was on the wall.

Galleys were increasingly obsolete in the age of ocean-going sail and massive broadsides from cheaply made iron cannon. The Mediterranean was soon seen as hardly the nexus of global wealth and communications (in these pre-Suez days, it was more a bottle-neck that led to nowhere), and so the Ottomans became increasingly irrelevant.

The discovery of the Americas, the transfer of vast wealth from the Old to the New world, the drive for cheap land in the new colonies, and the discovery of trade routes by sea to China and India via the Cape of Good Hope, all made the nations with Atlantic ports or access to the northern oceans—England, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, Portugal—best situated to capitalize on the new discoveries. In contrast, those Mediterranean powers, whether the Italian city-states or the Turkish fleet at Istanbul, without such easy approaches were left to die on the withering Mediterranean vine.

In some sense, should we find alternative energy sources—or even just whittle down our daily import demand by 4-5 million barrels (due to conservation, nuclear power, more drilling in Alaska and off our coasts, domestic production of ethanol, tariff-free importation of Brazilin sugar-based ethanol, and a variety of other measures), then the Middle East would be as strategically important to the United States as is present-day central Africa or Sweden.

Correspondence. Some topics readers wrote about:

RE: The Candidates

I have met only Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson. I thought all three were impressive, gifted speakers, and will soon support one of the three—at least to degree that one can when under contract for syndication with Tribune Media Services. I like John McCain’s principled stance on the war.

Both Obama and Hillary are stronger candidates than Gore in 2000 or Kerry in 2004. And both are vigorous, speak well, and will hold their own or maybe win a debate with the Republican frontrunners.

Edwards can’t win and will be a real liability if he is even on the ticket. His recent fund-raising efforts at using Ann Coulter’s attacks against him would be more convincing had he appealed to bipartisan restraint, and chastised Bill Maher for the same sort of death-wish rhetoric about the Vice President she was replying to.

In any case, his blow-dried, mansionette populist rhetoric lacks the authenticity of Jim Webb’s and Edwards will probably exit the race soon. The advantage for Obama and Clinton is that in the general pubic despair over Iraq, they can enjoy public inattention about some of their more quasi-socialist health care, tax, and spending initiatives.

I assume that the 2008 election will be one of the most distasteful, dirtiest, and unpredictable campaigns in American history.


Some wrote demanding that I keep silent about our policy in Iraq if my son is not currently in the armed services. But his own political views, his current employment, his health, and other issues are his private business, and not mine to discuss. We disagree on a number of issues, and I offer advice and dissent. But it is his life and choice, as in the case of all Americans, to support or oppose the war in Iraq, and likewise the manner in which he chooses to do either.

As for the larger bloody-shirt charge that one cannot support a war that his children are not currently engaged in: if that were true, every time we used force—whether we were in the Balkans or Panama or Iraq—we would expect 3 million parents (say 2 parents for each of the 1.6 million currently in active service) of military professionals to de facto support the war or at least be alone free to comment on it. Meanwhile, the other 100 million or so, as taxpayers, voters, or observers wishing the best for their country, would have no right to weigh in on their nation’s policy.

And why is it more wrong to express support for the policy under which troops in the field are fighting than to oppose it?

In general, I have supported the military’s efforts consistently—and still adhere to a general past admission that when Army and Marine Captains, Majors, and Colonels—who are both in the field and also privy to larger tactical and strategic dilemmas— collectively seem to agree that we should not be in Iraq and cannot win, then that is a most valuable barometer, and we should not be in Iraq and must leave. Still, the war will end not when Democrats say so (a given), but when key Republican Senators this fall, worried about their positions in the 2008 election, defect and thus give the opposition a veto- and filibuster-proof 2/3s majority in matters cutting off funding, reminiscent of Vietnam circa 1974-5.

I had a maternal grandfather who stayed on the farm during WWI when his parents were ill, and later raised three daughters who were in college at the time of WWII. He helped financially, to the degree a small farmer could in the post-Depression, his siblings who had sons overseas, and fed and housed many of his nephews when they returned in 1945. In contrast, my paternal grandfather was gassed in 1918 in the Meuse-Argonne offensive and left a near invalid, and later had his orphaned nephew he raised killed on Okinawa, and his only son fly on 39 B-29 combat missions over Japan. I think each in their own way supported the war effort, and each, given the circumstances of the time, did what he could to empower the country at large.

Analogous arguments might arise that the public could not comment on food safety or policy unless they were directly involved in the realities of farming (currently one of the nation’s most likely sources of serious work-related accidents) and so on. I know that after 8 hours with a tandem disk I still listened to arguments about farming while peddling at nighttime coastal farmers’ markets from professors, activists, and others who could not distinguish a springtooth from flat-furrowers.

As for Iraq, I thought the 1998 letter from the Project for the New American Century urging Bill Clinton to take out Saddam Hussein, along with other calls for pre-9/11 preemption, were unsound. But after 9/11, like many I felt that we were now in a global war against terrorists—and dictatorships that had sponsored or abetted Islamic terrorists of all sorts—and so supported, and do support, the war to replace Saddam with a constitutional government. That support comes not out of bellicosity or some sort of aggressive imperialism, but because I think in the long run fewer American lives will be lost should both Afghanistan and Iraq, given their recent pasts, evolve into something far better. Remember teh former was the placenta of 9/11, and the latter had been in a de facto war with the US for 12 years, was suffering from a misplaced but punishing embargo, knee-deep in a $50 billion UN scandal, and was subsidizing terrorists from the West Bank to Kurdistan. But it is easier to reread the 23 counts of the Senate from October 10-11, 2002, (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c107:4:./temp/~c107N8n6As)—or replay the impassioned Harry Reid tape urging war.

I have been to several cities in Iraq on one trip last February, was stopped on the second en route a year ago due to a ruptured appendix during a few days stop in Libya and emergency surgery there in Tripoli, but should be well enough to try a return to Iraq later this year.

Angry readers

As far as the hostile email, for the last five or so years, I have received about 10 or so furious notes a week. Most are much worse than the occasional upset comments that are posted publicly at this site. Even obscene phone calls to a listed number, and threats through traditional mail have had zero effect on my views, especially the more vehement and threatening that deal with what I have written on immigration, Iraq, and especially Israel. In some sense, even the most overt threats don’t seem as serious as what I have encountered in the flesh over the last forty or so years growing up and living in rural Central California, where assaults, vendettas, threats, break-ins, fist-fights, and farm dust-ups were pretty common in these parts.

In writing opinion journalism over the last decade, it’s a good idea to follow two general rules: never gratuitously, maliciously, or unfairly personally attack anyone—and never let a serious attack against yourself go unanswered.

World Gone By

June 21st, 2007 - 1:36 pm

The Crazed Fringe

When I was growing in rural California in the 1950s and 1960s, my FDR parents winced at the nut right-wing fringe. This was, remember, the era of bulk mailings on pink paper, crazy “Did you know?” unsollicted newsletters detailing the names of local and national communists, usually sent from strange addresses in the Sierra Nevada foothills. At seven and eight, we used to pick them up from the garbage and ask our parents, “Hey, Mom, are Lucy and Ricky really communists?”

My cattleman uncle Tango used to stop by with John Birch literature, warning us about the impending fluoride conspiracy to make us all impotent.

The boy-scout troop leader would stop by, trying to sell us his version of a metal bomb shelter (a septic tank with hatches), and preached how we could win a nuclear war against Castro et al.

A neighbor used to preach to us that Caesar Chavez was employed by the KGB, and that the UFW was controlled by Moscow. The local paper’s op-eds still fought over Social Security and the Minimum Wage as equivalent to the Revolution of 1917. And always were the “hate the Jews” subtexts and allusions, alleging some sort of world banking conspiracy to rob us white rural folk who worked hard to send our peaches eastward only to have them hijacked and resold at ten times what they gave us by long-nosed crooks “on the East Coast”. You get the picture—the Right had a problem with its so-called wing nuts.

But over the years, conservatism came to terms with civil rights and anti-Semitism. Free markets, not socialism, enriched America and brought a level of affluence undreamed of it to the poor. (When I was seven, outhouses and unpaved roads were common in West Selma; today in the same neighborhood you see SUVS, new tract houses, and I-pods and blue teeth in the ears of illegal aliens.). And so the Klan, Birchers, and other assorted embarrassments were peeled off.

The left in the 1940s and 1950s had likewise gotten rid of its communist wing, and ostracized its fellow travelers. Henry Wallace was taken off the ticket. Dean Acheson and George Kennan had made liberal anti-communism logical rather than paradoxical.

But now the Left, still going on the fumes of the 1960s, has the greater problem with its extremists. Of course, the “base” can attack Bush on immigration, gay marriage, etc. but not from a position of sheer lunacy. The same is not true of the netroots or the Cindy Sheen/Michael Moore wing on the Left. They openly praise our enemies, whether in Syria or Iraq (“Minutemen”). They prefer the unfree world of Chavez and Castro to our own. And their language and methodology are as uncouth and repulsive as were the old tactics of the Birch Society.

I don’t think the Democratic Party will ever govern successfully until it does to its crazed extreme Left what the Republicans once did to the wacko far right. Collate what Sens. Boxer, Durban, Kennedy, Reid, or Howard Dean, or the Hollywood elite have said since 9/11 and you can see the practical problem in contemporary liberalism: anywhere, at any time, a Democratic liberal is apt to slur the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declare a war lost even as it is being fought, praise a dictator, travel to a police state to conduct freelance diplomacy, or—Jimmy Carter like—compliment terrorists and killers. In short, even in the cynical sense, Dems need a series of staged Sister Soulja moments.

Generation Gap

We oldsters have forgotten just how different are the young. I fished not long ago with my son up in the Sierra. Hadn’t done so in years. He was skilled at it, I not.

In about an hour he pulled in nine rainbows, 12-14 inches, I four. But here was the difference. In the 1960s my father sent us down to the lake or stream for “lunch” or “dinner”—that is, to bring back fish for all to eat. So I kept my four and had them for both lunch and dinner.

My 24-year-old son? Appalled at the idea.

With consummate skill and humanity, he carefully took the hooks out of all nine fish he caught, sometimes from deep down the throat and requiring some surgical skill. And he was worried when one floated on its side for about 5 minutes before swimming off—and was nearly sick that he had killed it. I was wondering whether his humanity was predicated on the notion of not hurting animal kind, or the fact that food was now so cheap and accessible that fishing had become a sport not a mechanism to ensure a meal. In any case, I felt a little greedy or worse, keeping the trout, and he seemed embarrassed, if not angry at my possessiveness. It’s a different world—reminded of that also by his sister (20) when I forgot to recycle a single Pepsi can, and put it with the regular trash. For my daughter that was worse than a mortal sin.


Reading a zillion theories on Gaza, all arguing that the Hamas take over is awful, or of no importance, or actually encouraging, etc. with just as many ideas how to deal with Gazastan. What is odd is the eagerness with which the West is embracing the Palestinian Authority, as if its own terrorism was always only a reluctant resort to gain fides in competition with a more savage Hamas. And thus Arafat’s epigonoi are suddenly freed from such sinister influences, and have become “moderates” who can be enticed by Western largess into becoming something like Dubai or Oman.

Good luck. Any examination of the multimillionaire spoiled brat Bin-Laden, or the aristocratic and snobbish Egyptian Dr. Zawahiri, or the other middle-class 9/11 killers might suggest that poverty is no requisite for jihadism. In fact, most of the worst of the this very sad bunch are affluent and have had exposure to the Western affluence and liberality.

True, the miasma on the West Bank contributes to the attractiveness of terrorism there, but it is not the catalyst (otherwise suicide bombers would be sprouting up in Africa, Asia, and Latin America), and thus its elimination won’t end the desire to destroy Israel.

One should read about the life of Sayyid Qutb, intellectual architect of the Muslim Brotherhood that we now apparently wish to embrace. He hated the very thought of Jews, though he had seen few if any in Egypt, and was only to encounter them in any real number in America. This middle-class Egyptian—subsidized generously by his own government, treated well and embraced by Americans—grew to detest the West for its liberality, its equality of the sexes, its material wealth, its friendship with the Jews.

In other words, his wretched life reminds us that envy, jealousy, anger at lost stature, these primordial emotions fuel jihadism. They may be enhanced by general misery, acerbated by statist failures and authoritarian governments, but ultimately the nihilist rages are attributable to the lethal mix of Middle East tribalism and Islam’s utter failure to account for and live with modernity.

Thinking that radical Islam will soften itself or evolve is analogous to a victorious Confederacy voluntarily ending slavery about 1870, a kinder, gentler Soviet Union without the gulags, Hitler in his dotage dismantling Auschwitz, or Tojo in the 1950s turning his old zeal to flooding the Co-Prosperity Sphere with cars and radios.

Novel—No Man a Slave. Outtake fifteen

The philosopher Alkidamas arranges to meet a trireme to sail out of the Gulf of Korinth to Pylos and meet the army of Epaminondas at Messenia. But as they set out from Aigosthena on the coast they are soon waylaid by Korinthians, and forced to flee to shore. From the last fourth of the novel, dealing with Chion’s efforts to reach Ithomê and ransom Neto from the helot overseer Gorgos.

Chion nodded. Then he climbed down, found a bench on the top deck, and fell into his new pulling. Yes, he had run hundred stades over the mountain from Plataia to the shore, all this night, and reached the ship as promised, but could not sleep and would now try this rowing. He was yanking on the oar with his good arm, still at it for hours as the sun came out, when all could see Helikon on their right and off in the distance snowy Parnassos and the black bilows not far from the harbor at Kirrha.

While the helots swore at the tug, Chion pulled and smiled—this rowing was far easier than the olive press handle on Helikon. These waves gave way to his strength in a way the stone smasher never did. And what better way to rock up his muscles to meet Antikrates and smash his throat with his good hand?

All of hoplites still were asleep on the outrigging, just now waking to the gentle surge of the ship. The winter sun was coming out in full. And the sea had already calmed a little with first light. Gastron hugged the north coast of Boiotia and would only cut out to the middle of the Gulf, when he spied Naupaktos on his right. “A good enough night calm and already half-way out—and now even quieter. Keep rowing and by nightfall we make our break at the mouth.” So he muttered to Ephoros as he at last sat down and left the way to the steerer.

Then suddenly his tiller woke him up, “Hard to the coast! Turn into the north wind, turn now! Take in the full wind at our faces. Head to a port! Look at them, damned Korinthians. Six of them at least! Warships, faster than ours. They’re pulling our way. Look, look at them, all good long ships and full crews! Right, right, we go. Head for shore. Outrun them. To Delphi. Row to the peaks of Parnassos!”

The Theoris made a hard turn, and had a head start of maybe 20 stades, maybe more. Ephoros in his trance about the great march kept on writing on the outrigging. But despite the winter haze and the morning glare Chion already could see on the shore a few Phokians watching their race. And the six triremes were now closing the distance. Would they catch the Theoris before shore? Or dare to beach and fight on hostile ground?

Gastron now was up and stalked the deck. He slapped the tiller hard, and then grabbed the necks of the hoplites and threw them onto the empty top benches. “Row fools! Hand them up oars, down there. I have ten or so in the hold. All of you row, row you boy-butt Ephoros and greybeard Alkidamas. Pull hard or you won’t have any scrolls left to write on. Give me some wood and I’ll balance out you slave. Between Chion and I we have two arms still and can outdo you all.”

The epibatai now pulled with the rest. Ever so slowly the Theoris surged toward land on the northern Gulf. There was now a mob forming at Kirrha, the port of Delphi, all screaming for the helot ship to speed up. About three hundred or so in armor, and they knelt on one knee with shields and spears, waiting to attack if the Korinthians beached. Some bowmen took aim to pick off their rowers if they neared the Theoris.

But then suddenly the pursuers veered off, about two stades from shore. The crowd yelled and waved in the Theoris that slid onto the beach.

“Look! Ide, philoi mou, ide!” Gastron yelled. Another four triremes were joining the six. So ten enemy ships were now circling well out of bowshot, crisscrossing across the morning whitecaps in turn to keep the Theoris beached and off the Gulf, as they relayed in and out from the bay far away at Perachora.

“Well, old man we made it half way, at least. Though I bet we could have hiked as far on land as we made by seas. But that may be the end of our voyage, if these damned Korinthians decide to patrol in turn, five or so at sea, five or so being replaced by fresh ships from over at Korinth. All on the orders of the lame king and Lichas. For now, we stay put here, and eat—until we get a winter storm that sinks them.

“I fear it, Gastron”, Alkidamas screamed over the surf. “Yes, safe for now—but trapped. And further from Ithomê than ever!”

Crazy World

June 16th, 2007 - 1:16 pm

The Airlines

Flying has become worse than a root canal or prostate exam.

Some one hasn’t quite explained why the airlines are not subject to the full rules of capitalism, in that the way they seem to treat customers terribly, charge about the same prices, and now give wretched service?

Is it the intrinsic nature of air travel? You go out to a distant airport and once there are stuck with no other choices—with very little recourse to trains or cars? Or do they do a pretty good job getting us in one piece across treacherous skies, late but alive? Millions of miles each year without an accident are impressive, after all.

Or do they charge too little, and therefore are overcrowded with too small a profit margin? (Note those stewardesses sometimes counting the pretzel bags at the end of service).

Or is it our fault? Count the ways. In security lines, some use up to 4-5 pans with everything imaginable, from laptops to all sorts of gadgetry and cosmetics to an entire metal shop in their pockets. And many hold up things by dragging along too much carry-on luggage. They don’t listen when asked to sit down quickly when boarding. One person on a cell phone struggling with an oversized carry-on that won’t fit in the overhead space can stop 50 behind him as he blocks the entire aisle for 5 minutes.

When called by successive zones to board, many elbow ahead anyway. And at the desk—I testify to this after this week’s nightmare connections in NY and Pittsburg due to weather and the PGA tournament—travelers become almost homicidal in demanding instant redirects, in turn, causing the service reps to become coarse and cynical.

Solutions? Try to take the pressure off through regional travel by better trains and freeways? The use of more satellite terminals like Oakland or Orange County? More smaller or is it fewer larger planes? More honesty from government and the airlines on frequencies of delays and percentage on-time arrivals?

When flying across the country now with a connection, I think that most assume they will miss a connection, be late, or have some sort of unexpected catastrophe. For now, 2-3 beers is about the only antidote.

Just another day

More suicide mayhem in Afghanistan. Another democratic reformer blown up in Lebanon. Iraq of course. And then the non-civil war in Gaza. No pattern here apparently other than ubiquitous radical Islam, probably Chinese and Russian weapon sales, the stealthy role of Syria and Iran to subsidize the mayhem, and Western furor that George Bush is the root of it all.


The solution we adopted for Gaza? Pressure Israel to make “concessions” to give Fatah symbolic stature to allow it some legitimacy to outscore Hamas. But Fatah has no stature because it was always a whiny plutocracy (cf. those hilltop mansions on the West Bank, thanks to Western bribes and “aid”). We were told that Fatah, a corrupt has-been of aging terrorists, was preferable to younger, purer, Islamic jihadists like Hamas—never realizing that because it was marginally “better” did not make it anything near “good”, in the sense that Mussolini’s fascism was not as bad as Hitler’s Nazism. Note again that none of the Iraqi war critics will apply their own nomenclature to this mess—like “civil war” or “hopeless.”

Can’t be True.

Hamas has a “military wing,” the Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades? I thought Hamas itself was the militant wing of the Palestinians? Can a militant wing have a militant wing? Apparently in the way a terrorist clique like Fatah can be threatened by a terrorist clique like Hamas to the point of now becoming “moderate”.

As they loot and kill in Gaza, someone no doubt will (a) now at least assure us this is a civil war, (b) that it took place because someone disbanded the … what? Palestinian authority?

Hamas apparently has inherited quite a stockpile of American weapons from a now defunct Fatah (cf. the most recent $60 million given by us for “security”)? Apparently we thought that if we poured diesel, rather than gasoline, into the conflagration it would not fuel the flames.

Our policy?

The Palestinians have bisected their country for us. The overcrowded, filthy and desolate Gaza is to be the Islamic republic of Hamas, while the larger, less miserable West Bank goes to what’s left of Fatah. We will apparently deal with Fatah West Bank and isolate Hamas Gaza, and this will no doubt by analogy give impetus to those who wish to trisect Iraq. But watch Gaza—it will soon become Afghanistan light, as Iranian and Syrian money pour into it, and Egypt keeps clear and smiles at the ensuing blood sport with Israel.

And why should Hamas be content with miserable Gaza when the losers may keep losing?

Remember Hamas’s birth: the swindled Palestinians thought they would send a message to the corrupt Fatah by electing Islamists, some perhaps not quite thinking anyone would allow them to be really governed by such killers. But democracy, even in its reptilian form in Palestine, is unforgiving, and you live with what you vote for.

Anti-Americanism British Style

“Why we must break with the American crazies” or so writes London Times columnist Anatole Kaletsky, who goes on to cry about the old bogeyman of a neo-con conspiracy et al. that has ruined the world in Lebanon, the Middle East, Iran, and Iraq (always wise to blame the US rather than the jihadists who are doing the killing).

But I tend to agree with Kaletsky that some sort of polite distancing is necessary between us and his kindred in the post-Blair era. As we speak, British academics and journalists are boycotting Israel. Apparently such British elites see a culture of murdering and racism preferable to the democracy in Israel.

Note too that a Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad was recently feted in London as the guest of the Guardian and was courted by British elites. That London has entire apartheid communities of angry young Islamists and many of them eligible as British subjects to piggy-back on bilateral transportation agreements to travel into the US, likewise make Kaletsky’s ideas of polite distancing somewhat palatable. Whatever the UK is doing in terms of immigration and integration in London, the US should do exactly the opposite. So who exactly are the real “crazies”?

In my limited experience, most of the animus in the partnership comes from the UK and is a mish-mash of aristocratic disdain for our rabble culture, left-wing anger at our “cutthroat” society, general British angst about loss of empire and envy of the US, and special furor with the Texan, bible-quoting George ‘smoke-em out’ Bush. Whether Mr. Kaletsky likes it or not, a new neo-isolation is coming, and the next time the UK and Europe have a crisis—remember the litany from the Falklands to Soviet nuclear tipped tactical missiles to Milosevic killing thousands a few hours from European capitals—I doubt there will be any American public support for much of any US intervention.

And we know now the default British position when pressed: cf. the EU3 collapse in talks with Iran; or the British response to the Iranian piratical attack on its gunboat; or the ongoing withdrawal from Iraq. No need for any anger on either side about any of this, just a fact that trashing the US is so commonplace that it has finally hit home with most of us.

I once had dinner with a British officer, and after a pleasant conversation of about 2 hours, I remarked “This is the first time I’ve dined with a Tory and not heard something about “those Jews”. He laughed and said, “The night is still young.”

The Samson Complex

Democrats may well take the Presidency next time. And with both houses of Congress they’ll change course. But what good will all that do if they pull down the house in the process? If Nancy Pelosi triangulates by going to Syria, that does not mean that the Democrats won’t have to deal with a murderous regime in Damascus that interprets such fawning, as we just saw with the latest bombing, as a blank check for more serial murdering in Lebanon?

And when Harry Reid calls commanders in the field “incompetent” (cf. his remarks about Gens. Pace and Petraeus) and the surge a failure before it has fully unfolded, what will that mean when a Democratic Commander-in-Chief might well have to work with that same military to keep us safe? What will they do on the morning after a 9/11 event? Blame whom? The military that will be called on to save us? The CIA and FBI and other intelligence agencies that they claim trampled our freedoms?


I often think had Scooter Libby, like Richard Armitage (who really did disclose the non-covert status of Valerie Plame) just been a Hamlet-like figure—voicing tortuous doubts about the war, and upon leaving the administration, castigating those who did not listen to his wisdom—he would have been free of his relentless Inspector Javert.

And had Paul Wolfowitz likewise had a change of heart and “deplored” the war, would the Euros on the World Bank really have gone after him for supposedly icing a good deal for a girlfriend?

In contrast, had pro-war Joe Wilson come back from Niger claiming that Saddam really was interested in yellow-cake (and he, in fact, was), and then lied on the pages of the NY Times, while his newly converted neocon wife claimed she was outed by a war critic, would either be current popular victims?


Triple Standards

June 11th, 2007 - 8:16 pm

The Thompson Craze

What explains the sudden Fred Thompson Craze that propels a virtual non-candidate to among the top Republican presidential candidates? Is it like the transitory Democratic infatuation with empty suit Wesley Clark that fizzled almost the moment the general bought into the adulation? Or is like madman Ross Perot’s “I’m not going to take it anymore” rightwing populism of the 1990s? Hardly.

Thompson is a seasoned, sober two-term Senator and has been a Washington lobbyist and insider of sorts for more than thirty years, ever since Americans got to know him as the Republican minority counsel during the Senate Watergate Hearings 1973-4. So why are some Republicans pinning their hopes on a bald retired politician in his mid-sixties and cancer survivor?

A variety of reasons both practical and personal. There are currently no conservative Southerners in either party seriously running for President. Giuliani, McCain, and Romney are all centrists who may due well in the general election, but for now leave vast space in the primaries for diehard conservatives.

Then there is the Reagan angle—or the ability of older white conservative males to appeal to young voters. Reagan did it with his “By golly” smoothness. But unlike Reagan, Thompson has an ongoing movie and television career that makes him an even better known candidate to young people in either party. And he is a character actor that has been typecast as grandfatherly, a worldly pro who joshes around and works with his more ardent and younger firebrands. His celebrity is not like Arnold’s or Jesse Ventura’s.

His folksy Tennessee drawl also serves to mask his conservatism in the manner of Reagan’s jocularism. Don’t underestimate the importance of that calculus in our modern therapeutic society. The “aw shucks” approach allows a conservative to keeper a lot quieter and carry a bigger stick.

I met Thompson this morning for breakfast in Palo Alto and was impressed mainly by his knowledge of the issues, and his calming attitude that what will come, will come. He came across as every bit up to the job, but without the overdrive and sometimes bothersome mania of traditional candidates. That may explain a lot of his appeal as well.

He is the fourth candidate to visit Hoover. All were good. I think any two of them would wage a far superior campaign to what the Democrats offer.


Will Hillary Win?

The advantage though right now is with Clinton. Why? Not the issues or even Iraq. But because no candidate has a more ruthless, cutthroat, and no-holds-barred phalanx than what she inherited from her loutish, but cold-hearted husband.

In this regard, I remember the serial appearances of James Carville on the Sunday new shows during the Monica affair. Ad nauseam he went off on federal prosecutor Ken Starr as a “cigarette lawyer”, which by any standard of public defamation should have constituted a sort of obstruction of justice, a calculated effort to destroy a federal official to ensure he could not carry out his assigned tasks. Imagine again, had Tony Snow daily attacked Prosecutor Fitzgerald and impugned his integrity, the response from the media. No, the Clintoni will do any and all to win. They have had eight years of experience in the White House, and have proven already that they can take a philandering dissolute, who used his “power” to impress a paid subordinate for sexual favors, and turn him into a raging feminist and victim of dark forces of illiberality. That took skill and audacity, and so did dropping Hillary’s billing records on the floor (“oops” there they are!), etc. Shamelessness, as Aristophanes saw with Kleon, is not to be underestimated.

Sad times, these.


Why the liberal hatred of Bush?

Consider: No Child Left Behind; soaring federal entitlement spending between 2001-6; prescription drugs; billions for African AIDs; liberal immigration reform (once again with Ted Kennedy on board); moral clarity on Darfur; promotion of liberal government in the Middle East; internationalism and advocacy for free trade; friendship with India; tolerance for Chinese and Russian roguery; and efforts to offer trade concessions to Latin America. I could go on, but you get the picture of a centrist who often promoted a classically liberal agenda.

The answer for this leftwing hatred is threefold. The Democrats had been out of power for years, and won the popular vote of 2000—only acerbating their furor of coming so close, but so far. Demonizing, destroying Bush was one way of reclaiming the Congress and eventually the Presidency. The downturn in 2004 in Iraq gave them their opening as their rhetoric (“my brilliant three-week war was ruined by your awful occupation”) sharpened with each point drop in the polls.

Second, for the elite of the Eastern Seaboard, nursed on subtlety, quick with ironic repartee, and imbued with cynicism and skepticism, this swaggering Texan, child of privilege, spouting Gospelese and smoke ‘em out lingo was simply too much. A simpleton Manichean, an antithesis to the age of irony!—best epitomized by the Kerryism “I can’t believe I’m losing to this idiot!”

Third, he sort of appropriated liberal foreign policy and mouthed the rhetoric of freedom and democracy—the old liberal mantra of the 1960s. How ironic—and irritating— that this ‘dead or alive’ canon was unloosed on women-hating, homosexual killers, polygamists, reactionary fundamentalists, and anti-democratic Islamic fascists. It wasn’t like he was propping up the usual strongmen in the fashion of a Jim Baker or Brent Scowcroft—now nostalgically praised by the Left that has forgotten the cynicism of the Iran-Iraq war, stopping before Baghdad, and the “F— the Jews” (and the Kurds) coarseness.

The only way of finessing all that would have been for Bush to wage hard war (harder than we did when pulling out of Fallujah or sending a reprieve to Sadr), while in Clintonesque fashion biting his lip, or like RFK suddenly having complete recall of the impenetrable text of Aeschylus, or inviting in novelists, movie directors, and violinists to the White House to prove his erudition and sensitivity.

In other words, in this empty age, style not substance counts—especially when we accept that for millions of leftwing movers and shakers in Hollywood, publishing, the media, the universities, and foundations lip service to high culture gives a pass on quite a lot.

They Aren’t What They Seem

June 8th, 2007 - 4:06 am

The Paint-by-Numbers Candidate

It’s hard to know what to make of the latest incarnation of John Edwards. Kerry apparently once picked him as his VP mate on the basis of his supposedly moderate views. At least I remember in the 2004 campaign some reference of his that we were safer after 9/11, and positive acknowledgment of his vote and soapbox speech in 2002 in support of taking out Saddam.

But now all the recent press of his newfound populism at odds with the $400 haircuts, the 30,000 sq. ft. mansion with a playroom (e.g., “John’s Room”), the $50,000 lecture on poverty at a UC campus—all that and more suggest a man of the people also quite comfortable with the material rewards of US-style capitalism, especially its more ruthless variety as practiced by trial lawyers.

Given that Mr. Edwards has only the political experience of one-term in the US Senate—and a propensity to come across as superficial—one would think his advisors would caution him about appearing flighty, hypocritical, or transparently opportunistic.

That was sort of the impression he earned after his lackluster performance in the 2004 Vice Presidential debate. Obviously he has rhetorical skills, intelligence, and ambition—the critical requisites for a multimillionaire trial attorney—and now apparently thinks he can reapply them into reinventing himself into some sort of southern populist to the left of Hillary.

He knows too that no Democratic candidate has ever won the popular vote after 1960 without a Southern accent (e.g. Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Gore), and Kerry reiterated that losers’ rule of Humphrey, McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis. But somehow Edwards seems to have misjudged that calculus. The Southern flavor for Democrats was to provide the appearance of centrism, an offset to a perceived 1960s party of big government and softness on defense.

Running from the hard left with a twang of sorts not only cuts away the naturally moderate base in the South, but hardly appeals to independents there in the general election. And the black vote in the South will go to Obama, not Edwards. And such poor timing!—scoffing at the ‘war on terror’ at about the same time they arrest terrorists planning mass murder at Fort Dix and JFK.

And for all his talk of two nations, a bald William Jennings Bryan sweating in suspenders, he ain’t. My grandmother used to recite to us Bryan’s Cross of Gold speech, a sort of bible among broke farmers born in the 19th-century. I can’t imagine anyone quoting Edwards on anything other than young legal eagles after watching videos of him in the summation of the awards phase before a jury.

A Grouch’s Recent Thoughts on Europe

After traveling on extended visits to Belgium, France, Greece, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Portugal within the last three years, I offer the following subjective impressions.

Race: I don’t think one would ever see a Secretary Rice or Attorney General Gonzales as a German Foreign Minister or Greek Justice Minister. There are of course blacks, Arabs, and Asians in Europe but they are mostly segregated and gravitate into specialty restaurants, street hawkers, farm laborers or sanitation workers. In this regard the multiracial nature of the United States is truly remarkable, in that various races permeate the economic ladder and are found in almost every sort of employment.

For all the talk of greenness and environmentalism, European roads and sidewalks have more trash and clutter than in the United States. No American state highway system would tolerate the garbage thrown out the window as is commonly done on the roadsides in Greece. No US train would have waste from the toilet falling directly on the tracks as I experienced in Germany. No construction company in New York or San Francisco would allow the sidewalks to be ‘bombs away’ debris zones of construction waste as was true in Italy.

Smoking? Europeans of course smoke in the restaurant next to you. Their non-smoking hotel rooms smell like cigar-lounges. Boats, buses, and trains are worse than the air in LA. I say all this as a non-smoker who grew up in a house of smokers, and doesn’t care much whether people puff next to me, but instead one seeking to square the Euro-hysteria about environmental quality and “getting along” with the apparently selfish and unhealthy trait of public cigarettes.

No need to comment on public toilets, or the effects of the Euro no water toilet, that apparently requires more water to flush twice—if the sound of constant flushing in hotels is any indication.

As for rudeness: by and large utopian pacifist European clerks and PR people are far ruder to strangers than are their American counterparts. A New York hotel employee is downright bouncy compared to her counterpart in France. Can it be that our cutthroat capitalist system—to the extent it is even cutthroat—demands performance in a way the zillion-person, lifelong-tenured staff at a Greek bank office does not?

A Kinder and Gentler Continent?

So I’ve never quite bought into the EU mythology of a caring socialist paradise—not when there is no accountability, few can be fired, and there aren’t enough incentives to reward initiative. I could add a lot of empirical examples from a recent 16-day stay in Greece, but why pick on a southern Mediterranean country, when a European powerhouse like Germany will do? Take a recent flight on a Lufthansa flight from Athens to Frankfurt:

1) An announced 30-minute delay in boarding due to some Lufthansa employees (pilots?) not having enough down time from their previous flight.
2) Another 30-minute in-air delay due to congestion at Frankfurt—circling, then announcement of imminent landing, then more circling, then more delay, etc. Happens everywhere? Keep reading…
3) A 15 minute-delay as plane waited for an open birth, which, in fact, was sitting open, but 30 yards and thus an eternity away from the plane.
4) Next, the sudden decision to load passengers in bus to drive them 50 feet across the street for additional passport control: 10 more minutes to load full bus, 2-minute U-turn. 15 minutes later we still were in the bus and had not achieved a fifty feet advance. And the result? The additional passport clerk decided not to check anyone’s passport. With a grim look (the sort of “why are you here anyway?’), she waived us through.
5) Then the crowd followed her directions to an elevator. Next, elevator with the first eight of us gets stuck. Temperature climbs to about 100 degrees inside. After the eight’s constant banging and ringing of emergency bell, and failed efforts to force open the door, an occasional businesslike voice comes on the elevator intercom, “I will be there in 5 minutes.” To our swearing, the calm German voice reassured “I said 5 minutes”. Fifteen minutes later, doors are pried open. Attendant growls and walks away. Sweat-drenched late passengers begin mad dash to planes, cursing German rudeness.
6) But the rush stops at a 3rd passport control checkpoint. The crowd lines up for two booths, one open with one attendant, the other closed—with six attendants chatting outside it. They look peeved at passengers’ begging to open up the other booth, and turn their backs for their group smoke. Long lines merge into one, with more angry late passengers. As we snail forward, every 3-4 minutes Lufthansa attendants with a trail of the privileged crowd in–and break the line to push ahead groups of 4-5 select in need of haste. As they are herded ahead, cut in, and passed on, lots of voices of the hoi polloi sound, “That’s not fair. ” They are met with Lufthansa scowls. A Spaniard has the gumption to admit to me “I’ve never seen anything like this in the States.” He seems to be suggesting egalitarianism is to be practiced not preached.
7) Two more passport controls. Complete body wanding, but no need to take off shoes.
8) Then one redeeming feature: Neither an airline nor an airport that treated people like that could ever have an on-time flight, so the connecting flights were delayed as well, and the ritual sort of started over with the next passport check…
9) Thank God for cutthroat Anglo-Saxon capitalism.

Still in Greece

June 4th, 2007 - 7:06 am

Questions Not Asked…

Lebanon is engaged in a deadly war against Palestinian al Qaeda-affiliates, and has resorted to massive and inherently indiscriminate shelling of Palestinian camp hideouts in Beirut—in a manner far more savage than the CNN-BBC monitored Israeli responses. The old dictum remains: Arabs killing Arabs is apparently a different category of reportage, where rules of Western censure don’t apply.

When we people shrug that we live in crazy times, they mean it. Note the recent proclamation of British journalists and academics about boycotting Israel at precisely the time Palestinians have kidnapped a British journalist. If it were true that academics or journalists believed in free speech—most sadly don’t—then they would have written expressions of solidarity with the Theo Van Gogh, the Danish cartoonists, the Pope, and all the others threatened and far worse by radical Islamists for their candor.

In Israel’s case, we get to the heart of real anti-Semitism, which is not ipso facto criticism of Israel, but criticism in comparison to what? Turks in Cyprus? Tibet? Russians in Chechnya? When one says that he is not anti-Semitic in slamming Israel, but only anti-Zionist, another can answer, ‘Fine, but why does your liberal angst not extend to purportedly similar examples?’ The truth is that since 9/11 we have seen a lot of Jew-hating gussied up with multicultural flourishes—and, in a reversal of the past, almost always from the Left.

In this larger nether world of the Left, Chinese annexation and absorption of Tibet is a misdemeanor compared to Israelis on the West Bank. Global warming does not seem to involve India and China. Sudan seems not connected to Darfur, at least in the sense the West wrongly sleeps while millions are killed, while China most surely does not sleep—but grabs all the oil it can. A cynic would offer not hypocrisy as the common denominator, but cowardice—no Israeli will cut off your oil or hijack your plane if you slur his religion or country, in the manner that George Bush won’t Putinize you if you speak up.


Maureen Dowd references classics, as well as Donald Kagan and, to a lesser extent, me in a recent column, apparently in reference to a gloomy, grim Hobbesian view of mankind that influenced Dick Cheney (apparently after she was googling and coming up with the old third-hand “war guru” label, originating from a single dinner with the VP).

Contrary to her suggestion about the nature of Hellenists as conservative stuck-ups, I’ve never worn a pair of “pinstripes,” couldn’t finish anything written by Leo Strauss (except his take on Xenophon’s Oikonomikos), and have learned that the most prominent Classicists are liberal Democrats. Her thoughts on the Peloponnesian War and history were adolescent—“ Compared to Iraq, the Peloponnesian War was a cakewalk.”

Hmmm. I guess a preindustrial city-state of less than 40,000 citizens (perhaps 250,000 residents in all in Athens and Attica) fighting a 27-year-long war, losing perhaps 80,000 to the plague and then 40,000 imperial soldiers in Sicily, and then at least that total again in cumulative yearly engagements, is far more destructive than a 300-million-plus nation fighting four years in Iraq and losing there about .00001% of its population. And Sicily, of course, in which Athens during a momentary breather with Sparta, attacked the Greek world’s largest democracy 800 miles away is comparable to what?—something like the United States pausing in Iraq and Afghanistan to redeploy all its remaining military strength to attack democratic India?

The Tragic View

We shall see what liberal therapeutics accomplishes in this war that started on September 11 when Hillary & Co. come to power—or rather relearn the lessons of everything from the Khobar Towers and East African embassy bombings to the USS Cole.

After all the lectures about not being safe after 9/11, and taking our eye off bin Laden, we await her revocation of the Patriot Act, wiretaps on terrorists, etc., and planned intrusions and hot pursuit into nuclear Pakistan—and, of course, calls for national unity during time of war, a renunciation of the politics of personal destruction, and a plea to tone down the strident rhetoric.

Imagine, if she were elected, that a Bush emeritus played Jimmy Carter to her presidency, or documentaries came out calling for scenarios about her demise, or Alfred Knopf published a book about shooting the president— or any of the other reprehensible things we have witnessed the past six years, all to the silence of the liberal opposition.

To get to the presidency, the Democrats must demonize the war effort and assume we will lose in Iraq; but to run the country, they would almost immediately have to reverse course, call for unity, and explain why we must continue anti-terrorism at home, and fighting al Qaeda abroad. And if they adopted a truly pacifist stature, a single 9/11 like attack would ruin their fides for a generation. Politics is to be accepted, but in wartime one expects a modicum of national interest first.

Greek Temples

Still in Greece finish leading a tour. In the past, a taboo among archaeologists has been reconstruction, or the fabrication of modern marble blocks, columns, etc. to fill out what is missing, or even to be used to raise again fallen buildings. This reluctance is understandable after Knossos, and Sir Arthur Evans’ slapdash Minoan reconstructions. But the rub is that, while we all like to see a few columns standing, very few classical buildings (exceptions, however, are stunning, like the Hephaiston in Athens or the temple of Apollo at Bassai) are found intact in situ.

Now, given the demands of tourism, the influx of EU money, and the idea that contemporary rigorous scholarship can restore as never before, we are starting to see ruins not so ruined: cf. the work at Epidauros on the tholos, or a column or two rising at Nemea, or the reconstituted Athena Nike temple on the acropolis.

I wonder when the shoe will drop, and some zillionaire will decide to resurrect an entire Greek temple, with careful scholarly direction. There are plenty of candidates whose bare foundations don’t offer much now, but might be instructive (and prove cash-cows from tourism) should they be rebuilt.

Classics Again

In another life, I once wrote a 12,000 word introductory chapter for The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare, with a 46-page bibliography, called “The Modern Historiography of Ancient Warfare.” The essay was a review of scholarship on classical military history and served as an introduction to the massive encyclopedia on everything from naval warfare to siegecraft, some 6 years plus in the making. I mention this because out of the blue, the proofs came this week, and the reference work will come out this summer/autumn apparently. I confess that for years I had completely forgotten that it was in limbo press, but upon arrival of the proof, as in all Cambridge projects, impressed by the editing and layout.


I posted an obituary recently in the NRO Corner about the great American classicist WK Pritchett. I had corresponded with him, and seen him occasionally for the last 20 something years, and learned a great deal—and made it a point when a visiting professor last year for a week at UCB to ride my bike up to his house above the campus. I can’t imagine that any graduate program could turn out a scholar of his caliber given the existing curriculum:

The great American classicist W.K. Pritchett passed away this Tuesday at 98 in Berkeley. WKP, as he was called, reshaped the study of ancient Greek topography, and spent much of his life finding ancient routes, battlefields, and harbors, establishing the nature of the Athenian calendar, defending the authority of the Greek historians from postmodern attacks, and writing a massive five-volume history of the Greek state at war—much of all this in his retirement after a long career of philological research and distinguished teaching.

For many years, he was among the giants in American classics in general, and among a postwar generation of scholars in particular at Berkeley, such as J.K. Anderson, William Anderson, Steven Miller, Ronald Stroud, Leslie Threatte, and several others, whose high standards, teaching, and research made UCB the top center of classics in the world—and sadly that generation was not replaced at Berkeley by a subsequent group of such a caliber.

Professor Pritchett is the sort of scholar we will not see again in our generation—if ever.