» 2007 » December

Works and Days

Monthly Archives: December 2007

2008 Politics

December 25th, 2007 - 10:33 pm

What we are looking for?

A candidate who would not talk about reducing deficits, but promise instead surpluses to such a degree to buy down the national debt and so leave us less vulnerable to the Middle East, Chinese, Japanese, or European possession of trillions abroad; who would give someone some credit for taking out the two worse regimes in the Middle East and avoiding a reoccurrence of 9/11; who would state a simple principle that for every new spending initiative offered, a cut elsewhere or new tax increase would be promised to ensure no additional draw on the treasury; who would close the border to illegal immigration now, and explain that we can then bicker over other issues while the pool of illegal residents insidiously shrinks due to voluntary repatriation, intermarriage, deportations of criminals, and earned citizenship; who could craft some sort of bargain to drill oil offshore and in Alaska, build more refineries and nuclear power plants, and still toughen conservation standards and invest in alternate energy–and tell us exactly why and how and when we will be less dependent on foreign oil; and who could explain to us and the world abroad exactly how the US presence overseas leads to global peace and security, and do that both in daily impromptu and formal fashion.

Impressions about the Candidates

Given my column with Tribune Media Services, I can’t endorse a political candidate. But here are some impressions. First, the Democrats.

Clinton. She has run a Giuliani-like campaign, hoping that her vast lead in the national polls would make the early primaries irrelevant. That standoffish tact in her case was based on her name recognition, and deft and serial repositioning on the issues, like Bill’s triangulation in the 1992, 1994, and 1996 elections.

Her current problem is that while a majority may be satisfied with the Clinton years in retrospect, they have no desire to repeat them. Second, the more voters come to know Hillary—hence the original idea of keeping her aloof, as some sort of image rather than a flesh and blood candidate—the more she appears less than genuine.

Consensus? I don’t think she can ever get 50% of the vote, and, if she gets the nomination, her election chances will hinge on some sort of third candidate draw away. Watch Bill Clinton; his sudden prominent role will invite renewed press scrutiny that has been dormant the last six years. And while always undisciplined, he is even more so when someone else pays the consequences for his indiscretions.

Edwards. Again, I am confused by him. He was a moderate, new southern Senator, and now has almost overnight morphed into a hard left demagogic populist. But in the midst of this metamorphosis, he has not lost his conspicuous appetites for the noveau riche lifestyle, which can only cause embarrassment by the abyss between his word and deed. The agenda is more of the same like Obama’s: the ossified liberal approach of raising taxes for more entitlements, predicated on the idea that Americans are in need of more government support; more outsourcing of security concerns to international bodies, and appointment of more liberal judges to expand government influence when legislative remedies are too lethargic or not found.

Obama. The most talented impromptu speaker of the entire field, and maybe the brightest. He also seems conflicted, at least from his memoirs: By his own admission his white mother’s family’s influence was the far greater in formulating his education and discipline, yet he seems more inspired by the nebulous image of his black father.

So far he has shown a brilliant triangulation that would make Dick Morris proud—giving glimpses of “authenticity” that will ensure the African-American vote, but enough Ivy-League assurance that he is, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a safe bet for whites and Asians. His views? They are little different from Edwards’—government is the first solution to each crisis, anti-Americanism abroad is always due to what we do at the moment, rather than what we represent in the abstract; social pathology is a result of some sort of –ism or societal failure rather than the lapse of the individual; life is always getting worse for the poor and middle class, when in fact it has gotten far better in recent years; economic growth is mostly zero sum—the rich benefiting not from expanding national wealth and production but by taking riches from someone else. I would expect either Obama or Hillary to lift the current income caps on Social Security deductions, something that would cost the upper-middle classes thousands of dollars per year, as well as reinstate estate taxes that again won’t bother the poor and rich, but will double-tax the middle class. I could go on, but we all know the script: the best and brightest need our money to save people in ways we dumber others are clueless about.

Biden, Dodd, Richardson et al. They remind us that neither aggregate experience counts in presidential races—nor qualification beyond a minimum standard. That said, their collective sanctimonious attitude is reminiscent of Kerry’s sigh that he couldn’t believe he was losing to “this guy”. Despite long political careers, they all three exude a sense of smugness, and don’t quite seem to equate their present failure with the voters’ perceptions that they are functionaries of a sort, lacking both Obama’s and Edwards’ charisma, and Billary’s name recognition. Then in the case of Dodd and Biden, there is something about the US Senate as a prerequisite for Presidential candidacy: it offers no executive experience, but ensures plenty of opportunity for loud speech-making without consequence.

Consensus—the most interesting candidate is Obama. And if I could be assured he wouldn’t win the general election, I would hope that he is the nominee. His summer and autumn presence would ensure a lively, articulate debate, a newcomer who is not one of our tired past.


I confess at the outset I don’t know enough about Huckabee to comment, either his past career or his present bromides—other than his foreign policy statements. They are terrible–erratic, self-contradictory, poorly articulated, and inexact about how he would differ from the present policy abroad other than his generic Bush is “arrogant” motif.

Romney suffers from the paradox that the more he seems polished and in control of the facts, the more he is charged as somewhat robotic. His ability to serve as a Republican governor should attest to his political skills, but just as often it is cited as a liability as a conservative who sacrificed principles for expediency in a liberal state. It is hard to ascertain to what degree his religion governs such impressions. In the meantime, of all candidates in both parties, he appears the most presidential and at the same time the most vulnerable to criticisms of smoothness.

Giuliani, like Hillary, assumed after the early polls a coronation rather than a barroom fight. He is the quickest on his feet, toughest on questions of Islamic fascism, and probably the most savvy on political matters. I have no idea the extent to which his personal life, his New York ties, or his lack of state-wide or national election experience matter, only that they have all been used to erode his lead.

McCain. I think I share the same odd impression as millions of other moderates and conservatives whose logical reservations are more than outweighed by McCain’s emotional appeal. They all worry about McCain’s past positions on immigration, taxes, campaign finance reform, and harsh invective against Rumsfeld. But all that seems to matter little in the last analysis given his present steadfastness on the war and his own saga of courage. When I watch him speaking, he seems old and tired, sometimes on the verge of an outburst—but somehow deserving of our collective support. I would sleep easily with a President McCain, the oldest and most deserving in some sense of all the candidates..

Thompson. I never quite understood why the press charged someone 65/6, with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in remission, as “lazy.” He is not. The wonder is not that he is not as vigorous as Romney but that he is out on such a breakneck campaign at all. He seems the ideal Vice President candidate. That he could not meet the impossible pre-candidacy hype does not mean he won’t bounce back and run a strong second or third in the primaries.

Things that don’t compute

I never understood why the Left did not blame the radical Palestinian movement—at the time Marxist inspired and Soviet-funded—for the zeal behind Sirhan Sirhan’s assassination of Bobby Kennedy, or the hard-core Soviet/Comitern communist movement that enticed a Lee Harvey Oswald who shot Jack Kennedy.

Never either understood how an Al Gore could live in such exceptional splendor amid conspicuous consumption and rail like an Old Testament prophet about the Western consumer lifestyle and its culpability for global warming. Nor was it easy to understand how a self-acclaimed man of the people like John Edwards would chose to dwell in a 30,000 square foot home, with a 2,000 sq. ft “John’s Room” inner sanctuary—rather than say a 5,000 square foot more modest abode?

I never understood the radical environmental movement that so castigated the US, when most of the global bumper-sticker eco-crimes—the Soviet sloppy and polluting exploitation of Siberia for gas and oil, the Japanese harvest of sperm whales over the last quarter century, or the Chinese contamination of the soils through systematic leaching of industrial chemicals—were elsewhere.

The same disconnect applies to religion. I’m no fan of Huckabee, but it seems to me he evokes God and Christianity no more than did Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, or the Rev. Al Sharpton, who at one time or another, all ran for President. And why are we in near paralysis over a presidential candidate who is Mormon but worried little about the Mormonism of the Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, by now infamous for his shoot-from-the-hip slurs and hysterics?

Of course, there are liberal explanations for all of the above: these leftists were driven over the brink to assassinate the Kennedys in a climate of fear, extremism, and violence brought on by the American right-wing gun culture.

A Gore or Edwards or Kerry are to be commended because, unlike others of their class and status, they at least are “doing something about it” by using and galvanizing their resources to work for the poor, if even in the abstract. And liberal Christianity poses no threat, in its tolerance and advocacy of social change, to government in a way right-wing nationalist evangelicals do. Or so they say.

One thing we all agree on—this will be the dirtiest and roughest campaign in a generation, something that will easily trump 2004.

Political and Natural Landscapes

December 17th, 2007 - 11:41 am

Thoughts on Global Warming

Actually I have no deep thoughts on the subject, since the argument that it is entirely human-induced doesn’t seem proven. (I still remember the “new Ice-Age” stories growing up in the media, a century following the Industrial Revolution.)

Instead, I look at the world empirically and locally. It has already been a cold autumn here in central California. It’s now raining and snowing in the Sierra. The water table has dipped, but that seems entirely due to population growth, not climate change.

Looking out the window from this farm, I have a couple of contrary thoughts. First, there are millions more people here than in the late 1950s, and, second, the air seems far clearer, at least the mountains are more frequently visible than was true of the 1960s and 1970s. The climate seems unchanged, though the summers feel more humid, and not quite like the scorching desert temperatures of my youth.

If we have damaged the environment hereabouts, it seems only in the sense that we are choosing people and suburbs over open spaces and farms. I regret that, but I am not yet convinced (as much as I would like it to stop and some part of the 1950s rural scene to endure) that these millions here have polluted the air, taken all the water, or fouled the environment. Again, growing up in the far more open 1950s the air seemed dirtier, organophosphates and organ chlorides were more ubiquitous, and the water table more polluted (in fact, the more farms go out of production in favor of houses, the less water may be consumed?).

All that is a long way of suggesting that I would like to find arguments to use against the blacktopping of central California, but am afraid it will continue since it may mean the air is no dirtier (surely less dust with fewer of our farms) and the water no more scarce—as long as we grant we cannot farm as before.

All that being said, I would prefer a month of the world of the 1950s hereabouts to a year in the present. I remember it was about 1973 when my grandfather remarked to me he had to find a long-lost key to the house front door. And I remember the local scandal when the paper mentioned someone was caught with a “morphine-syringe kit” and arrested on charges of having “drug paraphernalia.”

What a world lost.

Illiberal Immigration

I did some radio interviews this week on illegal immigration, and am quite surprised still how such an illiberal phenomenon is cloaked in doctrinaire liberalism.

Examine the institution on its merits: illegal immigration depends on the union-busting employer’s exploitation of cheap labor that cannot bargain or organize. The Left cynically sees a new politically dependent constituency that will need group representation, and supposedly show lasting thanks for the extension of entitlements (note the Left still bristles at illegal immigration from Cuba).

A tribalist fringe in support voices clearly racist triumphalism (cf. La Raza [“the race”]). A cynical Mexico hopes to export human capital, and then have distant helots send much of their wages home—thereby ensuring its expatriates will live in poverty in the US but allow Mexican elites not to spend housing, education, and medical pesos in central Mexico (cf. however, the government’s unique ability to attract wealthy white Americans to build second homes in Baja).

Meanwhile play-by-the-rules Asians and Africans wait for years in line and must show specialized skill to enter the US legally.

Presto! All that and more are considered “liberal” while its critics are smeared as “racists”, “xenophobes” and “nativists.”

History of the US Infantry

I just received a stunning volume, U. S. Army Infantry, published by the National Infantry Association (eds. retired Col. Bluhm, MG White, and LTC Newell). It is a massive book, replete with maps, photos, and a narrative spanning 1600 to the present that chronicles ground operations of the American infantry over four centuries—beautifully produced and written, with a forward by Colin Powell.

Target Obama

Expect the Clinton machine hardly to cease its ongoing character assassination of Obama. In the flurry around Bob Kerry’s Hillary endorsement, he managed to mention Obama’s middle name Hussein, and a three-generation familial association with Islam. In the past, Clintonites “touched” upon madrassas, drug use, and the kindergarten essay. Islam, the funny-sounding name, the African connection—when Hillary et. al get through with defaming Barack Hussein Obama, the public will supposedly think he is some sort of Idi Amin incarnate.

So much for the politics of personal destruction.


I have been listening to the BBC while driving across California to and from the Hoover Institution. While the themes of the reporting are clearing leftish inspired, there is also a constant subtext of anti-Americanism in general, and in particular anti-Bush. But for all the stories about British nuance versus American cowboyism, it is hard to see how recent British moves—turning over entire regions last summer to the Taliban, fleeing Basra, or begging for return of the capture sailors—are models of either insight or courage.

With changes in government in Europe, we are witnessing an upside down situation, in which the French and German governments seem more pro-American than is the British, whether or not these are accurate reflections of current popular sentiments. On recent trips to Europe and in conversations here with Europeans, I often find the French and Italians more friendly than the British—but almost never see anyone point this out in print.

Defeat and Reconciliation

I recently did an interview with Peter Robinson on NRO concerning the reasons for the turn-about in Iraq. After listing the usual suspects—the surge, the change in tactics, the repulsion with al Qaeda’s horrific atrocities, Sunni fear of the Shiite government, fear of Iran, desire for the nearby stability of Kurdistan, etc.—I listed two others: the enormous and growing revenue from oil that is increasingly visible in the country, and the staggering losses of the Sunni insurgency mostly to the US military, and in lesser measure, to the Shiite militias.

Some readers complained about that, repeating the old canard, “there is no military solution”. But only the defeat and humiliation of the Sunni militias and Baathists allowed the present window of opportunity for political reconciliation. And again, what brought about the Anbar awakening was not some sudden mythical “reconciliation” but the stark reality that the Sunni insurgents had been repeatedly defeated on the battlefield, had no allies in al Qaeda, but future enemies with the Shia government, and saw a US ready to be magnanimous and solicitous of its security needs. Add the brighter alternative of giving in to share in billions of petrodollars and it was a no brainer.

The Clintonites and the classical arts of defamation:

Apophasis: “the raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it”, as in—”The issue related to cocaine use is not something the campaign is in any way raising.”

More on Bill Clinton

I watched Bill Clinton on Charlie Rose. Some random thoughts: Hillary’s staff’s rhetorical flourishes of denigrating Obama by claiming not to must originate with Bill himself, or are inspired by his modus operandi. The entire interview was classical praeteritio: He is not low-balling Hillary in Iowa by saying it would be a miracle if she won; he is not trashing Obama by mentioning he doesn’t have the experience to be President, etc.

He praises Hillary’s achievements during his administration; but one wonders why now, and not then? In the 1990s she was hardly in the news as such a key player—except for destroying the health care initiative.

He still has a bad temper, and turns beet red at the first indication he might be challenged (cf. the Chris Wallace Fox News interview). I will write about him for the TMS column this week, since his sudden presence in her campaign can’t be a good sign for her candidacy. The Rose interview shows that he’s completely undisciplined and can say anything at anytime—and already has on her campaign trail, whether falsely claiming he always opposed the war, or now suggesting that only his recognition in 1988 (pay heed! Barack) of his lack of experience (as opposed to his ongoing barely suppressed scandals) precluded an earlier run for the President. How thoughtful and courageous he was to have spared us an “inexperienced” Clinton as president in 1988.

The Would-be Presidents

December 13th, 2007 - 8:08 pm

Embryonic Research

What are we to make of the recent news that adult stem cells can be altered to revert to their embryonic forms for purposes of disease research? If true it brings us back to the 2004 election, and the Michael J. Fox commercials and campaigning, along with the references to Christopher Reeve. The overt message was that Bush’s insistence that we not harvest human embryos was somehow a murder sentence to those suffering life-threatening diseases, or spinal-cord injuries.

Now not a peep, of course, about the latest developments. But perhaps the lesson applies to global warming as well: we presently simply don’t know the exact truth about heating up the planet, or why the furor has crested now. But it may well be true in 4-5 years that comprehensive new research may make our current hysteria likewise ‘dated.’

The Edwards Surge

It is hard to believe in the latest Edwards’ “win” in the debate and his surge in the campaign. His hypocrisy hinges on the fact that he has been a trial lawyer, who, like many, found a way to match and trump the corporate elite—and enjoyed the spoils of such success, from his cushy lifestyle to expansive estate.

So it is laughable to hear his populist rhetoric when most of his professional life was geared to finding a way to live rather high off the hog from litigation. When he talks of “two nations” it is always in terms of a zero-sum game—in which for every single rich man (like him), several others less fortunate must do with less.

On the other hand, should the field have had been crowded with hard leftists, and there was an opening on the moderate/right wing of the Democratic Party, surely Edwards would have reverted back to his Southern senator mode who voted for the war, gave fiery speeches about worries over WMD in Iraq, and was once considered a “centrist” in his senatorial campaign.

So why the latest attention? As a trial lawyer famous for his summations, he knows how to pontificate and debate and those skills are beginning to show. Second, Edwards has finally found a way to translate his past abilities in shaking down corporations through law suits into a sort of populist rage in which government under his aegis would suffer the same—sort of like 300 million of us having Edwards suing our government for every sort of monetary recompense for our collective suffering.

Hoi Clintones

Conventional wisdom has it that Al Gore erred in banishing Bill Clinton from his 2000 campaign, on grounds of the disgrace of Monica et al. But Gore captured the popular vote anyway, and he knew well that Clinton had never won 50% of the presidential vote. So the question of Bill emeritus as a plus or minus hasn’t been settled.

I would err on the side of muzzling him. Bringing him in now (or both the mother and daughter) to balance Oprah is risky—it makes Hillary look panicky and in need of her husband to protect or energize her. And as a narcissist and egomaniac, he inevitably talks ad nauseam about himself. He is a distraction since he is prone both to untruth (cf. his “always against the war” claims) and hyperbole (such as his latest praise of Hillary, “I thought she was the most gifted person of our generation”). Mark my words: in one of every two speeches on the stump, he will say something inaccurate, self-serving, or gratuitously mean, and thereby take another day of attention away from Hillary.

Then there is the Freudian thing, in which, as mentioned here a few posts ago, it is not altogether clear he wants her to win (cf. his supposed offer to her years ago: “You know, you really should dump me and go back home to Chicago or go to New York and take one of those offers you’ve got and run for office.”)

By bringing up “dump” we immediate get transported back to all the things that would have justified just that—and none of them are Hillary’s multifarious job opportunities without him. Just the opposite: we think that while she should have dumped him, she stayed with him because she always thought such proximity to such a slick and gifted politician might eventually land her “offers”—as it did.

The Illegal Immigration Land Mine

Democrats and their apologists keep insisting that either illegal immigration is not really an issue, or, that to the extent it is, it only wins Democrats Latino voters. Three things: as of yet the vast voting Latino bloc simply has not emerged; two, all the polls show overwhelming opposition to illegal immigration; three, African-Americans are against it, as are Asians; so legitimate worry over wide-open borders is hardly the equivalent to a Lou Dobbsian “nativist” spasm.

This is a losing issue for Democrats. In today’s press releases and punditry, the National Council of La Raza is often referenced and approvingly quoted. So those alleging that others are nativists or tribalists have now aligned themselves with The National Council of—the Race?

Doesn’t anyone grasp that La Raza (“the race”) should be a toxic term—a 60’s separatist and racist rubric that should have long ago dropped from popular American parlance? Even the recent Univision debate is a reminder why one wouldn’t wish an officially bi-lingual society: the moderator Jorge Ramos is a tribalist of the first order, and the format, with clumsy translations, ear-pieces falling out, and repetition and confusion, reminds one how intellectual commerce simply comes to a halt when everything must be translated rather than simply communicated in a shared language.

All this is so silly: an attritionist position is all Democrats need to mouth: close the border, allow Mexico its privileged 150,000 or so green carders and legal citizens, and then deal with the 10-15 million illegal aliens on an ad hoc basis: some illegals will wish to return home; some can be deported who committed crimes or just arrived; some will marry American citizens; and some long-standing residents with solid work records can stay and apply for earned citizenship. Once the hundreds of thousands stop coming each year, the pool is static and the formidable powers of American assimilation will make all these worries over multiculturalism and bilingualism moot.

As long as Republicans avoid advocating blanket, mass deportations, the issue favors them.

The Clintons as Demosthenes?

It was quite entertaining to hear the Clinton people drudge up Obama’s confessionals about using drugs, proclaiming they were now airing them only in worry that the Republican attack machine might do worse later—classical praeteritio (e.g., ‘as far as my opponent’s drug use, let us not mention it’).

In the past we have seen the use of apophasis, in something like ‘As far as stories about Obama’s Muslim madrassa past, we think such slurs are entirely inappropriate’ (the use of denial to make a positive statement). Before the campaign is over, every classical rhetorical trope will be exhausted—and we haven’t even seen yet the entrance of the nasty relief staff like Begala and Carville.

The Old War Horse

Republicans have serially lambasted McCain for positions deemed hardly conservative—like the immigration bill, McCain-Feingold, opposition to the tax cuts, and extremely nasty past attacks on Rumsfeld, well beyond what was civil. He also looks tired and old, and at times not well. His temper is a matter of record.

And yet—of all the candidates McCain seems the most direct and principled. He did the country an enormous service by advocating the surge, defending it, and never inching away when most last spring were. I enjoy watching him debate. His line about being ‘tied up’ about the time of Woodstock was poignant and the best of the campaign. Give his past injuries and health problems, and his age, his current break-neck pace is nothing short of miraculous. I couldn’t last a week doing what he does in a day.

Whatever his supposed flaws as a candidate, his military service and candor, along with his energy, intelligence, character, and wit, make him a national treasure. If he doesn’t make it (and I’m not yet convinced he won’t), he would be a great VP candidate or cabinet official.


Last weekend I spoke to a number of returning Marines in San Diego. Some were veterans of Haditha tangentially involved in the incident and libeled by Congressman Murtha (e.g., “there was no firefight, there was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”)

They were all courageous young men, who shared their experiences candidly, and had fought with honor and professionally even while they were pitted against savage jihadists who used women and children, both actively and passively, to kill them, while they were libeled at home by their own representatives. Many are leaving the corps, despite excellent records of combat. When one reviews the Haditha coverage and Murtha’s charges, one is struck once again by the media’s use of unnamed sources to spin and fabricate.

I can’t think of any war in which there have been so few atrocities, but so many false allegations of them—going back to the flushed Koran at Guantanamo to the New Republic’s falsities. And all the while either few if any apologies arise from the fabulists.

In the end the rantings of a Sean Penn, Dick Durbin, Moveon.org, Tim Robbins, Harry Reid, Ted Kennedy and so on become just a blur, a sad reflection of some very unhappy maladjusted people of influence who have attacked the very military who protects them for either partisan advantage or some twisted sort of psychological penance.

From Water to Airplanes

December 8th, 2007 - 8:53 pm

A little snow, a little rain…

Californians are relieved that we’ve had 48 hrs of rain and snow. But the state was so dry, and winter already upon us, that much more is needed before there is a watershed to work with next year. Still, people seem relieved that the fire threats are over, and there is a little snow on the ground in the mountains.

The great questions in this region, however, are not addressed: can we have a central valley of edge cities and 10 million people and still farm? Clearly not.

I grant that removing an acre of vines or trees might result in a yearly water surplus when 8 houses are put on it instead—but is that what we are to be? A supposedly “service” economy where the mysterious supplier for some reason keeps giving us fuel and food that we either don’t have or won’t produce?

I realize that the days are numbered when I can walk over to a 15hp pump, flip a switch and watch 1200 gallons per minute of “my” water flow down a furrow or a drip hose—and that soon I will not only pay for the power to push up the water but a tax on a “community” resource beneath my own property.


I think the second siege of Fallujah in November 2004 will go down in the annals of Marine history as something comparable to Iwo, Okinawa, or Hue, in its violence, heroics, and strategic importance of breaking the insurgents who were ready and waiting for our arrival—after a politically inspired disastrous pullback in April. I was speaking to a number of veterans this weekend in San Diego, and their stories were chilling and awe-inspiring all at once.

Ghost Battlefields

One of the most eerie things I’ve ever experienced was walking up to a building in Ramadi and having a marine point out the surrounding landscape, pointing out which building or road was the scene of some horrendous firefight from 2004-7 during his prior tours, replete with details of those who had been killed or wounded, and through what circumstances. To walk around these now quiet places in Iraq, and see the scars of battle, prompts these sensations—where are the now anonymous Marines or Army grunts who once fought these savage insurgents here? And does anyone appreciate that their unheralded efforts in the dark years of 2005-6 have led to our present chance of victory?

The surge, a change in tactics, the Sunni fear of the Shiite government, cut-offs of Saudi money, loathing of creepy al Qaeda and the chance to cash in on high oil prices—all that and more no doubt explains the Anbar awakening. But we should remember that thousands of Americans, whose names we are ignorant of, took a horrific toll on the insurgents. It is a truism that “there is no military solution” in Iraq, but there was most certainly a need for our soldiers to defeat Sunni Batthists and islamist insurgents whenever they encountered them. They did, and we should remember that as their sacrifices gave the country a second chance.

Latin vs. Greek

Recently a number of readers (wishing to start classics) have asked which language was more difficult, expecting, of course, classical Greek to be the answer. I beg to differ. After some 36 years of studying and teaching both, I would argue that Latin is the more challenging. True, at the introductory level, the unfamiliar alphabet, accent marks, and the larger vocabulary make Greek the tougher.

But that being said, Greek vocabulary is cognate—strategos, stratia, statiôtês, stratopedon — in ways that Latin is not, e.g., dux/ductor, agmen, miles, castrum.

Latin’s vocabulary is smaller, but then Greek has no such words as duco/ere that can mean almost anything.

Greek long and short vowels—o-mikron vs. o-mega, or epsilon vs. eta are easier to identify and scan than short and long Latin o or e.

The Greek optative mood allows a sequence of moods in subordinate clauses, unlike the intricate sequence of tenses of the subjunctive in Latin (Greek’s subjunctive in contrast can be freed to denote aspect rather than tense in relation to the main verb.)

Greek word order is far more straightforward, more often subject / verb / object than Latin’s object / subject / verb.

So usually students have more difficulty reading introductory Greek, but after a few years find a Livy more difficult than Xenophon, or Cicero harder than Lysias. True, there are nearly incomprehensible authors like Pindar or the choruses of Aeschylus, but then there are Latin writers such as Persius that are impossible to translate.

Sean Penn offered this at a Dennis Kucinich rally.

“While I’m not a proponent of the Death Penalty, existing law provides that the likes of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice, if found guilty, could have hoods thrown over their heads, their hands bound, facing a 12-man rifle corps executing death by firing squad.”

Surely Nancy Pelosi will object to all that offered on behalf of a fellow Democratic Congressman? And why is that those actors born to Hollywood insiders, who grew up in relative affluence, who are the long recipients of old-boy networking and parental contacts, and never were much educated when such opportunity was readily available, suddenly in their mid-lives become avowed Leftists, or at least in spirit?

I wouldn’t mind so much if the movies were not so bad. But when those failures, like many academics who are not ensuring our graduates have basic skills, lecture others about failure, it’s hard to take.

No win on the Iranian bomb intelligence

Is this the story?

In 2005 the agencies tell Bush, Iran is on the eve of getting a bomb. In 2007 they say wait, we were wrong, they are not, and, by implication, you shouldn’t have voiced such concern given that your information we gave you was wrong then, but of course right now.

In the report, they claim that in 2003 the mullahs stopped their efforts to get the bomb, due to “diplomatic” pressures, of which they cite none at all and omit the elephant in the room of the American toppling of nearby Saddam Hussein and the capitulation of Libya.

And the result? No one believes that the Iranians really quit, but most certainly believe we have ended any chance of serious international sanctions and embargoes, the Chinese, Russians, and Germans now sighing in collective relief.

And all this comes after the Clark, the Scheuer, the Tenet, and the Plame tell-all memoirs. I can’t think of any agencies of government that have now enjoyed lower public esteem than the intelligence bureaucracies. At least in the old days the CIA was considered a tough bunch of bastards that acted like they knew what they were doing.

The new stereotype is that of a generation of history, and English BAs—who failing to get their law or advanced academic degrees—went into intelligence. Once there they got angry that their genius was not appreciated and their liberal worldviews were not heard, and then began leaking and molding intelligence to fit preconceived notions—even as they claim they were squeezed by right-wingers wanting to bomb someone. A thorough mess we have at present. Partisanship shapes intelligence analyses, and dissidents leak and spin to the media to undermine views they do not embrace.

Iranian expatriates

I speak a lot in southern California and have encountered two general groups of Iranian expatriates living there.

The first seems composed largely of refugees from the mid and late 1970s when they saw the end of the Shah on the horizon and wanted to get out before or during the fall. Many are now successful in business, very pro-American, and happy to have landed in the US. They detest the mullahs and want sanctions, etc. to stiffen to bring down the regime.

A second, smaller group, it seems to me, fled in, or after, 1979. They were anti-Shah, but tried to stay on after his demise, thinking that some sort of Euro-socialism or even communism would follow, and that the mullahs were useful idiots in their shared anti-Shah agenda.

Then when the imams and clerics turned on these supposedly best and the brightest, this second wave followed to America. And this is a very different group I ‘ve encountered, who more often gravitate to the media, academia, politics, and think tanks. They tend to evoke 1953 hourly, harp on the present administration, and sound overtly and serially critical of the US to the point that a stranger might wish after about five minutes to ask “Why did you come since you are so obviously angry and unhappy here, and why then don’t you return home to finish your envisioned revolution?”—all this despite the fact that only in an economy and culture like the US would any of them have found their quite astounding success and security.

Airplanes. Part #2

I had a stunning amount of mail on the frustration of boarding and deplaining flights. Another minor frustration: the person ahead in the security line, when told ad nauseam, “Please retain your boarding pass as you pass through the scanner” talks and pays no attention, but then suddenly when nearing the security person, panics, stops the line, goes back to the conveyor belt and looks frantically in some packet or carry-one for where the boarding pass is packed away—all the while holding up others and freezing the conveyor belt.

Farming and Fighting Again

December 3rd, 2007 - 1:40 pm

Drought Blues Update

It is only December and California farmers are starting to panic in the Central Valley over the absence of both snow in the mountains and rain here. It is still nothing quite yet to give up on—I remember many “March miracles” when a deluge of rain and snow stopped a draught, and came so late in the year that the snow pack was with us until mid-June.

BUT the problem is that October-December has not just been dry but really dry and in the daytime warm as well without much of the accustomed and necessary fog and drizzle.

And second, last year was a below average snow-pack, so there are no reserves whatsoever. We could easily repeat the disaster of 1976 when suburbanites spray-painted green their dead lawns, and farmers got on waiting lists for well-drillers to deepen wells, their turbine blades in a race with the sinking water table to go ever deeper—but all to the nth degree given the vast increases in California’s population over the last 30 years.

I went to Huntington Lake recently (7200 feet), and instead of the 5 to 6 feet of snow in driveways there was nothing, and by 2PM you could have sat outside in the sun and tanned.

Houses or Farms or the 19th-Century?

With millions of recent arrivals to the region between Sacramento and Bakersfield, coupled with a general subculture of me presentism, few know anything about farming, or indeed the natural history of the very environment in which they now live. The flat land between the mountain ranges has always been a delicate region, entirely dependent on Sierra run-off and subject to wide variations in rainfall. Until the Sierra dams (which we not only cease building, but also from which we demand more water to be released for restoration of rivers to their 19th-century conditions) were built, the area was essentially a desert.

In theory, it might be nice to have salmon runs in the San Joaquin as millions of acre feet head out to the Delta, but in practice that means less food. The public can’t have it both ways and will soon have to decide between agriculture, house, or environmental romance. Their call.

In The Land Was Everything I wrote that one day we could either farm or build suburbs but probably not both—thinking that day of reckoning was another a lifetime or two away. But I think it may be on us more quickly than we assume.

It is understandable why the new wave of settlers would choose the picturesque region between the Sierra and the 99 freeway, given its patchwork of farmers, once plentiful water, and proximity to the attractions of the Sierra. But it would have been far wiser to locate people on the West Side near the Coast Range. They could have commuted by rail to the Monterey Bay-San Francisco Peninsula hub, built on substandard farm land, and had plenty of imported federal water through the Northern California canals that otherwise has gone to some questionable farming (100,000 acres taken out of production due to drainage problems). West-Side farming interests could have profited by selling their land and water to developers, and the East Side might have been spared some of the horrendous growth that is devouring superior farming ground and once small towns from Auburn to Reedley.

Democratic fever

I have been asked in recent weeks to speak to various moderate to conservative Democratic legislators and groups, among them some prominent past Democratic luminaries. But what once was moderate it now doctrinaire liberal, given that liberal has become radical. It’s a real time-warp I’m afraid—to be lectured that we must talk with Hamas, that the Cold War ended only through dialogue, that the present polarized political climate started with Newt Gingrich, that Bill Clinton knew how to be “tough” and “fight” the right-wing attack machine, that nativism and racism explain the current “Dobbesian” paranoia with open borders and 11-18 million illegal aliens, and so on.

With that thinking, and Iraq off the front pages, otherwise friendly and sincere people may find a way to lose yet. The oddest thing? They think they need more of what is killing them—shrill liberal confrontation—and less of what might save them (Henry Jackson tough-minded security).

Please Don’t Shake My Hand

The non-news story that at Annapolis none of the Arab ministers would shake the hand of a Jewish-female Israel foreign minister Tzipi Livni should have been page one.

It summarizes the Orwellian nature of the entire “peace process” and Arab disconnect with reality. I suggest that we take a time out and try to solve instead the Cyprus problem or occupied Tibet or the territorial claims over the Kurile Islands, or compensation for the half-million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab capitals, or any of the pressing issues that could just as likely threaten world peace.

The problem of course is that the Greeks or the Jews or the Japanese or the Tibetans don’t have oil, or terrorists, or are part of a billion-person religion that manifests scary things like the spectacle in the Sudan.

And in that regard I posted at NRO this on the Sudanese craziness as well:


Same old, same old-whether a teddy bear, a cartoon, or a papal sermon, whether in Khartoum or Islamabad.

They take offense, we understand, or rationalize, or equivocate — either out of condescension or fear of terrorism or worries over oil or multicultural guilt or all that and more.

Then the moderate Muslim spokesman is trotted out to condemn the nuttiness, but also to anguish over the media that “sensationalizes” and “inordinately” reports the latest Islamic lunacy.

We usually then get the silly Timothy McVeigh or IRA comparison, and forget the entire absurdity — until the next opera, film, or novel brings out the fist-shaking, swords, and death threats.

The only dramas seem to be our infighting over whether this reflects Islam itself, or the reaction of radical Islamists angry at the modern world — or whether at this point that really matters any longer anyway.

‘Still Crazy After All These Years…’

In past postings I suggested that Democrats either take credit for the surge, or suggest that while successful the war wasn’t worth the blood and treasure. But apparently some in influence are insanely sticking to the notion that the surge hasn’t worked. Thus Harry Reid’s most recent announcement of US failure.

And at some point, Rep. Murtha should apologize directly to those he accused and convicted once upon a time with the following:

“There was no firefight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood.”

Not so a court of law.

The Iranian non-bomb?

I also posted this at the NRO corner this week:

Revisionism and The Iranian Non-Bomb

The latest news from Iran about the supposed abandonment in 2003 of the effort to produce a Bomb—if even remotely accurate—presents somewhat of a dilemma for liberal Democrats.

Are they now to suggest that Republicans have been warmongering over a nonexistent threat for partisan purposes? But to advance that belief is also to concede that, Iran, like Libya, likely came to a conjecture around (say early spring 2003?) that it was not wise for regimes to conceal WMD programs, given the unpredictable, but lethal American military reaction.

After all, what critic would wish now to grant that one result of the 2003 war—aside from the real chance that Iraq can stabilize and function under the only consensual government in the region—might have been the elimination for some time of two growing and potentially nuclear threats to American security, quite apart from Saddam Hussein?

War is unpredictable and instead of “no blood for oil” (oil went from $20 something to $90 something a barrel after the war, enriching Iraq and the Arab Gulf region at our expense), perhaps the cry, post facto, should have been “no blood for the elimination of nukes.”

In the meantime, expect a variety of rebuttals to this assurance that for 4 years the Iranians haven’t gotten much closer to producing weapons grade materials.

Can’t Let it Alone?

The latest shout from Bateman:

“Last month people were telling me about how Victor Davis Hanson was calling me a liberal extremist performing a “hit job” for the “left wing site” Media Matters while in the pay of George Soros.”

One again, almost all LTC Bateman writes must be verified, since it is usually suspect. I never called Bateman a “liberal extremist”. Nor did I say he was writing as an employee of George Soros.

What I did write was that Media Matters received some of its funding, indirectly or not, from George Soros’s variously funded groups, and that Media Matters is a left-wing site and that it had used Bateman to do a hit piece, rather than a scholarly review (book reviews usually don’t include invectives like “pervert”, “devil” and “feces”). I stand by all of that, and any judicious reader who consults what is posted on Media Matters, or reads the column were Bateman appeared, or reads what Bateman wrote I think would agree.

As for his point that “people were telling”: Unfortunately, it is also true that for the last two months, to paraphrase Bateman, “people were telling me” and writing me endlessly about the long history of—one Robert Bateman. And such unsollicited communications in part help to explain both the poverty and hysteria of his oral and written arguments, whose style and content have been evident in those directed at a variety of others.

But don’t expect this to be the end of the Bateman shouting (note the mysterious and rather sad puff-piece entry about himself inserted in the Wikipedia biography of me that suddenly appeared and then just as suddenly vanished!). In the same manner that a supposed review of Carnage and Culture devolved into ad hominem attacks that ranged from “feces” to accusastions about the draft, so too the fora went from Media Matters to Wikipedia–and who knows where next.