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Works and Days

Left vs. Right, East vs. West, Spartan vs. Theban

March 16th, 2007 - 9:24 pm

<strongThe Righteous Ms. Plame

Valeria Plame’s sermon under oath about the virtues of CIA employees eschewing ideology and politics was laughable. The Wilsons have long been partisans with and contributors to the Democratic Party, and were, if only in a minor way, involved in Democratic politics. While mourning their collective loss of privacy, they translated Ms. Plame’s victimhood into lucrative film, book, and magazine deals, and welcomed the ensuing partisanship, as the soap-box encomia from her Democratic questioners attested.

She should have given a talk about the CIA and nepotism—and why we should believe her implausible story that some unidentified guy thought up the idea of Joe going to Africa, despite her reservations. This is ludicrous. But it does call for some sort of policy at the CIA forbidding employees from being involved in decisions of hiring their own relatives as outside contractors. From both financial and political considerations such a practice as Plame/Wilson’s is patently unethical.

Lost in all this are other two salient facts: the Special Prosecutor failed in his mission to indict anyone on his assigned task of finding out who “outed” Ms. Plame, because he saw that no law had been violated.

And, two, a real violation of national security that goes to the heart of the republic—the sanctity of official documents—bothered not at all Congress or the DC media. I refer to Sandy Berger’s October 2003 effort to rewrite history by stealing or destroying documents perhaps damning to his own President Clinton’s legacy. That felony should have earned him a 10-year minimum sentence. Despite the buffoonish method of sticking documents in his pants, the intent to airbrush away evidence was criminal, a reconstitution of the past along ideological lines.

Those Thespians and the 300

In a prior life I spent an inordinate amount of time championing the Thespians, who lost 700—400 more than the Spartans—at Thermopylai, and just days after the loss, their entire city as well.

I wrote about these brave fighters in Ripples of Battle, 192-199, and earlier in an obscure article, “Hoplite Obliteration: the Case of the Town of Thespiai in J. Carmen and A. Harding, Ancient Warfare. Archaeological Perspectives 1999), 203-218: e.g.,

“The history of the Greek city-state cannot be understood without considering the histories of hoplite battles. It is no exaggeration that the fate of entire communities literally depended on where, how and against whom their landowning hoplite soldiers were deployed in particular engagements… because of the decisive and horrific nature of the conflict, and the uneasy nature of coalition armies, [an] entire generation of farmers could be lost and their homes and families left vulnerable for decades—the experience of Classical Thespiai is an especially good example. In some sense, that city-state’s entire history is the story of little more than three tragic hours of fighting at Thermopylai, Delion and Nemea. Hoplite obliteration on those days led directly to the demolition of the city itself.”

More on the 300

I will write this week’s Tribune column on the reaction to the 300. The film’s producers must be delighted at the furor of the Iranian government. But how odd! The Islamic Republic believes that history started in the 7th century with Islam, so why all of a sudden are they harkening back 1100 years to infidel Persia?

In this regard, when an unpopular government like the mullacracy wishes to rally Iranians around getting the bomb, it usually appeals to nationalism, in the manner a despised Stalin after the June, 1941 Nazi invasion, suddenly began talking of Mother Russia rather than the Soviet Union.

It is true that Xerxes in Herodotus’s account is bearded, seated on a throne, fully masculine, and a somewhat tragic figure who weeps at the fragility of the human condition. But the Iranians should at least be happy that their ancestral king was not shown decapitating Leonidas, or ordering the eldest son of Pythius to be cut in half, the torso put on one side of the royal way, the legs on the other, or having the waters of the Hellespont lashed and branded—in other words, there is an entire corpus in Herodotus of anecdotes that might make the King seem far worse and sillier than the comic-book portrayal in the movie.

It is true that the surviving story of Thermopylae is from Greek sources only (Herodotus, various works of Plutarch, Diodorus, etc.), but that fact too illustrates the difference between an autocratic imperial east and the decentralized and autonomous city-state in which history was not merely the deeds of an autocrat chiseled on stone honorific monuments.

Too late?

For much of my early life, I would hear my grandparents and parents, who inherited the present farm from their grandparents and great-grandparents, say something like the following: “Keep the land, some day farms will be scarce and it will be a precious resource.”

But mostly those who lived in my house lost far more than they made on the farm, using scarce off-farm dollars to subsidize operating losses, especially during the early 1930s and then, again, during the 1980s. The idea of such agrarianism was to pass down a chance to grow up in a rural landscape to one’s children, to let them have the same opportunity that you did, thanks to the sacrifices of others. And such sacrifices were many. Despite the surge in world population, farm prices often fell, due to globalization, increased planting and land development, and the dwindling,ever smaller share given to the farmer from the sale of food to the consumer.

But I wonder recently if after a 130 years of such sermonizing, the long awaited radical change in supply and demand is at last coming true? The growth of affluence worldwide, land diverted from edible crops to bio-fuels, the restrictions on land-use, urbanization, environmentalism, and water shortages, like a perfect storm, are suddenly conspiring to raise both food and land prices. The tragedy is that it came very late in the game and most of the nation’s small farmers are long gone.

I write this reading a notice that our small 43-acre farm is to be placed inside the nearby Selma city limits, after 130 years of rural existence. . .

No Man a Slave—Outtake #7: The Parable of Epaminondas

After the failure and death of a Spartan hit squad sent up to Mt. Helikon to kill the family of Melon, (who is prophesized to kill a Spartan king at Leuktra), Epaminondas arrives to convince Melon to join his army. He promises to defeat the Spartans in Boiotia and then invade the Peloponnese itself. In this exchange, the Pythagorean Epaminondas turns to a parable to show why preemption is the only way to stop the annual invasions of the Boiotians’ homeland.

Although they are talking on a hillside in Boiotia, Epaminondas assumes the role of a Pythagorean interrogator, engaging in a type of dialogue, whose style, diction and formality we know from Plato’s work.

“But tell me this also farmer,” Epaminondas pressed even closer, still grinning at upping the Thespian. “Think when you have wasps with the sharp tails in you vineyard that Malgis planted. You know the terrible black ones. The ones that sting the paws of sleeping Sturax over there. Or land on the nose of Porpax. Or even in their pride jab the tall legs of your Neto or the chest of buxom Damo—do you chase them all over the orchard, flailing at one or two of them with the broom or clapping at them with your hands?”

“Of course, not!” Odd that the Theban knew of Neto and his son’s wife Damo, and of Chion and apparently Sturax and Porpax too, but at least not Gorgos as well.

“You think me a fool, Theban? To protect this household that you apparently know so well, I hunt out the nest of these stingers and then burn them out all at once with a torch of straw. Yes, I do. And so would you, had you any sense.” Melon sensed the Theban had a good lid on his own pot, and would need two or three more sticks on the fire before boiling over.

Still, Epaminondas flashed his black eyes, “Then don’t mark me a fool either, when you call me dream monger and worse. Like an old woman by the fire, you warn me that it is terrible to fight the Spartans. Maybe it is—as we both know—or maybe not. But when you fight the Spartans, you must kill their king. No one, not even our Malgis had done that. Then when you take on Sparta , you fight in Sparta, not where and when the kings slither or buzz to sting you.”

Epaminondas would play no more notes on his reed and now pointed his finger in Melon’s face.

“No, there won’t be any more sideshows here in Boiotia chasing a few wasps, beneath Helikon. No more on the farm of Malgis son of Antander as we did this morning. I am tired of swatting Spartan stingers far from their nests, as each year these Spartans flit from the farms of Thespiai to Thisbe and back to Tanagra. Or haven’t you heard them brag that they bury their own in the land of others, never others in their own? So sit here if you like until the King’s army, not eight krypts, are in your vineyard for all I care. They came to kill you because there skies are full of comets and oracles that cry out an apple will fall and end Sparta. Ask your Neto—they think you for some reason are the apple, the mêlon. So they kill you and so they think will live. Silly folk, children really Spartans are, but deadly all the same.”

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