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Works and Days

February 24th, 2007 - 10:11 am

Global warming or cooling—or both or neither?

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

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

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

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

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

Riding a Bike in Fresno County

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

What Are They Thinking?

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

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

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

Not Iraq—but Pakistan, or Iran, or …

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

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

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

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

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

No Man A Slave—Outtake #3

Lichas Talks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether he smiled or grimaced, few could tell.

Outtake #4

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

The Realist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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