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Works and Days

Mad Farmers, Iranians, and just about everybody else

March 22nd, 2007 - 1:36 pm


Ag Subsidies Always to the Rescue?

The Democrats’ bill to strangle the war effort is loaded with give-aways to ‘farmers.’ Do we remember “Freedom to Farm”—the bipartisan $40 billion something bill in 1996 that gave farmers cash, no strings attached, in exchange for eliminating subsidies within seven years?

Then going into its 6th year, 9/11 came along and the agribusiness community (I say agribusiness because only a few thousand receive large subsidies, with all statuses of farmers themselves comprising about 1% of the population) rushed to nullify the agreement under a new national security bill. I wrote about it once for the Wall Street Journal in 2002 (“Gimme, gimme, gimme: http://victorhanson.com/articles/hanson021002.html).

Apart from the war, on the matter of more subsidies, free-market conservatives should oppose this bill on grounds that it interferes with the market and distorts free enterprise; egalitarian liberals should deplore the focus of big federal money on big farmers, and ask why particular crops are targeted and others not, and why the current heady state of agriculture is in need of government largess.

It is a sign of the moral vacuity of this legislation that it now must always be welded onto some national security legislation; otherwise the counter-arguments—the money is no longer needed, it goes to the already wealthy, it has no logic in the crops it targets (peanuts but not almonds?) it hurts third-world farmers, it stifles importation of ethanol from Brazil, and on and on…

More on the 300

I wrote another bit on the historicity of the film 300 (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2007/03/300_fact_or_fiction.html). Iran’s mullahs are enraged—banning the film, taking the matter even to the UN, screaming that the US is waging “psychological warfare”. All this over an adaptation of a graphic novel—but then worse followed the Danish cartoons. Apparently Zack Snyder’s bald strutting make-believe Xerxes is much more an insult than threatening to wipe Israel off the map.

It is hard to imagine any doctrine that demands so much from others, so little from itself than radical Islam—and so paranoid and touchy too! Blowing up somebody is one thing, making a joke about the oh-so-serious nature of the Middle East, well that can get you killed.

What’s it all about?

Just as the nation could not breathe without learning the size of Dick Cheney’s shotgun pellets (I remember a Washington reporter calling me to ask what a 4-10, 20, and 28 gauge were), or the minutiae of Scooter Libby’s testimony, so now the fired federal attorneys hog the airways.

These may or may not be critical stories of the age, but my confusion is over their transitory nature: the world is supposed to stop over the Harriet Meyers nomination or Valerie Plame testimony. Fine, but why then do they become ancient history within hours? Various explanations: 24-hour cable news stations must create scandal and headlines; the NY-DC media is in a serial hysteria over George Bush; the inability of the American viewer to put up with a sustained analysis, etc. In any case the net effect is abject cynicism, with the public realization that what was supposed to work the nation into a frenzy will be sominex in three weeks—and all this tucked between fights over the corpse of Anna Nicole and worry over lost hikers.

Books

In the current issue of the Claremont Review I reviewed God’s War: A New History of the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman. Reviewing three books right now, one comparing Rome to America, a gripping account of the Battle of Lepanto, and an academic collection of books on ancient Greek views of Persia. I try to do one book review every two weeks, and read one ms. a week for either blurbing or as a referee.

In the seconds before the sea battle after Don Juan of Austria announces to the assembled Spanish and Italian admirals that the time of talking is over and the time of fighting “is upon us”, he then dances a jig on the deck of the Real. A strange world, when a defiant Italy and Spain once went it alone to stop the spread of jihad…

No Man a Slave—Outtake #8: The Speech of Kallistratos

Before Backwash spoke, the Athenian visitor Kallistratos asked to address the council chamber of the Boiotians. The Theban victory at Leuktra is a year old, and the Spartans have kept inside their borders to the south, unable to stop the construction of the new walled cities of Mantineia and Megalopolis in nearby Arkadia.

So why the need to restart the war and invade Sparta? Kallistratos goes on to warn the Thebans that Athens will have nothing to do with their crazy efforts at provoking King Agesilaos.

Alkidamas was sitting behind Melon and could lean forward to whisper in his ear as he identified the Athenian strangers, “There is Kallias next to Iphikrates. He had more coins in his mouth that even you do in your strongbox. And this Kallistratos— Kebês once taught him, but now the two-face outruns even his master in deception. He is a follower of old Isokrates. Yes, he loves his Spartans dearly. His name may mean “a fine army,” but he is a weaver of intrigue, not a fighter.” But Alkidamas forgot to say that his Kallistratos was a clever sort, and a far better speaker than Pelopidas or any other of the rustics who yelled in the assembly of the Boiotians.

“Men of Boiotia and friends of Athens. What is all this fiery air that this lackey of Pythagoras has breathed into this hallowed assembled of yours? Who let in this scaled dragon that would scorch Hellas with his sparks and embers of hate? Bloody Ares has left us. Peace with all her gifts is at hand. And yet this man, this unhinged Pelopidas alone it seems of the Hellenes yearns for corpses rotting in our fields. Food to sate birds and dogs. By the gods, man, at least give our peace a moment! You Boiotians, the summer before last have won a great victory. Yes, indeed, all Hellas acknowledges the achievement of Leuktra—a turnabout not unwelcome in my own city of Athens. But do not spoil the triumph with greed. Why would you drop the fine shiny apple in your hand by now grasping the rotting one so far out of your reach?”

Kallistratos sensed that his words had silenced a few of the louder mouths, and now pressed on to undo all the work of Pelopidas, “We men of Athens have no love for the Spartan. Indeed, for thirty years we fought him. Then your own grandfathers were not so friendly but often smiled at our grief. Thebans, not Spartans, stripped our houses on the border. Thebans sent men to Sikily to spear our sons. And, yes, Thebans clamored to tear down Athena’s city when Lysander sailed into the Piraeus in his pride. All this we paid you back not with invasion, but with haven for your exiles, when the Spartans then turned their attention to you and sat atop the Kadmeia right over there.”

Kallistratos gestured over to the Theban acropolis, and then once again lowered his voice, and extended his arms wide. He had an ample gut and wasn’t shy showing it. Instead Kallistratos wanted to impress on these dirt farmers how his clever speech had earned him such a rich table. “And there are many faces in this crowd—not the least this now suddenly tame Pelopidas himself—that I recognize from their sanctuary in Athens. We the men of Athens once took them in, all hungry and on the run. Then no one else would—and at great danger to ourselves from our newfound Spartan friends. Yes, these Theban embers still fire up. But now these renegades would turn their flames on their benefactors by scorching friend and enemy alike. Gratitude and xenia, I would have thought, are attributes not lightly thrown away by the Hellenes.”

So Kallistratos now softened his speech and began more to implore the crowd to stay home. “But time heals all. Such recriminations are for the gods now to sort out. We Athenians are magnanimous folk. And since the time of Theseus the men of Athens have always come to the aid of you Thebans when those from the south have camped outside your walls. Learn from us. War, after all, has proven a great leveler. We have had our fall. So has Sparta its own ptôsis—and so now beware that you of Boiotia do not trip up as well.”

Alkidamas leaned forward again, and whispered once more that Kallistratos had talked grandly, but so often like his teacher Kebês, said nothing, “Watch this snake that will now retract his slithering tongue and perhaps in his anger and arrogance show his fangs. I’ve watched this sophist for twenty years at Athens and his end is always his best. Look for his feigned close as he steps down, walks away, and then startled, remounts the Bema as if a sudden impulse in regret has forced him to speak one final word.”

Melon muttered back that he had seen the same thing the year before at Thespiai with old Kebês. It must be an old trick of sorts that the sophists were taught at Athens, this plague from Athens that infected all who study their artifice of speech.

Slowly the smile left Kallistratos. With an increasingly contorted look, he began to raise his voice just a notch, “Yes, we are now three brother poleis as it were, Thebes, Athens, Sparta—equal peoples all who should patch their tears and pull up over our heads our shared stitched cloak to fend off the harsh wind from Persia. A new consensus has emerged after the old war of the two great powers, under which no one city of Hellas in this balanced world can dictate to another or perhaps even simply do as it pleases. And so our Theban friends, you stay within your borders—as you wish your own cities to stay within Boiotia. Do not put our democracy at Athens in the unenviable position of having to censure its cousins across the mountain who seek to preempt a war when there in reality is very little to worry about from Agesilaos.”

Kallistratos felt the crowd hush, and in his appeal to their self-interest, now bellowed out his finale, “Let him be in his box and bars in the Peloponnese. Yes, let the old lame king be to rail at his darkness after he lost his army at Leuktra. So, join us in pledging that our democracies do not send armies across their borders into the lands of another.”

One lone Theban with a broad brimmed hat of leather, no more, yelled out, “When did Athens ever stay within its borders—or is our Delion in your Attika now?” A few jeers followed but it was hard to tell whether they were made at the interruption or the audacity of the strutting Athenian with his perfumed hair and gold clasps.

So Kallistratos peroration now turned both hot and frigid, mixing praise and disguised threat, in letting the Thebans know the price of sending their army south to the Peloponnese. “Boiotarchs, men of moderation and sobriety you are, so ponder this wise counsel and put off action until after the new year. Then once more when the weather warms and the buds break can we bring matters to the council of all the Hellenes in peace, and without the disruption of firebrands who scream and storm out of councils when they do not get their way. Wise men, I might add, seek to adjudicate the strife of the Hellenes in peace and with the nod of many poleis, befitting our equal say in stopping the folly of war, war that is always hateful unless it be against the hated Mede.”

At the end, Kallistratos’s voice had once again turned soft, as soft as Pelopidas’s, but by far the more polished. Had he not been an Athenian, the suddenly enchanted in the hall would have preferred his mellifluous speech to that of one of their own!

As Kallistratos began to walk down, he suddenly turned, jumped back up, struck his head, and ended with, “Men of Thebes, make no mistake about it. You are not talking of war thrust on you as happened on that dark day of Leuktra when a king crossed your borders. No, no, no, democrats of Boiotia, you are pondering an optional war. Yes, yes, yes, this is a preemptive act as it were. This proepixeirhsis of putting your hand to the enemy first that you now so embrace, of hitting the Spartans when they have no desire or ability to hit you, foul though they be.”

Now Kallistratos was almost weeping in lamentation, “This is not the wise path. Not what we would allow in the city of Perikles, and so we will oppose it in hope of bringing you back to your senses, as the friends we are.”

If any thought that Kallistratos’s sudden finale was an impulse, he ruined the studied effect by now droning on a bit too long, proving to Melon that even old Kebês was the better student of Athenian sophistry after all.

“Remember the helots are the concern of Sparta, not ourselves—just like Agesilaos has no say whether our own slaves walk or crawl in our streets. Yes, we supported your first war at Leuktra since war had sought you out. But this second act, this unprovoked invasion against the Spartans, this we cannot stomach. And so we will not. Preemption and aggression are not in our natures, and we can only hope you will turn from your present disastrous path.”

Kallistratos felt the crowd hush, and in his appeal to their self-interest, now bellowed out his finale, “Let him be in his box and bars in the Peloponnese. Yes, let the old lame king be to rail at his darkness after he lost his army at Leuktra. So, join us in pledging that our democracies do not send armies across their borders into the lands of another.”

A lone Theban, no more, yelled out, “When did Athens ever stay within its borders—or is our Delion in your Attika now?”

So Kallistratos peroration now turned both hot and frigid, mixing praise and disguised threat, in letting the Thebans know the price of sending their army south to the Peloponnese. “Boiotarchs, men of moderation and sobriety you are, so ponder this wise counsel and put off action until after the new year. Then once more when the weather warms and the buds break can we bring matters to the council of all the Hellenes in peace, and without the disruption of firebrands who scream and storm out of councils when they do not get their way. Wise men, I might add, seek to adjudicate the strife of the Hellenes in peace and with the nod of many poleis, befitting our equal say in stopping the folly of war, war that is always hateful unless it be against the hated Mede.”

At the end, Kallistratos’s voice had once again turned soft, as soft as Pelopidas’s, but by far the more polished. Had he not been an Athenian, the suddenly enchanted in the hall would have preferred his mellifluous speech to that of one of their own!

As Kallistratos began to walk down, he suddenly turned, jumped back up, struck his head, and ended with, “Men of Thebes, make no mistake about it. You are not talking of war thrust on you as happened on that dark day of Leuktra when a king crossed your borders. No, democrats of Boiotia, you are pondering an optional war. This is a preemptive act as it were. This proepixeirhsis of putting your hand to the enemy first that you now so embrace, of hitting the Spartans when they have no desire or ability to hit you, foul though they be.”

Now Kallistratos was almost weeping in lamentation, “This is not the wise path. Not what we would allow in the city of Perikles. And so we will oppose it in hope of bringing you back to your senses, as the friends we are.”

If any thought that Kallistratos’s sudden finale was an impulse, he ruined the studied effect by now droning on a bit too long, proving to Melon that even old Kebês was the better student of Athenian sophistry after all.
“Remember the helots are the concern of Sparta, not ourselves—just like Agesilaos has no say whether our own slaves walk or crawl in our streets. Yes, we supported your first war at Leuktra since war had sought you out. But this second act, this unprovoked invasion against the Spartans, this we cannot stomach and so will not. Preemption and aggression are not in our natures, and we can only hope you will turn from your present disastrous path.”

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