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Works and Days

May 29th, 2007 - 3:35 am

Greece

I’ve been in Greece co-leading a tour of 60 Americans around the antiquities, and incommunicado for some days, hence the hiatus. I had not been to Perachora and the so-called Blue Lake in 25 years. It is as stunning as ever (and as I recall was an on-set landscape for the 1962 “300 Spartans.”)

After more than forty years of post-1967 coup/Cyrus virulent anti-Americanism, heightened by the NATO bombing of Milosevic and the Iraq war, I sense a subtle weariness on the part of Greeks with their usual pro forma denunciations.

Instead, there seems to be a quiet, almost reflective (mostly in private conversations) admission that the Islamism in Turkey is eerily reminiscent of a sad history with the East, that the EU’s shunning of Turkey, while probably wise, will put Greece in a frontline adversarial position without much confidence in the EU rapid deployment force (better the enemy inside rather than outside the group tent), and that the neighborhood of Albanian Islamists, North African lunacracies, Al Qaeda freelancers, and Middle Eastern jihadism (cf. the historically tragic position of Cyprus) isn’t entirely safe for an increasingly affluent Western, Christian outpost with demographic sclerosis, relatively open borders, a tiny population, unsustainable entitlements, and a convenient pacifism.

I have been an unapologetic Philhellene since I first started coming here in 1973, and even in the darkest times of our bilateral relations have never wavered in support of the Greeks. Like Israel and the Kurds, they are a small nation of spirited brave people, with a tragic history, who have more than won the right to American support in times of peril.

Deconstructing the News

It is always enjoyable to read the International Herald Tribune, at least to see how the news is presented to the English-speaking world outside of the United States. Here is a good slice from its May 29th issue (my comments in parentheses):

The effort to go “green” in Europe with bio-fuels (of course, along with our even greater efforts) now threatens world grain markets (as if there should always be good and bad choices, rather than bad and worse ones—with nothing about the present price of enriching the House of Saud, the Iranian mullahs, and Mr. Chavez, Putin, Morales, etc.)

A series of stories on the “new” Russia—as in strong-arming British Petroleum to give up its Russian gas concessions, wishing to rewrite the old Nato arms reduction agreement with the former Soviet Union to threaten rearming, and the Russian internet war against tiny Estonia to ruin its economy—followed by accounts of unrelated mirabile dictu observations that suddenly Spain, France, and Europe in general seem to be reexamining, in the positive sense, their relations with the once demonic US (no expressed connection, of course, between Europe’s dangerous neighbors and the enormous military deterrence of a friendly America);

A surreal human interest about a Muslim conference to end the negative Western image of Islam in the West (with no mention of suicide vests, IEDs, lunacy on the West Bank, in Iran, or Iraq, Sharia Law, polygamy etc.);

Barbra Streisand cancels her concert in Rome due to the Italian outrage over her robber-baron ticket prices (no mention of the dichotomy over her egalitarian sermonizing and her pursuit of lucre);

A nice quote from a story how the Vatican is renewing its efforts to embrace Islam: “Catholic-Muslim dialogue is still feeling the negative effects of Benedict’s speech last September in which he appeared to equate Islam with violence.” (italics added);

A German socialist’s lecture on the wrong-headedness of the US anti-missile shield, calling instead for global disarmament (but why not let Germany lead the way—ending all together what’s left of its military? Somehow only seven years into the 21st century, a German politician’s lecture about the need for disarming while pontificating about US about military expenditure is, well, tragicomedy. When Iran goes nuclear, we shall see what the German government chooses to do. I suggest, despite all the rhetoric, it won’t be disarmament.);

An op-ed contrasting favorably communist China’s education system with our own (not much about reverence for Mao in the classroom, the greatest mass murderer in civilization’s history);

An op-ed about the writer’s ancestors, one fighting for the Red Army, the other for America, against Hitler (without a note of tragic irony, that the courageous soldiers in the Russian military were forced to fight a necessary war on behalf of a genocidal regime [Stalin fresh from killing 20 million, and making somehow even Hitler look almost like a piker]);

A sweet story on American citizenship arguing for a return to no numerical limits on US citizenship (without any problematic context of the present mess, but ending with “Immigrants will cherish citizenship more if it is easier to get”);

A story about Iraqi expatriate/refugee prostitution in Syria, with the apparently non-controversial throw-away line: “In the club’s parking lot, nearly half of the cars had Saudi license plates” (I’ve often wondered why, if the kingdom is governed by Sharia law’s precepts about theft, why there were not amputees among the Royal family);

A bit about the hot Hamptons’ summer mansion market, where the rich go (no irony here that means egalitarians like George Soros, Richard Gere, and Steven Spielberg—“If you’re buying a house over $5 million in the Hamptons, you don’t even know what the ‘M’ word means.”—‘M’ of course meaning mortgage.)

A sort of the news item, of the type now known ad nauseam, about how South Korea’s commercial engagement with North Korea is the preferable way of the future. Still, it includes interesting tidbits: South Korea’s economy is 33 times larger than North Korea’s (why are we spending billions to defend this country?); the utopian South Korean businessman who opened up shop in the North is paying his communist workers $68 a month; a fillip that North Korea does not pass on those great wages to its helot labor force, but instead pays them in “local currency” and ration tickets.)

I’ll stop with that. But you get the impression of why the world may not particularly like the United States, and why it’s really uncertain whether we shall win this war against radical Islamic jihadism.

The Democratic Alternative

Watching Sen. Biden on CNN the other evening pontificate about the “legitimate” war against al Qaeda in Pakistan was beneath a sometimes reasoned and experienced pro. After scoring points that Bush has not spelled out our aims and plans in Iraq, he in turn talked only in banalities about the sanctuaries in Pakistan—the need for more Nato forces (try that), or for more pressure on Musharref (good luck), etc.

I would have had more respect for Sen. Biden had he said: “We must get al Qaeda in Pakistan—so here’s what I propose: either cut-off all funding for Pakistan and live with the results; start bombing al Qaeda strongholds; or send teams into Pakistan to hunt bin Laden et al down. And here are the risks of all three options.”

And as loquacious as Biden is, then his usual afterthought should follow on Iraq: “And by the way, I was for this war when it was waged brilliantly by those I approved of and were eager to tap my wisdom, and then I withdrew my support when its sequel was managed foolishly by those who didn’t listen to me.” That is, I suppose, a legitimate, though self-serving (at least in wartime) position, but still quite rational.

But instead, for even the most sober of the Democrats we get the usual Clintonesque rhetoric: no mention about why the war they voted for they now claim they were never for, or at least bailed on; no explanation for why we haven’t been attacked here at home since 9/11; no explanation of why fighting al Qaeda in Iraq or trying to foster reform there won’t help our own security. The notion that a Democratic Senator would “pressure” nuclear Pakistan is not credible, nor is the idea that after deprecating democratization in Iraq and elsewhere, anyone would insist on it in Pakistan.

Time Moves On

About two miles from my house, on the interchange of state freeway 99 and Mt. View Avenue, is proposed some mega-regional shopping center. The ensuing rumors of development, and annexation of our environs into the nearby city of Selma are rampant, as well as wild talk of more development and get-rich sales. It reminds me of the 1920s descriptions of land-mania in the rural south in a Thomas Wolfe novel.

Time moves on no doubt. And the commercially-zoned land in question (a rural interchange where a swap meet, recycling center, two gas stations, and labor camp intersect) hasn’t been really agricultural since I use to ride the bus there on the way home in 1960.

But the ripples will destroy more agricultural land. At some point someone should note that after losing the LA Basin, Orange County and Santa Clara County to development, there are not all that many ideal acreages—rich soil, dry hot climate, good aquifers—left in California.

I noted in Fields Without Dreams and The Land Was Everything a decade ago the irony: the best and most well-watered soils in the Central Valley are within 35 miles or so of the Sierra Nevada. They also happen to be the most desirable aesthetically, as well as the most conveniently located—and are thus the most rapidly disappearing to homes.

You don’t have to join the Sierra Club to see that paving over those areas in Fresno County bordering on once sleepy agricultural towns is a sort of madness. Once land is within two miles of a development, then the spillover effects make it nearly impossible to farm anyway.

Far better to develop the I-5 corridor on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley: the land is closer to the coast and Bay Area and in the future could be connected by rapid trains; the agricultural land is far worse, and dependent entirely on costly imported water from Northern California (which could be diverted for residential use); and the area is in desperate need of capital investment (cf. the nearby towns of Mendota, Tranquility, or San Joaquin.)

For what little it’s worth, I will never sell—and advised my son of my hopes that someday he can live on a forty acre vineyard in the middle of a megapolis, akin to those pictures of small houses next to skyscrapers in China.

Stupid, silly? Of course. But no more so than another megamall in the midst of orchards and vineyards.

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