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Works and Days

Reflections On an Age Now Fading…

May 27th, 2009 - 1:48 pm

Goodbye, Europe

We are on our third, and last, leg of this year’s tour, and headed today from Chania, Crete to Athens. We had a rare lecture yesterday from Prof. Nikos Stavroulakis of the Etz-Hayyim synagogue on the history of Chania. I had not known the full story previously of the fate of the island’s remaining Jews that were deported in June 1944 by ship under the orders of the occupying German army, and headed for Auschwitz-when their transport ship the Tanais was sunk (with the loss of all Jews on board) by a British sub. It is not entirely clear whether the torpedoing was intentional (a vain effort to stop the deportations and sure death) or a mistaken effort to hamper the German war effort. Quite a tragedy-that essentially ended the Jewish two-millennium-plus presence on Crete. Or rather, the on-board prisoners were doomed once the Germans closed the Jewish Quarter and sent them to sea headed for the death camps.

Today we visit the reconstructed trireme Olympias (and the dreadnought battle cruiser Averoff) and hope to do Marathon and Thermopylae tomorrow.

Easy Life

I am always pleased to converse with Greeks since they put a high premium on candor. Yesterday I met a fellow who had lived in the states, hated it, and was all too happy to tell me why. Yes, yes, he said, the EU has more rules than does America. But those in any EU country that borders the Mediterranean, he insisted, simply ignore most of them-from the mundane like trash throwing to the important like paying taxes and reporting income. In America, he argued, our police-state apparatus makes cheating far too hard, as we are obsessed with following statutes (here I objected that we too have become lax either to disregard for the law or incompetence).

The net result? He said he can work here for 4-5 hours on his official job without worry of being fired, while moonlighting whenever he wishes for pocket untaxed cash. Life in other words, was far better here-less work, more benefits, less worries about getting ahead. Everyone inherits his or her parents’ apartment, and puts  family raising off until a man’s thirties or even forties. The old American notion of marriage, children, a detached house, and a steady transparent job is a foreign concept-and maybe soon as well at home.

When we turned to foreign policy it was more surreal. NATO, he railed, should leave Crete. America should not be allowed to bring in ships and planes. But what about existential threats-terrorism, Turkey, an ascendant Russia? No problem, without a Greek connection with the US they disappear, or Greece can count on a rapid-response EU force. Here I suggested it had done that in 1917-8, 1922, and 1940-45, and in all cases European countries were mostly either indifferent, late in coming to their aid, or actively killing Greeks.

At that point he shrugged and said we could defend Greece without flying or steaming in Greek air and sea space. Yes, indeed…

US Thoughts

Conservatives are flummoxed about the Sotomayor news, and have been warned by the likes of Chris Matthews and David Gergen that the nomination is a shoo-in, regardless of Justice Sotomayor’s statements about the less desirable characteristics of white males as judges, and the desire to enact policy from the appellate bench.   

I think we are in an Orwellian time, and it is not just explainable by identify politics. Remember the grilling of Alberto Gonzales and the hysteria over Miguel Estrada. So the point is not just having a so-called minority profile, but having one compatible to the ‘progressive’ left. If an African-American nominee (cf. Justice Thomas) or Hispanic proves to be conservative, then race can often count against them, inciting a sort of furor on the left that such independent thinking individuals are not suitably deferential to liberals for their trail-blazing work.

Or perhaps the liberal mind feels that de facto it is beyond racial reproach, and therefore can engage in a sort of viciousness that exceeds even that shown non-minority conservatives. In short, the inspirational story of a Hispanic is relevant only to the degree that the nominee favors an agenda of the elite progressive left-without that requisite ideology, the candidate is reduced to an ingrate or a victim of false-consciousness, or a traitor of sorts.

The European Way

Are Europeans more healthy and environmentally sound than Americans? Unscientific study of Italians and Greeks suggests the following: European are not any lighter in weight than Americans. They smoke far more. Public buildings are more likely to be defaced, graffiti here being political expression, not a matter of gang signature.

Trash? The littered roadways of both countries are still about at the state of America circa 1960. The air of Rome and Athens seems dirtier than that in LA. Frequently used beaches in general in both countries are dirtier than LA’s dirtiest, and nothing like the pristine Northern California shores.

The point? I think this Euro-driven eco-sermonizing should cease. Vast swaths of Europe are well behind American eco-prudence, and the general population in key matters of preventative health from smoking and weight control to exercise are no better-and often far worse.

Let us be careful about the European model, very careful.

The Obamized Underground

From time to time I meet individuals who feel that the United States as they have known it is changing before their eyes, and therefore they have sunk into a terrible depression. They cite a litany of horrors.

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