Work and Days

World Gone By

The Crazed Fringe

When I was growing in rural California in the 1950s and 1960s, my FDR parents winced at the nut right-wing fringe. This was, remember, the era of bulk mailings on pink paper, crazy “Did you know?” unsollicted newsletters detailing the names of local and national communists, usually sent from strange addresses in the Sierra Nevada foothills. At seven and eight, we used to pick them up from the garbage and ask our parents, “Hey, Mom, are Lucy and Ricky really communists?”

My cattleman uncle Tango used to stop by with John Birch literature, warning us about the impending fluoride conspiracy to make us all impotent.

The boy-scout troop leader would stop by, trying to sell us his version of a metal bomb shelter (a septic tank with hatches), and preached how we could win a nuclear war against Castro et al.

A neighbor used to preach to us that Caesar Chavez was employed by the KGB, and that the UFW was controlled by Moscow. The local paper’s op-eds still fought over Social Security and the Minimum Wage as equivalent to the Revolution of 1917. And always were the “hate the Jews” subtexts and allusions, alleging some sort of world banking conspiracy to rob us white rural folk who worked hard to send our peaches eastward only to have them hijacked and resold at ten times what they gave us by long-nosed crooks “on the East Coast”. You get the picture—the Right had a problem with its so-called wing nuts.

But over the years, conservatism came to terms with civil rights and anti-Semitism. Free markets, not socialism, enriched America and brought a level of affluence undreamed of it to the poor. (When I was seven, outhouses and unpaved roads were common in West Selma; today in the same neighborhood you see SUVS, new tract houses, and I-pods and blue teeth in the ears of illegal aliens.). And so the Klan, Birchers, and other assorted embarrassments were peeled off.

The left in the 1940s and 1950s had likewise gotten rid of its communist wing, and ostracized its fellow travelers. Henry Wallace was taken off the ticket. Dean Acheson and George Kennan had made liberal anti-communism logical rather than paradoxical.

But now the Left, still going on the fumes of the 1960s, has the greater problem with its extremists. Of course, the “base” can attack Bush on immigration, gay marriage, etc. but not from a position of sheer lunacy. The same is not true of the netroots or the Cindy Sheen/Michael Moore wing on the Left. They openly praise our enemies, whether in Syria or Iraq (“Minutemen”). They prefer the unfree world of Chavez and Castro to our own. And their language and methodology are as uncouth and repulsive as were the old tactics of the Birch Society.

I don’t think the Democratic Party will ever govern successfully until it does to its crazed extreme Left what the Republicans once did to the wacko far right. Collate what Sens. Boxer, Durban, Kennedy, Reid, or Howard Dean, or the Hollywood elite have said since 9/11 and you can see the practical problem in contemporary liberalism: anywhere, at any time, a Democratic liberal is apt to slur the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declare a war lost even as it is being fought, praise a dictator, travel to a police state to conduct freelance diplomacy, or—Jimmy Carter like—compliment terrorists and killers. In short, even in the cynical sense, Dems need a series of staged Sister Soulja moments.

Generation Gap

We oldsters have forgotten just how different are the young. I fished not long ago with my son up in the Sierra. Hadn’t done so in years. He was skilled at it, I not.

In about an hour he pulled in nine rainbows, 12-14 inches, I four. But here was the difference. In the 1960s my father sent us down to the lake or stream for “lunch” or “dinner”—that is, to bring back fish for all to eat. So I kept my four and had them for both lunch and dinner.

My 24-year-old son? Appalled at the idea.

With consummate skill and humanity, he carefully took the hooks out of all nine fish he caught, sometimes from deep down the throat and requiring some surgical skill. And he was worried when one floated on its side for about 5 minutes before swimming off—and was nearly sick that he had killed it. I was wondering whether his humanity was predicated on the notion of not hurting animal kind, or the fact that food was now so cheap and accessible that fishing had become a sport not a mechanism to ensure a meal. In any case, I felt a little greedy or worse, keeping the trout, and he seemed embarrassed, if not angry at my possessiveness. It’s a different world—reminded of that also by his sister (20) when I forgot to recycle a single Pepsi can, and put it with the regular trash. For my daughter that was worse than a mortal sin.


Reading a zillion theories on Gaza, all arguing that the Hamas take over is awful, or of no importance, or actually encouraging, etc. with just as many ideas how to deal with Gazastan. What is odd is the eagerness with which the West is embracing the Palestinian Authority, as if its own terrorism was always only a reluctant resort to gain fides in competition with a more savage Hamas. And thus Arafat’s epigonoi are suddenly freed from such sinister influences, and have become “moderates” who can be enticed by Western largess into becoming something like Dubai or Oman.

Good luck. Any examination of the multimillionaire spoiled brat Bin-Laden, or the aristocratic and snobbish Egyptian Dr. Zawahiri, or the other middle-class 9/11 killers might suggest that poverty is no requisite for jihadism. In fact, most of the worst of the this very sad bunch are affluent and have had exposure to the Western affluence and liberality.

True, the miasma on the West Bank contributes to the attractiveness of terrorism there, but it is not the catalyst (otherwise suicide bombers would be sprouting up in Africa, Asia, and Latin America), and thus its elimination won’t end the desire to destroy Israel.

One should read about the life of Sayyid Qutb, intellectual architect of the Muslim Brotherhood that we now apparently wish to embrace. He hated the very thought of Jews, though he had seen few if any in Egypt, and was only to encounter them in any real number in America. This middle-class Egyptian—subsidized generously by his own government, treated well and embraced by Americans—grew to detest the West for its liberality, its equality of the sexes, its material wealth, its friendship with the Jews.

In other words, his wretched life reminds us that envy, jealousy, anger at lost stature, these primordial emotions fuel jihadism. They may be enhanced by general misery, acerbated by statist failures and authoritarian governments, but ultimately the nihilist rages are attributable to the lethal mix of Middle East tribalism and Islam’s utter failure to account for and live with modernity.

Thinking that radical Islam will soften itself or evolve is analogous to a victorious Confederacy voluntarily ending slavery about 1870, a kinder, gentler Soviet Union without the gulags, Hitler in his dotage dismantling Auschwitz, or Tojo in the 1950s turning his old zeal to flooding the Co-Prosperity Sphere with cars and radios.

Novel—No Man a Slave. Outtake fifteen

The philosopher Alkidamas arranges to meet a trireme to sail out of the Gulf of Korinth to Pylos and meet the army of Epaminondas at Messenia. But as they set out from Aigosthena on the coast they are soon waylaid by Korinthians, and forced to flee to shore. From the last fourth of the novel, dealing with Chion’s efforts to reach Ithomê and ransom Neto from the helot overseer Gorgos.

Chion nodded. Then he climbed down, found a bench on the top deck, and fell into his new pulling. Yes, he had run hundred stades over the mountain from Plataia to the shore, all this night, and reached the ship as promised, but could not sleep and would now try this rowing. He was yanking on the oar with his good arm, still at it for hours as the sun came out, when all could see Helikon on their right and off in the distance snowy Parnassos and the black bilows not far from the harbor at Kirrha.

While the helots swore at the tug, Chion pulled and smiled—this rowing was far easier than the olive press handle on Helikon. These waves gave way to his strength in a way the stone smasher never did. And what better way to rock up his muscles to meet Antikrates and smash his throat with his good hand?

All of hoplites still were asleep on the outrigging, just now waking to the gentle surge of the ship. The winter sun was coming out in full. And the sea had already calmed a little with first light. Gastron hugged the north coast of Boiotia and would only cut out to the middle of the Gulf, when he spied Naupaktos on his right. “A good enough night calm and already half-way out—and now even quieter. Keep rowing and by nightfall we make our break at the mouth.” So he muttered to Ephoros as he at last sat down and left the way to the steerer.

Then suddenly his tiller woke him up, “Hard to the coast! Turn into the north wind, turn now! Take in the full wind at our faces. Head to a port! Look at them, damned Korinthians. Six of them at least! Warships, faster than ours. They’re pulling our way. Look, look at them, all good long ships and full crews! Right, right, we go. Head for shore. Outrun them. To Delphi. Row to the peaks of Parnassos!”

The Theoris made a hard turn, and had a head start of maybe 20 stades, maybe more. Ephoros in his trance about the great march kept on writing on the outrigging. But despite the winter haze and the morning glare Chion already could see on the shore a few Phokians watching their race. And the six triremes were now closing the distance. Would they catch the Theoris before shore? Or dare to beach and fight on hostile ground?

Gastron now was up and stalked the deck. He slapped the tiller hard, and then grabbed the necks of the hoplites and threw them onto the empty top benches. “Row fools! Hand them up oars, down there. I have ten or so in the hold. All of you row, row you boy-butt Ephoros and greybeard Alkidamas. Pull hard or you won’t have any scrolls left to write on. Give me some wood and I’ll balance out you slave. Between Chion and I we have two arms still and can outdo you all.”

The epibatai now pulled with the rest. Ever so slowly the Theoris surged toward land on the northern Gulf. There was now a mob forming at Kirrha, the port of Delphi, all screaming for the helot ship to speed up. About three hundred or so in armor, and they knelt on one knee with shields and spears, waiting to attack if the Korinthians beached. Some bowmen took aim to pick off their rowers if they neared the Theoris.

But then suddenly the pursuers veered off, about two stades from shore. The crowd yelled and waved in the Theoris that slid onto the beach.

“Look! Ide, philoi mou, ide!” Gastron yelled. Another four triremes were joining the six. So ten enemy ships were now circling well out of bowshot, crisscrossing across the morning whitecaps in turn to keep the Theoris beached and off the Gulf, as they relayed in and out from the bay far away at Perachora.

“Well, old man we made it half way, at least. Though I bet we could have hiked as far on land as we made by seas. But that may be the end of our voyage, if these damned Korinthians decide to patrol in turn, five or so at sea, five or so being replaced by fresh ships from over at Korinth. All on the orders of the lame king and Lichas. For now, we stay put here, and eat—until we get a winter storm that sinks them.

“I fear it, Gastron”, Alkidamas screamed over the surf. “Yes, safe for now—but trapped. And further from Ithomê than ever!”