October 22, 2005

The Return of Scipio

My introduction to the Ancient World was through cinema. The first such movie I saw was either Spartacus or The Robe. Both films were about Rome, and because of them I developed an admiration and love for those ancient Romans that continues to this day.

Over the years I saw about every movie ever made about the Ancient World. Some were good, some were not, some were simply awful---but no matter, for through them I could indulge my fantasies about actually living among those ancients long ago, a world now 'lost to the shadows of time and vanished beneath the dust of ages.'

My DVD and video collection of the Ancient World includes the usual suspects along with some of the more off-beat: Ben Hur, Demetrius and the Gladiators---from which Gladiator ripped off much material---The Egyptian, Land of the Pharaohs---where a scantily clad 19-year old Joan Collins scampers about the Egyptian sands plotting and seducing. Her obvious charms quite overwhelmed the young boy that I was when I first saw the movie:

There is more: Helen of Troy---almost the equal to the modern Troy (which I reviewed here).

Then there is Sodom and Gomorrah---which showed much of the grotesque immorality described in the Old Testament and which assuredly terrified (or amused) the censors of its day---and Quo Vadis---where Christians are devoured by lions sent by the Emperor Nero--- called by Paul 'anti-Christ,' and in this movie we see why. His role is played by the superb Peter Ustinov, who also appears in the Egyptian and Spartacus. I, Claudius is arguably the most accurate portrayal of early Imperial Rome and is certainly the finest television I have ever seen. Barabbas is another film from which Gladiator lifted freely:

Cleopatra has both Burton and Taylor, and the off-screen immorality by these two not only scandalized Hollywood but spilled over into the movie itself in their steamy portrayals of Antony and Cleopatra.

I came upon this oddity by chance:

It is the Italian epic Scipio Africanus made in 1937 in Mussolini's regime. It shows all sorts of fascist hand salutes and hero worship---of Scipio, but the implication is of course that it is really Il Duce being portrayed. It is quite good, and one can hardly tell that it is dubbed. The film shows Hannibal's many elephants in the Battle of Zama (201 BC) and how they were dispatched by Scipio's legionnaires. Certainly many of these pachyderms perished on screen, though today the things would be computer generated---as in Alexander.

Now I hear rumors about Mel Gibson making a movie about the ancient Maya. It is tentatively called Apocalypto and the characters will speak only a Mayan dialect, which is the first language of much of Guatemala.

Set in an ancient civilisation some 3,000 years ago, the film will apparently be full of action and violence, but will have no religious theme this time around. Aside from that, little is known of the project, apart from the fact that it will probably net the writer director a tidy sum of money.

I still fantasize of a movie about the conquest of Mexico and the taking of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Or the long-promised film of Stephen Pressfield's Gates of Fire.

So all you Hollywood types, take time off from snorting your cocaine, coveting your neighbors' wives and acting the public imbecile and get to making these films. Please.

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October 21, 2005

Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Sometimes going through old photos is definitely not a good idea.

It was somewhere in Mexico, perhaps at Barra de Navidad. The year was 1983. I was in---how does one say it?---the 'flower of youth.'  Eternity seemed, well, an eternity away. I lived in the there and then with no thought at all of mortality. What I wanted I sought after---and usually got. I lived a material existence. The Supernatural---if I even thought of it---scarcely intervened. I was left blissfully and ignorantly alone.

And now? More than half of my life is over. And it is odd that I regret nothing. Maybe not so odd, as it is all those moments passed away in glorious victories and glorious defeats, in times wretched and times sublime, on my feet and on my knees and in darkness and light that has shaped who and what I am. I have thought for a long time that I am the luckiest man in the world. Most men think of themselves in this way too. They are right, we are right. I would in no way wish a return to those Mexican days and nights, for I live now in the best of times.

 

Anyway, I have less hair and more waist than I had in the photo above. I do not mind that hair part, but I would like to lose those twenty-odd pounds I put on since that time in Mexico twenty-two summers and one thousand years ago. I curse Krispy Kreme.

 

 

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October 18, 2005

Captains of the Age

(part 1)

I recently finished the first of three essays about Alexander of Macedon. I wondered how he would measure up to other great generals, not just to those of Antiquity but to those of every age. Were his campaigns, say, in  Afghanistan more difficult than Caesar's in Gaul? Were his tactical and logistical gifts greater than those of Napoleon? Could he be called the Greatest Captain in History? If not Alexander, then who?

Everyone has a short list of the greatest generals of all time. Here are the usual suspects (in alphabetical order) upon whom all agree: Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, Napoleon. After these luminaries the lists go their separate ways. One might mention Belisarius; another, Scipio. In fact anyone who fancies military history can easily name a score of great captains. Here is one such list, though it is too lengthy. So here I go. But first, some guidelines on what constitutes excellence in the military arts:

1. The candidate must not just conquer but must hold---he must put into place political changes that renders the enemy unable to present a future threat. Territory once held should not have to be re-conquered again and again. To be forced to do so demoralizes and wastes blood and treasure. Here Napoleon failed time after time.

2. He must always keep in mind his Clausewitz and realize that warfare is a means to a political end. To lose sight of this is to revel in the slaughter and commotion of the battlefield for their own sake. Genghis all too often simply exulted in the chaotic mayhem of war.

3. He must not be addicted to the wanton slaughter either of his opponents or his own soldiers. He must be sparing of life and keep his eye on the goal---that of shah-mat, of ending his enemy's will to resist. Alexander was here the master until Darius III was killed.

4. He must be a skilled diplomat and be willing to form alliances and to achieve victory with little bloodshed. Cyrus did this again and again.

5. He must keep his army well-supplied and in high spirits so as to provide it with the will to fight and win. His army must feel itself invincible. Patton and his 3rd Army are fine models of these.

6. He must lead by example: sharing the risks of the march, talking with his troops, sharing their fatigue and laughter. Hannibal was just this sort of general.

7. His campaigns must be quick, direct and to the point. Goals should be attainable with resources either at hand or available on the march. A long war with no clear goal demoralizes and makes defeat more likely. Pompey in Spain and Westmoreland in Vietnam were guilty of such wars.

8. He must be magnanimous---and even a bit chivalrous---in victory. Saladin and Caesar demonstrated these character traits time after time.

9. He must be able improvise on the run---to build boats and bridges, to adapt to an enemy's tactics, to supply his army in enemy territory. Cortez and Alexander did all of these.

10. He must be flexible in tactics and expert at siege, guerrilla war and intelligence. Here Caesar and both Scipios were masters.

11. He must be accomplished at speed and surprise---the overnight march, the splitting of forces, the sudden appearance where his enemy did not expect. Sherman and Napoleon excelled here.

12. He must at all times and everywhere keep in mind that his army is composed of men not gods or machines. Flesh has limitations though a great captain can get wonders out of the men under him. Marius did just that during the Roman Republic's war against the German tribes.

And what of true military genius rather than just competence? A writer on the Punic Wars has some words on that.

All genius is rare and military genius cannot, in the nature of things, be rarer than any other kind. It only seems to be so because it demands certain conditions in order to enable it to manifest itself, which are only very exceptionally encountered in civilized societies...[A great general] needs a war of some magnitude, swift elevation to high command, a tenure of command extending over several years, complete freedom of action and an adequate supply of human raw material out of which to forge the tools of his trade.

All the generals below have these in greater or lesser quantities. There is no time to go into every brilliant general in history, but I have chosen those who do not get much attention but who still rank among the best.

Before we hit the history books, what about mentioning the most competent general around today? This would be Tommy Franks (born 1945). Oklahoma born but Texas raised, Franks designed the campaigns that overthrew the terrorist regimes of Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan had troubled invaders since Alexander. Even the British came to grief there (1842), losing 16,000 troops and camp followers on a retreat to India. The Soviet Union also tried its hand. During a ten-year invasion and occupation (1979-1989) it killed hundreds of thousands and forced millions to flee. Even so, the Russians never could pacify the place even though they shared a common border with it. The Soviet retreat was one of the causes of its own fall. Good old Southern boy Franks conquered Afghanistan in five weeks though that country was on the 'far side of the world.' Franks then turned his guns upon Iraq and smashed the Baathist regime to pieces. And let us not forget who appointed Franks to his post---that would be George W. Bush. These two are a perfect case of master and commander.

And another thing: any discussion of military greats would be simply overwhelmed by the number of ancient Romans. For 1200 years (225 BC-1071 AD) Republican and Imperial Rome cranked out military worthies faster than the Clintons created scandals. The most notable among notables would include Marcus Claudius Marcellus, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major, Titus Quinctius Flamininus, Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Minor, Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Lucullus, Pompey, Julius Caesar, Octavian, Agrippa, Tiberius, Germanicus, Agricola, Corbulo, Trajan, Septimius Severus, Aurelian, Aetius, Belisarius, Heraclius...and on and on and on until the Battle of Manzikert (1071).

From the start (509 BC) the Roman government was in reality a group of a dozen or so patrician families who intermarried and formed the Senate, the most 'ruthless and far-seeing aristocracy' ever devised. This government---it ruled in the name of 'the Senate and the People of Rome' (senatus populusque romanus)---oversaw Rome from her beginnings as a small beleaguered city-state of 300 square miles to her conquest of the entire Mediterranean world. Senators competed ferociously to lead armies in the field, and many perished---along with their legions---in doing so. As Republic became Empire the patrician families continued to fill bureaucracies, army commands and the imperial throne. Simply stated, the Roman Senate was the strongest and most competent government of all time, and most of the greatest military commanders in history came from it.

Let us now take a look at those superb generals who are not quite in the Alexander-Caesar-Hannibal category. In no particular order we first have Belisarius (505-565), the Byzantine military leader. One author writes:

Of the great generals of history, Belisarius is not particularly well known today (certainly nowhere as near as well-known as Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great), but this is due more to a lack of attention to Byzantine history than to his skill and accomplishments, which were matched by few, if any, military commanders.

That might overstate the case but not by much. Belisarius served his emperor Justinian well, fighting the Huns, the Vandals, the Ostrogoths and the Persians with hardly more than 18,000 soldiers---an astounding achievement. His one weakness was his wife Antonia. She led a dissolute life and had many lovers while her husband was off to the myriad wars of the Byzantine Empire. The Emperor Justinian out of envy also betrayed his loyal captain, and had his property seized and his reputation disgraced. Here is Belisarius being saluted by his soldiers.

Cortez (1485-1547) also had wife troubles, but of a different sort: He strangled her after she arrived in Mexico. Still, Cortez was the captain of his age---a diplomat of skill in a New World who could amass allies among the dozens of competing Mesoamerican nations and use them against the Aztecs; a brilliant tactician who could send men into Mexican volcanoes to acquire the ingredients for gunpowder; an improviser of genius who built detachable boats, dragged them to the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and used them to blast away at its Indian defenders. His reputation has suffered over time.

It is extremely difficult to characterize this particular conquistador – his unspeakable atrocities, his tactical and strategic awareness, the rewards for his Tlaxcalteca allies along with the rehabilitation of the nobility (including a castle for Moctezuma's heirs in Spain that still stands), his respect for Indians as worthy adversaries and family members. In Mexico today he is condemned as a modern-day damnatio memoriae, with only one statue – but half a million descendants, and one of the most remarkable stories in history.

Mexicans today despise Cortez, but the reality is that he was the founder of their nation and the first modern Mexican.

Latin Americans are not known for producing great captains. Most of their 'generals' were prancing and bemedalled buffoons more suited to the operatic stage than to the battlefield. A few have been little more than practiced killers, creatures such as the Argentine Rosas and the Venezuelan Páez. The grotesquely overrated megalomaniac Simón Bolívar was both buffoon and killer, a man as addled by prostitutes as he was by dancing. His battles and marches were scenes of squalid violence and rabid demagoguery. In his own estimation he was a cosmic failure:

I consider that, for us [Latin] America is ungovernable; whosoever works for the a revolution is plowing the sea; this country [Gran Colombia] will ineluctably fall into the hands of a mob gone wild, later again to fall under the domination of obscure small tyrants of every color and race; [We will  be] decimated by every kind of crime and exhausted by our cruel excesses.

That last sentence well describes both the history of Latin America and Bolívar himself. This 'Great Liberator' included some good advice:

The most sensible action to take in [Latin] America is to emigrate.

The only Latin Americans of military talent were the Argentine José de San Martín (1778-1850) and the Venezuelan Antonio José de Sucre (1795-1830). These generals were accomplished in the arts of leading men in extreme conditions: through the Andes of Argentina and Peru, across the Altiplano and into and out of deserts. They defeated the Spaniards wherever they found them---in Chile, in Peru, in Bolivia, in Ecuador. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,

San Martín's skill in leading his men through the defiles, chasms and passes---often 10,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level---of four Andean cordilleras has caused him to be ranked with Hannibal and Napoleon.

Neither San Martín nor Sucre were intoxicated by the air of violence, fraud and perversion that swirled about Bolívar. Both men were the true libertadores of South America. San Martín was so fed up with the antics of Bolívar at their meeting in Lima that he took Bolívar's advice and left South America for France.

Sucre

 

San Martín

 

(to be continued)

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October 9, 2005

The Reign of Chac

I watched the news with dread. The headlines said it all: 617 Killed in Central America Rain, Floods.

Guatemala has borne the brunt of heavy rains exacerbated by Hurricane Stan, which made landfall Tuesday on the Mexican Gulf Coast before quickly weakening to a tropical depression.

Governments in Central America and Mexico were still struggling Saturday to reach isolated areas devastated by flooding and landslides. Many roads had yet to be cleared.

On the banks of Lake Atitlan, a popular tourist destination, dozens of Mayan Indians swarmed over a vast bed of caked mud that covered trees and houses, looking for those still missing after Wednesday's landslide.

Last year I hiked among the Mayan villages surrounding Lake Atitlan. The water stunned with its beauty, the Mayan villages nestled near the lake 'like frogs around a pond.' One could take as much time as desire and money allowed and amble from town to town. One village where I stayed for a while was Santiago de Atitlan.

Hardest hit was the lakeside town of Santiago Atitlan, where the side of a volcano collapsed, killing at least 208 people.

I took this photo while working my way toward Santiago de Atitlan. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Below is the village itself.

Here one can see the volcanoes around the lake, magnificent hills of rock and lava that Mayans worship for their beauty and curse for the death they bring to those who live in their shadows.

I wrote these words at the beginning of my walkabout around the lake.

The best way to see the stunning visuals that the lake offers is to walk around it, going from village to village...I slowly traveled East, and stayed at Indigenous villages where there was always at least a  hospedaje. Thus, tent, stove and all the other accutrements of backpacking were left behind. It was odd at first not having my pack weigh as much as a well-fed teenager, but I got used to it quickly. Some of the villages are delightful...The locals mainly wear traditional clothing.

And now?

Primitive wooden coffins piled up in the cemetery, waiting for bodies. Villagers held sprigs of native herbs to ward off odors as they dug mass graves for bodies that likely would be buried without names.

The disaster started gradually in communities ringing Lake Atitlan, where creeks and rivers began spilling their banks on Wednesday as rains soaked cornfields that climb steep, deforested hillsides.

Is is as if Chac, the Mayan rain god of old, has returned to claim his land.

And it rained fire and ash; and trees and rocks fell. And the trees and rocks came crashing against each other...And they were buried by the side of the sand in the waves of the sea. And then, in one fell swoop, the waters came.

                                       ---Chilam Balam

Like all false gods from Sumer to the present, Chac is an insensate monster.

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October 8, 2005

Bike Madness!

I spent much of my life in Portland. I was raised there, went to college there and worked there for some time before heading to Argentina for a ten-year high school teaching post. Portland boasts hundreds of miles of bike trails, of both asphalt and dirt. In short, the place was bike heaven. In those days I road a Specialized Stump Jumper, a fine machine for its time. I took the thing with me to Argentina but sold it after experiencing how the Argies drive. I had this odd desire to live, you see.

I have not owned a machine since until recently when I bought the entry-level Specialized, the Hardrock model. It cost one-third what my Stump Jumper cost (in 2005 dollars) yet is far more technologically advanced.

But it is a monument to crudity compared to this magnificent machine. (Click on photo to enlarge.) It is hand-made in the US of A by a company called Purgatory Bikes. If Michelangelo designed bikes, this is what he would build.

And the price of this beauty? Oh, only $2399---for the frame only.

(hat tip: Viking Pundit)

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Anti-Bush Republicans

There is much blather about how President Bush has alienated and abandoned his base by choosing Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. This is absurd. A 'base'---a politician's foundation stones of support---does not run from a political fight. It does not turn suddenly on a man it once supported only to publicly savage and insult him in the public arena. It does not act like a spoiled child and threaten to abandon the Republican Party if some political decision does not go its way. The base is always there--through thick and thin, in war and peace, in times good and times bad. Ann Coulter and National Review and George Will and their acolytes most certainly do not represent the foundation stone of President Bush and his Republican base. That they think they do only shows how shallow is their central moral core and little they really understand Bush. To look at such people closely is to find 'no there there.' They thought they and Bush were married. In fact Bush was just dallying with them. Now they act exactly as bitter and cast-off lovers. Oh, the poor things! When all of this is over and Miers sits on the Court, they will return to the fold. Bush will not put much trust in them of course---but then, he never did.

____________________

So what exactly is the core of support for Bush? Who are those who refuse to abandon the man they helped put into office? In no particular order: Evangelical and conservative Christians, inhabitants of Red States, 2nd Amendment lovers and ex- and present military. And where do I stand on all of this? I am a member of all of the above. I should also add that Bush and I share a passion for Jeeps. I imagine though that his is better than mine, alas.

____________________

So what do those anti-Bush Republicans have in common? What is their own 'foundation stone'? Most come from elite universities in the East. Most are published authors and syndicated columnists. Most live in expensive and tony enclaves of New York and Washington D.C. Most either disdain or ignore conservative Christians. Most are uncomfortable with the Second Amendment. Most see themselves as quite clever, superb thinkers and well-deserving of the high speaking fees they charge. In short, they have much in common with New York Times editors, media bigwigs, liberal think-tank-types and Washington lobbyists. Most of them whether on the right or left are prideful, arrogant, condescending and conceited. But do not believe me, simply read what they have written over the years. And here is a good test: See where any of these types have admitted being wrong. Ever. Just once.

____________________

So what all of this Republican in-fighting really boils down to is that a few hundred pundits in Washington and New York are outraged that Bush did not nominate one of them to the Supreme Court. The rest of us---that would number about 52 million---are perfectly willing to trust the president and listen to Miers when she goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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October 7, 2005

Feeding Frenzies

If I were a Democrat I would be heartily enjoying the petty sniping, backbiting, complaining, whining and sniveling going on right now among Republicans. The issue is of course the nomination by Bush of Harriet Miers for the vacancy on the Supreme Court. It is impossible to escape the caterwauling among my Republican fellows. Like a catfight among girlfriends it dismays yet attracts. Even some great folks are full of spittle, going at it in cyberspace with froth and venom. Putative allies have become putative enemies, battle lines have been drawn and trenches dug, cyber-blood has been cyber-shed. What a mess!

I have no idea of what kind of judge Ms. Miers will make---and neither do Michelle Malkin, Charles Krauthammer, Ann Coulter, George Will and all the flabby fellows at National Review. Some of their writing on this is simply hysterical and would be right at home among the moveon.org crowd if their prose were sprinkled with expletives and less refined. Some gems:

From Charles Krauthammer:

But nominating a constitutional tabula rasa to sit on what is America's constitutional court is an exercise of regal authority with the arbitrariness of a king giving his favorite general a particularly plush dukedom...By choosing a nominee suggested by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and well known only to himself, the president has ducked a fight on the most important domestic question dividing liberals from conservatives: the principles by which one should read and interpret the Constitution. (hat tip: Amy Ridenour)

What Krathammer calls 'an exercise in regal authority' is actually one of the president's constitutional prerogatives. (Please see Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2.) Krauthammer admits his own ignorance of Miers---he calls her a tabula rosa---but then acknowledges that Bush knows her well indeed. That is not enough for Charles, alas.

From George Will:

It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument'' for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons...He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution.

Certainly Will knows that some of those 'leading lights of American jurisprudence' have given us Roe and Kelo and Casey---and for that matter, Plessy and Dred Scott. And his soi-disant sophistication really is just calling Bush stupid. Yeah, poor stupid Bush who 'has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments...' Tell me oh-so-clever George, certainly you did not vote for this moron!

From Ann Coulter:

Unfortunately for Bush, he could nominate his Scottish terrier Barney, and some conservatives would rush to defend him, claiming to be in possession of secret information convincing them that the pooch is a true conservative and listing Barney's many virtues – loyalty, courage, never jumps on the furniture ...Harriet Miers went to Southern Methodist University Law School, which is not ranked at all by the serious law school reports and ranked No. 52 by US News and World Report...Bush has no right to say "Trust me."

Here the superbly-legged Coulter insults all sorts of her conservative allies and demeans those who really understand that courage and loyalty mean to stand by your man and to trust the guy you voted into presidency. And why does Coulter use the liberal US News and World Report to support her view on Miers? She has built a career on insulting liberals but here she turns her venom against the man she helped put into office. So tell me Ann, how do you define courage and loyalty? And you claim that Bush has no right to say "Trust me." Sorry, Ann, it is you that we cannot trust because your caustic pen wounds both friend and foe. (I still like you but I would hate to be your husband.)

All of these types confirm the wisdom of 'keeping your enemies close but your friends closer.' Teddy Roosevelt knew all about them as well.

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

If the US military demonstrated the same sort of courage and loyalty shown by Coulter, Will, Krauthammer and all their ilk we would have lost the war in Iraq long ago.

So let us all listen to The Anchoress---and calm down. Remember that our enemies are watching. If these were any other than the Democrats---who are in far worse shape than the Republicans---we would be in big trouble.

(More at Captain's Quarters, Don Surber, Hugh Hewitt, President Aristotle.)

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October 4, 2005

No Fool Like an Old Fool 

Walter Cronkite, once ludicrously described as 'America's most trusted newsman,' is back. (True, he never really left, but I had my hopes.) His latest tirade is a perfect gem of liberal thought, a distillation of ignorance and arrogance and condescension in two sentences.

We're an ignorant nation right now. We're not really capable I do not think the majority of our people of making the decisions that have to be made at election time and particularly in the selection of their legislatures and their Congress and the presidency of course.

Well, Walter, let us assume for your sake that what you say is true, that America is an ignorant nation. How did it become so? Who has had control of public schools, of the news media, of the entertainment industry, of academia, of the judicial system and the entire government bureaucracy for half a century? Why, you Mr. Cronkite, you and your ilk: the whole liberal establishment that has kicked God out of schools, mandated secret abortions for 14 year old girls, encouraged sodomy among teenagers, passed out condoms as if they were vitamins, laughed while an American president did odd things with cigars in the White House, accalimed adulterer-girl killer-alcoholic and treasonous Ted Kennedy (D-Mass) as an American exemplar, supported the pompous gigolo and traitor John Kerry (D-Mass) for the highest office in the land, soaked the popular culture with 'all sex all the time,' lauded the perverse as the normal ('defining deviancy down'), gleefully insulted your country at international forums and publicly lauded grotesque mass murderers such as Yasar Arafat, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein---favoring these monsters in the same way that Monica favored Bill.

It is 'Uncle Walter' and his fellow travelers at CBS-NBC-ABC-BBC-CNN-NPR and their avatars at the New York Times and the Washington Post that have dominated for 50 years the news that comes into our homes day in, day out, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Whatever pressing issue of the day, be it global warming or abortion or Iraq or Bush or Christianity or Terri Schiavo or judicial appointments or taxes or Katrina all of these fine media agree. They speak with one voice, one mouth, one view---and these news paladins have shaped how we think about events for two generations. (See here for more.)

And after all this, Cronkite now condemns as ignorant this culture that he and his cronies created and nourished?

Well, Walter, I agree that somebody is ignorant and incapable of making rational decisions here. I seem to recall a little incident in 1969 called the Tet Offensive. It was during the Vietnam War, a war that your liberal establishment began, fought and lost. After the most disastrous defeat of the Vietnamese communists against US forces during the entire war, you went on camera to declare what rational people saw as a clear triumph of American arms to be in reality a ghastly US defeat and a communist victory. Cronkite lied, people died---hundreds of thousands actually---the Americans (that is, the Democrats in Congress, showing their usual patriotism and backbone) turned tail. And the rest is what I teach, history.

Some commentators were not amused by Cronkite's moral collapse during Tet. Twenty-five years later one had this to say about 'Uncle Walter's' performance:

Rarely has contemporary crisis journalism turned out, in retrospect, to have veered so widely from reality. . .To have portrayed such a setback for one side as a defeat for the other—in a major crisis abroad—cannot be counted as a triumph for American journalism.

To say the absolute least.

Cronkite retired from his mendacious reading of the news at CBS in 1980 only to be replaced by the equally mendacious Dan Rather (see here and here). And so the beat went on. Until recently Rather performed the same service for the war in Iraq as Cronkite had for the war in Vietnam.

Only mortality will prevent old Wally from his on-going lunatic commentary on current affairs. Perhaps when both he and Rather have departed from this life they can sit around---if sitting around is permissible there---and decry the continuing ignorance of the American public.

 

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October 2, 2005

Wisdom Redux

I wrote most of the maxims below on my last day in Buenos Aires where I had lived for ten years. That was scarcely two summers ago yet it seems so many more---a lifetime in fact, light and shadow from another world. I could say that they reflect what I learned while teaching there, but I am not sure. Perhaps I would have written them no matter where I was. The cost of putting them into my heart has been exorbitant but not frightful, and certainly less than that paid by Aeschylus' Agamemnon:

In visions of the night, like dropping rain,
Descend the many memories of pain
Before the spirit's sight: through tears and sorrow
Comes wisdom over the unwilling soul.

We need not be as the Bourbons of old, who 'forgot nothing and learned nothing.' But we certainly are as Dr. Johnson would have us, 'of needing to be reminded more than instructed.' Here are some reminders.

Drink wine now and again. Jesus did.

 

Show kindness to all children. Jesus did.

 

 Forgive your enemies. Jesus did.

 

 Never trust the person who looks back at you in the mirror.

He is your worst enemy.

 

 God made the world not for Himself, but for you.

Go see it.

 

  Man makes cities. God makes Mountains. And Jungles.

And Forests.  And Glaciers. And Canyons. And Valleys.

 

  Go to a Church or Mosque or Temple or Synagogue as often as you can.

 

  The world does not care about your problems.

 

  Never refuse a favor.

 

 Break the habit of using foul language.

 

  You cannot love too much.

You can, however, love improperly.

 

  The world hated Christ.

It will hate His followers.

 

  Gold is rare and costly.

So is Honor.

So is Chastity.

 

  Give away as much of yourself as you can.

 

 You cannot understand Love until you empty yourself.

 

  The world knows its own.

 Christ knows His own.

No one belongs to both Christ and the world.

 

You are not a Christian because you believe in God.

 Even Satan believes in God.

You are a Christian if you follow God.

 

Everyone in Hell believes in God.

 

 True freedom is internal.

 

 Life is priceless.

Death does not end it.

 

 What comes out of a man is vastly more important than what goes into him.

 

  If you have not read the Bible do not comment on Christianity.

 

  When most people say 'God is love' what they really mean is 'Love is God.'

 

Jesus died on the Cross.

The Christian must join Him there.

 

You know no bondage until you are a slave to sin.

You know no freedom until those bonds are broken.

 

 There is never a reason for rudeness or unkindness or cruelty.

 

Spend time alone.

 

 Both Good and Evil echo for years.

 

 The higher you climb, the fewer the people but the clearer the view.

 

There is nothing remotely as joyful as being clean on the inside.

 

You are free to break the Moral Law but you cannot avoid

 the consequences of doing so.

 

  Call your mother more often.

Right now if you can.

 

  Reward the Spirit.

But punish the Flesh.

 

  Avoid those who are morally unclean.

They pollute all they touch.

 

Learn how to be silent.

 

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