Monday, August 28, 2006

Herodotus on History, Life, and Split Infinitives

SOCRATES: Our good friend Herodotus is visiting us, as he is preparing a new English translation of his famous Histories. For this purpose he seeks to expand his knowledge of English vernacular, so he has come to make use of your library, which is renowned as "The Vulgarian Alexandria".

GLEN: I'm honored, and of course Herodotus is always a welcome sight. But if you need a new translation, why don't you just let some Associate Professor of Classics do it for you?

HERODOTUS: The last Professor of Classics was executed by a firing squad in April.

GLEN: No kidding?

HERODOTUS: So my publisher tells me. The professor died bravely, and the publisher's mail room clerk was slain alongside him. That's why I haven't received the advance check he promised me. Though my publisher's detailed account of this tragedy left me deeply moved, I suspect there is more to the story. I'm afraid that the publisher was not willing to pay someone to translate Herodotus, and concocted a falsehood to conceal his reluctance.

SOCRATES: Won't pay someone to translate your work? Well, perhaps he feels that the translator should pay for the honor of rendering your wisdom into a barbarian tongue, rather than receiving payment. And what price could be high enough for such an honor? I'll bet the finest scholars in America are mortgaging their mobile homes to raise the funds.

HERODOTUS: Perhaps. Or perhaps no one cares about your old friend Herodotus any longer.

GLEN: No, no.

SOCRATES: You should have seen the Emmy show. They wouldn't shut up about you. Herodotus said this, Herodotus said that ...

HERODOTUS: Spare me the flattery. Do they really shoot people in this country for being boring? As my friends you owe it to me to tell the truth.

GLEN: No, no, no. God, we wish.

SOCRATES: Would Glen be sitting here if that were true? Get a grip on yourself. Anyway, you'd be the last one they'd shoot.

GLEN: Tell us about your studies.

HERODOTUS: Well, I've been quite absorbed in Mencken's The American Language, as well as Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. Fowler's spirited defense of the split infinitive is also very interesting. We didn't have split infinitives in Greek. I can't wait to try one.

SOCRATES: Go for it.

GLEN: You want another drink first?

HERODOTUS: All right, but not so full this time. This wine is very rich.

GLEN: It's not wine, it's scotch. You don't have to put sugar in it like that, it's already flavored.

HERODOTUS: Oof. Hah. So it is ...

SOCRATES: The Celtic barbarians who make the stuff drown sheep in it. They believe that the sheep's soul becomes trapped in the wine.

HERODOTUS: Really? Must remember that. It does rather taste like a sheep's soul, with a trace of smoke, kissed from the lips of a woman who has just taken a cold drink ... a breath of hot passion mixed with ice. Hera and Aphrodite, tongue-fighting in my mouth.

SOCRATES: Were there any split infinitives in that sentence?


SOCRATES: I want to hear some split infinitives.

GLEN: Hang on, refill first.

HERODOTUS: Single Malt. Incredible stuff. What if they drowned two malts in it?

SOCRATES: Or like, six?

HERODOTUS: Woof. Balls on a chariot wheel. Are we ready now?

SOCRATES: Do it. Split an infinitive.


SOCRATES: Do it! Do it!

GLEN: I can't believe we're doing this.

SOCRATES: I know, I know. This is so bad.

HERODOTUS: "To purely love, is to lovely be; and for her and I to lovely join, is to sweetly split infinity."

SOCRATES: That was good. A trifle fruity, but it was pretty good.

GLEN: That ... that was the greatest, best split infinitive I've ever heard in my life.

SOCRATES: I wouldn't go that far, but it was pretty damn good.

GLEN: Way to do it. Way to frigging do it. Cheers.


HERODOTUS: Thank you. Cheers.

GLEN: Now give us something from the Histories. Give us a story.

HERODOTUS: But I haven't even begun the translation yet.

GLEN: So what?

SOCRATES: Yeah, to hell with the translation. You're not a writer, anyway, you're a logios. Just go with it, just tap the words right out of your bad Ionian soul. Oral history rules.

GLEN: Just let loose the river, and let it find the sea.


GLEN: Let the river find the sea.


GLEN: And we're not going to judge you, and get all over your case and stuff, because we're your friends. You know? And we're just, we're just here with you. You know what I mean? We're here.

SOCRATES: Exactly. Exactly. And you know, Herodotus ... you know, you're not an Athenian.


SOCRATES: You're not an Athenian.

HERODOTUS: I know I'm not.

GLEN: What has that got to do with anything?

SOCRATES: Can I just say what I was going to say? Can I just talk for a minute? Herodotus, all I'm saying is ... you know, you're not an Athenian. But you're okay.

GLEN: Of course he's okay. He's better than okay, he's Herodotus. And he's our friend, and we're here with him, and he's going to lay out some history for us, so why do you have to start up with your Athenian shit? What the hell is the matter with you?

HERODOTUS: Guys, guys, whoa. Let's have another drink, and just cool out. It's okay, I perfectly understand, okay?

GLEN: Okay, okay. Cheers.

SOCRATES: Here's to swimming with bow-legged Amazons.

GLEN: And swimming betwixt their knees.

HERODOTUS: So, what would you like to hear?

SOCRATES: Something with a bunch of dead Spartans in it.

HERODOTUS: Yeah. Yeah. See, I always knew you liked Thucydides better than me.

SOCRATES: No, I don't.

GLEN: Come on, Herodotus, he didn't mean it that way.

SOCRATES: Thucydides is a prick.

GLEN: If Thucydides were to, like, crawl through a mile of sewage mixed with broken razor blades, just to lick your shadow off a dead Spartan's ass, it ... it would be totally wrong for him to do that. Because, you know, he would not be worthy.

SOCRATES: Thucydides. Feh. We should drive down to his house and kick his ass until he craps blood. You know why he was exiled, don't you?

HERODOTUS: Because he failed to relieve Amphipolis when the Spartan Brasidas besieged it.

SOCRATES: No, just because he was such a prick.

HERODOTUS: My friends, rich in wisdom and single malt scotch-wine, thank you for your appreciation. But I'm afraid the world has passed old Herodotus by. It reminds me of the Pyramid of Asychis. This pyramid was made of mud instead of stone, and was humble in size compared to that of Cheops. Yet this crumbling heap was considered to be the greatest pyramid of all, because of the manner in which it was constructed. They drew the mud from the bed of the Nile by inserting a long pole into it, and only the mud that was gathered from the end of this pole was used to make the brick. That's me. That's my life.

GLEN: What is? The Pyramid of Asychis is your life?

HERODOTUS: Yes. Ugly, squat, and falling to pieces, but lovingly and painstakingly built. One handful of mud at a time. Or something like that.

Friday, August 25, 2006

If Barry Goldwater had been elected president in 1964 ...

Memo to The New York Times:

If Barry Goldwater had been elected president, he would have dropped an atomic bomb on a little girl picking flowers in a field.

Sorry, I was picking up old Democratic campaign commercials on my head-plate again.

If Barry Goldwater had been elected president, there would have been no "Great Society". If you can think of anything that was Great about it, that's what the country would have missed.

There almost certainly would have been much less American involvement in Vietnam. Johnson's massive escalation in 1965 was partly driven by his need to appear strong at a time when his administration was facing serious challenges from the left. Even without that, it's unlikely that history would have played out exactly the same way under Goldwater.

If Goldwater had been president, the Democratic Party would have been spared its disastrous collision with the New Left in the late 60s. The so-called counter-culture would have been in the same impotent position that the far left is today. Undamaged by hippies, the Democratic Party could have aligned itself with the Civil Rights movement and built its strength instead of bleeding like a stuck pig. George Wallace and his racist legions would not have risen to "save" them from the communists and the freaks. The president that followed Goldwater might well have been Hubert Humphrey instead of Richard Nixon.

With no Richard Nixon, the growth of the welfare state would have been stunted even further. No Democrat ever dared to expand the public sector as breezily as Nixon did. In fact, Democrats had to ally themselves with Republicans to stop Nixon from imposing a minimum income (see Daniel Patrick Moynihan's The Politics of the Guaranteed Income). Humphrey would still have had to contend with the hippies, but they would have been the over-dosed and much weaker hippies of the mid-70s instead of the revolutionary brigands they were in 1968.

It is unlikely that Ronald Reagan would have been running for president in 1980 if Goldwater had won in 1964. The Republican Party would likewise have been much different, and probably somewhat weaker. The religious conservatives, neoconservatives, and libertarians who energized the party in the 1980s were themselves energized by the outrages of the 60s and 70s. If those outrages had not spilled out over the entire country and engulfed the Democratic Party, the religious conservatives would have remained quietly bi-partisan, the neoconservatives would have remained Democrats, and the libertarians would have remained irrelevant. The Republican Party would have retained its old country-club atmosphere. They would have offered up a tepid figure every four years, a Bob Dole or a John Connally or an 80s version of Barry Goldwater who no longer had any scare value.

We'd all be a little less battered and a lot more mellow.

While all of this was going on, The New York Times would have been having an absolute, flat-out, frothing fit. Don't let them fool you as they skip down memory lane gathering mayflowers and might-have-beens. Now that Goldwater is safely dead they can spin pleasant fantasies about him being elected president, but they wouldn't have been happy if it had happened. They aren't happy with anything that happens.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

If I were the Twelfth Imam returning for the end of the world ...

I would have been here at 8:00 AM.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Myth of Hisballah Charity

The establishment media has a nice lazy spin on the biggest terrorist organization in the world: Charity Wins Deep Loyalty for Hezbollah. Reporters eagerly collect anecdotes about Hisballah’s gifts to the adoring Lebanese people. Olive oil, small business loans, rebuilt homes, medical treatment, and cash hand-outs. Hisballah’s penchant for terrorism, assassination, war-mongering, subversion, kidnapping, and anti-democratic fascism? Small price to pay, apparently.

What about the billions in Western aid to Lebanon, from both public and private sources, which dwarfs Hisballah’s expenditures by several orders of magnitude? All this is in vain, the old theory goes, because Western nations are only interested in imperialism and colonialism and Jews. Hisballah showers largesse on people because their hearts are just bursting with love.

The media spends little time wondering about where the money in Hisballah’s free-flowing coffers comes from. Whose stuff are they giving away? Charitable organizations have to get their money from earnings, donations, or taxes. The source of an organization’s funds is definitely relevant to their status as a charity. Mafia crews who generously spread their stolen loot all over the neighborhood are not considered charities, though they might be very popular with people who don’t get in their way.

Unlike most terrorist organizations, Hisballah has legitimate bank accounts. Like most criminal organizations, they also have legitimate investments and income from legal businesses. Like most terrorist and criminal organizations, though, one of their foremost sources of income is drugs. They own the brisk drug trade in Lebanon, much of which is supplied by poppy fields in the Beqaa Valley. Hisballah spies and operatives are often paid with opium or heroin. There is no love like the love of a heroin junkie for his connection, if you consider that sort of thing love.

The Lebanese traffic is probably only a small part of Hisballah’s drug earnings. The DEA has traced methamphetamine smuggling in the United States and Canada to Hisballah bank accounts. Methamphetamine abuse has reached such proportions that Native American health services are struggling with huge numbers of addicted newborns, and even larger numbers who are born with traces of crystal meth in their systems. Hisballah’s contribution is the supply of the pseudoephedrine ingredient, which is increasingly difficult to obtain legally.

That’s a pretty steep price to pay for an olive oil giveaway in Beirut.

Hisballah is also hip-deep in the extremely nasty illicit trade in diamonds and black-market gold. But like the Mafia, their biggest cash cow is probably ordinary theft. Hisballah has been connected to car theft rings in Canada and cigarette smuggling in the United States. Hisballah operatives in Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina have made millions from pirated intellectual property alone. Hijacking, insurance fraud, Nigeria scams, extortion, loan-sharking, money laundering, and burglary keep Hisballah’s cash register ringing. So does money from illegal immigrant smuggling rings, which are not operated by kind-hearted people.

Like other criminal organizations, Hisballah shears the sheep closest to home. Arabs and Muslims are high on the list of their victims. The Mafia got its start shaking down other Italians, while posing as a social service organization that supposedly protected its own kind. Critics were accused of ethnic prejudice. Hisballah’s “charity” is in that dismal vein.

Hisballah steals or soaks millions every year, often from the poorest and most wretched people on earth. (The meth-poisoned inhabitants of some Indian reservations might well envy the lifestyle of the average Lebanese, bombs and all.) They hand out a small fraction of it to dupe people into kissing Don Corleone’s ring. This is above and beyond their naked acts of terrorism and murder, which is their main occupation.

The difference between the Mafia and Hisballah is that the Mafia bribes politicians, authorities, and reporters to protect itself. Hisballah’s deluded fans are giving it away for free.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Gunter Grass, Nazi Superman

Maybe the famous left-wing writer thought the time was ripe to reveal that he’d served with the Waffen SS; maybe he intended it as a boast. Genocidal maniacs have always been popular on the left, but until lately those who were explicitly Nazi or anti-Semitic were an exception. But these days Hitler is more popular than any time since Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (lately honored by the witless and depraved Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) and his intellectual descendents in Iran and Venezuela and Gaza are the new heroes of modern youth. Maoism looks kind of shabby and old-fartish in comparison. Soviet communism is dead beyond hope of resurrection, the Sandinistas are on the ash heap of history, Che Guevara is Bolivian fertilizer, and Castro barely has enough strength to piss in his olive drabs.

So maybe Grass thought the black suit and red piping would dress up his image a bit. If so, I’m glad to see he was somewhat mistaken.

Grass had previously claimed to be a member of the Reich Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD), which was almost too perfect a job for him. The RAD was a fine example of Nazi Socialism. They even had a red Proletarian banner featuring a shovel and a garland of wheat, a total rip-off of Soviet iconography. It was like getting paid by Hitler to be a communist.

Now he claims to have been drafted into the 10th SS Panzer Division in 1944. This could be the case; most Waffen SS units were all-volunteer, but they began conscription after the Reich’s fortunes went south (all the way to Stalingrad, in fact). But why was this not revealed before? Veterans of the SS are not eligible for benefits unless they served involuntarily, and any past service in the SS would have to be acknowledged to determine his status as a veteran. No doubt records are confidential, but if Grass was forced to serve, why keep it a secret? He has capitalized on his war experience before, why would he have passed up a chance to describe the very belly of the beast?

Many of his erstwhile comrades on the left are reacting with shock to what Grass did 60 years ago. They ought to reacting with shock to just about everything he’s done since. They ought to admit that there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Nazism and Communism, especially not in Germany.