Monday, November 08, 2004

A Review of The Virtues of War: A Novel of Alexander The Great, by Steven Pressfield

I begin by noting that, no pun, historically, I have hated historical novels. Loathed them. They take liberties with historical events, facts, and timelines. They write today's prejudices on worlds so long removed from ours, that our underlying assumptions might make no sense at all whatsoever to a man of that time. They are, usually, at best fantasy novels set in a definite time period, and, at worst, cheap polemics.

If it can be fairly said that I have detested historical fiction, there is simply no word in English for how I feel about first-person fiction. Perhaps it was too many epistolary novels in undergrad. Perhaps it is because of the awesome conceit attendant with writing from some great historical figure's voice, when one is clearly reading the author doing a particularly bad sort of impersonation -- like the joke in the Eighties that whenever someone claims to be reincarnate, one is always Cleopatra reborn, rather than one of the camp whores who followed Hannibal's army up and down Italy, or Napoleon, rather than a stable hand who once tended to one of Napoleon's horses, and who died of syphilis some years later.

I have since changed my mind.

When I was asked to review The Virtues of War, I honestly had no idea I'd be reviewing first person historical fiction. I would have said no, had I known. It would have been my loss. Fortunately, I'm also a classics geek, so I said yes.

Before I received Virtues, I decided to do some background reading, and so picked up Gates of Fire, one of Pressfield's earlier novels (this time, on the battle of Thermopylae). It, too, was an historical novel. It, too, was a first-person novel. It was incredible. (A good review of Gates of Fire can be found here.)

In fact, I was so taken with Gates of Fire that I actually approached Virtues with some trepidation. Gates of Fire was one of those rare novels in which you know the ending ahead of time, but still feverishly turn every page, trying to find out how it turns out. Truthfully, in such a case, I've never read a novelist's second effort that climbed the same height as the first.

Virtues is at least as good as Gates of Fire. Indeed, it may even be better. I won't know until I've re-read it (which I rather intend to do, just as soon as I get done writing this review). But before I gush too much, let me get my picked nits out of the way.

First, Pressfield takes, alas, some historical liberties, which, to his credit, he discloses up front. I'll spare you those, as Pressfield lays them out in some detail in the preface, and as they don't detract seriously from the novel's integrity. We'll count that as a minor strike.

Second, and this stems in no small part from the novel's structure and chief concerns, hints of Alexander's private life are virtually non-existent. While this hardly detracts from the novel's purpose, it does put a crimp on understanding why Alexander is who he is. We get cursory looks at his youth; at his relationship with his mother; at the awful pressure of growing up in the Macedonian court. His wives are mere phantoms. All but his comrades-in-arms, indeed, are mere phantoms.

Finally, and this is the recurrance of my old tic, Alexander is just a bit too aware -- of history, of the likely (and usually correct) course of the future, of, indeed, everything. It works to great effect, placing the reader in some historical context (for example, why the men of Thebes, rather than Sparta, are the dominant military power of the age of Philip); but it irks, slightly, to get obvious historical foreshadowings, such as Alexander's certainty on how his Empire will dissolve. And it tends, slightly, to bog down the narrative in pedantry. It also shades into Alexander as super-mortal, a god among men; while Alexander, and those around him, might have viewed him that way, gods don't die in their early thirties.

That is every single bad thing I have to say about this novel. Otherwise, this is a work of art; a beautifully written, delicately and expertly crafted, perfectly structured testament to the ability of an author to imagine a subject, and to share it with his readers. If that sounds like overkill, consider this passage (chosen at random):

All that being said, how does one make decisions? By rationality? My tutor Aristotle could classify the world, but he couldn't find his way to the village square. One must dive deeper than reason. The Thracians of Bithynia trust no decision unless they make it drunk. They know something we don't. A lion never makes a bad decision. Is he guided by reason? Is an eagle "rational"?

Rationality is superstition by another name.
What's great about that is not only the clear sentence structure -- it reads like someone would think -- but the way you would expect a warrior-king tutored by Aristotle, aimed squarely at a superhuman destiny, who traced his lineage through his mother to Achilles, to think. It's also a glimpse into a mind that is becoming ever-more obsessed with its destiny, and with a certainty that the gods themselves drive a man to greatness. Done incorrectly, this sort of prose can lend itself to mendacious trash like The Thin Red Line -- musings on the Platonic oversoul in the middle of an amphibious assault; done correctly, as here, it provides a textured background, a landscape on which the rest of the story unfolds.

And what a story. Alexander was the son of Phillip of Macedon, who had subjugated the Aegean peninsula, brought low the Thebans and Spartans, and planned on finally finishing off the Persian Empire once and for all. Phillip died at the hands of an assassin, and left behind a power vacuum into which his son (Alexander III, on ascension) stepped. Thereafter came, with the possible exception of Genghis Khan's empire-building, the fastest, most incredible creation of an Empire ever. Alexander marched, with the Macedonian phalanx and heavy cavalry, through Asia Minor, through the Middle East, through Central Asia, and into India, before being suddenly struck down with either a sudden illness or poisoning (historical sources differ). No army stood successfully against him; no general on an opposing battlefield truly thwarted his will. It is said of Alexander that he wept when he realized there were no worlds left to conquer. His name is legend even today. He was, in short, the sort of man coughed up only once every hundred or thousand years, if that; it is no wonder that he is called "the Great."

The novel is, as you might have guessed, Alexander's narrative (to his brother-in-law, a page in his camp) of his youth, his rise to power, his phenomenal march across the Persian Empire and beyond, and, inevitably, his demise. The novel begins on the banks of the last great river he will cross; the book carries a feel of imminent mortality, which only grows stronger as the narrative progresses, and Alexander wrestles more and more with his daimon, until it comes very close to consuming him. In a sense, it's almost as if his inner spirit, his daimon, consumes him from the inside (as Alexander is long fearful will happen), and this is the sickness that takes him. If Acton's axiom of absolute power has any truth, it is true not only on the spiritual, but on the physical level, as well; Alexander's flesh begins to revolt against him as his men cannot keep pace with his unyielding ambition. He rages. He grows feverish. He cannot speak. He is overcome and kills one of his oldest comrades.

To say that the military details are lovingly rendered is to engage in understatement. Pressfield brings the sort of love normally only an amateur historian can bring to the topic -- details about speed of hoof, armored cavalry charges, positions for lances, armor, tactics, and campaigns -- and somehow doesn't bog down the novel in the telling. Needless to say, I re-read those sections several times.

What really impressed me, at least as much as the storytelling and the narrative pace, was the structure of the novel. The novel is broken into Books, each of which describes an heroic virtue (such as "Contempt for Death") about which the Book loosely revolves. Impressively, without once conspicuously altering the narrative flow of the novel, each Book plays up that virtue through subtle emphasis and selective storytelling. The result is a novel that communicates those virtues; highlights Alexander's devout adherence to those virtues; and unsparingly demonstrates his ability to breach those rules, either by making a vice of them, or by ignoring them altogether. One cannot come away from Virtues without having absorbed, at least in some measure, those virtues. For example, is not our best brought out by striving against our enemies, and thus against ourselves; and should we not love our enemies for making us better?

A desire not to spoil the novel precludes further review. Suffice it to say, for the first time in something like four years, I have read a novel (other than Gates of Fire) that actually moved me in the reading. The best novels stay with you in your dreams and in your waking moments when you finish. I have dreamed of Virtues every night since I picked it up.

Even if Pressfield didn't bother to have Alexander slice the Gordian knot.

I heartily recommend Virtues, whether your penchant is for fiction, history, martial virtues, or, simply, a good time.

(A more political review can be found here.)

Monday, July 12, 2004

I'm not gonna post here much, for a while. Instead, I'll be at....

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Redstate is the shiznit, kids. Talented bloggers (and me!), coming together to irritate the hell out of Jimmy Carville, drive Mary Beth Cahill to use as many mind altering chemicals as her old boss, and, speaking positively, to push forward conservatism in (and with) the Republican Party.

The fun's just starting, kids. Pop over.

Friday, July 09, 2004


DEMOCRAT Presidental Candidate John Forbes Kerry announced today a new program to shore up his support with African-American groups, a key constituency in any Democrat bid for the White House.

Called the "Bling Bling" Initiative, the plan would give millions of taxpayer-funded pieces of gaudy jewelry to African Americans as part of the Kerry2004 economic platform.

"We live in the wealthiest nation in the world," Kerry told a rally here today. "Seventy percent of Americans have little or no bling of their own. Everyone should have enough bling; there is no such thing as too much bling. Bling is a right, and it is our duty to make it affordable to every American." The Kerry campaign has indicated that this rally will begin playing as an ad in key battleground states such as Florida and Illinois, states that the campaign describes as "amoung the hardest hit in the continuing bling recession."

The rally drew immediate criticism from Congressional Republicans, who called the Initiative "insane," "loony," "demeaning," "racist," and, in the words of House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R, TX) "worthy of Walter Mondale."

Kerry's press secretary responded angrily to those attacks. "This is simply typical of the losses Americans have suffered under 'President' George W. Bush," he stated, using the universally respected "hanging fingers" for the quotation marks around the word "President."

"Since Bush took office, American bling has fallen in quality and quantity. Ordinary Americans can longer afford thick gold chains and oversized, diamond-studded earrings. And too much bling is made overseas, by exploited and underpaid workers, at the behest of Benedict Arnold CEOs."

Kerry had been under fire from prominent African-American Democrats for, among other things, ignoring them altogether, failing to hug Al Sharpton, including virtually no people of color in his lily-white campaign team, naming John Edwards as his vice-President, and, finally, being altogether unsure what a black person looks like, except for the women who clean his wife's numerous houses.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Angel was a very good show.

Better than Buffy, by a long margin. Better than almost anything else on TV during its run.

God was open to debate. I joked for a while that, given Cordy's, then Fred's, death (and Darla's constant menace), the show was one of the most misogynistic of modern times. Good wasn't destined to win; good didn't have a decent chance of winning; and everywhere, all around, people just seemed to get worse and worse.

But it was noble. It was about noble ideals.

For those of you who have no danged idea what I'm talking about, a brief recap.

Angel was a spinoff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, itself the TV series born of the movie of the same name. The title character in the first started off as a minor supporting character, then love interest, of the title character of the second.

The trick: Angel was a vampire. Buffy was not. Buffy killed vampires.

The second trick: Angel was a good vampire. He'd been cursed, yes, cursed, with a soul.

Final trick: Although Angel longs to be human again, to touch, to feel, to die, to have a chance at salvation, the instant he experiences true happiness, it's all over: He loses his soul, becomes a kick-ass, deadly, decidedly, monstrously evil vampire all over again. So he must toil and toil and toil, experiencing only glimpses of true happiness -- which is manifest by the consummation of true love -- until at some point, the nebulous Powers of good deign to release him from the penance of crimes beyond human imagination.

And what makes the show so noble, so great, is that, quite simply, Angel cannot win. There's no endgame in sight where he can slay all of the bad guys and get his humanity back. He can't even deal Evil a crushing blow. He can hold back the darkness in drips and drabs, but it keeps coming. He knows he's fighting a near-hopeless, and possibly suicidal, war; yet he fights.

There is glory in hope. In despair, there is only loss. Angel suffers most when he gives into despair. When he finds hope again, he still suffers -- there is no way around that -- but he has the strength to fight on, hoping that what he does will begin to make a difference. Hoping that there is salvation.

The WB -- let us not kid ourselves -- is a drek network. It is what Fox was for its first few years, absent Married: With Children, The Simpsons, and In Living Color. 99.9% of what it produces is simple dross.

Angel was not dross. Not only that: Its ratings, relative to the enormous amount of pap that network produces, were phenomenal. And so, showing the know-how and creativity that make American business the powerhouse of the world, the WB canceled the show.

I mention this because the last episode summed it all up quite nicely. Angel, coming out of a period of self-imposed despair, offers a pact to his friends: Join me in one final strike on the darkness. We cannot vanquish the darkness, but we can strike it a telling blow. We can remind Evil that it does not flourish unchecked; we can bleed the Void. We may die -- we will likely die -- but we will do something that matters.

Given that offer, I likely would have taken it.

Is there sin in striking at the darkness, though you virtually assure your own destruction? Put to the side the Manichaean overtones (I don't mean to presuppose a heresy for this question); is it licit to strike a blow for Light, though Death herself is a near-certainty? It's not precisely suicide, but the dictum that one may not do good through an evil act seems somewhat important here; condemning yourself to death for a perhaps ultimately unimportant wound on evil is not quite so simple as allowing another to kill you, rather than renouncing God. Martyrdom is not cheap, and not always so straightforward as all that.

But if this is not heroism -- willingly laying down your life to aid the light when the darkness seems so oppressive -- then what is?

Angel's friends, to a one, accept.

At the end of the episode (and therefore, one supposes, the show), Angel and his friends have succeeded, though at some cost. They have wounded the Powers of darkness, and in so doing, have unleashed the wrath of Hell. An army of darkness pounds toward the wounded band.

Angel steps forward, and lifts his sword for another round of battle. There, of course, the show ends.

I believe I would want to be in that alley with him, shouting Gloria in Te, Domine!

As I mentioned, the question of God's existence is at best up for debate in the show. And yet...

What other show has been so very Christian, so inundated with sacrifice for others' sake, though your pain be nearly unbearable? And if Angel was to have any hope of salvation, on Whom else could he count?

I cried Friday evening. I had cried three times in my adult life, each time for the loss of a life very close to me. I cried because Ronald Reagan was put to rest. I never met the man. I was four when he was elected, twelve when he left office.

But I knew what he stood for. He stood for hope.

A three year old does not understand politics. A four year old is not much better.

But I remember how gray and dark 1979 felt. I remember how it got a little lighter in the winter of 1981. I remember how, by late 1983, the world seemed to glow.

I remember what it was to fear nuclear war. I lived with that fear for ten years of my life, either directly or indirectly. I remember when I realized that it would not happen. I remember when I realized whom I could credit for that, and I assure you, it was not the man with the strawberry birthmark on his head.

Ronald Reagan was elected President when so many thought we could never win.

But he had hope.

He had hope because he believed in America, the nation and the idea.

He had hope because he believed in the risen Christ.

He had hope because in hope, there is glory.

He did not teach me to hope; my parents deserve the credit for that. He taught me the incredible power of hope, when there is resolve behind it.

To all of those who murmur about his support for right-wing anti-communist dictatorships, and the thousands dead as a result of that support, I point you to the millions who need no longer fear the darkness in quite the same way, the millions more who live and breathe today because there are no longer men and women forcibly herding them this way and that; and those men and women are no longer near the levers of power, no longer able to support left-wing dictatorships that leave tens of thousands, if not millions dead, because one man had hope, and strength in that hope.

I thank Joss Whedon, militant atheist though he might be, for creating such an incredible Christian narrative.

And I thank Ronald Reagan for showing us that Christ's hope can effect miracles in the world. Requiem aeternas, Mr. President. Godspeed.

Monday, May 31, 2004

I realized, just the other days, that Normandy was sixty years ago.

The beginning of the end for Hitler (in the West) was sixty years ago. Hitler has been dead (or in Argentina) for almost sixty years. Japan has been without an expeditionary military for almost sixty years.

Think about that for a second: The war that is still the touchstone for everyone when they think of war, the baby boomers notwithstanding, was two to three full generations ago.

The men who stormed Omaha, Juno, and all the rest, and lived, are dying very quickly now. They came back, usually voted for Democrats, raised a bunch of spoiled brats, and grumbled about health benefits for thirty years; they came back, worked their tails off, rarely ran around beating their chests about how heroic they'd been, and never once suggested that America had fought in the Pacific out of racism or imperialism.

Both of my grandfathers served in the Pacific. I was never very close to my maternal grandfather, but neither talked much about it: They simply went out, did their jobs, and returned home. The net effect -- combined with the efforts of millions like them -- was to stamp out right-wing tyranny in the Pacific, and hybridized left/right tyranny in Europe. It's not their fault that we lacked the will to kill off the left-wing tyranny in Asia and Europe on their watch.

Billions of humans are better off for their efforts. Billions more will live and die, wanting, laughing, needing, crying, loving, marrying, reproducing, mourning, praying, without once looking over their shoulders for the dark shadows that love to kill freedom.

The men five years after fought to keep the slow shadow of communism from bringing even more under its long night; it's not their fault that the people they saved have grown soft under the blanket of security they provided.

The men twenty years before them fought in a meat grinder, over some stupid European kerfluffle that should never have been; but without them, there would not be an England. And a France, but again, that's not their fault.

The men sixty years before that fought to preserve the idea of Union. They died by the tens of thousands on beautiful landscapes, near verdant forests and running streams, broad plains and the foothills of mountains. They fought so that government by the people would not perish. They fought -- perhaps incidentally, but bless them for it -- so that some day, all Men would be free.

The men twenty years before that fought so that Texas would remain part of the Union, and ten years before that, so that a petty dictator would not trample the rights of free men and women.

The men fifty years before that fought for the idea that government flows from the people; and that absent their consent, there is no government. We owe them boundless thanks for their pledge of their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor; and we owe them an understanding of what it means to pledge those things.

You'll note that I have not referenced any war after Korea. That is because I must segregate:

The men who fought bravely in Vietnam; Grenada; Panama; Kuwait; Somalia; Bosnia; Kosovo; Afghanistan; and Iraq: We owe them our thanks on our knees. They fought when others spurned the words "honor," and "duty"; they fought when it was harder than ever to do so, as so many spit at them for having the unmitigated gall to believe in the American idea, and that it was worth fighting for; they fought for us, and, in some senses, the world.

The men and women who spit at them: We owe them nothing. The men who fought, then came back to spit at the men fighting: We owe them less.

To all the men (and, sadly, now women) who have died for this great Nation: God keep you; God bless; and, from our hearts: Thank you.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Interesting new entry: The Boileryard. Stop in and check it out.

(Interesting arcanum: His blog is self-confessedly a reference to Boileryard Clarke, a lifer during the deadball era. Deeply cool.)

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

So let me pose a hypothetical:

Suppose -- and I think we can take this as a given -- that there are people who so very much hate the existence of gay men and lesbians, that it actually hurts them. They are gnawed-upon from the inside over the existence of homosexuals, for whatever reason. And, unable to bear the emotional -- and physical, in an ugly biofeedback loop -- pain, they begin sneaking up on gays while they sleep and butchering them alive. Literally: They crush, slice, and dice the bodies of these men and women, ruthlessly. They feel better when it's over.

It would not be too much of a stretch to call this inhuman. Someone who did this, deliberately, with malice aforethought, is in a state of grave sin, and should not receive communion in the Catholic Church. This is straightforward stuff. Any politician who enabled this behavior -- who said, I disagree with his choice to murder these people, but I also understand how much pain he's in, and so I refuse to interject the State into what he does with his own body would rightly be considered at best deranged, and at worst, a cold-blooded murderer. I don't imagine many people would take issue with the decision of any Church to deny that politician its sacraments.

You see where this is going.

I understand Kerry, and Cuomo, and Kennedy, and other blood-letting, coldblooded, power-mad psuedo-Catholic politicians overlooking human biology and the teachings of their faith, and trying to pretend that their sin represents bravery. They're morally incomplete; they're, like most humans, greedy, grubbing little creatures who desire power more than they desire the warmth of God's embrace.

It happens to the best of us.

What I don't understand is their flackers. Like, just for example, Andrew Sullivan. So, without fisking his argument, let's just say it this way: If you put "murdering sleeping gay men and women" in place of "abortion," you kinda gotta concede that, first, he would never make this argument; second, that his Catholic formation, such as it was, was sorely lacking; and, finally, that it makes him a bit of a moral monster.

Oh: Ramesh was too kind.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Now, let us speak of war.

Before we go any farther, I should note that I think we're now at war, and it seems broadly self-evident to me that this is so. On September 11, 2001, as I stood in my living room and saw replay after replay of airliners striking the World Trade Center, I thought, So this is war. Strictly speaking, I now see that we've been at war for twenty-five years; we were just so caught up with the bigger war we were fighting, and then the joy at the end of that conflict, that we didn't notice until 3,000 of us died in a single day.

The default conservative position on war, contrary to the overly-feminized bleating of the sham of a Left we have these days, is powerful opposition to anything but obviously defensive war. That position, like most conservative positions, is open to a certain amount of give in the face of reality; but let us not forget that William F. Buckley, for example, was a determined isolationist up until Japan dropped tons of explosives on the U.S.S. Arizona.

I am not an isolationist. I am what Walter Russell Mead (incorrectly) calls a Jacksonian. If the rest of the world prefers to go to Hell in a handbasket, I invite them to make sure the door does not strike them in the posterior as they exit. I abhor nation-building, because although I hold certain truths to be self-evident, I'm not sure everyone else does, and if they don't, it can be one hell of a mess convincing them they're wrong. I don't believe in proxy wars, limited wars, or humanitarian wars. Each, in its way, is an oxymoron. And, worse, they don't work.

I have, historically, made exceptions. I favored at least arms supply to Bosnia and Croatia during the dissolution of Yugoslavia. I truly came to hate Clinton for how he treated Rwanda (for a man who could emote at the drop of a dime, and was allegedly our "first black president," he didn't show a lot of sympathy for the mass murder of thousands of black human beings). I was in favor of bombing Kosovo, though I was worried (not worried enough, as it turns out) about the KLA. (Hey, we bombed the Chinese Embassy -- at worst, it was a mixed-result war.)

I think, and thought, that intervention in Haiti was a mistake. Same goes for Liberia. I'd like to see Chavez executed in a specially arranged coup d'etat, if the CIA could get off its useless behind for ten minutes. (There, it would be All About the Oil and All About Killing an Obnoxious Marxist Dictator.) Same with that old loony in Cuba. We should have blown North Vietnam, then, as needed, China, into the Stone Age. We should probably up our military aid to Taiwan, build more nukes, and point them right at Beijing. We should be prepared to invade Paris on general principle, and especially be ready when either the French begin their genocidal purge of les beurrs, or, more likely, when France adopts sh'ria (yet another reason for the French to hate us -- you have to wonder why they haven't gone that extra mile yet).

Broadly speaking, though, I believe war is only acceptable to achieve some definite national goal, and, once begun, no amount of force should be held back (except in reserve, so you can pound any remaining resistance into the ground afterward). I might make an exception for genocides, but the caveat about unflinching use of overwhelming force remains.

That brings us to Iraq.

Like I said, I hate the idea of nation-building. And strictly speaking, Iraq did not pose an immediate, tanks-at-the-border threat to us. Actually, let's take that in reverse order:

The fundamental truth of the post-Westphalian world is not so much the Nation-State, but the border. Borders imply continuity; they define a State; they are lines from which you can separate the world into discrete pieces. Thus, the French did not place the Maginot Line ten miles from Paris; they placed them on the border with Germany. Up until very very recently, you knew your enemy was planning an invasion because he placed men and materiel on his border with you, and looked menacingly at you the whole time. Thus, one could say, Canada poses an imminent threat to us, because their cutting-edge 1960s military is looking right over the border at Vermont.

Transglobal terrorism changes the rules. An angry Iranian mullah could arm Arabs (or Persians, or Arab-Americans, or Persian-Americans -- while I have no doubt that the vast majority of the latter, American groups would not take part in such a thing, it is impossible to eliminate any possibility of a few malcontents) with nuclear suitcases, send them across the sea, blow up Boston Harbor, and we would never have seen it coming. The post-Westphalian model no longer applies, at least as well as it used to. The danger is not enemies staring at us across a common border, it is enemies walking among us, blowing us to pieces, with no advanced warning.

Hence, Iraq.

Maybe Hussein had no WMDs. Maybe he did. I tend to think he did, as any idiot can make sarin if he really wants to, Baby Assad has been awful nervous lately, and the "Bush lied about WMDs!!!" garbage demands a proof of a negative. Anyway, I think we can all agree that at the very least, it wouldn't have been too tricky for Hussein to make so-called WMDs. (A note: Chemical and biological weapons really aren't "weapons of mass destruction." They tend to burn out or dissipate too quickly for that. Nukes are WMDs. Asteroids could be WMDs. Ebola is a terror weapon.)

And that rather leads to my point: We thought Hussein had those weapons; it would have been far too easy to slip a vial of good ol' Black Death to some death-cult madman to take out a good part of a city to let that loony tune live. We live now in a world where the old certainties created by borders don't exist. Kim Jong-Il could decide to let loose on Seattle with a guided nuke, or with a suitcase nuke. We'd know how to handle the first; we wouldn't know whom to blame for the second.

Thus, it is better to preemptively blow our enemies into little bitty pieces. The stakes are too high to hold hands and sing, "Give peace a chance," on the odd hope that our enemies will do a lamb-and-lion bit with us. So when Bush said, "Hussein is going down," I was there with bells on. He might or might not have been a deadly foe; best not to take the chance, instead of mourn in three months when L.A. is up in glowing flames and NYC celebrities are worried that Americans will overreact. Why we haven't target-nuked every nuclear facility in North Korea is a continuing mystery to me.

These wars, you see, are for the explicit purpose of making sure no more Americans die from hostile, foreign action. No amount of force is "too much." Any amount that accomplishes the end is "just right."

Thus, I'd like to see "just right" amounts of force aimed at the following enemies, in descending order:

North Korea

Let us not lie; these people are our enemies. They seek our humiliation, death, and/or subjugation. We no longer have the luxury to employ 19th Century Diplospeak for years on end. When the world is a safer place (for us absolutely, for democracy only as it makes the world safe for us -- see below), then we can retreat to arguments about the marginal tax rate and overtime for union employees, and global environmental initiatives. (That's assuming we reproduce enough to have those debates -- but that's a rant for another time.)

Curiously, that leads to Iraq and nation building.

Like I said, it would be an understatement to say that I detest nation building. Of all the trumped up left-wing idiocies ever, nation building seems one of the very stupidest, and that says a great deal. It combines all of the worst sins of the late British Empire with the worst naiveties and misconceptions of the perpetually stupid left side of the political spectrum into one magnificant waste of time, lives, and resources. And this is me toning it down.

But I'm prepared to start making exceptions.

Iraq might, just might, be the lynch pin that shows the Arab world, Yes, it is possible to live in something other than oppressed, wretched squalor. Maybe we can turn it into a functioning state -- I do not demand, and do not expect, American-style democratic federal republicanism -- but a normal, consent-of-the-governed modern State would do the trick. That's worth a gamble of men and materiel, especially (1) when we have so much of both, especially the latter, and (2) when you think that one of the more telling knocks on us, post-Somalia (another mistake, start to finish, by the way), was that we were an impotent giant.

And, assume for the sake of argument that Iraq falls to pieces. I'll grant that. Suppose it turns into a militant theocracy. I'd gauge that as extremely unlikely, but I'll grant it for the sake of argument. It's still better than what was there before. If we can get that much in place -- and make ourselves safer in the process -- I'll take it.

The old rules went out the window about three years ago. I just kind of wonder how long it'll take the Democratic party to catch on.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

So now that I'm back, let's talk about a few things. We'll start with gay marriage. (Why not?)

I'd like, before I go any further, to direct you to my prior words on the subject here. And note a few changes since then. Most of them center around my naivete.

Three weeks after I wrote that, I had a discussion with a senior associate at my firm. Nice guy; if not brilliant (and he probably is), very close; thoughtful; and gay. I mention the last because he told me, in no uncertain terms:

(1) I'm not merely a bigot, but a monster, for trying to stop the legalization of gay marriage.

(2) This is not something that can be debated among rational people. I'm simply evil.

(3) My "noble, but meaningless" belief that "the law matters -- if you strip aside all the trees of the law, you'll have nowhere to hide when Satan comes looking" and my antiquated belief in a separation of powers are either dodges (at best), or more likely naive maliciousness (he explained how that's not oxymoronic; it made sense at the time). And:

(4) No weapon was beyond reach to make gay marriage a reality. The explicit comparison to Jim Crow -- from a man making six figures, with the respect and esteem of not only his immediate colleagues (including myself), but of the profession, who was never, you know, forced to sit at a different lunch counter, or drink from a rusty old water fountain while others were allowed to drink from the clean one -- was breathtaking in its force, conviction, and, let us not forget, absurdity.


I am now wholly in favor of the most restrictive possible Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage imaginable and politically workable. If it must allow civil unions, so be it; I'd rather it forbade the whole slate. Screw federalism.

I say this because I now understand that I've been thrust into a war for which I did not ask; in which I never expected to be; against enemies whom I had never thought of as enemies, who in turn view this entire conflict as Manichaean in nature, who have absolute conviction behind them; and over an institution at the very base of society, the existence and nature of which no one would have thought to question with any seriousness for centuries. If a man who I would otherwise have thought thoughtful and moderate is actually a raging demon where this is concerned, I can only imagine what the activists preparing papers are like.

Norman Podhoretz once said something to the effect that in a contest between two sides, when one has unlimited aims, and the other has limited aims, the side with the boundless goals wins by definition every time. I therefore adopt a boundless goal: The complete denial of gay marriage throughout this country and, if I have my way, every other country in the world. (Except Europe: They're dying anyway. I don't want to waste the time on them.)

I'd also like to make a rather straightforward point. Conservatism is not an ideology; it's an inclination. It's the subtle but unmistakable certainty that changing things, while sometimes necessary and good, is almost always bad. Not to go all Andrew Sullivan and start casting my ideological opponents into the outer darkness, but you cannot be a conservative and advocate gay marriage, unless you believe that the harm society as a whole experiences is akin to the effects of slavery or Jim Crow. It's precisely that simple. To be in favor of overturning countless years of inherited wisdom and tradition based on a fifteen year old political movement, with spurious claims to victimhood and suffering, is not to be a conservative; it is to be an unapologetic radical.

Just so we're on the same page.
I'm aware that it's been about four months since I posted regularly. I probably owe all of my (two) regular readers an explanation; you'll just have to accept an apology. Life got hectic for a while. No catastrophes, no disasters, no emergencies (well, two, but they were small).

So: My apologies. It'll happen again, kinda. See below.

Anyway, here's the deal.

I'll be posting again, regularly. But probably not here, precisely.

I've spent the odd moment at five in the morning (while shaving, which wasn't the best idea ever) thinking about where to go from here. I have to maintain my anonymity, because lawyers are probably the most closed-minded people outside of a university campus, and let's just say my political beliefs don't line up well with most of the profession. (I had an opposing counsel recently tell me, offhandedly, that conservatism by nature of the tendency itself means that one is predisposed to bringing back chattel slavery. Seriously.)

Blogger has been pretty well ideal, and since June 2003, I haven't really had any problems with it. But Ben let me take Movable Type for a spin, and it was... well, you can't go back after that. And I'd like to upload pictures, and silly things like that. And have my own disk space.

On the other hand, while I'm not precisely a cheap S.O.B., I'm also loathe to spend money on server space. Well, not precisely -- more accurately, I'm loathe to spend money on server space and a domain name that could be fairly easily used to track back and find out more about me, and therefore disqualify me from future employment. (Brief caveat for those who know me: I really like my job. A lot. But I don't count on anything any more.) If you know my (Dungeons and Dragons reference) true name, you can find a lot of garbage I've already put out, that made its way net-wise, deliberately or otherwise. I'd rather not add to that stockpile.

But a personalized page would be sweet.

Anyway, long and short of it is, I'll probably post here a little longer, then get around to a new site. Probably.

I've also been invited to take part in something bigger. Cooler. Faster... well, you get the idea. I'd rather devote most of my blogging time to that, for a host of personal and political reasons. I'll provide a link, once it's operational.

Anyway, short of it is, hiatus is over. Let's rock.

Monday, March 29, 2004

This brief hiatus from my brief hiatus of blogging is brought to you by this public service message:

Pray for Stuart Buck, guys. Three times the man I'll ever be, seven times the lawyer. Life sucks some days. He's got a wife and two kids. If you don't pray, send happy-energy thoughts, or whatever it is y'all do.

Blogging will resume.