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Ancient Words Our Leaders Should Heed

Posted on Oct 18, 2008

This statue of Thucydides stands in front of the Austrian parliament building in Vienna.

By Robert Fisk

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted at The Independent.

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Let us now praise famous men. And after yet another U.S. presidential candidates’ debate of awesome sterility – not to mention their shameless refusal to tackle the real, bloody issues that confront America – I’m referring principally to one of the first journalists to understand war and, so far as he could, to check his sources: Thucydides.

If only our masters would turn to his account of the Peloponnesian conflict they might even see their own faces – and their hideous mistakes – in the mirror of his prose.

I have to admit that I was inspired to reread the great man’s fourth-century BC tract by Professor David Rovie of the Auckland University of Technology, who startled a weary Fisk in New Zealand a few weeks ago by pointing out that Thucydides’ work contained all the lessons we need to learn about war, human rights, the treatment of prisoners, the cowardice of politicians, and the cold-hearted decisions of nation states.

Thucydides himself said – it is, of course, his most famous quotation – that it was enough for him that his words “be judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future”.


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His work, Thucydides wrote – and I am using Rex Warner’s translation – was “not a piece of writing designed to meet the taste of an immediate public but was done to last for ever”. Well, he can say that again. How many of our historians or journalists or novelists or playwrights work for those who will (despite the internet) still read them in 2,000 years’ time? Tolstoy maybe, Shakespeare, I imagine. But will the historians of our latter-day wars – the Beavors and the Barnetts and the Bullocks, even the Churchills – be read in 4008? Certainly Thucydides would have had no time for newspaper reporters: “prose chroniclers”, he sneers, are “less interested in telling the truth than in catching the attention of their public, whose authorities cannot be checked”. Ouch.

At school, I found the 27-year war between Athens and Sparta, which began in 431BC, a very tiresome affair. Indeed, its miniature battles, in which a modern-day “surge” might involve only 200 men, are pretty boring. But Thucydides was also a soldier; by failing to save an Athenian colony from the Spartans, he was sent off to 20 years of exile. And his account of this ancient conflict contains a dark and chilling relevance today.

Take Cleon, who had just passed the motion for a death sentence against the entire male population of Mytilene (all women and children, of course, were to be slaves) because of their revolt against Athens. Just listen to this truly 9/11 speech. “He who has suffered for no good reason is a more dangerous enemy ... Place yourselves in imagination at the moment when you first suffered and remember how then you would have given anything to have (your enemy) in your power. Now pay them back for it ... Punish them as they deserve, and make an example of them to your other allies, plainly showing that revolt will be punished by death.”

After the international crimes against humanity of 2001, George Bush launched Cleon’s antique “war on terror”. Those who had attacked America, who had rebelled against us because they “hated our democracy”, were to be punished and punished with death as many hundreds of thousands ultimately were.

The wise voice of Diodotus – “if we are sensible people, we shall see that the question is not so much whether they are guilty as whether we are making the right decision for ourselves” – succeeds in sparing the citizens of Mytilene (albeit for strictly selfish reasons). But our only Diodotus after 9/11 was [French President Jacques] Chirac, who showed the Athenians’ selfishness if nothing else.

Now here is Alcibiades, urging the Athenians to advance on Sicily: “Remember that the city (Athens) ... in conflict ... will constantly be gaining new experience and growing more used to defend itself, not by speeches, but in action.” Here is the projection of Athenian military power.

Despite Nicias’s warning that “it would be disgraceful if we ... were forced to send back later for reinforcements owing to insufficient foresight to begin with”, the Athenians eagerly set off for their ancient version of an Iraqi debacle.

As Thucydides writes, “The Athenians ... became more enthusiastic than ever ... it was now thought that the expedition was an absolutely safe thing. There was a passion for the enterprise which affected everyone alike ... The result of this excessive enthusiasm of the majority was that the few who actually were opposed to the expedition were afraid of being thought unpatriotic if they voted against it, and therefore kept quiet.” Ah, so much for the three-line whips of Athenian democracy and of the House of Commons and of the U.S. Congress.

For those who want to compare Bush’s early abandonment of the war in Afghanistan for a new adventure in Iraq, try Nicias again, who warned that “in going to Sicily you are leaving many enemies behind you, and you apparently want to make new ones there and have them also on your hands ... there are so many (Sicilians) and they live so far off that it would be very difficult to govern them. It is useless to go against people who, even if conquered, could not be controlled ... My opinion is, too, that Sicily, as it is at present, is not a danger to us ...”.

No, Sicily had no weapons of mass destruction, but the Athenians eagerly set off to military disaster. Had Bush heard of Thucydides? Did Blair have a dim remembrance from his schooldays? Any thoughts, Senator Obama, you who voted “No”? Oh, hell – just send a copy to Sarah Palin. On a clear day she could probably see Sparta from Athens.

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By Sepharad, October 23, 2008 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment
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felicity, re your 10/19 post: “... we will one day figure out that war does not create eternal peace.”

True enough—sometimes. But there are also times when wrongly defining and acting out peace results in more war, as in the Versailles Treaty (in which overly harsh punishment of the entire German people gave rise to conditions that bred the Nazis) and as in the British and French divvying up the Middle East with no regard for ethnicity and sect, after the Ottoman Empire fell, which foolishness destroyed stability in the Near East possibly forever, exacerbated by the presence of oil.

Equally true is that not fighting when you need to, hoping to minimize, deaths, only creates more death by embolding war makers. Response to Pearl Harbor was necessary, but perhaps would not have come to that if Neville Chamberlin had not tried to appease Hitler in the first place. Another example, in ‘83 US Marines were, with French troops, acting as international peacekeepers in Lebanon. When Iranian-financed Hezbollah blew up the Marine barracks and killed the French troops as well, then-President Reagan ordered a military response but his Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger, refused to do it because he was worried about upsetting Muslims in the oil states. If we’d worried less about oil and more about our national welfare, we would perhaps have confronted the Iranian proxy Hezbollah when it was still possible to do so, and would not now be facing a potentially nuclear Iran. Likewise, when US troops were sent to Somalia after warlords killed UN Pakistani troops overseeing food distribution during an extreme, deadly famine, when two Blackhawk helicopters went down and Somali Islamists dragged an American soldier’s body through the street, President Clinton pulled out all US troops, leaving the Somalis at the mercy of the warlords and leaving the very clear message that the US was a bit of a paper tiger. If there was not this perception, I believe that Saddam would not have pretended he had WMDs (even his own generals thought he did) and our foolish President would have not had any excuse whatsoever to invade a Iraq, perhaps the most stupid and damaging war we have ever waged (though Vietnam was also right up there). Knowing when to hold and when to fold is a life-saving skill we do not seem to have mastered. Let’s hope our next President, Barack Obama, meant it when he said he was not opposed to all wars, just stupid ones.

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By leilah, October 23, 2008 at 1:30 pm Link to this comment

I agree with OzarkMichael.  This has a been fascinatingly education thread.  I loved it thus far.

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By OzarkMichael, October 23, 2008 at 10:41 am Link to this comment

The opening premise of the article is war and the the superior wisdom of philosopher’s like Thucydides from Greece as a backdrop of comparision for the present trenches of war that the U.S.  finds itself in.  History always reveals the truth, in time, and time did not bear out that philosophy as the decline of Greece and the rise of Rome demonstrates if one considers the defence and survival of their nation as the deciding factor.

Rome’s rise at Greek expense does not in any way negate the article. It is supplemental information.
Perhaps the lesson we could learn from it all is that after being involved in a difficult, unnecessary, and (perhaps)unsuccessful war, the resulting tendency for pacifism is as detrimental to the nation’s future as the war was.

I still appreciate the article, actually i like it even more since this conversation by the posters here is so educational. Thanks for posting here, friends.

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By Sepharad, October 22, 2008 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment
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Fibonacci Sequence—Sorry I went off on the Romans so adamantly. My pro-Israel bias regarding Rome rarely bubbles to the surface irrationally but when it does I inevitably embarrass myself. The last time was a couple months after 9/11, with all the Arab street in an uproar and much public commentary on how US foreign policy probably provoked the attack. I was walking across a Roman bridge into Merida, Spain, and spitefully kicked a corner of it, only succeeding in hurting my foot. My husband, amused, said, “Don’t worry. The Visigoths took care of them for you.” It’s tiresome, forever having to justify Israel’s existence, largely a result of the diaspora—even though the Romans may have done the Jews a favor, exposing them to a larger universe.

In any case, I’m an admirer of Marcus Aurelius and his policies but fear that the lessons pertinent to our military and political situation are lost on most.

Caesar’s commentaries do not always accurately describe the natures of his various adversaries, but that’s probably because he was writing with politics uppermost in mind, as he was also engaged in power struggles with other noted Romans and had to communicate to the people of Rome a sense of his superiority, experience, etc.—much like Presidential candidates today. He and every emperor who followed him also “chronicled” their victories over the barbarians by images on monumental architecture, coins, etc. What I do not understand—and perhaps you can enlighten me—is why the nature of the depiction of the “barbarians” changed so drastically between Trajan’s reign (A.D. 98-117) and that of Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 161—180)? I.e., Trajan’s memorial columns idealize not only the Roman soldiers but also their barbarian opponents as worthy warriors yet unable to defeat Rome (similar to Caesar’s earlier attempts to show Romans why they needed to campaign to protect Rome in the first place). But Marcus Aurelius’ memorial columns and coins reflect no such respect or admiration of the enemies, who were more or less unattractively depicted. Was this just a way to shape the Roman citizens’ perception of the barbarians as not only dangerous but also “other”? And if so how did it work in terms of forwarding Marcus Aurelius’ agenda?

Just a thought—it is not necessary to go as far back as the Romans to see what combatting asymmetric warfare is like. We have only to look at the French-Indian War, the Wilderness War, and the American revolution. Or the French’s painful forced dislocation from Algeria in 1967. The farther warrior society lessons recede in history, the easier it becomes for some people to convince themselves they are in a more morally comfortable state of mind in supporting their government as it wages war. But it’s almost impossible to sustain support for a war that is stupidly conceived and prosecuted even more stupidly. (Had Generals Eric Shinseki and David Petraeus been in charge from the get-go, either we wouldn’t have gone into Iraq, or we would have done better by the Iraqi people and our own soldiers, among whom has been a much-loved son-in-law.)

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By Fibonacci Sequence, October 22, 2008 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment

Sepharad,  I was not “praising” the Romans just using them as one of many counter analogies that make the whole thrust of the respective originating article moot.  The opening premise of the article is war and the the superior wisdom of philosopher’s like Thucydides from Greece as a backdrop of comparision for the present trenches of war that the U.S.  finds itself in.  History always reveals the truth, in time, and time did not bear out that philosophy as the decline of Greece and the rise of Rome demonstrates if one considers the defence and survival of their nation as the deciding factor. The end of the Pax Romana governed mainly by Aurelius was a response to very analogous   “terroristic”  or babaric raids by the Germanics and others—Aurelius response was decisive and consistent proactive projection of force taken to the enemy and resulted mainly from his doctrine in the preservation of Rome for several hundred more years.  It was weakness and apathy not in keeping with the proactive responses of Aurelius that lead to the eventual collapse of the empire to the revengeful   Germanics.  And we could rehash all of history,  but the basics of my opinion is that when creating a premise of war and the lessons we should learn from leaders that lost their sovereignty to another Empire such as the Greeks to the Romans it is wisdom if staying in the arena of war to understand the nation/empire with the superior war tactics, strategy and logistics,  when it comes to war in the time the author chose to go, not I, the Roman’s were superior so to ignore them in an ancient world analogy is not logical—as to the Roman’s culture and traditions and civil laws and the parts of it that this present age is horrified by, which you allude to, was not what was being discussed and not attributes that any in this present culture should accept.  The articles analogies and philosophical advice are more congruent with nations dealing with civil wars and at that point in their evolution of manifest destiny expansions but not the present conflict of terroristic asymmetric warefar, which is more akin to the age of Aurelius and the Germanic raids and his succesful campagins that took decades—if we are to reach back to the ancients that is.

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By Sepharad, October 21, 2008 at 11:55 pm Link to this comment
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Ozark Michael & Fibonacci Sequence—The Greek’s agora, aka free marketplace of ideas, is still the best way to learn. Most sites and their threads reflect a preponderance of one worldview or another—a major failure of the Internet, as this only reinforces the perspective the user started out with in the first place. The more you disagree the more you should be writing here as elsewhere. I’m a secular Zionist, anathema to many TDers. If I wanted agreement and reassurance I’d go to a pro-Israel site. Stick around long enough; you’ll see how harshly and fundamentally many TD commenters disagree with others. (This thread’s influenced by the calming effect of history and philosophy, a break from this contentious Presidential campaign and a world racing furiously in all the wrong directions.)

As a historian, I see nothing out new out there— the same bloody conquest cycle and there are no innocent cultures. Societies project power for as long as they are able. Some say without warfare there would be no progress. At some point, if you don’t like the corner of the world you live in as shaped by that progress, and if enough people agree with you, there will be grumbling and a degree of rebellion, which succeeds or not depending on what stage of the conquest cycle you’ve been lucky or unlucky enough to land on.

Fibonacci—The Pax Romana was not universally welcomed by all of its subjects. These guys built great roads and aquaducts and all, but they also handed out crucifixions like parking tickets. Hell, they weren’t even rational. When the Jews of Israel gave them trouble, the Romans could have told the unruly and warlike Jews to keep their Temple, worship their God, instead of insisting that the populace worship the numerous Roman gods. What possible difference could enforcing a particular cultural myth quirk have made? If the Romans wanted taxes, the Jews would have paid them; if they wanted conscripts, the Jews were willing to act as Roman soldiers governing their own country—or province if that’s what the Romans wanted to call it. Instead the Romans pushed and pushed until they ended up with a messy ethnic cleansing and not many people left to pay their damned taxes. So pick another empire to praise. (The Ottomans were much more sensible—as long as they got THEIR taxes on time.)

Ozark Michael—I don’t think we’re so different from our ancestors, though we talk a lot about our more enlightened modern culture, and the reason I’m so paranoid and pessimistic is that, bottom line, I don’t beleive we’ve learned as much as we need to learn from history. Philosophy is philosophy, and only as powerful as the dominant power lets it be, in terms of citizen behavior.

Fibonacci—What the left has going for it is a willingness to try to understand the wildly different civilizations confronting our own, to see the people in those civilizations as other human beings who, however different their beliefs and values, DO have some things in common with us and perhaps more to the point some mutually benificial ways of doing business if we could only stop fighting long enough. The weakness of the left is overestimating how interested other people are in the nuances of our worldview.

But the right has worse problems in that it attracts incurious, frightened, racist and angry people for the most part. This is something that troubled people like William Buckley, Richard Weaver and others who established an intellectually-based conservative movement with its own publications, etc. I’ve always greatly admired Bill Buckley, and like Weaver I believe that ideas have consequences.

... AND I wish we could stop with these artificial designations—left, right, whatever, and simply operate as pragmatically as we must and as humanely as we can. Then we might have some chance of successfully confronting asymmetric warfare without multiplying our enemies as we go.

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By OzarkMichael, October 21, 2008 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment

Someone wrote this post:

One of my favorite wisdom statements is an inscription over collegiate portals in Muslim Spain of the Middle Ages: “The word is supported by four things only: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the truly righteous and the valor of the brave.”

I would like to be as multicultural as the next guy and be part of the happy rainbow of tolerance and non-judgmentalism. But before I sign on I would like to ask some questions. I have an inkling but i dont really know the answers.

Those folks who ordered that inscription… exactly what did the phrase ‘the world’ mean for them? Did it refer to the whole world, with its lands of strife and unbelief? Who did they think were the ‘truly rightious’? And what activity does it refer to with the phrase ‘valor of the brave’?

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By GrammaConcept, October 21, 2008 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

To G.Anderson, October 19 at 7:26 am:.....You, firstly, have inspired me to replay here an essay I wrote that I am quite fond of…....Thank you for your deeply thoughtful words…

and secondly, I have enjoyed this article and the post thread it inspired immensely…love all the philosophy and horse-sense…’-)...thanks to all for the Fresh Air…..

My own father said:
“At war with oneself, there can be no peace with others….”
Our work therefore is immediately cut out for us….so then, I say…
Make hay while the sun shines…...

Here is my essay…Enjoy…yes,  please do…:

    ...................Despair Is No Longer An Option…............

.................Change your train of thought; change the world…...............

Exercising the will to change one’s thoughts deliberately is powerful exercise fit for any, and for every, moment….....

Thinking clearly regarding one’s ideals and ideas of a moral universe is not doing nothing…......To the contrary, it is the powerful first effort toward focussed, effective action of any kind….

Never doubt that you are ‘exercising’ free will by choosing upbuilding in thought, word, or deed, rather than the opposite…. 

Why are we here?......Perhaps, to discover why we are here…....When we have thought our way through to our selves, we will then know better what good work to do for others…...

Meanwhile, simple service of any kind earns us our keep….... 

          ............As we think, so we become…....

If we are to be useful stepping into the future, which is, after all, every next second, then we had better make our thoughts our own….If you think, wonder, or even suspect, that there is nothing you can do… something!

Addiction to negativity is the greatest danger, as it leads only to further delusion followed by yet more suffering…..

Upbuild, friends, with all your determined free will…..Upbuild…and please, courageously… 


            ....................Strive On!.......................


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By Fibonacci Sequence, October 21, 2008 at 10:56 am Link to this comment
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Fallacious logic.  Not even getting into the differences of warfare employed between those ancient nation states and the asymmetrical   terrorist warfare that is being fought today as making the analogy erroneous, I find it most curious that in an effort to frame your anti-war stance you reach back to the subdued Greeks and not to the Romans who subdued them.  Not to the military actions and wisdom of the likes of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his almost constant the military campaigns that lead to the Pax Romana.  A history lesson from that reality shows your piece as ignorant if not subversive and fanciful thinking of a child that believes peace is maintain without power and the projection of that power. If you want to go back into history and read philosophy I suggest you focus on one of the most respected stoic philosophers and Emperors from the ancient world, his time more accurately reflects the attacks on civilization today and his response as history bears out created the longest lasting span of peace and prosperity of the Roman Empire.  Every “empire” so successful and large has enemies created for them from all kinds of nefarious rumors and subversions that reflect the innate history proven jealousy of those without and the manifold excuses they use for their evil – the only question is as in the time of Aurelius does a nation capitulate, attempt to appease that evil, or seek to eradicate the places it breeds and hides.  Aurelius and our own current Ronald Reagan to name just two refute your articles philosophical weakness as the doom of free people everywhere.  History shows again and again that every nation that has not known or forgot that principle becomes as the crumbling temples of Athens and the ghost that walk their halls that you attempt to extol in your appeal to an ‘intellectual’ authority fallacy.

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By OzarkMichael, October 21, 2008 at 10:49 am Link to this comment

Usually I have an unfavorable view of the Truthdig articles and posts, which are often so biased and illogical that its fun to come here and tweak you guys. So when I like one I should admit it.

This was a good article, although I think i read something similar a few years ago. This was interesting and logical. I dont agree with every application it contains, but the points are well made whether i agree with them or not. I especially liked this quote:

...understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future.

It is true not only as an object lesson for the ancient past, it is true both when it was written and when it was quoted by Fisk about the recent past.

But think now. Try to understand. The real focus of the quote, the real applied truth of it… is the future. Not just in ancient times, but our future. The folks(and ideologies) that hope to gain power in our world today. People may understand and criticize other people’s mistakes in the past but believe none of it applies to themselves. They do not benefit from reading this article or history at all.

That should give the atheists/Leftists pause but will not. “We are new, we are different, we aren’t Christians and fascists, we are free from the bad influences which caused problems in the past.” To which i respond , “No, human nature does not change. You are just as likely to screw up as those before you, and the fact that you dont know it practically guarantees disaster.” 

That is the primary and constant criticism i have of the Truthdiggers. Now I have Thucydides himself backing me up! 

Looking at the tone of what i am writing, it seems I cant just say something nice and leave it at that. So i will close for now.

Anyway it was a great article.

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By Sepharad, October 20, 2008 at 10:04 pm Link to this comment
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Big B—Good question. I have no idea why, given all our big brains, we are still acting like monkeys at a quilting bee. Given such persistent behavior,  the term “enlightenment” must strike too many of us as the sun rising in the morning. Something good, something out of our control and thus to be taken for granted, something we need not do anything about but enjoy it and everything will be fine.

I think Fadel is getting close to the answer when he blames the petty-minded and shallow people who are mere shadows of the kind of leaders we need so desperately here and abroad. And yet how do these people get such power? In so many societies—I don’t think the U.S. should shoulder all of the blame here—people hand it to them on a silver platter. Whether it’s here or in Gaza, Russia or Germany or Afghanistan, we have to find a way to just stop the craziness now. I’m not a huge fan of Obama—think he has too much Wall Street backing and that he’s ignoring the left wing of the Democratic party (and darn it, he’s not Hillary!)—but I WILL vote for him even though my husband is voting for Nader to send O. the “not left enough” message, because he Obama has the intellect and the dispassionate temperament

But just one calm intelligent voice isn’t going to change the world.

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By Sepharad, October 20, 2008 at 9:28 pm Link to this comment
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KDelphi—Well yeah—riding is about as much heaven as I can imagine. Wish I HAD grown up riding like you did. Lived mostly in a big city, stole my grandmother’s milkman’s horse when I was 5 (we made it about 6 blocks, headed toward an abandoned orphanage where I thought we’d live forever, the horse eating grass and me eating whatever was in the milk wagon, before the whole neighborhood came running down the street after us, yelling in Yiddish). Parents could not afford riding lessons, so at 15 I went to one of the riding stables in the big central park and volunteered to exercise all the horses belonging to rich people who didn’t like to ride in the winters. The stable guy didn’t much like doing that either so he let me. So I learned to ride, English saddle, on huge silly thoroughbreds. In Israel, near Haifa, my cousins ride Arabian horses—much smarter horses than the thoroughbreds. Husband and I ride Peruvians, which are smart and don’t trot but gait smoothly enough for me to ride 20 miles a day without wrecking body. I understand you & Comanche; Margareta, the mare I’ve been riding for 10 years now, is my soulmate. She was supposed to be crazy and dangerous when I got her—only reason I could afford her—when she was barely four, but actually she’s just really smart and doesn’t need much direction. She loves to go, has a lot of brio, can be wildly excitable but when it comes down to it takes care of business. Has saved my life, literally, twice. When I’m tired and husband wants to poke around a bit more, I get off to take a nap and just drop her reins. She grazes over me, and when she decides it’s time to go or sees something she’s not sure about such as a big rattly snake too close) she bumps my cheek with her nose to wake me up. She is a one-human horse though, doesn’t tolerate other people on her back telling her what to do. (Basically, you just have to look at the direction you want to go in and she does.) There’s a really obnoxious trainer working with my Iranian friend, and he’s always telling me if I rode her properly she would have great show potential. (We don’t show at all; just explore off trail. I KNOW she would be a fine show horse, why should I make a smart horse gait round and round all jacked up in an arena when there’s a big world out there?) Last weekend, the trainer insisted that she was too good a horse for me, that I wasn’t getting as much out of her as she had, and he’d show me how to do it right. Knowing how she’d react, I started to say no, but Farrokh touched my elbow and said “No, no let him do it. It’s time for him to stop being rude to you in my house.” So I got off, expert climbs on, jerks her head up and kicks her and, well, she took off, spinning, sometimes on the ground and sometimes not. Finally he got her to go straight for a few yards so as to save face and got off more quickly than he usually does. “Well, you’ve ruined this horse. Too late for me to make anything of her.” (LOL.) I ride a few of the other horses too, and am quite attached to them, but she’s special.

Hate to think of all the years I DIDN’T ride (school, journalism in various cities, then husband and kids) when I had no health problems and an agile dancer’s body. We should be born age 90 then go backwards, so all the fun physical stuff isn’t going unused, and die when we’re an infant and can’t do much but yowl and eat anyway.  Now if a candidate would offer THAT system ...

Oh—we live a couple hours north of San Francisco. Pretty rural but increasingly surrounded by huge pretentious McMansions and their little boutiquey vineyards (on land that used to be meadows, woodlands, berry-covered creeksides, etc). Never have figured out what the big deal about Private Property is. In Spain people can walk, ride, picnic anywhere they like, even if it belongs to the duchess of Alba, as long as they don’t interfere with crops or livestock.

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By Trisha, October 20, 2008 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment
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Of course those who claim the right to lead repeat the mistakes of the past. They do it NOT because they are convinced that, this time, it will work out right, or because they have forgotten the lessons of history, but because they are COUNTING on it to work out wrong. There is a fortune to be made from conflict or, in the case of Bush, the prospect of another attack unless decisive (read profitable conflict)action is taken.

Today, I caught a brief moment of one of Pastor Hagee’s rants. He’s still praising Bush for destroying Iraq after 9/11 to prevent another attack, despite the fact that even Bush has admitted there was no connection between Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. And, guess what: the congregation clapped loudly.

The only way to end the cycle of these so-called ‘repeated mistakes’ is to break the cycle itself. Success, assuming it can be achieved, will be brief, however. The system will quickly re-assert itself because, hell, there’s too many people out there and there’s good money to be made culling the herd.

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By KDelphi, October 20, 2008 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment

O dar—I would agree—except , that I think it is moer “unwilling” than “incapable”.

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By 123456, October 20, 2008 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment

People are incapable of learning from history, because no matter how similar the situation may seem to them, they will always dismiss them under the thinking that “things are different now”, and “we’re smarter today”, “we have bigger guns”, “the threat is bigger”, etc….

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By KDelphi, October 20, 2008 at 10:05 am Link to this comment

Separad—Gawd, sounds like heaven!!

I grew up “on horseback”! I miss it terribly.We had Quarter horse and grade horses. Not much money, either, but my little roan half-Quarter (??)became my great friend, escape artist , and helped me to survive. Out to the pine tree woods, where the groud looked blue as the sun shown through; sharing Halloween cookie with my litle horse; spending the night lying on the ground right next to him, knowing that he knew better than to step on me; swimming him in the dammed up creek; “rounding up peoples’ dairy cows” and my dad having to pay for their lack of milk(!!); somobe giving us a greenbroke palomino filly, who I tried to “train” by having her follow my horse—a big surprise for my sister—until we discovered that she just thought she was to do everythihg Commanche did!!

There is no farm, where we had rented the big, thre story. There are McMansions. I had bought a stone adn had a poem I wrote to Commanche on it when he foundered and I had to put him to sleep at 28 yrs old. Someone plowed it right over and it broke in half.

But, they live on in your hearts forever, no?

PS—YOu dont live in the midwest do you? Just had to ask..

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By Purple Girl, October 20, 2008 at 7:53 am Link to this comment

MCain claims he’ll hatchet the budget- Only money for Military Operations!?! this again Begged the Questions ‘Who’s conditons on the Ground’ will be allowed in Mac’s considerations, his stratedgic plans? Which Damn Country does he Think of FIRST?
Sen Obama responded perfectly-This delicate balancing act Mac’s Cronies and Bosses got US into Requires the Precision and agility of a Scalpel.
Frnakly handing the Reins to Mac amkes as much sense as leaving Paulson & Berneke to figure out THEIR Fuck Up!
In that same Vein should also be OUR RIGHTFUL Demand for Justice.We should not only attempt to erdicate the Disease but careful debris the necrotic tissue.
I have no interest in “Pay backs a Bitch” Justice when faced with a Right wing Neo Con Zealots. haven’t these Poor Blind fools been psychologically tortured and brainwashed enough. I have No interest in excelerating their Learning curve. “Can’t fix Stupid”. So Joe the plumber can continue to be a dumbass
But those who played this Scam on them By Painting the rest of US “Unamerican”, “Unpatriotic” or ‘Conspriacy Theorist’ or ‘Radicals’ or ‘Immoral’ while they Raped and Pillaged MUST be be held accountable.The Results Explain the Methodical Means…Divide & Conquer
If We are to Regain Our Standing as the Great Democracy We Must address those who have attacked US from Within.And It is Not Bill Ayers!

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By Sepharad, October 20, 2008 at 12:34 am Link to this comment
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Hello again, Fadel; it’s been too long since we’ve heard your voice here. I never came across the quote re the four supports of the world—learning, justice, prayer and valor—but that does pretty much sum up the best there is. (I’m not very religious, but have found that in crises when I fear for my life or a loved one’s many of the old prayers of my grandparents come flooding back.)

Have you noticed that the interest in history, ancient or otherwise, has declined greatly in the last 20-25 years—or am I just imagining it? Seems like when history IS dusted off and trotted out, it’s usually out of context and aimed at bolstering someone’s argument re a current event. Swooping into the history book indexes, scavenging for a debating point, is a lot different than seeking understanding.

Not that I’m the perfect truth-seeker I would like to be, often am not even close to it. More and more I’ve been immersing myself in history—not just the Al Andalus/Reconquista/Inquisition/conquistadors of the New World material I’m trying to organize into a couple books that might help connect the dots, but other specific times and places just to escape from newpapers, political campaigns and bloody conflicts so unreal to those of us not trapped inside them that it’s almost obscene to read about them as if they were entertainment.

Lately I’ve ventured into our own country’s beginnings because I think we’ve forgotten the combination of conquest of indigenous peoples and the drive for self-determination that required no less than a revolution if we were to be any better than the old world most Americans fled. Maybe we need another one. Another revolution that is; not another world to muck up.

In between—as our children are grown and scattered around the world—I keep riding my horse alone or with my husband, riding along rivers, creeks, through forests or deserts and, as you know, riding spirited horses demands attention to the moment. I don’t know where you live, but we have a couple extra horses you, from what you’ve said, would enjoy, and would be most welcome to ride. (We aren’t rich; moved into an applepacking shed in an old dying orchard 20 years ago so keeping horses would be realistic, leaving the city when computers made it possible to work from anywhere. But we breed our best mares from time to time, because good Peruvian horses are too expensive and I plan to ride until the day I die, hopefully while riding. (I have a progressive debilitating, uncurable painful disease that mostly I keep far away behind the wall of love, books, horses, so while I have no complaints I also see no reason to be overly prudent, except that my husband would miss me and there’s still so much to read, write, see ...).

Friday night we saw a “first” film written and directed by the son of a close friend, which was modestly made but compelling, fascinating. Saturday night we saw a movie about Bush called “W”, by a famous director, and it was also fascinating in a bad way, almost cartoon-like because some of the history was scattered throughout like bread crumbs, but you never got to the whole loaf.

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By elizabethe, October 19, 2008 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

Words of wisdom for warfare are fine if and when needed.  We are not in a time of war, that is Bush’s mentality, not the world-view of the proper law and order world-view.

Even Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn admit the U.S. is a ROGUE nation.

When Bush declared war on terrorism, Al Gore was shown on TV striding across the stage, saying, “Now we have the whole world in terror!”  From Gore, that was surprising sanity.

Gore himself is not for peace as he ought to be; he offered Broker-status during the 2000 debates. I sorely missed Nader as both present for necessary contrast of a key figure and leadership at a respected level.  Nader is competing against the tyranny of the two parties, and they seek control illegal. Combined they are 38% of registered voters.

Nader sees the offensives by Bush as against the proper view of our democracy and our U.S. Constitution and against the proper respect for the Global Community and the United Nations.

The voters must declare their own power at the ballot box, and to each other. Chomsky and Zinn do not see the power of the people DUE. It is required and due.

Certainly the Greeks wanted the best of their civilization heightened by the government - democracy was seen as promoting increased knowledge and the benefits of culture at its best. War is uncivilized behavior, using violence as a tool for predation.

Certainly free and fair competition is most important to net the BEST in Office of President, where true strength of education, knowledge, track records, integrity, public interest service, and wisdom of offering the platforms most likely to rescue our country and put us on track. We are not supposed to favor commerically corrupt status quo.

I believe the power is with the people to rule at the ballot box on November 4th as the true sovereignty and proof of voters showing their vote is the rule, not the status quo tryanny saying YOU HAVE TWO choices…both in office and due voting “out” those two status quo do not deserve the Presidency.  We do not want war.

We do not want to shred the U.S. Constitution and spend taxes on red ink war abroad and honor dead soldiers for invasions that are war crimes not legal and against proper U.S. behavior.

Condelezza Rice is NOT my government. Our current administration’s budget is not for this country but unwanted military increases at 9 trillion debt level. They want more deficit spending.

The cold war when ended, should have been the “on the table” agreed NO NUKES and no more cold war, and CERTAINLY no hot war, no no no….but Condelezza Rice and Hillary Clinton have media unblinking claims of their ugliness as if it is wanted, by the American citizenry as a people…how do they get away with it?

The media forces the two parties against the truth, a democracy, and they print stories about war as if celebrated, in a modern day world, there is no cause and in a democracy the people have the power to vote OUT the two controlling parties who are not elite, they are offensive greed and corruption against all proper policy - both U.S. and world-wide.

The media recoups the supposed Broker/Military Upper Hand status, that needs to stop, now, by the voters declaring the truth, we want peace, honor, our Constitution UPHELD, and that means no army beyond two years, and taxes used for IN THE BLACK safety priorities for good government that will put our economy on solid ground and make our country a member of a Global Peace Community, and offer friendship not enemies, world-wide.

Nader belongs in the proper view of a candidate who is both strong and able and who can win by offering the ability to reverse Bush’s illegal wars and shredding of the Constitution.

We do not need a movement before we can see who is on the ballot and vote outside the corruption and expect to WIN- with a majority RULE! (voted)

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By yellowbird2525, October 19, 2008 at 7:59 pm Link to this comment

1st of all our nation is run thusly: the politicians were bought by the wealthy long ago to run the nation “their way” which is the way of the plantatations; powerful politicians pushed thru the FDA asparteme which contains formaldehyde one of the most toxic poisonous chemicals known to the planet; in FOOD; it is used widely in everything from sodas to salad dressings, etc, etc, etc; because the sister Pharma gets 600,000 x’s the cost of pills; every known law that helped the people has been pulled; put aside by lawless leaders; who have overbilled the people of the USA for years on elec, gas, etc; consider: 100 years ago the Model T was built MINUS formaldehyde to last 100 years; got 26 MPG (i DID NOT STUTTER); & ran on grain alchohol; hence the prohibition cuz people had to PAY! and thus “oil” was forced on the people & the planet; as Peter Buckley in Oregon Congress states: the Gov is a TOOL for BUSINESS; simply communicate what you want, & give them $ & it gets passed. As long as it is AGAINST the people (common) and FOR the wealthy & Corps who have been set up so they can do whatever they want & no one ever has to pay in Court for deliberate premeditated murder, & deliberate poisoning of the people; no one has to pay for theft; it’s been legalized; and THIS is why democracy is the most despised name on the planet; & no country including Japan will accept any products like dairy or beef or even “genetic seed” products; which contain of course agent orange & pesticides guarenteed to get more $ out of sister Pharma; it might well be called deception for the masses instead of “democracy”; for that is what it is. Every other country KNOWS that American folks are slaves to Corps & our politicians want global dominion with a Nazi mentality. Source of “good” in the Earth? for WHOM? OUR GOV & CORPS working together are the ones claiming people have a NEED for water but not the RIGHT to water; they must PAY! and they are taking it globally to every country; bribing heads of countries; if they don’t accept; they get war on terror; war on drugs; civil unrest; overthrowing Gov after Gov to set up dictatorships under the “name” of democracy; claiming they are “dysfunctional” more than dictatorship; which means a non functioning Gov; YOU decide;

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By KDelphi, October 19, 2008 at 5:35 pm Link to this comment

Big B—Yeah, but better than “hockey mom pit bulls”!! OOOWW!

I’ve reached the same conclusion about women being mroe moral Big b. Hate to admit it.

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By Big B, October 19, 2008 at 5:12 pm Link to this comment


I have found as a youth baseball coach for many years that matriarchal societies posess the same potential for mayhem as male dominated ones.
Hell hath no fury like a baseball mother scorned!
(apparently, the highest crime a person can perpetrate is to not turn Mrs.Jones little boy into Derek Jeter)

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By KDelphi, October 19, 2008 at 4:37 pm Link to this comment

Big B—Yes. Maybe someday we will end up with a female (who cannot be an Alpha male)—the rest of the world already has. It will come with the right female. Of course, alot of us thought that females in the military (never figured out why they wanted to be) would bring a “morality” to it—nope.

I wish we could go back to flinging bodily fluids—lol. It beats nukes. I know what you are saying.Like M. Mead said, “When evolution decided than humans needed a bigger brain—it wildly overshot the mark”“.

felicity—Yes! That was the phrase I was looking for! Thanks . Stein.

You know, you have something there—why do you have to have psych eval to get in the military, but not to run it?! Now , I dont want to run into defaming people who have sought mental health help—we did that with Gilligan and others.

And, now, from what I am reading , the military has lowered their standards on all evals—IQ is down to 92 median, more and more convicted , violent felons (we are not talking pot smokers here), etc.

But why NOT a rigorous psych evaL, an MMPI(Minn. Multiphasic Personality Inventory). Its not perfect—but, its hard to “beat”. I will pick out really severe problems. I DO think that Dubya has them.

Not everyone tries to be president—and not everyone should! I’m not sure that the emphasis on Ivy League has been so good for us.And we need to get all this damn money out of it.We need term limits. Etc, etc.

But we do not need another violent guy with “daddy” issues!

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By Big B, October 19, 2008 at 4:10 pm Link to this comment

Everyones concerns seem to all lead back to that oft quoted axiom, “Those who don’t learn from their history are doomed to repeat it.”

But why do we never learn? At times our race has shown compassion and brilliance. However, most of the human experience has mearly been slow moments in between countless wars and attrocities. The more one examines human history, the more you come to the conclusion that although we have built roads, houses, and washing machines, we are still saddled with the same ancient need to climb down from the tree and beat the shit out of our neihbor and take his stuff.
Let’s face it, when an american president threatens to flatten an enemy, what he is really doing is a more advanced form of throwing feces at an opponent.
The dynamic just involves billions of people with the most despicable weapons ever imagined.

Isn’t it ironic that every civilization in human history has had “smart” people that have decried man’s inhumanity towards man. Yet, their “enlightened” views have always been shouted down by the alpha males on their endless marches toward mayhem.

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By felicity, October 19, 2008 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment

KDelphi - I think that looking into Bush’s eyes would reveal what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, “There’s no there, there.” 

Because of Bush and the possibly incipient reign of a McCain, candidates for president must be subjected to more than a physical examination.  Because the presidency has become a position of such over-reaching power in this country, to not know the mental and emotional condition of a potential president is inviting the same disaster that we have gone through for the last eight years.  McCain would come to the office with perhaps as much baggage as Bush did.  I don’t think we could survive as a nation with yet another very infirm individual at the helm.

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By KDelphi, October 19, 2008 at 2:53 pm Link to this comment

felicity—The book “Bush ON the Couch” takes it even further,but I dont totally agree with the analysis.

I am not certain about the temporal lobe damage—but it explains things like “god told me to…”.and “fool me once shame on..” and other stuff taht might just be dyslexia, but does not explain the grandiosity and lack of personal moral compass.

I’m sure he had a wierd childhood. But, something about him strikes me as—lets see—-looking “through” his eyes, rather than “into” them. Do you know what i mean?

People that I’ve known in the past with “this”
were either extremely abused or had CNS damage. That does not mean that everyone who has brain damage or is abused ends up like Bush or withotu a moral compass. In any case, without his family ties, he never wouldve been given the reins to commit such atrocities.Any sense of responsibility is entirely missing.

I will be interesting to see whether he wil be able to “step back” once he is a part of “infamy” and be able to see his reign for what it was. I suspect not.

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By felicity, October 19, 2008 at 2:36 pm Link to this comment

Kdelphi - in-the-trade types analyzing Mr. Bush from a distance suggest that his demeanor and actions indicate that he survives by avoiding anxiety.  You can take it from there.

Mr. Fisk’s article certainly reminds us of the repetitivness of the human condition. I hold out hope that like we finally understood that throwing beautiful young maidens off of cliffs did not result in ending a drought and dueling at dawn was not the only way to settle an argument or avenge an insult, we will one day figure out that war does not create eternal peace.

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By KDelphi, October 19, 2008 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment

I have to get another keyboard, at least! Shit, my keyboard sits on my lap at a high table, and it keeps “entering”, when I am not finished. Where the post or email goes—no one knows!!!WHOOOOOO!

Perhaps it is trying to prevent me from looking totally ignorant!


Anyways, speaking of the , ah, Greek Classics….

What the hell makes anyone think that “we” will be around in 4008, anyway?! LOL.

Dubya, having been schooled (sortve) and Andover and Yale, almost certinly had read, or heard of these Greeks (My own Lib,Arts philosophy courses covered about as much as, say, someoen said Athens/Sparta, etc) I had not heard the Muslim/Spanish quote—thanks Fadel. (That just means I’m going to look it up and read about it)

Blair , is even more mlikely to have encountered the wise in his schooling at Cambridge.

But, the problem with Dubya, is this: he never seems to incorporate nor LEARN anything from experience. He is not classicaly “stupid” (as in low iQ, although I know alot of people like to think that), but he never seems to incorporate any experience into decision making. Like Fadel said, pearls before swine.

I, personally, could not tell just by watching him, but, let me offer this. Dubya had alot of car wrecka and fights, He also did alot of drugs and alcohol. Temporal lobe brain injury, often causes a “god delution”, with some people even believing that they ARE god. (Some even know it to be a result of damage, but say that it feels so peaceful—they would not want it “fixed”—not that you can, but, drugs would help)

If you are a doctor treating the rich and self-righteous son of a , son of a—war collaborator, and you want to continue to earn favor, wil you tel the president that his son may have brain damage? Even if you did—Dubya actually has “untreated” substance disorders. He never sought medical or psychological treatment for them—he just got “saved”.

He doesnt “do psychobabble”—but he should!

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By G.Anderson, October 19, 2008 at 8:26 am Link to this comment

Though men possess reason, mankind also is made up of delusion, though conscious, we are also unconscious.

Our central problem has always been, how do we tell what thoughts, what feelings are real, from the unreal?

As each of us must contend with ourselves, so our world must suffer from the unconsciousness of others.

The war is inside, and if you will not fight it on the inside, then you are doomed to fight it on the outside.

Killers often reason quite eloquently, however their thoughts are still quite insane.

and violence easily becomes the religion of the dammed.

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By TheRealFish, October 19, 2008 at 6:56 am Link to this comment

I once read this observation: “I don’t know which is worse: the liar or the fool who believes the lies.” Perhaps that observation traces its roots to a more ancient writer, but I’m not certain who that is.

We certainly need to look at ourselves with honesty to assess how we wreaked such havoc, but must first ensure we put ourselves back into a place where we will have the luxury of time to do so.

Two weeks. Successfully stopping the Constitutional hemorrhage through our Right vein is only the first step we need to accomplish, and that’s how much time we have left to do so.

But even accomplishing that, we will not be safe until Bush the Lesser is forced to exit through the Rose Garden door of the White House (or whichever orifice he chooses). That is exactly three months from tomorrow, from the time I post this comment.

He now has an active Army unit installed within the borders of the United States to, among other stated reasons, quell public unrest. His Praetorian Guard is ready and waiting for his commands.

I shudder to look at the history of such a setting as we saw between the Greeks and now, that middle ground time of the Roman Imperium, and how frequently that Praetorian Guard was used to settle disputes over who became the new leader.

Perhaps, if we make it to January 21st with no other Constitution-shattering event, we can more comfortably look to history and begin making judgments about best methods for correcting our course.

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By cyrena, October 19, 2008 at 12:14 am Link to this comment

Bravo Fadel!!!

And, thanks for sharing those words of wisdom from the inscription over the collegiate portals in Muslim Spain of the Middle Ages.

I particularly appreciate and enjoy them. If it be only those 4 things supporting the world, that certainly explains the collapse. All four are now in such short supply. Many prayers, but not so many from the truly righteous, and somehow we’ve managed to completely ignore the learning of the wise. (why would we even have suffered buffoons like GW or Blair when wisdom does indeed exist in multiple sources?

The valor of the brave is equally dismissed, as we see from the dismissal of ALL of those who said NO to the destruction of another sovereign nation state. Or, maybe that was just common sense more than valor or bravery.

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By Reader, October 18, 2008 at 11:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thucydides also accounts for the feedback effects of a democracy engaging in imperial adventures. Compare for instance the speeches of Pericles, when Athenians listened to reason, to the hubris displayed during the Alcibiades/Nicias debate. If anyone is interested in seeing how destructive imperial adventures are on a democracy read Thucydides. Little has changed in 2000 years.

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By Fadel Abdallah, October 18, 2008 at 11:01 pm Link to this comment

It’s not a lack of ancient human wisdom that’s at the core of the problems with our later-days shadows of men and leaders, but the petty-mindedness and shallowness of those types to understand and relate to such wisdom even it was offered them daily with their breakfast. It’s like casting diamonds at the feet of swines, hoping, in vain, that they would recognize the value of what is thrown at them.

One of my favorite wisdom statements is an inscription over collegiate portals in Muslim Spain of the Middle Ages: “The word is supported by four things only: the learning of the wise, the justice of the great, the prayers of the truly righteous and the valor of the brave.”

How would one expect a Bush or a Blair to understand the depth of the meaning of such wise sayings when they have no trace of the ideals expressed in such wisdom?! Bush, for example, was a “C” and “D” student in pseudo-economics and a coward draft-dodger who found himself a so-called Commander-in-Chief, so we here now and the world over have to suffer the consequences of his eight-year cowardly wars and his ignorant economics!

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