Work and Days

From Water to Airplanes

A little snow, a little rain…

Californians are relieved that we’ve had 48 hrs of rain and snow. But the state was so dry, and winter already upon us, that much more is needed before there is a watershed to work with next year. Still, people seem relieved that the fire threats are over, and there is a little snow on the ground in the mountains.

The great questions in this region, however, are not addressed: can we have a central valley of edge cities and 10 million people and still farm? Clearly not.

I grant that removing an acre of vines or trees might result in a yearly water surplus when 8 houses are put on it instead—but is that what we are to be? A supposedly “service” economy where the mysterious supplier for some reason keeps giving us fuel and food that we either don’t have or won’t produce?

I realize that the days are numbered when I can walk over to a 15hp pump, flip a switch and watch 1200 gallons per minute of “my” water flow down a furrow or a drip hose—and that soon I will not only pay for the power to push up the water but a tax on a “community” resource beneath my own property.


I think the second siege of Fallujah in November 2004 will go down in the annals of Marine history as something comparable to Iwo, Okinawa, or Hue, in its violence, heroics, and strategic importance of breaking the insurgents who were ready and waiting for our arrival—after a politically inspired disastrous pullback in April. I was speaking to a number of veterans this weekend in San Diego, and their stories were chilling and awe-inspiring all at once.

Ghost Battlefields

One of the most eerie things I’ve ever experienced was walking up to a building in Ramadi and having a marine point out the surrounding landscape, pointing out which building or road was the scene of some horrendous firefight from 2004-7 during his prior tours, replete with details of those who had been killed or wounded, and through what circumstances. To walk around these now quiet places in Iraq, and see the scars of battle, prompts these sensations—where are the now anonymous Marines or Army grunts who once fought these savage insurgents here? And does anyone appreciate that their unheralded efforts in the dark years of 2005-6 have led to our present chance of victory?

The surge, a change in tactics, the Sunni fear of the Shiite government, cut-offs of Saudi money, loathing of creepy al Qaeda and the chance to cash in on high oil prices—all that and more no doubt explains the Anbar awakening. But we should remember that thousands of Americans, whose names we are ignorant of, took a horrific toll on the insurgents. It is a truism that “there is no military solution” in Iraq, but there was most certainly a need for our soldiers to defeat Sunni Batthists and islamist insurgents whenever they encountered them. They did, and we should remember that as their sacrifices gave the country a second chance.

Latin vs. Greek

Recently a number of readers (wishing to start classics) have asked which language was more difficult, expecting, of course, classical Greek to be the answer. I beg to differ. After some 36 years of studying and teaching both, I would argue that Latin is the more challenging. True, at the introductory level, the unfamiliar alphabet, accent marks, and the larger vocabulary make Greek the tougher.

But that being said, Greek vocabulary is cognate—strategos, stratia, statiôtês, stratopedon — in ways that Latin is not, e.g., dux/ductor, agmen, miles, castrum.

Latin’s vocabulary is smaller, but then Greek has no such words as duco/ere that can mean almost anything.

Greek long and short vowels—o-mikron vs. o-mega, or epsilon vs. eta are easier to identify and scan than short and long Latin o or e.

The Greek optative mood allows a sequence of moods in subordinate clauses, unlike the intricate sequence of tenses of the subjunctive in Latin (Greek’s subjunctive in contrast can be freed to denote aspect rather than tense in relation to the main verb.)

Greek word order is far more straightforward, more often subject / verb / object than Latin’s object / subject / verb.

So usually students have more difficulty reading introductory Greek, but after a few years find a Livy more difficult than Xenophon, or Cicero harder than Lysias. True, there are nearly incomprehensible authors like Pindar or the choruses of Aeschylus, but then there are Latin writers such as Persius that are impossible to translate.

Sean Penn offered this at a Dennis Kucinich rally.

“While I’m not a proponent of the Death Penalty, existing law provides that the likes of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice, if found guilty, could have hoods thrown over their heads, their hands bound, facing a 12-man rifle corps executing death by firing squad.”

Surely Nancy Pelosi will object to all that offered on behalf of a fellow Democratic Congressman? And why is that those actors born to Hollywood insiders, who grew up in relative affluence, who are the long recipients of old-boy networking and parental contacts, and never were much educated when such opportunity was readily available, suddenly in their mid-lives become avowed Leftists, or at least in spirit?

I wouldn’t mind so much if the movies were not so bad. But when those failures, like many academics who are not ensuring our graduates have basic skills, lecture others about failure, it’s hard to take.

No win on the Iranian bomb intelligence

Is this the story?

In 2005 the agencies tell Bush, Iran is on the eve of getting a bomb. In 2007 they say wait, we were wrong, they are not, and, by implication, you shouldn’t have voiced such concern given that your information we gave you was wrong then, but of course right now.

In the report, they claim that in 2003 the mullahs stopped their efforts to get the bomb, due to “diplomatic” pressures, of which they cite none at all and omit the elephant in the room of the American toppling of nearby Saddam Hussein and the capitulation of Libya.

And the result? No one believes that the Iranians really quit, but most certainly believe we have ended any chance of serious international sanctions and embargoes, the Chinese, Russians, and Germans now sighing in collective relief.

And all this comes after the Clark, the Scheuer, the Tenet, and the Plame tell-all memoirs. I can’t think of any agencies of government that have now enjoyed lower public esteem than the intelligence bureaucracies. At least in the old days the CIA was considered a tough bunch of bastards that acted like they knew what they were doing.

The new stereotype is that of a generation of history, and English BAs—who failing to get their law or advanced academic degrees—went into intelligence. Once there they got angry that their genius was not appreciated and their liberal worldviews were not heard, and then began leaking and molding intelligence to fit preconceived notions—even as they claim they were squeezed by right-wingers wanting to bomb someone. A thorough mess we have at present. Partisanship shapes intelligence analyses, and dissidents leak and spin to the media to undermine views they do not embrace.

Iranian expatriates

I speak a lot in southern California and have encountered two general groups of Iranian expatriates living there.

The first seems composed largely of refugees from the mid and late 1970s when they saw the end of the Shah on the horizon and wanted to get out before or during the fall. Many are now successful in business, very pro-American, and happy to have landed in the US. They detest the mullahs and want sanctions, etc. to stiffen to bring down the regime.

A second, smaller group, it seems to me, fled in, or after, 1979. They were anti-Shah, but tried to stay on after his demise, thinking that some sort of Euro-socialism or even communism would follow, and that the mullahs were useful idiots in their shared anti-Shah agenda.

Then when the imams and clerics turned on these supposedly best and the brightest, this second wave followed to America. And this is a very different group I ‘ve encountered, who more often gravitate to the media, academia, politics, and think tanks. They tend to evoke 1953 hourly, harp on the present administration, and sound overtly and serially critical of the US to the point that a stranger might wish after about five minutes to ask “Why did you come since you are so obviously angry and unhappy here, and why then don’t you return home to finish your envisioned revolution?”—all this despite the fact that only in an economy and culture like the US would any of them have found their quite astounding success and security.

Airplanes. Part #2

I had a stunning amount of mail on the frustration of boarding and deplaining flights. Another minor frustration: the person ahead in the security line, when told ad nauseam, “Please retain your boarding pass as you pass through the scanner” talks and pays no attention, but then suddenly when nearing the security person, panics, stops the line, goes back to the conveyor belt and looks frantically in some packet or carry-one for where the boarding pass is packed away—all the while holding up others and freezing the conveyor belt.