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My Father and the Generals



Daughters of the American Revolution


Through the years I had heard occasional rumors of a distant relative on my father’s side called Indian Mary.  When my son the anthropologist was writing about Ishi, the last Yahi Indian, the time seemed ripe to research the rumor. On balance, and on record, there was also an ancestral Civil War general, Eugene Carr, who later fought in the American Indian wars.

More recently there was my own grandfather, reportedly a gentle man, who fought in almost every war in his lifetime.  It’s a challenge to calculate how he managed to sire four boys and a girl, quite closely spaced, while on leave.  An even greater challenge must have been for my small but spunky grandmother to raise them all on sporadic soldier’s allotments.

Custer Bvt MG Geo A 1865 LC-BH831-365-crop.jpg

Gen. George Armstrong Custer

My father, late in life, chose to loathe another Civil War general who went on to slaughter Indians, George Armstrong Custer. He read everything published about Custer, who was, to be fair, loathed by many others. He and my mother travelled to various Custer sites, Gettysburg and Little Big Horn, if not to Custer’s grave at West Point. I might perhaps mention that a subsidiary interest of my father’s was the Donner Party.

It gave us both considerable satisfaction for me to assign my father to review a psycho-biography of Custer for the Berkeley Gazette, where most, but not all reviewers were my more literate friends and relatives.  Alas, Evan Connell’s fine book on Custer, Son of the Morning Star, did not appear before the Gazette and its nepotistic book section folded in 1984.

The latest grand entry in the long, defiant tradition of nepotism is of course Potus 45.  Whom to cite first?  British journalist Matthew Norman predicts much nepotistic merriment to come:  Ivanka will win the $600 million contract to supply new U.S. Army uniforms, Donald Trump Jr. will replace Ulysses S. Grant on the $50 dollar bill, & eleven year-old  Barron & two of his teddy bears will be appointed to replace the National Security Adviser and two four-star generals in the Situation Room.

Douglas MacArthur’s signature corncob pipe is still being manufactured….

Another American general loathed by my father was Douglas MacArthur. Here the dislike was more grounded; he had served under MacArthur’s command in the Philippines and in the occupation of Japan.  But it wasn’t until the Korean conflict that MacArthur’s megalomania came close to igniting a third world war. Luckily, President Truman had the courage to remove him from command before he could bomb China. (In our time the closest analogy might be some responsible general removing a president.) 

It comes as no surprise to learn that P-45, as one world-class narcissist to another, has expressed his admiration for the doughty General MacArthur. He would have been a bit young to have watched the Congressional hearings that determined beyond doubt that Truman was justified in firing the general, and it’s hard to imagine Trump Sr. backing the Missouri haberdasher.

George Armstrong Custer was ranked last in his West Point graduating class, and Douglas MacArthur was first in his. But they were equals in egotism, flamboyance, and blinding self-righteousness. Custer’s oblivious bravado ended his and many hundreds of others’ lives at Little Bighorn. MacArthur was booted before he could make the fatal decision to bomb China. Like other self-promoting egotists, MacArthur later considered running for president, but had the brains to decide against it in the end.

Shortly before my father shipped out to the Pacific, I remember awakening, wailing, from a dream of a tractor, or a tank—ratcheting up the screen of my bedroom window. And one morning as I was playing alone in the courtyard of our apartment building, a moving van began to back slowly toward the wall behind me. In each case, I waited anxiously to be crushed by a large machine. This would have been wartime San Francisco.

My baby brother was still nursing after Pearl Harbor, when my father enlisted.  Even in her nineties, my mother’s eyes would turn hard as she repeated that she could never forgive him for leaving. At thirty, with two children, he might have been deferred. In fact, the war did mark him and us for the rest of our lives.

Early on, even before he was first posted to Alaska, he stopped eating. My mother was summoned, and we went to to visit him in a Vancouver hospital. In some gloomy Kodak prints, we are sitting on a porch, my father rail-thin in his dark uniform, and my mother, also thin, clearly trying to look cheerful. She did get him to eat again, so that he could be sent back to the war, in Australia, New Guinea, and the Philippines, where he contracted malaria.

Meanwhile, behind our cottage in Santa Cruz, California, my mother planted a victory garden full of zucchini, chard, beans, and tomatoes. Neighbors to the west sometimes sent my dimpled little brother home with his overalls stuffed with fresh corn and secured around his ankles, while I steamed with jealousy. The other neighbors were friendly but a bit odd. Mrs. Fertig was a health food convert  and often suggested to my dubious mother common weeds that would be nourishing and delicious in a salad.

My mother had taped a large pastel map to the living room wall, moving a colored pin to show where our father was stationed. During the years he was overseas, what I could remember of him mainly was the harsh wool of his uniform, its smell and feel.

One balmy Santa Cruz night, we were allowed to stay up late. Our father was coming home. Finally the screen door creaked, and there he was, hugging us all tight against his scratchy wool uniform. He’d brought us two glass animals filled with tiny candies. Of course I immediately coveted Bill’s puppy and despised my kitten.
Eventually  he opened his foot locker and pulled out, well, booty, from Japan—silk kimonos, platform sandals, inlaid chopsticks, and, I think, a sword.
In the months just after his return, we spent day after day at the beach.  Every day after school, he would read to me tirelessly, mostly from the Oz books, as if making up for the years lost in the war.

After the war, when my father found a job as a resident engineer with the state highway department, we moved back to Santa Cruz, where much post-war construction was underway, asphalt beginning to cover the state. Occasionally we stopped by to see him on a site, where he usually worked out of a trailer on a hot and dusty roadbed carved out of a slope by big orange machines.

Before the war he had been studying journalism at San Jose State, but the Depression—and probably drink—had driven him out of school and into a job as a surveyor for the highway department. After the war, he needed to support his family, and a civil engineering degree had seemed a safe choice. California highways and car ownership were expanding virally. Through the years he never seemed to take any pleasure or pride in his work, and I could see why.

On our last birthdays our daughter gifted me and her father with DNA test kits. This seemed an opportunity to confirm or deny the existence of my father’s Indian ancestry —and on my mother’s side, there was a mysterious Hungarian great-grandfather who might have been a gypsy or a Jew.

The disappointing results had only one, to me rather surprising ramification. The test showed it to be extremely likely that I had ancestors among the first colonial settlers of New England. Thus I could probably qualify for membership in the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) a historically racist group that has spent many decades trying to improve its image.
At least the colonial New England connection fits with General Eugene Carr’s forbears. And I suppose it was obvious why his military nickname was the Black-bearded Cossack.

Nega-centennials, Nega-nations



Putin addressing audience in Palymya




Last week’s well-publicized Russian concert in the ruins of Palmyra just happened to overlap the centennial of the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement.  Russia had only a minor role in that hasty, furtive divvying up of Syria and the Middle East to please French and English interests.  As we have seen, the new borders failed spectacularly to transform tribal Syria into a national state on the European model.

In other news, “Czechia” was approved last week by the government, if not the people, of the Czech Republic, as a further clarification of its national status.  Elaborate historical justifications for adding  “Czechia” omit a more pressing motive– that sports franchises want a shorter, snappier name for their teams and equipment.

Czechoslovakia was created somewhat arbitrarily—not unlike Syria—but in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the Moose Hall, by a committee of Czech and Slovak activists led by philosopher-politician Tomas Garrigue Masaryk.  Having drafted the agreement, later in the year Masaryk became the new country’s first president. He was nominated seventeen times for the Nobel Peace Prize that a later Czech president, Vaclav Havel, declined in 1991 in favor of the Burmese Aung San Sui Kyi. Just then, Havel might have been depressed about the impending breakup of his country.


worldThe Treaty of Versailles has been blamed even more harshly and more often than Sykes-Picot for setting the stage for multinational conflict and carnage after World War I.  Even now there’s some nostalgia for the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, dismantled and replaced by new nations with conflicting ethnic and linguistic minorities.Lebanon and Jordan were no longer part of Syria, and Slovakia no longer belonged to Hungary.

After my enthusiastic review of Milan Kundera’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting, suddenly I began to receive piles of freshly translated fiction by Slavic writers.  I did note that Kundera was born Czech-Moravian, like Tomas Masaryk, Freud, Janacek–and my maternal grandparents. Still, I knew next to nothing about Czech history and literature. Auditing a meeting of Czech I on campus, I found that it was a conversation class, led by a small but dynamic American graduate student.


Re-enactment of a famous Czech victory where the king of Hungary fled, disguised as a girl. (Duke University Press, 2010 I think)

McCroskyova argued that I would be a better critic if I knew the sound and structure of Czech.  Followed, a slippery slope into unexpected years with the Czech language and culture.

Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, we ventured with my mother into communist Czechoslovakia . After a tense crossing at the Austrian border, we stopped in the first town with a hotel. Sehr einfach, very simple, said the young innkeeper apologetically, showing the beds, foam pallets covered with large dish towels. Downstairs, an open kitchen spewed fumes of stewed pork and steaming bread dumplings.  Good beer, we discovered, flowed in the pub.

Next morning, we drove around the Moravian countryside with a map, looking for my grandparents’ villages. And we did find them, dreary, plain rows of stucco cottages, sehr einfach.  Our German was useful.

At a bus stop in Mohelno, my grandmother’s village, we got directions to the cemetery.  My great-uncle Antonin was there—according to my mother a cocky, annoying fellow, who traveled more than once to California to sponge off his relatives. Several other Peskovi were on the memorial obelisk to World War I dead.  On the horizon, a cluster of Russian nuclear reactor towers discouraged any idea of picturesque rusticity.

In the nearby village of Rohy, I was surprised to see my grandfather’s family name, Pozar, above the entrance to the most imposing building there. (Later I learned that pozar means fire, and the building was presumably the firehouse—whereas Rohy means simply Crossroads.)  Outside Rohy, a wizened German-speaking farmer stopped hoeing long enough to point to a barnlike building on the opposite slope, as the Pozar place.  My grandfather’s eldest brother Alois had become the head of the family.  That Alois was a hard man, said the farmer, confirming the reason my grandfather, youngest son, had left home.

After the Berlin Wall fell, I followed closely, along with many others, the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution, and was lucky enough to see Vaclav Havel’s very moving inauguration.

In 1992, I returned to Prague to research a piece on the state of the arts in post-communist Czechoslovakia.  Long story short: deprived of government subsidies and samizdat glamour, publishing and the theater were in serious trouble. Do I repeat myself?–the Golden Age of Czech Arts turned out to have been under Soviet domination. Also, at that point Slovakia was already chafing at the dominance of the Czechs. Even Havel’s remarkable human skills failed to keep the Slovaks in the federation.  In 1993, from the troubles leading to the Velvet Divorce, two countries emerged—the Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

Federations of any sort, from fourth-century Greece to twentieth-century Europe, often have short lives. The Hellenic League against Persia fell apart after sixteen years, and the Weimar Republic after fourteen.  Empires seem to hang on somewhat longer, maybe by definition.  An empire has one hegemonic state, while federations involve, theoretically if not actually, equal sovereign states.

In any event, the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and of Syria are episodes in an endless kaleidoscopic shifting  of national borders, altered to suit the interests of the reigning powers.  Once, land and treasure were the prizes; then oil. Although some say that we are entering the post-oil era, it isn’t clear what prize every country seeks now.  When Donald Trump wants to Make America Great Again, what does he mean? Not, surely, a state walled against immigrants, who now animate Silicon Valley, colleges, finance, and the arts, or are farmers, like my Pozar grandparents, who came to Galveston and then California in hopes of a better life.


In a couple of years it will be the centennial of the Pittsburgh Agreement that established the new state of Czechoslovakia.

This occasion may not be much marked.






Looting and Decapitation through the Ages



You may even have heard of one Giovanni Battista Belzoni, the gigantic offspring of a Paduan barber, an enterprising lad who dodged Napoleon’s draft by emigrating to England.  Lacking both English and a profession, he served for a while as a strong man in a circus.This handsome hunk won the heart of an intrepid Englishwoman, who may or may not have been a tightrope walker when they met.  She contrived somehow to help him set up as an engineer, and before long he was invited by a passing pasha to design a hydraulic system on the Nile.  When the project failed (due to a lazy work crew, said Belzoni), he quickly shifted to the antiquities trade. Eventually he was able to dig up and haul off immense Egyptian antiquities that would become some of the British Museum’s prize exhibits. You can see “Belzoni” chiseled naively into the foot of a colossal statue of Rameses I.


Another Belzoni enterprise


I happened upon Belzoni during my hours in the old British Library, researching the rich topic of Looted Art.  How I enjoyed those months of bootless delving, the untidy piles of book request slips at my desk in the dimly-lit inner Reading Room, my notes filled with vivid and shocking details.  Themes did emerge–Looted Art and Nationalism/Colonialism/Imperialism—but never shaped themselves into an argument, much less a book.  But it seemed to me, then and now, that Belzoni’s story was a natural for a Sondheim opera.

Belzoni in 1817, in his pasha costume

In 2001, I happened to meet a musicologist, a fellow at the American Academy in Rome, who knew Sondheim well.  It was just after 9/11.  Military helicopters were circling in the blue September sky over the Janiculum Hill, and armed guards patrolled the American Embassy across the street. When we weren’t watching the sky and the street, we were all glued to CNN on our computers.  Nothing would ever be the same again, we all agreed.  Hardly the moment to float a frivolous opera project.  But eventually the Academy fellows went back to their painting, their research, their writing, and their complaints about the Academy’s food.  Although nothing in fact ever was the same again.

Rome of course has long been decked with the plunder of the empire’s Eastern conquests, most notably Egyptian obelisks adorning eight Roman piazzas.  Venice still has its looted lions and horses, Florence an obelisk or two as well as a trove of mummies, and museums throughout the world hold treasures of other lands. So we cannot quite fathom why the Islamic State prefers to destroy rather than flaunt the captive architecture of grand pre-Islamic eras..  Easier to understand is their clandestine marketing of more portable antiquities, whose revenue is said to surpass that of oil sales to benefit the caliphate.

While mourning Isis destruction in Palmyra, Mosul, and Nimrud, it’s hard to ignore Northern Europe’s robust tradition of iconoclasm extending from biblical idol-bashing to the Crusades, the Reformation, and the French revolution. In sixteenth-century Geneva and in Basel, Calvinist mobs destroyed every Catholic image they could find, from stained glass windows to statues of virgins and saints and holy medals.   

And as we recoil from the barbarous horrors of Isis beheadings, historical memory glides past an estimated 16,000 guillotined by French revolutionaries, and the millions annihilated in the Holocaust.  Note that enlightened France continued execution by guillotine until 1981, and during last year alone, American ally Saudi Arabia decapitated 158 people.

Their bloody revolution did occasion a French diaspora, especially of the aristocrats, followed in the mid-19th century by Irish emigration, almost entirely of the poor. In the largely economically- driven diaspora from southern and eastern Europe during the 1880s-1910s, my grandparents Franz Josef Pozar and Marie Peskova, born in Moravian villages (then Austrian) made it to the west coast of California via Galveston,Texas . My grandfather, a strapping redheaded farm boy, good with horses, had served in the Austro-Hungarian cavalry.  At the end of his term, in August 1914 as it happened, he immediately booked passage to America. Marie Peskova had found work as a seamstress in the nearest city, Vienna, where she met my grandfather and eventually followed him to California. There was no pot of gold for them in California, but they never returned to their villages.

The year before the Soviet Union disintegrated, we met my mother in Vienna, for a sentimental journey.  She knew the names of her parents’ villages in Moravia.  After a miserable border crossing past the fence into then-Czechoslovakia, and one night in Ivancice, hometown of Alfonse Mucha, whose posters adorned generations of college girls’ dorm rooms, we followed a map and actually found the two villages. In Mohelno we found a few Peskovi in the graveyard, even the annoying uncle who had returned more than once to visit them in Santa Cruz, California.  My grandfather’s village was Rohy, which means crossings or a junction.  An old man hoeing the hill above the main road turned out to speak German and could point out the homely bulk on the opposite hill as the Pozar place.  Ah, he said, that Alois (Pozar, my grandfather’s eldest brother and scourge) was a hard man.  The kulak house was a bit disappointing after we had noticed that the largest building in Rohy still had “Pozar” over the door. (Later I learned that “Pozar” meant “fire,” and the imposing structure was presumably the firehouse.)

Scant decades after my grandparents, there was the crucial migration, from Europe in the 1930s, of the Jews.  In the academy and the art world especially, these were our respected elders and/or the parents of most of our friends.  Once, long ago at Ellen and Steve Greenblatt’s table, talk turned to Israel, and we realized that we were the only gentiles present and therefore didn’t feel as free to condemn Israeli expansionism as the others.

Our Hungarian friends, some of them Jews, have an intense, complicated migration history.  The earliest Hungarians rode into the Magyar Plain from the northeast more than a thousand years ago.  Later they were occupied by the Ottoman Turks, and later still lost much of their territory in the settlement of the First World War.


Hungary’s fence at Serbian border

Many Hungarians emigrated to escape Soviet Communism.  And the latest tragic iteration of Hungary and emigration was the fence built by Orban’s right-wing regime to keep the latest wave of refugees, many from Syria, from entering, even en route to Germany.  But the abhorrence expressed by the western world for Hungarian callousness has proved to be relative to the many thousands, yea millions of needy refugees now swarming into Western Europe. And the New Year’s attacks on women in Cologne and other cities, allegedly by Arab and North African men, is a disaster in every way.

Americans didn’t welcome Jews until after the Holocaust, and we won’t be welcoming Muslim refugees now. “This growing cry to turn away people fleeing for their lives brings to mind the SS St. Louis, the ship of Jewish refugees turned away from Florida in 1939,” Dana Milbank writes. “It’s perhaps the ugliest moment in a (presidential) primary fight that has been sullied by bigotry from the start.“ The American elections proceed, bizarre, unhinged, while Angela Merkel begins to seem some kind of heroine.  Still, what’s needed is not another martyr, but peace settlements in the Middle East.

The latest genetic research shows that the 5,200 year-old remains of a woman, found in Ireland recently,  a couple of centuries after the potato famine, show strong origins in the Middle East, where agriculture originated. Probably we don’t need ironies any more than we need martyrs.


Reconstruction of ancient Irish woman farmer

Reconstruction of ancient Irish woman farmer


Yes, Again, and Again….

History repeats itself, it just does, as we have been told by everyone from Cicero to Santayana, not to mention Mark Twain. Even in my journal, emerging on an old computer:

12 Jan 09 …Meanwhile, 17th day of slaughter in Gaza. Drove across bay to Fillmore St. to see film Waltz with Bashir, which shows that some Israelis have doubts about wiping out Arabs.

27 December, 2008, Israeli strike called Operation Cast Lead, intended to halt Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel and arms smuggling into Gaza. Heavy bombardment of Hamas bases, camps, and offices, moving on to mosques, schools, medical facilities, and houses. Israeli officials said that the civilian buildings were used by combatants, and/or as weapons warehouses. Palestinian deaths estimated between 1,166 and 1,417; Israelis, 13 (4 from friendly fire). By March 2009, international donors had reportedly pledged $4.5 billion in aid for the Palestinians, mainly for rebuilding Gaza.

Fast Forward Five Years 8 July, 2014, Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. The rocket fire had begun after an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. On 17 July, the Israeli military operation was expanded to a ground invasion directed toward destruction of the Gaza tunnel system. Seven weeks of Israeli bombardment, Palestinian rocket attacks, and ground fighting killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority of them Gazans, some 75% of them civilians. Casualty figures are fungible, but nobody would deny the massive disproportion of Palestinian to Israeli losses.  But why, I have to wonder, is it never noted that ten times more Syrians have died in their recent civil war than Arabs and Jews in any Gazan conflict?

26 August, 2014, Hamas and Israel declared an open-ended cease-fire. In September, Palestinian children returned to school, many of them run by UNRWA, the United Nations refugee assistance program. news_article_9606_14336_1410695178 Some $16 billion will be needed to rebuild the devastated region. It is alleged that Israeli contractors are favored to do the highly profitable reconstruction of what their efficient army has destroyed.  Work delays are expected, due to elaborate precautions against using any of the tens of thousands of bags of cement to restore the Palestinian tunnel network.

But back to the last lines of my curiously germane (yes? yes?) journal entry of January 12, 2009: Sunday morning, call from [friends in Budapest] where the temperatures were below freezing because the Russians had decided to pull rank by closing the gas line through Ukraine. Later in January 2009, the prime ministers of Russia and Ukraine announced a settlement of the gas dispute that had drastically reduced supplies of Russian gas to Europe for nearly two weeks. Vladimir_Putin_and_Yulia_Tymoshenko-2 Vladimir Putin and Yulia Tymoshenko (the one with the blonde braid) agreed that Ukraine would begin paying for Russian gas at the much higher European price from the following year. Russia in turn would pay more for the gas to travel through Ukraine. The EU had been receiving about one-fifth of its gas supplies through Ukraine, and many other people besides our dear Hungarian friends suffered in that winter’s below-zero temperatures as a result of the Russo-Ukraine gas stoppage. The more provident European nations, such as Germany and Norway, have since developed their own gas supply lines as well as alternative energy sources. The Hungarians for their part are cannily reinforcing “an increasingly positive business relationship with Moscow,” according to a “senior government official.” A case in point: Russia had just been awarded a 10-12 billion euro contract for updating and expanding Hungary’s only nuclear power plant. It might be noted that this project costs only somewhat less than that of rebuilding the whole of war-torn Gaza. The no-bid contract, however, is questionable under the EU bloc’s rules of competition. Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban does not play by the rules, or makes new ones. In the wake of the Russia-Ukraine crisis over territory, he made the ill-timed observation that Hungarians in Ukraine should have greater autonomy. Given the complex and conflicted history of the region, Hungary’s neighboring states have substantial Hungarian minorities, and Orban’s interest in their well-being appears to some as sinister. In much the same way as Putin has cracked down on the activities of non-governmental organizations in Russia, Orban has set up a parliamentary committee to monitor civil society organizations, NGOs, receiving funding from abroad; he views them as paid political activists who are trying to help foreign interests in the name of preserving democracy. Russia and Ukraine were at odds well before Orban came on the scene. Ten years ago the Orange Revolution brought the Ukrainian president, Viktor Yushchenko, to power. Moscow was not happy about his energetic push for Ukraine to join NATO and the EU.  It’s a bit hard to keep straight, but Yushchenko was the one who was poisoned and survived with a horribly pitted face, not Viktor Yanukovych, who had to abandon his post in an unseemly hurry after virulent street protests against his rule.  Just hours after Yanukovych departed, his opulent presidential retreat was opened to the public so that Ukrainians were able to see for themselves the gilded plumbing, the sauna and private zoo set in 345 acres of private gardens. Hundreds of documents were found in a nearby river, revealing lavish spending and alleged corruption. They were dried off in the presidential sauna for later consultation. Braided Yulia was Yushchenko’s sidekick, until she wasn’t; they were known for a while as Beauty and the Beast. (As I am half-Slav, I might reasonably be expected to be embarrassed by the colorful excesses of Yulia Tymoshenko and her cohorts, not to mention her marketers, who advised the blonde coronet for an image remake after her involvement as a brunette in some shady business deals. But, as print journalists used to say, she’s such good copy. ) In 2007 Yulia went to Washington, where she met with Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Stephen Hadley, and—in a not entirely subtle affirmation of Ukraine versus Russia—had a photo op with the outgoing President. 320px-GeorgeBush-Juliia_Tymoshenko_(2008)-Ukraine But after many other misadventures, long story short, Yulia was released from prison in 2014, just months before the latest Russia-Ukraine conflict erupted. “She [Yulia, quoted by her daughter Eugenia] said she was glad to be here in the new Ukraine made by the Ukrainian heroes, and she’s proud to be Ukrainian.” Although she didn’t do at all well in this June’s elections, surely we shall be hearing more from Yulia Tymoshenko.

But here’s the end of that shred of timely  text from 2009:

…Restless warm northeast winds blustering through the weird assortment of trees along our driveway…rampant bamboo, scraggly oaks, single dessicated redwood next to parched lemon, across from confused birch and tree ferns. Mid-January, 79 degrees yesterday afternoon. California returning to the desert. Walked along East Bay trail in the hallucinatory midday brightness, low tide baring rough glass shingle next to the bone-dry grasses…

Gloss: The  California drought of 2007-2009  was, broken by the very wet year of 2010, but reprised in 2011. For some surprising figures on agriculture and unemployment during the drought of 2007-2009, see the reliable report of the Pacific Institute available free: Impacts of the California Drought from 2007-2009). Spoiler alert:  California’s agricultural output during that period was actually a bit above normal, due to the farmers’ recourse of pumping large amounts of ground water for irrigation. Moreover, the number of agricultural jobs actually grew 2% between 2003 and 2009, although all jobs in other sectors dropped dramatically due to the recession. The poverty rate in the southern San Joaquin Valley, consistently above 20% for a decade, clearly has very little to do with wet and dry years. (For a much less reliable perspective on the most recent California drought, see my post of 4 September 2014, which I keep meaning to update.)   640px-Shasta_Lake_low This is Lake Shasta, not a lake at all, but a huge, rather ugly man-made reservoir which we used to cross every summer en route to our family cabin in the Siskiyous–actually an old gold mining claim, now taken over by a hostile cousin, but that’s another story. The water level is about 37 % of normal for this time of year, and a wildfire has decimated the nearby town of Weed, California where we used to lay in groceries for our stay–beer, beef, chocolate, marshmallows, and corn, always lots of corn.

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