Friday, September 23, 2005

Ninth Edition Addenda

Ninth Edition Addenda 7-11-05

Tractor versus horse?

A recent visit by my brother and his wife reminded me of the issue so often faced by a prospective farmer or more likely the farmer wannabe – whether it is better to have a tractor or horses to do all the farm work.

In my opinion, the ideal situation would be a combination of both. Tractors have their uses, and horses have theirs, they are not mutually exclusive. However to most people the idea of horses is ridiculous – why one must be either stupid or incredibly backward to use horses rather than tractors! Let us examine this question based on advantages and disadvantages.

Tractors are the choice of most modern farmers and ranchers – but not all. Amish and Mennonite farmers frequently use horses, even going to extremes to modify farm machinery so that their horses can pull it rather than go to tractors. If Amish farmers were then failures as farmers, unable to compete against the mechanized tractor farmers, the question would be moot – however they do compete. One Amish farmer told me “you may not earn as much, but you keep more of what you earn”. The tractor has a number of advantages:
  • They do not require daily care and feeding, waiting patiently in your machine shed for the next time they are needed.
  • They are fairly economical to run, accomplishing a great deal of work for the amount of fuel used.
  • Tractors never tire, even if the operator does!
  • Most tractors have power take off abilities and 3 point hitch to enable them to be used with many different attachments and tools.
  • Tractors last many years, much longer than a car.
  • Tractors can be purchased with tremendous horsepower, enabling them to pull immense weights or plows with seven bottoms or more.

Then there are the disadvantages of tractors:
  • Tractors have a knack for breaking down at the worst possible moment, or refusing to start on very cold mornings.
  • Tractors cause compaction of the soils, which results in poor crop yields and damage of the soil. Tractors also tear up the ground more than horses in skidding logs and other similar tasks.
  • Tractors require regular maintenance, requiring parts replacements that may include delays in receiving the needed parts.
  • Tractors run on fossil fuels, of which more than half is imported into this country – a non-renewable resource, with fuel costs rising sharply the economics of operating a tractor are less competitive; Worse, we are dependent on nations that hate us for providing this fossil fuel and we are putting money into their pockets with the purchase of every gallon. (In the light of new even more ridiculous fuel prices, this is an important point to consider.)
  • At some tasks, tractors are more dangerous than horses, such as pulling stumps or operating on steep hillsides.
  • Tractors can become outdated, which means that finding parts becomes difficult to impossible.
  • Tractors are not cheap; the cost of a new tractor can be staggering to those who have not purchased one before, often the price is higher than an expensive automobile. Even used tractors have increased in price over the years making them less competitive compared with draft animals.

Compare this to horses, first their disadvantages:
  • Horses require daily feeding and watering, as well as care for their feet and cleaning. For many people this is the largest objection, taking up valuable time which could be spent making money in some other way.
  • Horses are slower at some tasks than tractors, such as plowing. A good horse can plow an acre a day, a tractor can plow many acres in a day.
  • Horses get tired when working and require rest periods. Overwork can cause a horse to go lame, become surly, or worse
  • Horses can get sick requiring attention of a veterinarian, a costly experience.
  • Horses have a mind of their own, and can be panicked by a strange incident that frightens them, which can lead to a life-threatening situation
  • Horses grow old and die.

Then there are the advantages of horses:
  • Horses are easier on the ground, causing far less soil compaction than tractors.
  • Horses “run” on grain, hay and water – all renewable resources than can be grown on the farm if you have enough land, and even if gasoline and diesel fuel prices shoot up to $10 a gallon it will not matter to your horses.
  • Horses provide useful fertilizer in their manure; horse manure is one of the best organic fertilizers available, and can be used on virtually any crop or garden including truck gardens, building the organic content of soils besides providing essential nutrients of N, P, and K.
  • Horses can even reproduce themselves, if you have mares – no tractor ever gave birth to another tractor!
  • Horses have a mind of their own, and can learn to do tasks even without a human guiding them with practice; in fact we owned a Belgian gelding that would skid logs out by himself if you showed him the route he was to take each time – all you had to do was have a person to hook up the log in the forest and someone there to unhook them at the logpile. Back in the days when milk was delivered door to door and mailmen used horses, many of their working horses learned the route so well the driver did not have to ‘tell’ the horses where to go next and where the stops were.
  • Horses can live and work up to 30 years or more (Mules up to 40 years +) no tractor can be run that many years without a major engine overhaul, costing nearly as much as buying a replacement tractor.
  • Horses can be trained to come when you call them – no tractor will come running when its owner calls!
  • Horses have other uses such as horseback riding for pleasure when not working, pulling a carriage or a sleigh in the snow, or work as a pack horse to go on camping trips in wilderness areas where all motorized vehicles are prohibited.
  • Horses can frequently heal themselves if injured, (not a serious injury of course, at least not without help from a vet) and even can recover from many sicknesses – a tractor when broken down requires you to repair it or have it repaired.
  • Horses can keep grasses trimmed down in their pastures, freeing you from having to mow those areas.
  • Horses can work in tighter areas than tractors and do not require a wide roadway to get through, which is an advantage they have in logging as well; being able to “snake” logs out of areas that are too steep, rough or too thickly treed for tractors to get through.<>
  • <>Horses can work in wetter ground, steeper sidehills and rougher terrain than tractors.
  • Horses are much less expensive than tractors, even including the cost of harness.
  • Horse drawn equipment is often available very inexpensively, and was built better than modern machinery. Some horse drawn farm equipment over 100 years old is still in use.
  • Modern forecarts are available with power take off and even 3 point hitch, enabling you to make use of nearly all modern equipment.

So you can see that the question is not simply whether one is “better” than the other. If you like machines and working on machines, then a tractor is a better bet; if you like animals and caring for animals, then a horse or team of horses is a better bet. If you like both and can afford both – you will be best served with both!

Piecing it all together…7-18-2005

Sat through another episode of Unexplained Mysteries, a late night TV show on all sorts of paranormal phenomena. This particular episode was titled “Global UFO warning”. One incident reported on was a UFO that was chased by Iranian fighters, which caused all sorts of havoc with the planes and even ‘blanked out’ the power grid on the air base. The fighter planes reported that their instruments, which totally malfunctioned when approaching the UFO, were restored when they fled to a distance of ten miles. A side effect they noted was that the instruments picked up “beeping” coming apparently from the UFO, emitted electronically and detected by electronic instruments. The TV program ‘expert’ (an aerospace engineer) said that the beeping, if rhythmic, was almost certainly proof that it was being caused by some technology, not a natural event. Hmm, now where have I heard of the strange beeping?

The first UFO alien abduction case covered in the press was the Betty and Barney Hill case. The pair were on their way home, driving through the mountains when they encountered a UFO. The UFO crew stopped their car and performed some kind of examinations on both Betty and Barney, which was traumatic for them. They also both reported remembering they heard “beeping” coming from the radio or somewhere, when they came to in their car. Hmm again – so if the “beeping” (which Betty Hill reported as similar to the sound of a microwave timer), is reported by fighter pilots encountering a flying UFO, and an aerospace engineer says this is solid evidence of technology not some natural event – then the idea that UFOs are the product of human brains being affected by some natural event like pressure on quartz rocks (the piezo-electric effect) is totally incorrect. How does this fit in with my own theories as to UFOs? More on this later…

Speaking of unusual events – today while we were engaged in hooking up the trailer brake controller (for the horse trailer) and sanding-painting of the horse trailer, Beth went in to the house for something. The dogs were in there unattended, which usually is okay but once in a while the devil gets the better of them and they have to get into trouble. A moment or two later, Beth came out of the house and looked very strange. I asked her what is wrong, and she said she had just encountered someone in the house! Now not to ‘brag’ about the dogs, but if a stranger were in the house, they would almost certainly have discovered him/her and would be sounding off as loud as they could, and can act quite vicious. True, they have been growing sooo used to constant trains of visitors arriving that they sometimes don’t bark, but a total stranger they would not hesitate to sound off or worse, bite. Anyway I went in the house to see for my self, and no one was in the house. The three not-too-friendly dogs were all taking it easy with the heat, one was even asleep. Not finding anyone in the house, I decided to just let it be and went back to my chore. Paranormal anyone…?

The internet now has a flurry of articles on the finding of human tracks in volcanic ash in Mexico, that can be accurately dated (by the known age of the volcanic eruption) to some 38,000 years ago. This is quite in conflict with “accepted” history, that the “first” Americans came via the Asia land bridge some 11,000 years ago. Furthermore, the articles state that these earlier immigrants came not by any land bridge, but by boat! I am willing to bet actual cash money that these folks also were not coming from Asia. Perhaps if I live long enough, I will see our history books get a string of long-overdue corrections after all. In truth, I have been confident that more evidence will be found in time, to prove that the Americas were not some isolated ‘other planet’ (as in “New World”) unknown to the rest of the world and unvisited from the time of the Bering Straits colonization some 11,000 years ago until either the Norse arrived in 1000 AD or Columbus in 1492.

PS This and the ninth edition are old posts which I had not posted, so now am caught up. Many things in the mix currently, hope to fill that in too soon.

"We must find a way, or we will make one." --Hannibal Barca

Ninth Edition

Lies, wars and politics

Well this evening I caught another anti-Bush movie or rather a sort of documentary, this one titled “Uncovered The Whole Truth” and is about the Iraq war. I am not a good “party man” for political parties; when I first turned 18 and old enough to vote, I registered as a Democrat, as my father and mother had been. A few years later, I was very dis-illusioned with the Democratic party, and living very much ‘hand to mouth’ with jobs not available even to buy, (haha) so decided to switch my registration to the Republican party after meeting some party representatives at the Harford Fair. The party reps gave me the old sales pitch of less government, fiscal responsibility and preservation of our individual rights; in particular the 2nd amendment guaranteeing the right to own and bear arms. Some gun organizations such as the NRA and the major hunting magazines such as Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and Sports Afield all had strong arguments to support the Republican party, pointing to the Democrats long record of attacking our right to keep firearms.

I had also become convinced that a Democrat president, Johnson or LBJ – had actually pulled a coup detat, being involved directly or indirectly in the assassination of JFK. He was the obvious person to benefit from such a terrific crime, not the only time in our history that a president has been assassinated but the first time we suffered a coup detat. In the intervening years I slowly grew dis-illusioned with the Republican party as well – with its strong affiliations with big oil corporations and the ultra-rich and a seeming preference for a high unemployment rate which led to low wages for American workers. As bad as the Democrats had been, with trying to establish a welfare state and seize all weapons in the hands of citizens, they never tried to control what we watch on our televisions or read in books, and never ran up such budget deficits as we got to see with president Reagan and Bush sr. All that hype about how deficits were bad for the country, fiscal responsibility etc was a load of BS. I switched my allegiance again, this time changing to “independent” until I heard about a billionaire named Ross Perot who was considering running for president. When he started up a new political party, the Reform party – I switched my registration again to his new party. It was first named the Patriot party, and the ‘planks’ were all to my liking, from fair trade not free trade to preservation of our right to bear arms to smaller government and true fiscal responsibility and less ‘adventurism’ overseas. I voted for Ross both times he ran, and most people forget it but Ross at one point was even in the lead ahead of both Clinton and Dole, until his family was threatened with death unless he withdrew. He withdrew, but later gained the courage to run anyway, but his lead was gone. He got something like 19% of the vote, and Clinton got the White House without having a majority. (He got more votes than the others, but not more than 50%)

The Clinton years were good for the country and economy, with solid growth and dropping interest rates, at the same time bad for Roy & Beth – with new regulations making prospecting all but illegal, new restrictions on “assault rifles” but at least we had jobs and could afford to eat and drive to work. Fuel prices fell as well, I can recall our taking a trip to California and paying 89 cents a gallon at a number of stations. Strange to say, Clinton was true to his word and even got a balanced budget, real fiscal responsibility, and eventually a nice surplus! (The last time our government had a surplus was during JFKs presidency) On the down side, the assault on our right to keep arms was a steady pace – first the Brady bill on handguns, which did not prevent non-criminals from buying handguns just instituted a waiting period. A good effect of this, however minimal, is that someone who is enraged and went to buy a gun to kill someone he or she was angry at, had enough time to cool off and consider the step.

Locally in northeast PA this is rather a meaningless gain, since the most popular method of murder here is by beating to death. At least according to statistics, and stats don’t lie! They may be skewed, twisted, distorted, and bent to fit almost any particular view or theory, but they don’t lie. Is this local penchant for beating to death a reflection on our Appalachian heritage perhaps? I leave that question to the sociologists, the same folks who would take away all of the firearms in the land and leave us defenseless to the all powerful police state.

There was no background check, so the law seemed otherwise just a stupid law to make it more difficult for honest gun nuts to buy more guns. Then came the assault gun ban. The media hyped the argument as “why would anyone have any legitimate need for an assault gun?” well how about defending your family and home from the lawless, or as a last ditch self defense against our own government, if it were ever to become a police state/dictatorship? Most of these “assault guns” also make superb hunting rifles, so they made the argument hinge on the bayonet. Why would any hunter need a rifle with a bayonet? Well it is unlikely, but logically it could be used as a last ditch weapon against a charging wounded bear, elk or moose, and again as a home defense weapon of last resort. The old saying goes, the bayonet is “always loaded”. However, bayonets are so rarely used in the commission of crimes that finding any data at all on them is difficult. They are a positive hindrance to the ordinary criminal, making his weapon that much longer and more unwieldy, less easy to conceal. Then too, the media and Democrat party kept presenting the assault rifles as weapons of crime – yet the truth is that assault rifles were almost never used for crimes; they are large and heavy, not easily concealable and extremely loud if fired – not the sort of weapon a criminal would want! They even linked them to machine guns, ignoring the fact that since the 1968 law requiring background checks for machine gun purchases, there has been only a single incident in which a machine gun was used in the commission of a crime – (despite what Hollywood portrays) and that was committed by an off-duty police officer! So my disenchantment with the Democrats grew and grew, while at the same time the government instituted draconic regulations on prospecting and mining, making it virtually impossible at one point to do anything beyond camp out and look for the minerals with your eyes. Even the camping out was restricted, - you could not camp within 500 feet of a water source, and could not remain in one spot for more than two weeks! (Beth and I lived on our mining claim, right at the mine in the Mojave desert for six or seven months, all the while actively working the mine – so a two week period was ridiculously short.) Even prospecting a particular site might take several months to find the ‘paystreak’ and begin to mine it. (Check out the old records and you will find many reports of so-called “Lucky Swedes” who picked a spot and dug for weeks or months without finding so much as a spot of color, only to finally dig down deep enough to find the paystreak.) So despite the fact that the country was doing quite well economically, on a personal level it was hitting us fairly hard.

Then the Clinton years ended, and we had no third choice to vote for – only Bush jr or Gore. The Reform party threw their support for the Libertarian candidate, a decent enough fellow and admittedly some of the Libertarian ideals are right up my ally – such as preserving our individual rights and legalizing marijuana (a stupid waste of money and resources enforcing a silly prohibition in my view – in my opinion marijuana should be legalized and taxed, freeing up vast resources to fight the truly dangerous drugs as well as removing a considerable number from our prison systems) but on many other issues I could not support; so I voted for a Democrat for the first time since Carter, and felt that he would not be quite so anti-mining as Clinton since he personally owns a large silver mine in the west, and he claimed to be a gun rights supporter. I had to take a deep breath before marking my ‘X’, because if he proved to be another anti-mining, anti-gun leftist I could blame myself for putting him in office.

The election was a farce – and Bush was declared the winner despite the fact he had not won the popular vote. The ballot scandal and disenfranchisement in Florida was so ridiculous that the entire state’s votes should have been thrown out, including their electoral college votes, but we ended up with Bush, the junior in power along with one party rule in both the senate and house of representatives. Why they did not hold a new election in Florida is beyond me, this would seem to have been the logical recourse when the stakes were so high, but…

For the first nine months, while we did see a relaxation of the ridiculous regulations against mining from Clinton (a tiny battery powered panning machine, the size of a dinner plate, which literally has to be spoon fed the ore, was classified as “mechanized equipment” and on the same regulatory level as the largest earth moving bulldozers for example) and a sensible instant background check for gun purchases, we also saw a collapse in the stock market. We did not have a big stock portfolio and had already taken most of it out (with respectable profits) but many people were literally wiped out including friends of ours. The Republicans also went right back into form, instituting a ‘refund’ of our ‘overcharged’ people, the single largest tax dividend benefit for the wealthiest one percent of the population in history, thus wiping out the budget surplus in a single stroke, literally overnight and swiftly dumping our national finances into what has developed into the largest budget deficits in history. Then came the terrorist attacks on 9-11. I was personally enraged – having witnessed the attacks as so many people did on live TV as they happened – and here was the Taliban government in Afghanistan openly protecting Bin Ladin and his organization “Al Qaeda” (which simply means “the firm”). Pretty much every nation on earth lined up to assist the United States in the war against terrorism, including such unlikely allies as Russia and even Red China! Never before has the United States had such a vast alliance, and even our long time (but relatively timid) allies Germany and Japan sent troops to fight in the wilds of Afghanistan alongside our American and British allies. I became convinced that we do have the ‘right man’ in the Presidency after all, if he can pull such disparate countries together in such a righteous war.

The war went swiftly, with our Afghan friends (yes we had quite a lot of true friends there, who had fought against the Communist Russians as our virtual surrogates and suffered under the Taliban rule) helping to quickly overrun the country and chase the Taliban and Al Qaeda into the mountains. Then (somehow) Bush dropped the ball, and Bin Ladin escaped from Tora Bora while he dithered. In retrospect, one wonders if this were not a deliberate act, in order not to kill the Boogeyman who is so useful for instituting draconian measures and destroying the liberties of Americans in the name of “protecting” us from his evil minions. I hope Bush will prove me wrong and will capture Bin Ladin, but I doubt it will ever happen.

We did not have time to fret over it, after all in war you cannot expect to win every battle and it is especially hard to find and kill one particular man in such a vast wilderness, and besides we began to hear of the emerging horrific threat in Iraq. Why, Saddam was building all sorts of evil weaponry, from nerve gas to anthrax to nuclear weapons, working in mobile tractor-trailer labs; we cannot afford to wait until these weapons are used against us, Bush and his cronies loudly proclaimed, or we will see confirmation in the form of a mushroom cloud. Literally, the term “mushroom cloud” was used by Bush, Rice, Cheney and Rumsfield. I never heard Powell use the term, but he did skirt pretty close to it.

So with the drums beating loudly, the invasion was launched. No huge month-long buildup of forces, no preliminary bombing to soften up the defenses, just a headlong rush (with a force that appeared to many military analyzers to be far too small to do the job safely) – we must seize those weapons before they can be used, after all so - risks and casualties be damned. I was a bit shocked that the size of our invasion force was sooo small – I am no ‘general’ but have played enough wargames to know you must have enough force to accomplish the task and still protect yourself, especially your supply lines even if you ignore the risks to your flanks. Well even though outnumbered our forces and our valiant British allies tore through the Iraqis so fast it was dizzying. I watched with baited breath while “embedded” reporters covered the battles on the small, tactical scale – one tank versus one tank and a handful of men against a handful of men; I sat up until four in the morning watching a tank battle, live. I could not believe the courage and fortitude of our soldiers. The invasion reached a critical stage when the famous 7th cavalry found a gap in the enemy line near a big reservoir and punched through it. Any Iraqi general worth his salt would have picked this moment to launch his counterpunch, against that narrow ‘neck’ near the reservoir, and we would have another ‘Custer’s last stand’ with the 7th cut off and surrounded. But Saddam was in charge, and he did nothing whatsoever, except to have his mouthpiece (the always amusing and luckless ‘Bagdad Bob’) proclaim to international TV that no Americans were in Iraq, much less Bagdad. Well he had to cut off his broadcasts shortly after, as American tanks of the 7th Cavalry came charging through first the airport, then right up the main streets of Bagdad. I almost felt bad for Bagdad Bob, he was really funny! I swear that during his last broadcast, we saw one of the 7th’s tanks go tearing down the road behind him.

This invasion had cost us some allies, most all of them in fact. Only the British stood by our side, and a sprinkling of others with almost negligable military forces so little effect on the war. A great anti-French crusade was taken up on the media, since they had refused to help us, after we had saved them in WW2. Well we ought to study our history a bit more – for one thing, we didn’t ‘save’ the French for over four years; in fact when the Nazi war machine was rolling over the French countryside on to Paris, we were sitting around watching on the sidelines. However, all that France had to say was that they did not believe that Saddam had any ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and did not believe our CIA intelligence which “proved” that he did.

Well time has been sliding by, and sure enough, it turns out that Saddam really didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction and our now-alienated French allies were right. Bush and his cronies claim they were fed bad intelligence; while we are stuck in Iraq for years to come; not to mention the cost in American lives every day. We cannot back out of the mess now – and meanwhile back in Afghanistan, the war there drags on endlessly with little result; Bin Ladin is God-knows-where and Bush seems to have little interest in him. The fellow who organized and ordered the mass attack on 9-11, along with his Taliban toadies, are free to hide out in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan to plot their next attack. If we had committed the forces we now have tied down in Iraq (almost 90% of our military) to Afghanistan, they could almost link arms and walk across the whole country to catch the SOB and his pals, but instead they are tied down in a guerilla war suffering casualties with no real ‘enemy’ to fight back against.

Our president got us into a war, invading a country which had never attacked us; then claims it was all due to “bad intelligence”; along the way we heard about the horrors of prisoners being tortured, by US! If memory serves, they had war crimes trials after WW2 and some people were hanged for torturing prisoners of war, but for our leaders well, it is “okay” since they all must be ‘terrorists’ and we can’t tie the hands of our military! Why, we must go to any ends to prevent future attacks! The ends justify the means, right? While Bush has all this going on, he tries to destroy social security by gutting its future income and funneling this money into his pals, the ultra rich via the stock market. This is a flop, but a new interpretation of the law of eminent domain is pushed through allowing anyone with more money than the victim to sieze their property. Whee, life in the land of the rich and privileged! Whoops.

Oh well, guess I better shut up before I am arrested for thinking that we need change in our government. I do now want more and more weapons though, the bigger the better as they used to say. Hey I am a collector, a former licensed gunsmith etc and would not use them in any way illegal – and if this makes the police state nervous that is just gravy.

Since this was written, we have had still more misfortune in our land; a massive hurricane named Katrina devastated New Orleans, enough that the levees broke the following day flooding the entire city and surrounding areas, causing such suffering and death that it bothers me even to talk about it. The rescue attempts by the FEMA fumblers and lack of any National Guardsmen to help and protect the victims were shockingly slow and feeble, causing still more suffering and death as well as financial loss. Two days later, President Bush finally ends his vacation and flies to to site – and what is the first thing he checks? Why, the oil refineries of course! What a leader. The FEMA handling was so bad that the director resigned, and really the president ought to resign too – he has failed yet again in his job of protecting the people, which is the number one priority job of being President. Of course this would only put another oil baron on the throne of the USA, but even he appears to have more compassion and competence than Bush. Along the way, with the refineries knocked out, the oil companies found yet another excuse to raise fuel prices to ridiculous levels – with gouging a foregone conclusion. I saw with my own eyes, fuel prices of $6 a gallon and even over $7 a gallon. The prices have since fallen some (after a lot of investigating got started into the reported gouging) to less than $3 a gallon in many areas. We are to now “get used” to the new level of prices, but this is only until the next excuse to raise them to yet another ridiculous level.

At least people are now starting to look more seriously at alternative, renewable fuels. Of these, hydrogen appears to be the most dangerous and requiring the greatest effort and technology, so that will be the most popular although it is the worst choice on many grounds. The vegetable oil replacement for diesel fuel could appear in the market, and alcohol is possible too – though it is less efficient for mileage, alcohol causes less wear and tear to engines, plus could be much more cost efficient.

Then there are alternative technologies for the home, such as solar heating, which is a proven performer. With fuel prices shooting for new highs, solar heat is even more attractive than ever. Steam power is another possibility which has been ignored for many years, yet is a real technology which we could adopt on a larger scale without going back to stone age living; or rather third world lifestyles which we are already well into.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Rivals to Rome

Rivals to Rome: Ineffective?

Some historians today hold that the rivals to the Roman empire were ineffective. To sum up the histories of these other lessor known nations and cultures as ineffective is to greatly denigrate their actual positions in the past. A similar statement would be to say that since the Union won the American Civil War, the Confederates were ineffective, or that since the Allies won the Second World War, the Axis were ineffective. It is true that these powers did lose their wars, but in many ways they were far from being ineffectual. In fact, to dismiss them as ineffective is to diminish the winners as well. These “losers” in many cases had a more glorious history with many great achievements.

A side note is in order here. One measure of the greatness of a nation or civilization as well as of individuals is in their glories. Hollywood has had a penchant for some of these glorious defeats and failures, for instance General Custer and his famous last stand on the Little Bighorn. The un-ending mysteries concerning this battle have resulted in many theories and theorists coming up with all sorts of reasons why Custer and his brave troopers fell, with a great deal of concentration on some failure on his part or his subalterns; this is doing not only Custer and his men dishonor but also to the brave Souix and Cheyenne warriors who fought that day. For the implication is that the only reason these warriors won the day is due to some mistake on the part of Custer or his lieutenants, when in fact they outgeneralled and outfought the cavalry, winning their greatest victory of the Indian wars.

The Greek empire stretched over a vaster area, being about equal in size to the lower 48 states by some estimates, and lasted a considerable time - from Alexander (322 BC) to the first century AD when the last fragment disappeared in western India. During the Roman rise to empire, their conquest of the Greek powers was in at least two cases, very much a near-run thing; in the case of Macedonia, it was the quick thinking and actions of the lower ranking officers who saved the Roman army from being wiped out at Cynoscephalae, against Antiochus in Magnesia, it was the heroic actions of the Roman allied Greeks who saved their arses; in the fighting against the last major Greek independent state (Pontus, with Mithridates in charge) the Romans thought that Hannibal himself had been resurrected and there is evidence they got him assassinated after very mixed results in their wars with him; the Parthians they never did conquer, (in fact the Parthians even captured the Roman emperor and executed him) nor the barbarian Germans and Britons; and then there is Carthage.

True, the Romans did "win" their three wars with their most dangerous rival, but this is really not looking at the whole picture - in the first two wars the end came by negotiated peace, the third was a cold deceitful and murderous act. Carthage gets little mention in some history books, yet they had an empire spanning from Kyrene to Kerne in Africa, all of Spain south of the Ebro river, most of Sicily and all of Sardinia, Corsica, the Balearics, and many other islands. A republic like Rome but with a stronger position for the common people, this state lasted from at least 814 BC (or 878 according to Josephus) to 146 BC, which is a span of 665 years, more than three times as long as the United States has existed. It had a population at least equal to that of the Roman empire and the city itself was the most populous in the world at the time. Her armies reached a number of more than 600,000 at peak strength, (the Romans hit 750,000 at one time) and her navy had over 500 warships at peak. The Romans themselves admitted they learned road-building from the Carthaginians, among other things; though Carthage had no huge palaces like Rome (they had no royalty class) their temples were considered among the most beautiful in the world. We don't know what they looked like because they were destroyed, but for example the temple of Eshmun (the Punic god of healing) held more than 5000 soldiers when the city fell! Her explorers are even admitted by historians to have circumnavigated Africa and sailed to Britain and Ireland, some will admit they even reached America. They had their own markets in India and were traveling to the Spice Islands and Cochin China to obtain spices. After her fall, the "silk road" became so important because there were no other sea navigators capable of maintaining the trade. Her generals were in most cases better than the Roman counterparts, and her troops somewhat better as well - even the History channel admitted this much. The Punic wars were very much a near run thing, it very well could have gone either way and even the Romans admit this themselves. The city had universities and several libraries (those not burned by the Romans were given to the Numidians as war booty, this from the Numidian king Juba!) and whole districts devoted to what amounts to assembly-line production of everything from consumer goods, candies, wine, tools, weapons and armor even ships. Their farming techniques were considered so superior to Roman methods that the Romans ordered the books on agriculture written by Mago to be translated into Latin! They even raised war elephants on special farms. Their horses were especially prized in the ancient world, her cavalrymen famed for riding without even a bridle, guiding their mounts using only leg signals or a tiny wand. They were expanding and colonizing and the wars with Rome were certain to come sooner or later, but they could very well have ended differently. We only have the Roman and Greek versions of that particular history, and both of these cultures were enemies so must be viewed with caution.

Then there are the other rivals to Rome at various points in her history. Early on, the Etruscans were a major threat – with a loose confederation of twelve city states, their greatest weakness was in not being united against the threat from Rome. They allowed Veii to fall, the first Etruscan city state to be conquered by the Romans, and from there it was the domino theory par excellance. The Gauls were a serious threat, but they were only interested in booty when they actually conquered Rome and seized the city, allowing the Romans time to recover before invading which proved a fatal delay. The Samnites were also a serious threat to the Romans; these dought fighters gave Rome very much a see-saw war for years, and were the main antagonists during the Social war which very nearly destroyed the empire before it was ever consolidated. The empire very nearly broke into two during the revolt of Sertorius, again the rather evil work of Romans secretly convincing one of Sertorius’ closest advisors to assassinate him ended that threat. The slave revolts of Spartacus and of Eunus in Sicily also came uncomfortably close to gutting the empire. The civil war between Mark Antony + Cleopatra versus Octavian could well have gone the other way with a probably shift in the way history proceeded too. The Germans eventually became more than a threat and destroyed the empire for that matter. The king of Epirus, Pyrrhus, very nearly put an end to Rome and at one point even negotiated for the surrender of the (then) young state. To the Romans’ credit, they stuck it out and won the war, with the aid of their ally Carthage. The Huns invasion was another very serious threat – if not for the defeat of Attila at Chalons, nothing stood between his hordes of horsemen and Rome, and again the battle could be said to have been won by the Visigoths for the Romans. There is evidence to suggest that Roman treachery finally ended the Hun threat by assassination (his new wife poisoning him) and the brittle Hun empire quickly dissolved.

Then there are the lessor threats – the Jewish revolts are much touted by historians and beloved by Jewish people, and rightly so to some extent, but as difficult as these colonial wars were for Rome, they never seriously threatened the empire much less even extended outside the borders of Judaea. The island state of Rhodes put up a brave resistance, if tiny in aspect, and the Spanish were not easily conquered – the Romans considered the conquest of the Spanish city state of Numantia to be equal in difficulty and importance to the fall of Carthage. Syracuse, once a major power rivalling Athens and Carthage, had grown weak by the time of their war against Rome and despite direct aid from Carthage and the devastating inventions of Archimedes (including the catapult seen on TV) which were so frightening to the Romans they would flee at the mere appearance of some new device above the walls, but fell to treachery when someone allowed the Romans in through a gate. Some states were “willed” to the Roman empire, which otherwise might have proven quite difficult to conquer, including Ephesus, whose library was second in size only to that of Alexandria, or Kyrene in north Africa, which fielded armies of considerable size and skill. Numidia should be ranked among the lessor threats, although they were not easily defeated, they did not campaign outside Africa.

The end of the Roman empire has been attributed to everything imaginable, from overdependence on slaves, untrained armies, lead water pipes, etc etc, but a number of factors appear to have been in play. Many of her most important sea ports for trade, supply and movement of armies became silted up due to “improvements” done in the harbors including Ephesus, Oea, Sabratha, Leptis Major and others, her money had been devalued to the point that the silver content in her silver coins ran to 3%, (the trade with India had drained away vast amounts of good money, which caused the Romans to be forced to decreasing the amount of silver in her coins repeatedly) while inflation was rampant, her armies appeared strong on paper, but corruption among the quartermaster corps resulted in legions and cohorts being vastly understrength (paymasters would fail to report the death or discharge of legionaries, in order to pocket their pay!) taxation grew to the point it became ridiculous (the famous “sky tax” for example, being taxed for the sky over your head, the tax on urinating, etc) and numerous other factors not the least of which being the constant degrading of quality workmanship when unskilled slaves replaced skilled craftsmen. One look at a range of Roman coins shows this only too well – the early coins are nearly as good in artwork and strike as the less perfect Greek examples, the later versions becoming almost cartoon-like with such silly errors as mis-spelling the inscriptions! Then too, the level of literacy, once higher (BC) than we have today, steadily fell right up to the fall of the empire. At first glance this might not appear to have had much effect on the collapse of an empire, but has a direct bearing on communications as well as engineering and even the training of military forces.

The Roman conquest of the Greeks is another strange tale – said by some to be a case of “The Conquerors being led by the Conquered”. If the Greek states had formed a solid political unit, something Philip III achieved but later broken up, there is no chance that Rome could have conquered them. Some of the Greeks allied themselves with Carthage, which if followed by all of the states would have resulted in Roman defeat – but important minor leagues sided with Rome. It was Roman policy to ally with weak states “to protect them from the strong” but in fact and practice, as soon as the strong state was eliminated, the weak state was the next target, as even Polybius learned to his chagrin. It is not coincidence that Rome decided to destroy Corinth and Athens at the very same time as they destroyed Carthage. Corinthian troops, ships and money had long been a powerful influence in Mediterranean wars, and Athens was viewed by most Greeks as the logical leader of the Greeks with her own empire which might have been revived. The Romans seemed to have required a series of three wars to remove the most serious threats; there were three Punic wars, three Macedonian wars, three Mithridatic wars and three Jugurthine wars for example. In the case of Greece, though they did succeed in conquering, Greek learning and culture was much admired in Rome and Greek language was the “lingua franca” of the day; well heeled children were expected to learn Greek. Slowly but surely, the Romans became more and more Greek, and when the empire was finally split into East and West, the East became wholly Greek; all inscriptions and publications were written in Greek, the official language of the empire was Greek, about the only “Roman” evidence was the uniforms, equipment and organization of the armies.

The East Roman empire is known to history as the Byzantine empire, as it was distinctly different being more Greek than Roman and lasting one thousand years. It says something about Roman skill in invention that in all that time, virtually nothing was invented or improved upon! Even the famous Greek Fire and the fire ships which defended Byzantium against the Arabs were Greek inventions. The rivals to Byzantium would take up much more work than this epistle and are not truly “Roman” rivals so we leave the subject here. Were the rivals to Rome ineffective? Historians today credit tremendous achievements to the Romans from concrete (Phoenician invention) to their numeric system (Etruscan invention) and their road system (Punic invention, said to be based in part on the famous Royal Road of the Persian kings) even their famous legions, an organization copied from the Samnites, armed with swords copied from Spanish models (which themselves can be traced to Canaanite daggers of the Bronze age) shields copied from Gauls, helmets from the Etruscans and armor from the Samnites. Roman engineering of water systems was learned from the Etruscans as was their sewage and drainage, flush toilets copied from Cretan models, glass from Syrians (or Syro-phoenicians to be exact) the famous odometers used for Roman roads and even for taxicabs were invented by the Greek Archimedes. The Romans are said to be at least quick to adopt superior technologies, yet they killed Archimedes who was bringing his inventions to the Roman commander at the fall of his city, the steam engine of Heiro was never adopted, their sea navigation never equalled that of the Carthaginians, Greeks or Phoenicians. The Celts of Gaul had invented horse-drawn mechanical mowing machines for harvesting hay and grains, which the Romans failed to copy. Greek water-clocks and computers, thought to be commonly in use in many Greek cities and towns never were adopted by the Romans despite their superior accuracy and reliability. Roman buildings make for impressive ruins, yet many which are today assumed to be “Roman” are not Roman at all – Leptis Major for one example is in truth a Punic city, Athens, Sparta, Persepolis for others, and we can point to Egyptian, Greek and Babylonian ruins equally impressive.

I will credit the Romans as the protectors of civilization during the later part of the empire, especially compared to the freedom-loving but barbaric and uneducated barbarians on their borders. The greatest crime committed by the Romans in my opinion was the burning of the great library in Alexandria; this may or may not have been accidental, but what a loss. If we compare the Roman empire to others contemporary with them, the Parthians had a road system nearly as extensive with even faster communications; the Han empire in China also had a huge road network with a civilization about equal in sophistication; impressive ruins such as the Great Wall also show China to have been capable of great achievements. We should note here that China was in direct contact with the Roman empire during this period and later; we know of it because the Chinese kept better records. China was no rival to Rome because of the vast distance between them, but if they had bordered each other, the outcome of a war between them is very much an open question.

So were the rivals to Rome ineffective? If measured by the things adopted by the Romans, which includes much of the culture attributed to them - then these rivals were more effective culturally than the Romans were. On other grounds the matter is also not simple, we leave this for the reader to decide.
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