Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Nimrod Was The First Of Those Who Were Mighty On the Earth: The 77mm HV, Technological Progress, And the 1940 Counterfactual

History is, as I never tire of saying, a floating referent. It's never entirely clear where to start, and, in the case of a counterfactual, it is even harder. Hypothetical questions about historical counterfactuals are happening right now, over on Quora.Com, so they are very much questions of 2017. (Just to remind you, the framing counterfactual for this occasional series is,  "What if the Commonwealth armed forces of 1940 were armed like the 21st Army Group on 11 May 1945?") (Also.)

On the other hand, the response is very much to Correlli Barnett's Audit of War, a book that came out in March of 1986, per Paul Addison's review, much linked to from here as an explanation of that book, which the reader may  have forgotten about, or never known. On the other hand again, Audit signifies around here as a programmatic manifesto of Thatcherism, and Dame Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, seven years before Audit was published. On the other hand again, Thatcher was famously "a research chemist before she became a barrister," while Barnett had been a military historian/media pundit since the 1960s. Although you'll have to take my word for this, since I am not going to engage the ideas behind Audit in any more detail than is necessary to trace its impact, Audit was exactly what an English research-chemist-turned-barrister born in 1924 in the Midlands would have produced had she turned into an ancestral voice prophesying war, as opposed to, say, a Prime Minister. 

 Finally, just to throw on one more guiding metaphor onto an already unwieldy mass, I have talked about the idea of "Technology Levels," as used in the classic 1977 tabletop roleplaying game, Traveller. I'll come back to "Tech Levels" at the end of this discussion. For now, suffice it to say that they were originally intended to be descriptive. Your party lands on a planet; do the natives, who know you Pappenheimers, shoot back with bows and arrows, or hand-carried fusion blasters? A single number in the planet's descriptor tells you! However, they tend to become prescriptive. A blender from a Tech Level 9 world will be 1/16th (don't ask) more effective at blending than one from a Tech Level 8 world. 
The Zhodani are alien humans (don't ask some more) who are very advanced and psionic and stuff; but they're assholes, for RPG balance. Anyway, they invade the Imperium with their high tech ships, which are just better on account of being higher tech level than Imperium ships. 


Traveller comes before Audit, but Barnett's treatment of World War II is a lot like this. Brits used to say (I take Barnett as saying) that they fought World War II at Tech Level, oh, say, 6.5, compared to Germany's 6. In reality, it was 5.5 versus 6.5, Barnett says. He then adds that, had WWII been fought in 1850, instead, it would have been Britain at Tech Level 5 versus Germany at Tech Level 4, and Britain would have won the war even more than it did. 

So, Britain has gone from a Tech Level advantage of 1, to a disadvantage of 0.5 --in my interpretation, of course. Audit purports to show that this is actually the case, while at the same time fingering the culprits. It's a very ambitious book --far too ambitious, in fact. But it does give us a way to think about technological change. My 1940 counterfactual seems, at least to me, like an elegant way to test this idea about technological change.

And by "test," I mean, stuff the demolition chamber with enough RDX to blow up a planet. (Which, by a wacky coincidence, is more-or-less what we're doing.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Postblogging Technology, August 1947, II: At the Stroke of the Midnight Hour





R. C.,
_. Roxborough Crescent,
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Dad:

Based on the last package, this will get to you before an envelope, and, anyway, I'm kind of worried about what might happen with a postal letter, so I'll just say this. We (Tommy and me) have a brilliant plan that requires a blond bear cub and those sedatives. I understand that it's easy to overdose a bear and have it die on you, but it needs to be really quiet while we're moving it around, and we need it now. Half the Stanford is off on summer vacation, and the N.s took V. around to the University of Chicago to see about registering and transferring credits. Miss Ch. has arranged things so that her registration rolls over at Stanford, but her parents' cheque needs to be in the mail by the middle of next month. (I'm not even going to get into the idea of someone else paying. It would kill her parents.) 

We could also use any files the family might have from the heist at Colville by return courier. It's even more urgent than the bear. We've been through the stuff that Bancroft got, and V.'s been through the library at Santa Clara and Coeur d'Alene, but we've never had a complete look at your stuff. Professor K. says that you can often reconstruct the missing parts of an archive from what you actually have. If we know what we're looking for, we can be in and out a lot faster. Maybe we won't even need the bear! 



Your Loving Son,
Reggie


Friday, September 8, 2017

Postblogging Technology, August 1947, I: "Atmosphere of Slackness"







R_. C_.,
__ Roxborough Crescent,
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Dad:

I posted you from Waikiki as soon as I got in, so it's a race between the package and the US Mail. We'll see whether the Hawaiian side of things is as fast as Newhitty! Sounds more exciting than squadron work. While some of my fellow flyboys get to do nothing but see how much power our new ship has, I've been stuck trying to get results out of this wackadoodle magnet-thingie that's supposed to detect submarines! Maybe I'll even break super top-secret when we get the electronics working, but as of right now we haven't even got the trace recorder working in the air! I'd ask them to bring you over, but that'd just get me the old eye roll from the Old Man, so I've requested Tommy, instead. We may not be able to pry him loose of Alaska Command for good, but he should have this thing sitting up and begging for treats in a week or two. 

I don't know if you'd had anything from Newhitty lately? About how Mr. Brookstein is doing, say, or whether V. went back to Chicago with her folks? I hear that A. went down to Vancouver with W.B, who is supposed to be spending time with the future father-in-law. Now that I can't picture, a man's man like him putting up with W.B.'s act for very long! But I hear Mrs. likes him, which is good. I especially need to get in touch with A. Or, anyway, Tommy does, as we have an angle that might help him out in the Service, if you know what I mean. Not Mr. Brookstein (I wouldn't want to put the RCMP) on him, but an angle based on some stories he told me about his LA days. Did  you know he did some work with the SAG? I'm thinking I can call in my favour, get A. a "source." Can't hurt if he's got something he can work with HUAC.

Well, that's it from me for now, Dad. My electronics are ready ---I can smell the smoke at the other end of the ship!

Yr Loving Son,
Reggie.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Techno-Cultural Appendix to July, 1947: Attack of the Mutants

Sweetbreads poaching for Fried Sweetbreads with Peas and Broad Beans, a recommended recipe for beginners. Google Ads also put Comixology in the sponsored box, which seems to be an authorial decision of which I heartily approve.  (From Britishfoodhistory.com. I'm going to assume that the author's quasi-anonymity is a personal decision.)
Talking about a Legion of Super Heroes story of the 1960s with a particularly obvious homoerotic subtext, Chris Sims once commented on the point where subtext becomes so obvious that it is surtext. As we were reminded this week, what, in connection with hilariously naive comic books is a joke, had an earlier life as the Very Serious Artistic Movement known as Surrealism. 

With surrealism in its death throes in the month that America's middlebrows were introduced to Existentialism as both Very Serious and Very Sexy --the month that the UFO became official, on top of that-- I am very tempted to say something incredibly insightful and pithy about the trends in French intellectual fashion that have washed over North American shores since 1947.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Postblogging Technology, July 1947, II: Apocalypse Real Soon Now!





R_. C_.
__ Roxburgh Crescent,
Vancouver,
Canada

Dear Dad:

I'll be blowed if I can catch you up on everything that's happened 'round here. The ship turns out to have a cracked spar for sure, so I'm leaving for Hawaii tomorrow via Victoria, but that's the least of it. 

Because who should blow into town last week but A., with the --I know I'm not supposed to give out clues that might blow our code, but I've found a character that won't give the game away if I call V.'s parents, the "Ns." All the "C.s" were getting too gosh-darn confusing! Their story is that they got a  yen to yacht up the Alaska Passage, so naturally they borrowed a boat off of your neighbour. I didn't see anything natural about it at all, and I was a might suspicious to find "W.B." aboard as the deckhand/captain. You may recall him as the lad that Uncle George blackmailed into taking their daughter off their hands, and he really doesn't seem to be the type to swan about Fort Rupert of all places. For the most part he was civil --actually, loads of fun. But when I saw him looking at some of the Chinese and Indian boys, I couldn't help but be glad that Tommy was gone, because I was already thinking something might come up that would remind him that he was Wong Lee's son, and then would all the plans that have been made on W. B.'s head be?

So it turned out to me and Mr. Brookstein who caught W. B. in a boatshed with one of the boys. To his credit, he didn't try to brazen it out, just disintegrated. Turned out Mr. Brookstein knew just the way to put him back together --which should have made me suspicious right there-- while I just followed his line in trying to get the kid somewhere reasonable. It's pretty tough, since neither of us have Cantonese that is what it might be, but in the end I sent him home with a promise not to tell his parents, to recommend him to our local agent, and $60 in his pocket. 

Yes, yes, I do feel pretty low about that, like I've taken my first step down the road to being a brothel keeper, but I honestly couldn't see another way out of it. Then the other shoe dropped, when W. B. came to me that night and told me that Mr. Brookstein was blackmailing him to work for the Cominterm! I should have guessed from how hard the man works with the logger unions . . . 

However, I'm not completely wet behind the ears, so Mr. Brookstein doesn't know that I know A., who, it turns out, arranged the whole trip to recruit W. B. for the American intelligence services! It turns out that they're practically farming out the Mexican office to Mr. N., on the grounds that he's rich and influential and has ties to Mexico and somewhat old money, the meatpacking houses being long forgotten. I'm not sure that's the best qualification for spying on Mexico, but this would make W.B. a potential triple agent (for us!), and I'm not going to quarrel. Another step down the road. . . Well, all of that meant that I had to find a way to buck him up, with all his talk about "God this," and "God that," and I ended up telling him that he'd have to work things out as between God and man for himself.

Which, because he's an idiot, came down to a screaming match with V., after she'd politely and gently dismantled some gibberish about  the native word for cow showing that some Indian tribes were actually Welsh, and thus Caucasian. At the end of it, he was yelling about how much he could tell her about "God and Man" at --his college, can I name it? Probably not. Think "locks," though. And she yelled at him that he should write a book, and he yelled back that maybe he would, and half of bloody Fort Rupert must have been listening in. Not that that's the first drunken fight they've heard from the pub, but V. and W.B. are a great deal more genteel than most. 

You've notice that, in that long story, I've not said anything about the Ns. showing up out of nowhere --with A., yet, after I allowed in my letters that I was in the same county as V. You'll also notice that I started another page with the head of that paragraph. This time, no erasures that might be read by flipping the paper over! Yes, I'm encouraging you to read between the lines, and, no, I do not want this page sent on to Auntie Grace. I think our chances of keeping V. in Stanford are sinking pretty low by now already. 

Yr Loving Son,
Reggie.

The era's right, but I'm going to give a modern performer some exposure. Ha. "Exposure."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Postblogging Technology, July 1947, I: Angels Fifteen





Reginald C.,
Biltmore Hotel,
Los Angeles, California

Dear Father:

This is coming to you via George Wallace again, as I'm still stuck in Fort Rupert looking after my ship. Tommy and Jim left for San Francisco with the electronics in a seaplane from Coal Harbour on the weekend. I thought I was going to get an Air Policeman to stand guard, but now that the electronics are gone, the Chief says I should just hire an Indian to watch it, which I did. We did an x-ray of the wing, which was fun. .It was raining, and the aluminum is slippery. The film's going to be developed in California, at which point we'll know for sure whether the spar is broken. If it is, I have a feeling the Navy is just going to leave the old bird to rot. There's just not much on it that's worth salvaging.

Meanwhile, I got in some fishing last week. I'll be spending this week setting up recording gear at Winter Harbour (Newhitty) for Professor K.'s re-interviews.  The guy who did the original ones is dead, so K. has hired a research assistant and I've been helping her I've been helping out.


Your Loving Son, Reggie.

PS: Because of the channels this is going through, you'll be getting this before Auntie Grace for a change. I notice that some of my strikethroughs have soaked through to the backing page. Could you maybe paint them over before you send this on? I don't want to look all sloppy in front of Auntie.





Wednesday, August 9, 2017

A Technical Appendix for June, 1945: Printing Time

In 1681, a young gentleman of Bologna, Luigi Fernando, Count Marsigli (Imperial Free Counts are a dime a dozen in northern Italy) secured a place in the suite of the Venetian ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Or, as you were allowed to say without a trace of irony back in the day, the Sublime Porte. The appointment did not last very long, for reasons having more to do with high politics than anything Marsigli did. (Given his biography, he probably did a lot of cruising, but he didn't get into trouble over his private life until he was, like, totally old and gross, so who cares?) In the course of looking for his next job, Marsigli happened to drop a remarkable manuscript on the desk of the then-Emperor (His Sacred Imperial Majesty Caesar, by the Grace of God, Elect Roman Emperor, King of the Germans, Archduke of Austria, etc, etc), Leopold I. It was the Stato Militare dell'Impero Ottomano, and although not the up-to-date, ripped-from-the-archives report on the Ottoman army that it purported to be, it was some first class espionage, and got Marsigli that job, and the rest was history. Weird, eccentric, overwrought history, but history. 

But that's not what's important right now, because I'm talking about the report, which became a book: a profusely illustrated, magnificent volume, photostatically reproduced in the mid-70s as much for its beauty as the historical value of its contents. On the page reproduced above, text and graphics are combined by direct engraving on the copperplate by a master artisan, probably Dutch, in 1730. The reproduction is by the magic of Xerox, as mediated by digital camera work, transmitted through the Intertubes as an ASCII file, and so, from Windows 10 to Blogger to you.

That is printing then, printing now. It's amazing that printing images has gone from a high skilled job (engraving) to a low-skilled one (photocopying) and back to a high skilled one. (Coding. Although anyone can blunder along with the help of a high level blogging app.)

Maybe it's all magic?



Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Technical Appendix for June, 1947: Hermione Giffard Says, "Cool Your Jets!"


I feel very, very old to know that someone named "Hermione" is a postdoc at Utrecht with a very, very good University of Chicago Press book to her name. Dr. Giffard's Making Jet Engines in World War II isn't just an excellent treatment of the early days of jet production. It is also a meditation on the relationship between invention, development and production. In a neat little turn of phrase, she asks whether Allison's move to press forward with producing its own jet engine design might show that it is "Hard to do development without production," flipping what I would take to be still the controversial and out-there position that "It is hard to do production without development," that is, innovating-by-doing, on its head.

That said, I have a bit more on my plate here. Various Great Minds of the last age said that "God is dead," either hopefully or not, with the notion that it was time to prod the world into a post-Christian morality of some or another kind. Nietzsche and Beckett are my exemplars here, because Nietzsche's prophet is the overman, and who doesn't want to identify with an "overman," and because Waiting for Godot is so ludicrously appropriate.

Because we're waiting for Google.


Whatever you think of my potted literary criticism, at least it serves to frame my mad claim that technological innovation is dead.


The Aeroplane, some time in the middle of July, 1939. Yes, I should keep better notes. The top secret gas turbines are being unboxed by private industry in the far right hand corner, while the Mosquito is trying to get its nose in the door on the bottom left.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Postblogging Technology, June 1947, II: See? No Bathing Suit!






R_.C_.
The Flamingo,
Las Vegas,
Nevada.

Dear Dad:

In spite of best intentions, I'm dashing this one off before handing it to George. I'm still in Fort Rupert. Chief is right to the extent that my ship's problem isn't in the engine, but there's definitely a problem, and I'm very glad to be on the ground again.

Well, I'd be on the ground even if my engine fell off. Just not, you know, in one piece. We can't get in there to check, but either there's an engine bracket broken, or the problem is inboard of that. In the spar? Bad news for the bird, if it is, because it'll be retiring in old Fort Rupert. 

Not that that's so bad. Fishing's good; the strait is crowded with loggers waiting out the fire season on the water, handlining the biggest salmon you ever saw, on their way to run up the Nimpkish or the streams out of the Coastal range that look close enough to touch whenever the weather opens up. (Which it actually does here, in the summer.) Unfortunately, I can't tell the CO that I've gone fishing, and we've been down to the RCAF station at Coal Harbour and bummed an old --you'd never guess-- Stranraer out of care and  maintenance. Tommy's been a wonder at getting one of the RDFs out of the Lib and into the old bird, which we've repurposed to check atmospherics. Common sense is that the best place for an intercept station is out at the Cape, but no-one's going to buy that as a navigational aid, so we have to find a good place for a radar station, too. (Also, someone has to persuade Ottawa to pay for it. Need more communist menace!) 

CO's made it very clear that I'm here until the ship is ready to fly. If he's serious, I think I need to look for a retirement place. If he's not, well, funny enough, there hasn't been an anthropologist around here since the Twenties, and Professor K. has told the Regents that he's got just the student to send up here. 


Your Loving Son, 
Reggie.

PS: Please just get the dam business settled and come back to Vancouver unventilated.

The Flamingo, 1947. Everyone's read Tim Powers' Last Call, right? It's his dry book, and probably his best. 


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Postblogging Technology, June 1947, I: Coffee-Coloured




Reginald C_.,
Royal York,
Toronto, Canada.

Dear Dad:

I'm going to dash this one off and send it via Auntie Grace, instead of putting it in hand in Fort Rupert. Yes, I'm going back there. There aren't many other places where you can put the northwesternmost radar station in the mid-Canada line, so we're going to spend a week or two doing low level surveys 'till we find a place with acceptable radio reception. Problem is, our ship has a dodgy engine --I say, though Chief disagrees with me. So instead of worrying about getting this done while we're trying to fly a new engine from Honolulu to the mud puddle at the end of the world, I'm sending it out now. 

Hope you're not expecting much gossip. Had a nice afternoon at the movies in San Fran. (Great Expectations really lived up to the hype.) Dropped B. at Santa Clara, then V.  at her college on the way back. (Tricky business, as we just missed curfew, and she doesn't want to get called back to Chicago for the summer.) A. hitched a ride to LA, where he had some business with you-know-who. I ragged him about where, exactly, foreign spies end and "liberals" start, but he got all huffy about how it's important to the left as well as the right to get the Communists out of the unions, especially influential ones like SAG. I decided not to push him too hard about exactly how you can tell someone's a Red, because, after all, you and I know they've got some sources there. I hope Mr. Wallace steers clear of 'em. Though, frankly, I don't see what the big deal is with working for the Reds back in the Depression, if that's all A. and his bosses and Hoover have got. 

Yr Son,
Reggie


Thursday, July 13, 2017

God Speed the Plough: "About the ordering of ritual vessels, I have some knowledge; but warfare I have never studied."

Not really  a review, so much as a meditation
We don't really do literary histories of Anglo-Saxon England, any more. The texts are known,  their exegesis secure. It's possible to have a literary controversy over them, but what they are trying to say about the history of Anglo-Saxon England seems more-or-less settled. Mark Atherton isn't the revisionist sort --he's not even a historian-- but he definitely thinks that the texts would benefit from a more serious examination. I've flippantly played with the idea of reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles with the same attention given to the Springs and Autumns, and the title is the key quote from the Analects on the Confucian art of war. That is, accepting that Master Kong does not answer Duke Ling flippantly, a true understanding of military affairs begins with the proper ordering of ritual vessels. Get rulership (morally) right, if you want to have a large army, the Sage is bluntly explaining. 

In much of what follows, I am assuming that the "praise and blame" in the Chronicles is there, but carefully disguised, because it pertains to ecclesiastical interventions into secular politics. We wall off ritual from politics and warfare at our own risk. Says Atherton, not me!

Besides picking up Atherton's monograph on the new books carousel at the library the other night, this post is mainly inspired by the Gustafson fire north of 100 Mile House, which has left me just a little pissed with your average global warming denier, of which we have an excess in the country to our south. The night before I began writing this post, the fire prompted the evacuation of the entire town. My sister, nephew and niece had left several days earlier, but it is still an open question whether they will have a home --or even employment to return to. Even family lawyers need some kind of local economic base in which to operate. 

Anyway, global warming deniers are sometimes Americans, and Americans live in the country to the south of Canada, and on 22 August, 1138, on Cowton Moor, near Northallerton, The Most Reverend Thurstan, Archbishop of York, advancing before a caroccio carrying the Sacred Host and adorned with the sacred banners of York, Beverley and Ripon (but not of Durham), encountered David, son of Malcolm, King of Alba, Prince of Cumbria, styled Earl of Northumberland, in arms. His Grace was victorious on the day, but, on 26 September, Cardinal Alberic, Bishop of Ostia, arrived at Carlisle to negotiate a peace in which David was confirmed in Northumberland, his son, Henry, in Huntingdon and Doncaster; and the bishop of Glasgow was relieved, forever, of his suffragen dependence upon York. 



This last bit is the "proper ordering of ritual vessels" part. On any but the most superficial reading, the Archbishop's victory was punished by the King of England. Thrustan was embroiled in the York-Canterbury dispute, which, in his day, turned on the stark difference between Canterbury's twenty-odd suffragen bishops, and York's . . . much smaller number. York had, in fact, only one English subordinate, and its attempts to expand into the north Atlantic world ran into the pretensions of rival bishops [Pirate bishop! Yarr!].  Glasgow was one of Thurstan's legacy suffragens, and losing the See of St. Mungo cost him more than all the gallowglass spears in the world could extract. The question of archiepiscopal status is a question of proper ordering of ritual vessels. (To finish piling on this analogy, there's a parallel with the thesis that global warming denial is a legitimate strategy of Kulturkampf. That is, since all the proposed solutions are "liberal," it is okay for a conservative to mischievously deny the plain scientific facts.) 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Postblogging Technology, May 1947, II: Unfit to Lead




Wing Commander R. Cook (ret.), OBE,
Oriental Institute,
London, U.K.

Dear Father:

Well, I promised Aunt G. that I'd continue these letters while she's in the bloom of motherhood --Should I spoil it by saying my new nephew or niece's name? No, it's hers to tell! Aside from that, I know Auntie always adds some family gossip, but I've got nothing. I've been spending half my time at the field in Hawaii, wiring the P2Vs that Lockheed's been able to deliver so far, and the other half doing radio proving flights all over the North Pacific. In fact, I'm just down the road from Quatsino, and will be handing this package off to George Wallace in a sec. 

The one advantage of this is that I'm all over the place and get to see everybody. We're flying down to San Fran after we finish up here. Tommy'll get to see his wife and kid, and I'm going to hook up with the old gang. A., is over on the West Coast to meet up with some sources. (If you're wondering, like I was, they're union guys with something to say about communists in the ranks; but with stuff in their background they don't want coming out, for which the FBI has a bit of a reputation), so V. is coming out, and B., too. We'll see a movie, then maybe dinner and some dancing, just for old time's sake. 




/s/, Your Son, Reggie.

A.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Postblogging Technology, May 1947, I: Chilled and Silly Springs


It was always colder when we were young. In 1947, Britons couldn't heat their homes from May to October.

R_. C_.,
Oriental Club,
London,
England.


Dear Father:

Well, if you won't leave London, I am going to leave this bed, and that will be the last you hear of me for a few months, as I shall have a fourth on hand to go with the three I've already produced. (Really, what was I thinking? Oh! That your son is so handsome and funny. Never  mind. . . It's a girl's weakness.) I am handing the letter over to Reggie, as the Navy is not keeping him that busy this summer. He will forward it to me from Hawaii, and I will act as final editor and perhaps comment on the particular delicates. (For example, it is not true that Fat Chow aimed for the eye. He used that compact parachutist's carbine we procured in '43, and the power of the rifle cartridge popped the man's eye out, he tells me. Although I suspect that he's not averse to it adding to its legend, and I am certainly not looking at monocles for the next time he drives me up to see the Engineer! 

So there we have it, a long-delayed message about the dangers of crossing our family, but unfortunately muddled, as we can hardly stop Italian men of respect from taking credit for it.) And speaking of long-delayed family business, I suppose I should mention that the Engineer's bastard is now the president of his union. He may not be able to make money doing the job, but I have a feeling that he will find a way to make a career out of representing those who can.



"GRACE."

A reimagined Forties novelty song, in honour of this post's technological Next Big Thing --Silly Putty. I'm not sure I like the video. I'm working on the principle that I might as well give a living artist the exposure. If you want to hear something closer to the original "'m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch," go here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

God Speed the Plough! Recapping Two Collapses of Complex Society in Light of Planting and Hoarding


Lotus bread; Or, actually, a raw bread made with oat flour, sunflower meal, hemp and chia seeds as well as lotus root.  Recipe at Shokuikuaustralia (Current website for Melbourne raw food enthusiasts.)

First off, apologies all around, because Nymphaea caerula, the blue lotus, one of the three species present in the Nile, contains " [an] aporphine having activity as a non-selective dopamine agonist," and it is a controlled substance in the Baltic states. That being said, some people get high by chewing an entire sheet of Zantac, and I kind of doubt that the Early Iron Age had a blue-lotus-related public health emergency going on.

It most certainly did have a problem with people who were tempted to take off into the marshes and get away from it all.

"A happy day, as we go down to the water-meadow
As we snare birds and catch many fish in Two-Waters [Fayum]
And the catcher and the harpooner come to us
As we draw the nets full of fowl
We moor our skiff at the thicket
And put offerings on the fire For Sobek, Lord of the Lake"
. . . I would do as my heart desires
When the country was my town
When the top of the water-meadow was my dwelling
No one could part me from the people my desires and from my friends
I would spend the day in the place of my longing
In the . . and the papyrus clumps
When it was dawn, I would have a snack
And be far away, walking in the place of my heart [Fragment of a New Kingdom poem; quoted in part from Blouin, trans. Parkinson, 1998, but lifted from here; reconstruction indications omitted] 


These are thoughts related to last week's inadvertently meaty post, thanks to Katherine Blouin, who has given us so much to think about. So it's good that I need to get a low-effort post out of the way. (Work on the postblogging posts will coincide with a trip to 100 Mile House for my youngest niece's elementary school graduation. Go Aly!)

The collapse of complex societies used to be big! With drama! Cities left to ruin; economies transformed, technologies changed. None of this dragging-out "secular stagnation" thing for the Ancients, no sir! Lay yourself down a nice "destruction/dark earth" layer, and go off and live in the mountains or the swamp or wherever. 

With some exceptions: Egypt made it through the Late Bronze Age Collapse and the Fall of the Roman Empire well enough. It looks as though the country was uniquely suited to complex society (no need to spell out why, I suppose). It didn't go entirely unscathed, however. Egyptologists divide the Ancient Egyptian past into three periods of high monarchy, and three "Intermediate Periods," although, as the maths of group theory will suggest, one of those Intermediate periods can't have been Intermediate. (The trick is that we don't count the Persian-Ptolemaic-Roman interlude as an Egyptian monarchy; so the Third Intermediate can also be the last period --unless we throw in a brief phase of Egyptian revival in the Classical Period, as we can if we want, for we are licensed historians. 

What made Egypt special, in comparison with, say Roman Britain? My conclusions probably aren't worth the electrons they're written on, but the evidence I rely on is building up, and really ought to be accounted for in a good theory.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Lotus Eaters: Flights and Fragments of the Year 251

Rubens, Consacration of Decius Mus
As the story goes, Publius Decius Mus, consul for 340 BC, was so eager for victory over the Sabines in battle that he consacrated ("dedicated/devoted himself") to the Dii Manes and the Earth.  His life was then duly exacted on the battlefield by the chthonic gods of earth, which seems like a bit of a cheat in terms of assessing the sincerity of his commitment, but at least meant that the gods didn't have to worry about organising a re-battle. This was deemed to be a sufficiently edifying example of old Roman patriotism that it passed Livy's not very high critical standards for choosing old family stories for the History of Rome. Or, he made it up at the behest of his boss, Augustus, as part of the first emperor's programmed of religious reforms disguised as restorations. This seems less likely, but, either way, those old Romans were weird.

The relevance here is that Trajan Decius was Emperor from 249 to 251, and died in battle with an army of Goths invading Rome's Balkan provinces in the last year. This was the first time that a Roman emperor died in a losing battle with a 'barbarian' enemy. It's hard to emphasise just what a cataclysmic event this was. Back in the day chief executives fought battles, they rarely lost, and even more rarely died. Skillful handlers knew how to choose battles, and when to bundle the boss off the field.

On the other hand, what do you do with a chief executive you can't handle? You might notice a big caveat to my generalisation, above. In old English and more recent Moghul civil wars, the losing king pretty much always died. I'm going to suggest that that is because there was a different political dynamic at work in which death-in-battle was part of the succession process, and those handlers stood ready at hand to facilitate the unfolding of political life.
Game of Thrones hasn't yet given us a scene of summary murder on the battlefield, probably because it's anticlimactic, and wild dogs devouring infants has a higher Q rating. 

Exactly that has been inferred about Decius' death.

Thanks to the recent publication of additional restored fragments of a history of the period, we are now positioned for another dive into the moment. A couple of additional pages of the history of an entire empire over a generation are transformative!

It's a little eye-raising that it's still hard to establish who was emperor when in the middle of the Third Century, when we also know the ownership and use of long lists of farms in the districts of the Mendesian theme of the Province of Egypt at the turn of the Fourth Century, about fifty years later. It is true that this has a great deal to do with accidents of survival; but here's the thing. Historians use what they have, not what they wish they had, or what they make up. In a ground-breaking recent study, Katherine Blouin has used papyrus documents from a fiscal archive in that theme to reconstruct a significant juncture of rebellion and social collapse in the northeastern corner of the "triangular landscape" of the Nile delta in a way that might shed some light on the crisis of 250.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Postblogging Technology, April 1947, II: Pluperfect Hell


R_.C.
Oriental Club,
London,
England

Dear Father:

I hope that I find you well. You find me perfectly, perfectly well, because I am wrapped up in a cocoon like the tiniest caterpillar, about to burst . . . Well, men never want to hear about that, and I do not think that you are the one to start. I would share all the news of the extended family with you, but there is a telephone strike on. (Imagine me making my fiercest face.) James somehow avoided being involved in a Gangland shooting in Los Angeles, as it turns out that Uncle Henry's mysterious benefactor at the dam is the same man he fingered for extortion, and the bad blood between them has resumed. He has even become so reckless as to have a Hearst man beaten up for Uncle's friend's colleague. Wong Lee is flying east to seek permission, after which this thing will be resolved once and for all. 

You should see the doll that James brought back from Los Angeles --Not really a doll at all, or, rather, more of a three-dimensional paper doll than anything else. Of course, the attraction is obvious, since once you sell the doll, you can go on selling little doll outfits indefinitely! Very intriguing. . . 


"GRACE."


Already released, even if it won't hit the top of the charts until August

A wish for long life in peach blossom time.

[NSFW Warning: I've included a picture of the Grace Moore crash scene, complete with burned bodies, that I took from Life today, because I think that it's an interesting historical fact that it could be printed, and because it gives a little perspective to the "drop off in air passengers." It's about two thirds of the way down and small, if you want to scroll past it.]

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Postblogging Technology, April 1947, I: Britain's Through




R_.C._,
The Oriental Club,
London,
England

Dear Father:


Thank you so very much for the parcel of books. I am now quite reconciled to another five weeks of bed rest, she lied unconvincingly. The Wang Yang-ming, in particular, is gorgeous, and I cannot believe that you found it on sale in London. (Although Liz-Liz has her eye on it, so I must be vigilant in "preserving antiquity" against a three year-old's ever grubby fingers. ) 

As regards business, you will have heard that the New York price of silver is up on London demand. This is because most of the silver being moved in London for non-industrial purposes is ostensibly going to India, and that little Belgian stunt shows just how much money can be made that way, so I suppose that I should strike through the "ostensibly." Or not. Perhaps it is just feminine caution, but I don't think that we should be calculating on the price differential to hold. I am sure that we are not the only ones to have seized on silver as a way of moving money out of England and into the hard money countries.

It turns out that arrangements for showing your expert around were quite easy to make, as "Miss V.C." is eager to spend the summer on the coast, and thinks that she can fit a tour of ancestral locations into a search for good pulp-milling sites readily enough. I told her that Nootka is not likely to be a good location on account of water supply, but she points out that there are fast rivers running into all of the bays and inlets around the island that fit your ideal description. 

This will place most of the younger generation on the old sealing triangle, with your son on Hawaii and Tommy Wong on detached duty on a radio survey mission for a potential radar network across Canada,   

To round off this survey of your nearest and dearest, I am pleased to report that we are now using the iron lung only two or three times a week, less pleased to report that James has been persuaded to take a tour of Fontana next week while he is the south to meet with the principals of AiResearch and to seek out a doll that your grand-daughter absolutely must have. Uncle Henry will be there with a "very important client," and he has been uncharacteristically restrained about the identity of this mysterious benefactor of his business. I hope that we are not in the way of getting another "opportunity" to invest in West Coast steel!




"GRACE."

Rescue workers preparing to enter 5 Shaft, Centralia, Illinois, 25 March 1947


Saturday, May 20, 2017

Looking Back at the Siege of Britain, I:Small Boats, Small Ports, Small Coals

"Tree-"class minesweeper HMS Bronington, lying derelict in the Mersey
This post should be "Postblogging Technology, April 1947, I;" but my rotation off night shift was marked by a spell of 11 days working out of 13 (some of them in particularly grueling duties), and I was not feeling the motivation over my last two days off. Arguably, I should have just shook it off

Maybe this will help. Although a weekend in might help more.
but that's not how fatigue works. On the other, hand, I did do some things with my weekend, and while I am perhaps reading too much into my random consumption of popular culture.
The backer's-only "O-Chul" story dropped on Monday night. 

it might be that the time has come for a meditation on fatigue, responsibility, especially managerial responsibility, and diligence. 

World War II's longest and most grinding campaign was Grand Admirals Raeder and Doenitz's attempt to choke off the domestic economy of the United Kingdom by the somewhat indirect expedient of stopping the rest of the (free) world, and, ultimately, they were defeated by the world's middle managers, at a terrific cost paid, above all, by the people of Bengal. HMS Bronington, meanwhile, turns out to have a bit of history, having been the WWII-era minesweeper chosen as the Prince of Wales' command in 1976.  While the flaws of Prince Charles' character do not strike me as falling along the axis of irresponsibility, I can think of other leaders and potential leaders of the Free World who might have benefited from a youthful spell in command of a fishing troller.


Friday, May 12, 2017

God Speed the Plough: Swords Into Ploughshares

Because Superman is based on Moses, and Thor is based on, well, Thor. 
At his Temple of A Million Years at Medinet Habu, Ramesses III (r. 1186--1155 BC) celebrates his victory over an enemy who comes from the midst of the sea. No further details are necessary here, since this isn't a discussion of the Late Bronze Age Collapse. What matters here is that some of them appear to be wearing horned helmets.

This isn't a post about Vikings, either. It isn't even about Gaston Maspero, the Paris-born son of Jews of Italian origin, who, after a youth spend assisting a wealthy dilettante seeking the Aryan roots of Peruvian Indian languages, went on to be the long-lasting Director of Antiquities in Egypt and the author of multi-volume histories of the ancient Near East, as well as of an 1881 article that popularised the idea that there existed such a thing as the "Sea Peoples." It's not even about the regional conflicts in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century France about which Maspero was so clearly actually writing. ("Vikings" are "Normans," and there's a big to-do about there being Normans in northern France and not southern France, which shows that the south's relative economic backwardness isn't about policy favouring the north, but rather about race.)

It's about ploughs.



They  had image scraping in 1947, too! I'm sure that this is the Country Life in question. The image comes from F. G. Payne's 1947 article in The Archaeological Journal, "The Plough in Ancient Britain," which is widely available on the Interwebs as a pdf, not that has helped in the slightest.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Technical Appendix: Apollonian Days

I was going to go with "Apollonian Days of Future Past," but too wordy. I'm still going to keep the image of Old Wolverine getting barbecued, even though I'd need to write an essay in this block to explain why. Source
I'm referring to the Armstrong Whitworth Apollo. Two weeks ago, I thought, "Well, before I make a joke about the way that its original name (the Avon) poaches the Rolls Royce "River" theme, I should find out when the Avon [1947/8, as it happens] appeared --and, for that matter, when the themed naming schemes of postwar British engines were finalised." It turns out that naming a plane "the Avon" was perfectly fine in 1947; and, in any event, the plane's name was changed to the "Apollo" well before Armstrong Whitworth slunk away in shame from the "turboprop feeder airliner" market in 1951, leaving this mess on Farnborough airfield for someone else to clean up.

By RuthAS - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34744239
Before I disappear up my own ass, here's my argument and conclusions:

Given that the United Kingdom had bombed out the only viable competition [which is a story about the American engineering industry that hasn't been well told], there was room for its aviation industry to take advantage of first mover advantage and get an effective monopoly on each of the three main types of commercial gas-turbine engines: the turbojet, turboprop, and turbofan. When I started bouncing around after the full story of the Armstrong Whitworth Apollo, I thought I knew the results of this fleeting advantage. It was thrown away in the case of the turbojet,  seized with impressive sales results in the case of the turboprop, and irrelevant in the case of the turbofan, which came after the British lead had evaporated.

This goes to show how little I know about the subject. In my defence, this is a "technical appendix," that is, a hypothesis about an aspect of the history of technology that surprised me as much as I hoped it will you, and which we should keep an eye on as the postblogging series continues.

The inquiry turned up a planned military transport version of the Vickers Valiant, and a proposed commercial variant. The variant, the Vickers VC7, would have been powered by the first viable turbofan engine, the Rolls-Royce Conway. This would have made it the first turbofan commercial airliner by at least a year or two, but it was cancelled in 1955. Questions were asked in Parliament, and the received opinion discovers a "political decision" entangled in the earlier developments. Maybe it's the last moment when the British aviation industry could have been saved. Maybe not.

What can be said is that this brings the British aviation industry's grade down from a gentleman's D (pity marks for the Comet), to a clear fail. It's to be sent down to find a job in the City, where it can laugh at those poor, mucky manufacturers up at least through to Brexit.

So: Is there a profound lesson here about technology policy? Brendan Flynn thinks so. Arguing with someone named "Professor Geels," who has a sociology-of-science explanation about research sites and networks, Flynn proposes that the missing ingredient is state funding. Can Rachel Summers send Kitty Pryde's mind back to the 1980s to put everything right with the one crucial bit of information that a bit more Keynsianism is needed?

 Is this an accurate picture? At this point, who knows?  I'll state it affirmatively, but with mental reservations. I'm really just laying out a programme of research.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Very Brief and Non-Technical Appendix About Then and Now

Something I read this afternoon, slightly edited..

"Economists are very worried about the decline in labor’s share of U.S. national income... https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-04-24/cracking-the-mystery-of-labor-s-falling-share-of-gdp...For decades, macroeconomic models assumed that labor and capital took home roughly constant portions of output—labor got just a bit less than two-thirds of the pie, capital slightly more than one-third. Nowadays it’s more like 60-40. Economists are therefore scrambling to explain the change. There are, by my count, now four main potential explanations for the mysterious slide in labor's share. These are: 1) China, 2) robots, 3) monopolies and 4) landlords..."
There is, in my view, a fifth—and a much more likely—possibility: the low-pressure economy.

"Rob said...I don't really understand this explanation.There certainly seems to be a secular trend as well as a cyclical effect. Brad's explanation for the secular trend is what? That we've actually been in recession since 2000? That we need inflationary booms to "reset" labour's share? That labour's share is related to inflation in a non-expectations-adjusted way?"
And something that seems relevant.









Postblogging Technology, March 1947, II: The Only Bad Publicity



R_.C_.,
Oriental Club,
London, England.

Dear Father:

I  expected to find you haunting the Reform Club with your cousin. Or perhaps the Royal Air Force Club; but I should have known. Have you kept a membership these long years? Uncle George is always grumbling about keeping up his club fees. Or are you the guest of someone even more adventurous than yourself?

I'm sorry. I'm sure there'll be a story when you get back. I'd tell you of exciting developments here in Santa Clara, but there are none! I'm flat on my back, your youngest is a fortress of solitude far away in Massachusetts as he writes final exams --as is "Miss V. C," who is keeping close to her digs at Stanford, except when she is up to San Francisco to borrow a telephone. (I wonder who she is calling that she needs to use the Chow's line? And, yes, I know what you will say, but you are wrong.)



Fanny is helping Teddy Tso study, I suspect --depending on how you define studying, of course. Vickie, I am persuaded, is improving slowly under professional care, and James is fluttering about trying to make sure that I stay in bed. Bill and David have been up to talk about something about air traffic control that they are feeling out with the Air Force. While it has little money to send their way, it has plenty of inspiration. One of the problems with ground control of aircraft is that you have all of this radio information streaming in, and operators can only look at so much at one time. If only there were a way to store it all, a very youthful Colonel says to them. "Well, actually," they say. . .

We'll see what comes of that. In the mean time, best of luck in England, and I hope that I see you before. . . 



"GRACE."

PS: Only please, for my sake, come back by liner, and persuade your cousin to do the same!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Further to the Last: New Light, Not Necessarily On The Converting Sacrament

Lameen and Graydon have been bugging me for years to subject my crackpot hypothesis to DNA testing. It may seem like I've been ignoring them, but, in reality, I've been creating elaborate counterarguments in my head, which I would have talked about already were it not for Windows doing a forever update while I lounged around in pyjamas on my Surface. (It's a day off, first of seven. What can I say? Pizza later.)

In retrospect, my time might have been better spent watching the latest episode of Agents of Shield than spinning my theories in my head. Say what you want about Hydra, but they're damn good DNA testers. 



Test this. (The model isn't credited, except presumably on an expired American Apparel page, but the cropped top is Raglan Jaquard.)
Eric Durand, J. Michael Macpherson, David Reich and Joanna L. Mountain are also good genetic testers. But, first, let's look at something cool.

The last column is because this is about a Skeptical Inquirer article about ancient Canaanites being maybe the ancestors of modern native North Americans. Oh, those wacky Mormons. 

The X2a bands show that there's room for future discoveries. We wouldn't even know that there was an X sub-haplogroup present in aboriginal American populations from the Mound City samples alone. That said, we have a pretty solid overall profile of the mitochondrial DNA picture of pre-contact Eastern Woodland Indian populations, thanks to the Hopewell horizon's enthusiastic bone-gathering. This is important, because genetic genealogists trace regional ancestry through three major inputs: autosomal DNA, present in X chromosomes; Y DNA, which is passed purely through the father's line; and mitochondrial DNA, the most recent and most exciting discovery, and present only in the ovum, and thus passed exclusively matrilinearlly.  Of these, autosomal DNA loses Native American flavour after six generations, while Y DNA mutates so slowly that half of Native Y DNA is shared with common ancestors who spread into northern Asia and Europe two Ice Ages back. So if you are looking for Native ancestors in commercial DNA testing, as many people at my stage of life are, it's pretty much mitochondrial DNA you need to look at, and, subject to new research, if you have a Cherokee great-grandmother, you can only prove it genetically by testing with X2a, D, C, B or A haplogroups.  

That being said, I'm a complete amateur at everything but history of science (humblebrag appeal to authority!), so let's look at the testing.

"We find that many self-reported European Americans, predominantly those living west of the Mississippi River, carry Native American ancestry (Figure 3B). We estimate that European Americans who carry at least 2% Native American ancestry are found most frequently in Louisiana, North Dakota, and other states in the West. Using a less stringent threshold of 1%, our estimates suggest that as many as 8% of individuals from Louisiana and upward of 3% of individuals from some states in the West and Southwest carry Native American ancestry. . ."
For African Americans,

[T]he frequency of European American individuals who carry African ancestry varies strongly by state and region of the US (Figure 3A). We estimate that a substantial fraction, at least 1.4%, of self-reported European Americans in the US carry at least 2% African ancestry. Using a less conservative threshold, approximately 3.5% of European Americans have 1% or more African ancestry (Figure S8). Individuals with African ancestry are found at much higher frequencies in states in the South than in other parts of the US: about 5% of self-reported European Americans living in South Carolina and Louisiana have at least 2% African ancestry. Lowering the threshold to at least 1% African ancestry (potentially arising from one African genealogical ancestor within the last 11 generations), European Americans with African ancestry comprise as much as 12% of European Americans from Louisiana and South Carolina and about 1 in 10 individuals in other parts of the South (Figure S8).
Most individuals who have less than 28% African ancestry identify as European American, rather than as African American (Figures 4 and 5A ). Logistic regression of self-identified European Americans and African Americans reveals that the proportion of African ancestry predicts self-reported ancestry significantly, with a coefficient of 20.1 (95% CI: 18.0–22.2) (Table S6 and Figure S9).
The hotlinks don't go to the images, but they do tell you where to find the figures in the article, so I'm keeping them.
And the ancestral connections are sex-biased:

Fitting a model of European and Native American admixture followed later by African admixture, we find the best fit with initial Native American and European admixture about 12 generations ago and subsequent African gene flow about 4 generations ago.
Non-European ancestry in European Americans follows a sex bias in admixture contributions from males and females, as seen in African Americans and Latinos. The ratio between X chromosome and genome-wide Native American ancestry estimates in European Americans shows greater Native American female and higher European male ancestry contributions (Tables 1 and S4). Though we do not observe evidence of a sex bias in African ancestry contributions in European Americans overall, analysis of only those individuals with at least 1% African ancestry reveals 15% higher African ancestry on the X chromosome relative to genome-wide estimates (p value 0.013). This increase suggests female-African and male-European sex bias in European Americans that follows the same direction as in African Americans and Latinos, with greater male European and female African and Native American contributions.
And, of course
We find very low levels of African and Native American ancestry in Europeans with four grandparents born in Europe. We estimate that only 0.98% of Europeans carry African ancestry and 0.26% of Europeans carry Native American ancestry. These levels are substantially lower than the 3.5% and 2.7% of European Americans who carry African and Native American ancestry, respectively.
Finally,
Our results provide empirical support that, over recent centuries, many individuals with partial African and Native American ancestry have “passed” into the white community,79, 80 with multiple lines of evidence establishing African and Native American ancestry in self-reported European Americans (see Subjects and Methods). Though the majority of European Americans in our study did not carry Native American or African ancestry, even a small proportion of this large population that carry non-European ancestry translates into millions of European Americans who carry African and Native American ancestry. Our results suggest that the early US history, beginning in the 17th century (around 12 generations ago), might have been a time of many population interactions resulting in admixture.

So there you go. I'm not completely crazy.