Friday, December 15, 2017

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging, October, II, with Segue to the Early Iron Age Rebirth of the State: Axial Compressors, Smelting and Bullion

In October of 1947, the owners of one of the first industrial axial compressors ever built, donated it to the Science Museum, Kensington, London. After a long and honourable career smelting lead, beginning in 1909, it would have an afterlife enlightening museum visitors on, uhm, axial compressing. 

 This is another axial compressor application, the Bristol Olympus, as used in the Avro Vulcan V and the Aerospatiale Concorde :

CC BY-SA 3.0,
If, like me, you waste valuable morning writing hours dallying on the Internet, you may have encountered Stumbling and Mumbling's discussion of "technological regress," the opposite of technological progress. It uses the Concorde as one example of this regress. You may have also encountered the commentators arguing that it isn't really technological regress, since Concorde was expensive, and now flying is cheap. This, of course, would be a perfectly plausible argument were the Olympus and Concorde incapable of improvement. Which I guess they are! Certainly, we can't afford the R&D and capital investment effort to improve them, so we'll have to settle for being able to use our personal entertainment centre during our twenty hour flights to Asia.

At risk of indulging my worst habits of digression and irrelevance, I want to quote now from a forgettable space opera by the high-powered 50s duo of Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, called Search the Sky. It's up at Project Gutenberg if you want to read the rest of it. 
Ross stood on the traders’ ramp, overlooking the Yards, and the word kept bobbing to the top of his mind.
. . . .
About all of Halsey’s Planet there was the imperceptible reek of decay. The clean, big, bustling, efficient spaceport only made the sensation stronger. From where he stood on the height of the Ramp, he could see the Yards, the spires of Halsey City ten kilometers away—and the tumble-down gray acres of Ghost Town between.
Ross wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t a man given to brooding, but the scent of decay had saturated his nostrils that morning. He had tossed and turned all the night, wrestling with a decision. And he had got up early, so early that the only thing that made sense was to walk to work.
And that meant walking through Ghost Town. He hadn’t done that in a long time, not since childhood. Ghost Town was a wonderful place to play. “Tag,” “Follow My Fuehrer,” “Senators and President”—all the ancient games took on new life when you could dodge and turn among crumbling ruins, dart down unmarked lanes, gallop through sagging shacks where you might stir out a screeching, unexpected recluse.
But it was clear that—in the fifteen years between childhood games and a troubled man’s walk to work—Ghost Town had grown.
2Everybody knew that! Ask the right specialists, and they’d tell you how much and how fast. An acre a year, a street a month, a block a week, the specialists would twinkle at you, convinced that the acre, street, block was under control, since they could measure it.
Ask the right specialists and they would tell you why it was happening. One answer per specialist, with an ironclad guarantee that there would be no overlapping of replies. “A purely psychological phenomenon, Mr. Ross. A vibration of the pendulum toward greater municipal compactness, a huddling, a mature recognition of the facts of interdependence, basically a step forward....”
“A purely biological phenomenon, Mr. Ross. Falling birth rate due to biochemical deficiency of trace elements processed out of our planetary diet. Fortunately the situation has been recognized in time and my bill before the Chamber will provide....”
“A purely technological problem, Mr. Ross. Maintenance of a sprawling city is inevitably less efficient than that of a compact unit. Inevitably there has been a drift back to the central areas and the convenience of air-conditioned walkways, winterized plazas....”
Yes. It was a purely psychological-biological-technological-educational-demographic problem, and it was basically a step forward.
Ross wondered how many Ghost Towns lay corpselike on the surface of Halsey’s Planet. Decay, he thought. Decay.
But it had nothing to do with his problem, the problem that had kept him awake all the night, the problem that blighted the view before him now
I have no idea where Pohl and Kornbluth stole the nightmare of the abandoned blocks of the Ghost Town of Halsey City from, although Fortune's big, wartime articles on "urban blight" come to mind, ahead of the expressways and housing projects that, as it turns out, made it all worse. It's the special miracle of juvenile readings that they stick with you for life, and I am often reminded of the glib specialists of Halsey's Planets when I read that:

 "Concorde was never the future. It was always the last gasp of an outdated conception of blue-riband travel reserved for the elite (which lives on in the space travel dreams of Branson and Musk). Progress in aviation has meant democratisation - more people being able to fly - which has required significant technological progress, just not the sort focused on raw speed or "elegance". 
(Although the rest of his points have merit.)

I am also reminded that there is nothing more normal than for an archaic state to fail. The extraordinary thing about the Late Bronze Age failure of the state and the /Early Iron Age revival, is that the state roared back with a vengeance, on the strength of a dazzling array of innovations. Until I am persuaded otherwise, I am taking iron, and the related/necessary exploitation of temperate, wet forestland, as the key innovation, but that is not the one I am talking about today!  

Archaic Corinthian stater, so old that it spells the city's name with a "Q," as they did back in the day. That is, key point, well before the electrum Lydian issue of Alyattes II that still gets pride of place as the "first" coinage.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Postblogging Technology, October 1947, II: Queen of the Seas

R_. C_.,

Dear Sir:

I've sent along a thank you note through the post, but I that's not enough for such a beautiful present. Vivian and Carole almost died with jealousy when I tried it on for them, not that I noticed such things! If I were not the best dressed girl on campus before, well. . . .

I should also thank you for the chance to wear it out! I doubt A. could have got us invitations there. I don't know what it says that you can be in San Francisco for my 21st, and my parents can't! But you have already heard me out so patiently that I won't bother you again. Nor will I bother you again about what you talked about with A. after dinner. Spy stuff? Don't worry about talking in front of me, I am very discrete, and have almost no friends named Ivan or Katyusha!

Further on spy stuff, Mrs. C. is upset that she has been called back part-time to cover wiretaps of a certain unnamed "institution that is concerned with Pacific affairs at a university whose nickname starts with B." I do not think she is committed in her heart to official secrecy, not that I blame her given that she is being torn away from her baby to type out banal, English conversations. At least, she says, they could find a Russian or Chinese spy to spy back on.

If they have any, she adds, glaring at A. My fiancĂ© shrugs his shoulders at that, and just says, "Washington." No one cares about it now, but if the President's rise in the polls continues through next November, expect to see this stuff back in the news, he says.  

Yrs Sincerely,

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, III: Folk of Bronze and Iron

Kaywoodie Pipes, by S. P. Franks. This link has more details, at least as long as it lasts.
Call this an evidence-marshalling post, collecting up material that will eventually be given a more coherent form in a recap post in, oh, say, 2020, along with any of my wild conjectures that do not turn out to be  hopelessly extravagant and ill-informed. (The others will be silently forgotten, of course.)

Also, call it a concession to reality: there's no way I'm getting my last techblogging post for November ready this week. Evidence-marshalling requires a light editorial hand, so this will be a brief exercise, after which I should be back at sea in no time! 
Before I go, all cryptic-like, below the fold, the evidence here will be archaeological, except insofar as I engage with an extremely bold essay on the Iguvine Tablets by John Wilkins in Malone and Stoddart, eds., Territory, Time and State. Thus this will be a discussion of sites rather than sweeping conclusions, except insofar as I succumb to the temptation to find and highlight evidence to support my notions. And, of course, since he so boldly goes out on so many limbs, of  

The three associated Final Bronze Age sites of Frattesina di Rovigo, Mariconda and Montagnana in Venetia;
The "establishment" at Mailhac in Aude (pdf);
The "proto-historic oppidum" of Roque-de-Viou;
The alpine valley of Gubbio in Umbria, Italy, which last is documented in the already-cited collection, so no convenient links. 

Also, setting himself on fire in public doesn't seem to have attracted the world's attention to Dr. Wilkins, so no handy link there.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Postblogging Technology, October 1947, I: The Farmer Feeds Them All

R_. C_.

Dearest Uncle:

You write to ask how I am settling in here in the Tall Trees, and to inquire after my fiance. I'm sure that you've heard that A. was in town to escort me at Homecoming, and make a show for my friends: the tall and handsome, red-headed Navy hero turned international man of mystery and all, but then the tipped punch bowl told the story of the same old A., however. I'm afraid that I stormed off in some anger and left poor B. to help him clean up. 

B., if you were wondering, was in town because she and I  went up to San Francisco for some shopping earlier in the day. The Lincoln is acting up, and so I was most grateful for the ride. We met Mrs. C. and had quite an enjoyable afternoon doing girl's stuff, before she had to dash home to relieve the babysitter. Queenie wasn't up for joining us, but we had lunch with her in Chinatown.

DIM SUM! How could I live to see "21," and not know about this? In my family! Who is responsible for this horrible neglect? Who? Then, as is my all-too common habit, I dashed into the "morgue" far too close to closing, so I can't be sure there is an obituary I didn't find, but "Puter" is not a common name. Now I wonder where else I should look. Oregon? Canada?

Yours Sincerely,

P.S. Just heard about Reggie being invited to the course at London! So exciting! I've asked him not to fly over --New Years is just far too late in the year for Atlantic flying-- but it wouldn't hurt for him to hear it from his father, as well.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, II: How Far Can We Go? Collapses and Populations

This material largely revisits earlier discussions, but if I restate, I hope that I do so more clearly, and lay down the cards upon which I hope to win the hand.

Struggling with a labour shortage is not a new thing for my employer, but the last time was before the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and I do not recall it being anything like so bad. We were having problems finding cashiers, then, and "not enough cashiers" is a very, very different problem from not having the staff to open departments. So, even though last week's post was motivated by a probe of the old soap making industry that led from glycerine recovery boilers to the potash and soda trades, it was the idea of talking about  the Early Iron Age recovery from the Late Bronze Age Collapse that inspired me to take a hand. On the one hand, if "secular stagnation" is a recurrent phenomena, perhaps something that happened repeatedly in the earliest states on very short timeframes, as James Scott and Norman Yoffee have argued, then there is something to be said for interrogating past episodes of recovery.

This is a particularly interesting episode. Historiography has never been entirely comfortable with a clean slate beginning, even if it has to elide into cosmogony. So even though we might think that we are to be left with archaeology, there is always some kind of accounting, and this is particularly true, and particularly interesting, for the Early Iron Age.

From Dido and Aeneas: A Choreographic Opera: The art credits "Reuben Willcox, Virgis Puodziunas, Michal Mualem," which is interesting, considering that they're all boys, and I think I see a girl, something I'm actually fairly good at doing, male gaze and all that. (On the basis of the IMDB credits, I think she might be Clementine Deluy?)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Soap, Ash and Hope Chests: The Iron Age Revival of the State

It was, perhaps, just before Year 1 of the New Era of Ramesses XI, the age of the Whm Mswt, the Era of the Renaissance, that the foreigner, Nessamun, cozened a few gullible masons into joining him in breaking into the tomb of Ramesses VI and removing a cauldron of bronze and three bronze washing bowls. I say "perhaps," because it is likely that the trial was the cause celebre leading to the purges that lie behind the New Era. It certainly wasn't about protecting the tombs, which would be systematically opened and their goods removed, with the sacred mummies deposited in the Deir el-Bahri cache, along with an apology so unctuous that clarified butter would not melt in its mouth. 

When a civil war needs to be funded, piety has to take a back seat; and a civil war that has no end, has no resolution, because there is no state to resolve it. Not until Adad-nirani succeeded to the throne of his father in 911BC did a state arise to trouble the nucleated, strong-man ruled cities of the Middle East, each with their vague spheres of influence. I do not doubt that I am putting things too strongly, but it does remain the case that for two and almost three centuries, human society in the Mediterranean basin had done without the states that had arisen in the Late Bronze Age to make war and diplomacy against each other. I also do not doubt that this stateless era was something short of a paradise.

I do, however, know that I am going in this afternoon to work the third of eight shifts in a row at a grocery store that can no longer open its produce department with its own staff during vacation weeks. Nor can I complain about my shift to a manager who is called in during her own vacations. Since this is a grocery store situated square at the University of British Columbia's gates, and dependent on student labour for decades, I would be inclined to point a finger at my alma mater's deceptive enrollment practices, were it not for hearing the same complaints from Control Temp people and the Frito-Lay sales rep. Either we find a catchy label to reconceptualise our times and make our problems go away, or we loot Pharaoh's tomb and call it a country. 

I'd strain at some kind of argument about how an era doesn't recognise its pyramids until they're pointed out by foreign tourists, but instead I'll just post another picture of the Vancouver School of Theology-turned-School-of-Economics. Even back in the day when I used to look at the back side of this place from my Gage Tower window, VST mainly subsisted as a residence hall for people kicked out of the official UBC system. Since they were usually disciplinary issues, living at what was ostensibly a theological college, the mind boggles, the more so since I actually knew some of them. Since I don't think that UBC Residences can afford to have disciplinary cases any more, it's understandable that the Administration would want VST off their land. The president's statement in the linked press release has the familiar tone of "we need a new asset portfolio as we moves into the not-actually-existing phase of our institutional existence," which is not an uncommon problem in these sad, latter days. On the other hand,  obviously the Economics Department deserves to hang out in a cathedral in the "theological area" of campus. Good God, guys. 

Or we could solve the problem. Given that that seems unpossible in this diminished day and age, it's look at one place where it was solved. Just to simplify things, and to use some reading I've done anyway, since the whole point of belabouring my work schedule is to rationalise a time-saving post, let's look at Provence, from the last third of the Eighth Century to the late Fifth. (730--480BC, more-or-less.)

That means that I'm cheating, inasmuch as there is no pre-existing state order in the area to reconstruct, but of course I'm cheating. This post is not going to get done if I linger. (Possible LBA/EIA proto-states in Provence: (1, 2, 3).

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Postblogging Technology, September 1947, II: Parthogenetic Drones

R_., C.,
Vancouver, Canada

Dearest Uncle:

I think Reggie told you that I was taking these letters over for the winter? He's off in far away Massama --Massachatus --Massassa --however you spell it! And he found these letters too much of a drag on his studies, whereas I'm flitting through the Moderns here at a junior college where they don't even give out degrees. (Kidding, and if you ever make fun of Stanford back to me, I may not be able to guarantee being a member of the gentle sex!) So I am on the job until May! I'd tell you all about my exciting life, but it would boil down to my fiance and I having a very tense meeting with my parents, followed by the red-eye back to San Francisco, followed by Wong Lee very kindly driving me down to campus so that I could take in my very first lecture of the second week of classes. French literature. By a pompous --Oh, I just could --Well, a proper girl doesn't use those words! So I haven't much to report on that score. This weekend, hopefully, I will have time to get up to the city and see everybody, and I will have a complete report on how everyone is doing for you next time!

Yours sincerely,


I've never liked the "Yours Sincerely" close because of the way that it implies the possibility that the writer is being insincere.