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.