Monday, March 30, 2020

An Economic-Technological Appendix to Postblogging, Winter 1947: Shutdown

UBC Library is currently closed, 'cuz there's nothing that says social mingling and contagion like old books. The decision will be "revisited" on 8 April, and although I expect I know what the decision is going to be, I will wait before I take steps that I'll regret, such as subscribing to Aviation Week to get access to their online archives. 

That's if the apocalypse hasn't got me by then. Since a considerable number of my customers seem determined to keep on paying for bananas, the Sing Tao, and other random old person goods with small change hauled out of the crevasses of their outer wear (and probably can't pay any other way), that does remain a worrying possibility. At least, to this point, I don't have to worry about the other apocalypse, when people can't make rent in April, leaving the poor, honest rentier no alternative but to evict, foreclose, liquidate, and otherwise shut down our entire civilisation. You know. Just like what happened in China. 
Speaking of historical analogies, this is a historical blog, and I perhaps didn't give the total shutdown of the British economy in the winter of 1947 as much time as it deserves. That's especially true considering that it has largely gone down the memory hole. (Just like poor Edmundo Ros, then reigning supreme on the BBC's Third Programme.)



So the winter of 1947 was when the  British economy shut down (well, the "non-essential bits") to save coal. Depending on the particular business, the shutdown lasted for most of the month of February and into March. BBC television, for example, was off the air from 10 February 1947 to 11 March, while The Economist missed its 22 February and 1 March issues in perhaps the gravest blow to press freedom and English values since ever. (Says The Economist, which managed to get its point across in an insert in the Financial Times.
(Look! It's the economy not going!)

Thursday, March 26, 2020

An Epidemiological-Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, 1943--49: The Iron Lung

I'm not a medical kind of guy, so I've mostly stayed away from the human sciences side of things in these technological appendices. Although I do see, looking back, that I promised a Technnological Appendix on iron lungs at some point. When I did so, I had 2022 more in mind, but the pandemics of 2022 will have to take care of themselves.

Also, the doctors can't be entirely immune, if only because we've met so many awful, awful surgeons in the pages of the old Medicine sections. I'm going to have to hit the right balance between body horror and humour, but the various maniacs experimenting on maniacs deserve some notoriety. Especially when the guy who was treating polio by jackhammering kids wound up as a President of the Los Angeles AMA in later years. Again, though, it looks like I can wait and do a long, long checklist of doctors doing brain surgery on mental patients just because they can. (Or bisecting King George to relieve his stutter or possibly cold sweats, as they actually did.)

So. Iron lungs. Yes, they are a very technological solution to a very real epidemic. But there's more to it than that. I'm old enough to remember the detritus of the popular culture of the 1950s,. Joke books were a thing, and beside the still-acceptable "Polack jokes" and "dumb blonde jokes," there was a genre of "sick jokes" that included  "iron lungs." For a child of as early as 1964, the iron lung had become a mysterious phenomena of a forgotten age. The jokes, not so much.

 Hard as it is to imagine, even believe, in this modern age of the triumph of science, between 1952 polio had gone from a seasonal terror to a historical artefact. An age in which children still died of disease had ended, overnight. At which point it seems as though we decided that we could do without children, and thus this modern age of pandemics that kill the elderly.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, December 1949,II: Fun with Uranium


As we've been hearing, during a 1 November 1949 television interview about, ironically enough, the need for more atomic secrecy, Senator Edwin Johnson's 1 told the world that America was developing a "super bomb," a thousand times more powerful than an atom bomb. It's evidently not as big a deal as that time the junior Senator from Colorado called Ingrid Bergman a floozy on the floor of the Senate, but apparently he's the guy who set the world on the path to the hydrogen bomb. Although considering that he is also known for a statement that is very hard to interpret as anything other than a threat of pre-emptive atomic war, it's not a hundred percent clear to me that the Russians would have eschewed the pursuit of  megaton-range weapons even in the absence of IVY MIKE. 

There's also Robert Barker's Aspatron to consider. (I notice that I have him as "Parker" in my precis. I'd have to (shudder) reread the Engineering article to be sure whether the error is mine or the editor's although past experience suggests that it was me. The point is that the Popular Science blurb is much more lively and lucid than the  turgid Engineering piece, so I'm going with that one.)

The story of the Aspatron occasions the question: What, exactly, were people making of Johnson's comments between November and the official announcement of the H-bomb programme on 31 January?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Postblogging Technology,December 1949, II: Blue Christmas


(Swapped for "Blue Christmas" below, because I have a legit excuse to lead off with Lead Belly.)

R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy, Vancouver,
Canada.

Dear Father:

Once again I find myself writing a Christmas letter that, given the terror of First Year Law final exams, I'm more likely to be handing to you at the door as I stumble through!

Be gentle, and say nothing about my hair. NOTHING.

. . . Or so I said at the head in the long-ago time before Contracts final. (It's okay. I did fine, down in the mush middle of the "As," a little short of the high flyers, but good enough to probably make moot court.) 

Ahem. Allow me to dig myself out of multiple digressions and back to where I am. I started writing this letter way back on the 16th, pending the arrival of my subscriptions. And Contracts, next day. I was feeling a little self-conscious about my hair, but all ended well when Uncle George paid for an appointment on the 20th. I know I say that I don't like to take family charity, but I make an exception for new cars and my hair. 

St. Botolph. Fascinating. No word on central heating.
To continue this convoluted chronology that only some learned medieval  monk could unravel, I am writing this now, and bringing you up to date, on the train on the 23rd. Allowing that I pull into Pacific Station on time, you will have it in your hands by 7. HOWEVER, one of my magazines is bringing out an issue on the 30th. 

It is, of course, Engineering, which exists solely to crush my soul. I am PROPOSING to give it whatever brief due it is worth on my return to campus. I will send that, as an addendum, to you, by the start of classes. You will be charged with assembling the whole, reading it, if you are so inclined, and then forwarding it to the Earl. 

And now that I've explained all of that, Reggie's in the Pullman, so Merry New Year,  Jolly Epiphany, or whatever's right by the time you read this. 

Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie

(And that's how you deal with a contagious case of mumps)

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Postblogging Technology, December 1949, I: Down Canberra Way




R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada

Dear Father:


I am glad that this finds  you home in the heights above Quilchena Park, for you are venerable and past the day when you must be forged in the furnaces of academe into a LAWYER. 


Ahem. Sorry, that was a bit of a reach, but the Christmas issue of Fortune is a bit slight, to make room for the giant gift catalogue in the middle, but there's lots of nice Hudson Valley-related paintings reproduced in the middle under the title, "Painters of Industry," and the one of workers pulling a cannon out of a furnace is credibly "technological." 

Also, I am being FORGED right now by Contracts review. I think I am getting this! Your son continues to prepare to Occupy Taiwan, although he also has a very hush-hush job testing something he describes as "the cancer of the skies," which might have something to do with beating radar?

Mrs. C. sends her thanks for your kind gift.

Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie



Saturday, February 29, 2020

Postblogging Technology, November 1949, II: Atom Bombs, Radars and GREEN MACE

In November of 1949 we saw a bit of an "AA" renaissance. Wartime AA chief, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Pile (Bart)'s book-length version of his war's end communique, Ack-Ack; and American technocrat Vannevar Bush's Modern Arms and Free Men manage to make it into the back pages (sort of) of the periodicals we follow.

Our apologies to whatever second-rate archaeological dreck or wartime reminiscence that Time and Flight, respectively, would otherwise have covered. Thanks to that forebearance, we know that Pile was robustly enthusiastic about AA in the new nuclear age, whilst Vannevar Bush thought that it was actually now possible to defend against the nuclear terror weapon. While we're a long way from the Reagan-era high flowering of Star Wars, that day is perhaps peeping over the horizon. 

So it seems like a good week to stop and contemplate ABM, a sort of recurrent fever or  species of social contagion, not entirely unlike other moral and other panics that periodically infect us. 

This isn't to say that such things are entirely futile. Runaway cold virii sell a lot of garlic, ginger and onions, the green grocer knows, and vast schemes of antiballistic defence may produce electronic (and other) spin-offs.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Postblogging Technology, November 1949, II:



R_. C_.,
The Alexander Young Hotel,
Oahu,
Hawaii.

Dear Father:

Hopefully this reaches you before you leave Hawaii. Not that it is terribly critical. We welcomed Mrs. C. and Fat Chow's plane last Friday, and reclaimed their children from the Wongs. Heartwarming. I don't even mind being the only driver, on account of  the Wong's old Ford needing a new everything and Reggie's Jeep not being exactly suitable for toddlers. It's almost enough to make me think that James has a point about "practical" cars. 

On second thought, pish-posh. Dinner at the Tang Garden which has moved to the old Perfumed Garden's space across the street from the Benevolent Association, now that they've moved uptown. This meant that Wong Lee felt that he could join us. (Why, yes, I did get that lecture about being more careful myself. So glad you thought to ask!)

Sorry. But I've been hearing a lot of that kind of thing this "Horror Week," which, right now, I am putting behind me as we plan a Thanksgiving fit for our conquering heroes. I don't know. Does creating an American pipeline for Tibetan gold count as "conquering?" Well,, I don't care. As criminal enterprises go, it's a lot better than some of the business we could be involved in! 


Yours Sincerely,
Ronnie.