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. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, August 1947: The Science of Cozy

Because honestly, The Engineer: Who wants to hear about heating houses in August? Or a really hot, summery Vancouver September, for that matter.

Speaking of the month of school starts and new beginnings: September, 1945. "The last corner before home."

The "last corner" a returning veteran rounds before seeing his actual home, after all those long, weary weeks of travel back from Europe/Okinawa/practically anywhere on Earth.*

At the time this picture appeared, people were probably looking forward to the biggest and wildest American holiday season, ever. If so, they were disappointed. Retail spending numbers were good, but the story was one of silence: houses bright and warm, but for family, not wassail. Maybe it was the suffering experienced by so much of the rest of the planet that put a damper on the festivities.

Maybe it is just a perception born of the first signs of the post-cost-plus advertising crunch. What I'm going for in this introduction is the idea that Thanksgiving and Christmas '45 were intensely private, bourgeois affairs: a moment to gather around a hot stove and bridge those lost Best Years of Our Lives. Private --and warm.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Postblogging Technnology, September 1947: Drilling Sideways

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

Dear Dad:

I hope that you're not too surprised to get this addressed from Hawaii, although it looks like I'll be putting a Denver postmark on it, as I'm not going to be done with Fortune much before then. 

The reason is that I was kept late to do some silly experiments with rockets on water skis that I think might be going on the Navy's answer to the Saro SR.A/1. As for why the Navy needs an answer to the Saro SR.A/1, maybe they're tired of all the "dashes" in the plane names and want to try a slanty slash? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Fortunately, it counts as class credit or something, and all I have to worry about now is missing the first four(!) partial differential equation lectures. I've looked at the textbook (when I'm not looking at a fascinating article about tapping the oil reserves of shalebeds by drilling into them horizontally), and it looks like I'm going to regret this b.s.

If you're wondering why I'm missing four lectures in the first week of classes, it is because I am changing trains so that I can drop off a package with V.N., who will be taking over these letters for the school year so that I can focus on mystery maths. 

Oh: And I told you not to worry. The bear-cub-in-the-president's-house is being dismissed as a prank, and even if the College Man catalogues his private papers sometime soon, he's not even going to notice that he's missing a page from the Agent's letterbook because it's not one he cares about. (Leafing through, I see that he hasn't destroyed the telegram to the school about his departure. Without something from the other side, we can't exactly prove that the College Man arrived at his uncle's school from the Colville  Reservation and not Iowa, but I don't think we care about that, do we?) With the page we do have, we can now prove that Mr. Johnston's mother was. . . 

I know what you're going to say! After we blackmailed the poor man about his father, is it really sporting to do the same over his mother? Point is, we're not. We're going to produce the letter as evidence that "A.'s" source for warmed over gossip about Hollywood Communists is from Johnston, and not Mr. Brookstein denouncing old Trotskyites. If anyone cares (because all "A.s" bosses want is to be able to discredit Hoover's boys if they get anything juicy. I mean, honestly. Actors and makeup artists who used to be communists? Yawn.) The point is, because A.'s "connection" is to Stanford, V.N. has to go back there! Wouldn't want to jeopardise the future son-in-law's career, now, would you?

I know, I know. Seems dashed clever to me, too.

Yr Loving Son,

Saturday, October 14, 2017

An Intermittently Technical Appendix to Thalassocracy, 3: Bonanza Farms, Smokeless Powder and Endorheic Basins

This is a post about asymmetries of power, the globalisation of the grain trade, and the parts of the world where waters flow down to inland seas. It's less polished than I'd like it to be, because I have to go and put Driscoll Farms-brand strawberries out now. They're being shipped from California in big trucks, and since we can't stop the supply pipeline, we have to keep pushing, or they'll fill up our cooler. And we need the space! The Central Valley is, admittedly, not an endorheic basin, but close enough.
Anyway. . . 
Farmer's two-novel "Opar" series has a disproportionately long Wikipedia article, for those feeling nostalgic.
It's been a long time since I've read Philip Jose Farmer's Hadon of Ancient Opar books, but I do remember that they're a riff on a rationalisation of the lost city of Opar in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. Burroughs' Opar is a former Atlantean (the original thalassocracy!) colony stuck in the middle of Africa, somehow. Tarzan goes there from time to time and . . has adventures. Adventures that allow Burroughs to comment on race in America in interesting ways. I'd say more, but I wasn't kidding about the length and detail of the Wikipedia articles on the subject. Nostalgia for the win! Anyway, Farmer's novels explain Opar by proposing that Atlantis was actually a prehistoric civilisation established around inland seas that once existed in two enormous  endorheic basins in the interior of northern Africa. Again, I'm a little hazy on the details, but I think that Farmer proposes that the water impounded in the basins eventually found its way to the Atlantic, causing Atlantis to be destroyed, not by flooding, but by having its sea drained away? Something like that is supposed to have happened in the intramontane Great Basin of the American West at the end of the last Ice Age, although, as far as I know, geologists do not currently believe that the Lake Chad Basin and adjacent endorheic basins in northern Africa were ever flooded (Map below the fold). Though eyewitness accounts of  pre-50-million-years-ago period are sparse and unreliable. 

The endorheic basins of Africa, whether flooded or not, are natural formations rather than largescale geoengineering. There are two reasons that I'm starting out with Farmer, anyway. The first is that it gives me an excuse to have some Roy Krenkel art in the thumbnail. The other is that I'm pretty sure that the first book starts with an historical introduction that describes a conjectured former channel connecting a sub-sea level depression within these larger endorheic basins to the Atlantic. I'm not entirely sure, but this sounds like Donald Mackenzie's 1877 scheme for an artificial inland sea in the southern Sahara, created by dredging out the sand blocking the channel at the coast in the region of "El Djouf." (Like a great many other African geological fantasias of the age, El Djouf barely exists.) I don't know anything about the Mackenzie scheme apart from what Wikipedia has told me, but, again, Roy Krenkel art.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On Thalassocracy, III: Warrior And Wheat

Lake Sidi Ali, in the Moroccan Atlas, 2000m above sea level. So not quite the Sahara Sea.
Thucydides said, early in his Peloponnesian War, that Minos of Crete was first of those to exert thalassocracy, a rulership of the seas. I--

Oh. You're wondering why I'm on about this. October is Thanksgiving month in Canada, and I'm not going to be able to do any techblogging unless I win some time by reusing old material, and it happens I have a grotesquely self-indulgent, 72pp chapter on technology and science and the Nineteenth Century and stuff that I think I can trim down into an interesting post about bonanza wheat lands. Since it also happens that there was a minor flurry of activity around my last "thalassocracy" post, it's a sequel. (Also, I'm eagerly waiting for a "thalassocracy" to make its appearance in Graydon's Commonweal series, so consider this a bit of a fan tribute, even if my take on sea power is unlikely to be his.)

Technology! Maybe someone's riff on the Theseus black sail/white sail myth?