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.  

Gathering the Bones, 19: Sinners In the Hands Of An Angry He Who Wears Human Heads as Earrings


*


It's properly time to for me to be reviewing technology news from March of 1947, but I have some time off this week, and my last post leaves me dissatisfied. I mean, who cares that Veronica is dark and brunette, or that George Washington was a redhead?* She's rich! He's a President! Rich and famous people get away with stuff like being racially fluid. The real question is what this means to a poor redhead like Archie Andrews, who has to worry that other people might get to choose his racial identity for him. (1,2, 3). 

If America was, in its origins, and is, still, a mixed race society that pretends that there is a firm, clear, and unambiguous colour line that just happens to coincide with class, then its central social question isn't goings on in the Lodge lodge. It is, rather, who polices the colour line? Lower class Americans do not have social power. That's kind of the point of being poor. In Latin America, the poor really are victims of a moving race/colour lline. Why on the right bank of the Rio Grande? How do they own their own history in the North? 

The answer is "Religion."  Next week, Postblogging Technology, March 1947, II.

No, wait, video time! 
More specifically, I mean, religious continuity between Eastern Woodland religious practice and the America of small sect Christianity. That's where this spooky, powerful song comes in. It is weighed down by history. Seemingly, a  longer and heavier history than America has had time to accumulate. Even America's historical crimes aren't this old! 

The Shenandoah is the most southerly reach of a series of "carrying-place" linked, approximately north-south rivers above the Fall Line, extending from the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin via Oswego River, the Mohawk, the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and, finally, the Shenandoah. Iroquian-speaking communities extend along the route, from the Neutral Nations in the far north to the Cherokee in the furthest southern reaches of the Shenandoah Valley.



America is older than it says. Not convinced? Here's Alison Krause taking us down to the river to pray.










The datestone says 1752, but Pittsburgh's Old Stone Tavern just must have been built in 1782, because, after all, 1752 was before Braddock's defeat, and Pittsburgh didn't exist yet. Well, there was a town, but it was an Indian town, and Indians didn't make bricks. I mean, they made pots, but that was, you know, long ago. Now they live in wigwams. No, I'm not racist, you're racist. By Lee Paxton - self-madeTransferred from en.wikipedia, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16994850


Friday, April 14, 2017

Gathering the Bones, 18: Hew Down the Bridge!

Then none was for a party—
  Then all were for the state;
Then the great man helped the poor,
  And the poor man loved the great;
Then lands were fairly portioned!
  Then spoils were fairly sold:
The Romans were like brothers
  In the brave days of old.




The week, and the circumstances, militate for a shorter post. but instead of writing a technological appendix about Fortune's hot take about the bright future of coal, relevant as it is, I find that I have a burr under my saddle. Yes, it is about the last of the race of Uncas the Mohican again. Race matters, after all.

Just to review here, this is about Gathering the Bones. Buried ossuaries are very common in Eastern Woodlands cultural horizons. At least, that is how we have interpreted the remains of buried structures filled with bones, set on fire, and then buried under earthen mounds. European ossuaries, which are sacred spaces filled with bones, next to overcrowded graveyards, have an obvious function which is much less obvious in a Hopewell horizono context --the last thing they were short of, was burial grounds! (Although ground that could be dug with stone tools might have been harder to come by.). In his ground-breaking,perplexing  reinterpretation of the Hopewell horizon, Martin Byers presents an alternative interpretation: bones, the immanent remnants of dead humans, were deemed to have some kind of transcendent power, and various sodalities competed to gather those bones and exercise power over them. Some details of this struck me as similar to the horrifying ritual execution of Jamestown Governor John Ratcliffe in 1607, at the end of which, Powhattan incorporated the man's flensed bones in an ossuary. This adds a bit of the sinister, and of social domination to the process. Gathering the bones is all about seizing power in current social life by appropriating the past: privatising history, if you will. In a long-ago post, I even suggested a specific (and debatable) example, the national monument to the dead of the massacre of the Christian Munsee Indians at Gnaddenhutten, in eastern Ohio. (The specific example is important because this is where James Fenimore Cooper's Chingachgook had "his people" "cut off." (Cooper can never say what he means, so it is not obvious that he intends to be ambiguous in not specifying which of Chingachgook's relatives were killed, but the "cut off" isn't ambiguous in early Nineteenth Century usage, even if the metaphor demands attention.) Speaking of ambiguous, the linked post contains more explicit examples of formerly public cemeteries which have since been "privatised," so that you know that I'm not just straining and making stuff up.

Thus, "Gathering the bones:" American history is constantly under threat of privatisation, as means of both constructing and rendering mysterious the American social hierarchy. In this way, a landed aristocracy can exist in what is constantly described as an egalitarian, freeholder republic obscure. Thrown in something about a guy with adamantium-laced bones with a secret identity, who lives on the Hudson Valley estate of a rich guy with a Dutch name, and there's even a tie-in to the thumbnail image!

So why am I returning to this topic? Because of  an extraordinary article in The New Republic this week, Ganesh Sitaraman announced that the United States is in a constitutional crisis, and that it is due to the fact that the constitution fails to make provision for economic inequality, and that this is because, "in the brave days of old," there was no inequality. America differed from Europe in having no hereditary, landed aristocracy. Various assertions about the fundamental equality of settler farmers and free land in the west follow, like some 1950s paen to the Frontier thesis. (Note: The Homestead Act was only passed in 1862A deep knowledge of American history might even reveal some more profound significance to the year.)

Last week, we were in 1947, and, just to remind everyone, next year's elections are rushing on, as they always are. The Democratic nominee will be the President, because he owns this mess. Seeking to salvage things, and lacking a Vice-President as a successor, he has thrown over a party boss as Secretary of State, with a Virginia tidewater aristocrat, One of his potential opponents is an Ohio-important member of a collateral lineage of another Virginia tidewater clan. This is not a state without a hereditary aristocracy! (And remember that there is a lot we do not know about the origins of this group, due to the not-at-all-accidental burning of Jamestown courthouse in Bacon's Rebellion.) 
But, you say, Virginia is a state, not a country, and the Republican candidate in 1948 will be Thomas Dewey, who, per his biography, paid his way through the first year of college with a summer job, and is rich because he was such an awesome trial lawyer.

Well, yes, but this is Dapplemere, near Pawley, New York,


Friday, April 7, 2017

Postblogging Technology, March 1947, I: Rocket Is For Emergency Use Only


Source.

R_.C_.
Washington Square Hotel,
New York.

Dear Father:

I hope this catches up with you before you board ship for England. I've included a private and confidential from Uncle George, who has been talking to the people behind the Dick Barton serials --this may be the lead we've been looking for. Uncle George is very anxious that it succeed, as he is getting nervous about the possibility of charges being pressed. He only went to England under very firm assurances that bygones with the cousins would be bygone if we got their money out of the country. I cannot for the life of me understand why they would continue to ostracise their daughter now that there are grandchildren, but they also have not reached out to Macau --not a good sign, if the silver "arbitrage" falls through before Uncle George can leave the country. 

As for sweetening the deal with the movie people, James has suggested that they might want to do something with Great-Uncle next. I think he was being sarcastic, as I am really not sure that the market is crying out for Great Uncle just now. Still, it is a property that we can command. Speaking of, one of you might want to hop over to France and have a sit-down with R. I have heard muttering at the Benevolent Society about his recent appearance in New York, and someone might remind him that his association with the family has been long and prosperous, and that he might have a serious think about keeping it that way.

My, I do sound bloodthirsty! Two weeks and counting of enforced bed rest will do that to a girl. All in, then, because, as for making a serial about Great Uncle and the likely response "on the street," the word is that it must be very, very clear, that it is tongue-in-cheek. . . and that it would be best if we made an example, to make it clear that we are not acting out of weakness. Perhaps there are some "open files" where an example might be made? Another week of this and I might just be willing to shoot the Engineer myself. 

I know that that's not very fair --I write it while looking at a very nice flower arrangement that he has sent me-- but in my current mood, best not to draw my attention!


"GRACE."


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Technology Transfers: Fleecing, Disrupting, Honing: A Partly Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, February, 1947

HMAS Vampire. One of four Daring-class (1949) destroyers ordered from Australian yards; of which three were completed. Very high tech for the time: Type 275 radar controlling a blind-fire director, STAAG stabilised tachymetric  mountings for the Bofors; high pressure steam boilers; all-welded construction; AC electrics; Squid ASW mortar with associated "sword" rangefinding sonar. All the mod cons. 
It's really not clear to me whether someone, in the first week of February of 1947, was developing the idea that Australia might be a nuclear refuge for entire British industries, or not. The leading article in which I encountered the idea is easily the worst piece of journalistic writing I've ever encountered, and given The Economist's mid-century(?) habit of stringing out long thumb suckers on "worthy" subjects, that's saying a lot. The way the idea was broached, it might be someone reimagining a wartime conversation, a response to stories in the press, or even a serious effort to float the notion.


Sunday, March 26, 2017

Postblogging Technology, February 1947, I: Dreaming Beneath th Bench Grass · Poste Snow





R_C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada.

Dear Father:

You wanted to know at first word about Reggie's summer assignment. He will be attached to VP-M-1 at Barbers Point NAS in Hawaii, where he will be trying to wedge more radio receivers into Lockheed Neptunes than any airplane should have to carry. For "weather reconnaissance." "Weather reconnaissance" is in a bit of an ebb at the moment, but will probably come back in full force when the Russian famine is over and the 1948 election is a bit closer at hand. Who knows? Perhaps he will gather some "weather reconnaissance" that is useful to Mrs. C and her friends in Virginia.

"Miss V.C.'s" plans are in flux, but I expect that she will go east to be near "Mr. A." Perhaps she will try to pick up some hints in advance of her seniors' thesis research next year; she remains convinced that a sinister secret concerning the Oregon Scandal is hiding somewhere in the Junior College's archives.

Uncle George has telegraphed that his flight has arrived safely in Scotland. However, it looks like he will be detained by weather and will not be able to get to London in time for the World Shipping Conference, which is a pity. On the other hand, his friend's business partner is also detained, as he missed his berth on the Queen Mary. So it looks like not much advance business will be done before you arrive in England on the matter of, shall we say, securing industrially-necessary supplies of silver nitrate for any film or photography business we might involve ourselves in, over in England. 

In the absence of Uncle George, James has stepped in to arrange to put the good old Swallow on the Atlantic run. It will make its first berth in Liverpool on 7 April, if all goes according to plan, and James estimates that it has room for six tons of metal in Great-Uncle's old statesroom. Just to give you an idea of what you have to work with. 

In the mean time, I would be most grateful for any distractions you can find, as Dr. Rivers has put me on bed rest until the blessed event. I'm not completely isolated, as I have James and Fanny. Miss J has branched out in her work to assist Fanny, and has been very kind in bringing the twins to see me along with Vickie. I could wish that I saw the same spirit of care and solicitude from Miss M., but she is a fine physical therapist, and not devoid of human kindness. She has even taken to bringing me cookies in bed. Cookies that she baked herself --and I can say no more. At least they are not boring!


"GRACE."




Friday, March 17, 2017

Following Up Follow Ups About Following Up: Exports, Fashion and the Warfare State




The mysterious Pseudoerasmus asks:



"Why are they wrong? Because their paradigm is the postwar neo-liberal (or whatever we're calling it now) world order, in which democracies and semi-democracies trade with each other in pursuit of shared prosperity, in which the only unsightly slopes on the otherwise level playing field of comparative advantage are tariffs, subsidies and gaming the exchange rate. The only way in which the state is supposed to intervene is by producing (and equitably disbursing) unlimited quantities of education/research spending; and by fine-tuning tax policy."


This is quite untrue. Allen's model (as well are critiques of Allen's model) are perfectly compatible with a world in which external trade is driven by mercantilism and imperialism. In fact, in his book Allen explicitly stresses the importance of imperialism in enlarging the domestic market, and market size is an important element of his model."

This is a blog about hillside pastures, fodder crops and the things (like cavalry warfare) that flow from them;
 And, oh, yes. The endogeneity of technological change.  I hope that it is also a place where I can be unembarrassed about offering an obsequious welcome and preemptive apology to such a distinguished visitor without being embarrassed. Watching the debut of Iron Fist instead of replying at greater length? About that I'm embarrassed. 


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Missing the Point: On The Economic Advantages of Eighteenth Century England

You will notice a "Blog Comment Follow-Up" tag this week.

And how! Anyway, this is Brad Delong quoting "the mysterious Pseudoerasmus" commenting on Robert Allen. 


I love the work of Robert Allen... steel... the Soviet Union... English agriculture. And his little book on global economic history—is there a greater marvel of illuminating concision than that?... . . . Yet I always find myself in the peculiar position of loving his work like a fan-girl and disagreeing with so much of it. In particular, I’m sceptical of his theory of the Industrial Revolution.

Allen has been advocating... [that] England’s high wages relative to its cheap energy and low capital costs biased technical innovation in favour of labour-saving equipment, and that is why it was cost-effective to industrialise in England first, before the rest of Europe (let alone Asia).... Allen’s is not a monocausal theory... but his distinctive contribution is the high-wage economy.... The theory is appealing, in part, because the technological innovations of the early Industrial Revolution were not exactly rocket science (a phrase used by Allen himself), so one wonders why they weren’t invented earlier and elsewhere. (Mokyr paraphrasing Cardwell said something like nothing invented in the early IR period would have puzzled Archimedes.) But... as Mokyr has tirelessly argued, inventions were too widespread across British society to be a matter of just the right incentives and expanding markets—and this is a point now being massively amplified by Anton Howes....

These are skillful economic historians, well-grounded in the data, and it would be the height of folly for me to say that they are wrong.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Fall of Rome, IX: Transhumance and Local Elites

Transhumant pastoral agriculture is the movement of herds of livestock from one pasture, for fairly obvious reasons. 

That being said, there is "transhumant" agriculture, and "transhumant agriculture." On at least two occasions in the last millennium, herding peoples have moved between the Dzungarian Basin north of Urumchi in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and the Volga steppes north of the Caspian Sea in Russia; in the 1870s, sheep were routinely herded from the Midwest around Chicago to ranges in Nevada, Idaho, Oregon, and back. This is long distance transhumance, and clearly a very different thing than having a farm at the bottom of a mountain/on the bench above a drowning river valley, and taking the sheep to the fodder in season.

The argument here is that the fall of the Roman Empire (and by that I mean the crisis of the Third Century) is linked too, but not caused by, the breakdown of long-distance transhumant pastoral agriculture. It's not a new argument, in general, but the particular sequence of events I am pushing is perhaps somewhat novel. More importantly, the evidence to support the argument is accumulating. Which is why this post --apart from my needing a break from more ambitious projects. 



Night crew rotation! (Semi-autobiographical comment on the persistent labour shortage-that's-somehow-not-a-shortage.)

First of all, obviously long-distance transhumant agriculture is primordial. Take the "agriculture" out, and we humans have been doing it for a very long time, because it's just another way of saying that they're following the herds, which organise themselves for "transhumance" perfectly well without human intervention.

(This is where I link to the "Buffalo Trace" that became America's first interstate, and invited everyone to wonder at the depths and mysteries of the founding of the United States, at the first glimmers of the written record.)

Here's a picture of the sheep moving out of a paddock on a big Australian "station," as they call them, because  Australians speak English funny.


The condition of the top cover in the foreground demonstrates why you would want to transhumant. Ah ha, you may say! Isn't transhumant herding between high, mountain pastures, and low ones. Aren't we all romantic about it. Didn't the Silencers have an inadvertent hit when they recorded a rock version of the classic Scottish folk air, Wild Mountain Thyme? Why, yes, they did, and yes, it sometimes is. 

Come, and trip it as you go 
      On the light fantastic toe; 
      And in thy right hand lead with thee  35
      The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty; 
      

That Milton. Wild and crazy guy. So, if Australians should decide to focus on producing sheep, nature has put a pretty big obstacle in their way, in that their country is pretty darn flat, with an average elevation of 330 m. I wrote that first sentence, editing not included, before I actually looked up my facts. It is a lot higher than I expected, and for a moment I was wondering if the intuition that guided my comment above was wrong. Fortunately, 330m turns out to be the lowest for any continent, Wikipedia says).



Sunday, March 5, 2017

Postblogging Technology, January 1947, II: Sparrows Fall.



Mrs. B. T.,
79 Av de Harmonia,
Macao,


Dear Jenny:

I know that as a proper English girl you don't really let your hair down for the Lunar New Year, and in my state it's hard for me to be any wilder; but, nevertheless, happy Year of the Pig! You will have received Arcadia's traditional New Year's gift, and a little something more in memory of last summer. 

Also this! Which you may or may not think is anything like a gift. If you detect a subtle thread running through this letter, it is that people are just about fed up with air crashes this winter, and this "Instrument Landing System" thing might be just the ticket. Westinghouse seems to have the inside track, but Uncle George is not talking about anything so reasonable as increasing the family investment in that old New York Stock Exchange reliable.  Nor Bell or General Electric, either. Rather, he wants to make a major investment in a Boston-area company which has already come to our attention, but which still seems like an outside chance --Uncle George's favourite. 

So, if you do read this, you're supposed to end up thinking, "Why, you know what might stop all these air crashes? A big investment in Raytheon!"  I'm not sure how you're to come to that conclusion, so I'm spoiling it a little. 

I would say more about family matters,but I am pressed for time, and you have my recent post, anyway. 


Again, best in the new year, Your Loving Cousin,
"GRACE."



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Postblogging Technology, January 1947, I: If This Goes On




Mrs. B. T.,
79 Av de Harmonia,
Macao,


Dear Jenny:

Since you are about to receive the Earl, Uncle George, and my Father for the New Years holiday, (best wishes for the Year of the Pig, if my next slips behind schedule!) you are also the lucky recipient of this newsletter. The important material is at the back, as usual. Ther endless bit at the head is just comment on the news, which is usually done in aid of defending Uncle George's very speculative stock investment strategy.

This time, you will see that rather more is at stake. You will find the Earl very frightening, tallking of socialist revolution by the summer. The news does not seem quite so alarmist, but I cannot believe that The Economist, usually so skeptical of the Labour Government, has not seen the handwriting on the wall. It is perfectly capable of doing the arithmetic, and seeing how much worse a bad winter would make things. My sense is that it is not saying anything, so as not to frighten anyone. There is also the little difficulty that the only possible route through the thickets runs through the new Republican Congress in Washington. If things go as badly as the Earl fears, it will be very difficult politics for them!  

I keep returning to the Earl's news instead of my own, and now I find that I have run quite out of time. It is a good thing that I wrote you last week, after so many delays, or you would think that nothing ever happens here in Santa Clara!  



"GRACE."

P.S. Thank you for your Christmas gifts, especially the gown for Victoria, which is beautiful, and extravagant. You are perfectly correct in thinking that the rest of Arcadia can get very cold when the air conditioning is working hard enough to keep the nursery cool! A case of marmalade, and something a little more Californian, is on its way to you by return!

Return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear, when the people who stayed at the Mayflower did, sometimes, also stay at auio courts in Nebraska.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Recapping the Fall of Rome: Game of Thrones

Lots of caption here, because credit where credit is due. This is Abdelratif Reda's fresh goat cheese, served with apricot jam on a bagel in the medina of Rabat, Morocco.. The photograph is by Eloise Schieferdecker (imputed c. 2015), and appears in an article by Zoë Hu, running in the online lifestyles magazine Zester Daily 


Did Rome have a crisis? The basic outline of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire is Decadent First Century-Golden Second Century-Third Century Crisis-Fourth Century Dominate-Fifth Century Fall-Sixth Century-

Cliche, but good point. Let's just stay the heck away from the Byzantine Empire or whatever it is. 

The confusing thing here is that the crisis comes in the middle. There's an elaborate theory of politics in which governments pass through cycles of development. Domitian's government is a "Dominate," replacing an earlier "Principate." Yes, the restored empire is a different, and lesser thing, rather like the old Chinese Western and Eastern dynasties, but it is restored.

In this analysis, it is all about politics. A number of specific factors make the Empire politically infeasible: the government is badly structured; The location of the Roman capital is bad; it is overspending to buy army support; changing elites mean that new groups will have to seize control of the imperial office, whatever the short term cost of political stability. Etc. Not a single mention of cream cheese for breakfast!

Since I am on record as arguing that the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west is due to a breakdown in long-distance trade causing a shortage of money and local deflation in the far west, it might be time to go through the long, long list of emperors and usurpers and highlight the factors that, I think, make a purely political explanation inadequate.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Postblogging Technology, December 1946, II: Never Stop Grifting

I thought that the Burnelli "lifting body airplane" scam gave up the ghost during World War II, but, it turns out that Chuck Yeager's predecessor was still flogging it in the 1950s. 

R_.C._
Governor Hotel,
Portland, Oregon.

Dear Father:

First, thank you for your presents, which, per your instructions, have gone under the tree pending your revival, with the exception of the new(!) "king-sized" iron lung. It is not a very sentimental present, but it is something I very much wanted. I dare not ask how much it cost.

It's not just that Grace is trying to find a face-saving excuse
If, by some chance, you are wondering why you've received this at your hotel, it is because I have sent it in company with Wong Lee, who will be meeting you at the expected place. Sign, counter-sign, you know the drill. (I will explain the reason for all the fuss when you arrive.)

For discretion's sake, I suggest that you extend your reservation at the hotel over Christmas, and leave your car. If you choose to let Wong Lee drive you, now you have reading material.

If not, while a "deuce-and-a-half" Dodge is not your usual ride, Dr. Rivers has had it fitted up for skiing excursions in grand style. It has all-wheel-drive, tyre chains, and many other things that your daughter-in-law would never think of. Wong Lee has driven it many times, in worse conditions than you will meet on Mount Shasta (probably) on your way to us at Christmas. 



You will be glad to know that your wife is here, having flown in from Vancouver on the 21st. Somewhat surprisingly, we have word that we are receiving the Earl on the 28th. He will be arriving by air, on the pretext of paying a visit to Mr. McCreery. I am not sure what the occasion might be, but I am too cynical to think that he has suddenly discovered a desire to see golden California. It is more likely to be a matter of money. I am hoping that the matter of Fontana remains off the table. If the other issue comes up, Bill, David and James are confident that our Russian friend. will make his new deadline, as long as we extend him the credit he has asked for, something that I hope you will press upon His Grace with your usual insider's technical flair.

I doubt that that it is a matter of magnetic recording machines, though. In fact, I am beside myself with nerves about what awful news might have inspired this flying visit. It does put a bit of a damper on the holidays.

"GRACE."




Thursday, February 2, 2017

Postblogging Technology, December 1946, I: Waiting For Santa


*

R_. C_.,
Crown Point Hotel,
Trail, Canada.

Dear Father:

I do so hope that this package catches you in your hotel in a timely way --but that is only because I hope that you will not be there long, that you are, or shortly will be, on your way to Santa Clara. Christmas preparations are in full swing. This will be the first celebration under Arcadia's roof in almost twenty years, and I want to make it a "big house" Christmas to remember! Space is filling up quickly. Well, not "filling," unless thirty or forty relations find an excuse to come over, but you know what I mean. Your youngest has seemingly flown-by-land across the continent to be here in time to help "Miss V.C." swot for her examinations. They are reading a textbook together in front of the fire in that strange antechamber to the nursery as I write. 


It's an odd place to choose in such a large house, but I don't mind keeping my eye on them. The whole thing wouldn't be my choice of a way to spend my holidays, but your son obviously remains infatuated, while she is anticipating the arrival of "Mr.A." (For we can no longer call him "Lieutenant A."). Central Intelligence takes a break at Christmas, but not as long as the students of the Institute.

Speaking of the Chicago "Cs," while they will not stoop to stay at relations, they are engaging a house in San Jose for the holidays, instead of San Francisco, and we can expect to see more of them, and their daughter, of course. This, unfortunately, means less reason to travel to San Francisco for the rest of the household, although my appointments will call me up there, and if you have gifts for the younger set there --and you should, not to be a nag, notwithstanding that your wife has covered off the matter-- you can forward them here and I can carry them up, as I will be seeing Queenie and the former "Miss v. Q." on these occasions of the higher feminine mysteries. 

.




Friday, January 27, 2017

The Fall of Rome, VII: Bread, Circusses




Those are some happy elephants, because Tirupati deluxe bran is the best bran. 





iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli / uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim / imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se / continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, / panem et circenses
--Juvenal, Satire X. (Note that like any Nineteenth Century parliamentarian on his feet to deliver a zinger on the Balkan Question, I've cut and pasted out of Wikipedia.)


"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy."
- Elmer T. Peterson.

In this week of so much going astray down south, the fact that the nominee for American Secretary of Labour has riffed on the idea that democracies are destroyed by social welfare benefits ("bread and circusses") might easily take a back seat to more pressing concerns about his boss. 

But! I'll start with the attribution, which is a spanking new, modern thing for which we can thank Google, even if my store of gratitude to Google is being drawn down by the gradual disintegration of Google Books, although that's a rant for another day. Traditinally, we see this quote attributed to much more famous people than Elmer T. Peterson, and he himself began this tradition by attributing it to a  a minor Nineteenth Century thinker with a funny name. He did so in a 1951 letter to the editor published in a minor Oklahoman paper, which raises the question of how it entered the public record so quickly. Peterson himself was a writer, but his literary record [pdf] is pretty second rate, and it would be surprising if many people took him very seriously. "Alexander Fraser Tyttle," on the other hand, is someone to reckon with! I suppose.

Perhaps Peterson noticed the general shortage of actual examples of welfare payments destroying democracies. After all, he may have had the Juvenal "bread and circusses" line in mind, and perhaps even has some recollection of being rather brusquely informed that Juvenal came a full century after the Republic. Perhaps, although this is asking a lot of the basically optimistic mind of the early 1950s, which feared only communist roentgens,  someone even pointed out that rich tax evaders have a better record of destroying regimes than poor handout beneficiaries.

This is what makes the Roman example so handy, in that rich people might evade taxes and even attend gladiatorial games, but they certainly do not stand in bread lines. Not that Peterson needed to explore things very deeply. Everyone knows that the ancient Romans gave out a corn dole to the urban poor of Rome. 

But!
Cheesecake Factory.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

An Agro-Technical Appendix, V: Evil as Strategy

Someone had to go and make Rimmer an admiral, didn't they?


Unlike apparently every other person on Earth, I've really got no problem with the Empire building one death star after another, and getting them blown up, one after another. It's a dysfunctional regime, guys. That's what dysfunctional regimes do. If you need an explanation, just borrow a cynical line about someone's interest/income, whatever. If the Dark Side is all about evil and genocide, then regimes dominated by the Dark Side are going to be impervious to the idea that genocide is bad policy. Dark Siders like doing genocide: Rationalisation to follow.

The Third Reich wasn't dominated by Sith lords because Sith lords don't exist. So what's going on? The leadership's dysfunction is easily explained. They were the usual lot of over-promoted narcissists. The two questions are: how did people like that achieve power; and; Why genocide? The answer is that the Nazis promised to do stuff for people that other parties wouldn't. Weimar struggled for years over (agricultural) land reform because big owners and small had divergent interests. The Nazis promised to give both big and small what they wanted --and a pony! This is a trick that narcissists can do, because they don't give a shit about anything but postive reinforcement right now now now now. Since the big farmers largely wanted their  old Polish estates back, the outlines of policy were clear enough. The problem was not having stuff that belonged to foreigners, so the solution was taking stuff from foreigners. What would happen to the foreigners? They would, like all the other "useless mouths" and whatever other pejorative label we like today, just go away. (They're crude and nasty and backwards, so it's practically a good deed to shoot them in the back of the head. Am I being subtle enough here?)

There. No more subtle.

So, no Sith, but, nevertheless, a policy of genocide. I doubt that my summary of an argument about the roots of Nazi genocidal policy is going to sound anything more than glib and unconvincing tot he vast number of scholars who investigate these questions, so take my contribution for what it is worth. Where I can possibly push forward is by  asking how evil as strategy worked out. Not very well, is the well-known answer, but there's some interesting details in the corners of the situation.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Against Mass Production in Post-Modernity: A Tractable Problem

There was a thing on Twitter, the other day to the effect that the Allies won World War II because Britain provided the time; the Soviet Union, the blood; and America, the treasure. I don't disagree, but I've been looking at various things of late. One is the shambles of the postwar British economy; the other, the M4 Sherman tank. The latter has treated me to a strong dose of the idea of American mass production. And while the M4 is a piss poor standard bearer for this argument given the collapse of production rates in 1944 after the completion of the capacity build out [pdf], the other corollary to the idea that mass production is that the Allies defeated better German tanks with human wave tactics, and, well, that's acceptable. And yet. It might be supposed that the Allies had an opportunity to end WWII in the fall of 1944 instead of the spring of 1945 by closing down the Normandy campaign with an even more complete victory than they, in fact, achieved. The larger consequences might or might not follow, but substitute a sufficiently good tank for the Shermans actually used in operations TOTALISE and TRACTABLE , and the larger operational victory was certainly in reach. Even in the final days of chaotic fighting around the Polish blocking positions outside of Falaise, a better tank might have made a difference. I've suggested before that Britain's last wartime cruiser tank, the Comet, would have made the decisive difference. But it seems at leasst worth arguing that the older Cromwell which would have replaced the Shermans of August in the absence of the 1943 production agreement would have sufficed.  "Good enough" is NOT good enough. 

This is a side profile view of the Sherman's precursor, the M3 Lee/Grant. It's intended to make you scratch your head at the weird machine and draw the inference that the US Army's Ordnance Service didn't know what it was doing in 1940.


As for the larger consequences, the official historians seem to think that ending the war a few months earlier would have had a salutary effect on the British economy. It would certainly have saved a great many lives. Is there a lesson about mass production here? Sure. Why not? It'll do for a subject this week, but I want to motivate this post a little more, so I'll briefly talk about counterfactuals, and the last stand of the BCRs, often written about in that way that demonstrates that historians do counterfactuals even when they think they don't.

Why would historians do counterfactuals? Because we do them all the time. At the end of OPERATION TOTALISE, a battlegroup consisting of an armoured regiment and mechanised infantry battalion, under the command of the BCRs' Lt. Col. Donald Worthington ended up stranded, deep in the German position, where it was destroyed during the daylight hours of 8 August 1944. The official history says that Worthington made an indefensible error of navigation on the difficult night march towards his actual objective, ending up six km away. He compounded this initial mistake by failing to acknowledge it, depriving his command of reinforcement and artillery support. This versin of events ought to motivate Vancouerites quite strongly, since Colonel Worthington was a scion of Vancouver elites (who lived two blocks from me), and the British Columbia Regiment is one of the city's two militia regiments. That disastrous last stand cost this city, and ought to have been a matter for the ballot box. See? There is a reason for counterfactuals! They tell us not to vote for the NPA.  (Not actually a disendorsement.)

There is, however, another version, in which Worthington was a gallant beau sabreur, who made an understandable mistake that ended with his command being in an excellent, if unforeseen position, from which, better supported, he could have led 2nd Canadian Corps to the closing of the Falaise Gap. Exactly why this support was not forthcoming is not clear, but David Bechtold very strongly implies that circumstantial evidence points up the chain of command.  then we need to look to higher headquarters, and have at the sacred cows of the Canadian army.

Whatever be the case, there is an interesting technical question here. I know, I know. No-one wants to hear some git prattling on about how, if the RAF had developed the Windsor, Whirlwind and Henley instead of the Halifax, Typhoon and Battle, Britain could have won World War II more! But when we can frame it as "Cromwells instead of Shermans SAVE THE WORLD," then the argument is motivated. (Becaue it's a critique of narrative tropes of mass production, you see.) If Worthington had better tanks, then TOTALISE might have accomplished what TRACTABLE set out to do. (Or, on the other hand, if all of 1st Polish had Cromwells, and not just the armoured reconnaissance regiment.) I'm narrowing donw the claim. Just the Cromwell, so close, in so many ways, to the M4.

Monday, January 2, 2017

An Agro-Technical Appendix, IV: It's Always And Will Forever Be 1846

Have you, dear reader, ever read a history of the Thirty Years War? Remember the breathless excitement as Thomas, Chevalier of Savoy, jousts with the Duc de la Force before St. Omer? 

The Relief ot St. OmerOh, the Habsburgs and Savoys/They was wild mountain boys


Of course not. No-one's ever read a history of the Thirty Years War past the death of Wallenstein, and even that was a struggle. That's the part where you skip the last, thick chunk of pages. It's amazing that anyone ever even managed to write those pages, and I am not going to absolutely guarantee that they're not blank. No-one knows the end of the Thirty Years War. Or the Hundred Years War, or the Italian Wars, for that matter. The last history of that last that I've tried to tackle starts out with exactly that observation, wondering who would still be with him in 1557. (Not I, as it turns out, although I really liked the bits I read. Only $46 for the Kindle edition!)

This is why, in British economic history, it is always and will forever be 1846. Famine in Ireland! Corn Law repeal! Peel splitting the Conservative Party! Chartism! Something something Second Reform Bill, and, in the midst of it all, the disgraceful capitulation to America over the Oregion Boundary. 

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

The siege of St. Omer is a pretty good example of this, actually. The linked Wiki article seems to have been written out of an old Spanish account, and has mind-numbing detail of the difficulties that late Thirty-Years-War armies had in mastering the complex systems of canalisation and reclamation with which local authorities had tamed the surrounding marshlands into irrigated farmland and convertible water meadows. We can see how agricultural investment is transforming the landscape and dragging military practice along with it. Then, all this was forgotten in pieties about "Cabinet War" and the more recent "OMG they make fortresses shaped like stars, help Po-Mo Man you're our only hope." Farms and fortresses; it would make a good study.

Farming! That's what I'm talking about!
Writing about Lord Woolton's war requires pictures of Land Army girls driving tractors, so here you are. You'll notice that this is a caterpillar tractor (small "c" caterpillar), of which we haven't heard much so far in this series, since they tend to be big and expensive for modern collectors and their websites. Also, per David Perren, British agriculture just wasn't that into caterpillar tractors, on account of the soft-bottomed land being under permanent grass.