Saturday, March 17, 2018

Postblogging Technology, January 1948, II: Demand Outpaces Supply

Mayhem! I have no idea what this is about. Maybe?


Dear Father:

First of all, thank you for your kind offer, which I've decided to decline. I know that I cried during our phone call, and it's really dirty pool to turn around and say, "Oh, it's not so bad," but my sisters have been a rock! We went over my finances, and have concluded that I should be able to complete my undergraduate degree if I just get a job. (Gasp! I know!) Law school is another matter, and I may be begging you to revisit your offer next year! So there's no need for you to get into trouble with the family --they'll know that it's you, even if my fiance doesn't figure it out and fink, which he might, because he's a rat. 

So, no money from you, and my parents can just grit their teeth at their daughter getting some plebian job (Mom will throw a fit!). It's not as though they've grounds to stand on. They disowned me. (And please let's not get into tawdry details, as my fiance has less attachment to me than his damned dachshund.) 

On the other hand, (and here Ronnie puts on absolutely her sweetest, puppy dog eyes and leans close), if you could put a word in with any employers who might find me worth a bit of a premium on sixty-five cents an hour, that would be swell! Because my first stab at this has me working behind a soda counter, and it turns out that work is a lot of work!



Sunday, March 11, 2018

One, Two, Many '48s: Somewhere Between a Technical Appendix and a Sacred Spring Installment

Von David Hawgood, CC BY-SA 2.0,
This Irish National Heritage Park exhibit is a reconstruction of a "Fulacht Fiadh," or cooking pit. About 8000 are known in Ireland, and are characterised by mounds of broken stone and charcoal, adjacent to a trapezoidal wooden trough. The "cooking pit" interpretation sees them as locations where venison was cooked by stewing, using fire-heated stones to maintain water temperature. In Britain, the same features are known as "burnt mounds," signifying a more agnostic take on their likely ancient use. Scandinavian exemplars are sometimes seen as saunas. In Britain and Scandinavia, burnt mounds are a phenomena of the Bronze Age, with dates clustering around 1500BC and 1200--800BC. German Wikipedia has a more complete writeup than the English-language version

So far, so good. This is a placeholder posting. I was led to the "burnt mound" problem by Niall Sharples, but I can't say that I've digested Sharples, never mind finishing his monograph. That's because I have been working on the Postblogging Technology, January 1948, II; but after losing a day to an overtime shift, I've had to concede that there is no chance of finishing it tomorrow. You will have to wait for my report on the debate between Ernest K. Lindley and Henry Hazlitt on the Marshall Plan, in which Lindley vainly attempts to explain economics to the author of Economics in One Easy Lesson, while Hazlitt stubbornly insists that there is no chance of the Plan working, on account of the Europeans being collectivist socialists and all, and that it would be better to save the money and use it for tax cuts. There is, in fact, in January of 1948, something of a full-court press on for tax cuts, or at least an attempt to head off tax increases, on the grounds that they will cut into business investment. Since Robert Taft has boarded this bandwagon, it is not entirely clear whether partisanship is driving ideas; or ideas, partisanship. What we do know is that arch-internationalist GOP Senator Arthur Vandenberg will soon drop Taft and begin promoting MacArthur's candidacy. It's a weird old world.  

Lindley's argument, which you've heard before in these pages, is that without the Marshall Plan, Europe will go Red. The Economist has already been there, announcing that 1948, "The Year of Revolutions," was nothing special, and neither will be 1948. As it happens, 1848 was the year of The Communist Manifesto, and 1948 will be the Year of the Berlin Airlift. It's an interesting conjunction, although you'd have to be a pretty desperate blogger to make a connection between the Communist revolution and  the practice of adding soda ash to the smelt to produce higher-quality steel and trying to carry it back to the beginnings of the Iron Age. 

Well, it's Saturday night before time change, and I'm working at 9, so here we are.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Postblogging Technology, January 1948, I: Third Party Challenge


Dear Sir:

I promised you a full report on my travels, and I wish I could supply it, but,somehow, in spite of it all, I managed to fall asleep on the plane, and was still asleep, it seems, when I made my train connection; and, somehow, did not wake up when I changed trains in Cleveland. So wafted on the sweet arms of Morpheus (it's a Classics reference), I was carried across the continent to San Francisco, at least awake enough to pick up the Lincoln, which, blessed fortune, carried me to Santa Clara, as promised, before (late) supper on New Year's Eve. 

And so the news, such as it is, is that I had a wild fight with Reggie about Henry Wallace that continued in the privacy of your grandfather's old sitting room in the north wing until he put his hand to me, and . . . well. WELL. Needless to say, as intimate as this correspondence has become . . . Besides, you will have heard the details from Grace, who is far too nosy for our own good. 

I do not know yet if I have finally thrown away my freedom here in California; but right now I cannot say that I regret it, as I sign myself,


Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, VII: Briquetage

Lye: Also known as Caustic Soda
This is your top-of-the-page reminder that this "Sacred Spring" series started with a Technical Appendix about a new glycerine recovery boiler for soapmaking plant. The salient point being that soda, lye and potash are made from wood ashes and salt, and are, along with lime, the classic basic reagents of pre-modern chemical engineering. Because traditional language hates you, "soda" and "lye" are commonly called by each other's names. (Washing) soda is sodium carbonate (mostly Na2CO3, although natron is Na2CO3-10H2O). (Baking) soda is sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3). (Caustic) soda is NaOH. Clear as glass, I hope. 

The basic argument (get it?) is that new technologies of timber removal --that would be your iron axe-- are linked to a new agro-industrial base built up around charcoal production. This much being an established point, the realisation that charcoal production also bears on soap and glassmaking is the point being explored here. I'm not going to push on with silver refining for now, because that stuff's just too weird.

So, what about this new agro-industrial base? Well, it can serve as a weak lead-in to a quote from Niall Sharples, recently appearing in this series as the careful, thoughtful and assiduous excavator of Maiden Castle: "[The technological change from bronze to iron] coincides with, and, indeed, is connected to, a major transformation of society. The principal archaeological change at this time is the transformation from a dispersed society of individual houses, scattered across a landscape of fields, to large densely occupied permanent settlements that are contained by substantial boundaries --hillforts."

My engagement with Sharples' enticingly titled Social Relations in Later Prehistory: Wessex in the First Millennium BC" is ongoing. That's how I say, "I'm still reading it," and manage to look at myself in the mirror. As I dive deeper, I am bearing in mind a noticeable tendency for recent writers on British Iron Age prehistory to namecheck "heterarchy,"a concept I first encountered in Byers' account of Cahokia, in which the prototype American city appears as a spiritual "shopping mall" of competing offers in the fields of cosmology, cosmogony, theogony and other pompous-sounding Grecisms. (Or, as I would prefer, a North American college campus, not that it is always easy to tell one of those from a mall, these days.) If Cahokia is a model for later towns from Kaskaskia down to Prophetstown, which we have accounts in the Jesuit Relations and elsewhere, a heterarchical town would also have offered a range of tribal and linguistic identities to choose from.

Is it at all permissible to compare Maiden Castle with Cahokia? Maybe, maybe not. The walls are a bit of an issue, for one.  And is "revival of the state," too bold? (Even after distancing the argument from its origins by moving to an area where the "state" is a pristine creation and arguing by analogy back to the centre, or at least to Golasecca.) I could also ask whether this new agro-industrial base flow from the revival of the state, or leads to it, but it looks as though Sharples is going to engage with the question, and I look forward to see where he goes with that.

For now, I'm going to explore what this blog has to offer about the relationship between technological and population change, with a laser-like focus on grazing land might shed some light on. So, just to be clear, it's about turning grazing land over to industrial production of fats, hide and wool and to production for export, which frees the pastoral base from its implicit, "primitive" base of subsistence --although salt production very definitely comes back to us, there.

Evidence. Livius seems to hold by the old fashioned way of blogging online, where, if you do have a real name, it's hidden somewhere in your blog, and who has time to click around to find it? The photograph is related to ongoing research into the Late Iron Age saltmaking industry of the Seille Valley in Lorraine, although the briquetage is presumably modern, as the salt crystals don't usually last for thousands of years. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A Meta-Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, December 1947: Capital Cuts and Lost Triumphs

Pivot to video!

There are better renditions of Jerusalem on the web, but the Flying Circus crowd are amazingly good.

. . . And:


The idea here is that capital cuts in service of the Labour Government's pursuit of the New Jerusalem in the 1940s led to bad motorcycles in the 1970s. That is, to the collapse of the British motorcycle industry, and, more specifically, the bankruptcy of BSA in November of 1972.

Well, okay, that's the vulgar read, which I would attribute to Correlli Barnett if I could be bothered to read Lost Victory and find out whether he is even aware of the 1947 capital cuts. For now, I'm going to satisfy myself with David Edgerton's review in the London Review of Books, which is pretty boss, and the fact that Barnett showed up in the comments to whine is priceless. That David allows the concession that the Brits could have reduced their calorie intake to German levels to squeeze out some more capital also allows me to go on for a bit about food and health at the bottom of this post.

I probably shouldn't be promising more on food and health than I can deliver. My hunch is that there is a huge issue here, but what I've got right now is a silly and tendentious man on RT. As for whether the 1947 capital cuts had any real effect, much less knocking on to the failure of BSA and Norton Villiers Triumph in the mid-70s, it all turns out a bit anticlimactic.  Non-vulgar economic historians don't think that the cuts even happened.Since this is an appendix to a postblogging entry, and not a definitive statement about the effects of these capital cuts, I am going to feel out the extent to which it is possible to push back against that consensus.

Not nearly as sunny the day in 1986 when, for what seemed like good reasons at the time, I crossed this ranch on a street motorcycle. They're really not designed for mud, you know. By The Interior - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Postblogging Technology, December 1947, II: Dead Presidents

R_. C_.,

Dear Sir:

I apologise if this is the last you ever hear of me, but I really feel like I am pushing  my luck with my fourth December air crossing of the Atlantic. You have done the best you could for me, booking me on Speedbird, but I am now up to three flights diverted to Prestwick. (Technically, my third flight isn't diverted, but the BOAC agent strongly advised me to catch it at Prestwick.) Hurrah for December train rides through the North of England! I'm told that it is much warmer this winter, but you wouldn't know it from the way they heat the cars! 

All the tedious explanation is in way of saying that I am dropping this package off with a courier at Prestwick, so that you will have to wait to the next installment to hear of my ever-so exciting adventures in America. The reason for that is that the Earl wants to know what is going on with our new partners.

Here's the story. They want our money, so that they can break with Odeon, but you knew that. I guess they knew that they had no chance of that, so they decided to blackmail us. Make no mistake it really was blackmail. It's not just the calculated offence of making a movie out of President Fu Manchu. I don't know if you've read the book (God knows I haven't), but apparently it was a political thriller, "ripped from the headlines," and the script placed before me was an update. I don't know who is riding herd on Mr. R. these days, but the entire "scenario" was rewritten. A stand-in for Mr. Walllace replaces the disguised version of Huey Long in the original, and the "Devil Doctor's" preferred candidate is --A secret Eurasian from a San Francisco shipping family.  It really could not be more obvious. I leave any sending of messages to the menfolk. For my part, I read enough film magazines to burst their balloon easily enough. Once they admitted that they were still casting (Basil Rathbone? Seriously!), it was obvious that it was all hot air. They'd never have it ready for American release before the election. 

Things might have ended in an impasse there, but your friend was most helpful with the details of Odeon Group finances, and when I placed them on the table, our partners had to admit that they were in no danger of losing their sad little business making movies out of horrible radio dramas. I almost regret telling them that they couldn't make a "Fu Manchu" movie. They really do need better material.

Though I am sure that this is not why we arranged for them to have the rights.  Nor did they impress me very much as business partners; but they do not have to, because they can go on with their affairs without our money. 

So there you go. You can tell my Mother, if she asks, that I have been a good little trooper, and that I was in far too much of a  hurry for a stop in Chicago.

Yours Sincerely,

Shepherding uses up a lot of eyeliner
The real reason we're returning to The Economist instead of Henry Luce's organ is to talk more about capital cuts and deflationary programmes. Next week!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Postblogging Technology, December 1947, I: An Imports-Export Crisis

The Caribbean theme is developed, a bit, below. 


Dear Sir:

It seems to be a habit for me to open these letters with a "Thank you," as you are so infallibly good to me, and I can only wonder why. The brochures and applications are most interesting. Except for the one for the University of Chicago Law School, which seems to be someone's idea of a bad joke. I feel a little faint to be told that if I genuinely want to go to law school in 1949, I should be starting to make my plans now! It seemed so much safer and less frightening when it was just a lark and a dream!

Not a lark, and not a dream, is the fact that I am over the North Atlantic right now, just out of Idlewild and headed for Gander. I have a seatmate, after all, because of the DC-6 grounding, but I have firmly insisted on enough space for notes, writing paper, and cypher book. My seatmate is sleeping off what smells like more than a few brandies too many, so I don't need to explain anything to him, at least until we are well past the point of no return. I am hoping to be done by then, as while this project tends to drag on every week, I have used my train time to do something never seen before in these letters. I've read my magazines in advance, and know what the stories are about! That wahy, I don't have to read with one eye and write with the other, and revise halfway through when I realise that I don't know what the story is about. 

We'll see if that saves any time! Not this time, but next, there'll be another deviation from past practice, as I follow The Economist through to the end of the month, for the simple reason that it doesn't get around to explaining l'Affaire Odeon until Christmas week, and future generations reading these letters won't otherwise have a clue as to why I am making this flight.

Okay, sure, if they have any sense, they'll probably guess why my Mother is making me make this flight (and agree with me that she's off her rocker); but they won't know the business story. Which is fair enough, as I hardly know the business story. Didn't we just buy an interest in that studio as a way of getting into the silver smuggling craze? Now that the financial authorities have cracked down on that business, can't we just cut them loose? Surely it can't be financially complicated, or no-one would think that I was the person who needed to be sent over! 

Grr. Have I mentioned, Grr?

Yours Sincerely,

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, VI: Omen of Sargon, Who Ruled the Universe; Omen of the Inhabitants of Apisal, Whom Naram-Sin Made Prisoner by a Breach in the Wall

Assyria is perhaps the unique example of a state that revived itself in the early Iron Age, which actually had writing. The case for revival might be a bit weak, were it not for Ashurnasirpal renovating Kalhu (Nimrud) as a capital, building a palace there and decorating it with the "Standard Inscription" that celebrates his rule: State, city, text. More than anyone else can say, the Zhou excepted.

So, why focus on Sargon, instead of Ashurnasirpal? There's a technical and economic reason --the opening to the west; and a military one, in that we get some sense of how large his armies were, and, in particular, his cavalry arm, by virtue of an idealised order of battle for the Field Marshal of the Left's standing force, of 1500 cavalry and 250 chariots. Neo-Assyrian military statistics probably aren't worth the dirt they're written on in general, but this document suggests that a brigade of cavalry and a squadron of chariots are impressive numbers and give some kind of sense of what Assyria's demand for horses might have been like. (Although it is much less impressive than Sarah Melville's minimal estimate of a pack train of 15,000 mules.) 

In either case, it is hard to see the demand for horses having a knock-on effect as far as Britain, the other place I'm going to be looking at today. The case for equestrian skills is a bit vaguer, in that a particularly delicious letter from an administrator to Sargon informs him, exasperatedly, that th the governor has been able to round up 500 horses for the army, but only 50 men. "What do I do know?" He asks. Assuming, as seems likely, that the horses are unbroken, it's a good question, for me, as it is for Sargon. What's it telling us?

That Sargon was rich; that he had the resources and political buy-in to build Dur-Sharrukin; that he had to draw on the horse-rearing capabilities of large areas; that his ability to access western Mediterranean trade goods via the overland routes through Anatolia and Phoenicia was important to his success. More on that later!

But there is also the ideological component. What made Assyrian ideas congenial? What made people willing to listen to smiths and horse trainers from afar? It is a fact that Assyria's ancient wisdom, its insights into extipiscy and divining were rooted in ancient oracles. Enigmatic messages out of deepest antiquity are sent by the gods to help us think through the mysteries of their will.

Suppose you examined the liver of a sacrificial animal and found the"Omen of Sargon, who took earth from the courtyard of the . . . gate and built a city [op]posite Agade and called its name ["Babylon,"] and settled [] within it." In Babylon, this is read as an unfavourable omen, reflecting Sargon's hubris. That is not, however, the only way that it can be read. Benjamin Foster describes the "oddest" of the Mari exstiptal models as a simple circle with seven notches around it. Unfortunately for someone who wants to take a leap in the dark and see the liver as some kind of divine model of a city, it is an omen of Naram-Sin related to the inhabitants of Apisal. Naram-Sin is a later Akkadian king not known for building possibly-blasphemous cities. (He did have to survive a zombie apocalypse, though. So that's cool.) He is, however, known for taking the city of Apisal by a breach, which the omen text ingeniously conflates with perforations in the liver, a diagnostic sign for the haruspice. 

WTF, I'll go all in. Universe: liver: city. The perimeter of the city is the surface of the liver: perforations, breaches, gates. This, it happens, is "Gate B2" of Dur-Sharrukin. I haven't been able to find out, and perhaps we do not know, to which god it was dedicated; but, well, it's a "breach" in the seven-gated city. We don't know, and will probably never know, how Sargon meant us to read it, but that doesn't change the fact that it was meant to be read. The city is the universe. 

Look upon my works, etc.
I'm repeating myself, I know. "City establishments" are a powerful idea in regions where the cities actually had to be established, where the state really was being built on virgin soil. The problem here is to ground wispy claims about ideologies and knowledge transfer in empirical evidence. British hillforts first appeared in the Early Iron Age. They may be a well-worn subject, but there's just so much information available about them that they are well worth a look here.   

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, V: The Sin of Sargon

This post comes out of the reading I did for this one. I had the vague impression that "Assyrian"-style haruspical bronze liver models were widespread in Etruscan contexts. This, combined with the similarities between the Assyrian Eponyms and Roman consuls, seemed to make a relatively strong case for the dissemination of prestige knowledge practices from the Neo-Assyrian sphere of influence to the Latin periphery in the Early Iron Age.

Instrument of prophecy, scientific tool, cosmological model and it's a desert topping!

All of this collapsed under closer inspection. The model above turns out to be a unique find. Its closest parallel is with clay models found around Mari, dating a millennium before the Neo-Assyrian Empire. No doubt there is some continuity of tradition, but we have no idea what it is. Modern scholarship also puts the consular office much later than the traditional account. Athenian archons seem much less problematically connected with the eponym tradition.

On the other hand, John Wilkins' polemical argument that the  Iguvine Tablets  should best be seen as largely deliberate mystification in support of the social hegemony of some kind of college of diviners was stimulated and triggered a chain of associations with some work, disseminating from "Biblical archaeological" circles that I didn't cite at the time because I couldn't remember, and wasn't sure that I could find the citation. Shameful, I know. The basic idea is that King Josiah's well-known religious reforms, which were directed at local cult (he burned the bones worshipped in the "high places of Israel" on their own idols) were not just intended to build up a centralised state worship of a single god, and, hence, of the state itself. It had astronomical or cosmological implications, and, most interestingly, was a response to the Neo-Assyrian policy of deportations that had previously aimed to break local power by transplanting elites, notably of diviners ("knowledge workers"). I'll have more to say about that below, since it's all so perversely amusing. For now, I will just link to the chapter in question, uploaded to, presumably by the author, Baruch Halpern. (Not found without exposing my mind to the sanity-blasting ancient teachings of the Enochians. What I do for my blog! Though maybe the Enochians have had uncritical press. They seem a bit flaky to me.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Postblogging Technnology, November 1947, II: Douglas' Turn is Ugly

"We may make it --Approaching a strip . . . "

R_. C_.,
 Vancouver, Canada

Dear Sir:

Thank you THANK YOU for taking care of my flight. Constellation Speedbird! I feel like a movie star! I see that I am touching down in New York on the 28th, then by the Forty-Niner to San Francisco, so I will miss Christmas, but I will be there for New Year's Eve! I called around to tell people, but I find that a little birdie has beaten me to it! Oh, well, Ma Bell seems to need as much of my money as I can find for her. My parents' money. Remind me again why nice girls don't get jobs? Because I saw the chic-est young ladies carrying textbooks into Stanford Law the other day. What do you--

DON'T TELL ANYONE! Oh, dear. I hope you don't think the less of my calligraphy for that, but I can hardly contain my excitement. Have I mentioned how grateful I am? 

I would say more, but this letter has taken a lot more time than I expected, and I will have to drive like a maniac to make my date with Q. and Mrs. C. I don' t want to make her mad, because we have serious Christmas shopping to do, and I am counting on them as my guides to Chinatown.

Yours Sincerely,

United Flight 608 went down trying to make a strip near Bryce Canyon Airport Three weeks later, an American Airlines flight with a fire on board from the same cause made a successful emergency landing at Gallup. But seven months after that, United Flight 624 will crash with the loss of all on board while responding to a false alarm of a fire. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, November 1947, I: When America Gets a Cold, The Rest of the World Gets 70-Calibre Pneumonia"

Update: Put some words in.

At the head, I should point out that this appendix is up for the usual reason that I'm not going to get the next postblogging post up next week unless I can work on it this week. But, hey, the 3"/70 AA is morbid fun, and pneumonia might be going around this January. Relevance!

Can ships come down with pneumonia? Maybe there's a relief that can come in for a shift.
HMS Swiftsure is a cruiser that was scrapped in mid-modernisation in 1959/60 largely due to concerns about a proposed 3"/70 fit.
The postblogging series is still more than a year away from the final crisis of the Great Siege, the 30% devaluation of the pound on 19 September 1949. But, as Eric Groves helpfully reminds us, the devaluation was driven by the American recession, which reminded me of that old proverb about how the world gets pneumonia when America gets the cold; and we came across an earlier symptom of these ongoing problems this week, with the controversy over the reduction of the Home Fleet to a single cruiser and four destroyers. 

At one level, this reminds me of the Daily Mail's recent ginned-up outrage over the Royal Navy being reduced to "nineteen ships," in that it's complete bollocks. Submarines aren't ships, you see. Nowadays, the SSNs of the modern Royal Navy are the ships that keep the seas, and the nation's exclusive nuclear holocaust-related services providers (Yes, I have been catching up with my Laundry novels backlog over the holiday). Back in 1947, in the wake of the brief convertability episode in the summer, the Cabinet had forced cuts in the Estimates that reduced the surface elements of the Home Fleet to a single Dido-class cruiser and four Battles (with 1 battleship, 11 cruisers, 1 carrier, 24 destroyers and frigates and 5 submarines on foreign stations); but even though the cuts had been financial, their effective means of execution had been manpower cuts, and the fact that the Home Fleet was running twenty submarines probably tells us something about what was really going on. . .