Sunday, June 17, 2018

A Meta-Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, April, 1948: The Two Secrets of the Fiscal 1948-9 British Budget

So this started out as a smartass answer over at Quora to the question, "What did Britain lose in World War II?" The expected answer is, of course, "the Empire, which was awesome," so you can see why my push back was "Houses. Everything else was upside."
It might also not surprise that the post has not elicited any great number of positive responses. Whatever: The first important point is that I'm off to 100 Mile House for my niece's birthday this week, I wanted to post something light, and the first part of this post, which is about the budget presented by Stafford Cripps in April of 1948, is something that deserves to be shoved out into the Zeitgeist. It's pretty much set-in-stone wisdom that Britain "bankrupted itself fighting the Second World War, and that narrative goes on to shape our understanding of the consequences of running up a large, public-sector deficit to address an existential emergency.

Which is an important point for these days. Global warming and all that, you know.

The second important point is that my purely rhetorical codicil about how Britain was unexpectedly innovative in the 1950s, turns out to be far more cohesive than I realised. Picking three exemplars of British innovation at random, and then exploring an alternative to the over-worked third one, I discover that it's all linked, due to the then-secret British atomic weapons programme.
Which also brings in 100 Mile House, thanks to Leonard Cheshire, part time giant-bomb dropping specialist, part-time cultist, full-time humanitarian. 

Pictured: Not the modern descendants of the Emissaries of Divine Light, down in 100 Mile's suburb (I know, I know!) of
Exeter, whatever you hear around here. However, the girl on the left is my man Brandon Konoval's sister. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Postblogging Technology, April 1948, II: Accidents Will Happen Is Not An Excuse

R_. C_.

Dear Father:

I'm dashing this off before my Philosophy exam because my house sisters have told me that I'm not going to be allowed back in here after I'm done. Junior year is done! Give or take some German Romantic Idealists, and perhaps a dash of the Nietzsche and Heidegger for extra credit. So, in spite of my promises to catch you up on the gossip, all I can fit in (The screed below went on a bit, thus the cramped brushwork --why am I wasting space for apologies?), is this. You can tell that I'm excited. My digressions have digressions! So, to catch you up, I have found rooms for the  summer in the city. I will be living with Miss K., who has decided that she needs a room of her own, for reasons I will be interested in nosing out. (Cherchez l'homme!)  She won't be cutting the apron strings entirely, as her mother owns the building. It turns out that whatever you make of Ishi, he is good for the pocketbook!

This letter, as you know, is my last until October, as Reggie will be taking over for the summer. As he says, the only thing he'll be doing this summer is teaching a dog (FIDO) new tricks. Which is another way of saying, if he hasn't told you already, that he will be at Arcata, practicing ILS in a C-54. He's a bit disgruntled about flying a gooney bird, but glad there's room for extra fire extinguishers.

Far too much of this newsletter would be about politics this week, if I let it. Besides Stassen's win in Nebraska, Time and Newsweek are both at nerves' end over the Italian elections at press time. It all seems a bit distant now, although, who knows, perhaps the next Italian elections really will see the Red Menace sweep to the Channel. Stassen's "Paul Revere" riders look a lot like the GOP's version of Wallace supporters on the Democratic side, and are probably as clear a sign as any that Warren will not somehow take the Republican nomination, not that I ever expected that to happen.

Now, a little more about that. Newsweek's Moley had an interesting back page column about "dark horse" candidates in American politics, pointing out that no dark horse has ever won a second term, and that the last, Harding, was the worst of all, suggesting a downwards trend. The idea that Warren will sweep out of nowhere in July and take the Republican party in a progressive direction is actively a problem for the California progressives. (Not that the rise of men like Representative Nixon doesn't show that those days are behind it, whatever Grace thinks.) But! Warren isn't even the talk of the dark horse enthusiasts. That would be Vandenberg and, recently, Martin, especially after that recent stunt "settling" the coal strike. Polls show that both men have no base at all within the Republican party or the nation. Stassen is the progressive's best hope, and an illusory one. The Paul Revere Riders are just projecting their hopes on him, just as are Wallace's followers, although you mustn't tell Reggie I said so. The simple, boring reality is that if you want a progressive outcome in November, you have to back the President.

I know! I know! For a girl who cares not a penny for politics, I sure come off strong on this!

Of course Henry Kaiser pioneered aluminum siding. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Postblogging Technology, April 1948, I: Blockades and the Revenge of Money


Dear Father:

Between exams and work, I am in a tearing hurry, and I'm down in the dumps because Reggie is in the same boat, and we only put $30 in Ma Bell's pocket last night. I promise to catch you up next week!

Yours Sincerely,

If you don't mind me repeating an observation in the body, it's strange that the Berlin Airlift has started, and  no-one has noticed. We still have to wait two months for the official start. Which, just to bring the threads together, will be triggered by the introduction of the Deutschmark. I did not know that.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XII: The Queen of May

Most publicity shots from Duel in the Sun feature Jane Russell's boobs against a backdrop of hay. Jennifer Jones is this blog's Queen of May for 2018. (Thanks to all the gals who came out: Also, if it comes up, the blog's choice is distinct from the author's.)

And this image of a British wildflower meadow is cheerfully scraped from a "How to" article in the Daily Telegraph explaining how to go about creating your own wildflower meadow on a few hectares of your land for which you can't think of any other use. But setting my clumsy attempt to start class warfare aside (we're all in this together, you know!), let's just stop and meditate on spring and flowers and fertility and the mysterious way in which they're connected, deep in the human psyche.  

Done? Enough meditation! What about scythes?
Er, yeah. No, I mean like this,

as it turns out that haymowing re-enactors are seriously a thing these days. The idea of dueling with scythes isn't completely preposterous, given that the fifty-centimeter-plus long scythe is the second largest Iron Age toolblade after the sword, and your typical scythe saw fan order of magnitude more use during its lifetime than your typical sword. That quietly and unobtrusively puts it in position to claim the title of apex technology for hand blacksmithing, which makes it all the more remarkable that its history is so obscure. I do have some results to report, or I would be talking about my recent correspondence with Dietrich Eckhardt, but I want to be brief, since, in pursuing the subject, I was sidetracked into buying Manning's "major new history of economic life in the Mediterranean in the Iron Age," and Marc van de Mierop's Philosophy before Greece, and may eventually have something to report. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Bishop's Sea: Nanook

The Nanook, or Tanfield Valley, site, has appeared in these pages before. Lying along the southeastern coast of Baffin Island, it is a fairly prominent site of prehistoric settlement. Michigan anthropologist Moreau Maxwell excavated here from the 1960s to the 1980s, apparently informed of ancient relics by a local informant.

As for "Nanook" itself, I'm reminded of Henry Collins' excited description of the Sadlermiut site, published in a 1954 National Geographic, and inspiring generations of speculation that appear to end, sadly, in concluding that there is no there, there. I'm obviously very impressed by the fact that the population of the high Arctic did not exceed 5000 people at any point in prehistory, because I repeated it twice in two paragraphs in my last "Nanook" post. It remains, I think a fair point that any site with eighty house ruins, several hundred graves, and hundreds of meat caches is going to bulk very, very large in the human story of the high Arctic. Something significant happened here. The  disappointing thing about Sadlermiut is that it happened too recently to be romantic. Nanook is another matter.

Unfortunately, it is not similar to Sadlermiut in having numerous ruins. The far southwest of Baffin Island is resource-rich, for the High Arctic, and had a high prehistoric population, and within the region, the Tansfield Valley stands out  as what pioneering investigator, Moreau Maxwell, called an oasis. Although tending to damp in the summer, it is an obvious camp ground. The problem was the lack of obvious ruins, although that can be explained by the absence of good building stone, and alternatives such as ivory, sea mammal bone, and caribou antlers, all unavailable for various reasons. Instead, Moreau concluded, structures in the area would be cut from sod, a scarce resource in the area, in general, but copiously available here.

Maxwell's excavations justified the hypothesis. In particular,  he was struck by ruins that could be interpreted as the foundation walls of a (Norse-style) sod longhouse, although many other explanations have been put forward. Along with the exciting discovery of muskoxen fur, analogous to the bison, muskox and brown bear hair found at the famed "Farm Beneath the Sands," the prospect beckoned of larger exchange networks uniting the farthest northern reaches of the High Arctic with the Canadian boreal forests, and perhaps beyond.

This attracted Canadian Museum of Civilisation (now "History") archaeologist, Patricia Sutherland,  and her Helluland Project, with the usual (or "highly controversial," choose your preferred modifier) agenda of looking for Norse, which she tentatively concluded she had found. As is equally usual, in the absence of anything signed in authentic, contemporary handwriting, nothing definitive was found, and killjoy DNA studies soon revealed that the supposed exotic hairs were nothing of the kind. Good thing hair analysis was never relied on for anything important! The problem is that the carbon dates have yielded Medieval, that is, pre-Norse carbon dates. Since we seem (for now) to have moved beyond dismissing paradigm-upsetting carbon dates as Bad Science, it is at least worth considering what that might mean. Sutherland is willing to go for "early Medieval" seafarers, and points to the new, early dates for the settlement of the Faeroes and the situation in Iceland as a license for going halfway towards full "Wayfarer-"dom. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Postblogging Technology, March, 1948, II: Necessity is to Invention As . . .

R_. C_.,
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Father:

I hope this finds you well, as I'm personally a bit frazzled, having been up to the city again, this time to look for a place to stay, as it would be a scandal if I moved into with Queenie or the Cs. I've even resorted to the 'Ks.", so if I end  up staying in an (indoor) tipi, you will know why!

Not only to the city but to Oakland, as Mother made a flying visit to her sister's nurses. (Who were a bit mystified by  the origins of her authority, or why she looked like her sister.) My presence was commanded, so that Mother could snub me --although she relented when I asked whether I had had rubella far enough to promise to send me my medical records. A nurse dismissed for the crime of getting too close to Uncle Henry, she was off to Chicago, cool and distant as ever, and me to work.

I have decided that I do not like work. I  hope lawyering is nothing like it.

Yours Sincerely,

Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Postblogging Technology, March 1948, I: The City and the Stars

R. C.,

Dear Father:

You were right to tell me not to worry about Magnin's, and for the good of my ego I will not question the way you put it. "I shall give them another call if I have to," means that some of my natural charm was not lost on them, after all!

The disadvantage of sealing the deal is that I my little course on how to be a shop assistant required me to drive up to San Francisco through fog and rain, and then down again, at which point the old Lincoln was so ungallant as to be a regular John Lewis, although it turns out that it was striking for a new distributor, and not portal-to-portal pay. And so much for fetching bacon and eggs for a week on the morning shift. Speaking of which, I need to get this done, as Andy Chu must be getting tired of sitting out in his car for me to bring it down to him. Can you imagine the scandal if I invited him up to wait in the living room with the beaus? I have no idea how I will summon up a smile if Mr. Straight is there again tomorrow, and I must, because so much for a week's pay!
Yes, it's anachronistic. That's why I softened you up at the head! This post isn't late because I had to drive somewhere, but it is late for work reasons. 

So, yes, I was having second thoughts about giving up the life of a spoiled heiress --until Reggie called to see why I'd missed my call, which is because I was stranded by the roadside outside Redwood City. As for Andy cooling his heels outside now, and at the Benevolent Association all yesterday, part of that is down to me being on the phone too long --but as you pay Reggie's bills, you will know that anyway.

Perhaps I'll back Andy's stake the next time he has to spend a day playing penny-stakes mah jongg while he waits for me to finish. No. . . I should probably have to claim it on my income tax.

Yours Sincerely,

Sacred Spring, indeed.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XI: Ancestral Voices

As a city gradually dissolves under the pressure of a labour shortage About-Which-Nothing-Can-Be Done-And-I'm-Sorry-There-Are-Too-Many-Employers-For-"Monopsony"-To-Be-An-Explanation, this ends up being a truncated and slapped-together post; but at least there is some interesting scholarship to report. Part of it veers close to a new version of linguistic determinism that I'm dubbing "Calligraphic Determinism. (Basically it's about how speculative thinking within a knowledge community requires a script that can support new concepts by generating new words. You can compound them all you like; they need to generate spoken words, and that means some kind of rules of grammar? I think?

This might suggest to you the direction of a post put together all too quickly under pressure of loss of free time to overtime pay, coffee intoxication, and some scholarship about Sumerian and the emergence of the Mediterranean oecumene. But first, in due deference to the stimulative effects of morning coffee on top of all-too-little-sleep, a digression about sibyls.

They're the ancestral voices prophesying war, by the way. First, "ancestral." I continue to be struck by Niall Sharples' picture of Early Iron Age Wessex reviving the pre-Bronze Age tradition of ancestors of whom they in fact knew exactly nothing, and who were probably not their ancestors at all. (Since the current hot take is that the Beaker People replaced Neolithic Britons in the Early Bronze Age. Colour me skeptical, but the Beaker People did gussy up Stonehenge. Maybe they were appropriating the ancestors, too?) Second, "prophesy," because, in spite of what seems obvious about oracles and sibyls, sibyls don't do prophecy. Something much, much more interesting is happening. I guess that should be obvious from the fact that sibyls have been a big thing in literature ever since Virgil made the Cumaean Sibyl into Aeneas' guide to the underworld. That Sibyl admittedly did then predict the rise of the prototypical early Iron Age state, the Rome of the monarchy, but that is where literature differs from reality, and that distinction is possibly even at least glimpsed in Iron Age writing.  

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Iron Age/ Industrial Revolution Origins, Plus Housekeeping

By Stone Monki - 100_9866.jpg.ok.jpg, CC BY 3.0,
So Chile's Bernardo O'Higgins Research Base was inaugurated on 16 February, 1948, by President Gabriel Videla, "the first head of state to visit Antarctica." It is officially the capital of Antarctic Commune, and the way things are going, will probably be the northernmost inhabitable place on the planet in fifty years or so. The Wiki article  says that Chile began to perform acts of sovereignty in the Antarctic the year before. 

Either someone's been Google Translating out of the Spanish, or this might belong on Pornhub. 

President Videla and some Wehrmacht cosplayers enjoy an old time Antarctic summer. (Enjoy some Chilean goose-stepping here. It's oddly compelling, I have to say.)
The Economist does not mention that the Chilean Antarctic Expedition was a response to Operation Tabarin, and the islands in question were actually the South Shetlands, and specifically, Greenwich Island, on which Chilean "Base Arturo Pratt" is located. My bad! As for The Economist, it is not clear that President Videla was ever on Greenwich, and it is certainly not clear why it would be trying to start a war with the southern cone of Latin America over possession of the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Maybe there's coal there?  

In other news, the prototypes of the Neo-Assyrian Royal Annals might be epic literature, with an "Epic of Sargon" predating and informing the more famous Epic of Gilgamesh? I don't know that this gets us anywhere: We've reached the point where writing about technology is batting its wings against the same cage as writing itself. Ancient scribes aren't up to anything as ambitious as a year-chronicle, so they're not up to telling us how iron was made. 

Okay: Enough of that. I started this post with the idea that I was going to recap my explanation of the origins of the British Industrial Revolution. (Spoiler: It happened because of export subsidies, high taxes, especially revenue-raising tariffs on imports, and persistent, large, state deficits. If you're wondering why I decided to talk about that this week; Yeah, me, too. Kidding! Before the week turned out to be about porn stars, there was a stir on the tariff front. If I were postblogging Monday --and I'm frankly beginning to think that someone needs to make that project happen-- you'd know what I mean.)

Unexpectedly, the post did not develop in the direction of recapping state spending on wars, generating foreign exchange for the use of, and export bounties/tariffs. Recall that I jumped aboard a project of reinterpreting the beginnings of the Iron Age because I'm all about the relationship of early iron production to woodland management. At first the connection seemed obvious. Iron axes are good for woodland clearance; charcoal is necessary for making iron; more woodland clearance makes for more charcoal. Positive feedback! (Or, "hysteresis,"  if you're an economist and want to show off your Latin, rather than a former physics undergrad, and want to show off your Introduction to Partial Differential Equations scars.) It was only recently that the revelation that salt, soda and potash are made from charcoal as well, impinged. Soda, being a primordial industrial component (and substituable for potash) leads to glass and detergents. The latter, in turn, leads to the production of "luxury," that is, clean and dyed, cloth.

Okay, well, my postblogging has directed attention to British exports of coal, and natural resource exports have also been in the news of late. Rather than directing you to the political side of the Kinder Morgan question, here's a link to a recent post by Liveo di Matteo at Worthwhile Canadian Initiative. So what about coal and the origins of the Industrial Revolution? A scorching hot take would be that, if "Dutch Disease" were real, British exports of coal ought to have retarded industrial development. Certainly the old time English were obsessed with the idea that exporting raw yarn was like exporting jobs and revenues!(In the stone age of economics, people thought that a combination of tariff barriers and subsidies could be used to promote industrialisation and national prosperity. Nowadays, we've turned economics into a science, and can resolve such questions by simply inputting some data series into one of those computer models I hear so much about every time we ask at work why computers can't order carrot juice.*)

On the other hand, English exports of coal were subsidised. One way of understanding that is that by undercutting competitive fuels, coal might have made those competitors cheaper, and promoted growth in other industries. Since charcoal and firewood make salt, soap and glass,there's a valid line of inquiry here. In Iron Age or even Industrial Revolution studies, it's hard to get at soap, and even hard to get at salt, but glass is pretty robust. What might turn up if one pursued that line of inquiry?
Vann Copse, Waverley, Surrey. It's the local government area that includes Godalming, if you were wondering, and it is in the Weald, as probably doesn't surprise you at all.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Postblogging Technology, February 1948, II: The Dipstick Problem

Star Leopard
R_. C_.
Vancouver, Canada.

Dear Father:

So, the truth finally came out about Don Bennett in Britain, last week; and I, as a seasoned Atlantic crossing veteran of two round trips, could not be more pleased! It's bad news for the British aviation industry, but perhaps we'll forgive it when we're enjoying the two promenades, complete bar, and roller-skating rink they're putting into the Brabazon. 

Speaking for myself, you may still hear about me roller skating around a drive-in this summer. My interview with Magnum's was a DISASTER!! They told me I'd get a call later this week, but that was just pity. I don't know what went wrong? I waltzed in there like I was going to own the place and. . . 

Wait, never mind, I know what went wrong! It was Ronnie being Ronnie. 

Also, and to be hundred percent fair to myself (because someone has to), I was agitated by some unexpected difficulties regarding interviews for my Senior Thesis. Someone very important to the history of it all has gone missing, and no-one knows or cares where he is? Hmmph.

Uncle George (and Grace) used to do a thing where, if an article was particularly important, they did a separate letter. This month's Fortune has a huge article about weather control (you know, cloud seeding and the like).  It gets a little bit non-technologically technical, with a discussion of the insurance implications, which are obviously huge. If this works (and it looks like it does), it's only a matter of time before some of our neighbours try using it to protect their orange crops, and we need to know where we stand, soonest. Also, I thought it would be fun to march right into the law library and find out what's what! I hope that you like my little paper!

Yours Sincerely,
Obviously the real point is that Fortune has fallen hook-line-and-sinker for this b.s. At this late date, we're talking more sociology (anthropology?) of science than history, but' it's still an interesting bump on the road to our modern world. Along with Armstrong of FM and Ventile fabrics (illustrating that fashion doesn't have patents, but does have innovation), there's a lot in here to justify a "Patent Troll" tag.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, IX: Chariotry, Cavalry, Infantry and Casseroles

Pinned twice from a website where this is buried deep in the archives. It's an "Iraqi casserole." That's all I know.
The words of Tiglath-Pileser I (1114--1076BC), strong king, unrivalled king of the universe, king of the four quarters, king of all princes . . . attentive purification priest, to whom by the command of the god Samas the holy sceptre was given . . . whose weapons the god Assur has sharpened and whose name he has pronounced eternally for control of the four quarters, capturer of distant districts to borders above and below, radiant day whose brilliance overwhelms the regions,splendid flame which covers the hostile land like a rain storm, and who by the command of the god Enlil, having no rival defeats the enemy of the god Assur; . . . 

At that time I marched to the insubmissive land Katmuhu which had withheld tribute and impost from the god Assur, my lord. I conquered the entire land of Katmuhu. I brought out their booty, property and possessions. Their cities I burnt, razed and destroyed. The remainder of the (inhabitants of the city of) Katmuhu, who had fled from my weapons (and) crossed over to the city Seressu which is on the opposite bank of the Tigris, made that city their stronghold. Taking my chariots and warriors I hacked through the rough mountain range and difficult paths with copper picks and made a good way for the passage of my chariots and troops. I crossed the Tigris and conquered their fortified city, Seressu. I spread out like grain-heaps the corpses of their men-at-arms in the battle. I made their blood flow in the hollows and plains of the mountains. At that time mL laid low like sheep, with the army of the land Katmuhu, the army of the Paphu which had come to the aid and assistance of the land Katmuhu. I built up mounds with the corpses of their men-at-arms on mountain ledges. I allowed the River Name to carry off the bodies of their warriors out to the Tigris. I captured in battle their king, Kili-Teshub, son of Kali-Teshub, who is called Errupi. I carried off his wives, his natural sons, his clan, copper kettles, five bronze bath-tubs, together with their gods, gold and silver, the best of their property. I brought out their booty. I burnt, razed (and) destroyed that city and its palace."

Welcome to the Late Bronze Age.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Postblogging Technology, February 1948, I: The Great Soul

R_. C_.,
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Father:

It has been a wearing week, and not just because I am a working girl, now. I've been invited to give a talk about my senior thesis, I think mainly because I am the only Junior who knows what her senior thesis is going to be! I've had to do some fast footwork over the fact that it is Californian history, and not French literature, but Stanford tends to be easy with these things if you're eager and smart. (And rich, Reggie would say.) And I'm told, with a heavy hint that it's my fault, that my Mother is drinking again, and that Dad is acting as though his ulcer is flaring up. He, of course, won't say anything, in case it makes me feel guilty. He'll just rant on about how Indians, Mexicans, Coloureds, Jews and Communists make  him sick to his stomach. I can't say I find that much better. 

So that's me, so obviously the most important bit; but, you might have heard that Gandhi is dead. I feel a little like I'm supposed to be sad about it. What hits a lot closer is that President Tressider is dead. He was only 53! The rumour around campus is that he was in New York to "manage" President Hoover --One more thing to blame the Wonder Boy for. 

So that's it for me, except to mention that Mrs. Delano called back about my application for a summer job at Magnin's to offer me an interview. It's quite exciting, and makes me wish that I'd thought to apply to Magnin's! 

Thank you, is what I'm trying to say. 

Yours Sincerely,


Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, VIII: Return of the Dead

Bernie may be dead, but he sure can dance! It's hard to believe that this movie is 29 years old, meaning that it is separated from us by a recession, the dotcom boom, the 2008 crash, and whatever it is we've been living through since.

That, of course, was a blatant attempt to work the 2008 crash into the conversation. Niall Sharples waits until the conclusion of his book to do it.
"It is a little easier to to explain how catastrophic the end of the Bronze Age was, given the collapse of the financial markets that devastated national economies in 2008. In the Bronze Age, bronze was as important as money is today; it connected people and created a system whereby other people relied on others to provided materials that were not locally available, animals when they were needed for consumption and sexual partners necessary for the continuity of human communities. In times of crisis, the credit built up through the long-term exchange of gifts would enable people to acquire the essentials to rebuild their lives. It also provided a way of classifying and contrasting people and communities by status and identity. The complex system of exchange relationships, and indebtedness, which had been operating for over 1,000 years, was completely undermined and abandoned at the end of the Bronze Age." (Sharples, 312--13.)

I am very impressed by Niall Sharples' Social Relationships in Later Prehistory (2010), and, in my personal opinion, it would have been a barn burner if he'd gone back over it and sharpened up this point. But, of course that would be my opinion, given that my interest in the Late Bronze Age Collapse was revived by the 2008 collapse. I had a sense that this was where Sharples was going in the main text, but he waited for the conclusion to spring the analogy --if it is an analogy. There's lots of material in the main text that "hangs a lampshade" on 2008, as the kids say, or said several years ago. And then, in the conclusion, he drags out the literal lampshade. "This is what I was talking about."

Which means that it is time to forage in the communal graveyard of ideas that is academic publishing, bring to light the relics of the heroes, and expose them to celebrants of the mystery. If you don't have an epiphany, lie back and think of the polis. 

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.)