Thursday, December 29, 2016

Postblogging Technology, November 1946, II: To the Moon in '48!

R_. C._, 

Dear Father:

You will be glad to know that I  have approved both Miss M. and Miss J. It would have been most inconvenient to everyone if I had packed them back off on the train to Montreal! They seem compatible with the local nurses and with Fanny, and have given me a combined brief on the course of therapy for Vickie. Miss M. in particular is firmly confident that Vickie will grow up fully normal. I could not help thanking merciful Heaven at that, and got the queerest look. She is a very bright woman, and I wonder if she has guessed the nature of the household into which she has arrived? It would be a very difficult thing to keep secret from an inquisitive soul, short of throwing the tarps back over the floors in the main hall and the Whale Man. 

Speaking of family obligations, with the nursery sorted out, we attended the Big Game against Berkeley with "Miss V.C." and Lieutenant A. this last weekend. One team or another won, and Fat Wong was able to meet discreetly with "Miss Ch." and receive a package, which I have forwarded to Father. I am informed that several Soong couriers have passed through the airport on their way east since the election, and I was sorely tempted to demand drastic action. The least they could do is fly via Europe!

You've asked about investments. This month's news leaves me feeling vindicated about steel and aircraft. The aviation industry is clearly stepping back from their more ambitious plans. There will be no sales of the Constitution, and it is beginning to look as though the Rainbow is in trouble as well. (Although look for that to change if the Army really does send a rocket to the Moon. 

Uncle Henry was with us at the game, and soon rather grandly invited James and Uncle George off to whet their whistle and talk about how one or the other of Berkeley or the junior college placed the porkskin in the forks, as they say in football. But, really, he wanted to pester them about about magnesium.   

With autos, you will have heard about the scandal over the disposal of the Chicago Aircraft Engine plant. With Willow Run in the hands of our family con artist, someone at the War Assets Administration found another one to take on that white elephant. It is certainly not good news for the machine tool industry that the big auto firms are scaling back. It is even worse when entire buildings full of new capital equipment are going for a song. 

There's more. What this person did not know is that Wilson Wyatt already had plans for the plant. Specifically, he wants it for building prefabricated homes. I assume that this will mean metal buildings rather than concrete, wood, plastic, or viscose or asbestos or whatever else, and so will absorb some of the machine tools already installed there. 

That seems like an invitation to jump back into steel and light metals, but James thinks that, attractive as the idea of replacing our vast home construction industry with efficient, factory-made products is, it is just not on. How do you keep a metal house heated? How do you keep it from rusting? Yes, I know, aluminum and magnesium do not rust. They do catch fire, though! The point is, whatever happens at Chicago Dodge, it is not likely to include an enormous plant turning metal sheets into houses.

And I say that without even noticing that, after striking out (they do that in football, do they not?) with James and Uncle George, Uncle Henry pestered me about magnesium and autos. Only to give it a feminine touch, he talked about how light a magnesium perambulator would be.

Worst. Baby. Stroller. Ever.

Uncle Henry's antics aside, I think Uncle George continues to be right. Electronics is where we need to concentrate. The sky really is the limit, and I do not just mean radio stations on the Moon!  Where the more traditional sectors cannot possibly absorb much more capital equipment, all of the new FM and television stations will have to be completely equipped, and there is the tantalising possibility of region-, or even nationwide rebroadcasting facilities for the television networks. If that does not come true, then there is all the more prospect for magnetic tape recording. James says that the Philco board is ecstatic about the success of Uncle George's friend's new show, and the wider potential of tape distribution of recorded shows. Replacing live radio is one thing; taped soap operas are quite another.


If pre-recording means that Bing can go off speed, he might actually be able to sit down and enjoy some music.

Friday, December 23, 2016

An Agro-Technical Appendix, III: The American System

David Hounshell is the David M. Roderick Professor at Carnegie-Mellon and the author of  From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States [1985]. You should read one copy and buy two.
I started this series with a discussion that rambled on about farming, tractors, and ended with a discussion of the strategic consequences of human resources shortfalls on the Eastern Front. To some extent, that was a petulance. 

All honour to the mighty Red Army of Workers and Peasants!

Anyone can get irritated by fanboy enthusiasm. Talking about the deep operational art of Soviet forces, equipped with the world’s best tank, winning WWII while the Allies footled about out west  sure beats getting excited about the way that the superior fighting qualities of the Waffen SS reflect its racial purity! It does have consequences, however. The first, a dead issue now, is the idea of an unstoppable Red Army rolling over NATO to reach the Channel in three days. In the dead politics of the 1980s, such talk had consequences, even if those seem pretty harmless in retrospect. 
Maybe it helped get Thatcher elected? Although even that doesn't do much for the thesis considering that the Russians lost.

What's not important is the permanent misunderstanding that basically asserts that “Asiatic” or “Eastern” countries are exempt from the basic arithmetic of demographics because reasons. (Cloning tanks?) If Russia only had so many working age men and women, how did they keep the Army up to strength while manufacturing tanks and growing food? The answer is, first, that it didn’t, and, second, Allied aid. Throwing up either answer, seems to require being realistic about demographics and economics, and since that might lead us to uncomfortable places, well, why not talk about the Russian steamroller, instead?

Take America: Just today, Amazon was trhing to sell me another book about Pearl Harbour, with a subtitle something like “Awakening the Sleeping Giant.” [?] This is, of course, a perfectly clear account of exactly what happened. That 's why Admiral Yamamoto might have said it! The issue is, what made America a “sleeping giant?” Because if the answer is demographic –that America in 1941 had a population of 137 millions compared with Japan’s 73 (not counting Korea, Taiwan and Manchuria), then why is the comparison not: “Japan picks on a country that is a little less than twice as powerful as it, but, then, one that also had to fight Germany (and Italy, if it counts, and then all those Balkan countries and Finland, so there’s that, and, besides, Thailand was allied to Japan, so, wait, why the heck not, maybe China counted for more than you’d think?”)

The answer, as far as Japan goes (besides China --"March of the Volunteers" link) is that being a “giant” counts for more than population. America had a higher GDP/person, reflecting higher individual productivity. I’m told that economists of the day then explained this in terms of a higher ratio of capital investment to labour, but, if so, the advanced thinking of economists hadn’t percolated to all sectors of informed opinion, because your average Fortune editorial writer was aware that American productivity/person had been rising steadily since at least 1870, and did not always correlate with changes in capital investment rates. They would talk about the higher natural endowment of land and resources enjoyed by American workers, and also invention and technology, puzzles then as now.

This is not the place to answer profound questions about technological change, innovation and productivity increases. I mean, everybody is answering those questions these days! Maybe, though, it's a good place to ask those questions. Eventually, such an exercise might even be useful for those who prefer answering to questioning.*

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Postblogging Technology, November, 1946, I: Thirty Miles of Coal Smoke


Dear Father:

Again, thank you for all that you have done. In your reply to my telegraph, you ask why I veto Miss B., but am fine with Miss M. Yes, Miss M. is an eccentric. I know that a man isn't expected to notice these things, but If you look closely at the photograph, you will see that her "odd" dress is actually a safety-pinned window curtain! It would be one thing if her shoes were not so expensive, but as they are, I'm left to conclude that she thinks that she is being "creative." Which you could read between the lines in her letters of recommendation, anyway.

I'm sorry, I can't  explain, but my instincts are warning me about Miss B., while Miss M. strikes me as perfectly satisfactory as a physiotherapist. We're not hiring her as a lady's  maid! (Although she'd be much more economical if we did. Hmm. . . No, never mind.) Actually, I am confident that she is the best of the lot --even better than the highly recommended Miss J. I look forward to meeting them both at the train on Wednesday.

Vickie is doing well. She longs for more of her mother's touch than the iron lung will allow, although it is a very nice iron lung (something I need to remind myself of, whenever I fume about Uncle Henry's latest adventures), with room enough for me to crawl in with her for short periods. Fanny, with her girlish figure, is positively comfortable in there.

You write that you have been getting nowhere in the matter of Mr. and Mrs. Easton, and neither has the Earl. We simply must do better than that. Perhaps the civil war is all over but the shouting, but I cannot for the life of me believe that anything the Soongs put their hand to would ever turn out so well. If and when the Communists do advance across the Yang-tse, the Eastons must be able to enter Hong Kong, and I cannot believe that we have not made enough money for that side of the family for them not to bend on this matter.

If Uncle George reads this, do please find some way of reminding him that he is only human. He has been so full of himself about his friend and Philco!



PS: Speaking of, Uncle George is off to the new Western capital of sin for a weekend in the company of his friend --and to have a look at this matter of the hotel.

Las Vegas has no idea how to advertise itself. Fishing? Cowboys? Girls? (Gambling?)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

No Other Eye: A Recovering From the Flu Extra

1040 Marine Drive is one of "30 homes listed for sale in Port Alice [British Columbia]" at this website.

If it seems a little charmless, it's probably in this visual field:

Asserted copyright, Wild Blue Crusing Blog, 2010
The front of the house looks so bare because there's not much gardening being done. Port Alice is, or was, a beautifully leafy town, but with the population that has fallen by half since I left to go to university in 1982, there's no-one there to do the work.

So, yes, I thought I'd share my recovery of personal continence by talking about holography, and, specifically, Sean Johnston's "The Parallax View: The Military Origins of Holography," currently up on Academia. edu.

Monday, December 5, 2016

An Agro-Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, October 1946, II: Bad Food, Bad Land, Bad People

"The greatest thing since sliced bread."
I'm going to reprise a bit from last week. I still can't get over the fact that when people in 1946 got nostalgic for the Nineties, in their frame of reference, they were looking back at 1926.

Margie some more. Please ignore the central plot and enjoy the music, instead while contemplating your life, only with the 2000s as the Great Depression, and the Obama Administration as World War II. 

Last time, I repurposed that as comfort to the country that's about to be "run" by a narcissist for two years, maybe three, tops. Things have been worse! (Also worse, the Thirty Years War, Late Bronze Age Collapse, the Younger Dryas.) This time, it is to drill home the point that the Great Depression was a living, recent memory in 1946. This, too, you will have heard, especially if you're my age. You will have heard endless lectures about how people learned not to waste things in the Depression, about all the lessons that it apparently takes 25% unemployment, people dying of starvation, and a follow-on world war to learn

The old folk talked and talked about it. It's almost like they were traumatised by it all. One day, it's all relentless progress: Continental Baking is releasing its miraculous new, sliced bread nationally. The next, people are starving in the streets, out in public. (As opposed to starving in tar paper shacks up the holler.) Worse, there were all these experts popping up and saying that it was all unavoidable, and systemic, and that it would never end.  The best you could hope for in the future was a job in the Works Reliefs Administration, because the implication of an excess of savings over investment possibilities was the slow retreat of the economy via deflation into --well, into something. Back to the Stone Age. maybe?

 Instead, as we know, it ended with a world war, austerity, a global famine --and then, somehow, through it and beyond it, the best fed, richest consuming public ever.  Even more strikiingly, in the mid-1960s, Europe became a net grain exporter.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Postblogging Technology, October, 1946, II: Spring is Coming

Time needs to be more careful with its copy. You might almost read this as implying that these two pinkos are having an affair.  On the other hand, if you did read it that way, well, no slander is truly wrong when it fights the relentless advance of  world communism.


Dear Father:

I just want to say at the first how much I regret the tone I took in our telephone conversation on Thursday. I've had a chance to calm down. James sat me down and firmly explained the hardships you've taken on yourself in your flying trip to Montreal. I apologise.

I am not going to succumb to some kind of ill-placed faith in quacks and miracle cures. But as James says, good physiotherapy will be vital if Vickie is to grow up straight and healthy. I have a fine pediatrician, and both Uncle Henry and Dr. Rivers have approached me about taking on a physiotherapist. I shall say more about Uncle Henry's latest scheme, but I do have faith that Dr. Rivers will hire the best man he can. The difficulty is that physiotherapy is a woman's practice, so the best man will be a woman, and it is so very hard to find a career-minded woman. As well, physiotherapy is advancing by leaps and bounds. Even if Vickie finds first-class care in San Francisco now, how long before London or New York is ahead again? I dread the idea of entering social circles I cannot manage; therefore, as you say, we must put our therapist here into contact with the most advanced circles.

If you are thinking that I am being awfully level-headed for a mother in my predicament, then it is also because I have good news. We have Vickie back with us. The new iron lung is installed in the nursery. I showed it to Bill and David when they were here with Alex to discuss incorporation. They are always keen on gadgets, and, of course, were instantly trying to improve it with some electrics here and there. 
Tokyo toy store, 21 March 1947. (AP/Charles Gorry.)

I am afraid I put my foot down quite firmly. I do hope they were not offended. 

Speaking of people who annoy me and whom I cannot be cross with, Uncle Henry continues to be inspired by Vickie's condition, as well as much else. That's to be read as an implication that he is getting awfully close to the woman who takes care of the business side of his medical insurance sideline, by the way. Her official title is "head administrative nurse," but the hand that punches the postage meter rules the world, as no-one but me has probably ever said. 

I'm sorry, I wander again, and into obnoxioius gossip, at that. So, Uncle Henry has decided to take this "managed care" corporation seriously, and, predictably, for him, "seriously" means a grandiose project. He has been showing me sketches and plans of a new hospital for the Bay Area, to be built in the salubrious surroundings (that means that it is high up) of Walnut Creek. 

This new hospital is to have all sorts of bells and whistles, and he is busy trying to persuade me to move into one of the private suites it will have, so that mothers of means can sleep right next to their darlings as they undergo the most modern and scientific treatments. I gently reminded him that we have an iron lung at home, and that he helped us find it at short notice, and that I really was grateful. Oh, no, he said. I mean pneumatic hammers, he said. He went on to explain a process which uses air hammers to smash the nerve endings in the limbs of polio victims, on the theory that this will cause them to sprout new fibres, and re-enervate the atrophied lumb. Fortunately, I vaguely recalled reading about it, so I didn't laugh --otherwise, it would have sounded exactly like one of those morbid "iron lung" jokes that are going around. No, I told him firmly, we will not be smashing Vickie's flesh with an air gun to see what  happens next. I even tried to suggest that perhaps he shouldn't be draining away the profits of his new enterprise into a grand new hospital, but got exactly nowhere. 

I have a feeling we will be fighting over the Nagasaki trust fund again, especially since it looks like it may be trust for ten years or more a the current rate of progress. So why not look for something feasible in the shorter term? "Hawaii is so nice at this time of year," I said. "Why not look there for real estate possibilities?" Fat chance of that, though. It looks as though this will be another enthusiasm to ride out. 


*Still a long way off for Bill and David, I am sad to say. In happier news, Alex will finally ship a "tape machine" to Uncle George's friend's recording studio late next fall, which will finally make two-coast radio delay broadcast feasible, and take a little pressure off the man before he ends up pouring himself into a bottle and never coming out.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Country Tour: A Pre-Appendix for Postblogging Technology, October 1956, II, Part Two, A Rising, Not a Setting Sun.

Newsweek's sortie into the "picture of browned-off coal miner" unfortunately doesn't mention the NUM's extra-beefsteak-and-a-roast-a-week diet plan, so I'll put it out there. The niners think that they could do more work if they just got enough to eat.

Pictures of British coal miners are a bit of genre as October rolls into November of 1946, thanks to Manny Shinwell's abrupt admission that there is going to be a coal shortage this winter. Sincce, while abrupt, it is hardly surprising, the press is ready to comment, and, as I've already noticed, even The Economist manages to get off half-a-zinger about "home fires shivering."
I'd better talk about actual dairy cheese below, because this post just earned a "Cheese" tag.

Unlike Wikipedia articles, it's a bit of typing to paste in an old Economist article, so let's take a minute and admire what people can write in Wikipedia with a straight face: 

"Coal had just been nationalized and the supply system collapsed, leaving Britain to freeze and close down. Shinwell denied there were problems and refused to assume responsibility, blaming the climate, the railway system, or capitalism generally. The cabinet had to take control away from him and he became the scapegoat."
That's right. You might, naively, think that the coal shortage problem, which affected the entire European continent, which had been building for years, and which led to the continent importing American coal, was due to there not being enough coal being dug. But, no, it turns out to be because of nationalisation! Disrupting the supply system! (Which wasn't actually nationalised.) If I weren't saving my best "Red scare" graph for the actual "Postblogging Technology, October, Part II" post next week, I'd be tempted to drop it here.

The coal shortage adds another thread of analysis here to add to tractors, agriculture and the manpower concerns of the old Red Army, but I swear there's a coherent story here. To get to it, I think that it is time to follow Lizzie Collingham on her tour of the world's farm countries. Before I launch into that, today's recipe of the week is fried samyat rice, which isn't actually rice. Strictly speaking, it is "Indian barnyard grass," or "Indian barnyard millet," not the very closely related Echinochloa esculentaor Japanese barnyard grass. The recipe involves fying the milled grain with enough oil and seasonings to submerge the taste of the seed itself. so I think it would adapt. So would, probably, the Japanese approach of making a noodle soup out of them.

(Of course, so would the actual traditional peasant way of preparing these foods, which is to feed them to poultry and milch cattle.)

It's not like I'm going to stereotype an entire national cuisine, however, (we have Iron Chef for that!), and no doubt the traditional starvation food of the Tohoku is sometimes also prepared as a pan fry.
At this point, instead of talking further about recipes, I am going to mention just exactly why Japanese barnyard grass is so much appreciated. It is tolerance of cool weather and waterlogged ground, for its abundant tillage, and its high calorie count, and for being a fast-growing crop. In taditional agricultures, this means that it can be sown over a failed cash crop, or as summer cover, but it is not picky about its growing season, so it may do well as a spring crop in northeast Asian monsoon conditions, too. It is not appreciated for its tendency to establish itself as an intractable weed, including in rice paddies. That, in particular, carries the risk of what would be seen as a weed (from the landlord's point of view), being a good way of not dying (from the tenant's point of view.) 

These were keen, competing perspectives on agriculture during World War II, an era in which an outsized enthusiasm for mass death developed quite on its own. People don't like dying, so it is interesting to read the data to understand how they contrived to not die.  One of the striking things about the whole dying/not dying dichotomy is how much the "dying" crowd managed to undermine their own agendas. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Islands in the Sun: A Technical For Some Values of Technical Pre-Appendix to October, II, 1946, Part One

David Brown DB4. Per fandom, 110 were built in 1942--49. It was "basically a D4 clone," built "for the Ministry," because none could be imported under Lend-Lease.  The paint scheme is. . . I have no idea. Is it okay to be post-ironic about masculine things painted pink, or are we still ironic, pre-ironic. . Someone help me out here?
That's your labour-saving automation, right there, 1930s style. As I understand it, it's going to lead to mass underemployment, secular stagnation, and the collapse of capitalism. Too bad: I kind of liked civilisation.

I'm going to leave the big picture for a moment and try to drill down to specifics now. I need to, because I'm not really happy with the way this post is coming together. I want to talk about agriculture from the 30s through the post war years, about tractors, and, just when you think that the subjects of a single blog post can't get more diffuse, the Red Army. 

So, per Wikipedia, The Caterpillar D4 was introduced in 1936 as a diesel-powered alternative to the company's successful CAT 30 gas model. The fact that the company could deliver a successful gas-powered bulldozer perhaps suggests that the bar for "successful" was set a little low in the early '30s, but no-one would argue that the D4 wasn't successful. Certainly David Brown wouldn't. Whatever the context (wartime Britain was not exactly short of American bulldozers), when it got the opportunity to build the DB4, it most certainly ran with it. 

I'm probably projecting, but it sure seems as though David Brown was being pretty aggressive in elbowing its way into the industry. Well known for gearboxes, itentered into a business partnership with Harry Ferguson in 1936, possibly not coincidentally the same year that the company seconded research engineer H. E. Merritt to Woolwich to work on what became the Merritt-Brown transmission [pdf]. Ferguson was the British licensee of the Fordson tractor brand, descended from Ford's familiar, awful, but cheap --because dumped on the market-- "Hun of the fields." Not three three years later , David Brown politely served Ferguson notice that the time had come for the two interests to go their separate ways by rolling its top-secret VAK1 out into the Olympia showroom at the 1939 Royal Agricultural Equipment Show. David Brown went on to build 7700 VAK1s during the war, as well as the related VIG aircraft tug, clearly aiming to launch into a long career in building "agricultural engineering" equipment, so eating a bit of Caterpillar's lunch under the guise of complying with Lend-Lease would not be out of character. 

As for the bulldozers themselves, I'm inclined to privilege Leslie Hore-Belisha's "X Force" construction group, which was brought in to build pillboxes o the BEF's portion of the Franco-Belgian border during the Phony War, leading to the "Pillbox Affair" and Hore-Belisha's resignation, but that's because I'm a little frustrated that I can't easily learn more about this and would like some other historian to do the hard work of figuring out what was up with X Force. In reality, it probably all had far more to do with airfield construction, but, again, there's a lot we don't know. It's all a little vague, a little cloudy. We know the "operational level of war." Armies whiz around maps as fast as we can shuffle our old-fashioned die-cut counters, or right click on the little icons on the computer screen, but when it comes to actual machines on the actual ground, I would like to think that we're at least intermittently aware that it all turns out to be about shovels and boards stuck under wheels and tracks spinning. It's just --do you feel the intimation of absence, the nonexistent gap where a tooth came out, many years ago? That's the stuff we don't know. long lost. Tractors changed our lives, and we're not sure how. I mean, we're sure in one sense: they freed up a great deal of agricultural labour. 

But what happened then? Not what we're told to expect now (mass technological underemployment), that's for sure. Maybe technological change was different in the old days, back when the "lump of labour" was  a fallacy and there were new industries to soak up the excess labour. Not like now! It's a mystery, I must say.

Well, as a fellow once said, there's sometimes a reason for ignorance. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it." You'd think that it would be very, very hard not to understand a bulldozer. You'd be wrong.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Postblogging Technology, October 1946, I: Through Sacrifice, The Stars


Dear Father:

I hope that you will forgive a short note on this letter, as I have little to add on the telegram. I will be meeting with Dr. Rivers and Uncle Henry before visiting hours to discuss Vickie's condition. Uncle Henry has promised to take direct charge of the iron lungs. I want to tell him not to be so dramatic, but in my heart I want to take his bluster seriously this once.

It can be better.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

"The Majesty of the People Had Disappeared"

This is the Story of How Raven Brought the Sun to His People. According to a Haida story, in the beginning the world was in total darkness.        The Raven, who had existed from the beginning of time, was tired of groping about and bumping into things in the dark.        Eventually the Raven came upon the home of an old man who lived alone with his daughter. Through his slyness, the Raven learned that the old man had a great treasure. This was all the light in the universe, contained in a tiny box concealed within many boxes.        At once the Raven vowed to steal the light.        He thought and thought, and finally came up with a plan. He waited until the old man's daughter came to the river to gather water. Then the Raven changed himself into a single hemlock needle and dropped himself into the river, just as the girl was dipping her water-basket into the river.        As she drank from the basket, she swallowed the needle. It slipped and slithered down into her warm belly, where the Raven transformed himself again, this time into a tiny human. After sleeping and growing there for a very long time, at last the Raven emerged into the world once more, this time as a human infant.        Even though he had a rather strange appearance, the Raven's grandfather loved him. But the old man threatened dire punishment if he ever touched the precious treasure box. Nonetheless the Ravenchild begged and begged to be allowed to hold the light just for a moment.        In time the old man yielded, and lifted from the box a warm and glowing sphere, which he threw to his grandson.        As the light was moving toward him, the human child transformed into a gigantic black shadowy bird-form, wings spread ready for flight, and beak open in anticipation. As the beautiful ball of light reached him, the Raven captured it in his beak!        Moving his powerful wings, he burst through the smokehole in the roof of the house, and escaped into the darkness with his stolen treasure.        And that is how light came into the universe.

Moral: Raven is a lying, rapey asshole, but he brought us the Sun. By the way, if you follow the link above, you'll be taken to a fairly long and also bowdlerised version of the story of Raven and the First Men. In the uncensored version, he takes the first men and the first women and introduces them to sex; in the version above, he's more the guy from the band who keeps at the mike until the kids come off the walls and start dancing at the teen fling, but that's because the linked version is meant to be taught in Grade Six classes, which probably do not  need to hear about how the clam's foot is like a [*], and the chiton's lips are like a [*]. Shorter: Raven not only brought us the Sun, he made sure that there were further generations of Men. 

Muskrats aren't ravens, and generally when people draw this kind of comparison, they probably don't include Muskrat, who has no surviving genre "Trickster" stories, unless you count The Deerslayer, which I do. Instead, eager to prove the sciency-scienceness of their field of Comparative Mythology, they go on a world tour with Anansi, Monkey, Rabbit, etc. The Trickster is a "universal myth", which is like a Universal Flood, only real.

You know what? Bullshit. I'm saying Muskrat can be a trickster, and that it is perfectly fair to compare Muskrat and Raven without universalising the story. This is just a story about tricky assholes. Anthropologists took more care to record stories about Raven than about Muskrat, but everyone tells stories about narcisssitic assholes. Villages have ambivalent relationships with narcissistic assholes. They're disruptive troublemakers, but, unlike assorted higher beings who will go nameless here (but I'm lookin' at you, Thunderbird) whose only interest is to hang out at the top of totem poles, Raven actually gets down with the people. Sure, he only does it because regular people admire his shiny feathers --but at least he needs us, which is more than you can say about the big guys way up there.

So I'm sliding from Raven's Raincoast people --pretty reliably Democratic voters, at least south of 49, to Muskrat's Old Northwest/New Rust Belt people, , who came out yesterday, when no-one else did.  

People in small scale societies mythologise stories about difficult people. In larger scale societies, sometimes they elect them President. The mythological story explains why: Raven will go steal the Sun for us from the big guy, because, well, he needs our approval. Sure, he may need therapy more than praise; but we need the Sun, and we're not his parents.

In other words, this extended riff on mythology is intended to introduce a very simple Big Idea. Donald Trump is a Trickster figure, and he's a also a lot like Andrew Jackson.

The corollary here is that Republic will surive. It survived Jackson, it can survive Trump. In 1828, that's not what people were expecting, and the election of 2016 turns out to be a lot like the election of 1828! Jackson didn't turn out to be Bonaparte, and I'm thinking Trump won't turn out to be Mussolini, either. 

Yes, yes, it's arguing from analogy, but, seriously, take a look at the "tariff of abominations." Trade was the issue, back then, too. (Please, however, do not look at the causes of the Civil War.)

Mischievous Andy: "The only bully I ever knew who was not also a coward."

By the way, if you're wondering whether it is fair to say that Muskrat's people are the same as Jackson's, the point is moot, because the Old Northwest was so lightly populated. There were 25 electoral college votes in the two Border States in 1828, 27 in the four-then organised states of the Old Northwest, fifteen of them in Ohio. Indiana and Illinois are still appendages of the Border States.

If you follow on the link to my long-past blog post on the election of 1828, you will see that I'm making heavy weather, once again, of the demographic argument. Specifically, I offer the argument, that the all-out pace of American population growth was noticeably slackening in the first decades of the Nineteeth Century, and then picked up again in the "Age of Jackson." 

I continue to believe that, when we're talking about the 1820s, this has more to do with ethnogenesis of Native American populations as White, but that's very sensitive ground, as one might be led to say something awful about Indian Removal. 

However, I am also going to guess that, way back then, this growth presumably also indicates a robust birth rate, that we can talk about how it was just beginning to fill up the Midwest, and that we can segue into the current emptying of the Midwest. 

Source, Business Insider
Why is this happening? Probably a lot of it has to do with people emigrating from counties where there are no jobs; and also immigrants not going there. But I'm also going to put this here:

This chart was snipped, as the attribution shows, from the Wall Street Journal, and so I'm going to blame them for obscuring the key lede, which is that the birth rate unexpectedly declined year over year from 2014 to 2015, refuting the confident assumption that the strengthening economy would reverse a trend that began with the 2008 recession. 

So what did voters want in 2016? They wanted the Sun, which is why they voted for the only guy to promise it to them. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Crowning Glory of a Technical Appendix: Sanford-Humoller, Hand Looms and Min Chueh Chang

Since Halloween has been held over an extra week-and-a-half this year, how about something scary? 

Boo! It's a strong woman! (I don't think I can defend the semiotics except to say that the Bride of Frankenstein was too on the nose.)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Postblogging Technology, September 1946, II: Progress Comes in Waves

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

I  hope this letter finds you not atomically-blasted to flinders, as appears to be our imminent fate due to the ever-advancing spectre of atomic-bomb wielding communists. (Imagine how much more menacing they will be when they actually have atom bombs. Or jets. Or radar. Or their own trucks and battleships. Or an idea that we are on our way to reading their codes. . . )

So it turns out, as you suggested, that young Reggie has not actually sat "mid terms." I am ashamed to admit that I didn't know that these still await him, deep in the glories of a New England fall. I would know, if my Father weren't too old fashioned to send me off to college. (Pout.) I don't know how much I would learn in a school that would lower itself to admitting the Soong girls, but I am certain that I would look ravishing in a raccoon coat. Collegiates do still wear raccoon coats, don't they? 

Miss "V.C." disabused me of my confusion when we picked her up at the junior college on our way to San Francisco for a joint hairdo at a place of proven results and discretion that I thought she might like to know about.  (Though my favour is limited. It was she who passed the news on in the first place, and I shall place all the blame on her for forgetting to make all clear!)

I say "our" with the greatest of pleasure, as at last I have my James, forever with me. The Admiralty has written to confirm that he will be listed as retiring at his own request with the rank of Rear Admiral (E) in the New Years Honours, which, is, of course, not news but is still a weight off. His recall for Bikini tests was an awful surprise given my recent illness. 

While in the city, we also called upon "Mrs. C.," glorying herself in motherhood. Young "Miss K." stayed for dinner, as we brought potluck to a busy household. She is enjoying babysitting, and shares breathless tales of the adventure of taking bus and cable car from her parents' place all the way to the Wongs, proof reading  "Mr. V.'s" (to give him a name) latest  manuscript as she goes. He has taken quite an apocalyptic tone in his latest, I'm told. Haven't we all? "Miss K." likes the writing, but finds it all a bit depressing in her youthful optimism. (I can imagine you looking at me with that stare, as she is, after all, only eleven years younger than I am. But it is a world of difference, nonetheless."You don't see many White people babysitting in that neighbourhood," "Miss K." observes. True. 


For some reason, not all scientific progress gets the same amount of attention in the scientific press. Image source.  As for pursuing the history of the postwar permanent wave in more detail, I'm at a loss. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Postblogging Technology, October 1946, I: A Loss Leader


Dear Father:

I hope that this letter finds you peacefully at home in front of the fire on a rainy day in Vancouver, enjoying a book, a pipe and a glass.

As opposed to, say, writing angry letters to English acquaintances about the Star Leader tragedy, reminding everyone of how often you have predicted that Don Bennett was going to get someone killed.  Or that it is unpatriotic for the English to be buying lumber in Russia. After all, it is not as though there is enough lumber to go around as it is. (Thank you, by the way.) Having just handed out lucky money at the junior Quons' wedding at the Benevolent Association Hall on my way back to ink the deal to build the rest of the houses in the lower corner, I now feel doubly a smuggler and a criminal. 

I've included a sketch of the development layout. You'll notice a blank spot in the upper corner. Uncle George won't be sure until he has met with the surveyor and the civil engineer, but it looks as though the original exemption was slightly larger than the county authorised, and there will be room for two more quarter-acre lots there without building out into the draw. To make sure, we've borrowed an access road approach that has been successful elswhere, sort of a "thermometer bulb" arrangement in which traffic circulates at the bottom of a dead end road around a lamp standard. Developers give it a fancy French name that escapes me, although "Prospect Point" has been floated.I'm not sure why, as the new lots don't have a prospect at all, except possibly from the second-story dormers, and then it is of San Jose. I say that if they pay us extra, we should guarantee that there will be trees blocking the sightlines at the lower end of the road.

Even a machinist can afford a half acre in Santa Clara County!"

Your youngest is over the moon about "ace-ing" his mid-terms, although he refuses to say anything to you for fear of sounding as though he is back to boasting, and James has been bustling about the building chosen for Philco's new research laboratory. We tried to persuade the board to affiliate it with Santa Clara, but, unfortunately, Jesuits and all of that; they are building down in Orange County, instead. 

Per your request, I have sent Wong Lee to Las Vegas to find out what has been happening with your shipments. As Uncle George feared, some of it is going into the Flamingo. We really have to deal with that man. He has been reluctant to order anything final because our contact on that side of things is so . . . irregular. But we've a lead on a most interesting connection now, via our noodlings about Yale. Via a --let's say, friend of a friend-- we have made touch with an American businessman (with NCR, yet, so Uncle George loves him!) who is in the  old country, is cultivating the right connections, and has a need for secure arrangements should he be promoted back to  Washington. There's a wife in the picture, you see, and she has to remain in the picture. (Just typing that makes me feel like a "madam," but it is the nature of the business.) If he can clear matters, we can finally close the book on the matter of respect that has detained us over that noxious musician and now the Flamingo.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Speculating About Population Change in the Peri-Contact Old Northwest: Floating Tom Has Taken His Last Dive

"Floating Tom Hutter" is a character in The Deerslayer: Or, The First Warpath [1841], the James Fenimore CooperLeatherstocking novel that comes last by publication date, first in chronological order. An awful character, who gets what he deserves. 

But that's to get ahead of the narrative by a few pages, and three weeks. In 1740, a twentyish Natty Bumppo, called "Deerslayer," as he is not yet blooded and so is known by a boy's name, and not yet "Hawkeye", emerges from the dark forest onto the Glimmerglass, Lake Otsego. (That's a metaphor, faithful readers! Stop asking, because you'll never know more about Bumppo's childhood. It happened in the darkness of the forest!) Bumppo and his lifelong friend, Chingachgook, are pursuing a Huron raiding party which has kidnapped Chingachgook's fiancee, insofar as pre-conversion Lenape Indian braves have fiancees. (Really: there's a girl. So stop with the slash fiction. Okay, no, don't.)

At Lake Otsego, they find a primeval wilderrness, inhabited only by Hutter and his non-identical twin daughters, dark and light, who live in Muskrat Castle, a structure built directly on an underwater rock which does not quite break the surface of the shimmering lake. The Indians, who travel on Lake Otsego but to not tarry, call Hutter, "Muskrat." Hence the name. 

One interpretation. You will see a less imposing one below.

Everyone then has assorted proto-Western adventures, in the course of which the awful  Hutter is caught alone at the Castle by some Huron braves, and scalped. Fenimore Cooper makes the Hurons comment that they have "skinned" Muskrat, the only use I am aware of what should be a fairly obvious analogy between taking pelts and taking scalps. 

Later, Natty and Hutter's daughters find the mortally wounded Hutter, and, per his last request, lay his body to rest in the lake, weighting his shroud and lowering the body to the same rock shelf below the Castle that Hutter had used as a last resting place for his wife, years before. "Muskrat has made his last dive," Natty muses. Then he rummages through Hutter's chest, discovering all sorts of secrets about Hutter's piratical past, and that of his wife, the mother of the two girls, for Hutter is not otheir father, and their mother is, as Judith will be, a "fallen woman." (Hint hint!) The rest of the secrets, we are told, Bumppo is too naive to interpret. Not only that, but Cooper takes the time to tell us  that this trove of secrets was all washed away in the next flood. Yes! They existed. And you will never know more than has already been hinted! I can see where critics like Mark Twain get frustrated with Cooper. Nevertheless, James Fenimore can hardly make his authorial practice more explicit than he does in this bit. He is all about the hinting, and if you want to know more, you have to interpret the hints.

Having brought America's greatest Southwestern Whig/Republican humourist up, I will continue, because Deerslayer is probably better known today as the main subject of Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" than as a novel. In particular, I want to talk about the sequence, two pages or so in, where Twain launches into an extended critique of the physical plausibility of a sequence in which a group of Huron braves attempt to leap, or, rather, dive down from the branches of trees which ark over the East Banch of the Susequehanna River as it emerges from Lake Otsego, onto the deck of Hutter's houseboat, The Ark. 

Now, Twain is right about many aspects of this discussion as a matter of strict realism. Cooper is performing premature magic realism her; but he has a reason, and I honestly cannot tell whether Twain is aware of the myth of Earth Diver or whether he is just being dishonest. Since I do not want to divert you to a link you might not follow, the Earth Diver creation myth can be very succinctly summarised as: In the beginning, there is only flood. A pregnant woman falls from the Heavens.  ("Fallen woman," you see.) Turtle catches her, but there is not enough room for her to give birth. A series of woodland  animals attempt to reach the bottom of the water and bring up mud to build a bower for her. Finally, Muskrat succeeds (and sometimes dies). The bower becomes Turtle Island. That is, the world. Fallen Woman gives birth to twins dark and light. Various further myths ensue. Twain can reasonably be genuinely unaware of the myth, which is buried in Schoolcraft and tainted by hoax. On the other hand, there are enough mythological references that one would think that Twain would be alert to the possibility that something like this is going on.

The other thing Twain makes heavy going of is the notion that Cooper is presenting the upper Susquehanna as much wider than it in fact is at Cooperstown. He's wrong again, but in a much more defensible way, in that he can hardly be expected to have poured over one of Cooper's secondary (at best) novels (Wyandotte: Or, the Hutted Knoll) or the historical introduction to The Pioneers, and discovered that Lake Otsego frequently jams at with flotsam at the outlet, and that on at least one, and probably many more occasions, it has been deliberately dammed there. When the dam built by General John Sullivan's troops was broken on 6 August 1778 specifically, was broken, the released floodwaters lifted the bateaux carrying his supplies down streeam and then up the West Branch into the heart of the Six Nations. More commonly, the dams would have eased the downstream passage of trading canoes, of which more maybe someday. Here, I just want to bring out the point about dams, and broken dams, and their relationship with flooding. Muskrats are not beavers, but muskrats and beavers are semi-aquatic, fur-bearing animals important to the fur trade. 

Anyway, I get to feel special, because, as far as I know, I am the first person to point Cooper's mythological source out --although Lauren Goff caught the emphasis on the flooding and connected it with the myth of the canoe volant, the "flying canoe," which is awfully clever. This is kind of sad, because it doesn't strike me as an insight that would escape over-much academic attention. Cooper is a terrible writer, but being a terrible writer does not make you an uninfluential one. Come on, Americanists! This is a hugely important writer, and the fact that Nineteenth Century Federalist literary critics have little to say about him, says, in turn, a great deal more about Federalist literary critics than the antebellum American literatry scene. 

On the other hand again, maybe the American academy doesn't particularly want to parse Cooper's hints. From Anti-Masonic through Whig through Republican, the American-party-that-isn't-the-Democrats can be, well, weird. 

Hee. I said "Whig."

On a completely unrelated subject, the point here is that skinned/scalped Muskrat is the creator/originator/first settler/real estate developer of the Cooperstown area. 

Tom Hutter (second from left) and his lake cabin, as imagined in Chingachgook: Die Grosse Schlange [1967]. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, etc. 
And that he's got, figuratively, a muskrat pelt for a scalp. Given the week it's been, I just wanted to point that out.
Forrest Tucker, 29 years after playing Tom Hutter in The Deerslayer (1957) and starting to look like a character out of a dystopian movie I watched once. Something about groping women, starting nuclear wars, and building walls? 

That will be quite enough over-close parsing of awful old books and reflecting on recent debates for one post. After the break, I try to get serious, talking about the problem populations, ecology, and the economic geography of the early fur trade. And people who wear strange things on their heads.