Friday, March 25, 2016

Flying Colours: Recapping Research and Development at Mid-Century

Alvin Hansen famously said that one of the reasons that secular stagnation was happening was that technological innovation had stopped.

In 1938. He said that. It seems a little . . . odd. Although no odder than attempting to make the argument that technological change is coming to a halt right now. Don't we live in an era of ever-accelerating technical change, catapulting down the runway?

So that's an experimental gunpowder catapult launch of a Vickers Virginia in 1931.

In case you didn't get a good enough look at it in the video, here's another view of a Vickers Virginia.

High tech, circa 1924! It's got a metal frame, two Napier Lion engines, and can reach 5000ft in only 10 minutes. Technically, the service ceiling is 13,800ft, but it's not like you can expect to be able to bomb German steel plants from such science-fictiony altitudes. I mean, what about low cloud cover? You wouldn't be able to see them! And forget navigating when you can't check your astronomical fixes against ground features and calibrate air to ground speed with drift sights.

Replacing the Vickers Vimy in 1924, the Wikipedia article says that some of the 124 Virginias produced in the 1920s were still in "front line service" in 1938. It appears to  have been predeceased, if anything, by the 97 bomber-freighter-transport variants of Victorias and Valentias. It also says that the Virginia was "somewhat accident-prone, 81 being lost in service." 

You say "accident-prone," I say "widow-maker." Not the plane I'd choose for experiments in catapult-assisted takeoffs. That being said, the job of a "heavy" bomber is to carry more bombs, further, and one of the best ways of doing that is to increase the all-up-weight so that it can carry more fuel and bombs. Catapults are a means to that end. Below the fold, I'm going to talk about the goofy, goofy ways, that people tried to do that in the 1930s so that there could be commercial air service across the Atlantic, and reach for a comparison with the frustratingly long and sorry story of the introduction of colour television. 

It's a comparison that, I think,  has some relevance to the problem of technological innovation and seculary stagnation. Specifically, I am going to compare and contrast a couple of relevant developments in an attempt to show that what's important is not "research and development" taken in isolation, but the broad shoulders of the state, carrying the economy forward, where and when it is willing to be the investor of last resort. Once the research and development problems that could be solved without the state, were solved, all that was left was . . Well. All that's left is everything that still needs to be done in 1939. 

And that's why Alvin Hansen was actually right!

After the jump, some kind of hand gesture in the direction of trying to make the point.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Postblogging Technology, March 1946, I: Baking Alaska

By Kimberly Vardeman from Lubbock, TX, USA - Baked AlaskaUploaded by Willscrlt, CC BY 2.0,
Mr. R_. C_.,
Chateau Laurier,
Ottawa, Canada.

Dear Father: 

I do not think that anyone imagined that, when you were called to Ottawa, you would be away so long! Well, now Mr. Gouzenko is in the news --although not, alas, due to my self-imposed limits, in this letter, and the fat is well in the fire. Or, the hot syrup is in the cold ice cream if you are cooking like Westinghouse. Hopefully, you will no longer be of use, and you can go  home and guard your gardens from teenagers looking for places to drink.

As you will know from the newspapers, the Russians have said that they received "offers of useless technical information." This might be taken as an admission that they know about the Americans' little "walk-in." Though I do not know if the FBI is conceding defeat yet. Not that anyone besides the Director is surprised! I suppose that now if the Americans want to know about the Presidents' aides who were allegedly involved, they will have to break the Russian one-time-pads, after all. I do not know if the Americans really want to do that, but, if they do, it's just as well that Wong Lee held on to a few of them. 

An innocent mistake, of course. He was distraught about domestic events, and became confused. We shall say. It will be very amusing. Some people are, of course, aware that the Soongs sent people to murder Great Uncle (and me, and my children) that night.

Your youngest is to report to Bikini for the summer; we have word that James' presence there is also expecteds. It will be very interesting, though it means he is not to get his full half-pay period. Your boy is down at mouth, somewhat, as I think he was hoping to spend his summer in a nice staff appointment in San Francisco or Honolulu. I had not the heart to disabuse him of the notion that he would get anything as nice in life as falls in Lieutenant A_'s lap. At least he is not exiled to Alaska, like Ensign Wong! 

As for Lieutenant A_ , he will be in Washington, "Miss V.C." tells us, and points contiguous, searching for hopefully imaginary (as leaving more time for jitterbugging) communists.  


Friday, March 11, 2016

Smelting the World: Anderita

Today, we're on about Pevensey Castle. At least, once I get there. First, some brisket!


 "You know what they're calling this bond drive? The Mighty Seventh. They might've called it the "We're Flat Fucking Broke And Can't Even Afford Bullets So We're Begging For Your Pennies" bond drive, but it didn't have quite the ring. They could've called it that, though, because the last four bond drives came up so short we just printed money instead. Ask any smart boy on Wall Street, he'll tell you our dollar is next to worthless, we've borrowed so much. And nobody is lending any more. Ships aren't being built, tanks aren't being built, machine guns, bazookas, hand grenades, zip. You think this is a farce? You want to go back to your buddies? Well stuff some rocks in your pockets before you get on the plane, because that's all we got left to throw at the Japanese. And don't be surprised if your plane doesn't make it off the runway, because the fuel dumps are empty. And our good friends, the Arabs, are only taking bullion. If we don't raise $14 billion, and that's million with a "B," this war is over by the end of the month. We make a deal with the Japanese, we give whatever they want and we come home, because you've seen them fight, and they sure as shit ain't giving up. $14 billion! The last three drives didn't make that much all together."

Saudi oil production, btw. 1945 is to the left of the start of the curve. You know, where the oil production is really, really low.


Not to be too mysterious here. This is a follow-up. First, I don't want to risk misrepresenting the data on coal mining in Britain at the end of the World War, and neither do I want to sink time into understanding it right now --the winter of 1947 will come in its own time. So I am going to reproduce the original charts from last week at the bottom of this number. There is considerable additional data in them, make of what one will. 

For now, it can stand to be pointed out that British coal miners are an early and paradigmatic example of a story that I am familiar with as pure racism  --the example I remember from my childhood was Trinidadian banana pickers. "There is no point in increasing the wage of [those people], because they will just book off work and go do things I disapprove of." There's a technical term for it from economics, and I'd be interested in the intellectual history of it if I could just turn up the phrase. I am, however, a great deal more interested in it in the context of the rapidly approaching labour shortage apocalypse of the Vancouver retail trades. The reader may also see where today's musical interlude comes in.

Second, I have Stephen Pax Leonard's Language, Society and Identity in Early Iceland before me. As Lameen warned, it is not very useful on the history of the Icelandic settlement. On the contrary, Leonard's objective is to resolve the very interesting mystery of the lack of dialectical variation in Icelandic. For this historical linguistic inquiry, he needs some kind of historical context, and takes the received, saga-based version at face value. (Fortunately, it is not critical to his thesis, and I imagine that he knows that there is a revisionist interpretation of the sagas as historicallly unreliable.) 

Here is a frustrating case in which I want to task the historical linguist, not with being too much in love with the hypothesis, but as being insufficiently willing to fly free on the wings of theory! I know. I am a very inconsistent and frivolous consumer of this science. Nevertheless, it seems that the mystery requires us to see the early settlers as speakers of many languages or at least Norse dialects, in order that they will require a koine to communicate with each other. Second, he sees a later phase of dialectical levellling, in which a model of ideal Icelandic is propounded (through the law assemblies, specifically) and becomes a social norm as a means of achieving a collectively-agreed Icelandic identity. This self-fashioning of collective identity might look to the sagas; but to a large extent to emphasise that Icelanders are not British (English or Irish.). That is, Icelanders need to make it clear that they are not British, and so need a common language. 

Out with the Procrustean bed! Clearly, poor Dr. Leonard's hypothesis pertains to the Commercial Fishing Horizon. Icelanders hold property rights to the foreshores. Foreshore ownership is absolutely critical to a fishing economy, as you can't get process the fish without it. If one must know what an Icelander is, and if there is no other way to tell them, it will have to be by the way they talk. 

What does that allow me to hypothesise about the pre-Commercial Fishing Horizon settlement of Iceland? Not much, other than that it must have been a linguistically diverse community, and perhaps that some Irish (and more English) is allowable. This is not the only product of a week spent thinking around the issues, and more importantly, frankly, the first quarterly grocery inventory since our latest reinvention. What if the earliest settlement of Iceland was by charcoal burners? Where is the archaeological state of the art on charcoal burning?

First, there is an interesting convergence of the exciting new terra preta work with what is actually happening in Brazil right now. Did you know that there is a charcoal-burning, pig-iron industry in Brazil, now? Today? The whole thing might even have a bearing on where the world is right now, as the fact that it is being done by poor Third Worlders is perhaps provoking a bit of a revisiting of "bio-char." (Charcoal making is bad, proletarian, unenvironmental, unhealthy, and leads to deforestation. "Bio-char" is good, because it remediates the soil and creates a fossil-free and renewable fuel.)

It is interesting that terra preta was discovered, or at least formalised as an archaeological paradigm (bad as Kuehn, I am with that word) in response to the sub-Roman "dark earth" layer in British urban excavations. We are not likely to find this conception of dark earth in the Roman British iron fields, because they were not built on cities. That being said, terra preta has been tardy in coming back to its British origins to be fully rehabilitated and understood as evidence of a community light on its feet, making iron, conditioning soils, and, yes, barbecuing beef with the firestick. Scholars have been looking for charcoal in Roman and sub-Roman Britain, and this will be the main focus after the break. No big revelations, but there's been some interesting work, for those who care about these things.

The final issue, a little out of order, is that laboriously retyped speech from Clint Eastwood's 2006 Iwo Jima epic, Flags of Our Fathers. The speech is so utterly anachronistic that I'm almost incapable of coherent response. The addition of the "Saudi Oil Production" chart is recent, a product of my third re-reading, as the previous two had achieved full apoplectic collapse before I got to the part where America's war effort in the spring of 1945 depended on "Arab" oil, for which the "Arabs" would only take bullion. It has been brought to my attention that Mr. Eastwoord isn't necessarily the most sophisticated of political thinkers, but I'm a little discouraged that something so blazingly silly appears in a critically well-received movie. (Though the Rotton Tomato rating of 73% suggests that regular readers had their difficulties with the headline reviews.) 

The speech wouldn't matter much more than a certain address to an empty chair were it has an independent existence on the Internet. The "Movie" subheading of the "War Bons in Popular Culture" Wikipedia article consists entirely of someone's retyping of this speech from the transcript. Whoever they are, they are, this Wikipedia contributor thinks that the war was funded by war savings bonds, and that America was about to run out of money to pay for the war in the spring of 1945, and, had that happened, America would have abandoned the Pacific war. 

This probably isn't the place to talk about Pacific First and the China Lobby. It's a story that will get old long before the seventieth anniversary of the declaration of the People's Republic arrives, much less the Korean War. (March of the Volunteeers.) What matters is that I'm a little discouraged that it isn't more obvious that the mid-century War loan drives weren't to fund the war. They were intended to soak up elevated wartime wages and prevent inflation. Even the secondary goal of spreading wartime spending over into peacetime demand wasn't much emphasised in bond sale propaganda. Although a little trawl through a Google Image search of war bond posters turned up the point that the Mighty Seventh was so important precisely because the war was almost over, and inflation was expected to overheat with demobilisation. (Thank you, Jones and Lawson Machinery Company of Springfield, Vermont!) 

But we just can't leave it at that, can we? It's never possible to just print money and spend it on an existential crisis of the state (or the species) without worrying that just putting that money out there will have some awful result. You can probably guess that I've had that frustrating argument a number of times lately in connection with the fight against climate change, so it's probably as well to take a moment to push back. Whether it's worthwhile to reconstruct the fall of the Roman Empire as an extended exercise in dear money is another matter

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Thirty-Eight Hours Versus Sixteen Tons: Recapping Government-Spending Driven Economic Growth in World War II

Source: Inspiration

This blog is not about public engagement. It made an exception for the Canadian election, because, well, it's a Canadian blog. American elections are American business, and, besides, it's almost certainly moot at this point.

However, this blog's cute-as-buttons niece was feeling the Bern hard when the blog had a birthday lunch with her three weeks ago -- three months late, but the blog can be that way, sometimes. So the blog feels some vicarious, avuncular enthusiasm. The Sanders campaign was in trouble --and this is also old news-- last week for taking all-too seriously Jerry Friedman's recent claim that a good dose of government spending, as promised by Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would produce GDP growth rates which are deemed by others to be too high.

Obviously, the blog has no comment. The blog doesn't understand all the math-y bits in economics.The blog's "gentleman's D" in partial differential equations enjoins silence. That being said, economics also trades in facts, and facts happen in history, and history is the blog's wheelhouse. More specifically, the blog has done quite a bit about a period in history in which government spending had a pretty significant effect on the Anglo-American GDP, and the blog can certainly talk about that. And drop the fancy-pantsy third-person elocution while the blog is at it!

Also, something like that would be quick to write, and wouldn't require library time, which is the whole point of doing recapping posts. Who knows, it might even people who are not my bubbly, optimistic, 18-year-old niece with a bit of confidence in the future. It might give my niece a future where she can teach music theory and history instead of swotting her way through medical school.

An excuse for recycled images!