Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Postblogging Technology, May 1946, I: Baby Boom!

My Dear Doctor B:

Please again accept my thanks for your hospitality during my recent, all too brief stay. I have included a small present in way of thanks, since your wife mentioned having so much difficulty obtaining good tea and chocolate in Nakusp. I hope that it will not offend anyone's sensibilities.

And thanks as well for your solicitude. As you know, my husband and my father-in-law's younger son are both in the South Pacific on Admiralty and Navy duties, respectively. (They're there to watch some giant bombs blow up, and confirm that giant bombs don't blow up giant ships. I'm not as optimistic as the Navy seems to be about that, but no-one's asked me, either.) You are right to say that the strains of carrying on without them are telling, and right to say that I should trust to my mother-in-law to carry on the family business, as she has so well. As you also say, I am a young mother with three at home, and my attention should be on them. 

R_. C_.,
General Delivery,

My Dear Father:

I include a packet of photographs from the South Seas, where you will find plenty of "Reggie and his Uncle James," Tommy Wong, and all of the other young and not-so young men mentioned in your son's long and belated letter.  As you can see, although the business is supposedly serious, the actual atmosphere at Bikini Atoll is something closer to a holiday camp. 

I shouldn't worry about doings in San Francisco, either. The Russians, incredibly, contracted cleaning at their embassy with Kong Loh Suee (have you met?), and securing the additional material wanted in Virginia was a simple matter of sending someone in with the regular janitors to replace the old rat traps --no heroic second story work needed at all, although the safe did have to be cracked. Mrs. W. hopes that this is "good enough for Piggly Wiggly," as she puts it, and that she will not have to cross the continent enceinte. It is bad enough that her cousin is now in Texas, and, after some months delay, allowed to write to certain persons of unimpeachable credentials. Yes, I am still a little amazed that Mrs. W. counts as such, but we have the Director on our side. I just hope that we don't end up exposing, oh, say, the Secretary of Commerce as a red-under-the-bed as the price we pay. plaintive letters demanding attention. Anyway, he sends long screeds in impenetrable German handwriting about how Texans do not pay him enough attention, and reporting that the lineoleum in his hut is cracked, and that the Army food is awful. 

"Miss V." remained in the northwest after I returned, and hopefully will stop in again to see you in the first week of June. She is trying to arrange for a proper survey of the Spokane lands, with dreams of Uncle Sam busting the bank to build a nice officer's country right along the stream. We'll see. Even the outside-the-gates "strip" would be better than trying to make money on sheep on that land. Of course, even that is presuming that the Army chooses to buy from us, and not one of our neighbours. She will also be piecing her way through the papers in Couer d'Alene. She tells me that she has a "hunch" that she can hang something not covered by the state of California statute of limitations on the Engineer.

Finally, in the matter of the tape, we have a bite! Uncle George has found a New Jersey company which is eager going to manufacture tape recording/playback machines. all that is wanting is a customer, and Eimac has secured an FM license in the San Francisco area. Without going into the gory details, FM needs good sound reproduction a lot more than AM. James had a bit of doing to persuade the board that we had the right technology for them, but they were sufficiently open to the idea that I had the principal partners over to Arcadia. They seemed to take well enough to Bill and Dave, and  I think we have a sale. 

Uncle George had what he describes as an excruciating interview with the young man chosen to take on your little problem. He is apparently one of those supercilious boys who are wrong about everything, invincibly convinced that they are right, and determined to explain just why in the most annoying way. Obscure vocabulary, affected accent, condescending manner, hysterical religiosity. Truly a prig before his time. (Not to mention some casual remarks about "Asiatics," which do  not, of course, sit well with Uncle George. Really, you expect these things in an older man) 

Now, I do not know that Uncle George might not be exaggerating out of guilt. After all, the only thing the young man is really guilty of is tattling on a few fellow students to the Spanish embassy. The fact that one of them ended up getting arrested in Madrid does not look well on the boy, but it is a bit of a stretch that he planned it that way. 

Ah, well. It is not as though the boy, at least as described, is likely to let "playing husband" get in the way of his life. Ahem. Perhaps I should rephrase that?

I include pictures of your grandchildren. Vickie is now walking, and in honour of her stubborn determination to follow along on the war trail of mischief blazed by her brother, I also send along a footprint. We all hope to see you together, perhaps at Christmas.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Planting America: A Recap

Greek-style salt cod salad. Source

When the library is on summer hours, it is probably not a good idea to hang around the apartment until quarter to two if you need to do five or six hours of work to write a postblogging post. Just sayin'. And so much for last week.

Fortunately, a rich and famous blogger posted something that I felt I'd like to respond to in a way that won't take up too much of my now-blown time here. He's a Berkeley economics professor in his secret identity, and obviously I could  name him, but then you wouldn't feel "in the know" for guessing his secret identity. (Hint: he's not the Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania fur trader, George Croghan,)

As we have argued elsewhere, to a truly remarkable degree all United States citizens today owe that framework to the one single individual who may have made a significant difference in American political economic history, Alexander Hamilton—although even he needed his followers and successors to make a durable impact.
But, before there was a Hamilton, before there was a United States of America, there were earlier deliberate shapings of the economy of North America-to-be. These shaping were carried out by the colonial powers who ruled North American: Spain, France and Britain--and, in the end, especially by the British politicians who decided on the form that the British colonizing effort in the Americas would take.. Their plans and powers resulted in a pre-revolutionary American economy that was quite different in where it was located and how it was organized from what nature--also known as economic geography—-would appear to have intended.
Back in the 17th century the British government made the decision that its colonial policy would be to bet on populating the Atlantic seaboard--at least the Atlantic seaboard north of Virginia--with colonies based on staple agriculture and yeoman settlement, rather than with colonies based on treasure theft, on forced-labor mining, on slave-plantation agriculture, or on long-distance trade:

To some degree, this was a matter of necessity: Britain being late to the American colonial enterprise, It had to take what was left over.

To some degree, this was because the British government was not an absolutist one with Bastilles available, and it seemed wise to try to diminish domestic tensions by subsidizing the emigration of especially-vocal malcontents--whether Puritan, Quaker, or Catholic.

But mostly this was a matter of policy . . . . The English settled the wrong, eastern, Atlantic coast. Ships probing upward along the rivers soon encountered rapids, and beyond the rapids came the mountains: the great Appalachian Range. The Spanish and French built their port-forts on the proper, southern, Gulf coast of America. From that base broad navigable rivers allowed rapid, cheap, and easy movement inland; culminating, of course, in the unique Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio River. Spain had, of course, known about the Mississippi Valley since Hernando de Soto's thousand-man expedition of 1540.

Gulf of Mexico-based settlement provided a major advantage. The settler agricultural economies possible in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries were far from self-sufficient. Their spearheads required the weight of full spearshafts behind them, in the form of a steady supply of largely hand-made manufactured goods--high-tech for their time--from Europe.
Thus the southern, water road to the most fertile and valuable parts of agricultural America was the obvious and optimal one. A simple glance at the map of where U.S. agriculture is today tells the story. America's prime agricultural resources are in the watersheds of the St. Lawrence, Mississippi-Missouri-Ohio, Sacramento-San Joaquin, and Columbia Rivers--not east of the Appalachians. . .

So, anyway. . .

Our blogger has a huge and important point. State intervention in the economy is not un-American, but rather baked into it from . . . Well, our blogger vacillates. The hero of the monograph from which this is  extracted is Alexander Hamilton. He's big right now, I hear. And a hero for the times, too! The problem is that Hamilton arrived on the scene of a society already very different economically from the French and Spanish North American colonies. Our blogger also supposes that the English colonies had the further disadvantage of being in the wrong place, hemmed in on the shallow East Coast, basically between the fall line and the sea. Surely the right place to build a proper cameralist police state was in the midst of the Old Northwest, scene of the main indigenous North American experiments in state building, and the heart of modern American agriculture.

The last thing I want to do is contradict the main lines of this thesis. Sign me up for a Hamiltonian moment! That said, he's wrong from the get-go, when he characterises the British American colonies as not being plantation economies, because they were exactly and perfectly plantations. It's their success as plantations that make the history of the northeast coast different.

There you go, some contrarianism, to be developed below the cut. At least you can be glad that I am not going to lay it off on differences in relief and the neglected role of animal husbandry in economic history. Or will I?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Nimrod Was a Mighty Hunter: The 1940 Land Warfare Counterfactual

The substance of this counterfactual is pretty simple. If I adopt one simple rule: that the BEF is equipped with standard 1945-era equipment and tables of organisation, I get to replace the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, the only designated mobile division in the BEF in 1940, with the only kind of mobile division that existed in the British army in 1945, which is to say, an armoured divisions. 

Let the BEF's march to contact on 10/11 May be led by four regiments of  these, and it is hard to imagine Army Group B not being in a world of hurt. I wouldn't want to overstate the likely influence of a single armoured division, but there is simply no way that the Germans could win an encounter battle with a force of effectively invincible tanks.  

Hugely fun series of "walkaround" videos of the Comet

What would have happened next is left to the imagination of the reader, but had I been in Bock's place, I would have pulled Army Group B back to the West Wall, exposing the flank of Army Group A and ending the offensive in the west.*

This counterfactual is an answer to Correlli Barnett, of course, all of thirty years, less one month, late. (Which makes Audit of War a "beach read." Time to set the scene!)

To this you may object that this is a pretty anodyne counterfactual. Perhaps I could punch it up with a protagonist who finds time out from designing future tanks to introduce double-entry bookkeeping, journalism and cheap brandy?

Who else learned the history of the Gothic Wars from this?
Or I could talk about the problems with the theory --something that actually matters.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Wild Mountain Thyme: Roman Fall, Byzantine Failure to Rise

It is going to be 30 degrees in Vancouver this weekend, time enough to think about the cool, high mountains of summer.

Oh, and in the course of an interminable thread over at Delong's, some guy, who probably doesn't deserve to be called out, given that I find the whole "the Byzantines had the wrong institutions" thing was riding high through the whole comment thread, proposes that since Turkey produces a lot of coal now, it couldn't have been a lack of coal that held the ancient east Romans back from industrialising. I'd say that runaway deflation is probably more important than coal supplies. In fact, I will say that. That will be my point. But, first, on the subject of coal,

Zonguldak to Eregli
On November 2, 1914, in one of the earliest of many indications that Turkey's declaration of war would beat out impressive competition from Russia  and Austria-Hungary to be the most foolish and tragic decision to join the clusterfuck that was WWI, a flotilla of Russian destroyers bombarded the coal port of Zonguldak before catching a small coastal convoy at sinking it. At that point, if not before, the Young Turks migth have noticed that Istanbul, and its fleet base, were dependent on sea coal brought from either the new town of Zonguldak or Eregli, the once-Heraclea Pontica. While there is a great deal of winnable coal in Turkey under modern logistics regimes, the coal mine at Kandilli, a town about 10 km north east of Eregli and about 40 km west of Zonguldak city, and 1 km from the coast of the Black Sea, was the only one then in use. Short of men, horses, industry and men as well as coal, the Ottoman Empire would not make a very impressive showing in the First World War. The question is, why?

No, it's not that Kandilli is a mountain top town serviced only by a funicular railway, making its deposits completely uneconomical before the Steam Age, silly. It's because reasons. I now introduce a guest speaker, John William Draper (1811--1882), writing in his History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, Although you'll hear that Byzantine history was neglected in the old days, you will be glad to hear that Draper covers the Byzantine inheritance of classical philosophy in a solid progression from narrative to climax. The narrative begins, more-or-less, with the final collaps of Justinian's attempt to "restore" the Roman Empire, which would be Phocas' coup against Maurice. This led to Chosroe's campaign of revenge against the east Roman Grand Guignol emperor (old timey allusion for the win!); which led to Heraclius' last-minute rescue of the east Rome 
Heraclius defeats Khosrau, Piero dell Francesca, "c. 1452"

and the resulting collapse of the Persian Empire; which led to the Islamic conquests, which resulted in the separation of eastern and western church; which resulted in. . . 

You can read it for yourself here, but I hope I'm not doing an injustice to the "thesis" when I summarise it as saying that it turns out that it's all about the Iconoclasm. After the failure of Leo the Isaurian, the true last Roman, Byzantium was in for a solid eight centuries of superstition. It turns out that drawing a picture of the Virgin Mary drives the science right out of your brain. Drawing Baby Jesus is like anti-matter to doing science's matter, except that instead of an enormous explosion, you get an irresistable compulsion to torture Galileo. 

If John William Draper's name does not ring a bell, perhaps it will help if I mention that it was during his vanity session at the 1860 Oxford meeting of the Association for the Advancement of Science that Bishop Wilberforce made some comment now lost to history, prompting Tom Huxley to drop that line about rather having a monkey for a grandfather than a bishop. (It's important because Draper wasn an American in England at  a time when they weren't yet everywhere, and because the American Civil War was incipient, and you can probably get an explanation of the connection between the having/not-having monkey ancestors and the Civil War from any given Trump fan.), 

If you're stil not saying, "Oh, that John William Draper," it might be because of fatigue with the whole thing that he stands behind. History of the Intellectual Development of Europe was a bestseller back in the day, but it was just a prelude to the sequel-rewrite, History of the Conflict of Religion and Science. Someone has got to be the poster-child for any good, interminable debate/rehash, and as far as the whole religion-stops-science thing goes, Ol' J.W. is the mutton-chopped poster child. 

If you're wondering how Draper gets to be at the AAS talking about "the intellectual development of Europe," it's because he is i): rich; and ii) actually has scientific street cred. J.W. showed up with his mother in Virginia at the age of 21, and is totally the same guy as the "John William Draper" who was a student for two years at Woodhouse Grove in London and the University College, London. I can't believe anyone would suggest differently. They just decided to move all the way from London to the Virginia backwoods when his Dad died, as people used to do in the 1830s. And then he married the "daughter of Daniel Gardner, a court physician to John VI of Portugal and Charlotte of Spain, who was born in Brazil after the royal family fled Portugal, to an unknown mother, and who was sent to live in London with her brother Daniel in "about 1830." (Thus Wikipedia.)

Anyway, in 1837, Draper was called to be head of chemistry at the medical school at the new New York University, although he actually ended up being a full professor at the New York University Medical School from 1840 to 1850. There, he did, again per Wikipedia, "important research in photochemistry," and "made portrait photography possible by his improvements (1839) on Louis Daguerre's process," and published a series of textbooks. 

It will probably not surprise anyone to discover that Draper only "made portrait photography possible" in the minds of family historians and patent lawyers. It will  probably also not surprise anyone that all his descendants became university professors except the ones who became fabulously wealthy merchant bankers, and that the House of Draper has since flourished exceedingly since. I haven't been able to confirm --because I am lazy and have not gone beyond Wikipedia-- that pioneering venture capitalist William Henry Draper, Jr. is the grandson of John William and not of some clan of drapers. It's just too precious to trace the role of American patent law in the multi-generational fortune of a family that originates with a man who made up tortuous explanations about how "intellectual development" goes wrong. 

Shorter: Unless you get your social institutions and culture just exactly right, you will start thinking wrong about science, and then you will never invent the steam engine ! Now where's my software patent royalties? I have a unicorn to invest in!

Funicular railways are things people build to make cities in mountains "legible." Yes, that's a strained allusion to Scott, and I wouldn't be doing it if I weren't coming back to The Art of Not Being Governed in a much more forceful way below.