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.)