|So I went looking for an image of Belisarius massacring the Nike protestors, and found Jo Walton asking why genre fiction was obsessed with the Sixth Century Byzantine general. I read on expecting the conclusion that limmediately occurred to me, that they were all riffing on stadium massacres of great masses of political enemies, but it turns out that Walton has many better examples than Jerry Pournelle novellas. I don't doubt that Pournelle was making the connection with Pinochet and his apologists (that is, Hayek and Friedman, who did use the Phillips Curve as ideological cover, etc, etc). However, Walton's examples are much more innocuous.|
Talk about your Wittfogelian moment! Vladimir Lukyanov's 1932 (or 1928, or 1936: apparently, with communists you don't need dates) analogue computer was an elaborate room full of water chambers and channels that was designed to calculate water levels in the new reservoirs of the Soviet Union's various grand hydroelectic/irrigation projects.and also, says the article, in the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline, which is a railway, and not a hydraulic project. That's probably because, by the 1970s, there were several hundred water integrators around the Soviet Union, being used to solve ugly partial differential equations. To infinity, and beyond!
I was a bit disappointed by all of this, as I was hoping that for some grand dieselpunk machine using Admiralty oil servos, but instead I was led to Bill Horton's work with "fluidics," beginning in 1957, which was all hydraulic flow. The modern fluidics enthusiasts have vague ideas of using aerodynamic surfaces as logic gates, perhaps even using rudders and flaps for vector thrust. Too cool for school, although, ironically enough, evidently beyond the current limits of computation power. Solving those PDEs is just too much work. . .
This is not, as I've said, the week for hard boring of hard bores. I really need to get back to Flight.
|RAF hats? RAF hats.|
|Overpopulated India has less than half the population density of Great Britain, and less than five times that of United States.|
It turns out that it took until late October for Newsweek and Time to catch up with the Neo-Malthusians, and this one comes out of Time's election issue, several pages after Kiplinger Magazine's [who knew?] ad for its special "What Will Dewey Do" issue. Since Time has restored access to its Vault, which is nice, because I'm certainly not subscribing to have piles of unread news magazines sitting around my apartment. I've got the Guardian for that, I can even follow up on the image.
Time points out that neo-Malthusianism is linked to the "similar erosion scare in the Thirties," before bulldozing on to the point that it is a rationale for colonialism. Say what you will about Henry Luce's unpleasant paleo-Republicanism: I like the cut of his anti-imperialist jib, and Time's editorial board does a fine job of following up on Vogt and Fairfield's vague ideas about agriculture. It's sad that Time has to patiently explain that "soils are made of mineral particles mixed with organic matter and . . . living organisms," and that " . . . . [t]hese living things . . . have more influence on the character of the soil than does the rock or other material out of which the soil was formed," and that the reason that the chernozem soils of Iowa and Ukraine are so good for wheat growing is that they are suitable for a grass biome, and have been conditioned to be grasslands." Podsoils, Time goes on, form in wetter climates where dense forests normally grow, and have acidic, leached, "tree-formed" soils that, at first, do not produce good grain crops, but that a good farmer can quickly condition the soil into productivity, as was done on the "well-kept farms of New York State, Pennsylvania and Ohio." "'Irreplaceable topsoil,' Time adds, is a punchline to agronomists, pointing out that when, in 1937, a US Agriculture Department research station stripped the full 10 inches of soil from an Ohio station, down to the yellow subsoil, it took only six years under corn to bring it back. Time goes on to point out that Pennsylvania farmers sell their excess topsoil to mushroom farmers, lest the ever deepening layer bog their equipment, I suppose.
I could go on, but it is when China comes up that Time throws the kind of fit that helps me appreciate my China missionary ancestors. Vogt tells us, because this kind of rhetoric never goes out of season, that it is too late to prevent terrible famines in China due to all the population increase, and that they are a mercy. Had General Marshall's peace mission succeeded, Vogt says, it would have been the real tragedy. Time tartly points out that the population of China probably had not increased at all in the previous decade of war. "Such super-isolationism, with hints of the old 'yellow peril,' is one of the ugliest implications of neo-Malthusianism."
Again, say what you will about the church lady ethos of the old China missionaries, anti-anti-Aisianism just might be the thin edge of the wedge that opens the door to civil rights for African Americans.
Newsweek's review is less sumptuous, perhaps because Newsweek isn't edited by a former China missionary turned Downeast gentleman farmer. It does, however, carry a letter from Vogt specifically about his objection to Greek food aid, as likely to trigger an excess of Greeks. This is presumablly a step too far even for Vogt, and he wants Newsweek to understand that just because he said it, does not mean that he meant it. It was all just some kind of jeu d'esprit.
I wouldn't return to this subject, especially in an ostensibly near-purely technical appendix were it not for the other story that caught my eye in the election number of Newsweek, which was about the British Interplanetary Society's annual meeting, at which Olaf Stapledon gave a talk on colonising the planets. The aging author of Star Maker, Last and First Men, and Odd John, amongst others, explains that Venus will probably need a whole new atmosphere, but that the colonisation of Mars might be achieved eugenically(!) The first colonists, he theorises, might be Tibetans, on account of their genetic acclimatisation to low temperatures and thin atmospheres; but, in the long run, we should definitely consider a eugenics programme to produce a perfectly adapted new race of Martians. Given the ludicrous state of Areology in the 1950s -pick up a textbook to see just how little distance had been made from the good old days of canals-- this isn't quite as crazy as it sounds, biologically speaking. It's the invocation of eugenics, three years after WWII, that gets my attention.
Rockets, eugenics, planetary exploration and "hydraulic despotism." It's a somewhat aimless mish-mash. The issue is that it is the fertile soil from which the idea of the computer is growing. That's my justification for calling this a technical appendix, anyway. The green shoots of the computer are poking forth everywhere.
Time: "Thoroughly Roman Catholic Eire has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and its population is stable. Eire is behaving more-or-less as the Neo-Malthusians want all countries to behave. It is not industrialising (Vogt hates industrialisation), it is not greatly increasing food production. [Soil mining is bad.] But 79% of Irishmen under 30 and 60% under 40 are not married. Thirty-five percent of Irishwomen do not marry at all. "Ecologists" might call this balance; few sociologists would call it healthy."