Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, 19: Scheidel Versus Soap

"Sacred Spring" is a thesis about cleanliness being next to godliness. The Bronze Age was the age of wool, not of metal, and the Iron Age that followed it is when soap production caught up with wool.

Walter Scheidel doesn't seem to believe in clean underwear. Today, I'm going to try to focus the thesis and engage with The Great Leveler. 

The Bronze Age increase in wool production occurred  from very low levels, and was closely linked to long-distance exchange. This required a store of value in the form of metals. The Late Bronze Age Collapse resulted from a collapse in the value of metal which spread out from the centre, as surplus stocks were dumped on backwards communities on the periphery, culminating in the failure of the Atlantic Interaction Sphere around 850BC.

Depending on the region, this was a more-or-less "successful" collapse into much more egalitarian communities engaging in significantly less long-distance trade. The Scheidel argument is that such societies do not produce investment surplusses. I guess that makes great economic theory, but I think it is pretty clear that the Iron Age was not like that, that a drastic reduction in social inequality coincided with rapid economic growth. That said, the growth phase may have been significantly retarded, since it can be dated with some confidence to the 850/800 period, while the first wave of the Late Bronze Age collapse hit the Aegean at the onset of the Late Helladic IIIC strata, fairly rigorously dated to 1190BC, with a target bracket of 1230--1130BC. 

Silver smelting pretty firmly nails the beginning of the Iron Age expansion. It may not be the first. It is part of a new complex of forest industries, of which ironmaking at least has a very gradual and early birth, while only the earliest signs of cavalry warfare appear in the record so early. Dyemaking has a well known c. 800 horizon from the literary sources, but these are also now archaeologically bolstered. Glass manufacture seems to track these dates as well. As already implied, the 800BC horizon, is also that of the "EIA reemergence of the state." That is, of course, a poor formulation, since the states I want to talk about are new ones in the western Mediterranean lagoons, notably at Rome, Carthage, Syracuse, in the Camargue, and in western Andalusia. But what are you going to do? However, all these new states remain within the Koppen Csa zone (Hot Summer Mediterranean), that birthed the earliest urban civilisations of the Middle East. Looking a little deeper into the continental interior, we find persistent experiments with state-ordered societies in temperate Europe,the subcontinent and possibly the Sahel. None of the experiments took off before the Principate, admittedly a controversial claim for South Asia and a bit outlandish for Africa, but my point is that they were a persistent object of experiment, and not a viable lifestyle. 

Thus: Wealth inequality led to excess saving and an investment bubble. The collapse of stored value, which led to social collapse, in turn led to a period of economic growth, which led to economic change, which led to the revival or new creation of the state.

The reader may recognise this as a response to the trauma of 2008 and the collapse of the neo-Liberal order --same as Scheidel, but with a technological point of departure. Taking the lead between my teeth, I have proposed the High Priest of Amun at Karnak in Thebes as the central banker of the Late Bronze Age, sterilising currency flows until the rate of burial could not keep up with the inflow of bronze, then stimulating a post-Collapse western Eurasia until, at last, the corpse rose and walked. Hey, if Scheidel can give us ten millennia of the Gini coefficient, I don't see why I can't play this game! 

Friday, October 25, 2019

Big Science and Big Bombs: A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, July 1949, II;

UPDATE: I don't usually fix these off-week posts. They're hurried for a reason. On the other hand, blah blah work schedule here I am with some free time Monday morning, and this one is particularly egregious and easy to fix.

 Operation Grapple
At this point, I feel an overwhelming urge to indulge my inner Geoff Crowther and blame the Atlee Government for blowing up Christmas. Yes, it was the Conservatives who carried out the 1957/8 Christmas Island tests, and the Conservatives who authorised Short Granite and Orange Herald. Short Granite was a hydrogen fizzle, which was perhaps not unexpected, because Orange Herald was ready in reserve. Orange Herald popped off at 800 kT. This qualified Britain for membership in the Megaton Club, and allowed it to hold up its head high at Security Council meetings and sneer at the French. Although this seems like rewriting the rules of the H-Bomb Club to me, because Orange Herald was a regular old fission bomb. Whatever. I'm not on the Security Council, and an 800kt fission bomb is a bravura performance in itself, and the Grapple X test, a year later, demonstrated some remarkable weapons design that Norman Dombey and Eric Groves probably know more about than they're allowed to say.

Notwithstanding being a cool design, any 800kT fission weapon is going to be dangerously susceptible to "multi-kiloton events," and the major safety mechanism on the descendant Violet Club is some real Cold War dark humour. These monsters theoretically armed the V-bomber force for a few years in small numbers, although no V-bomber ever took off with one, the RAF having more sense than whoever it was in the decision chain that signed off on Violet Club. Presumably, any crash-landing related "events" would be reserved for WWIII, when public opinion would be jaded by more pressing concerns like rampaging atomic zombies.  

As for blaming the Atlee Government, we can get there by arguing that the insanely accelerated British programme wouldn't have been necessary if the Atlee Government had launched a "Super" programme when the Truman Administration announced that it was going to develop an H-bomb, back in January of 1950. It makes for a kinder treatment of late-Fifties Conservative defence policy than dwelling on the fact that the upshot of Grapple diplomacy was that the British got access to American designs, pretty much ending independent British  atomic weapons development, which is the kind of thing you expect the core Conservative voter to support.

Oh, wait, no, that probably means no tax cut. Never mind.

By this point, I'm getting a few months ahead of myself in terms of postblogging. What I want to talk about is the 1949 Nuffield Foundation grants. Presumably all of the stuff that these grants facilitated is now ancient news after decades of work at Los Alamos, Scandia, Oakridge, Livermore and the Aldermaston in the years since, but the public doesn't always know anything about that except for what indiscreet persons such as the President of Russia might have let slip.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Postblogging Technology, July 1949, II: Swift is the Hunter

R_. C_.,
c/o Painter's Lodge,
Campbell River,

Dear Father:

I'm sorry to hear about the lodge. But not that sorry, since I never quite saw the point of fishing, and I know I take after my Dad in that. If you're asking me, I say, bulldoze away. If the contractor says that we can't save it, we can't save it. We can remember Grandfather plenty of other places and ways than pretending to enjoy torturing fish off Campbell River. 

Down here in San Francisco we've got the word that the Secretary doesn't want us dropping atom bombs on "strategic" targets --Fortunately, there's still "tactical" ones. You will have heard about the Constitution's latest refit. It isn't good for anything else, so we're making it a radar command post for picking up all the Communist attackers that don't exist yet, so we can trace them back and atom bomb all those Soviet light cruisers into oblivion. I was briefly worried that I was going to be put aboard, since it's my thing. I'm not. They're leaving me to fly my Neptunes. I'm not sure why, but something is up around Livermore. The Great Man was here again the other day. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the Navy --in fact, he was here with the AEC, FBI and once with the infamous Edward Teller. If you're wondering what makes him infamous, I don't' know, and I can't tell. Hint. What do you get when you put two hydrogen atoms together? Teller thinks he knows. I have no idea why or how, but I'm just an engineer, and what do I know about quantum physics? (That's the math of very small particles, like protons and neutrons.) I do know he had a screaming argument right on the tarmac with two of his followers. Maybe he wants to put a ray gun in a Navy ship! When you see the Air Force Aviation Medicine people talking about flying to Mars, you start to forget what's science fiction and what's not. 

If you know your son, you know that seeing Ronnie starting to get ready for first year law school has me thinking about more school. I don't think the Navy would be happy with me if I tried to stretch my education into graduate school without doing an active duty tour or two first. They're already bending over backwards to let me play the tinker up here at Livermore! At some point they're going to make me do something a bit more boring and patrol aviation-y. There's talk that we need to go see the Europeans chase fast submarines after VERITY, and the situation off China is getting very, very spicy. If Washington doesn't figure out which way the wind blows, we're eventually going to see the Koumintang shooting at the RN. And what do we do then?

Well, I'll leave it at that, as I have been dragooned to drive down to the city to fill a book list.

Your Loving Son,

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Postblogging Technology, July 1949, I: A Gem of an Engine

R_. C_.,

Dear Father:

This reaches you from my almost luxurious pen, as I am now an "officer and a gentleman" on active duty, which I find to be very much less work than being an engineering student at the Institute. Ronnie, a working woman for the moment, cannot say the same, though I think that she is driven by as much ambition as anything else. I feel a bit of a failure to be driving her car, instead of mine. Perhaps I should try to win Uncle's approval harder? A nice new Jeep would be the pride of Livermore! 

Two ads with psychoanalyst gags equals a trend.
That thought is brought to mind this lazy morning by the afterglow of a dinner party at the Professor K.'s. Miss K. was there, and brought her beau of the summer, clearly on his way out. As for why he was at that point still Miss K.'s beau, well, your guess is as good as mine, and probably better than Uncle George's! (He has one thing on his mind!)  Anyway, it all worked out. For there I was, seething over the fat lip I was talked out of giving him in August, when he made the mistake of going on about  Levi-Strauss, psychoanalysis and "semiology." Ronnie proceeded to take him apart in the most low-key and politely hilarious way until I was about to crack up and he announced that he was coming down with something and departed leaving Miss K. to find her own way home. Yes, she was at dinner with her parents, but still! Honest, I think up to that point Ma and Pa K. liked him more than Miss K. did. 

So good food and a humiliation richly deserved and a long time coming. That's entertainment! Now if I can just wrap my head around Ronnie's explanation of "structuralisim."

Your Loving Son,

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, 18: Apocalypse As Driving Force (Speculation)

This picture is Art, and therefore the performers do not need to be named. I thought slavery was illegal now, but what do I know? Shame, Guardian, shame. 
Arguably, the real speculation around here is what my work schedule will look like next week, and whether I'll need my Saturday off to start work on postblogging July. I don't think I'd better spend any more time around here than this, and I do want to double down on the idea of the Bank of Thebes carrying out fiscal easing operations by looting New Kingdom tombs and injecting bronze and precious-metal-liquidity into the Mediterranean basin economy, with immediate and gratifying effect.

Tearing my eyes away from the Mediterranean coast of France and its tantalising proximity (on the same continent, anyway) with Oppidum Heueneburg, perhaps Herodotus's "Pyrene," there is a first pristine new state of the Iron Age that by rights claims priority of attention. Dido's Carthage is incomparably the greatest foundation of the era "around 800." In fact, notwithstanding Virgil, who needs several centuries between Aeneas and Romulus, archaeology is increasingly clear on the approximate reliability of the traditional 813BC founding date. In fact, we might be close to getting rid of the "approximately." From carbon dates to a mass of pottery that can be correlated with the incredibly precise Aegean sequence, we can certainly say that it occurred sometime between 830 and 800. It's the very model of the Early Iron Age revival of the state. Unfortunately, that raises a bit of a problem, which I guess I've already "solved" with my introduction.