Saturday, December 25, 2021

Postblogging Technology, September 1951, I: The Age of Inflation





R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada


Dear Father:

Well, you can see that the distractions of  setting up housekeeping, motherhood, my husband being on the other side of the country, and, oh, yes, second year law school isn't keeping me from my newsletter! I shall perhaps have more gossip to report when we are separated by more than the week since I saw you off on the train. There seems to be some glimmer of hope on the horizon that my magazines will finally start reaching me soon. In the meantime, Aviation Week is still the exception and the local library has The Economist and Newsweek. I could also get my hands on Time easily enough, but I'm happy to let Mr. Luce's organ take a break for a week. 

In the mean time, at least rubber balls full of gasoline are not plunging to the ground around us, which is always good news. (I tried to think of a joke that I could make about the scheme, but how do you make it more ridiculous?)

Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie

Saturday, December 18, 2021

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging, July and August 1951: The Avon State

 


Way back in the 28 July number, The Economist wrung its hands, as The Economist was wont to do, over the aero-engine problem. This is a problem that, as far as I know, no-one else has ever heard of, but which is well worth another look, once extracted from my historicised postblogging voice and given the longer perspective that history of technology has denied it. It seems especially pressing when I am preparing to postblog September. We have a new month's worth of handwringing to deal with, this time over "the inflation state," Attlee calling the election, and the annual Farnborough show. I can't help but think that the last two are linked, that one reason The Economist is banging on about airplanes so much is that the Farnborough show has turned into a very exciting demonstration that the Attlee government is doing something right. It would, as usual, blow The Economist's cover to be too down on Farnborough and planes, in general, but one can get there by a short detour if the flesh is willing. 

Thursday, December 9, 2021

The Bishop's Sea: Fine Corinthian Leather

 


There's something a little unfair about remembering a great actor and a great guy like Ricardo Montalban for a tagline from a commercial, but, come on, "Fine Corinthian leather." It's hilarious, and it reminds us of a distant day when Mediterranean leather products had a cachet of quality that industrial leather from more northerly climates just could not match. 

The product that comes immediately to mind when I think about this is chamois leather, which turns out to be a southwestern French product, but close on its heels in my free-associating mind is "Moroccan kid leather," an advertising tag rather than a specific industrial product. This turns out to be a specific product of exactly a national industry, "Morocco leather."  Per Wikipedia, it was a goatskin product, usually dyed, especially associated with the port city of Safi, imported into Europe since long before the late Sixteenth Century, when it became the bindery leather of choice for expensive book editions. Not surprisingly given that it is sourced to an entrepot city, the Wikipedia article goes on to indicate that much Moroccan leather was not from Morocco at all, and singles out northern Nigeria as a source.


Which, sure, why not. But today I want to talk about the Canary Islands.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Born For This Battle: An Update From the Leading Edge

It's time for an update from the Carbon Crisis!



 The North American craton has been heading west into the Pacific for some 200 million years. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels only exited the historic regime during the Korean War. Both historic trends are important as we put November to bed on Canada's West Coast. The direct cause of the tricky situation in which the Lower Mainland of the province of British Columbia, home to 3 million Canadians, now finds itself is admittedly a climate-change driven weather event, but the actual problem we now have is related to the untidy way that our home tectonic plate has been sorting out the terranes it has been acquiring for the last few geological ages. 

The  story is that Two weeks ago, on November 14--15, a major weather system made landfall on the West Coast, and delivered an unprecedented, or almost unprecedented amount of rain to the region. The Nooksack River, which usually drains Mount Baker (Boeing's Mount Baker) directly into the Salish Sea, unburdened itself of the resulting floodwaters into its big brother, the Fraser, via a long-since reclaimed slough, the Sumas Prairie. The flat land of the area having had an irresistible attraction to freeway engineers, the result was the closure of the Trans-Canada as well as significant flooding in a lightly-populated but heavily farmed area. The exact impact of this on local supplies of milk, eggs, poultry, and Christmas trees are unclear at this point. Flooding also affected two towns in the watersheds on the lee side of the coastal mountains. Downtown Princeton was flooded by the rising Tulameen and its distributary, the Similkameen, itself a tributary of the Columbia via the Okanagan, while  the town of Merritt on the Nicola, a tributary of the Fraser via the Thompson River, suffered an altogether more devastating flood when the flood breached the protection of the municipal waste water plant and knocked out all water services, forcing the complete evacuation of the community. 

At the same time, heavy water loads on unstable slopes denuded by a devastating summer fire season, and high water in mountain creeks damaged highway infrastructure. By the end of the rainstorm on Tuesday afternoon, all four highways and both of the two railways connecting the Lower Mainland and the Port of Vancouver with the rest of Canada were closed. Two highways, 99 and 3, were reopened on Friday the 19th on a limited basis. 

We have had two subsequent storms of equivalent magnitude, but as is not entirely uncommon with rain storms, without the same degree of devastation. Between emergency work on flood protection systems, and the blockage-clearing efforts of the first flooding, the rainfall of the subsequent storms was able to find its way to the sea without inconveniencing us too much. Unless something worse happens, this is the new normal for my province. And by this I mean a complete logistical fuckup, which  I will explore in this post. 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Postblogging Technology, August 1951: New Armageddons or Happy Days?





R_. C_.,
Arcadia,
Santa Clara,
California

Dear Father:

I intend to post this from the Port as soon as I clear my baggage through customs, which means that you will see me in Palo Alto long before you see this letter, And that is my excuse for writing this note while waiting for final docking, and not including any of the family gossip that I will have already have shared with you in person. As opposed to, say, being very, very lazy.


Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie



Sunday, November 21, 2021

Postblogging Technology, August 1951, I: Transistors: The Coming Thing?

R_. C_.,
Arcadia,
Santa Clara,
California

Dear Father:

A brief note as I frantically organise myself for my Pacific cruise back to the junior college of my dreams. Hopefully I will write the next one on the trip and mail it on arrival. That means no chance of seeing me talk about Fortune, but I haven't heard back from anyone's circulation department, so I doubt that my magazines are waiting for me in Palo Alto, anyway.
 


Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie



Monday, November 8, 2021

A Technological Appendix to July 1951, II: Cracks, Clerks, Picks

 




John E. "Red" Parkinson, Chosin veteran, of the Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, was to have been honoured in death by a "Patriot Guard Rider retinue at his 11 April 2018 funeral, according to the website

Doesn't sound like the footloose troubadour of the Summer of Puppy Love, but that's your Silent Generation for you, and, anyway, people change. 

A long time ago, in the first days of this blog, I offered a half-assed connection between various British ventures in computing and sound processing during WWII, and Abbey Road. With July of 1951, we've come to the point where the connection is pretty much inevitable. We're done with faffy British stuff and have arrived at the beating heart of the rock and roll music of the kids today. Kids like Sergeant Parkinson. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Postblogging Technology, June 1951, II: Dies and Transistors




R_. C_.,
Arcadia,
Santa Clara,
California

Dear Father:

Reggie is back in Formosa, as he wrote last time, so I have taken over the letter again. I know that you're going to worry, but honestly this is just exactly as much work as this young mother wants, and a good distraction not from my darling, but assorted hovering grandmothers. (Don't get me wrong, I am so grateful for the  help, it's just a bit too much sometimes.) I am just starting to believe that I will be back at Stanford in the fall. As for the places you've found, I have settled on the Camino Real place. And, again, thank you! 

You were asking about when you would see Fortune in these letters again. I honestly don't know, but I am not sure that I want to redirect the subscriptions to Macao when they are just going to have to be redirected to Palo Alto in a month. Especially if we have a Korean armistice next month, as it looks. Everything will go a bit nuts, and that especially includes the Pacific air mail! 


Your Loving Daughter,

Ronnie





Sunday, October 24, 2021

Postblogging Technology, July 1951, I: To Be Born Into An Age Without Clerks







R_. C_.,
Arcadia,
Santa Clara,
California


Dear Father:

Following on my telegram and my note in Mother's letter, I have quite a long one of my own that split the airmail envelope, which is why Mother is taking it back to Vancouver with her along with a camera roll. I will try to be professional in this letter, although my heart is breaking as we get ready to lift off from the harbour for Formosa. The Navy calls me away from my wife and son, until my leave in September. We are to close our little show. Wiser heads, etc, and now Koumintang pilots will not be trained for the electronic reconnaissance mission. From here on they will be conducted in routine flights between Clark and Okinawa, which finally has a proper electronics shop. I now have official word that my next posting will be to the Martin plant in Baltimore. Ostensibly I am going to get my first taste of bringing a new aircraft into service on the electronic side of thing, due to the very elaborate new radar on the plane. However, there is some suggestion that I should reacquaint myself with acoustics and pick up some oceanography. 


Your Loving Son,
Reggie



Thursday, October 14, 2021

Postblogging Technology, June 1951, II: In The Time of the Magnet


Magnets and electricity are funny things. The language of electromagnetism currently permeates our discourse. You think you know what you're talking about, and then, bam, it turns out that you don't. This is especially true of "amplifiers," which sound like blindingly obvious gadgets that give an extra oomph to an input current. There's all kinds of uses for a gadget that turns a small input into a large output. But that's not what they do at all, and it isn't until you understand what they actually do that you appreciate why conversations about historic amplifiers so often turn to logic gates. 

Which turns out to be pretty important when everyone's talking about these new "computers" they have now. I have included a Kerrison Predictor, a very simple computing fire director, here because it contains a magslip element. Magslips are more often described as electric motors than as computing elements, probably because if we don't distinguish "control" from "computing" discussions about automation become impossible. Magslips also don't use the "one weird trick" that makes magnetic amplifiers possible. See? You think you know what's going on, and then the language betrays you! 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Postblogging Technology, June 1951, with Bonus Political Thumbsucking: .280 British And Related Subjects

 


As the adrenaline leaks out of the Korean crisis, the technology question in June of 1951 is more clearly about boy toys than ever. The United States is in a full-bore Fokker panic over the MiG-15, and the first discussion of the JS-3 threat in the popular press suggests that the European theatre might actually be taking hold in the public consciousness in the way that Marshall Plan/Atlantic Pact enthusiasts have long hoped it would. It is, however, a strange crisis. It is going to be thirty  years yet before anyone entertains the thought that the United States plus West Germany plus the United Kingdom plus France plus Italy plus various "show willing" powers might be expected to win a conventional war in central Europe; and, of course, 

There is something unreal about the very idea of a conventional war between two nuclear-armed blocs. While we know from seventy years of political practice that the arms gap in central Europe is a pretext for a seemingly permanent argument over the size of the NATO partners' defence budgets, there is the curious fact that the United Kingdom is going to slowly decline from being a positive example of high defence spending to the much less credible  status of defence moocher over this period.

 I say curious because the nominal explanation for Europe's predilection for neglecting arms spending is its metrosexual leftism, but since when does that include Churchill's Conservatives? With four months to go to the British 1951 general election, it might be too early to make a partisan case, but it is certainly time to get the facts are in order; and in this case the facts also have some interesting things to say about the way we talk about technological praxis and racism. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Postblogging Technology, June 1951, II: Let's Here More About Raw Material Controls!

Wow!



R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada.





Dear Father:


Ronnie is in confinement. I promise a telegram as soon as we have word, but I have no such thing. I have been able to distract myself with the letter, but now that I am done I really want to go walk back and forth and take up smoking, just like in all the movies. Except if I hear about one more 50-year-old dying of a heart attack I am going to turn into a natural fabrics, vegetarian, pacifist anti-cigarette type myself, which won't be good for my career. Stifling my opinion of the "China blockade" is hard enough! 
Hmm. Turns out that ranting about politics is a bit distracting. Maybe I should go talk to Uncle George. 


Your Loving Son,
Reggie



Friday, September 24, 2021

Postblogging Technology, June 1951, I: Ramping Up For Production





R_.C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada





Dear Father:

Yes, yes, rest, no strain, blessed condition, all of that. Well! First of all, I am having some issues in certain departments which I find The Economist very helpful for, and let that suffice! Second, or more reasonably first, I arrived on the Avenue of Harmony to find my subscriptions finally released from Palo Alto quarantine and on their meandering way to me. Unfortunately, the collection is incomplete, because during the year-and-a-half that they were being held strictly out of human reach due to the contagious disease with which I was no infecting them via magical remote contagion powers, and no-one at all at Palo Alto City Hall was taking the interesting magazines out of the pile, it happened that all the boring technical journals came to begin to be returned to sender, and the circulation departments at Engineering, Aviation Week and Flight (and Time, for some reason) have stopped delivery. The stern old wardens who guard these departments are on the lookout for misappropriated subscriptions, and there must be an exchange of correspondence before delivery is resumed. In fine, I still have current copies of Aviation Week and Time before me (and a run of The Engineer from the missionary college that stopped last year), but don't expect to see the others  for a month or two. 

It's an improvement on the previous state of affairs, and a part from allusive, scatalogical jokes about The Economist, I find I miss it. A bit. 


Your Loving Daughter, 
Ronnie

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Bishop's Sea: Our Ongoing Project of Building a Better, Stronger Past

 

This may or may not be on me, but it turns out that I don't have Sunday off. I suspect that after wasting far too much time trying to make iOS and Onedrive get along, I was not going to get a postblogging post up tomorrow anyway, but it sure isn't happening now.

I don't, however, want to leave the blog silent, and it occurs to me that I haven't written about the Columbus problem, either as it is traditionally understood, or as historiography seems finally prepared to confront it. 











Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Bishop's Sea: Seals and State Collapse in the Pre-Columbian

 



So after eighteen apocalyptic months, UBC Library is open this week, and while I did not visit my precious old journals, because of pure laziness, it turns out that I wouldn't have been able to see most of them due to the usual robot uprising.

Damn. Should have gone with that instead of copping to being lazy.  Anyway, going to lean on the door marked "seals" and see where it takes us!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

The Bishop's Sea: Floating Proletariats and the Development of Underdevelopment

 


Sao Tome and Principe is an island state off the equatorial coast of Africa with an area of 1000 square kilometers, a population of 211,000, a GDP per capita of $1668USD and not much else to say about themselves. They were allegedly uninhabited when the Portuguese arrived around 1470, and in 1499, Felipe Fernandez Arnesto reports, the captain, Pedro Alvarez, wrote to complain about a shipment of new arrivals, Jewish orphans deported from Lisbon during the expulsion. There were, the Captain reported, only 50 colonists on the islands, mostly exiled criminals themselves, working a marginal sugar plantation, without a mill to support exports. They had no truck to trade for ivory and pepper on the mainland, little food, and had great difficulties securing wives. The rest of the islands' five century history isn't that much more interesting, although the implied mixed-race community (thoroughly dominated by first-generation Portuguese) did emerge during the next century.  

As a Canadian and a UofT man, I associate the "development of underdevelopment" with Harold Innis' "staples theory," phrased in these parts as asking why British Columbia has forests, logs and mills, but not IKEA. The question of how the long-term development of "the West and the rest" became, of course, ever more pressing in the decades after Innis' death. By the time that Joan Robinson addressed the question in 1978, the state of Africa was frequently presented in apocalyptic terms --that was certainly my high school experience-- and although the worst has not happened there, we have the current state of Haiti to remind us that the Third World is still with us. 

But, you know, why?

Sunday, August 29, 2021

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, May 1951: Audiovisual Aids


 

So I took my summer bike ride last week, nine days, seven in the saddle. This is the final downhill coming down from Rock Creek Summit, the height of land on the old Kettle Valley Railroad that became Highway 33. so I'm showing off a bit with this particular vacation photo. 

(Although in terms of climb and gradiants Highway 33 has nothing on the Hope-Princeton, the route that my family used to take on vacation in the distant days of the 1960s, when the highway was new and home movies, about vacation trips and this and that, were the rare enthusiasm of hobbyists. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Postblogging Technology, May 1951, II: Domestic Vermouth




R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada

Dear Dad:

This one is going to be a bit rushed because am a bit rushed, on my way to catch the slow plane to China. Unless some angry Navy pilot in a Privateer finds me and shoots me down. Well,no, that won't happen. Though we should probably look into getting the Goose a Panamanian registration, just to be sure. You should hear from me at a bit more leisure from the Avenue of Harmony in a few weeks. In the mean time, don't take any domestic vermouth in your martini or a  home movie in your pre-med calculus lecture, which some mooks are trying to pawn off instead of first-class instruction at innovative, small Southern liberal arts colleges. Isn't it cool that I can find a Chinese translation of "mook?" Though I don't know why I am emphasising it so much. It is not like it is some kind of anachronistic in-joke about educational fads or anything like that.  

Your Loving Son,
Reggie



Friday, August 13, 2021

Postblogging Technology, May 1951, I: Yankee Air Pirate





R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada.




Dear Dad:

I am going to take a minute away from the Chase Mission's advance party, which is currently trying to find accommodation for a now 600-strong MAG group around Taipei. On the one hand, I am jealous that they won't be stuck out in the sticks like me. On the other, Ronnie is always reminding me to mind my tongue around my future colleagues, and this way I won't have to. As much, anyway. The General seems to think that I'm some kind of master fixer because I speak Chinese, and is reportedly less than pleased about my paternity leave next month. 

Well, tough. I'm not even in his chain of command right now. I guess I will be as soon as the Navy sorts out its "Yankee air pirates" to suit the new, post-Congressional authorisation age, but it is all very sensitive as hopefully we can be folded in without anyone ever acknowledging that we were already here. 

In the mean time, here's a letter, with something for Mom under the cover and some postcards for you to show at the Arbutus Club now that I am officially in-country. One more of these from Taipei, and then I will be writing you from Macao.  

Your Loving Son,
Reggie



Saturday, August 7, 2021

The Bishops' Sea: Admirals of the Ocean Seas

 

Our Vice-President for Retail Operations visited the store on Thursday. The white glove inspection went very well, and I'm pleased with my part in it, and that would be that except for all the disruption in my schedule, which is why I am offering a progress report on ongoing research/writing as opposed to May 1951 postblogging ahead of my August vacation. 

Today I am talking about some reading I've been collating on the early days of the Spanish Caribbean, and a sideways look at John Cabot. The Admiral of the Ocean Seas was a new St. Christopher, carrying the burden of Christianity to the New World. The latter, apologies to the Cabot Project aside, was a cut-rate imitation who needed the supervision of the Bishop of London, if not unctuous clergymen who invite themselves in to sit at the bedstead and read the Bible to a painfully dying  mother of seven who has to pretend to be polite to gain that ". . . advice, often material." 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Technosocio-educational History Appendix to Postblogging Technology, April 1951: The American Mind Is Closed For The Season

 


On 12 April 1951, the search committee of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago announced the replacement to Robert Hutchins as Chancellor of the University of Chicago: Lawrence Kimpton (1910--77)[corr]. A deeply obscure figure (his Wikipedia page doesn't even get his death date right), Kimpton was a successful chancellor and his life makes for a rich reading of a critical decade in technological and educational policy. 

On the morning of 25 April, 1951, 45 Field Regiment, RA, broke position  to withdraw behind the Delta Line, stripping First Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, isolated far behind the PVA advance on Hill 235, overlooking the Imjin River, of fire support. Fifty-nine Glosters had been killed in action to this point, and 522 now went into captivity, of a total of 1091 casualties killed, wounded and missing suffered by the   29th Commonwealth Brigade in this single action.

Apart from happening in the same month, and the dominating influence over all news that month of the MacArthur dismissal, the two are not unrelated, a point brought to mind by a recent email correspondence with friend of the blog, Chris Manteuffel, over the last few days.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Postblogging Technology, April 1951, II: Fade Away




R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada

William Chase


Dear Father:

This is  my delayed last, since in spite of the Siam Air Lines crash I am still flying to Macao next week for my confinement. My mother will be there the week after, and has telegrammed ahead with some words about Alyce that just about curled off the page. 

I don't honestly know what to feel. We all know that Uncle Henry is a cad. He  was obviously carrying on with Alyce before Aunt Bess left us in the body, but who knows whether it started before her mind left us? One thing is for sure, Uncle Henry has badly needed a woman to keep  him in check. I don't think he appreciates just how many enemies he has made in the aviation business.  Sherman Fairchild has amply proven his talents as a boardroom intriguer, and he is going to swoop in the moment Uncle Henry slips up, which we both know he will.

Reggie is over the moon about the news about the Chase Mission. He has already been to a private meeting in Taipei where he has been assured that he  and his fellow "Yankee Air Piratets" will have official status with the mission and probably some consideration with respect to promotion. Quite frankly, it is time for the Navy to step up, considering the sheer number of "Engineers Wanted" ads in recent numbers of Aviation Week.

As I leave for the plane comes the news of the Battle of the Imjin and the fate of the Glosters. For me, it all blurs together in the sorrows and horror of war, but could you please check with your cousin? Uncle  George will, I think, be taking it badly, especially as it seems to have pushed HMS Affray out of the Hong Kong press.


Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, April 1951, I: Mad Science

 


I feel a bit out of my wheelhouse when it comes to the Medicine section of Time. Hoo-boy, those mid-century medical people, hunh? But the story of Andrew Conway Ivy and "Krebiozen," is something else. It is very, very tempting to make our dubious Yugoslav refugee, "Dr." Stefan Durovic, a mad scientist right out of central and a good match with Ronald Richter, but on closer examination this really takes Big Science off the hook. This story needs to be about "the most famous doctor in the country" and, at a bit more of a stretch (and stealing material from 1958), Nobel laureate Sir John Douglas Cockroft.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Postblogging Technology, April 1951, I: Lost At Sea








R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada.



Dear Father:

I know that you probably expected to hear that I have landed safely in Macao by this time, but my mother has, completely unexpectedly, decided that she is going to come to Macao to see me through my confinement, as opposed to sitting in Chicago and complaining that I won't come to America for the blessed event. I have no idea what is going on, which leaves me free to speculate that my mother is another victim of taking Mr. Rohmer seriously and believes that your grandfather's organisation commands all the mad scientists of Asia, in aid of which I presumably will either have a safe delivery or give birth to a cruel and brilliant superman (-woman) born fifty thousand centuries before his time!!!


Either way, I am pretty sure my mother would be happy. Well, okay, maybe not if the first born is female. Other than that, I mean. Cruel and brilliant superman, I mainly mean. 

Oh! My point! She's not coming until the end of the month, so I am putting off my trip to Macao.

Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXII: Roman Britain's Window Into the Sacred Spring

 The Roman Empire arrived in the United Kingdom in 43AD and left it in 408BC. These are relatively late and early dates compared with adjacent regions of northwestern Europe. I think we can probably argue that they are latest and earliest for some class of  normal Roman provinces that I haven't seen constructed but feel plausibly could be. It has a good claim to be the most economically backward province so integrated, in the northwest or absolutely. This makes the archaeological signal of the comparatively short-lived Roman occupation unusually easy to pick out.

As if that were not enough, modern Britain is quite a well-developed place, with a strong archaeological rescue requirement. This makes for a fast pace of construction in south-eastern Britain, and lots of archaeological work, published to an increasingly enormous "grey literature" available to British archaeologists. For all that archaeologists complain about the loss of sites and precious information to general construction and modern deep ploughing, we are in an unusually good, perhaps even uniquely good position to understand what happened when the Romans came. This may, or may not, give us some additional insight into the reordering of human life that I have dubbed the "Sacred Spring."  

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, March 1951: Sound and Submarines

 

Ours Is An Age of Slowing Technological Change

The restoration of the accumulated paid time off provisions of my collective agreement, complete with a backlog of 150 hours has been a blessing and I have made some preliminary stabs at reducing my backlog of Kindle reading in particular. The David Bird edited collection, Agriculture and Industry in South-Eastern Roman Britain is a particularly rich text (which I have used here before), and I will blog about it next week. I will be less kind to Matthew Jones' The Official History of the UK Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: Volume I: From the V-Bombers to the Arrival of Polaris, which is pretty good on early ABM but bogs down at the policymaking level when discussing the main line of things that actually, you know, happened. 

One might, in defence of the official historian's approach, argue that the main line of British nuclear deterrence just plain is a story of getting bogged down. As far as one can tell, by the end of the Attlee government, Britain's nuclear deterrence resided in the V-bombers, the potential of which had yet to be fully explored, and got as far as BLUE STEEL, conceived in 1954, before the long series of cancellations and disappointments leading up to the decision for Polaris. It is almost unbelievable that the Polaris programme originated with Edward Teller's proposal for a small hydrogen bomb in 1956, and was first test-fired in 1961. That's two iPhone generations! (Even throwing in the earlier JUPITER progamme only pushes it back a year and one more iPhone.)

It also arrived in the middle of, and not at the beginning of, the 1950s buildout of a new generation of submarines, meaning that the sole surviving leg of the British nuclear deterrent (and perhaps the only real modern deterrent weapon system) originated and was carried through in the midst of a crash programme of ASW development. 

I don't know. Seems a bit destabilising to me. Especially when Chevaline meant that British boomers had to patrol north of NATO's sonic Maginot Line between the tip of the UK and the Denmark Strait. At least according to the text that is written down in the Wikipedia article, anyway.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Postblogging Technology, March 1951, II: No Affray





R_.C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver, Canada


Dear Father:

I had yours of the 13th on the afternoon, and sent my condolences by telegram to Uncle Henry, and to Edgar and  Henry, and thank you for those numbers. I am very sorry that Aunt Bessie did not live to see her great-niece, and, even though we have been expecting it, can hardly bear to believe it even after two weeks.  My regrets also to your wife at the loss of her cousin.My mother has written to say that she will meet me in San Francisco when I arrive next month, so we will mourn together, and she will be my advance party when I arrive in Palo Alto, so that though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I shall fear no evil, because my mother is the mightiest battleaxe in all of California! 

Your Loving Daughter,

Ronnie



Saturday, June 12, 2021

Postblogging Technology, March 1951, I: Shipshape and Teakettle Fashion




R_. C__.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada.

Dear Father:

Just a short note to say that everything is going swimmingly with everything, that all arrangements have been put in place in Macao and that anyone who is worried that the Reds are about to march into either Hong Kong or Macao needs to stop worrying and plant their head firmly back on their shoulders. I should also confirm that I have confirmed that I will be registered in classes back in California in September, that we have a place to live near Palo Alto largely thanks to my father, and that while the Navy is not likely to be so convenient as to send Reggie back to California, his days of cloak-and-dagger flying in Formosa are coming rapidly to an end. Which means it will probably be back to Hawaii and trying to make assorted submarine-detecting devices work like it says in the brochure. 



There's an off-chance of radar early-warning work if it doesn't go to the carrier crowd, but the Navy's interest in submarine detection is palpably mounting because it is a way of participating in the European Conventional Warfare Armageddon that we are currently imagining.

What fun! 



Your Loving Daughter,

Ronnie




Friday, June 4, 2021

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, February, 1951: The Last Days of the Labour Deterrent



I am using the Parliamentary announcement of orders for the Vickers Valiant, the first of the V-bombers, as a reason to talk about Operation HURRICANE today. The official British request to use the Montebello Islands off the northwest coast of Western Australia is still a month away as of February of 1951, and the Australian general election is not until April, but surveys of the isolated islands are already well under way.  Ultimately, the bomb would drop, the Valiant fly, and, indeed, the whole era of the independent British nuclear deterrent would come and go before Labour returned to office, promising "the white heat of revolution," in 1964,  In Australia, in contrast, the Liberal-County coalition would be in office until 1983. This is getting to be our last chance to talk about the nuclear deterrent that Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin wanted, and which Hugh Dalton opposed: The Labour deterrent. Although it is also the Menzies deterrent in some sense worth talking about.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Technological And Also Political Appendix to Postblogging Technology, February 1951

 


"Sabre Dance" is a movement of the final act of Khachaturian's Gayane (1942), crossing over to mainstream popularity in 1948, and a perennial favourite of figure skaters and, more recently, "sexy violinists" ever since. I'm not 100% sold on "sexy violinist" Youtube videos, but it's pretty hard to make money in classical music these days, so whatever. Subsequently, "Sabre Dance" was a bit of low-hanging fruit when the various aeronautical eccentricities of the North American F-86 Sabre became apparent at the height of its technological, pop-cultural, and, yes, political fame over MIG Alley three years later. It's not quite in the moment. These things often aren't. I've also referenced Chuck Berry's Run, Rudolph, Run in connection with the F-86, and it came out in 1958. It's hard to keep things historically grounded. The things you might imagine, happened together, are actually off a few, critical years. 

On the other hand, politics makes and unmakes connections as it will:


Saturday, May 22, 2021

Postblogging Technology, February 1951, II: Flying Saucers and Monstrous Regiments




R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver, Canada.

Dear Father:

I have yours of last week and am puzzling through it. So far I am struggling to make sense of our place in things. There is solid demand for gold in Hong Kong, but I am not sure enough to support a fullscale branch of the family operation, especially when we have enemies on the docks there who are going to be alert to any bullion movements. 

On the other hand, have you considered the potential for gold mining stocks? I know they do quite well on the Vancouver Stock Exchange, and there is some connection between the VSE and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, isn't there? I almost think that you might look to Hong Kong for financial support for underwriting issues rather than for customers for the stocks themselves. Because, not to be more callous than I need, gold mining is full of swindlers, and business partnerships are built on being partners to the swindle, not being the swindled!




Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie





Saturday, May 15, 2021

Postblogging Technology, February, 1950, I: The Armageddon Rag





R_. C__.,
Arcadia,
Santa Clara, California

Dear Father:

Thank you very much for your kindness during my too-soon-done trip to San Francisco. Dr. Rivers had the kindness to do up a full report that followed me back across the Pacific so quickly that I have it before me, which ought to be a lesson to some subscription services. It says, at more length and with some X-ray negatives, that everything is proceeding quite satisfactorily and that he sees no problems if I choose to give birth in Formosa, although as a practical matter I will be "couched," to be archaic and dramatic, in Macao and attended by some of your great-grandfather's intimate aides. 

You can see perhaps some anxiety leaking through in my comments about air safety below. Reggie said, anyway. I prefer to think that instead of succumbing to the anxieties of the  young mother-to-be, the scales are falling off my eyes due to the latest Air France and Northwestern fiascos. But maybe when I am delivered I will look back on these as just silly vapours! 

Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie

The first few minutes are awful, but Grable's athleticism is amazing. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Gathering the Bones, XXIII: Wyandotte Days

So. Precolumbian deforestation. Or the reverse! 


My interest in Fenimore Cooper's 1843 Wyandotte: Or, the Hutted Knoll, is currently confined to the introduction, which describes the creation of the eponymous patent in the western(!) New York wilderness somewhere between the headwaters of the Delaware and the Susquehanna. In it, Cooper describes how the patent, once located and cleared of Indian title, is created, by breaking a giant beaver dam and draining a vast low saucer of land, at once creating a large and fertile farmscape, devoid of tree trunks. Various adventures set in the American Revolution, follow which I may follow up on at some point, at the end of which all that is left are the ruins of the mansion and fort built on the rocky hill, or "hutted knoll" at the centre of the pond. 

The image of a hill, surmounted by a chieftain's hut, in the middle of a flood seems to be referring to the spring renewal/creation myth and to the obligatory hutted mound/pyramid which has been the ritual centre of city settlements in indigenous North American civilisations  since Olmec times, and extending up until at least Cahokia. Turning the flood into the breaking of a beaver pond seems to add another layer of allegory referring to the fur trade, and to its later end, when the beaver was driven out of the Eastern Seaboard to make way for farmland. At least as a hypothesis, it makes sense that the beginning of the fur trade would have seen a change in attitude towards the beaver, one that might well have had a significant effect on the landscape. Cooper talks a great deal about the cycle of civilisations, and while I am dependent on a Cliff's Note summary in talking about the "ancient ruins" of Wyandotte, as they appeared to the returning heir to the patent in 1795, in Wept of Wish-ton-Wish, Cooper quite explicitly refers to the fort at the centre of the little settlement of Wish-ton-Wish as having been built on an ancient ruin. 

Does the planting of Wyandotte restore the pre-fur trading status quo of the "hutted knoll?" Probably not. Probably I'm reading too much into it; but we do have some interesting evidence for shifting populations and ecological change in the right time frame. While it continues to be analyzed in terms of a disease-driven demographic collapse, in this post I want to explore the possibility that the evidence we have is explicable in terms of human agency. God knows there's not a lot of effort made to think outside of the box in  terms of American antiquity, Mormons apart (Bless their souls.)  The frontier and the west confuses us.

Friday, April 30, 2021

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging January, 1951 With Bonus Public Engagement Content: Hometown Titanium

 


The North American F-100 Super Sabre was the first of the Century Series fighters, although the design had a shorter path to production than the F-101 and F-10s, both of which originated in responses to late Forties USAF requirements. The F-100, in contrast, was an unsolicited design proposal submitted in January of 1951. Perhaps understandably, the "Fokker panic" currently being experienced over in MiG Alley inspired fast work on everyone's part. On the other side of the curtain, the MiG-19 was ordered in July of 1951 and first flew in September of 1953.  So the first flight of the F-100 prototype, at the end of May, 1953, and seven months ahead of schedule, came none too early. After that, air forces of East and West alike dealt with growing problems as MiG-19s blew up mysteriously in mid-air while the F-100 gave us that ever-amusing joke about the "Sabre Dance" thanks to its yaw instability, only the most spectacular in a range of instability problems, from which the MiG-19 was hardly spared. 

The aerodynamic problems don't need to be explored any further here, much less the rival Russian programme, because today's post is about titanium and Marinette, Wisconsin, home of the Ansul Chemical Company, manufacturer of Met-L-X Dry Powder, a fire-suppressing powder that 

 [M]ay be used on sodium, potassium, sodium-potassium alloy, and magnesium fires. In addition, it will control and sometimes suppress small fires on zirconium and titanium;" 

And Lith-X, another fire suppressant, which

"[W]as developed for use on lithium fires, and will also suppress magnesium, sodium, and potassium fires. LITH-X agent will contain, and in some cases completely suppress fires of zirconium, titanium, and sodium-potassium alloy."


About Marinette, I hard know what to say. I have just scrolled through all fifty or so photographs posted to Google Maps. Forty-eight of them were taken on the lakefront at Ann Arbor Park, of which two each are shot back at downtown or the mill; more than half are of the lighthouse, and there is one picture each of the city park and the museum, featuring exactly one building, the museum. (Bet you didn't see that coming.) Marinette seems to be the least interesting part of Marinette.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Postblogging Technology, January 1951, 2: Titanium Days


(Dean Martin imitating Bing Crosby)


R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver,
Canada

Dear Father:

As predicted, the Communist advances in Annam and Korea turned on a dime just as soon as flying weather improved, which just goes to show that this is the Air Age. I will explain in person next week when I arrive via Canadian Pacific from Hong Kong, if Hong Kong is still there when I leave and we avoid any inconvenient mountains on the way. (It's  ocean, it shouldn't be hard, but you never know.) 




Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Postblogging Technology, January 1951, I: Loyalty Oaths




R. _C._,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver, Canada




Dear Father:

Here we are, back in beleaguered (they say?) Formosa, resuming our so-vitally important mission of annoying the People's Liberation Air Force and Koumintang hostessesboth at the same time. I am pleased to report that at least the base librarian has taken a shine to me, and we get regular packages of loans from Hong Kong back and forth, so I am not completely in the dark as to what is happening in the outside world, whether it be the exciting new age of titanium or Aviation Week tearing Uncle Henry a new foraminis rectus (see below for feeble non-joke; and don't bug me about the Latin, which is the fruit of five seconds in a dictionary). We have almost finished preparing the nursery,  unless I suddenly change my mind on a whim, which I'm told is my prerogative as a woman, which is good because it feels like our prerogatives have been rolled back a bit since the war. Is anyone ever going to start hiring women for aircraft production work? Probably not, because we still can't quite agree to actually build all the planes we're mobilising to build. I see the point: The B-47 needs 16 JATOs to get aloft; there is no way that a B-36 can get away from a MiG-15, and who even asked for more F-84s or an improved Vampire that's actually a Vampire? (Only with a wing fence, yay!)

Yes, I am grumpy, because I had a difficult night, and well, you try sleeping comfortably carrying around this ahem, blessed bundle. 

I remain,

Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie



Saturday, April 10, 2021

Robert Mundell is Dead: A Mixed-Economy Recap to December 1950 with a Look Forward Six Years

 


On the one hand, the (Canadian-born, UBC-educated) "Father of Supply Side Economics" died last week. On the other, December of 1950 saw something of a peak in the American commitment to a (Keynesian) managed war economy. It won't long survive Robert Taft's passive-aggressive resistance, but for the moment we are absolutely throwing money at aviation.

Which brings me to the other thread I want to pull on here, which is the continuing flowering of the Buck Rogers moment of the Second Elizabethan Age, and why, in a childish show of disrespect, I am recycling my triumphalist Farnborough spread above, and not giving you the late Robert Mundell. I mean, I'm sure that Dr. Mundell was a great guy, but can he compete with the Canberra?


No, he can't. Thanks for asking. 

So December of 1950 is when "defence mobilisation" kicks into high gear. The Atlee government is putting together estimates that will almost double British defence spending,  Above is a chart I stole from UKpublicspending that illustrates the steep upward curve beginning with the Estimates tabled on 6 March 1951, and here is a link to Arthur Henderson introducing the Air Estimates of

£328¾ million. This is an increase of £105¾ million  . . . net increase of £95¾ million. The Estimates themselves are based on the £3,600 million programme which was drawn up last summer and do not provide for the additional expenditure that will result in 1951–52 from the further measures recently announced by the Prime Minister . . . .

. We tend to think of high British defence spending and all the fancy planes as natural companions, but it seems that the planes come a good eighteen months ahead of the emergency. In fact, as far as one can tell, it is all downhill from here! Okay, that's not exactly true unless your view of aviation is drably utilitarian and focussed on airliners, but even here the downward slope is not at all far away. Specifically, the story of the VC7 airliner will serve as my eulogy for Dr. Mundell. 

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Early Iron Age Rise of the State: From the Sublime to the Perishable?

 You know the pattern by now. We have two weeks of drilling into the peak of the last, decaying maxima of the past-present wave as it moves through human chronology (seventy years ago plus three months, I have decided), two weeks to play around with what we've got. Alas, I can't quite discover another technological appendix in the story of the last two weeks. Everything is consolidation and amplification of things already explored.  Project Typhoon is yet another analog computer; We had a bit of radio astronomy;  the Savannah "H-bomb plant" again, with just a hint of the toxic politics of race in the American South under a thin veil of technocracy; Yet more on the automation of the cockpit, almost as interesting as the recently increased frequency of business machine ads that remind us of the central importance of Campbell-Kelly's insight that the computing revolution had precious little to do with computing; and titanium, always good for some exotic thrills.

(Disney+ is being sticky about uploading scenes from The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but I thought it was kind of cool that Isaiah Bradley dismantled the Winter Soldier's original, titanium arm "on the peninsula" in 1951.) 


In the meantime, something else has come up. Juan Carlos Moreno Garcia has decided to bump up mentions of his 2016 edited collection for Oxbow, Dynamics of Production in the Ancient Near East, by releasing his chapter on Academia.edu, and it's a bit of a revelation that sends my own exploration of this period down a new path. If spiritualism is a disappointing avenue for understanding the explosive growth of human population(!), wealth and states during the Axial Age, how about diving way down deep into the quotidian and looking at produce markets?

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Postblogging Technology, December 1950, II: Christmas Corps



 






R_. C_.,
Shaughnessy,
Vancouver, Canada


Dear Father:

I write, curled up in an alcove overlooking the front, replete with a post-Christmas breakfast that I hadn't the heart to refuse. This "eating for two" malarkey is hard to fend off when the food is so good! You're right to say that Uncle George is in a better mood than I have seen him since he was a teenager. He is holding forth on the back verandah right now on the Hungnam evacuation, giving his eyewitness version of the sight of the US burning, breaking, and back-shipping the entire logistics base it just set up while the indigenous Koreans tried to get out any way they could.

You will see a bit of his old cynicism leaking through. Right now he is as "amazed as a man can be" that Americans are letting so much  old-time anti-Semitism leak through into their anti-Communism. Is it the return of the Taftites? The rise of Israel? Or are the brains of the men who fought WWII going soft over Korea? 

I don't know. I'm just a girl, and I mainly think that Uncle George is funny. Not as funny as Uncle Henry, but the difference is that Uncle George knows that he is being funny. Uncle Henry probably thinks he can build a fleet of Flying Boxcars at Willow Run.


By the way, if  you're wondering about all of the Roosevelt County, Montana content, it's because I think it's funny. As no-one else will, I probably should explain. I've been through there, taking Route 2 from Coeur d'Alene to Winnipeg while I was housesitting there in '47, long story involving maybe meeting Reggie under Aunt Grace's nose, short. So when I saw the story about the Roosevelt County Selective Service board threatening to refuse to send out any more call-up letters unless the US threw some atom bombs I had Uncle George on race on my brain, and remembered the drive through Fort Peck Reservation. If the Selective Service is really calling up Sioux boys while letting all the rich kids science their way out of Korea, things will not end well!

I guess I taught that joke what for, beating it to death like that. My next will reach you from Formosa and the far-off days of January 1951. 


Your Loving Daughter,
Ronnie