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

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,


Saturday, June 12, 2021

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

R_. C__.,

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,


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.