Sunday, October 29, 2023

Postblogging Technology, July 1953, I: Calm Morning

Oriental Club,

Dear Father:

I feel like one of those insufferable country correspondents prattling on about the seasonal delights of some place with an insufferably English name, except that "Nakusp" is insufferably Canadian, instead. Oh, right! My point! Stuffed fresh rainbow trout. With green beans. And a sour cherry confit. I'm in Heaven. And "eating for two." 

Is it just me, or has Fortune finally discovered the "Baby Boom?" At some point in the near future, if we're not to have an atom war after all, and perhaps no war at all, perhaps we could have some advertisements directed at the people doing the booming? 

Uncle George now tells Reggie that there is no chance of the Korean War dragging on. The famine in China is real, and Party and collectivisation aside, it's the war, he says, or my husband says he says. The idea of Chinese troops intervening in Indo China right now is out, says Uncle George, but so is the idea of Ho settling for anything short of complete independence. I know you've already heard this from the same sources, and if you could supply me some assurance that my husband won't be fighting a war in Indo China next, that would be great. Thanks! 

Your Loving Daughter,



Thursday, October 19, 2023

A Technological and Political Appendix to Postblogging Technology, June 1953 With No Public Engagement Whatsoever: Willow Run and Dien Bien Phu

 Well, I might well be on strike next week, and I certainly have split single days off this week. And that can only mean one thing. A Technological Appendix with absolutely no reference to modern day events. Instead, I'll talk about a long deadlock in the French National Assembly requiring multiple votes for multiple candidates to select a new premier, and a devastating military setback for colonialism. People, it's the Fifties! It was a different time. 

GM's lease at Willow Run, signed in August of 1953, and the fall of the French fortress of Dien Bien Phu in the Sip Song Chau Tai, on 7 May 1954 stand as two signal failures of  high modernism. 

They are also drawn together as threads in the June 1953 news, while I am writing less than a month ahead of the 70th anniversary of the creation of the fort at Dien Bien Phu, threaded through by a technological story, if not a very exciting one, that of the Fairchild C-119, and the month-long series of votes in the French National Assembly that was required to finally find a premier who could command the confidence of the house. 

The first candidate for the premiership was, pictured, Pierre Mendes-France, who gave The Economist the vapours, as reported in the issue for 6 June, with his neutralism (he was cool to the European Army), his socialism, and his openness to an outcome in Southeast Asia that didn't involve the final crushing of Communism.   The final, and successful one, was Joseph Laniel. I've joked several times in alt text that the Assembly was choosing the man to throw under the bus of Dien Bien Phu, a hair-brained strategic scheme that is already cooking, inspired by dubious success of a small airlift of troops into Vientiane, in which C-119s played a non-trivial role. Mendes-France will negotiate France's disengagement from Indo China in the course of 1954, when the Assembly grudgingly accepted that he had been right all along, and liberated Tunisia in the bargain before the diehards expelled him in order to make the Algerian situation as difficult as possible. 

There's not necessarily anything funny-ha-ha about this. The Fourth Republic did fall, and not long after the deadlock of 1953. It's the only modern democratic state to do so in the post-WWII international order, and evidence that it can happen. On the other hand, in retrospect it seems like it mostly came about because of obdurate resistance to social democracy, and, anyway, the Fifth Republic might not be perfect, but it is better than the Fourth, and one has to wonder if some of the other modern democratic states of the post-WWII international order could do with a one-and-done revolution and a new constitution. Maybe if they're having difficulty selecting a head of government, that's a sign? Of course, it's hard to think of a perfect modern parallel, given that we're well past the days of colonialism. 

Dien Bien Phu also has a more unusual hook on my imagination, because I cannot escape memories of Tactics of Mistake, an entry in Gordon Dickson's Childe cycle. Tactics is a late novel, but strikes me as marinated in the contemporary reaction to Dien Bien Phu, which might be because it is a fix-up, like Soldier, Ask Not, but of unpublished stories from Dickson's first decade as a professional science fiction writer Or he just read Bernard Falls. If the first theory is true, though, we can thank Nguyen Van Giap for the boomlet in military/mercenary/war-world science fiction that continues to this day.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

A Technological Appendix to Postblogging Technology, June 1953: A New Era of Strategic Bombing?


My first niece-in-law chose this for her wedding processional. For relevance see note!

The reader will probably be tired of my half-assed explanations of the carcinotron, but there have been a series of heavily publicised bombing exercises so far in the spring of 1953, and we are closing in on the decision, trivial at the time but gradually snowballing, to cancel the Valiant B2 (while in the United States the B-47 programme was sharply curtailed), the so-called "pathfinder" variant, leading to the cancellation of the "V1000" military transport variant, the VC7 derived from it, and in general the failure to field a British turbofan airliner prior to the VC10, which is more-or-less the "blowing the lead" that everyone was warning everyone else might happen in 1953. 

By wallycacsabre - sv3, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.

So what happened? In the spring of 1953, bombing raids were still being led by "Pathfinders," and 199 Squadron, at least, was flying Canberras modified for ECM operations with the other "pathfinder" Canberras. At some point in the mi-1950s, offensive carcinotrons went into the electronic warfare suite of the V-bombers. It seems like reasonable speculation that bomber penetration tactics were significantly modified by the introduction of the carcinotron*, that this happened in about 1953 (the first manufactured carcinotron tubes show up as antiquities on Internet sites devoted to such things with a 1952 date) , and that the carcinotron was defeated by monopulse radar, which might have first flown on the English Electric Lightning in the form of the AI23 (AIRPASS) in prototype form in 1958. The picture I am getting here is a window in the mid -Fifties from roughly 1953 to 1958 or so when strategic bombers gained a substantial advantage over radar defences. Given all the fuss made about decision processes amongst the historians of nculear deterrence, and their often formidable technical expertise, you might wish that someone would take this in hand and confirm or discount such speculation.

The last Supermarine. Sigh
Oh, well, you're not here to have me repeat myself and I'm not going to do it, because, bereft of other obvious routes into the kind of general aviation history that might bear some rough fruit, I finally read the Wikipedia article on the De Havilland Sea Vixen, an aircraft that I'd been ignoring out of a general sense of disappointment that attaches to the Fleet Air Arm aircraft of the Fifties. 

And it turns out to be a bit gonzo! 

Friday, October 6, 2023

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, XXVIII, With Lazy Public Engagement And Some Reference to the Fifties: Tin and the Resource Curse


This was the view east down Copper Street from the slight height of land that marks central downtown Greenwood, BC in 1906. The mountain slopes up to the right, but Copper Street takes a hard left turn just behind the photographer and descends to the terrace above the creek on which the road down to the Kettle River at Midway follows. 

Cross the street and move forward 117 years, and the view changes in two ways:

First, some of the older buildings are gone. Second, Copper Street has turned into Highway 3, because a major interprovincial highway has been run right through the downtown. You would probably see a crosswalk here somewhere if it weren't so easy to jaywalk across the highway. When I made the first of my annual bike trips through Greenwood to Gand Forks in 2017, I watched a family of deer do the same, but the city has picked up a bit in the interim. Oh, yeah, right, "city," because Greenwood's "biggest hockey stick in the world" claim to fame is that it is Canada's smallest city. 

The reason for that is that, unlike most of the instant towns of the first copper boom, before WWI, it had a revival. In 1941, a calculating and humane mayor grabbed the one opportunity that the war had so far presented and offered the town as a resettlement location for the Japanese Canadians then being ethnically cleansed from the Coast, and in 1956 the combination of a local workforce and the postwar revival of the international commodities market proved just barely enough to justify reopening the smelter on nearby Phoenix mountain. The ore at Phoenix is, Wikipedia says, "self-fluxing," meaning that whatever fluxing agent is added to the ore at the Trail Smelter, isn't necessary at Phoenix. (The veins have numerous intrusions of "calc-silicate alteration of limestone;" Maybe that's it?) This tidbit led me to Google around for something a bit more serious about the nature of the ores in "the Greenwood camp," which is apparently the technical term for the 400 square kilometer zone of 25 mines centred about half the way up Highway 3 to Eholt summit. Apparently, way back when the entire region was under volcanic hot springs which have produced an estimated 32 million tons of ore including 38 tonnes of gold, 183 tonnes of (native) silver, 270,000 tonnes of copper, 966 tonnes of lead, and 329 tonnes of zinc. The ores are "copper-gold porphyry," which is great, because it's an excuse to say "porphyry." 

I regret to report no evidence of more exotic metals, your germanium, your tantalum, or, of course, tin. All I can report is that the smelter  closed in 1976, just four years after its last upgrade, relatively painlessly inasmuch as it seems as though most of the workforce took early retirement, being children of the era of the last metal boom, which may or may not be a coincidence, and Greenwood gradually dropped back into its Depression-era sleep. The post-WWII commodities boom was not quite yet obviously dead, and the mills and mines would keep on closing for years yet until British Columbia's former high pressure labour market was decisively over, and my employer could ram through a two-tier contract that basically condemned the next generation to work at near minimum wage for, as it turns out, their entire career. (Unless they took advantage of an escape clause dangled before us in the years around the Olympics. Yay!) 

So. Was the Late Bronze Age Collapse a working out of the resource curse? By the way, can we have a round for Investopedia's formulation

The term resource curse refers to a paradoxical situation in which a country underperforms economically, despite being home to valuable natural resources. A resource curse is generally caused by too much of the country’s capital and labor force concentrated in just a few resource-dependent industries. By failing to make adequate investments in other sectors, countries can become vulnerable to declines in commodity prices, leading to long-run economic underperformance.

Oh, those feckless resource-rich countries, with their "failure" to "make adequate investments in other sectors." The picture, by the way, is from a press release about an event at the Aspers' prize Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg.  I can't even.