Friday, January 19, 2018

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, V: The Sin of Sargon

This post comes out of the reading I did for this one. I had the vague impression that "Assyrian"-style haruspical bronze liver models were widespread in Etruscan contexts. This, combined with the similarities between the Assyrian Eponyms and Roman consuls, seemed to make a relatively strong case for the dissemination of prestige knowledge practices from the Neo-Assyrian sphere of influence to the Latin periphery in the Early Iron Age.

Instrument of prophecy, scientific tool, cosmological model and it's a desert topping!

All of this collapsed under closer inspection. The model above turns out to be a unique find. Its closest parallel is with clay models found around Mari, dating a millennium before the Neo-Assyrian Empire. No doubt there is some continuity of tradition, but we have no idea what it is. Modern scholarship also puts the consular office much later than the traditional account. Athenian archons seem much less problematically connected with the eponym tradition.

On the other hand, John Wilkins' polemical argument that the  Iguvine Tablets  should best be seen as largely deliberate mystification in support of the social hegemony of some kind of college of diviners was stimulated and triggered a chain of associations with some work, disseminating from "Biblical archaeological" circles that I didn't cite at the time because I couldn't remember, and wasn't sure that I could find the citation. Shameful, I know. The basic idea is that King Josiah's well-known religious reforms, which were directed at local cult (he burned the bones worshipped in the "high places of Israel" on their own idols) were not just intended to build up a centralised state worship of a single god, and, hence, of the state itself. It had astronomical or cosmological implications, and, most interestingly, was a response to the Neo-Assyrian policy of deportations that had previously aimed to break local power by transplanting elites, notably of diviners ("knowledge workers"). I'll have more to say about that below, since it's all so perversely amusing. For now, I will just link to the chapter in question, uploaded to, presumably by the author, Baruch Halpern. (Not found without exposing my mind to the sanity-blasting ancient teachings of the Enochians. What I do for my blog! Though maybe the Enochians have had uncritical press. They seem a bit flaky to me.)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Postblogging Technnology, November 1947, II: Douglas' Turn is Ugly

"We may make it --Approaching a strip . . . "

R_. C_.,
 Vancouver, Canada

Dear Sir:

Thank you THANK YOU for taking care of my flight. Constellation Speedbird! I feel like a movie star! I see that I am touching down in New York on the 28th, then by the Forty-Niner to San Francisco, so I will miss Christmas, but I will be there for New Year's Eve! I called around to tell people, but I find that a little birdie has beaten me to it! Oh, well, Ma Bell seems to need as much of my money as I can find for her. My parents' money. Remind me again why nice girls don't get jobs? Because I saw the chic-est young ladies carrying textbooks into Stanford Law the other day. What do you--

DON'T TELL ANYONE! Oh, dear. I hope you don't think the less of my calligraphy for that, but I can hardly contain my excitement. Have I mentioned how grateful I am? 

I would say more, but this letter has taken a lot more time than I expected, and I will have to drive like a maniac to make my date with Q. and Mrs. C. I don' t want to make her mad, because we have serious Christmas shopping to do, and I am counting on them as my guides to Chinatown.

Yours Sincerely,

United Flight 608 went down trying to make a strip near Bryce Canyon Airport Three weeks later, an American Airlines flight with a fire on board from the same cause made a successful emergency landing at Gallup. But seven months after that, United Flight 624 will crash with the loss of all on board while responding to a false alarm of a fire. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging Technology, November 1947, I: When America Gets a Cold, The Rest of the World Gets 70-Calibre Pneumonia"

Update: Put some words in.

At the head, I should point out that this appendix is up for the usual reason that I'm not going to get the next postblogging post up next week unless I can work on it this week. But, hey, the 3"/70 AA is morbid fun, and pneumonia might be going around this January. Relevance!

Can ships come down with pneumonia? Maybe there's a relief that can come in for a shift.
HMS Swiftsure is a cruiser that was scrapped in mid-modernisation in 1959/60 largely due to concerns about a proposed 3"/70 fit.
The postblogging series is still more than a year away from the final crisis of the Great Siege, the 30% devaluation of the pound on 19 September 1949. But, as Eric Groves helpfully reminds us, the devaluation was driven by the American recession, which reminded me of that old proverb about how the world gets pneumonia when America gets the cold; and we came across an earlier symptom of these ongoing problems this week, with the controversy over the reduction of the Home Fleet to a single cruiser and four destroyers. 

At one level, this reminds me of the Daily Mail's recent ginned-up outrage over the Royal Navy being reduced to "nineteen ships," in that it's complete bollocks. Submarines aren't ships, you see. Nowadays, the SSNs of the modern Royal Navy are the ships that keep the seas, and the nation's exclusive nuclear holocaust-related services providers (Yes, I have been catching up with my Laundry novels backlog over the holiday). Back in 1947, in the wake of the brief convertability episode in the summer, the Cabinet had forced cuts in the Estimates that reduced the surface elements of the Home Fleet to a single Dido-class cruiser and four Battles (with 1 battleship, 11 cruisers, 1 carrier, 24 destroyers and frigates and 5 submarines on foreign stations); but even though the cuts had been financial, their effective means of execution had been manpower cuts, and the fact that the Home Fleet was running twenty submarines probably tells us something about what was really going on. . . 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Postblogging Technology, November 1947, I: Warmongering


Dear Sir:

You'll pardon me if I'm not my usual, chatty self, as I've just had the news that Mr. Rank's problems (which I notice are not in today's press, but will turn up next time) are somehow our problems. Or, my problems! And I am to fly across the Atlantic as soon as class is out to go up to Marleybone and rescue the money that we only spent in the first place because of the silver opportunity? It's just so silly. I'm not even sure it's the money so much as the legal rights to your grandfather's "story" (As interpreted by S.R.)
Is this offensive or camp?

I know you had nothing to do with this. I have it from my Dad, and even he is apologetic, so I can guess that my Mom is behind it, and the fact that it came out the day after we had our talk about me going back to Chicago for Christmas pretty much seals the deal. She was all on about how A. could stay at the house now that he was my fiancé and all, and it was all I could do to tell her that if she liked the man so much, she could marry him. (Except that she's so taken by the idea of having an admiral's grandson in the family that she probably would. I've tried to explain that he's a Texan, but he's learning to fake an "public school" accent with the best of them, and apparently that washes the Texan right off of you.)

I had so wanted to spend Christmas in Santa Clara with everyone, and now I get to spend it. . . Well, I can't fight my parents, so another holiday season down, another horrid flight across the Atlantic. I hve only one request from you, and it's a small thing. I don't want to fly British this time. Please, please, take an interest with whoever is arranging this, and see that I have a Pan Am booking, preferably a Constellation. I would talk to Uncle George, but then it would . . . Well, anyway, I'm looking to you to be my white knight in this, just as Mr. R. ended up being last year. 

Yrs in desperation,

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Early Iron Age Revival of the State, IV: Harness Racing, Equestrianship, Oxhide Ingots and Coins

Olives are the definition of the Mediterranean diet. They also need to be cured in salt or lye. This isn't very relevant to this post, but it is your weekly reminder of the importance of the primordial chemical industry to subsistence agriculture during the EIA.
So my Christmas-New Years schedule is up, and when I started this post, I had some writing time during the down weeks at the store where I am currently working, which serves the UBC community. That took some pressure off in regards to long posts, leaving me to do a progress report towards this "Sacred Spring" series, this week.

Now, of course, I do not. On the bright side, my employer has conceded that it mishandled the process of reallocating employees from two stores that have been closed for renovations. I'm sure you don't want to hear the details, and I will draw a veil over the whole embarrassing exercise by pointing at one of our competitors --a major national corporation, which paid its CEO $8.5 million in 2015-- CEOs with buyouts of $15 million and $25 million paid in the millions-- defending itself on charges by blaming middle management, and fixing the price of bread for the last decade and more by offering everyone a free $25 gift card. It's not that I don't believe that middle management at Loblaws/Weston Bread didn't realise that price coordination is wrong. That seems par for the course in an industry that can take a week and a half to realise that no stores are ordering cranberries at Christmas because of a software issue, and not because it's  a wacky thing that's happening for no reason at all that no-one can fix. It's that I no longer have five days off after New Years to write. And while the company now owes me three weeks off with pay, I have no idea when that's going to happen, or what that means for my writing "schedule."

This would be a good time to nail down the horse problem, at least.

Prevalent from 1500-1200, disappearing after 1000, and cast to be easily carried in a pack saddle. Interesting. By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Technical Appendix to Postblogging, October, II, with Segue to the Early Iron Age Rebirth of the State: Axial Compressors, Smelting and Bullion

In October of 1947, the owners of one of the first industrial axial compressors ever built, donated it to the Science Museum, Kensington, London. After a long and honourable career smelting lead, beginning in 1909, it would have an afterlife enlightening museum visitors on, uhm, axial compressing. 

 This is another axial compressor application, the Bristol Olympus, as used in the Avro Vulcan V and the Aerospatiale Concorde :

CC BY-SA 3.0,
If, like me, you waste valuable morning writing hours dallying on the Internet, you may have encountered Stumbling and Mumbling's discussion of "technological regress," the opposite of technological progress. It uses the Concorde as one example of this regress. You may have also encountered the commentators arguing that it isn't really technological regress, since Concorde was expensive, and now flying is cheap. This, of course, would be a perfectly plausible argument were the Olympus and Concorde incapable of improvement. Which I guess they are! Certainly, we can't afford the R&D and capital investment effort to improve them, so we'll have to settle for being able to use our personal entertainment centre during our twenty hour flights to Asia.

At risk of indulging my worst habits of digression and irrelevance, I want to quote now from a forgettable space opera by the high-powered 50s duo of Frederick Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, called Search the Sky. It's up at Project Gutenberg if you want to read the rest of it. 
Ross stood on the traders’ ramp, overlooking the Yards, and the word kept bobbing to the top of his mind.
. . . .
About all of Halsey’s Planet there was the imperceptible reek of decay. The clean, big, bustling, efficient spaceport only made the sensation stronger. From where he stood on the height of the Ramp, he could see the Yards, the spires of Halsey City ten kilometers away—and the tumble-down gray acres of Ghost Town between.
Ross wrinkled his nose. He wasn’t a man given to brooding, but the scent of decay had saturated his nostrils that morning. He had tossed and turned all the night, wrestling with a decision. And he had got up early, so early that the only thing that made sense was to walk to work.
And that meant walking through Ghost Town. He hadn’t done that in a long time, not since childhood. Ghost Town was a wonderful place to play. “Tag,” “Follow My Fuehrer,” “Senators and President”—all the ancient games took on new life when you could dodge and turn among crumbling ruins, dart down unmarked lanes, gallop through sagging shacks where you might stir out a screeching, unexpected recluse.
But it was clear that—in the fifteen years between childhood games and a troubled man’s walk to work—Ghost Town had grown.
2Everybody knew that! Ask the right specialists, and they’d tell you how much and how fast. An acre a year, a street a month, a block a week, the specialists would twinkle at you, convinced that the acre, street, block was under control, since they could measure it.
Ask the right specialists and they would tell you why it was happening. One answer per specialist, with an ironclad guarantee that there would be no overlapping of replies. “A purely psychological phenomenon, Mr. Ross. A vibration of the pendulum toward greater municipal compactness, a huddling, a mature recognition of the facts of interdependence, basically a step forward....”
“A purely biological phenomenon, Mr. Ross. Falling birth rate due to biochemical deficiency of trace elements processed out of our planetary diet. Fortunately the situation has been recognized in time and my bill before the Chamber will provide....”
“A purely technological problem, Mr. Ross. Maintenance of a sprawling city is inevitably less efficient than that of a compact unit. Inevitably there has been a drift back to the central areas and the convenience of air-conditioned walkways, winterized plazas....”
Yes. It was a purely psychological-biological-technological-educational-demographic problem, and it was basically a step forward.
Ross wondered how many Ghost Towns lay corpselike on the surface of Halsey’s Planet. Decay, he thought. Decay.
But it had nothing to do with his problem, the problem that had kept him awake all the night, the problem that blighted the view before him now
I have no idea where Pohl and Kornbluth stole the nightmare of the abandoned blocks of the Ghost Town of Halsey City from, although Fortune's big, wartime articles on "urban blight" come to mind, ahead of the expressways and housing projects that, as it turns out, made it all worse. It's the special miracle of juvenile readings that they stick with you for life, and I am often reminded of the glib specialists of Halsey's Planets when I read that:

 "Concorde was never the future. It was always the last gasp of an outdated conception of blue-riband travel reserved for the elite (which lives on in the space travel dreams of Branson and Musk). Progress in aviation has meant democratisation - more people being able to fly - which has required significant technological progress, just not the sort focused on raw speed or "elegance". 
(Although the rest of his points have merit.)

I am also reminded that there is nothing more normal than for an archaic state to fail. The extraordinary thing about the Late Bronze Age failure of the state and the /Early Iron Age revival, is that the state roared back with a vengeance, on the strength of a dazzling array of innovations. Until I am persuaded otherwise, I am taking iron, and the related/necessary exploitation of temperate, wet forestland, as the key innovation, but that is not the one I am talking about today!  

Archaic Corinthian stater, so old that it spells the city's name with a "Q," as they did back in the day. That is, key point, well before the electrum Lydian issue of Alyattes II that still gets pride of place as the "first" coinage.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Postblogging Technology, October 1947, II: Queen of the Seas

R_. C_.,

Dear Sir:

I've sent along a thank you note through the post, but I that's not enough for such a beautiful present. Vivian and Carole almost died with jealousy when I tried it on for them, not that I noticed such things! If I were not the best dressed girl on campus before, well. . . .

I should also thank you for the chance to wear it out! I doubt A. could have got us invitations there. I don't know what it says that you can be in San Francisco for my 21st, and my parents can't! But you have already heard me out so patiently that I won't bother you again. Nor will I bother you again about what you talked about with A. after dinner. Spy stuff? Don't worry about talking in front of me, I am very discrete, and have almost no friends named Ivan or Katyusha!

Further on spy stuff, Mrs. C. is upset that she has been called back part-time to cover wiretaps of a certain unnamed "institution that is concerned with Pacific affairs at a university whose nickname starts with B." I do not think she is committed in her heart to official secrecy, not that I blame her given that she is being torn away from her baby to type out banal, English conversations. At least, she says, they could find a Russian or Chinese spy to spy back on.

If they have any, she adds, glaring at A. My fiancĂ© shrugs his shoulders at that, and just says, "Washington." No one cares about it now, but if the President's rise in the polls continues through next November, expect to see this stuff back in the news, he says.  

Yrs Sincerely,