Thursday, February 16, 2017

Recapping the Fall of Rome: Game of Thrones

Lots of caption here, because credit where credit is due. This is Abdelratif Reda's fresh goat cheese, served with apricot jam on a bagel in the medina of Rabat, Morocco.. The photograph is by Eloise Schieferdecker (imputed c. 2015), and appears in an article by Zoë Hu, running in the online lifestyles magazine Zester Daily 


Did Rome have a crisis? The basic outline of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire is Decadent First Century-Golden Second Century-Third Century Crisis-Fourth Century Dominate-Fifth Century Fall-Sixth Century-

Cliche, but good point. Let's just stay the heck away from the Byzantine Empire or whatever it is. 

The confusing thing here is that the crisis comes in the middle. There's an elaborate theory of politics in which governments pass through cycles of development. Domitian's government is a "Dominate," replacing an earlier "Principate." Yes, the restored empire is a different, and lesser thing, rather like the old Chinese Western and Eastern dynasties, but it is restored.

In this analysis, it is all about politics. A number of specific factors make the Empire politically infeasible: the government is badly structured; The location of the Roman capital is bad; it is overspending to buy army support; changing elites mean that new groups will have to seize control of the imperial office, whatever the short term cost of political stability. Etc. Not a single mention of cream cheese for breakfast!

Since I am on record as arguing that the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west is due to a breakdown in long-distance trade causing a shortage of money and local deflation in the far west, it might be time to go through the long, long list of emperors and usurpers and highlight the factors that, I think, make a purely political explanation inadequate.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Postblogging Technology, December 1946, II: Never Stop Grifting

I thought that the Burnelli "lifting body airplane" scam gave up the ghost during World War II, but, it turns out that Chuck Yeager's predecessor was still flogging it in the 1950s. 

R_.C._
Governor Hotel,
Portland, Oregon.

Dear Father:

First, thank you for your presents, which, per your instructions, have gone under the tree pending your revival, with the exception of the new(!) "king-sized" iron lung. It is not a very sentimental present, but it is something I very much wanted. I dare not ask how much it cost.

It's not just that Grace is trying to find a face-saving excuse
If, by some chance, you are wondering why you've received this at your hotel, it is because I have sent it in company with Wong Lee, who will be meeting you at the expected place. Sign, counter-sign, you know the drill. (I will explain the reason for all the fuss when you arrive.)

For discretion's sake, I suggest that you extend your reservation at the hotel over Christmas, and leave your car. If you choose to let Wong Lee drive you, now you have reading material.

If not, while a "deuce-and-a-half" Dodge is not your usual ride, Dr. Rivers has had it fitted up for skiing excursions in grand style. It has all-wheel-drive, tyre chains, and many other things that your daughter-in-law would never think of. Wong Lee has driven it many times, in worse conditions than you will meet on Mount Shasta (probably) on your way to us at Christmas. 



You will be glad to know that your wife is here, having flown in from Vancouver on the 21st. Somewhat surprisingly, we have word that we are receiving the Earl on the 28th. He will be arriving by air, on the pretext of paying a visit to Mr. McCreery. I am not sure what the occasion might be, but I am too cynical to think that he has suddenly discovered a desire to see golden California. It is more likely to be a matter of money. I am hoping that the matter of Fontana remains off the table. If the other issue comes up, Bill, David and James are confident that our Russian friend. will make his new deadline, as long as we extend him the credit he has asked for, something that I hope you will press upon His Grace with your usual insider's technical flair.

I doubt that that it is a matter of magnetic recording machines, though. In fact, I am beside myself with nerves about what awful news might have inspired this flying visit. It does put a bit of a damper on the holidays.

"GRACE."




Thursday, February 2, 2017

Postblogging Technology, December 1946, I: Waiting For Santa


*

R_. C_.,
Crown Point Hotel,
Trail, Canada.

Dear Father:

I do so hope that this package catches you in your hotel in a timely way --but that is only because I hope that you will not be there long, that you are, or shortly will be, on your way to Santa Clara. Christmas preparations are in full swing. This will be the first celebration under Arcadia's roof in almost twenty years, and I want to make it a "big house" Christmas to remember! Space is filling up quickly. Well, not "filling," unless thirty or forty relations find an excuse to come over, but you know what I mean. Your youngest has seemingly flown-by-land across the continent to be here in time to help "Miss V.C." swot for her examinations. They are reading a textbook together in front of the fire in that strange antechamber to the nursery as I write. 


It's an odd place to choose in such a large house, but I don't mind keeping my eye on them. The whole thing wouldn't be my choice of a way to spend my holidays, but your son obviously remains infatuated, while she is anticipating the arrival of "Mr.A." (For we can no longer call him "Lieutenant A."). Central Intelligence takes a break at Christmas, but not as long as the students of the Institute.

Speaking of the Chicago "Cs," while they will not stoop to stay at relations, they are engaging a house in San Jose for the holidays, instead of San Francisco, and we can expect to see more of them, and their daughter, of course. This, unfortunately, means less reason to travel to San Francisco for the rest of the household, although my appointments will call me up there, and if you have gifts for the younger set there --and you should, not to be a nag, notwithstanding that your wife has covered off the matter-- you can forward them here and I can carry them up, as I will be seeing Queenie and the former "Miss v. Q." on these occasions of the higher feminine mysteries. 

.