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November 6, 2006

Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Five)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:57 AM * 21 comments

Urban v. Rural

Urban: where you can see a Turner.
Rural: where you can see what Turner saw.

Urban: where you can see Ian McKellen play Prospero.
Rural: where you can see Jerry Falwell play God.

Urban: drive-bys.
Rural: drive-ins.

Urban: pot parties (in both the celebratory and political senses).
Rural: pot stills.

Urban: the 6:00 Acela from New York to Washington.
Rural: A fifty-car grain block from North Platte to Chicago.

Continue reading Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Part Five)

Open thread 55

Christopher Robin was out in the woods. He had been playing, and it had been a good play, where he had taken the heffalump with one clean shot, but now he was sitting with his back against a big tree, eating honey with his fingers, the way Pooh did.

He did not want Pooh to find him like this. It was not that Pooh would eat up all the honey and then go look for a place to throw up. The woods covered a hundred acres and that was all right, unless Roo was too close by. He did not want Pooh to appear just then because Christopher Robin’s hands were covered in honey and when the bear came up for a hug it would all turn bad very fast.

And at that moment Pooh did appear. He was jaunty. He was so damned jaunty it would have made Mrs. Parker swear off the hard stuff, right after she fwowed up. Pooh was humming a song. It sounded like Bowie’s “Putting Out Fire (With Gasoline),” but it was hard to tell with a hum like that. Piglet was on his shoulder, trying to manage an iPod Nano that was bigger than he was.

Suddenly Tigger sped in from somewhere in the deep green and bowled both of them over. Tigger skidded to a halt and skipped back. “That was my morning pounce,” he said.

Christopher Robin used the moment to find some leaves to wipe his sticky hands. It was going to be a good day. He knew it would. He knew it even though he knew that, somewhere off in the West, where Oxonians went when their time was up, voice actresses with squeaky little-girl voices were auditioning to play him. He had always hoped that Brian Cox or Patrick Stewart would play him. Stephen Fry would have been all right too, and would have had a handle on his dreaming side. Instead he was going to sound like Puffy AmiYumi. Roo would grow up and forget who he was.

He looked at the honeypot, and thought hard about how much honey you would have to eat before you got all woozykins and never woke up. It had never worked for Pooh. He picked himself and the pot up, and went to make Pooh happy for the rest of the long, shadowy afternoon.

For “barnacle?” You’re thinking too hard about the consonant. (The fact that there are variations in the pronunciation is maybe a cheat, but maybe isn’t.)

For the slightly longer u sound:
taffy pull
Johnny Bull
three bags full

And for the faintly shorter:
this knife’s dull
carnival (in its common Englishification)

Richard Pryor has left the auditorium.

I’m gonna be about as crass as a guy can be at a moment like this and quote one of my own characters:

If the gods are laughing at us, then by damn they aren’t getting their laughs cheap.

London sounds like the Marvel Comics version of New York City…

Well, in fact, NYC is increasingly the Marvel version of NYC. But since we’re here:

The principal difference between London superheroes and NYC/Metropolitan superheroes is that they have a different sense of history, being centered in a city founded because the Romans said, “Where do you get a pint around here?” while New Amsterdam was founded as a good place to sell wooden nutmegs. This results in the members —

The Wanker: Semiretired comic-relief hero required under EU regs. Often rushes into battle with a cry of “Carry on Heroing!” in the hope that someone will recall the joke.
Screaming Blue Noll: Tudor* woman of vaguely doubtful reputation who yells colourful if grammatically uncertain imprecations. Also, she is blue, due to a colorist’s error that proved popular for some odd reason.
Uncle Richard: Represents the Jollie Olde Britannia that so many wish for.** Very popular superhero, gives kids rides on his back, kills members of the aristocracy. Famous for jumping into Tony Blair’s bedroom one night and screaming “I am the Special Rendition!”
Verity Coupdegrace: Combines nostalgia for heroines like Modesty Blaise and Emma Peel with nostalgia for Jane Austen characters. More fanfic online than you have time to read.
The Economist: Obligatory Tory hero. Says things like “By Cecil Rhodes!” and “This is what comes of the Corn Laws!”***
The Wren****: Si potestae requiris, circumspice.

Since most of London’s supervillains have relocated, leaving the city to lesser evils like The Sod, The Wanker,***** and Used to Be The Teddy Boy but Is Now Looking for Meaning, the London Avengers mostly worry about who is going to write their material (another difference between London and the US — the long literary tradition). Many names are spoken, though few scripts arrive, and many younger heroes (see below) believe “Moore and Moorcock” to have been the The Ornamental Moors, legendary figures of a lost golden age. Others recall when apocalyptic destruction would visit the city with the regularity of television presenters looking for The England that Was in your bedroom wardrobe.

And of course, London has a group of angst-ridden teenage mutants, who are unsure if their powers will lead to lucrative licencing deals or just make them unemployable. They are known as the L-Men, because each is required to wear a prominently displayed L sticker on his or her costume.

*Or Restoration, or something old and rude of that sort.
**”Because they wouldn’t have to be around now.”
***Used to join combat shouting “My science is dismal!” but too many people agreed with him.
****Has a female counterpart, The Cutty Wren, but that’s another thread.
*****A different one. It was a popular name in the Sixties, also among rock stars and Members of Parliament.

Does anyone know of a Brief History of Heresy?

Judge: Anybody got a good reason we shouldn’t just burn you people?
Ye people: Well, uh, there’s …
Judge: Not you. Once more for form’s sake: any reasons?
Fourth Assistant Paralegal: We haven’t invented fire.
Judge: Why the Place We Do Not Mention On Penalty of Even Worse Stuff not?
Amicus Auto-da-Fe: Violated the Doctrine of Intelligent Lightning.
[Whereupon a bolt of probably totally mindless lightning strikes the court, incinerating all the officers except for the 4th A. Paralegal, who was always squishy on the Ginger Pudding is the Path to Damnation Doctrine.]
Fourth Assistant Paralegal and Acting Chief Justice: Uh, case dismissed. Anybody wanna go to my hut for ginger pudding? Hey, bring some fire. I’ll bet it toasts up nice.

In other doctrinal disputations, Robin Lane Fox’s The Unauthorized Version (which dates from 1993) suggests that there is a plausible case for John’s Gospel actually being by John the Apostle (there being no such case for the synoptics, and a detailed discussion of the meaning of “authorship” in those days). As I recall (the book is hiding somewhere) Mark is still generally held to be the oldest of the three.

One of the many interesting things about the book (which I recommend to anyone interested in this sort of thing, though with any such book you’re likely to find quarrels with it, and not just The Obvious One) is that Lane Fox’s approach shifts in the New Testament; in the Old, he’s mainly applying historical scholarship to matters of establishable fact, while the New is far more about doctrine than history, and needs to be read and analyzed more as literature — not necessarily fiction, but definitely making use of the techniques of the creative writer as well as the essayist.

I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned it (or maybe I just missed it) but 25 December is Mithras’s birthday, chosen (at least this is the boring ol’ practical version) because it’s the day the big round warm thing decides that it’ll come back after all, because you did nice things while it was cruising stars in Biarritz.

Mithras’s Mom is a Sun deity, and he was also popular with shepherds, who gave him sheep as gifts, because dogs and badgers were smarter than that.

And of course lots of people celebrated Hey Look the Sun’s Coming Back Day — in Rome, the Consualia/Saturnalia/Opalia thing* —- and Mithraism was very popular with Romans, particularly the army, and the army was the core of almost all the colonies. So borrowing the holiday was in the best Roman tradition, of taking other people’s stuff and putting a vaulted roof over it, and with the Empire wobbling** pretty badly, any measure might get a try.

*Technically, the Celebration of Emerging from the Vegetable Bin to Bring Plenty With a Sack O’ Burpee’s Finest.

**Before you decline and fall, you naturally wobble. Mr. Gibbon was rumored to be planning what we, with our osseal contempt for Latin, would call a “prequel,” called The Initial Wobbling and Progressively More Unsteady Gait of the Roman Empire, but after hearing several ladies and gentlemen mutter “Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh?” and chortle behind their chortling-fans,*** he gave it up.

***A rather larger number referred to, you know, the other thing, and then gathered to snicker in one of London’s fashionable new Snickering Galleries.

— Hochbinder’s Back-Pocket Guide to Appearing Gosh-Darn Learned

Me been feciting.

[Greek letter alpha]
First Cause, the Word, Big Bang — what name you choose,
One bright note sounds. A symphony ensues.

If we, who love the light, had never been,
The stars would find new shoes for dancing in.

Beyond, no fusion burns to light the stars;
The waves will not collapse, the joke won’t parse.

First one cuts down the tree, then hears it fall —
It seems we don’t need this one, after all.

Our sight and hearing span the spectrum, yet
Most of the universe plays hard-to-get.

The(stellar fires are profligate indeed,)
And what they throw away, we glean and read.

Hello out there! We’re here! Do come and play!
Don’t mind what our old broadcast quanta say.

You hold the chalk, and I’ll apply the glue;
Oh, dear, that’s loose again. One’s never through —

The galaxies rush on; the redshifts climb,
And loneliness increases over time.

When it was new, the cosmos moved right quick;
Then (sound familiar?) things began to stick.

“Like a great thought,” he said, but did not cease
To search and blueprint its machineries.

He wished elliptic orbits to prove wrong,
Yet still proposed them. Reason’s whips are strong.

If you will not stand still, while I do so,
I shall see you diminished as you go.

The cosmic egg-shell cupped against your ear,
The rush of the dark ocean’s plain to hear.

It’s not that he was wrong, the clever Greek;
But where bare Beauty’s seen from, so to speak.

So will it stop, or not? The answer tells
Much less about the stars than of ourselves.

One flash when gravity was consummate —
No era spans less time, or greater weight.

The particle is here, and then is there —
But never in between. How does it dare?

One clock stayed on the ground; its double flew.
And it ran slow. So, then. The mad thing’s true.

The particles extend like tightened strings,
And when their frets are plucked, they chord all things.

First conjure up that one you love to please.
Now, once again, with quarks, or galaxies.

Position, yes, or speed, but not the two:
To learn, to see, must be to alter, too.

Some facts (see Heisenberg) we cannot know,
So mass can rise from void, and back there go.

Reduced to mathematics, matter’s germ —
“Reduced?” What an unfeeling, thoughtless term!

Beyond the atmosphere, a higher light
Proclaims unique new glories of the night.

All sterile are Narcissus and his twin:
When symmetries are broken, things begin.

Too massive in thin space to ever thrive,
Yet, rarae aves, dinosaurs survive.

[Greek letter omega]
Heat death or cold, in randomness or Cause,
It is not how it ends, but what it was.

Just to

Welcome to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Mk II Mod 1a (ISO 9002 and 802.11b compliant)

WARNING: The MMPI-II/1a is an extremely important test. If you cheat on it, we will know, just like we know how, where, and when you fudged your SATs. Messing with the MMPI-II/1a’s head will only get you assigned to a career you will hate, no matter how qualified you are for it.

Okay, sharpen the damn #2 pencil and get cracking. All questions are True/False; no weaseling about “Strongly Disagree” for us.

1. I have a personality.
2. My personality is closed for inventory.
3. The last time my personality was inventoried, I cooked the books on accounts receivable.

Okay, that’s it. What, you want a numeric score? Heck, we’re not even going to tell you “how you did.” You want to know that, get a psych degree. You want a psych degree? You’re not qualified.

Warren Zevon, 1947-2003.

You know just what you mean but it might mean too much
So you limit yourself to a smile and a touch
But the lips have gone dry and the hands
Are as cold as the clay
All that silence can say

No one’s said their goodbyes but it’s still time to go
So you stand by the road in the long-distance glow
Of the eyes burning red in the West
At the end of the day
All that silence can say

(Don’t go looking; Zevon didn’t write that. Some of us owe him in other ways.)

De vermis.

The worm drives helically through the wood
And does not know the dust left in the bore
Once made the table integral and good;
And suddenly the crystal hits the floor.
Electrons find their paths in subtle ways,
A massless eddy in a trail of smoke;
The names of lovers, light of other days —
Perhaps you will not miss them. That’s the joke.
The universe winds down. That’s how it’s made.
But memory is everything to lose;
Although some of the colors have to fade,
Do not believe you’ll get the chance to choose.
Regret, by definition, comes too late;
Say what you mean. Bear witness. Iterate.

Your morning irony.

All kinds of interesting things happened inside the Nazi weapons-research establishment, and a lot of them were not exactly efficient and not particularly honest. Once the Leader became enamored of Wonder Weapons, Wunderwaffenprojekten became an excellent way of not being sent to the Russian Front.

There was a steadily escalating series of priority hierarchies, as teams tried to leapfrog their projects ahead of others. Note that while some money was involved, this was not an issue of the workers trying to get rich — they were trying to stay out of the front line, and to get some basic resources (food, a decent place to live) that were in short supply. New classes of “very important project” were continuously created. About midwar, someone came up with “Führer Priority,” projects that the Boss supposedly was personally interested in; this was intended to be a trump card, but by war’s end there were six levels of Führer priority.

The effect of this was much labor but no product. Germany was, for instance, trying to develop a ground-to-air AA missile, which obviously would have been of great use; they tested a variety of designs, with varying levels of success, but instead of focusing the research into one AA Missile Group, it was scattered around numerous little teams, who competed for dwindling resources and, of course, shared nothing with each other. At war’s end, there were -over forty- such projects.

It will be noted that Germany had lots of social control and internal spying.

On the matter of the Secret Police knowing what they were snooping, Lavrenti Beria was always partly convinced that the Soviet bomb project was a hoax (this was after 1945, so it’s not skepticism about the Bomb -working-). During a test of the atomic pile, Beria had seen nothing “atomic,” just some lights and bouncing gauges, and demanded to be allowed inside the reactor core for a look. There were people there who wanted to let him.

Reviews we never finished reading.

One might note that this cheap hack named F. Scott Fitzgerald told a “guy lives backwards” story in a pulp yarn called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and that other guy, Marty somebody (whose dad slummed around in sci-fi with his pal Bobby “Stalin was a Bad Dude” Conquest), did an entire novel in which time moves backward, which got reviewed in All the Right Places, but then one would have to assume that books do not spring like quantum particles from an absolute vacuum, and it is sometimes useful to know that literature has a history, and that’s so Twentieth Century.
Stefan, I’m pretty sure the piece in question was Luc Sante’s from HARPER’S, done at the time when Sante was trying to crash NY publishing by schmoozing various Right People. It kinda worked; he’s done a book or two — LOW LIFE, which is a rewrite of Herbert Asbury, comes to mind — and still appears in magazines every now and again. He is not untalented, and I think much of his attitude comes from wanting to remain In Good with those Right People.

If anyone missed it, Sante read five randomly selected sf novels and tore four of them to pieces. The fifth — as I recall, it was by Michael Bishop — he admitted he sort of liked. A large number of people wrote in noting that if you pulled five books off a Borders shelf at random you probably wouldn’t get a handful of aces, and suggesting titles, to which his response was “literary talent does not pass by osmosis,” which is, how do you say it, idiotic.

I think that’s what you call a negative review.
“… Plum and her sister Lucy …”

Whose nickname, we must assume, is Land. Both of them doubtless related to the noted Shirley Gunderson Mercy.

I think the publication of the Spectacularly, Hideously Bad Book — the Notably Awful Book, in fact — and the attention such things so often receive, may say a couple of modestly significant things about The State of Publishing and Stuff. One is that most Bad Books are just, well, plainly bad; they are dull, their grammar is awkward, with the occasional howler, but someone of an editorial persuasion has taken Vise-Grips and Bondo to the rattliest bits, they displace not a brilliantly eccentric manuscript but another precisely as lame (though the other lame author will never believe this — wait, wrong Nielsen Hayden blog thread). So when the Mutant Hellbook rises on its spavined limbs and pole-vaults “Good Morning,” it taps a pressurized dome of critical frustration (not all of it acute or worthy, but that’s another essay), and the Dead Book is staked in its native earth by the Killer Review. At the very least, it’s a change of pace from saying the same things about the same writers, or even saying different things about the same writers, or … you get the idea. People watch talk shows so they can see what a Writer So Bad They’ve Heard of Him/Her looks like. Eventually the party mood passes, and we return to the usual cycle of military romances and meaningful, human, not-sf-on-your-tintype novels about space amoebas and the Holden Caulfield Clone Wars, and the water is again calm, until the shark music starts again.

This has been “All Metaphors Considered,” brought to you by a generous grant from Pulp, the Display Technology of Tomorrow.

Why don’t we get together, and call ourselves an institute.
I do hope you will graduate at least one Undersecretary of Something Or Other With Primary Responsibility for Assuring That Particular Undersecretarial Office Has a Name on the Door.

Teresa, you and I aren’t “scholars,” we’re … well, we live in book-lined caves, produce papers on arcane subjects, and have twitchy internal mechanics and a fondness for concocting strange things in the kitchen. We’re Consulting Wizards.

Well, I have seen the term “independent scholar” used for such people as Catharine MacKinnon, in which case I will take broccoli. (The term seems to specifically mean someone with no affiliation to an institution, whether educational, thinkety-tankety, or The National Alliance for More PCBs In Food.)

At any rate, the outfit we are chartering here obviously needs some impressive sounding names to attach to things, preferably insubstantial ones. At a start, I would suggest:

—The Whitmore Cellar of Antiquities
—The E. B. White Chair of Not Using “Literally” as an Intensifier
—The Django Fett Concert Hall and Automatic Weapons Range
—Regius Professor of Garlic (gonna be a major scrap over that one)
—The Research Refectory
—Thog Professor of Hideous Sentence Construction and Allied Arts
—Liberty Hall (applications for Head Cat now open)
—Little Chapel of the Possessive Apostrophe
—The Mathom Gallery

No, Ansel Adams was the Gray Lensman.
NH spotting.
“I’ve got no trouble with reading the works of absent authors,” said Gytha Ogg, with a blood-freezing calm. “Quite a few of the folks I knows is absent … some of them at very moments very crucial to the plot.”

Look, if Terry were here he’d have done better. Terry’s not here and he’s doing better.

(And I can channel Tony Robinson for a sentence or two, but, well, Fate may like a challenge now and again, but standing one end of Lancre Town at high noon and calling her out is quite another.)

Open thread 9.
Claire, forgive me in advance, but the logical* T-shirt would be:

It’s Payback Time.

*I am sometimes very mean to this word, and this is one of those times.

Open thread 11.
Scientia Gratia Pecuniam
Announce Their Greatest Technical Advance In Nearly A Week

MyGram(tm) is a device for playing cylindrical wax records that is wholly contained within a gentleman’s top hat. Now, no formal occasion need be without the charms of music, no matter how confined it may be. Puccini in the Pullman berth, Borodin in the boudoir, Sousa in the showerbath! Business Executives may play Hortatory Messages throughout the Working Day, both increasing productivity and reminding the Lackeys of Industry that they are under surveillance. The mechanism, once primed with a Recording, is Rewound by the simple act of tipping the Hat to a passing Lady. (The Habitually Shy Gent may wish to peruse our catalog of Witty Repartee Cylinders for All Occasions, available in plain wrapper for the sum of $5 cash or stamps.)

Topic sentences.

As weird as the bat bombs were, somebody in the US Department of Finding Obscure Ways to Win The War discovered a Japanese folk legend that, if you saw a glowing fox, it was an omen of death, and …

Foxes. Luminous paint. Submarine delivery. Do the math.

It’s not that we try to get animals to fight for us (war dogs go way back), it”s that we try to get militarized animals to do bizarre things.

Actually, zeppelins are the key to alternate history, or at least identifying such books by their covers. (With certain *cough* exceptions.)

Blimps — nonrigid airships (a zepp has a rigid internal frame, while a blimp is a soft gasbag with a gondola) — have quite a good military record. During WW2, the Navy used them as naval escorts, and to the best of my knowledge, no ship with a blimp escort was ever lost in combat.

Comments on Mike Ford: Occasional Works (Pt. Five):
#1 ::: dan ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:18 AM:

Oh, Monday, loathsome Monday morning; you just became bearable...

Thanks, Jim!

#2 ::: P J evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:20 AM:

I like the concert hall and firing range! (It could even be both at once when the program includes the '1812 Overture'. I'm sure there are other possibilities here.)

#3 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:26 AM:

Am I the only one who's been looking at recent posts and wondering what Mike will say about it?

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 11:27 AM:

Serge @ 3:
Not hardly.

#5 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 01:04 PM:

In the interest of getting as much of Mike's work as possible out of closets and onto the internet, I've just posted the short story that he, so typically, presented one day without warning: Driving North. We adapted it (keeping most of the text) for issue #10 of the Captain Confederacy comic book: Captain Confederacy, Chapter 10. But for people who like their prose pure, Mike's original version's swell.

#6 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 01:08 PM:

I am strangely flattered to see a reply to me in here. I still haven't gotten the limerick right, either.

#7 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 05:32 PM:
Actually, zeppelins are the key to alternate history, or at least identifying such books by their covers.
I was delighted to be able to turn to my husband and reference this at the beginning of a recent Doctor Who episode. But then I remember it being bandied back-n-forth at VP; I hadn't realized that it had been Mike's observation.
#8 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 05:44 PM:

Kenneth Hite had a Suppressed Transmission column called "An Alternate-Historical Alphabet," in which the entry for Z was, of course, Zeppelins:

Z is for Zeppelins
All Change Points (q.v.), from Xerxes (q.v.) to the last presidential election, create worlds with clean, efficient Zeppelin traffic. Changing history may produce Zeppelins as an inevitable by-product, much as bombarding uranium produces gamma rays. Often, the quickest way to tell if you are in an Alternate History is to look up, rather than at a newspaper or encyclopedia. From this premise, it is not outside the realm of Plausibility (q.v.) that our history between 1900 and 1936 was, in fact, an Alternate History. It would, at least, explain a lot.

This appears in his Suppressed Transmission 2 collection -- which, appropriately, features an introductory poem by John M. Ford ("In the Neomythic Age").

#9 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2006, 07:18 PM:

Of course there are zeppelins in every other universe; the improbable consequence of the Hindenburg disaster is one of the most obvious clues that we exist in an extremely unlikely reality. Heck, if I read about a timeline without lighter-than-air, I would wonder what bizarre excuse the writer had.

And zeppelins are cool. Coolness always trumps logic. Alas, it's not the only thing that trumps logic--here's hoping for the best on Tuesday.

#10 ::: Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 12:15 AM:

Diatryma: I am strangely flattered to see a reply to me in here.

I know the feeling. Does anyone know of a Brief History of Heresy? was a question from me, and it's now my brush with immortality.

Just the other day in my office, somebody added a portrait of Noah Webster to our Copyediting Shrine.

And when I saw it, I had three thoughts in succession
1) (The Devil and Noah Webster!)
2) (I wonder what John M. Ford would do with that?)
3) (And now we'll never know.)

I miss the man.

#11 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 03:18 AM:

I note a reference above to the Whitmore Cellar of Antiquities. I suspect some here may not get the allusion: Tom Whitmore once found the original manuscript of Aleister Crowley's The Book of the Law in the basement of a house he was moving into. He wrote an article about it called "Raiders of the Lost Basement", which a quick google turns up here among other places.

Peter Erwin @ 8 quotes Kenneth Hite:

Changing history may produce Zeppelins as an inevitable by-product, much as bombarding uranium produces gamma rays.

Someone at Jo Walton's Farthing Party mentioned this phenomenon, and Emmet O'Brien named it the Hindenburg Uncertainty Principle.

#12 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 06:24 AM:

will shetterly said (#9):
Of course there are zeppelins in every other universe; the improbable consequence of the Hindenburg disaster is one of the most obvious clues that we exist in an extremely unlikely reality. Heck, if I read about a timeline without lighter-than-air, I would wonder what bizarre excuse the writer had.

I feel like a bit of a spoilsport in pointing out that the Hindenburg was merely the last in a series of zeppelin disasters, following the British R101 (carrying the Air Minister who had overseen the project) and the US Navy's Shenandoah and Macon.

Of course, this has two implications:

1. The Zeppelin meme is very hard to kill; it took four rather spectacular disasters for Them to convince our timeline to give up the idea.
2. Now we have cool underwater zeppelin wreckage to explore.

#13 ::: will shetterly ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 03:46 PM:

Peter, excellent link; thanks!

But I have to say that part of what's "spectacular" about those incidents is how little loss of life there was. The Macon's especially striking: two dead. What're the odds of surviving a sea crash in a jet?

#14 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 07, 2006, 11:12 PM:

Peter Irwin (#12) writes:

> I feel like a bit of a spoilsport in pointing out that the Hindenburg was merely the last in a series of zeppelin disasters, following the British R101 (carrying the Air Minister who had overseen the project) and the US Navy's Shenandoah and Macon.

I've got a lovely little book at home called "Airshipwreck" which consists of almost nothing but pictures of... wrecked airships.

Many of them seem to have been done in by extraordinary weather conditions - i.e. 2 mile an hour breeze on the ground pushes them slowly into a solid object and they gently fold in half.

#15 ::: Chris Borthwick ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 10:03 PM:

On the blimps, though, the statistics showing few blimp-protected boats going down may also be due to not sending blimps on the really dangerous runs. In the Atlantic, for example, part of the trick was to sneak past the wolfpacks without them noticing, which would imply not raising your height by a few hundred yards.

#16 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 11:25 PM:

Chris -- that does not accord with the discussion in a recent Smithsonian Air & Space. IIRC, blimps were not used as transAtlantic escorts; they didn't have the range. But they escorted ships up and down the coast (important for keeping the war machine going), providing enough warning that U-boats could count on a warm welcome. It's true that the blimps themselves got shot at, and down, occasionally, as the U-boats had deck guns; but that still meant the U-boat had broken cover and was doing much less damage (and, at the worst, killing fewer people) than if it were torpedoing a ship.

#17 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 12:47 PM:

will shetterly said:
But I have to say that part of what's "spectacular" about those incidents is how little loss of life there was. The Macon's especially striking: two dead. What're the odds of surviving a sea crash in a jet?

You're right. And the Hindenburg was also less catastrophic than we tend to think: almost two-thirds of the passengers and crew survived. (On the other hand, when the Akron went down, only 3 of the 76 crew survived.)

Freeman Dyson had an interesting essay a number of years ago where he compared post-WW1 zeppelin programs (few in number, giant, prestigious, government-funded) with airplane research (lots of small, private projects, often involving just a handful of people). His argument was that the zeppelin programs were very vulnerable to failures, since the failures were very public and embarassing, and tended to lead to the entire program being shut down; on the other hand, failures of airplane prototypes only affected the company or inventor involved, and other programs charged on ahead in a kind of Darwinian technological process. The result was, by the late 1930s, lots of progress with airplanes and the end of all zeppelin research.

Then he suggested that the more recent equivalents of zeppelin programs were a) 1950s nuclear reactor research[*]; and b) national space programs.

[*] I'll admit I'm not convinced that having hundreds of people tinkering with nuclear reactors in their garages would necessarily have been a Good Thing....

#18 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:02 PM:

I highly recommend Neville Shute's Slide Rule on this subject, if you can find a copy. It's fascinating reading as a personal history of early British aviation; among other things, he was involved as an aviation engineer both in the development of the R100, predecessor to the ill-fated R101, and in founding his own airplane company. He also worked for de Havilland and other aircraft pioneers. It's a great read.

#19 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:10 PM:

Then he suggested that the more recent equivalents of zeppelin programs were a) 1950s nuclear reactor research [..]

If I'm recalling the essay, I think he also concluded that there had been a rush to commercialization of nuclear power, and that the water-cooled reactors that were built, were based on the designs used by the Navy. And where a water-cooled reactor for a submarine was perfectly reasonable, it might not have been the best solution for civilian nuclear power.

#20 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:13 PM:


Shute says much the same thing as Dyson, from the inside; also that the zeppelin programs, being big government funded programs, were under constant pressure to add this or that feature to prove how wonderful they were, and to add personnel who came with glowing recommendations from some politician. R101 took the brunt of these intrusions. Following radical design changes, R101 was sent on its flight to India ahead of the standard test flights the staff had agreed on, because Baron Thompson had announced that he would fly to India and back in R101 and considered his schedule inflexible. The result was disaster.

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2006, 02:33 PM:

The Dyson essay in question was collected in Imagined Worlds. Highly recommended.

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