Machinery’s Handbook and the Model 1911

Expl-1911A1 CompAssy

Today is the 100th anniversary of the adoption by the United States Army of John Moses Browning’s .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, the weapon known since as the Model 1911 or simply “the .45”. Browning designed many of the last century’s best-known guns: the ones that you see in your mind when you think “cowboy rifle” or “machine gun,” and “automatic rifle” among others. Paul Mauser had definitively solved the problem of the repeating rifle already in 1898; his design has yet to be improved significantly.

So today, the newest and most advanced military technology of the Great War is still in use daily for sport and war. It’s not just weapons, either. Trains and their tracks have changed little. Mechanical clocks and watches are a solved problem. There is a long list of mostly hidden devices around us, the design of which has scarcely changed since then.

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Machinery's Handbook

This centenarian mechanical layer can be described and mostly created with the information in Machinery’s Handbook, a 2,104 page double handful of small print and diagrams. Detailed description of tools and materials, hundreds of mathematical tables, weights and measures, testing, ratios for all sorts of gears and transmissions, pipe fitting, the whole mess of machine lore is dumped into this box. Paging through the handbook, one gets the feeling that the mechanical parts of modern civilization are all here.

With this knowledge, a source of power, and sufficient raw materials one could in theory build almost anything a wood-and-metal bashing factory makes. And most of it is still a century or more old. Lathes, screws, blowtorches, springs, grinders are all from John Browning’s world, and he wouldn’t take long to adjust to a 2011 machine shop.

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Office Worker with Two Monitors

The people reading this do not live in Browning’s factory. Welds, springs, bolts, castings, threadings, gears, and bearings surround us, ignored. The modern first world service industry worker lives from the neck up, floating in front of a screen. The entire world view is defined by a screen full of media filtered through an imagination. Technology is software, and a layer down it’s microelectronics.

This attitude shows up dramatically when our modern Internet resident is confronted with a problem from Browning’s world. When something goes amiss with wheat, or steel, or ships and trains, Internet Person looks for solutions on the screen, or assumes that they’ll arrive. The idea of technological improvement itself “ends” arguments about scarce resources and decaying infrastructure. Mechanisms themselves are taken for granted or reduced to the level of weekend hobbies.

— — —

.45 ACP

We’re still in Browning’s world, though. If one 21st century digital ape dislikes another, a quick reset to a century ago is in the glovebox, and an intricate machine will slap a tiny brass box of explosives into place, set off the little bomb, and send a chunk of lead a off on a surprisingly fast and accurate journey to an even more surprising distance, causing an unpleasantly surprising wound on arrival. Surprise! Everything old is new again! And almost faster than we can see, it’s ready to do so again. The promise of an elegant software solution to our problems just faded a bit.

Take a look at Machinery’s Handbook once in a while. You may not care about Browning’s world, but it cares about you.

Orange Countian Gothic

The Costa Mesa Grange

The last of the bean fields turned into retail a long time ago, and even the strawberry patches are gone. The Segerstroms kept their own estate as a farm for sentimental reasons, but that’s in Santa Ana. Costa Mesa has been definitively paved. Orange Coast College has a miniature farm for ag classes.

The Grange remains. I see AA groups coming out of there at night, but I have no idea if living or ghostly farmers meet.

more grange

Newport Blvd, Costa Mesa, 1966

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I was a toddler, and my family had just moved into this neighborhood. I don’t think anything remains that you can see in this picture.

The Mesa Theatre is visible on the right at 19th street there.

You have to understand. It was a different time.

I just watched a documentary called HIDDEN FIRE: THE GREAT BUTTE EXPLOSION.

[insert beavis laugh]

It was horrible. Bullet points of the horrible:

  • Standard post-Ken Burns style with sad violins, period pictures, and voiceovers reading letters and newspaper articles. “Dear Mama…” Did everything in the 19th century happen with a bassoon or a scrapy fiddle playing?
  • Hack academics with slow careful mellow NPR English diction saying obvious things and things that made no sense. Firefighters were simultaneously described as indentured servants and as inhabitants of a bastion of male privilege. The local historian said that people forgot about the incident because people forget things.
  • The town archivist, who was exactly Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. She kept telling us that “that’s how things go in Butte” when describing unique and bizarre atrocities such as mining companies being beastly, or rich guys going unpunished. After each disapproving “Forget it, Jake” statement she stopped and pursed her lips like a high school assistant principal announcing detention.
  • Two ladies in the town had written a very 1895 poem and song about the explosion. The documentary people actually hired a couple of musicians to record an over-the-top version of this song with tremulous soprano singing (this was hideously painful) and then played almost the whole thing.
  • A terrible constipated straining at the toilet of ivory tower liberalism. This included the constant inclusion of “diversity” and pictures of Chinese immigrants, and the specious assertion that some of them must have died because there was a railway station next door and therefore they would have been just arriving. Everyone actually involved in the incident was a white male, except for the horses.
  • A bespectacled bearded academic who said, roughly ten times, that firefighters are brave and sometimes die, and that this is noticed more after an incident in which many of them do, and then not as much for a few years. I think he was Anne Elk.
  • Reenaction of incidents in 1895 using “silent movie” film effects and piano background, as if it was somehow a 1925 silent melodrama. Folks I guess it’s all “period.”
  • No actual analysis of the economic state of Butte, who the major players were, why exactly the miscreants behind the explosion weren’t punished, or even what the fuck they were mining in Butte at the time. It was just assumed that there were Powers That Be, and that businessmen weren’t punished even if they killed 57 people. More disapproving pursing of the lips and playing of sad bassoons. Come on, guys. Three minutes of exposition in a documentary is not hard.
  • Who greenlighted the title THE GREAT BUTTE EXPLOSION? This is a Montana PBS production. It’s going to be shown to school kids. Are you this dumb?
  • Ken Burns has ruined documentary filmmaking. It’s all The Old Negro Space Program now.

Okay I’m done and I can go back to bed now.

Today in Punk Rock History: Elks Lodge Riot ’79

That’s a good starting point. St. Patrick’s Day, 1979: An all ages show at the Elks Club in Los Angeles degenerates into a police riot. The cops just invaded and beat the hell out of everyone. There are photos on a few of the linked sites of various injured punks.

As others have said, that was the end of innocence. It was war between the LAPD and punks after that.

This all happened when I was just finishing junior high school in Orange County, so I didn’t have the opportunity to be attacked by the LAPD until my freshman year of college when I was in a crowd at the Street Scene and they charged us with horses, medieval style.