The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 4th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published November 16th, 2011)

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 5th, 2013

Technology 101

(Originally published May 23rd, 2012)

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest.

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc.

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death.

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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Famine, Crop Yields, Food Surpluses, Irrigation, Plow, Crop Rotation, Cultivars, Fertilizers, Pesticides, Tractor, Railroad and Ships

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 23rd, 2012

Technology 101

Because of Advances in Farming Fewer People could Grow more Food

Cold weather kills people.  A lot of people throughout history have died during winters as they exhausted their food supplies.  That’s why preparing for the winter was serious business.  You had to store enough food to carry you through the winter.  And if the fall harvests were poor it spelled big trouble.  And famine.  It’s hard to imagine what this was like.  A long winter ahead of you with an insufficient food supply.  It was scary.  For it meant some people would die before the spring came.  Hard to fathom this in a day where you can actually drive your car through a blizzard to your favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant for a delicious hot meal to take off the chill of the coldest winter day.  It wasn’t always like this.

And it wasn’t only long winters that killed people.  Sometimes the long summers did.  Where there were insufficient rains.  And drought.  That destroyed crops and drastically reduced fall harvests.  You don’t hear much about famine these days in the U.S, Canada, Britain, France, Germany or other advanced nations.  But underdeveloped and impoverished nations suffer famine to this day.  Why?  Two primary reasons.  Improved crop yields.  And improved transportation.  The advanced nations have them.  The impoverished nations don’t.

Improved crop yields create food surpluses.  Key to civilization itself.  Food surpluses allowed a middle class to arise because everyone did not have to grow food.  Because of advances in farming fewer people could grow more food. Those who didn’t have to grow food could think about other things.  Including ways to further improve crop yields.  By creating better tools.  Better techniques.  Better food storage.  And when you do all of these things you not only have enough food for yourself and for your surplus you have enough to export.  To those who do not have enough food.  Even allowing people to live in areas that cannot produce food.  For they can trade for food.  Thanks to these surpluses available for export.

Food is so Plentiful and Inexpensive Today that the Problem in America is not Famine but Obesity

Early farms relied on the fertile soil of river banks.  The spring flooding of the rivers raised river levels.  When the water retreated it left behind fertile soil.  Eventually we learned how to take control of our water resources.  And used it to make fertile land away from river banks.  Using irrigation.  Bringing the water to the land.  Probably the next great development was the plow.  Which let us take control of the land.  We tilled the soil to aerate it.  To control weeds.  To mix in organic material.  Such as manure.  To prepare it for planting.  And we used irrigation to bring those crops to harvest. 

We then developed crop rotation to replenish nitrogen in the soil.  And to control pests.  Certain pests attack certain crops.  By rotating crops pest infestation couldn’t spread and return year after year.  Families of crops need certain nutrients.  Rotation prevents the depletion of any single nutrient.  Then we took control of the plants we grew.  By creating new plants.  Cultivars.  Using selective breeding to increase grain size, the number of grains per plant, improve disease resistance, etc. 

Then we turned to chemistry.  Creating fertilizers.  And pesticides.  These two advancements alone exploded crop yields.  Never before did so few grow so much with so little.  We maximized the agricultural potential of land year after year.  And then we mechanized the farm.  Introducing the tractor.  Allowing the same number of farmers to cultivate more land.  So not only did their existing lands yield more they added more high-yield lands to explode yields.  Creating huge food surpluses available for export.  And slashing the price of food across the board.  From the bread we make from wheat.  To corn-fed beef.  Food is so plentiful and inexpensive today that the problem in America is not famine but obesity.  Obesity is bad but it takes a lot longer to die from obesity than it does from famine.  And we enjoy all of those delicious things that are making us so fat.  While there’s nothing to enjoy when starving to death. 

We were able to Raise Crop Yields to such High Levels we have Food Available for Everyone in this World

As crop yields increased more food entered the market.  Good for people.  But bad for farmers.  Because they depressed crop prices.  Large farms that cultivated more land could still make a profit.  But the small farmer who didn’t cultivate more land just saw his revenue fall.  Until his revenue fell below his costs.  Leaving him unable to service the debt he incurred to mechanize his farm.  Causing bankruptcy.  Which happened a lot in the Thirties.  Causing all those bank runs during the Great Depression.

To fight this free fall in crop prices countries enacted tariffs and import restrictions.  The British Corn Laws kept out the less expensive foreign food so the landowning aristocracy could maximize their profits.  And when the British repealed the Corn Laws and adopted free trade everything the landowning aristocracy feared happen.  Food became inexpensive and plentiful.  In large part because of the United States.  Who was maximizing their crop yields.  And then using the railroad to ship their surpluses to the great rivers.  The Ohio.  The Missouri.  The Mississippi.  Where they loaded these surpluses onto steamships.  Where it traveled down the Mississippi to the Port of New Orleans.  Where they transferred it to ocean-going sail ships and steamers.  Bound for Europe.  And Britain.  Where this food fed hungry people.  And cut into the profits of the wealthy landowners.

But it wasn’t only in the United States.  Soon other great agricultural countries produced food surpluses that they shipped all over the world.  Winters still happen.  Droughts still happen.  But they don’t happen everywhere at the same time.  And because we were able to raise crop yields to such high levels we have food available for everyone in the world.  And truck, rail and ships can move that food anywhere it is needed.  Which is why we can drive to our favorite greasy diner or fast food restaurant during a blizzard on the coldest day of winter and enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice, coffee, eggs, hash browns and sausage.  No matter where you live.  As long as you live in a country that supports free trade.

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The Calendar and Irrigation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 16th, 2011

Technology 101

The Nile is a Sliver of Life-Sustaining Black Earth Carved through the Lifeless Red Earth of the Desert

The early Egyptians were a religious people.  They still are today.  Egypt is a special land.  A unique land.  Because the Nile River flows through it on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

The Nile is the source of life.  For it was the Nile that allowed farming.  Because of fresh water.  And fertile soil.  Black earth.  The rich silt that the Nile washed down from on high.  Beyond the First Cataract.  All the way to its headwaters.  Where monsoons in the Ethiopian Plateau, around Lake Victoria and in the Ruwenzori mountains flowed into the Blue Nile and the White Nile.  That joined into the Nile and flowed down to the Mediterranean Sea.  Bringing with it the rich silt that flooded over the riverbanks.  And left behind some of the richest soil ever farmed.

The life from the Nile was a miracle.  A blessing for the Egyptians.  This sliver of life-sustaining black earth carved through the lifeless red earth of the desert.  So they prayed.  And they worshipped.  To placate the gods.  To keep the miracle of black earth returning harvest after harvest.  For when the gods favored them the flooding came.  On time.  And at just the right height.  But when the gods did not there was famine.

By Tracking a Regular Cycle of Natural Events they Knew When to Worship and What to Do in the Farming Cycle

If the gods favored them the flooding was predictable.  If Khnum favored them the First Cataract would bring on the floodwaters at the right time and in the right amount.  Thoth would foretell this in the form of white ibises returning from their southern migration.  A favorable omen of a good harvest.  Which began with the sowing.  The grain representing Osiris’ body.  A god killed by another god.  Seth.  Who embodied the lifeless red earth.  The new growth was the resurrection of Osiris.  At the harvest they praised Isis.  For the resurrection.  That was the harvest.

The Egyptians were a religious people.  Religious ceremonies and rituals occurred throughout the farming cycle.  It’s no surprise, then, that the Egyptians created one of the first calendars.  Which marked important religious ceremonies and rituals.  And the cycle of farming.

By being able to track this regular cycle of natural events they knew when to worship.  What to do in the farming cycle.  When to do it.  And they knew when something was wrong.  For one day the floods did not come.  The climate had changed.  And the water didn’t come to them from the river.  So they had to go to the water in the river.

When the Nile didn’t Flood when the Calendar said it Should we Created Irrigation

As agriculture developed so did our understanding of our environment.  And we developed a lot of this with our religious beliefs.  For our environment was the blessing of the gods.  And at times their curse.  But our observations grew.  As did our understanding.  We developed the calendar.  And when the Nile didn’t flood when the calendar said it should we created irrigation.  Expanding the lands under cultivation.  And grew even more food.  For even though the Nile didn’t flood the water and silt were still there.

Our initial religious beliefs may not have properly explained the flooding of the Nile.  But it was a first step in our critical thinking.  Trying to explain that which we didn’t understand.  We may have been wrong about the cause.  But we got a pretty good understanding of the seasons.  By studying our environment.  And learning how to change it to suit our needs.  And it’s this critical thinking that led the way to irrigation.  And, eventually, to the modern civilization.

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The iPhone is Impressive but the Plough is a True Technological Wonder

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 19th, 2011

Technology 101

The Plough allowed us to Grow more Food in Virtually any Soil giving us more Free Time to Think

The iPhone is an amazing piece of technology.  Whenever a new one comes out lines form with anxious people clamoring to get the new phone.  Steve Jobs was a brilliant entrepreneur.  He knew how to give the people what they wanted.  But he had some help along the way.

What made the iPhone possible?  Was it touch-screen LCD technology?  A little.  Was it the miniaturization of integrated circuits?  Well, that helped no doubt.  How about the transistor?  This was big.  It opened the door to the integrated circuits.  But it took something before that.  Vacuum tubes?  What the transistor replaced?  No.  Was it wireless radio transmission?  Antenna technology?  The development of electromagnetic field and wave theory?  No.  You have to go further back.  Even before the genius of Nikola Tesla (electrical engineer, inventor and father of AC power).  The telephone?  The telegraph?  The printing press?  No.  All necessary steps on the road to the iPhone.  But none of these are the prime mover that set things in motion to make the iPhone possible.  To find this prime mover you have to go way back.  To the dawn of civilization.  To the one piece of technology that changed everything.  The plough.

The first civilizations sprung up on the fertile banks of the great rivers.  The Hwang-Ho.  The Indus.  The Nile.  The Tigris.  And the Euphrates.  Where the flooding of these rivers made the soil nutrient-rich.  And easy to work.  The masses could scratch it with a stick.  Sow their seeds.  And pray to their gods for a bountiful harvest.  The plough changed that.  It let us grow food in virtually any soil.  And the work of a few could do the same of the masses in those river valleys.  This produced two things.  A food surplus.  And spare time.  Everyone in a society no longer had to farm.  They could do other things.  And think.

The Plough gave rise to Artisans, the Free Market Economy and a Middle Class

It all started here.  The plough unleashed the human mind.  It transformed us from working machines at the mercy of our environment.  To masters of our environment.  Where we transformed our environment to better serve us.

This gave rise to artisans.  Blacksmiths.  Tanners.  Cobblers.  Inventors.  Entrepreneurs.  What we call the rise of a middle class.  These people didn’t have to grow food.  Because they could trade for food.  With the things they created.  And like the farmers, they created surpluses.

We traded this surplus of food and artisan goods in markets.  The free market economy was born.  These markets became cities.  As the economy grew capital formation grew.  Banking and finance.  The joint-stock company.  The corporation.  Capitalism.  Which eventually gave us Steve Jobs.  And the iPhone.

The Plough put us in Control of our Environment, Reduced Famine and Improved the Quality of Life

None of this would have happened without the plough.  Because before the plough everyone grew food.  And lived at the mercy of their environment.  Where famine would devastate civilizations because of a bad growing season.  But the plough gave us food surpluses.  That let us live through a bad growing season.  And allowed a middle class to continue to grow.  Improving the quality of life for the first time in history.

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