Which came first, the City or the Code? (book club Code Economy Ch 2)

The Code of Hammurabi

Writing, which is itself a form of code, enable humans to communicate code. Cities grow as code evolves. –Auerswald

Welcome to The Code Economy: A Forty-Thousand Year History, by Philip E. Auerswald. Chapter Two: Code looks at two epochal developments in human history: writing and cities.

One of the earliest pieces of writing we have uncovered is the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi, Goddess of Beer, which contains, yes, a recipe for making beer (translation by Miguel Civil):

Your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.
Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nidimmud,
Your mother is Ninti, the queen of the sacred lake.

You are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, you are the one who handles the dough [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date] – honey,

You are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,

You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,

You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes,

You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

The filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat, which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on a large collector vat.

When you pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.
Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

Sumerian tablet recording the allocation of beer

You guys requested beer or wine with your books, so here you go.

The hymn contains two layers of code–first, there is the code which allows each symbol or character to stand for a particular sound, which let the author write down the recipe and you, thousands of years later, decode and read the recipe; and second, there is the recipe itself, a code for producing beer.

The recipe’s code likely far predates the hymn itself, as humans had begun brewing beer at least a couple thousand years earlier.

Writing and cities go hand in hand; it is difficult to imagine managing the day-to-day need to import food (and water) for thousands of people without some ability to encode information. As cities grow larger, complexity grows: one man in the woods may relieve himself behind a tree; thousands of people packed into a square mile cannot.

Each solved problem, once routinized, becomes its own layer of code, building up as the city itself expands; a city of thousands or millions of people cannot solve each person’s problems anew each day.

Gobekli Tepe, Turkey

But which came first, the city or the alphabet? Did the growth of cities spur innovations that improved agricultural output, or did agricultural innovations spur the growth of cities?

For example, settlement and construction appear to have gotten underway at Jericho (one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities) around 9 or 10,000 BC and at the mysterious Gobekli Tepe site began around 7-9,000 BC, before agriculture emerged in the region.

Writing developed a fair bit later, developing from clay shapes to shapes impressed in clay between 8,000 and 4,000 BC.

Amphitheater, Norte Chico, Peru

Others of the world’s earliest civilizations had either no or very little writing. The Norte Chico civilization of Peru, for example; by the time the Spaniards arrived, the Inca had an accounting system based on the quipu, a kind of string abacus, but appear to have not yet developed a true writing system, despite their palaces, cities, roads, emperor, and tax collectors. (Here is my previous post on Norte Chico.)

The Great Bath of Mohenjo-daro

The extensive Indus Valley civilization had some form of symbolic encoding, but few of their inscriptions are longer than 4 or 5 characters–the longest inscription found so far is 26 symbols, spread over three different sides of an object. Not exactly an epic–but the Indus Valley Civilization was nevertheless quite large and impressive, supporting perhaps 5 million people. (Previous post on the Indus Valley.)

Auerswald documents some of the ways cities appear to drive innovation–and to “live”:

The Santa Fe team found that cities are like biological organisms when it comes to “metabolic” urban processes that are analogous to nutrient supply and waste removal–transportation, for example, ha a branching structure much like veins or bronchi–but that cities differ fundamentally from biological organisms when it comes to indicators reflecting the creation and transmission of code. measuring the size of cities based on population and on the urban “metabolism” using metrics such as wages, GDP, electric power and gasoline consumption, and total  road surface, the team found a systematic relationship between city size and indicators of the supply of “nutrients” and waste removal… However, while metabolic indicators do not keep pace with the size of cities as they grow, indicators relating to the creation and transmission of code increase at a greater rate than city size. … In short, the creation of ideas accelerates with city growth, whereas the cost of new infrastructure is minimized.

This intriguing macro-level departure from the inverse relationships that hold for organisms ends up risking more questions about the evolution of cities than it answers: What mechanism enables larger cities to produce disproportionately more innovation and wealth than smaller cities?

Data Economy has a fascinating article in a similar vein: Street Smarts: The Rise of the Learning City:

The city as a brain

An amalgam of terms that have been used for parallel conceptions of the Smart City among them cyberville, digital city, electronic communities, flexicity, information city, intelligent city, knowledge-based city, MESH city, telecity, teletopia, ubiquitous city, wired city.

However the one I would like to propose, with population movement in mind, is The Learning City.

The term is based on a combination of two theories The Ego City and The Flynn Effect.

In 2009 Neurobiologist Mark Changizi from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute released a paper entitled Ego City: Cities Are Organized Like Human Brain.

Changizi sees strikingly real similarities between the brain and a city.

The central idea being that they organise and evolve similarly due to the need for efficiency.

As brains grow more complex from one species to the next, they change in structure and organisation in order to achieve the right level of reciprocity.

This is analogous to the widening of streets in cities.

The research team found mutual “scaling laws” for brains and cities.

For example, as the surface area of a brain or city grows, the number of connectors (neurons or highways) increased at a similar rate for each.

Likewise, a bigger city needs more highway exits in the same proportion as a bigger brain needs more synapses connecting neurons.

“The brain is like a city.

Cities develop and grow bigger and may get problems with roads and infrastructure, which is similar to what happens to our brains when we get older”, notes Håkan Fischer, Professor of Biological Psychology at the Department of Psychology at Stockholm University.

 The learning city

This is curious when taken in the context of The Flynn Effect.

Intelligence Researcher James Flynn found that every decade without fail the human population scored higher on IQ tests.

An average increase of 3 points per decade.

His thesis suggests that the more information we as humans have to absorb and compute leads to an increase in IQ.

In this instance the increased information is data collected within the city.

As cities gain more data they adapt and in turn get smarter.

Human brains faced with a busier world filled with more information brings about an increase in IQ from generation to generation.

As people migrant to cities creating a more complex environment for the city it to must gather this data, learn and raise its Smart City IQ.

This is The Learning City.

On the other hand, the data Auerswald cites–from the “Santa Fe Team”–only looks at cities from the US, China, the EU, and Germany. How would this data look if it incorporated other megacities, like Manila, Philippines (the world’s densest city); Sao Paolo, Brazil; Bombay, India; Caracas, Venezuela; Karachi, Pakistan; or Jakarta, Indonesia? Of the world’s ten biggest cities, only two–Seoul, #1, and Tokyo, #10–are in the first world. (#9 Shanghai, is well on its way.)

#2 Sao Paolo might be more energy efficient than villages in the Brazilian hinterland (or it may not, as such towns may not even have electricity,) but does it produce more innovation than #11 New York City? (No American city made the top 10 by population.)

If cities are drivers of innovation, why are so many of the biggest in the third world? Perhaps third world countries offer their citizens so little that they experience a form of extreme brain drain, with everyone who can fleeing to the most productive regions. Or perhaps these cities are simply on their way–in a century, maybe Sao Paolo will be the world’s next Shanghai.

The city, by definition, is civilization–but does the city itself spur innovation? And are cities, themselves, living things?

Geoffrey West has some interesting things to say on this theme:

“How come it is very hard to kill a city? You can drop an atom bomb on a city, and 30 years later, it’s surviving.”

Here’s a transcript of the talk.

Hiroshima in 1945:

Hiroshima today:

Hiroshima montage

Detroit, 1905:

Belle Isle Park, Detroit, 1905–h/t Photos of Detroit’s Golden Age

Detroit today:

Detroit Book Depository

“Bombs don’t destroy cities; people destroy cities.”

Did European Filthiness lead to Prohibition?

Part 2 is here: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health

Prohibition is a strange period in American history. Disparate bedfellows–women, Puritans, even the Klan–united in their hatred of Irish drunkenness (and the Germans who enabled it) to actually pass a Constitutional amendment banning alcohol for the whole country.

These days, everyone likes to laugh and point fingers at our dumb idiot ancestors who were so dumb, they thought the Irish were bad immigrants. What they miss, of course, is that the Irish immigrants of the 1800s and early 1900s actually were problematic and were involved in a lot of crime, much of it drunken. (My general impression is that the Italians were involved in more crime, but the Irish were more numerous.) Things were so bad, people thought Prohibition sounded like a good way to improve matters.

The Germans

The Germans started showing up en masse after the failed rebellions of 1848. The losers–mostly middle to upper-class Germans with ideas about democracy and socialism–decided to head somewhere they were less likely to get killed by the state. Many German immigrants, however, were just folks in search of new opportunities for a better life. Like in the Ostsiedlung, German migration to the US was not a free-for-all, but often consisted of organized groups of like-minded academic revolutionaries like the Latin Settlements (whereby “Latin” we mean, “people who spoke Latin”) or created by folks like the Giessener Emigration Society, whose goal was the creation of a new German state within the US. The Germans generally found their new settlements nice enough in the sense of not being in immediate danger of decapitation, but kind of boring, especially now that they had no evil aristocrats to struggle against.

Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t be surprised if the emigration of Germany’s most anti-authoritarian people left behind a German population that was, as a result, far more temperamentally pro-authoritaian, resulting in Bakunin’s observation that an anarchist revolution could never succeed in Germany because the Germans were the statiest of people.

By 1872, Germany was America’s largest source of people, settling primarily in the North:

German Population in the US by 1872
German Population in the US by 1872

Take note of the little patch of Germans in Texas and in the corner of Texas-Louisiana-Arkansas, then compare to today’s map of counties where Prohibition is still in force:

Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws
Wet counties = blue; dry counties = red; yellow counties = mixed laws

Where there are Germans, beer tends to be legal. (The Germans in Pennsylvania and Ohio are perhaps a different sort from the rest.)

The Germans brought with them a talent for large-scale production of high-quality products–in this case, beer. Yes, beer (and other forms of alcohol) had been produced in the US ever since some ancient Indian left some watery grain or fruit out too long and it began to ferment, and the original colonists had brewed plenty British ales and apple ciders, but German immigrants brought the lagers that became the characteristically “American lagers” we know today.

Anheuser-Busch? Founded by Germans.

“Adolphus Busch was the first American brewer to use pasteurization to keep beer fresh; the first to use mechanical refrigeration and refrigerated railroad cars, which he introduced in 1876; and the first to bottle beer extensively.[1][11][12] By 1877, the company owned a fleet of forty refrigerated railroad cars to transport beer.[12] Expanding the company’s distribution range led to increased demand for Anheuser products, and the company substantially expanded its facilities in St. Louis during the 1870s.[13] The expansions led production to increase from 31,500 barrels in 1875 to more than 200,000 in 1881.”

Budweiser? Named after Budweis, a city in the modern Czech Republic. Michelob is named for the Czech town of Michalovice.

Miller Light, produced by the Miller Brewing Company (now after many company mergers and acquisitions part of MillerCoors,) founded in Milwaukee in 1855 by Friedrich Eduard Johannes Müller of Riedlingen, Württemberg.

Coors was founded in 1873 by German immigrants Adolph Coors and Jacob Schueler, using a recipe they’d bought from a Czech immigrant.

The oldest and biggest (by volume) beer company in the US today is D. G. Yuengling & Son, (founded 1829,)where Yuengling is an anglicization of Jüngling, which was, of course, simply David Gottlob Jüngling of Aldingen, Kingdom of Württemberg‘s last name.

Johnny-come-latey Boston Beer Company (maker of Sam Adams ale) often ties Yuengling for sales. Sam Adams was founded in 1984 by Jim Koch, yet another German, who supposedly brewed up the first few batches in his kitchen using an old family recipe.

If you want more on the history of German beer making in America, here’s the Wikipedia page on American Beer and a slightly more detailed article on Beer History.

Long story short, all of those “American” beers are German/Czech.

The Irish

The Irish, unlike the Germans, were a disorganized mass of peasants fleeing the great famine and continuing Irish poverty. They were not suave, classically-trained academic revolutionaries, but tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of Europe’s teeming shore, homeless and tempest-tost.

So desperate were the Irish to escape that many were willing to crowd into the horrific coffin ships, where conditions were so bad that 30% of the passengers died. Still, they managed to arrive in numbers that rivaled the Germans.

Unfortunately, despite this sympathetic start, the Irish managed to make themselves unpopular in their new home:

1024px-Joseph_F._Keppler_-_Uncle_Sam's_lodging-house

In 1871, the Orange Riots over a Protestant Irish parade in NYC resulted in the deaths of 63 people, putting modern NYC parade-related crimes to shame. The parade celebrated an old victory of Protestant Irish over Catholic Irish, so the Catholic Irish decided to attack the parade, despite the presence of 5,000 policemen and state militia, who of course shot back at the rioters.

In the 1860s, the Irish comprised over half of all arrests in NYC; amusingly, they were also almost half of the police. To this day, the Irish continue to serve their communities as police officers and fire fighters, and also criminals. According to the Wikipedia, “the Irish topped the charts demographically in terms of arrests and imprisonment. They also had more people confined to insane asylums and poorhouses than any other group. The racial supremacy belief that many Americans had at the time contributed significantly to Irish discrimination.[136]

Things were bad enough that in 1856, the “Know Nothings” a nativist, anti-immigrant party carried Maryland and many Southern counties, (though we might note that their tactic of running former President Fillmore as their candidate without asking him first might not have been the most ethical.) Of course, by 1860 everyone had decided that the Irish were just fine, so long as they fought on their side, but once the Klan got going, it remembered the old mission of hating Papists and immigrants.

By 1872, the Irish population distribution within the US looked much like the German:

800px-Irish_Population_1872

It was a synergistic relationship; the Germans were good at making the beer and the Irish were good at drinking it.

Of course, the Irish did not commit all of the crime–the Fins were drunker, Mexicans more murderous–but these migrant groups were far smaller than the Irish (especially in the mid-1800s; the southern and eastern European immigration waves began much later than the German and Irish waves):

Bonger+US+Immigrant+crime+by+nation+1910+top

From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See

Bonger+Drunk+misdemeanors+by+nationality+top

From Bonger's "Race and Crime," courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Bonger’s “Race and Crime,” courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons's Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See
From Commons’s Races and Immigrants in America, courtesy of Those Who Can See

Of course, since this was still the era of Segregation, “Coloreds” didn’t live among Puritans, but the Irish did.

The peaceful Swedes, Norwegians, and Germans tended to settle in the countryside, while the Irish and Italians, unable to afford train fare, stayed where they landed, giving the North East coastal cities a particularly strong tradition of crime-ridden ethnic enclaves. As the immigrant %age of American cities soared toward 50%, the police found themselves unable to control the resulting crime waves, and rival immigrant gangs were left to deal with each other.

Those Who Can See quotes Frank Tannenbaum’s Crime and the Community:

The Jewish gangs that grew up to protect the Jew against the Irish, the Italian gangs later in conflict with the Jewish gangs, the old comment in certain parts of Chicago that “Every Irish kid was raised to kill a Swede,” the conflict between Negro and white that led to race riots in Chicago and East St. Louis, all trace the long-time irritation and conflict that contributed to the habit of violence, that led to coalescence of groups practicing violence against their neighbors,… ”

These days, of course, everyone wants to be Irish, because American “oppression” of Irish criminals means that Irish is now one of the few ethnicities a white person can proudly proclaim without getting accused of white privilege. Who wants to be English anymore? What did England ever contribute to the world, besides the works of Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin; the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism; the ability to find longitude at sea; the Smallpox vaccine and epidemiology? LAME-O. Same for being an “American.”

In their defense, Irish crime appears to have been mostly drunken brawling, wife beating, and criminal neglect of their children due to their over-fondness of alcohol, rather than organized murder of the mafia variety, but if I have to read one more sob-story masquerading as “literature” about how the poor Irish couldn’t figure out how to stop drinking long enough to care for their children, well, I guess I will be very annoyed at the author.

(I don’t hate the Irish (who have been generally well behaved lately and certainly haven’t done anything to me personally); I hate the SJWs’ insistence on feigning ignorance about why anyone might dislike people who commit a lot of crime.)

The eventual, perhaps inevitable result was backlash, but we’ll get to that after our discussion of why the Irish drank so much in Part 2: Beer, Cholera, and Public Health.