Thursday, August 18, 2016

Recapping The Bishops' Sea

I have a point when I talk about how the early settlement of the Atlantic took place in a "bishop's sea." It is, in the first instance, that before there were states or even capitalists, there were bishops promoting the settlement of remote places and the Christianising of faraway pagans. The second point is that in the English-language historiography, we tend to handle bishops with far too much kindness. We choose not to see them, as German historiography sees them, as politicians and statesmen, often bloody-handed and always liars and cynics. If we allow full reign for dark and bloody acts of politics, and then suppose that the worst of these acts are swept under the rug for the Good of the Church, we create a darkness and a mystery in which smaller and more human histories can be hidden.
C. Wellwood Beall, of Boeing. In spite of his importance to Boeing, contemporary fame, large fortune, and extensive family, he does not have a Wikipedia article. It's almost like the family doesn't want to call attention to itself for some reason.

When I went into this question last time, it was with a blog post entitled "Christ Stops at Kingcome."  In his 1945 memoir of his Fascist-era internal exile, teaching in two remote towns in the mountains of southern Italy, Carlo Levi promoted a powerful, although, as James Scott points out, actually fairly stereotyped idea. The idea that "Christ stopped at Eboli," the terminus of the railway on the plains far below, is that not Christianity, nor morality,even history itself, had penetrated any further than the last railway station. Substitute the names of assorted tribal communities of upland South Asia, and you get the old saw that Scott is criticising  in his History of Not Being Governed, and, as fresh as the idea may have been to Levi, he could have picked it up in casual conversation in any Qing commandery of the south, or in the palaces of any of fifty or so of the "paddy states" which have now been swept into Assam, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and Thailand. Mostly Thailand, actually.  

In my experience, oblivious to Scott, you can take this literally without your head exploding. An old Italian navy officer I knew in my MA programme, did. He would lustily explain that the fires of the high mountain villages visible as you sailed in and out of Taranto were lit by inexperessibly primitive people who never came down to the plain, and who presumably still spoke Samnite and worshipped Mars and Saturn, although in the last bits I am putting words in his mouth, and I am not all sure that the Samnite branches of Italic were ever spoken that far south. The point is, it didn't hurt Tullio Vidoni's historical acumen any. When he wasn't reminiscing about the old days, he had quite a sophisticated take about how the Viking voyages out of Greenland could only have been going "south," by their understanding of geography, and so needed to be understood as part of the genre of wonder stories about Africa and the tropics, and not about some New World which did not, yet, conceptually exist.

Or you can accuse Levi of being unserious, show that the people of the Basilicata were actually thoroughly involved in the life of the lowlands, as Horden and Purcell do. Fair enough, but my point in substituting the old Catholic mission station on Kingcome Inlet for Eboli.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Zeus, Hurling Comets: A Vacation Extra

(Not quite a vacation: My "accumulated time off" is being purged ahead of back to school.)

One of the more colourful stories about the end of the Hittites is that when they say that when the "Thunder God of Hattusa" smote his people, he literally smote them. With a meteor. I'm not advocating for this theory: I'm reaching for a reference to the Bristol Olympus, but here's a website with lots of nice pictures that deserve to be appreciated without reference to any wackadoodle theories.

I'm not going to offer you any deep insight into the Bristol (Rolls-Royce) Olympus or anything else, here. It's a two-spool axial-flow turbojet engine that began its development cycle in November of 1946, Wikipedia says.

CC BY-SA 3.0,
It found its first use as the engine of the Avro Vulcan, and then was chosen for the BAC TSR-2 and the Concorde. 

The Concorde, as we know, was an exciting new technology that attracted many advanced orders that were subsquently cancelled as various drawbacks became apparent. In the end, a small number were built, and they had a long and reasonably successful operational career, mostly with the United Kingdom's flag or semi-flag airline. 

To this point, the story is all-too familiar. It is basically the same career as the de Havilland Comet or the VC10.

For some reason Wikipedia doesn't insist on attribution, even though the photo is c.'d Adrian Pingstone.
Not every new plane can be a Vickers Viscount, and while the British aviation writer sighs and casts a half-jealous, half-angry eye across the Atlantic, where are the Martin, Convair or Curtiss-Wright airliners? Far gone, our airfleets melt away. . . 

All the same, the 250 Viscounts sold have to count for something in the days of "export or die," and one has to wonder if the world would not be a very different place today if de Havilland had sold 250 Comets. It seems as though de Havilland was much bolder in the 1950s with the use of alternate materials in the manufacture of civil aircraft than the mainstream industry allowed itself to be before the Dreamliner, but that's a pretty trivial observation compared with the trajectory I started out to trace here. 

Which is this: the basic reason that the Concorde won so many orders was that the airline industry expected the 747 and its contemporaries to be the end of the subsonic era. Looking ahead, the B-70 and the TSR-2 represented the military cutting edge of sustained supersonic flight that would lead to supersonic airliners, with the Dyna-Soar

or SR-71 or what-have-you leading to the next generation of hypersonic, ramjet airliners that would be, per schedule, taking off from YVR right now to make a breakfast date in Hong Kong.

It didn't happen, of course. Instead of ramjets, Boeing is just now winding up 747 production. What happened? Well, a lot of things happened, obviously, but one thing that happened was that the highly thermodynamically-efficient Rolls-Royce/Snecma Olympus 593 wasn't succeeded by a next iteration of the Olympus design that might have addressed the basic Concorde problems of range, cabin size and fuel economy. 

There was a way forward: it was decided not to take it. Would the Olympus have evolved in the direction of the J-58 under the impetus of an extended TSR-2 programme? God knows. I don't. What I do know is that the Olympus went on to make money for Rolls-Royce as a generator for offshore oil platforms, and isn't that the world we live in? 

Bitter reflections on our over-carbonised world aside, I want to meditate on the declining labour inputs of long production lines, and, yes, the declining consumption of whatever-it-is-we-decide-technology-is across the last 50 years or so. We may only have woken up to the fact that productivity is stagnating in the last half-decade or so, but between 1933 and 1973, we went from thinking that commercial jet airliners crossing the Atlantic was impossible science fiction; to thinking that ramjet airliners crossing the Pacific was impossible science fiction. 

I can't help thinking that "impossible science fiction" is doing a lot of work here.  We're never afraid to invoke it to close off the future (usually by announcing that unemployment is about to go to 100% because of automation --and this is as true of 1933 as it is of 2016). O, it is an excuse to lie back and chill, abandoning half-completed projects because they're "too expensive") and wait for technology to swoop in from that exogenous thought-world of "culture" to save us.  

Because you know what? I see no evidence that innovation arrives from outside, and a lot that it comes from being willing to actually go ahead and spend the money to build things like the TSR-2. Something about the perfect being the enemy of the good? 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Postblogging Technology, July 1946, I: Blinding White New Bread

General Delivery,

Dear Father:

Thanks for yours of last week. Uncle George has made arrangements at Prince Rupert. First special consignment will come on the river per your arrangement with Chief Richards from Boat Encampment. From there by road to the border. Pickup at the Nakusp safe house will be by a truck in smelter  livery although drivers will be your dacoits. I have forwarded your rough of the restaurant lease to our solictors in Vancouver, as it would be a shame if the Chews lost money on the cover venture due to excessive rent. 

You asked about our vacation. Uncle Henry has been thrusting a flying vacation down to Rio by Pan Am on us for months, but we have persuaded him that this would be far too much of a bus man's holiday after all the flying we have done during the war. Instead, I will be going on one of ours to Hongkong. James will join me there after the postmortem on the last bomb shot of the year. (This is a secret. The Americans are being a bit evasive about just how large their inventory of a-bombs is.) He apparently cannot be spared, as this will be the underwater shot, and everyone is very interested in the effects of the shock on machinery. One of the German cruisers with the finicky steam pipes will be in the target area, so potentially quite interesting with all the talk of high pressure steam.

So James and, in a late addition to the plan, your younges, will join me probably on the 11th, and we will  all see the old town before taking a more leisurely cruise home courtesy of Canadian Pacific. This will have us back in San Francisco in time to send the boy off to the Institute, and hover uselessly as "Miss V.C." moves back into her college residence. 

Speaking of your youngest, I had a rather nice compliment directed his way last week. The Engineer's youngest's step-brother up in the Bay area stopped by to pick up the Lincoln, which he had agreed to drive down to LA for his brother, who apparently feels some need to put on airs. (And, understandably, he is a little attached to the car he bought with his first acting job!) Your youngest, I suppose, knew that this day would come. I'm told that he was downright philosophical when James broke the news. However --the compliment! The step-brother said that Lincoln is running better than it did when his brother brought it to Des Moines in '39! I know that I have enjoyed driving it, and it is quite the let-down as I make the rounds of the dealerships in Lieutenant A's old Model T trying on the sad offerings of 1946. (Uncle George thinks I should bring a Rolls over, but that is far and away too ostentatious for me!) 

I will be bringing the twins with me to meet their grandfather, but Victoria is too young to travel, and we are leaving her with Judith. I am torn about this, as a mother should be, but I will be in no position to travel next year!


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Postblogging Technology, June 1946, II: Vacationing For Lost Time

General Delivery,
Nakusp, Canada.

Dear Father:

This package is a bit bulky since I am including an album of photographs of your grandchildren, and snaps from Bikini. I've added notes to the back of the photos, and now find that the well of words has run dry. So if there is to be any humanising touch ahead of my newsletter, it will have to be business --if you can call that humanising.

The first and most important business news is that there is talk of a pull-back in California real estate. Mario has chosen to  ignore this, after consulting with his father, etc. As a result, there has been a run on the bank's shares. Uncle George is undecided as to whether we want to reduce our exposure. It would be an awful insult to Paul, but since it is his son running things, and he is not a proven commodity, perhaps we should safeguard our affairs? There is, after all, increasing talk of a business depression in 1947, which sounds better grounded than the talk of the "postwar depression" usually is. For one thing, it is hard not to believe that there won't be a crash in farm prices, with the way that everyone is rushing to put everything in the ground they can right now. (You should see the orchard! I don't think that a bumper crop of oranges will save Europe's children but try telling Michael that!)

I guess the question is how well the housing boom will stand a pullback in spending. The shortage is real! We have been unable to find additional builders for the bottom corner, and are only building on two of five lots. But will people buy when they are not confident in their jobs?

Turning to the questions coming out of your visit with Chief Richards, I was up at the college last week, meeting with "Miss Ch." The Head of Special Collections is still interested in having her, but they do not have enough Chinese material to justify moving her over from the asian library. I want to be very sure that "Miss Ch." is at Special Collections before the fall, for reasons you may appreciate if  "Miss V. C." has spun out her Oregon Scandal murder mystery for you. It's one thing to turn up a bit of old-time fraud and expose the College to suits from the Governor's creditors. It is quite another to implicate living individuals in murder, even one that would have happened thirty years ago.

Since, one thing leading to another, I would rather not have "Miss Ch." exposed as an associate of mine, my pretext for visiting the campus was to meet with the Engineers' boys: not the good one, the scapegoat and the bastard. (Don't worry that I was mixing myself up in cloak-and-dagger business beyond my ken. Fat Chow was on campus, escorting his wife. She has decided not to take a full-time position at the University, as a full set of classes would get in the way of her family duties, and is looking into teaching some courses at the college which would fit her schedule better.) 

The bastard was up on account of having told the board of his meeting that he had pull with a law professor at the college who could advise them on how to proceed with the studios. He was understandably nervous, since in fact he was talking through his hat, and was depending on somone at the college to acknowledge his relationship with his father. The scapegoat? Well, I think he needed a break from thirty years of doing nothing on dirty radio money, enough to be willing to help the young man. Either way, we had a bit of a laugh at the Engineer's new bread-recipe-business, and plotted out an approach. And, hopefully, anyone who was snooping on me thinks that that was the sum of it. Because if one hair on "Miss Ch.'s head" is harmed, I will level that place flatter than the Ruins of Yin.

Ahem. I think that I had better go back to looking at holiday brochures. 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Report On A Found Note To Whomever: First Day of Vacation Miscellanenous Bonus Post

Found taped to the battery cover of

when it was returned to us from the shop

In conclusion, robots are going to do all our work real soon now.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The British Army and the Fall of France: A Recap

The winter of 1946 was like this

But the spring of 1955 was like this
I'd doff my hat to an old Simpsons reference, but I can't find it.

Try again:
In the spring of 1940, a British army in France failed to stop the Germans. The consequences were horrifying, the failure abject. 

On its face, this is a subject for military history; but the military-historical counterfactual never seems to turn on the fighting, where the crucial question (the BEF's decision to abandon the line and retreat on an evacuation point) is treated as beyond discussion. Instead, it focusses on David Low's point. The conclusion often drawn is that, had Britain spent more on machines in the 1930s (or perhaps, for much longer than that), things would have been different. It's all quite strained. If you had a car, you wouldn't have missed your flight. Martin Wiener, Correlli Barnett, Winston Churchill and your Dad all have explanations for why you don't have a car, but they're not very helpful for catching the next flight unless they come with a $30,000 cheque. 

I disagree. There is a much less strained counterfactual than the idea that Britain could have been, oh, say, six years "more advanced" than it was, had public school boys been forced to do maths instead of Latin. The fact is that the 10 infantry divisions of the BEF were scheduled to be joined by its first armoured division in the third week of May, and that an entire fourth infantry corps was to come over in June. The Battle of France was a near enough thing that these additional forces would probably have been enough to change its outcome. You wouldn't have missed the train if the power outage hadn't knocked out your alarm clock. Set your phone's alarm next time, and you're set. 

So forget fancy analogies and drive by sneers, and drill down, with laser-like focus, on one, simple fact. The BEF may have been as little as one month late in getting enough troops into the line to change the course of history. This is, mind you, ten months after a parade in London described by The Economist as featuring 28,000 marching representatives of the two million men and women who had so far volunteered for national service in the defence of the United Kingdom. It sure looks as though Britain had built up quite the war machine even before the fighting started. 

But, on the one hand, two million.  On the other, short four divisions. It seems to me that the gap between these two numbers is worth exploring.

Why did Neville Chamberlain not set his phone alarm? What were his reasons? I ask this because Neville Chamberlain, Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1923 and again from 1931 to 1937, and Prime Minister from 1937 to 1940, was more than any other individual the face of an era described by Harvard economist, Alvin Hansen, as one of "secular stagnation." The connection here may not be obvious, but Hansen himself claimed that the "secular stagnation" thesis was just another name for Keynes' "underemployment equilibrium." We broke out of that equilibrium during World War II. The best explanation for that just is WWII, and the question we should all be asking is whether we can have the outcomes without the consequences. The buildup to World War II gives us perhaps the best taste of what WWII would look like without the fighting. (There is also the interesting question of whether and when the impetus of the WWII faded away.)

So the questions are:

-How big was the actual 1937--39 build up. How real is the "two million"?
-What data do we have about the immediate consequences of this buildup?  
-How did this buildup fall short of what was needed?
-How do any failures identified reflect back on the persistence of "secular stagnation"?

Four questions, two economic, two military, all worth exploring. (I guess I've telegraphed my answer to the question of whether the one-time impetus of World War II "faded away." It's here, if you're into ghost towns.)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Postblogging Technology, June 1946, I: Brick By Brick We Shall Build This Place

General Delivery,

Dear Father:

I am so very glad to hear that you are on the mend, and that you were able to take "Miss V.C." out to lunch in Nakusp. Obviously I am very pleased to hear about the ranch house there, with its fine vistas, good pasture, and inconspicuous pull out from the river road. Uncle George says that he would like to hear more about the neighbours before he signs off on the idea of having guests stay there for any length of time. He may visit in August, on his way to and from Prince Rupert. 

You ask about your sons, and I am afraid that I can't tell you very much. I doubt that the atom bombs will set the atmosphere on fire, or anything so drastic. Instead, their main concern seems to be playing with remote-controlled airplanes. 

It could be worse. They could be following Communists around in the muggy heat, waiting for them to whip a time bomb out from under their drooping jackets and blowing up America. At least, so I hear from Lieutenant A., who might finallly be showing signs of shuffing off growing up. Although he still tells me all about what the last very important person said to him. (He is quite tiring right now on the importance of voluntary food restrictions and the famine in Europe; because of course, he has been talking to the Engineer, and even the Engineer can only go on so long about the Commnist Menace before the subject turns to his latest cause. Given how much trouble the Lieutenant has got himself into in the past by listening to the Engineer, I want to shake him by the lapels. But what can I do? He has to learn for himself not to back straight into irreplaceable Ming vases, etc.) 

Speaking of the Engineer always managing to be wrong, you will have heard by now that there is to be a bumper harvest in America again this year, and that the concerns of the spring were overblown --again. No-one cares, however, because we are all focussed on houses. 

The bottom corner is cleared, and the old swinging tree gone, I'm sad to say. We will be building four houses there on half-acre lots: one for the Murphys and three for people you do not know. Construction will start in the summer, and use some of the crew off Arcadia, which will by then finally have an actual roof from one end to the other by the end of July, at which point the family will move over from the gatehouse, which we will let. (Though not on ten-year terms, I promise!)

As was pretty much expected, the Spokane lands will be about as far away from the air base as they are now, because the new air base will be the old air base. That does not mean that we can't put housing on it, unless the wool subsidy goes up to a million percent, in which case we'll let it again.

In other business matters, there might be something to report on the magnetic tape front next month; we'll see. Our friends in Virginia are apparently hearing more Russians ciphering at each other than they can keep up with, and are interested in a better recording method than the wax tubes they are using right now. I should say so!

And now I shall have to cut this short, as I have to go and take an unlady-like walk on the roof of Arcadia. (At least I shall be a hero to little James.) I wonder if San Jose will look any better from another storey higher up?