Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Postblogging Technology, January 1945, II:Gods and Instruments Are My Co-Pilots

Group Captain R_. C_., RCAFVR, DSO, DFC (Bar),
L_ House,
Isle of Axholme,
Lincs., U.K.

Dear Sir:

I am pleased to report that Tommy Wong docked in Hawaii just as I prepared to seal this, and that Uncle George reports that he has returned from Lingayen Gulf to Uthili. The press has done its best to soft peddle the whole "kamikaze" thing, but it can only go so far in this house, with James out in Honolulu again, this time escorting an unworldly Australian from MIT onto the water to see the difference with the laboratory first hand.

Your youngest has been flying all through the winter, and is, right now, out trying to land under an instrument hood. If he passes that, he will graduate to doing it within the "carrier" markings, as a first step towards carrier night flying.

In regards Fat Chow's news, Miss v. Q. has found some nice properties across the Bay, but broaches the question of whether someone might prefer a more rural and mountainous retreat. A solution to the Coeur d'Alene lease, perhaps?

Miss V. C. has gone to several Stanford dances with young Lieutenant A. The problem is that our housekeeper has once again taken to evasively-explained absences. I cannot believe that the Lieutenant is two-timing Miss V.C., and I cannot believe that she puts up with it, but there is a dynamic here in which the rivalry is almost more important than the boy. I think?

Finally, I find it hard to believe that the Earl is going to ask Fat Chow to go to Nagasaki, whatever the implications of Sir Eric's death, but I may have found a man who can arrange it --a former employee of Uncle Henry's in the merchant marine for whom Miss v. Q. may have found a way to do an extremely unlikely favour. 


Monday, February 16, 2015

The Charcoal Burners: Grexiting the Late Bronze Age

Edit: Title change, because I'm shameless.

THE KOURETES DAKTYLOI were three brothers, Celmis the caster, Acmon the anvil, and Damnameneus the hammer, appointed by Rhea to guard the infant god Zeus in a cave in the heights of Ida. To drown his cries, they would dance, clashing spear and shield. They were inventors of the arts of metalworking, shepherding, hunting and beekeeping. With their sisters, the Hekaterides, they lived harmoniously "finger to finger." From this union were born the rustic Satyroi, Oreiades and tribes of Kouretes, an hundred strong, who married their sister Meliai, the nymphs of the ash-trees and from their branches fashioned the first spears.

So, anyway, goes the composite of multiple legends about the Phyrgian Dactyls, said to have been the first to work iron by the Parian Chronicle, about a century after Deucalion's Flood and two centuries before the Trojan War. 

The historicity of this claim is suspect. Iron, or not so much iron as the widespread practice of smelting it, appears to have begun some five centuries later. This is a little surprising, given that Late Bronze Age specialists were very good at physical chemistry:

To make artificial lapis-lazuli: first, you grind finely and separately, ten minas of immonaku-stone and 12 minas of alussu-plant. Then you mix together, you put into a cold kiln which has four fire-openings and arrange in between the four openings. You keep a good and smokeless fire burning. As soon as your mixture glows red, you take it out into the open air and nallow it to cool off. You grind it finely again. You collect in a clean dabtu-pan. You put into a cold chamber kiln. You kee a good and smokeless fire buring. As soon as it glows golden-yellow, you pour it on a kiln-fired brick. (This) is called the zukki-stage...

I'm quoting Liverani again (277). The zukki-stage is the vitreous paste, which must go through an additional three killn firing, all described in this long technical document. Elaborate as iron-smelting is, nothing in the rural idyll implied in the ancient Greek myth makes it sound anywhere near as complicated. Yet iron-making post dates this document of the costume-jewelry industry by four centuries.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Postblogging Technology, January 1945, I: A New Lunar Age


Group Captain R_. C_., RCAFVR, DFC (Bar), D.S.O.,
L_. House,
Isle of Axholme,
Lincs., U.K.

Dear Sir:

Congratulations on your much deserved award and promotion! You will be gratified to know that it has been noticed in the Vancouver papers, leaving your neighbours to  eat their hearts out over their racehorses and sons with fancy Chicago postgraduate degrees. I shan't ask if this means that you have found the German atomic bomb, as I do not really want to know.

Your teasing is well taken. I do not know whether I was looking at the 1944 calendar by mistake, or thinking that it was 1944, but, somehow in the pressure and distraction of late December, I came to the notion, in despite of all the activity around me, that the Lunar New Year was not for another month. You will well imagine that when we started crating oranges outside the back window that I was awakened to my mistake, with only two weeks to prepare for a private and intimate dinner with Uncle Henry and Aunt Bessie. (And the Provost, promoted from "Uncle George's friend" to "family friend." We have to do something to acknowledge the gift of laboratory space!)  

As to why I was so distracted, I am very glad to hear from you that Fat Chow is in Europe chasing black market francs, as opposed to than killling people for the Earl. I amalso pleased that the Earl is investigating Mr. Teichman's death. My money is on the Soongs, even if I cannot guess the motives. I think it's a safe bet, just because you never bet against the Soongs, at least when money is involved. As for Fat Chow, his beloved has written poured out her heart to him, I gather from the thickness of the packet upon which our poor courier is once again burdened. She did, however, say that she appended a list of persons he might be able to approach, including some "particularly blockheaded Foreign Ministry colleagues,  "too stupid for the cavalry," who might be flattered to be approached by an "agent of the real Fu Manchu in some romantic Swiss chateau." What can I say? If their breeding has left them too faint-headed to tell reality from pulp fiction, it is our duty to relieve them of their money before they hurt themselves with it.

As for the home front, your son is back in classes, and in advanced flight training; Miss V.C. is back from Chicago, rather distracted by her mother, but more on that below; your wife has returned to Vancouver. You will have heard from her. Miss v. Q. had a rather dismal Christmas. She braved the Wong household, flying "wing" to Queenie in her role as daughter-in-law without husband. (Tommy has been released from further attendance on the doings of the great at Ulithi without prejudice --that is cypher for having made a permanent enemy of a Fleet Admiral with more enemies than friends, Congressman Vinson and the Hearst press aside-- but is trooping back to San Francisco on a Liberty, and so expected to make landfall Stateside 10 past never.) 

I'm sorry. The parenthenses got away from me, as they do. What I meant to say is that you can imagine the atmosphere around the Wong household, be Mrs.Wong, in theory, as approving of her daugher-in-law as could be. Or perhaps you cannot imagine it, not being a woman. Fortunately for Ms. v. Q's state of mind, her landlord swooped in during the holiday week with an invitation to his retreat in Napa. I gather that the local wines are not quite as preposterous as you would think, and that her landlord's children, especially his poetry-and-science-fiction(!) loving daughter, are amusingly precocious. 

You will recall that I cast a shadow over my picture of a Christmas idyll. It comes from the most unlikely place --Miss V.C.'s mother is actually, seriously, jealous of the Armour's ascension. Seeing her main chance, an admiral's grandson, slip away from her, she has pressed her daughter to give Lieutenant A_. another chance. Ordinarily, this would be moot, but Chester has made it clear that the young man is no longer to be employed at Pearl. So who should swoop in but the Engineer's cousin! (I joke ...I think. Does Uncle George know something, or does he just like to nod and wink a little too much?) The FBI has apparently been up to something ever so cloak-and-dagger in San Francisco, and wants a Navy liaison. From all the ham-handed hinting, they are obviously spying on the Allied consulates. Brits aside,  the French can hardly know anything worth ferreting out, leaving the Russians, who really ought to know better than to give the FII anything worth ferretting out. But as the staff of the San Francisco consulate is . .. Well, knowing Russians, you can probably imagine.  Whether Lieutenant A_ is being called on to deploy his charms, his radio skills, or his grandfather is left open. Each and any way, Miss V. C. has agreed to meet the young man  at chaperoned school functions. 

Your youngest son manfully fails to disguise his hidden heartbreak with much focussed attention on stories with rocket ships and other things mechanical, which, unlike the heart, do as they are bid. (My husband gently laughs as I read this aloud, but will not explain the joke.)


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Old Europe: King of a Laughing House

Said Ashurbanipal, King of Assur, King of the Universe, Strong King, King of the Four Quarters:

 "Gyges, king of Lydia, a district which is across the sea, a remote place, of which the kings my fathers had not heard word. The account of my kingdom was related to him by Assur, the God my creator, in a dream, thus: [text destroyed]. . . The day he dreamed, his messenger he sent, to recount that dream he dreamed, and pray for my friendship. From the midst of the day when he took the yoke of my rule, the Cimmerians, masters of his people, who did not fear my fathers and me, and did not take the yoke of my kingdom, he captured, in service of Assur and Ishtar of the Gods my lords. From the midst of the chiefs of the Cimmerians whom he had taken, two chiefs in strong fetters of iron and bonds of iron, he bound, and with numerous presents, he sent to me.
[Later] [Gyges] wilfully discontinued his messengers, and disregarded the will of Assur, the God my Creator; to his own power he trusted and hardened his heart. His forces to the aid of Psammitichus, (king) of Egypt, who had thrown off the yoke of my rule, he sent; and I heard and prayed to Assur and Ishtar thus: "Before his enemies his may they cast, and may they carry captive his attendants."
When thus I had prayed to Assur, he requited me. Before his enemies his corpse was thrown down, and they carried captive his attentands. The Cimmerians whom by the glory of his name he had trodden under him, conquered and swept the whole of his country, and Ardys his son sat on his thrown. . By the hand of his envoy, [Ardys] sent word that he would take the yoke of my kingdom." *

Friday, January 30, 2015

Postblogging Technology, December 1944, II: With Thundering Engines

Wing Commander R_. C_., RCAFVR, DFC (Bar),
L_. House,
Isle of Axholme,
Lincs, U.K.

Dear Sir:

I am glad that I was able to wish you a Happy Christmas in my last, for I see that I have held on to this one until it is too late even to wish you a Happy Christian New Year. Like many other people, I have been in a mood at the recent German successess, and only their definitive reversal has allowed me to get back to things such as my correspondence.

As though that were not stress enough, we had alarming news Christmas Even, as Tommy Wong received abrupt orders cancelling his leave and recalling him to appear before a Board chaired by one Captain Herbert Gates. It was not until the 26th that we had word from Uncle George, who knows Captain Gates socially, as well as being his advisor on matters radio repair-related (more maths, Uncle George complains, than he has seen since Keyham). It turns out that Captain Gates has the Admiral before him on another matter, his second "fouled bottom" in two months, and this one so serious that Chester himself is flying out from Pearl. Captain Gates is not a man who expects future promotions, but that does not mean that he is insensible to his prospects, and the news that Tommy could only speak to the earlier mistake put him right out of the witness list. Then, just as I recovered from that, word that James was also to go to Uthili, as the schedule for the new fire control apparatus was accelerated by demands from the battlefront again.  

Nor was Tommy's recall was rescinded. Something else is going on. If I could finagle an audience with Chester, I might learn just what, but as far as I know, it is nothing bad.

So there you have it, little word of Christmas in Santa Cruz, perhaps not surprising with so much to worry us, and so many of the young people away, and myself indisposed, once more the object of more care and concern of the matriarchs of our clan than I particularly care for --you must not breathe a word of that to your wife!

Look to the next, when perhaps Tommy's fate will be decided, on the eve of the Lunar festival, and we will look to signs of an auspicious future.


P.S. Oh. And this little matter, from Time: “Murder at Honingham Hall”  Sir Eric Teichman, lord of the manor, shot in the woods, and it is agreed that it was by two American soldiers, who were poaching in his hunting preserve. Given the murder mystery setup, I can’t avoid noticing that his wife and her friend found the body. Though in a good novel, it would turn out to be related to his Central Asian adventures. At least I can safely say that Father liked him, and I am sure that no-one asked it of Fat Chow, who really does not like that kind of work. In case anyone was thinking of demanding it of him.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Siege: Cold Ashes

From childhood, I remember some ancient bit of literary British domestic detail from that decade when the whole country, as I understood it, looked like an episode of On the Buses. That thing, a coin-operated space heater in a lodger's room seemed bad enough. The Secret Diaries of Adrian Mole exposed it as ann arcane joke about small horizons and diminished expectations behind it, akin to the notion of seaside holidays in Britain. The island of Britain is the largest fragment of the Old Red Sandstone Continent of the Devonian forests, and yet we are to imagine it as permanently damp and cold. No fires warmed its people, though it is green verdure stretched over a submerged mountain of coal. As I say, a vague age.  I had no idea what was going on. I though, instinctively, of the 1950s. That is a drear and dingy age, at least in Britain, right? But On the Buses and Doctors in the House, the shows that formed that impression, actually ran from 1969. There's still a story of a distressed island behind it, I suspect. The CBC picked the shows up and ran them in after-school slots because they were cheap. (And not-American.) Whatever. At least it saved us from the Mother Corp's smothering desire to make us better people, or, worse an even heavier rotation of King of Kensington. 

Second-rate, diminished, small, dark, close. Cold. That's what I want to dwell on at the head. It's an age with origins in war, the last small victory of the Wehrmacht. Welcome to the winter of 1945.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Postblogging Technology, December 1944, I: Secular Stagnation Ahead?

Wall Street spends a lot of time on its mustache. A lot of time.

Wing Commander R_. C__, RCAFVR, D.F.C. (Bar)
L_. House,
Isle of Axholme, 
Lincs., U.K.

Dear Sir:

I hope this letter finds you well, at the threshold of the Christmas season. I hope our little package has found its way to you. It's been over a month in the mails, so please do let us know when you've received it. Business news and family secrets can take a back seat for a moment in our correspondence. 

On family matters, you find us well. Your youngest son will have communicated privately that he has passed through his basic flying training close to the head of his class. His path to instrument flying training is clear, and the programme at Berkeley allows him to "dip into" navigational and flight engineering. He has expressed some impatience to me, as, of course, he wants to be a fighter pilot, and suspects me of wanting him to move on to the big patrol planes. (As, of course, I do. But I think I understand young men well enough not to force him onto that path, but rather to bend his course towards the night fighters, as I have intimated before.)

James has received an intimation that he will be permitted to hoist his flag as a Rear Admiral (E) upon retirement beginning in January of 1947. Since he is due for half-pay leave tht he cannot take until Japan is sorted out, hs effective separation from the warm bosom of the Admiralty is not much farther off than the end of this beastly war! The pension notwithstanding, it's something of an empty honour, but an honour nonetheless, and one that,as you know, he has been waiting for. To be fair, he would have to wait until 1950, at least, to receive the promotion in due form! We've not sorted out the niceties of his board memberships and such as yet, but I imagine he will simply set up a consulting practice in the Bay Area and wait for formal incorporation of the shops around the Bay. Bill and David are talking about  waiting another decade, making the Admiralty look positively speedy by comparison. 

Vancouver is, unfortunately, quite out of the question, but at least you will be on the same continent at last, providing that the RCAF does not suddenly decide that it needs you to keep spying on Germany after the peace, as see below. Your two(?) grandchildren will be close, if not quite on your doorstep --unless you retire to take your ease on the old family homestead, she subtly hinted.

Miss "V.C." has done quite well in her Christmas exams. She will be spending two weeks with her parents in Chicago over the Break, but is eager to return and resume language lessons with Suzie, who will be attending Santa Clara this fall. She is also looking for instruction in Kwakiutl, perhaps via the agency of our new friend, the --landlord, we'll call  him? I think we will avoid naming him in the characters, as matters of language are coming ever more clearly into focus. Tommy Wong messages me with more hints of his new assignment in Alaska, such as he grasps of it, with the suggestion that a mastery of Asiatic languages is to be paired with a feel for electronics in a way that reminds one that it is impossible to read other people's mail unless you can get at it, and you can read the language. Though as dramatic as the spying stuff is, much more of his swotting is supposed to be devoted to meteorology. (You can imagine me pouting, now.)

 Well, that is the home front for you. Now I need to turn to the Earl's letter. First, I cannot say how pleased I am that you have finally won the Earl over to the case that Cousin Henry really does not know what he is doing in Fontana. I cannot say, however, reading between the lines, that I am likely to be more comfortable with his new investment preferences. I understand that, having turned him away from what must seem, from a certain perspective, a gilt-edged growth equity, that we are turning sour on stocks entirely. That is not the case! Uncle George's preference for equities over Treasuries is not just framed around a few pet businesses and that thrill of being near celebrity that comes of having our friend's confidence. Uncle George believes that we can make more money in equities. Surely that is important, too? 

I suppose the controversy here is over the vexed question of whether anything will be made and sold after the war? The vote of Santa Clara is for "yes." I shall have more to say about this below, as our friend, The Economist's "New York Correspondent," reappears to argue the Earl's position that we stand at the precipice of a new era of "secular stagnation." Apparently, wages are far higher in America than productivity gains will permit, and thus there will be a Depression-scale downward ratcheting of wages and prices (somehow?), followed by stagnation ever after as no-one ever invests in anything but Treasury Bonds again. 

I guess that I have telegraphed the conclusion ahead of the argument here, but the tradition of these letters is to take a moment to justify the abuses to which we've put the Earl's money ahead of our reading of the press to justify our actions. I can understand his dyspepsia, but I think we've earned some confidence! There will be money spent after the war. I'm certain of it.