Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Bishops' Sea: Planting the Atlantic Cross

Note: diacritics omitted when it's easier that way.
Hólar farm in Öxnadalur, north Iceland, Photo by Rajan Parriker, posted at

"[F]or the next twelve years "many very deserving persons transplanted themselves and their families to New England," amongst whom were "gentlemen of ancient and worshipful families, and ministers of the Gospel then of great fame at home, and merchants, husbandmen, and artificers, to the number of some thousands." It was reckoned that 198 ships were employed, at a cost of 192,000l, to carry over these emigrants, who for these " twelve years kept sometimes dropping, and sometimes flocking into New England." By the year 1640, the set tlers were supposed to have amounted to 4000 persons, who are said in fifty years to have multiplied into 100,000."
Thus Samuel Wilberforce, an ambitious young canon of the Church of England, writing in his History of the Protestant Episcopallian Church in America [1844], and quoting a mysterious document found in the A medievalist would laugh. Brought up on the old church historians' claims of curious manuscripts found in the library ofo the Bishop of London's Consistorial and Eipscopal Court library at Fulham Palace, the ancient county seat of the Bishop. a medievalist would laugh, having been to this rodeo far too many times. (1,2

And, yet, there is the manuscript. It is no fake. It is William Bradford's memoir, which, apparently,  passed through the hands of a relative and amateur historian, who used them as a source, before they ended up in the  tower of the Old South Meeting House in Boston. The manuscript was possibly removed, perhaps during the British Revolutionary War occupation, and ended up in Fulham Palace because it contains church records. It was finally returned to Massachusetts a half-century later, and there is a story there, even if the telling of it seems to have made Nineteenth Century bottoms wiggle  uncomfortably in their overstuffed chairs.

The reason that I'm making so much of it is that the manuscript was supposed to be there. Boston was in the diocese of London. Odd? On the contrary: we are at this point 1300 years from the first claim to be "metropolitan" of the Atlantic seas. York, Utrecht, Armagh, "Hamburg-Bremen," Canterbury, Lund, Nidaros (Trondheim), London. All have claimed "metropolitan" jurisdiction over the far, sea-washed isles. All have created their own pasts to meet their needs. 

Rather than waste time and text on it, here is a diverting path to take through Wikipedia links, following up on Armagh's claim to be the seat of St. Patrick and the archepiscopal see of Ireland. (1>2>3>>5>6>7>8>9). It takes a great deal of the medieval mystery out of it to reduce it down tto Kildare forgers versus Armagh fantasists until Dublin usurped Kildare, but it does give you a sense of the way this history floats: three dates for the death of (two?) Patricks in a manuscript copy of a 660(?) hagiography from 808. If the dates given by one writer don't bewilder you, then the utter, albeit polite disagreement of the next authority with all of them will. 

So the point of this posting is that this curious arrangement of the far-flung north Atlantic plantations being under a bishop,or (mostly) an archbishop, is worth exploring. Not in Ireland or in the north of England. That would just get too exhausting. Let's try anchoring things instead.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Postblogging Technology, April, 1945, I: Of Robots and Men

Group Captain R_. C_., RCAFVR, DSO, DFC (Bar),
RAAF Richmond,

Dear Father:

As a first order of business, congratulations on your new "digs!" James' packet included the Kodaks that he took on his visit, and I detect a distinct "clubbiness." (At least, for Australia.)

Hopefully you will have time to enjoy it when not overseeing your ongoing organising for actual, productive work at some point. (Let us hope that the Americans have not bombed all the Japanese radars, laboratories, atomics and whatnot into flinders by the time that you are in a position to try to detect them!)  

As a second order, a packet containing the March number of Aircraft Engineering should be reaching you soon. It is an interlibrary loan from the University of Sydney, which a very nice young librarian at Santa Clara arranged for me by telegraph. Your son has been waiting for this for a very long time, and now things have gotten all sticky with his forward deployment to Port Seeadler. Please do extract it and forward your commentary to James at your earliest convenience, and return the pas current periodicals are not supposed to circulate, and I do not want to get anyone in trouble! The young lady is a Stanford graduate and Dr. Fisher has offered her a position assisting the curator of his proposed Chinese collection. Since I do not want to end this little brush portrait by sounding too mercenary about the advantages that might flow from this relationship with respect to keeping an eye on the Engineer's oh-so-intimate partnership with the Soongs, I should add that she is also a very polished Peking girl, too sweet to raise an eyebrow at my southern accent.

Source, Getty images apart

I know that you will probably kid me about taking yet another waif under my wing, but it really does seem unlikely that "Miss Ch." will be able to return home to her parents any time soon. 

Your youngest's orders for Michigan are cut for 1 May, just so that you know. I shall include pictures of your grandchildren in their birthday presents in the next surface packet. At your advice, I have taken Jimmy Ho on as a driver. He is not a big boy, certainly not as big as Wong Lee, whom I miss daily. Unfortunately, what with one thing and another, Wong Lee must be in the south. I worry that he will not have enough time to plan his "black bag" job for the bureau, but he assures me that it is no great matter. This is not the invincible Cheka that pulp fiction has prepared me for! (In fact, they are quite a different Cheka, as being associated with the Navy, and not either the army or the secret police.) 

Jimmy is solid, he quite reliable, and I should probably have him along if I am to plunge into county politics in a serious way. I am not sure how serious it has to be insofar as the nomination is concerned. The Governor needs to worry about some places in 1948, but certainly not Santa Clara County. Matters of land use, as you point out, are more likely to get nasty. He will also be handy for house security, as we do not want our guests disturbing Great Uncle and his nurses.  

On a more pleasant note, the contractors get steadily more optimistic about what can be accomplished at Arcadia. In a blazing rush, we have finished the floor in the ballroom, and lifted the canvas in the dining room. The Whale Man is intact, and the parquet almost so -a few strategic carpets will cover the damage. We shall have to bar the central staircase, as there are rotten spots in the floors in the upper stories, but it looks as though we can also take the covers off the balustrades.  Were it not that we are going to need its kitchen for the entertaining, I would be beginning to think that James and I should not have bothered to renovate the coach house at all! Perhaps we shall be able to secure a rental tenant? Great Uncle is still holding fair, as best as one might expect of a man his age, and my doctors say that my condition is developing normally. 

The anthropologist, by the way, will be staying with us, as the Bureau has called upon Professor K., either clumsily or threateningly, depending on much credit you grant Hoover's boys. I should be able to scrounge him up a driver, and, if not, he can always suffer the inter-urban for the few weeks that his business with the Conference is like to last.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Good History Can Be Boring: Grexit, Or, The Too-Late Bronze Age

The Greek forest fires of 2007. Boring or not?

Lots of things happened this week that I'm tempted to write about. VE Day happened, but I'm going there anyway, next month.

 The "fight of the century" happened, 96 years after the fight of the last century.

Unfortunately, the wrong guy won, and it distinctly was not the fight of the century. That takes the pleasure of finding similarities between Jack Dempsey versus Jess Willard and Floyd Mayweather versus Manny Pacquaio. so I won't be drilling down to bring in Dempsey's avatars and explaining why Dempsey beat Willard so savagely. Or why Warren G. Harding and Conan the Barbarian echo and mirror Dempsey, and why it call comes down to the 1934 California gubernatorial election.  I probably couldn't do the connections I see justice, anyway.

Finally, I had dinner at Double DD Pizza, absolutely the best Kitsilano pizza joint/sports bar/Greek restaurant that happens to be next door to the Comic Shop.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Postblogging Technology, March 1945, II: This Post Brought To You by Kleenex, Beauty Secret of the Stars!

Captain (E) J_. C_., R.N., D.S.O. (Bar), D.S.C., M.M.
HMAS Kuttabul,
New South Wales, Australia.

My Darling:

. . . After writing that first page, tears in my eyes, I put my brush down long enough to brew a pot of the tea my sister sent me. Now I have recovered myself enough to turn the page and put down something that you will not blush to show your father, and your uncle. Oh, do please do write me if you see Uncle George on his leave, short as it is! I worry about the stubborn old fool. He is far too old to be at war, even if all the young men have gone away, and soon he must go to that place of which I know nothing, since I do not own a map.

Your father will want to know that your little brother has his final orders for Michigan, where he will do carrier flight training on an aircraft carrier assigned to the Great Lakes. (Canada beware!) After that, he will go to the Pacific in July, to fly an anti-submarine modified Avenger, which is actually intended to be used as a radar "picket." We've no real word of Tommy Wong, although he writes his wife regularly. It's just that he hasn't very much to say except that Alaska is very cold in the winter and that he has read many books, about which I will not go on, having already had one breakdown on the page over a A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I know from speaking to him that Captain True really has asked for Tommy, so it looks as though the transfer hasn't gone through, and that Tommy will be with the Navy, and in Alaska, for another year. As hard as it is for Queenie, better that he miss the first year of his baby's life than one that the baby will remember! It will be a melancholy parting from Berkeley for Queenie as it is, as when she moves back to San Jose she will be in close reach of her mother-in-law. (Brr.)

Speaking of loves separated, Miss v. Q. understandably receives no letters from her beau. You may give your father a cold glare from all of us on that score, even if the decision to send him to Nagasaki was made by my Father (who is on his way to Manila to interview some former detainees) and the Earl. She has her contract to provide "translation services" to the FBI during the Conference in hand, a nice supplement to her income, and has even suggested that she might intervene for her cousin, who is being held by the OSS in Rome. This seems a bit bold --even given their developing obsession with Communism, I would prefer that the FBI think of her as East Indies Dutch for a little while longer. On the other hand, if anyone is likely to land on his feet in the midst of the fall of Nazi Germany, it is Herr S. v. B. , and Berlin will not go away for wishing it. . . 

You will be glad to hear that our Mexican friends are now confident that they can save Arcadia's roof, and that we can go ahead with putting not only the main hall back in operation, but the ball room as well. What would a Peace Conference be without dancing, after all? Or, perhaps, my enthusiasm for playing the hostess gets away with me. Do secret Reds and anthropologists even dance, in the first place? Surely they do!

Wong Lee has returned from the south, as it seems that Rose of Allandale is overdue in the South Pacific, either because it has been lost with all hands, or has been detained picking up deck cargo. I cannot believe that, between them, Du and the Soongs cannot find a way to remove their assassins from a merchant ship, anyway.

Speaking of odious men on the one hand, and of Wong Lee on the other, the Engineer's son has made it definitive, holding a lunch meeting between Wong Lee and a fellow who was introduced only as "Cy," but who turns out to be one Clarence Kelley, an expert on this kind of work. I might have been a little cross with the young man (you know that I dislike him, and I will not apologise for it, even if I am the only person on Earth who does) in my discussion of the matter later, but the point is that the Bureau is working with the Navy in this, which means keeping the Navy happy, and the OSS out (something that both can agree on), and so wants everything kept at arm's length. Uncle George's friend says that this is hardly the first time that the Bureau will have turned to "criminal elements" for this kind of assistance. 

On the matter of the business on the water, I asked Bill and David for a more candid account than you could get through Tony and Gene via official channels. They confirm what you suspected: the drift recurs in all installations, and is accompanied by overheating, but no-one will hear of replacing the amplidynes with British equipment, even if they could get magslips, which they can't, anyway. The device is going to the Pacific as is, though they are going to rework the amplidynes, which will put introduction back until at least the invasion of "Target K," as they put it. (No-one except someone who owns a map.... I just hope Fat Chow is out of there by that time!) It's the same drift as we're getting as the recordings run on, and no doubt for the same reason. As Bill and David say, there is no point in going elegant when the problem is overheating. You just have to accept that you're going to have to take the heat out, and if a powered fan is good enough for BMW, it is good enough for us.

So cold, so technical a way to end a letter that began so passionately. Now I am reliving that obnoxious young stage-Irishman calling me, once again, "more slide rule than woman." I told you that he has a vicious streak!  And now I have a most unwomanly desire to destroy him. Please, please come back to me soon, and remind me of my better nature, 

"Half-Pearl and Half Rose," 

"Ryukyu seems far away" (Andrew Evans)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fourteen Large: Grexiting the Late Bronze Age, 2

First, I've just read Oliver Dickinson's new attempt to synthesise the Greek Bronze Age--Iron Age transition.  Powerfully scholarly, Dickinson first sets the terms: whatever else we know or do not know about the "catastrophe" which ended the Late Bronze Age, there is an irreducible core of facts to consider. At the end of the Palatial Period, "Mycenaean Greek" civilisation was building monumental structures. At the dawning of the Classical Period, "Ancient Greeks" were again building monumental structures. Their nature had changed significantly over the course of 400 years, from spectacular tombs and not-quite-so-spectacular palace sites to temples, but from some kind of functional point of view, their absence in the intervening almost half-millennium constitutes definitive proof that some kind of social caesura had taken place. Call it a catastrophe, or a decomplexification, or a collapse of the Late Bronze Age state, but something.

However, Dickinson feels himself compelled to adopt the version of the thesis in which decomplexification leads to a significant local population decline. He wants to argue that whatever the problems so far invoked with using area surveys to measure populations, we are at the point where we can accept them as evidence. I am not convinced, so, all digressions aside, this post is mostly a disagreement with that. (Spoiler: I continue to be persuaded by the idea that they all went away to live in the hills. Still have to motivate the argument, though.)  

Second, since this is a blog about grass and technology, can a claim that technological exogeneity lies in back of the Late Bronze Age collapse be sustained? That is, for we moderns who worry that robots are about to take our jobs, is there a parallel example in iron axes, presumably taking the jobs, and perhaps lives, of the bronze merchants (bankers-in-bronze?) Or is technology endogenous, with Late Bronze Age society giving way to a new lifestyle which makes iron possible.

Or, even more radically, is technology an epiphenomena of economic growth, in which case the Late Bronze Age-Iron Age transition is an episode of economic-growth-with-political-catastrophe-characteristics? (That would be a contrarian interpretation, indeed.) 

Third, a little buried compared with the force of the anecdote: fourteen grand, in case you were wondering, is, I have just learned, what you pay in student loan-funded tuition to go to truck driver school in Vancouver right now.  All scholarly caution about overly dramatic intepretations of the end of the Late Bronze Age aside, I want there to have been an episode in which the peasants burned down the wanax's palace and went off to live in Arcadia. "By the time we're done, Linear B will be spoken only in Hell." 

There is evidence burning a hole in my pocket, and since this is a blog, and not a monograph, I can spend it. Right now. That evidence is locality. If you read about the Greek War of Independence, you are inspired by events in Bessarabia to land in called Messalonghi. You go on to see a war proclaimed at Arepoli and  Kalamata by the men of Monemvasia and "unconquered Mani" and bold klephts of Arcadia ("On horse they go to church/on horse they kiss the icons/on horse they receive communion/From the priest's hand"), who advance on TripoliNafplio and Ypati.and fight at Navarino and Petra. 

Even granted that we don't know as much as we think we do about the geography of Classical Greece, a striking number of turn-of-modernity Greeks seem to have been living in the wrong place. The hellenophiles of the time seem to have taken it that their contemporary Greeks were a bit degenerate, but that it was something that could be fixed. Greece's new Bavarian monarch chose Athens as his capital in 1834, and promptly announced the restoration of Sparta --the episode out of which this story springs. The people of Laconia of circa 1834 didn't think that Sparta needed to be restored, because although they did not call their town "Sparta," they were pretty clear that  Mystras was the new town to Sparta's old. The ancient Spartans had built a city in a pretty dumb place; the new location was better. 

They lost that argument, as the Peloponnese has been losing arguments with Athens ever since. The question here, if it is not too anachronistic, is whether or not the Greeks of 1830 had a point. Always tiptoeing around accusations of anachronism, we are already in the habit of interpreting the archaeological record of the Greek countryside at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the light of other eras. Why not start at Mystras?

"Botzaris Suprises the Turkish Camp and Falls Mortally Wounded," Eugene Delacroix
(Or Tripoli.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Postblogging Technology: March, 1945, I: Out Ride the Sons of Terra, Far Drives the Thundering Jet

Captain (E) J_. C_., R.N., D.S.O. (Bar), D.S.C., M.M.
HMAS Kuttabul,
New South Wales, Australia.

My Dearest:

You are probably wondering why this packet is so thick, and have clawed it open, your heart torn between hopes of photographs of our babies, and fears of some horrid legal entanglement.
At least, so I conceive the balance, so that I do not imagine you, my darling, being disappointed by the tedious details you will in fact encounter in the document this letter wraps. The future is no brighter for it, but it remains bright as ever, at least.

To explain: as you know, I have been carrying on Uncle George's regular "investing newsletter," to your father since he left for the war. Well, he's in Australia, as I am sure your throbbing head of a morning has told you on a few occasions since he arrived. (At least you wil get some practice in holding your liquor ahead of dealing with more sailors!) Well, here's the newsletter, so please pass it on. It's especially important, since Uncle George places infinite reliance on your father's charm and tact in carrying his case with the Earl, to whom these sentiments will eventually be forwarded.

But enough of that. You are sadly deprived: of Santa Cruz in the bright spring, of the excitement as we ready ourselves for the United Nations Conference, of your babies and even your half-brothers' entertaining enthusiasms, the bright youth of Miss V_C._,, the adventures of Miss Von Q. and Mrs. (I cannot write that without a smile) Wong in the city, of Fanny's courting by Jimmy Ho (of which I am supposed to know nothing), even the continuing saga of Arcadia's roof and the malign plotting of the Engineer and his lieutenant, the Lieutenant.

As to the latter, it's all very sad. The Engineer fancies a bracing confrontation with the Russians, since he conceives Communism to be all around him, and us. We silly ladies are more concerned with dances and balls and parties, for what is a Peace Conference without them? And one cannot have whirling and music and romance, and clever old diplomats showing us how to waltz (am I odd to wish that I had been there to dance with Metternich and Talleyrand, whatever their politics? I shan't mention dashing Uhlans, as I have a dashing engineer, instead) if there is to be a great battle of ideologies instead! Well, actually, Miss v. Q. and Mrs. Wong will be very much involved in all of this, unless the FBI finds better linguists somewhere, as plans to eavesdrop on unnamed foreign delegations go ahead. The Russians, I am told, quite sensibly conduct all of their correspondence in cypher, but that does not mean that it cannot be compromised. Lieutenant A_ is on about technical means of doing so. I wonder if he has ever heard of the concept of "burglary?"

Perhaps, I have had the strangest passing conversation with the Engineer's son on the subject of whether Wong Lee might be to hand. And, yes, this is work that Wong Lee could do. But surely the FBI has its men?

Even sadder, your worries about Aunt Bessie were all too justified. Her habits and her health have caught up with her, and I have been spending entirely too much time with her and with Uncle Henry of late. In fact, just the other day I was called out of the University Library, where I have been taking notes for these newsletters of late, with news of an emergency up in Oakland.

While the emergency on that occasion proved to be Uncle Henry calculating that I could be pressurised into coming over a few hours early, the need is real enough. I do not think Aunt Bessie has very much longer to live.

Though it's an ill wind that blows no-one any good, as the rearrangement meant that Fanny's weekly afternoon off was put over from Sunday to Friday, and she left with a song in her lip! 


Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Great Siege: PLUNDER, VARSITY, Gotterdamerung

OPERATION PLUNDER; OPERATION VARSITY; The Twilight of the Gods. Three things, naturally linked.

Except that PLUNDER and VARSITY were real things that happened. The "Twilight of the Gods" turned out to be grandiose fantasy. 

We don't write much about the combined assault on the Rhine by 21st Army Group (including US 9th Army), which led to the greatest opposed river crossings in historys. (In the interests of accuracy i hyperbole, it should be noted that any given assault crossing the Yangzi was probably a bigger deal in terms of water work, but the Mandate of Heaven has not yet been transferred by a modern mechanised army.) That a vast army, supported by enormous logistical preparations, closed the world's eleventh-largest river and fought its way across against the resistance of the army of the world's second largest economy, should be a big deal.

The problem was that it was dead easy, so no-one cares about it, which is why this post is two weeks late. (Apart from yours truly having to deal with a congenital lack of labour in the Canadian economy that somehow does not show up as a "labour shortage.") This is because, as it turns out, "Gotterdamerung" springs from Snorri Sturlusson's head. Gods and heroes heroes may go down in glorious last stands, but the spear carriers have made a discrete departure. 
Germany, ever so quietly, was going from this to this. Germans, actual living Germans, had learned a lesson that the rest of us could stand to remember. "Blood and nation" are not things immanent in us, unalterable and compelling. Trapped by an idea? Defect in your head,  hollow out your will to be a German landser, drag your feet until the tail of the column turns the corner ahead, leave your rifle by the side of the road.
Congratulations: you're a "straggler." Keep it up for eight weeks more, and you'll be a live straggler. It's nothing to be proud of later. Lost causes flourish in romantic legend; not the men who kept their heads down and came home to their families --or made new ones. Spring is coming, the world needs to be renewed, and the glorious dead will make no babies. 

For those who cling to lost causes, the first week of April is bitter. One-hundred fifty years ago, the Confederate States of America collapsed; 75 years ago, the Wehrmacht was vanishing, tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of men simply not on the rolls.
That's  the German Fifteenth Army under watch below. 

On the other hand, OPERATION KIKUSUI was 75 years ago. Another of the horrifying moral aporia of the world war, the attack of the floating crysanthenums is not easy for me to parse. The young men who piloted the suicide bombers do not seem to have been particularly traditionalist, nationalist or right wing. It is certainly not very helpful to focus on the supposedly fixed essentials of Japanese character to explain them, and it certainly is possible to frame a narrative around inescapable social pressure to commit suicide, which is pretty horrible in its own right.

The kamikazes flew while the German and Confederate armies were disintegrating. I'm not going to present a half-baked explanation for this, only point to it as a problem. The "national character" thing usually invoked does not convince. I grew up on the Pacific shore, after all, surrounded by Japanese Canadians and German Canadians, and on and on, so I can claim some experiential credibility for my skepticism. So could Californians, which I think might explain why the actual response to the kamikazes proved so ambiguous in the end. 

 I would gesture out at the Pacific and conjure up Owen Chase's arrival in San Francisco on the whaleship Winslow sometime between 1825 and 1827, and notice that while whalers and sealers are already ranging from the Japan Grounds to Alaska and down past the Bass Strait, where "sea rats" and "pirates" took seals for the China trade in cockleshell boats ranging all the way to Middle Island off Western Australia. 

That is, twenty years before San Francisco became American, it looked out on a Pacific where there were already sealing plantations and offshore fisheries off multiple future Australian and American states, one Canadian province, New Zealand, various pelagic nations and "overseas territories," The Empire of Japan and the Kingdom of Hawaii. The process by which the only autochhthonous state formation in a non-state ordered society became the American territory of Hawaii, while New Zealand became a resolutely British nation. How? It's all so slippery. But disintegrating armies have to fit in here somehow..

This is an introduction to a discussion of floating and other temporary bridges.