Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Postblogging Technology, March 1944, II: A Pinch In Time Saves Nine

Mother and babies resting comfortably.

Actually, Mrs. Cook is flat out, with the twins by her, and the new Turkish nanny looking out for both. Funny how a Turkish girl looks Chinese and talks American with a Chinese accent.

Hi. You probably never heard of me, but this is Vince Murphy here. The babies were on their way when I left for my double shift, and they came an hour after I got back.  Not as long a delivery as my Mammy's first, but hard on everyone. Mrs. Judith put a brandy in the landlord and set  him to bed before settling down herself. My Mammie has a little one of her own to look after, came last week, the Captain's on a slow cruise on some lame-duck carrier coming back from Hawaii, Larry's driving the doctor home, and that leaves me as the adult of the house. And now I have this here courier at the door to pick up your mail. I scraped up what's on the desk in the Landlord's study, but I remember how my Dad worried out a furrow on the floor, and figure I'd add my own touch, which, well, you see. I figure this is on the first page, not that I read Chinese any to know.

P. Vincent Murphy. (That's me.)

My Dearest Reggie:

I am a little  hurt that the Earl has so little faith in my judgement. I understand that he is  inclined to be impatient when I make snide little comments in the face of the recommendation of the Economist itself that we invest in "Cousin H.C." I believe that The Economist is wrong about this, and surely their California correspondent's silly comments about water rights should underline his credibility?

In my defence, I offer the events of the past few weeks. I refer to them cryptically, I admit, but you know my business of the last few weeks, and most of my trip's consequences are playing out in the news. If "Cousin H.C." and "E. F.," if you know who I mean, trust my judgement....

As for my little game with "Miss V.C.," whatever you have heard from her mother, that is all it is. She is very disappointed that her investigations at Sacramento turned up no further information about her "McKee" forebears, but, nothing daunted, brings me the Yerba Buena indenture book to point out a name with eyebrows cocked. I dissemble: "Chinese family names come first," I say. "It is a coincidence."

"I know," she answers. Then she pulls out the popular biography and points to the alias that Bing Oh Mah took his Hudson's Bay Company indenture under. It is ironic that a half-caste guttersnape from old Canton could come out on top of his crew here in America; but, after all, he probably took after his EIC sailor father enough to be Black Irish in all but accent.

"Coincidence," I repeat, but she only puts a dinner club napkin from my Chicago visit down on the desk without comment.

I thought that I had left that lying out for nothing! A blank stare back is but a snare draws the young lady ever closer.

One thing, though. Do you know from your sources if the old man left the country at some point? Because his grandson once told me over too many drinks that he first came to the Coast in Gold Rush days....

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kohima: Boulders Lush with Moss

The mighty son of Brahama is not to be tamed.

The Brahamaputra does not get the respect it deserves. Like Rhine, Adige and Danube (more accurately, the Iller), the great rivers of India rise close to each other, at the fault between the Himalayan fold and the Tibetan plateau. the Indus at first flows north by northwest, the Ganges plunges through a water gap, and the Brahmaputra cuts what might be the deepest and longest canyons on Earth on its way long and circuitous path to the sea, ultimately cutting its way through the Himalayas and entering Arunachal Pradesh state on its way to Assam, Bengal, and a humiliating juncture with the Ganges that makes it, in a technical sense, a tributary of the Mother of India.  

I had supposed that the proximity of the sources of the three great rivers had been made some kind of metaphysical point by romantic Indian nationalists, but thanks to Wikipedia, I now know that the upper course of the Brahamputra had long been a mystery, due to its cutting the impenetrable Yarlang Tsanpo Canyon.

This lack of respect for a mighty river leads to lack of respect for the soldiers of Japan, of India and of Britain, who were dying, seventy years ago today, above the valley of the river in the heights of Manipur, around the town of Imphal and north of it at Kohima. It also obscures the overarching failure of the Roosevelt Administration's attempt to support the Nationalist Chinese regime, and the sheer magnitude of the failure of this episode in the persistent fantasy of "foreign policy as mission." 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Postblogging Technology, March 1944, I: Pulling In the Horns

My Dearest Reggie:

It has been so good for all of us to hear from you. Your gifts were much appreciated. I cannot imagine where you obtained the measurements for the nursery suite,  but it is perfect! (No, strike that, I am sure you were informed through Wong Lee.) I cannot believe your choice of a theme in the decoration, however. Wait until "Miss V. C." sees it!

I do not speak lightly, either. I was in Chicago, last week, and had occasion to visit with the "N.C.s" and was subjected to a most unpleasant dressing down, made all the more difficult by the fact that I was of necessity seeing some unsavory types. You will have heard by now that I am proposing to go to war in the guise of the civilian master of an Australian naval auxiliary, with Sparrow in the guise of a landing craft tender. (Perhaps I repeat myself? I should really check, but am too lazy.) 

What has this to do with Chicago? Well, Grandfather would never adventure so without providing for contingencies. Following his old precedent, I took the precaution of placing men within the American Fleet. Under the (racial) circumstances, I chose not to be a slave to tradition, although there was an irresistible opportunity to place a wily old dacoit in the kitchen staff of the New Jersey battleship. Instead, I bought retainers from those "men of respect" with whom I have had to dally in the course of certain relations with our friend. An acquaintance of a friend --but, again, you surely know the story. 

I have always rather liked some aspects of this. It makes me feel quite the benevolent squire when I  relieve the fears of men who have fallen into gangsters' hands. A cynic would add that it wins an extra measure of loyalty. (Unless they have seen those recent Hollywood productions where the suave, rich man is more to be feared than the gangsters who bring you to him.)

Unfortunately, the human material is imperfect. At least they are not truculent tinderboxes, like the run-of-the-mill hoodlum, but they are naive, and I should like to groom them more before placing much reliance on them. Hopefully, I shall not have to do so, and will instead activate the connection in distant years to come for less dangerous matters. For it is hardly clear which way they will jump when they are asked to do things that appear . .  . unpatriotic, and I am not sure I want men who would not scruple so. At least in this employment. Certainly I cannot frankly tell them that, as Grandfather said, he gave up masterminding the  fall of Western Civilization  in the moment he saw the casualty returns for the first day of the Somme, on the grounds that, in the face of the fine job that Western Civilisation was doing of bringing itself down, the family's proper role lay in cushioning the fall for its members.

As to your charge, I sat Mr. Murphy down and we have gone over the finances of the proposed sub-division. I honestly had not considered building on the roadside land. It is rather farther from town than the land I planned on giving over, and Michael has high hopes of restoring its former fertility if we can only control manure runoff in the creek. Still, your wishes are my command, and I was rather impressed with Mr. Murphy's bank statement. 

In retrospect, I should not have been, considering how much overtime he (and his wife, before her confinement) have worked in the last two years. Knowing what he can afford gives me -or us-- something of a guideline for the size of the lots, as well. Now I wonder whether I was too hasty in planning to dispose of the lower land as residential properties. Americans do not like to rent out their houses, and for reasons I will explain below, I am becoming increasingly more anxious about maintaining our rental revenues. Perhaps there is a future in commercial real estate development just outside the city, or in more-easily managed situations, as in a case that I am contemplating now in  Vancouver

As for the Murphys, I am confident that they will be very nice  houses. You can tell that to the person who inspired the request. (Oh, yes, I know the influence at work!) 

This brings me to the final matter about which you were most anxious, Reggie. Your son's trip to Sacramento went well, and there was no scandal. Rather to the contrary, the Lincoln by all accounts ran smoothly and the trip was almost boring. In fact, your son is frustrated, since Lieutenant A.'s ancient roadster broke down, leading to what was by all accounts quite an adventure. Yet, for some reason, the girls appear more taken with Lieutenant A., who comes across the scrappy and resourceful young man, while your son is written off as a spoiled boy, and any protest to the effect that he rebuilt the car with his own hands is deemed "conceited." I try to nod wisely and offer gruff, manly advice about the wisdom of saying less and doing more, but the boy misses his father.

On a more serious matter, a most unexpected turn of events. A bundle of Doctor McLoughlin's papers were indeed in the archives at Sacramento, in papers from the dissolved Indian Affairs agency of Yerba Buena. The largest piece is a bundle of copybooks for letters having to do with the Doctor's official dealings, but Lieutenant A intervened to arrange for a photographic copy of the whole, and I have seen some brief extracts that indicate that there are also copies from the Doctor's patent book and the Company's Yerba Buena indentures. The former have some potential for leveraging difficult land transactions, as you and I and "Cousin H. C." know from using our copies.

The latter are more tricky. Some of the issued indentures are still about, and Wong Lee recalls using them to secure birth certificates for some followers in 1919. The indentures originally simply "invented" acceptable identities for  men of our old crews who wanted to engage to work in the country with all the cynicism of the age. "T'ang Way Kwok, also know as Joseph Maria Gomez," you know the drill. The relevance to the old bureau was, obviously, that some of the new identities were Mexican Californian Indian. The problem in sorting it out is that the indenture books are certainly not organised by the race or religion of the lascars, much less the pretended race! I will not be easy in mind knowing that this document has been sitting in the state archives for seventy years until I have seen the full, developed roll.

Never mind. It matters very little to me that "Miss V.C." has discovered a real lead. I very much doubt that she has the sophistication to use it, and it is absurd to think that she needs it. "Lieutenant A," and the Engineer, are another matter.  Did he suspect the fasicle's existence? How else put the Lieutenant on its trail? This is a mystery, and so is his purpose.

Ah, well. We shall deal with it. Somehow. And I shall endeavour to calm myself by continuing my newsletters.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Postblogging Technology, March 1943: An Appendix About Flooded Basements (Any Port in a Storm)

A Fortune ad. You can tell because there are Black people in it.

I had a friend in graduate school, much smarter than I, who used to love to sing "The Leaving of Liverpool," although he probably was referencing a version with more gravitas than a dance mix. (When the 70s London punk acquired gravitas I leave to the reader. Probably when its fans got old and nostalgic. Btw.) In the end, we'd both have been better to ship off in a "floating hell." At least Captain Burgess is hiring. There is also the matter of the slice-of-life anecdote from Time about the American troops finding favour by draining the basement of a stately home of England and recovering the squire's favourite brass hunting horn. A flooded basement is not good for a house, and it really is telling that there was no alternative to the generosity of some bivuoaced troops. That kind of thing can't be good for the housing stock, although it is not like that sort of thing is unique to Britain. Vanport was swept away in 1948, rather than the spring of 1944, but it has its parallels.  

At this modern dead end, it is well worth contemplating why there's a clipper bound for California in the Liverpool docks for a man to sign onto. Yes, Oregon is not California, but work with me here. 1944 is going to give way to 1947. There will be a housing boom in California, and the loss of the homes of Vanport will just push customers into the Portland market. Meanwhile, a shortage of housing is a crisis in Britain. What makes up the difference? 

For one thing, there is the "X" factor pushing up the building rate in California. What could it be?

It's probably not impossible to guess that I have a theory, and that there's a reason that I punctuate two ads with meditations on graduate school. My provincial premier just announced, for approximately the millionth time, that we have a "looming skills shortage" in this province. It must be true. I'm 49, and I've been hearing it all my life.*

A little sarcasm directed at the "skills shortage" mantra aside, that cannot be the explanation. I want to argue that wartime skills acquisition and new tools  boosted the Californian construction rate to record levels, but have to deal with the difference between the Californian and British experience.

Is the difference real? After all, insert very tired old "Chinese character" joke here. Yes, I think that it is real enough. Emphasis on think here: home building served as a stimulus to the American economy in the late 1940s. It was a major stimulus to the economy of interwar Britain, notably in the southeast, the main target of the Blitz. If a shortage of housing is simply a demand for investment, it ought to be an economic stimulus. The greater the shortage, the greater the stimulus. That it was not tells us something about the nature of the immediate postwar British economy that I am not really qualified to comment upon. 

What is true is that the area was also the communications area for the largest, most costly military campaign in history, that the full implications of this have not even begun to be teased out, that the labour that ought to have been pumping out basements was elsewhere, and that a whole lot of routine maintenance is being neglected. The whole damn thing requires more investigation than it's had. Today's introductory exploration is directed at exploring where the missing labour went. (That is, it is going to be a talk about Overlord logistics when it gets going.) But I find that I have quite a lot of underbrush to clear first, and that, happily, lets me do an image-heavy posting about Cool Stuff instead of whether the amount of concrete consumed by the Mulberry ports was "significant."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Postblogging Technology, February 1943, II: To The Gates of the Pure Land


Wing Commander R_. C_. Q.C., D.F.C.
L_ House, Isle of Axholme, Lincolnshire.

My Dear Father:

I hope you will forgive my impertinence in taking over your correspondence with your cousin again, dear Father-(Out-of)-Law. Uncle is travelling in the East with the redoubtable Wong Lee, and someone here must congratulate you, as I am told that your decoration must otherwise go unpublicised  for now. Uncle is also frantic to continue his campaign on the Earl's patience in respect to electrical engineering versus "little steel." And he has, perhaps, noticed that confinement is wearing on me and that I would welcome this opportunity to make myself useful.

More on Uncle's itnerary. He will be touring facilities in Buffalo on the Boeing matter, but I do not think anyone takes that seriously. The real meat of the trip, it turns out, is a visit to some Heaven-forsaken suburb of Detroit. There is talk of Uncle Henry taking over a white elephant that one of his business partners ran up for an Army contract and cannot now "make go." Fortunately, his son will have the last say in that matter, and Uncle and Edgar have an understanding. Uncle will be returning via Chicago and Vancouver, so you can expect to hear more of our mutual friend, as well as from the yards, on the subject of a mad owner,  dictating minute changes to the refit of Sparrow. 

Needless to say, Uncle is quite beside himself at the prospect of going to war. He will not admit it, but he is jealous of your DFC! I should probably slip and say something about boys being boys if I went on about it. You and he are now definitively pencilled in as guests of honour in Santa Clara for the holiday season of 1946, amongst our family heroes from the wars returning. I hope that you shall be available, as, Heaven willing, your grandchildren will be there.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Postblogging February 1943, I, Technical Appendix: One-Adam-Twelve, Where Are You?

This is sad.

Illustration from an eBay auction

This is cool, even if they are French, notwithstanding the DAK-suggestive shorts and forage caps. The Brits had them, (Northumberlanders, no less) but quietly gave the idea up after 1940. Stupid Brits. Here is relief for all of your "Nazi Superman are our superiors" needs.

Source. Guy seriously likes his German war-motorcycles, but that doesn't make him a Nazi.
  Vroom! Vroom! You can also clothespeg an old hockey card to the spokes of your bike for a taste of the good old stuff. You probably want to do that before you've ridden a heavily-laden motorcycle down a road like this. (Also, important safety tip: do not ride a motorcycle across rough ground in shorts.Also, important safety-related fashion tip: do not buy your leather pants for motorcycle use from non-motorcycle related paraphernalia retailers unless you are very comfortable with your sexuality. Word to the wise.) 

Here's one more  look at the machine that I am implicitly contrasting with  the motorcycles. 

It's so tiny! This is one of the Daimler Dingoes brought ashore at Dieppe by Second Canadian Division. That would encapsulate it were it not for the even more stinging account in Beale's Death by Design. It's an armoured car with no turret, not even a weapon! (Unless you count a Bren Gun, but, seriously, by WWII an LMG is basically a decorative element. Heck, they put them on Matador variants! ) Beale even has some timely quotes from stakeholders who thought that it was grotesquely underarmed, and a tart word or two for the men, apparently cavalry officers, who insisted on features like low height, equal-speed reverse gears and front-and-back steering, all at the expense of proper firepower. The same quotes even show up in Richard Meade's recent biography of Richard McCreery. 

You'll note, though, that the NPOV Wikipedia article has no difficulty in describing the Dingo as "perhaps the best British AFV of World War II." 

Now, this might seem crazy. Here's a thought experiment. Recon units are all supposed to be up at the front looking for things for the artillery to shoot at. So if an armoured car spots something worth an artillery shot, why doesn't the recon unit shoot it? Because it doesn't have a gun? Well, that was stupid. Give the next one a gun!

So here you have the Guy Armoured Car, originally the "Tank, (Light), Wheeled, Mark I." Like the tracked light tanks of the 1940 campaign, it can mount either a Vickers .303 and .50 or a Besa 7.92 and 15mm. (Don't worry, though, as 37mm and even a 6 pounder/75mm model are coming.)

Step back for a second here, though, and consider the figure of merit that I have not handed out yet. The Guy Armoured Car was 7ft, 6 inches high. The AEC Armoured Car was 8ft 4 inches.

The Daimler Dingo was 4ft 11". That makes it good at hiding. I know, I know, there's nothing manly about hiding. Well, unless you're playing in stealth mode, but even then you expect to be able to stab people. The Dingo doesn't stab people. It goes up, it looks around, and then it tells command what it sees, and none the wiser. 

There is nothing more important to proper management than timely intelligence. My whimsical photoessay deserves some caveats, since armoured cars have other roles than reconnaissance, but taking into account the crucial importance of the reconnaissance role, you can see that the constant temptation to shut the crew up in a turret and lumber them with a Very Big Gun represents a tendency to lose the plot. 

There's probably some kind of commentary on the human condition here. I do know that as a middle manager, one of the constant fights within our echelon is over access to timely, useful intelligence, and a never-ending deluge of process intended to extract it, process that is inevitably gamed.

Which is probably why the hugely important subject of military communications in World War II is not better understood. Attempts to study it sidle up to the subject, look it over, bounce off it in sheer boredom, and wander on to tangents. People exchange intelligence on radio? Let's talk about SIGINT! Forward air controllers direct close air support? Let's talk about air war doctrine! Tanks have to talk to infantry, and infantry to tanks? Let's talk about armoured warfare doctrine! Army communications go over cable and telephone lines via switchboards... Actually, you know what? There's no way to make that interesting. Let's pretend its happening in the background and move on to more interesting stuff, like what makes British generals drool, and German generals rule.  

From the perspective of this blog, it's crazy. Radio was arguably the most important thing in people's lives in 1938, and the only reason it got less important after the war was that, I've been told, video killed the radio star.  World War II, you might think, might have had something to do with that. And that, in turn, might have some bearing on this world that we live in.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Postblogging Technology, February 1944, I: A Dwindling Race


My Dearest Reggie:

The house, or rather houses, are a-whirl with the energy of youth this month. Our distant relative, the actor-turned-Signals-Corps-Captain (you know who I mean) has turned in a handsome apology for his behaviour over the last few months, admitting that he paid far too close attention to "Miss V.C.," and blaming marital troubles, now resolved, for the fact that he "was not himself." He will not, he told me, be making further domestic visits.

I was pleased to accept this resolution. For all of "Mrs. J. C.'s" suspicions --some confirmed, I will ashamedly own-- he is a winning young man with a bright future in politics, if he chooses to pursue it. This affair, if successfully prosecuted, would quite ruin those hopes, and make his father's old age even bleaker than otherwise. (It is odd, or, rather, telling that a divorce should be seen as fatal to one's electoral prospects, while the press will decline to press closely the investigation into any candidate's even most obviously questionable ancestry, but the precedent was set long before our time.) As little as I like the Engineer, I will not deny him the pleasure of seeing his son succeed in a field in which he so resoundingly failed.

But this did not resolve the matter of suitors pressing round "Miss V.C.," because apart from your younger son's obvious interest (speaks the wisdom of age) there is the matter of "Lieutenant A.," who now seems determined to press his own suit. As he is young, single, handsome, born to wealth and well-connected, I see no reason to object if he wishes to insert himself in our social whirl for as long as his Admiral's business keeps him in San Francisco. I have, however, intimated to him that Wong Lee's vigilance is not to be underestimated.

 I also rather hope that he manages to obtain a slightly more modern auto for use social calling soon, however. 

As for "Miss V. C.," and Wong Lee, for that matter, I am pleased, even if I must pretend otherwise, to report that he caught her in the main hall of Chi Wei Tao Wan the other night, trying to enter the west wing. As this would have involved removing the tarpaulin covering the Whale Man, it is rather a serious matter. Your wife still has not found anyone she deems competent to restore it. It may have stood too many seasons of Pacific storms since the Founder's son and daughter were carried through it to be introduced to their grandfather. In any case, I had to explain to "Miss V.C." that Grandfather is being kept isolated out of concerns for his health, and that she might be allowed to visit him by prearranged appointment if properly gowned, and that due to the condition of the main wing of the mansion and the state of preservation of the art in it, the covers must on no account be removed.

None of this was convincing, of course. Indeed, I was as unconvincing as I dared to be, hoping that she would realise that the "appointment" would be a ruse, giving us time to make Grandfather up, while pointing her curiosity towards the furnishings of the main hall.  I have, however, given an undertaking to her parents not to lead her curiosity. When she asked me about the Chinese practice of giving out monetary presents at the Lunar New Year, I had to suppress my temptation to dwell on the significance of red envelopes and the like, and instead claim entire ignorance. 

I could add to this picture of domesticity by painting your youngest and Wong Lee's son posing in their cadet uniforms and of your daughter-in-law in all of her radiance, but since I include photographs, words will not be needed, and I do not, after considering the last number of Fortune, trust myself not to descend into autumnal despair. I could also make some technical comments, but will refrain for a few paragraphs yet, though I will get them out of the way in the first section, as the second section is devoted to investment prospects in insurance, and will, I expect, bore all and sundry.