Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Siege: Victory of the German Maidens

So there was a thing at the Modern Languages Association annual conference this year. It was about adjunct teaching blah tenure lines blah interviewing blah. Blah. My take is that, strip the precious specificity of academia away, and you're seeing a fairly typical problem of the politics of skilled labour.

Wait? You don't consider professors teaching English at a university  to be "skilled labour" in the same sense as the honest hands of toil making cool things with Very Big Machine Tools? 

A photo essay on cognitive dissonance: 

1: Cause:

2: Effect.

The "Help!!" sign is just about the definition of a shortage of skilled labour, and the skill in question is close reading. True, it is shelf schematics, as opposed to Beowulf, and it is so that buyers will know what is going to be on the shelves when they make their purchase. SAMS work doesn't have as much social capital as lecturing the children of judges and doctors on Point Grey -to put it mildly!-- but any adjunct in this country would kill for the lifestyle of our company's roving SAMS expert. 

In the face of the triple crisis of higher education, employment and demographics in this country and on this continent, it is worth contemplating the intractable mystery of skilled labour in our modern economy. Somehow, we got the story of skilled labour radically wrong. Our story is that an increased supply of skilled labour will drive the economy forward. When in fact, it just...

Oh. Wait. That's not a mystery at all.

Seventy years ago, labour worked differently. Voracious factories absorbed every hand they could, and then some more, and the Flak batteries in the park were crewed (in part) by the League of German Maidens. 

And in Belfast.. . In Belfast. . 

"In the county Tyrone, in the town of Dungannon
Where many a ruckus meself had a hand in
Bob Williamson lived there, a weaver by trade
And all of us thought him a stout-hearted blade.
On the twelfth of July as it yearly did come
Bob played on the flute to the sound of the drum
You can talk of your fiddles, your harp or your lute
But there's nothing could sound like the Old Orange Flute.
But the treacherous scoundrel, he took us all in
For he married a Papish named Bridget McGinn
Turned Papish himself and forsook the Old Cause
That gave us our freedom, religion and laws.
And the boys in the county made such a stir on it
They forced Bob to flee to the province of Connaught;

Anyway, in the land of anger and hate, there was this:

Wikipedia (also below)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Postblogging December 1943, II: Towards A Cold War

Wing Commander R__. C__., RCAFVR, O.C.
L__. House,
Isle of Axholme,
Lincolnshire, U. K.

My Dear Sir:

Father of my Beloved: I take up the brush in my feminine hand on no occasion of sad news, but rather because fortunate winds are blowing. That friend of whom you have been previously advised, had an acrimonious dispute with his employer over a New Year's engagement. It was the breaking point in their relationship, and he is now definitive that he wants out of his contract. He  appealed to us, as we were warned  he might, on the basis of blood and obligation incurred so many years ago. Because our friend is so much in the public eye, he can scarcely be seen visiting lawyers, or even have lawyers visit his hotel room. Your beloved cousin, my Uncle, has gone East to arrange meetings with H. C.'s lawyers and plot our next step, but it will take some time. 

 Uncle remains intent on resuming his correspondence in February, naturally enough. Indeed, he is attempting to draw our friend into his beloved electrical engineering investment scheme, and may have more news on this in his next.

Let me also assure you that James and I are also well. Your wife may have informed you that she summoned Judith back from Pasadena instant upon her arrival in Santa Clara, and she certainly did not leave California until I was under a watchful matron's eye. It seems like rather a fuss to me, but she and Judith are so stern, and so motherly, that I cannot bear to defy them. Nevertheless, Judith and I did accompany James on his trip to Tacoma, which, by the way, went very well indeed. I shall append an amusing story about it once I have finished doing secretary's service to Uncle.

We do, however, have news that may yet cast a shadow over your heart if the war winds on too long. While James is here on the West Coast for the duration of his assignment only, we have resolved that I will not be crossing the Atlantic again this war, and we have begun to prepare a residence en famille. The old house, unfortunately, is far beyond the available resources of material and labour. Moreover, even if we could repair it, it would only distress Great-Uncle's last days. Fortunately, the old coach-house will do quite well enough for three (for now), at least once the stables have been converted into something more domestic.

The only drawback is that the work is quite visible from the road. The locals are understandably curious about what the owners of 'Arcadia' intend, and less understandably opinionated about how matters should proceed. One of my contractors has amused himself by setting up a hand-lettered "Suggestion Box" at the gate. Oh, the rural round....

One final familial note. Let me see: I need a coining from Uncle's rather threadbare pseudonym system. Will it suffice to say that Miss "V.C." is the daughter of Mr. "N.C." of Chicago for you to know a young lady whom you last saw in pigtails? Well, pigtails no longer, and her father is wide awake to the implications of the high rejection rate of his product by the Army.

From Miss Ewe's Holiday

Chicago may continue to be windy and broad-shouldered, but this is one branch of butchering-to-the-world that is well past time to be retired into a shadowy investment trust. So now he reconsiders his social-climbing choice not to send his daughter to the Poor Clares, and I have the rather large charge of teaching her proper literary accomplishments. This is rather much to pack into a senior year, but the thought is that we might enroll her in Stanford, as I shall be Santa Clara for at least another year, war or no war. The agreement is that Miss V. C. will be allowed to believe that she is being prepared for missionary work unless and until she deduces the family secrets for herself.

Now, as I have mentioned, filial duty requires that I continue to prosecute Uncle's campaign to persuade the Earl, through you, that it would be a mistake to sink money into poor Cousin H. C.'s steel plant and "prefabricated house" schemes.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Postblogging December, 1943, Technical Appendix, II

Edit: Bulwark seems to have been lost due to spontaneous detonation of ammunition, not propellant.

To this day I remember Chris Friedrichs (warning: UBC's security certificate for this site has expired) telling us that now that we were graduate students, we would appreciate being able to be in the library right up to Christmas, while undergraduates scattered off to home and hearth. 

Nowadays, the UBC libraries are closed during Saturnalia. 

Which is why the second technical appendix for December postblogging appears first. It has nothing to do with my losing precious research time exploring the 40 or so "Esquisse pour servire a l'histoire du Rome" inserted, apparently randomly and by an unknown hand, into the map pocket at the back of the library's 1876 Desjardins. In the spirit of the season....

That said, even without having covered the Fortune article yet, it is pretty clear that refrigeration needs a post, especially as I am going to link it to the Battle of North Cape. And by "needs a post," I mean, "needs multiple doctoral dissertations in economic, social, cultural and gender history." But that ain't gonna happen. So instead here is a discussion of the history of explosives, which is important because the transition to modern explosives required storage in temperature and humidity-controlled conditions that, in turn, led to state security-related investment in HVAC technology ahead of the rise of the cold chain logistics that has so clearly transformed our lives without being much investigated, although Jonathan Reese's book looks like an interesting first step.

So: the link to the Battle of North Cape? North Cape is the somewhat grandiose title for Bruce Fraser's successful mousetrapping of the battlecruiser KMS Scharnhorst on 26 December 1943. By keeping fast capital ships in Norwegian ports threatening the Russian convoys, the Germans were able to stretch Allied naval resources, with knock-on effects extending from the Eastern Front to the Pacific, until, as must inevitably happen, they ran out of capital ships.  Losing Scharnhorst --somehow-- was both inevitable and painful for the Germans, and an incremental step towards victory for the Allies. 

That's the top down view. Bottom up, it comes down to steam conditions, fire control solutions (1,2,3), volume of fire and progress in organic chemistry. (Noting that I got Robert Neville confused with James H. McGraw, Jr.)

The steam condition thing is interesting. Scharnhorst was very fast for its size due to operating with 850F steam, and, like its heavy cruiser contemporaries, suffered repeated machinery breakdowns because of it. So is it possible that the fatal blow that slowed it down at North Cape was inflicted internally, by steel failing in the wet blast? It's a wild-assed theory that I raise because of its salience to issues that do matter.  (Here's Antonio Bonomi promoting it.)

For fire control, we can notice that it was Bruce Fraser who  headed the team that designed the Admiralty Fire Control Table, and Bruce Fraser who won the Battle of North Cape. There's a lot going on here in the nascent history of computing, and I am not going to dissent from the common analysis that the radar stuff matters more than a weird little pneumatic computer, but there it is.

For volume of fire, I link to my posting on Jutland, the battle that the Royal Navy lost by letting institutional imperatives trump safety considerations, and the historical profession muffed by missing the well-publicised cause of the battlecruiser losses in favour of talking about "technological decline." Take what you will from that. The point is that Duke of York's ammunition chain was designed to make it mechanically impossible for a deflagration to propagate unchecked from the turret to the magazines. This was the right thing to do: even the most vigorous lip service to safety is still lip service. It is unfortunate that the resulting loss of fire opportunities keeps getting laid off on "unreliability," as though safety precautions were unmanly or something. Slow we are to learn.

So, ammunition storage is the previously-mentioned entre to the issue of the extremely rapid propagation of powered HVAC up and down the cold chain and of air conditioning on parallel lines. This takes us back to the introduction of the first 'modern,' artificial explosive, nitrocellulose, the explosive that was also a plastic!   I have talked about modern explosives, indirectly before. Specifically, I notice that I supplied the footnote, but not the discussion! As I move towards the climax of the munitions war, so it is time to get that stuff on the internet.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Fall of France, XI (And Books That I Have Read): The Foresight War

Look! It's a postcard image. Probably of a different Agneaux than the one in the "Norman Switzerland," but think of it as signifying the relationship of 'foresight' with the two battles of France, anyway.  Uploaded to Google Maps by user ch'caf, if I am understanding the Panoramio credit properly.

In 2004, Anthony G. Williams, "military technology historian," could stand the psychic pressure of words and ideas no longer. So he wrote a book. 

It is a self-published book, and has some weaknesses, but considering this "if-you-liked-The-Foresight War-you-might-like-this" book was brought out by Random House,  I am going to cut Anthony G. Williams. His focus on military technology is no secret (his website), and the conventions of the genre dictate that you can only write a book about how a modern day person mysteriously transported back in time Changes Everything if you put in a novel format, with the classic of the genre, Lest Darkness Fall suggesting that you can go light on what in other subgenres can detract from the meat of the story. (You know, kissing and fashion and girl-cootie stuff.) 

So it's not like I am going to pick on Williams because his characterisation is weak. Nor am I going to pick nits about the story. (A junior academic wakes up in a semi-furnished flat one morning with his clothes and laptop. He gets up, sees the Crystal Palace, and realises that he has mysteriously travelled in time to 1934. Naturally, he heads off to see Henry Tizard and convinces the Government's official scientific advisor of his bona fides with his digital watch --as opposed to everything he's wearing-- and toute de suite we're on to re-fighting WWII. 

I am going to pick on him for something else. The Battle of France is kind of highlighted here, but the Blog Author is reaching for one of those Hey-Look-At-The-Important Issues-This-Book-Inadvertently-Raises posts. Which will hopefully be done in time for him to spend some time in the library. I hope I get there, and that the psychic pressure of ideas does not lead me too far astray.