Sunday, August 28, 2016

Postblogging Technology, July 1946, II: Accumulated Negligence

General Delivery,
Nakusp, Canada

Dear Father:

As you can see from the news, we've come off a lot more lightly than we deserve this week. First of all, the Redin trial ended in a "Not Guilty" verdict, and the Lieutenant off to Moscow, none apparently the wiser, and especially not his wife. The last thing we want the Cheka to hear is that the Benevolent Association was interested in placing their own as cleaners of the safe room at the consulate, as it might lead them to realise . . Well, you know. 

Admittedly, the way that the Red-baiters are running amok this week (Implying that Colonel Roosevelt is a Communist? Seriously?), I feel a little guilty about abetting the Director's work. On the other hand, we've given him a tool to find actual facts, as opposed to allegations.

The other big news is that the Maritime Commission didn't keep any records for Congress to turn up. That's it, I say, case closed. Nothing to be done here, time to close that book and move on! And, speaking of money in the pocket, waiting to be spent, what do you think of this whole atomic power thing? Chances are that General Electric will dominate the field, so that we are already as invested as we can be. On the other hand, there's a possibility of another Airresearch story, where a small company becomes --I hope-- a big one on the strength of being first in the field. (There's still the matter of investing when the company isn't ready to offer stocks, but that is why there are private contacts.) 

Thank you for the reservations, by the way. I was afraid to make them myself, lest I lead Soong men to my Father, and not only are your arrangements clever, I have loved the Peninsula since the last time I stayed there. No doubt I shall have bittersweet moments after four years of occupation, but the twins will have no memories of better days to hold up against the shabbiness of the postwar city. Sadly, they will probably have no memories at all, but with the risks that Father is taking, best that he see his grandchildren when he has the chance.  

Speaking of Fatheris interest, is there any word  about Kuan's placement at Cambridge? Surely something can be done, and while the Earl is reluctant to admit defeat, I think that he has blundered into some kind of difficulty with the cousins. I know that you cannot exactly fly over to London right now, but perhaps you have your own resources, less tied to the old feud? His aunt is enormously disappointed that he was not able to get in, and Father would very much like to stand well in her eyes.


Someone might take this as an oblique criticism of the mistake that led me to think that I had the weekend off until 5PM on Thursday night. Someone else might take that sentence to be a bit passive-aggressive.

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.