Friday, November 28, 2014

Postblogging Technology, October 1944, II: Forth From the Land of Mystery


I'm scratching this out in the Admiral's wardroom right now, waiting to hear what's to come of me. Mr. Tay, I guess I should say, Commander C_, is going to make sure this gets to you. You've got to make sure it gets to Queenie. You choose what to tell Mom and Dad about Queenie and me... I know that's an awful lot to ask of you, but . . .there's a bun in the oven. I can't believe I went and wrote that. To my Little Sis, too! But we was going to make it honest in Sydney next month, anyway, before she starts to show, and it's not like everyone wouldn't figure what's what from that! Now I have to worry that it won't happen if ....

If I go up on charges, I mean. I don't think I will, Honest Injun. Just call it night effect, and let it go. It's just this waiting's got me down. Stumpy's a good man, but you could say I near got his whole squadron sunk, and if you buy that, maybe I had something to do with the awful pounding Taffy 3 took. It's --I should explain. Here's the Japs, pagoda masts and all, steaming over the horizon, and not one of our battlewagons in sight. I thought  I could maybe scare them off by broadcasting my recording of New Jersey's Talk Between Ships chatter. That's high frequency stuff, so short-ranged, so if the Japs had their ears on, I thought, they'd figure Third Fleet was just over the horizon and hightail it. So much for that idea! They started to chase Taffy 3, instead. Well, I...There was a whole amphibious fleet in the anchorage, and I had to think about them, too. That's what wearing this uniform means, Suzie. We're just a bunch of tin cans and freighters with flight decks built over them. Every Jap shell we took, the G.I.s wouldn't. Turned out okay --I Anyway, if I'm in the stockade over this, I want Mom and Dad to take care of Queenie and the baby. If I'm not, I guess this is the official announcement? Congrats, Suzie. You're going to be an aunt.

Your brother, Tommy.

Wing Commander R_. C_. RCAFVR, DFC (Bar)
L_. House,
Isle of Axholme,
Dear Sir:
I attach a fair copy of a most interesting letter which I have received through private channels in Honolulu. I suspect, given the trouble you took to arrange Miss Leung's posting ("indispensable language skills," indeed!), that you are not going to be surprised that there were consequences. Please allow me to assist in any way I can when you field her parents'  complaints. Whatever their other concerns (am I being a bad daughter-in-law, imagining you smirking and raising a glass?), they will certainly not be able to travel to Australia for the wedding! 
Nor is this at all the final word on excitements resulting from the recent fighting in the Philippines. You will recall that we travelled to Honolulu with the ill-formed intention of confronting Lieutenant A_., and, I don't know, knocking him over the head or some such, and then making off with the briefcase in which he was reportedly carrying the Hudson Bay Company indenture book which the Engineer has promised to Uncle George's friend's employer, they of the ridiculous "morals" clause.
And, yes, I did have a somewhat more concrete plan, but one which did not survive contact with --not the enemy, but the wayward heart of a teenage girl. Here I had an assurance from "Miss V.C." that she would wield her feminine charms in our service. Lieutenant A. could see her again --if he gave up the book. I mean, look at the photos you have of the young lady! How far could the bonds of old family loyalties stand up to such strains? 
Then, the night before the embargo was lifted, I got a flat refusal! She was conflicted. Things were "complicated." Complications my matronly d-r-e, pardon my French. So, a day or two not much to be lost, as much as I longed to be back with my darlings, I cut "Miss V.C." out from the crowd to take a moment to commune with ancestors via some horrible old air inter-island service. Or, alleged ancestors, given that, one, Paao never existed, two, if he existed, he came out of Kahiki in the distant past, not 1745, and, three, that even if one stipulates the first two, oh, never mind, I am digressing again. Still, alleged ancestors are alleged ancestors, and the great whale temple is real enough, picturesque in its bloody way, and perfect to pump out the girl's real concern. Which, not surprisingly in a nineteen year-old, is that she is romantically torn and doesn't want to make promises to the Lieutenant that would hurt this oh-so mysterious other swain.

So there we were, in a lounge in Chester's headquarters, with no better plan in mind than taking Lieutenant A_. by the ear and boxing some sense into him. Fortunately, he fairly dripped anxiety (rancid anxiety in the Hawaiian heat, because he is a twenty-one year old), and who should come to the rescue by our housekeeper, who cozens the cause out of him --a message just sent to the Admiral.
A glance at the message (la, we are in violating security --someone tell Congress!) shows that Lieutenant A. had abused his position to slant the message as a very public insult to the Admiral. Shamefacedly, he admitted to doing it at the Engineer's behest. 

Now, if this were a pulp novel of the kind that Mr. Rohmer loves to write, it would all come together. Of course, it is not a novel. (If anything, it is one of those overly prolix newspaper comic strips that go on and on.) The Engineer, I do not doubt, thought that he was procuring a nasty little setback to the Fleet that would redound on the President's re-election chances. Had the Admiral not already arranged that on his own, the Engineer's plotting might even have had that effect. Not likely, though, as he is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. (You can say that to the Earl!). Instead, we soon discovered, the Japanese were even more inept than the Admiral, so that all is well. As for our matters, a single arched eyebrow served for a threat of discovery, and the briefcase, precious old indenture book and all, were handed over. No more evidence that Uncle George's friend has contracted a marriage across race lines, no more fear of a counter-action when he breaks his contract. Not that he would have proceeded, anyway, had he been threatened with such publicity. 


Monday, November 17, 2014

On Debt: Hearts of Oak, I

Reader Alex writes: "So, is there any big economic news shortly after Anson's return and paying-off? You probably want a top-down identification of a signature to go with your bottom-up analysis."

Excellent question! But so as not to inflict you with an eye-glazing wall of words (that's for below the cut!) and images over the sidebar, let's go root through Youtube for a version of "Hearts of Oak" that's not completely awful!

That was educational. I really didn't want to go to all Last Night of the Prom here, but that's what I ended up with. There are no versions of "Hearts of Oak" that aren't, well... . You'd think that if "Leaving of Liverpool" could get all those reinterpretations, someone would have produced a version of "Hearts of Oak." But, well, no. "Leaving of Liverpool" turns out to not be a good indicator. Maybe it's the connection with California, even if it's repurposed from a years-long haul around the Horn for wheat at Astoria and gold at San Francisco into narcissistic voyages into the  heart of celebrity? Oh, sorry. I think I'm supposed to take the authenticity of the Pogues at face value. Well, fuck it. (As the Pogues would say.) My niece used to love the Shamrocks, and that's where I prefer to go.

Though I'll at least acknowledge that Ted Leo and the Pharmacists and Knights One are trying to do something different with the, uhm, intellectual property. I will def bear you guys in mind the next time I'm 17 and dropping Molly.  

So that's "Hearts of Oak," for the relevance of which I do not have to make strained arguments, although I will. After all, Alex's question starts with a navy thing, then takes us to that weirdest branch of early modern history, financial history. In 1967, Peter George Muir Dickson wrote The Financial Revolution in England: A Study of the Development of Public Credit in England, 1688--1756 [1968].  So that's the book that I was hunting up and placing in context at the University of British Columbia Library. by placing in context, I meant that I want to pair it with two "natural" companions, Robert Albion's Forests and Sea Power

and D. W. Jones' War and Economy in the Age of William III and Marlborough. Dickson is the book the reader will probably recognise. Jones is obscure, but a natural companion. Forests and Sea Power, on its face, not so much.

So that's the strained argument. We can't leave oak at the docks as we climb up to the Treasury and matters financial. It will stick with us, but, for the moment at least, on to Dickson. We know him as the great source, much to be gestured at, and, perhaps, cautiously lifted and cracked open, even read, for a page or three before left to sit. In that he's like Albion, on about forestry, and Jones, worried about the price of silver in Amsterdam. Which is to say, we have a vague idea that these things are important, are overwhelmed by their reality, and in the end would much rather wave at them than read them. Also, they're all three of them about the last decade of the Seventeenth and the Eighteenth Century, and they are implicitly about the Greater London Area. So they do have a lot in common right there.

A tangent here that's not really a tangent. It's hard to buy a non-burger-related lunch on UBC's Point Grey campus on a Sunday afternoon right now. I ended up walking a bit further than I expected, right through the corner of West Mall and Chancellor Boulevard, which I remember as being dominated by the student union building, War Memorial Gym, and the swimming pool, with lots of room left over for a bus loop, a grassy knoll, and the gigantic grassy sward of Back Campus. Now it's the site of four new buildings going up more-or-less-simultaneously.

It's got uglier since.

Of course I am going to complain about it. That's what old people do.  I don't think my case is without merit, though. When I enrolled at UBC, way back in 1982, total enrollment was 34,000. Enrollment peaked at 68,000, including an Interior campus at Kelowna, and has since fallen to 49,000, which, subtract the Kelowna campus, is 41,000, a 20% increase since 1982. Meanwhile, if I type "albion forests seapower" into the keyword search block, I will come up with a "no hits" return, because the title gives it as "sea power." Then, once I fix that, I have to pull the book out of the compact storage, because when they rebuilt Main Library on its old footprint, they had no room for book stacks, the space being instead given over to acres of, well, I guess they must be class rooms, even if I am not seeing the need.

The not-tangent part of this isn't so much that the libraries have not exactly kept pace with the growth of the physical infrastructure, but rather the reverse, that something deeper is going on. In physical terms, since Dickson and Albion, though not Jones, turned out to be compact storage in another building, I did a quick shelf scan of the spot where Dickson should be. And there, in the midst of a column of book shelves groaning with titles like Debt Crisis in the Third World, I find one wafer-thin book, Henry Roseveare, The Financial Revolution, 1660—1760 (London: Longman, 1991), a "Dickson for dummies," which can be even further shortened to something like this: the government of the United Kingdom borrowed every penny offered it in the course of its endless Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century wars, eventually ending up with a public debt vastly larger than its GDP. In spite of this, the British economy proceeded to grow very quickly, for very many years. Roseveare states the key facts much more succinctly and forcefully than Dickson does, and thanks for that, but there's a sense in which just the placement of his book tells us more than we need to know.

 The very big, very serious books that frame Roseveare on the open shelves probably do not disagree with him very much. There is nothing like a scholarly consensus that public debt is a bad thing that should be always and everywhere avoided. The thing is that people don't read books like Dickson. They wave at them. That shelf, full of big, serious books with serious, black bindings and DEBT on the spine, is as scary as a graveyard. 

We live in a world of contracting public debt --at least in Canada. We also live in a world in which there is a campus full of shiny new buildings in progress, and where library function is in full retreat. It is getting harder and harder to put your hands to actual books to read, which would be a great deal less frightening if it were getting easier to put your hands on electronic books instead. But it's not. It is almost as though falling public debt is a bad thing, in the same way that rising public debt turned out to be a good thing. That can't be a bald statement, though. We need to find out what kind of debt, and when.

Before I hit the jump, a last apology for getting a bit eccentric here, but the title of the blog announces it. A post on Bench Grass --even one about public debt in the Eighteenth Century-- wants to start with the upland pasture country south of London. 

The Weald of Sussex, ladies and gentlemen.  

Source: National Trust Prints available

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Techblogging October, 1944, I: Back to the Beginning, I

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

Dear Sir:

You may be surprised to have this missive from Santa Clara rather than Honolulu, but before we flee such winter as northern California (or October) has to offer for the sunny climes of Hawaii, we have word of obstacles to our progress.

First, Lieutenant A., with the surpassing silliness of a young man, is carrying the vital documents on his person at all times. Once again I wince with embarrassment at how much damage those awful novels have done our family by so exaggerating our powers. If I could send master assassins equipped with the poisonous fruit of Oriental knowledge, you know that I would.

Well, I might actually hesitate, fearing recriminations from our little housekeeper and "Miss V.C." It amazes me that they maintain such a friendly relationship when they are romantic rivals. Unless. . .No, I shan't finish that thought just now. It would just be too perfect. Though I will arrange to have our housekeeper along with us in Hawaii. Let it only be said that I have more arrows in my quiver than one in appealing to the young lieutenant's better nature. Since, much as I would enjoy it, I can hardly unleash assassins against him under Admiral Nimitz's roof!

 In any case, the documents are on the young man's person, and it turns out that the Pacific Headquarters are to be embargoed imminently. I have it on good authority that the embargo will be lifted on the eighteenth, after which we will be able to approach him there, given introductions which I am sure I can arrange. But you must not breathe not a word of this, lest Japan's spies in Lincolnshire succeed in discovering the date of the invasion of the Philippines, where her legion in Honolulu has failed.

So our departure is delayed, and, our young people have to buckle down to their studies. I have not had to be polite to the Engineer, because for a miracle Uncle Henry has not seen fit to entertain us. Fontana is, at least for the moment, on the back burner as he entertains his dreams of mass-produced helicopters. Not that the current breed of helicopter enthusiast is much better than the Engineer! I long for the whole project to collapse (which is probably what is going to happen, of course), just so that my old age is spared anything so awful as the current Ford Motor Company advertising campaign that relentlessly attempts to persuade Fortune readers that Henry Ford invented the gas engine, or the  assembly line, or good wages.  I suppose that he could make a case for inventing cheek, but this has little to do with the helicopter-mongers and their outrageous hyperbole.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Battle of San Bernardino Strait

At the first light of dawn on Wednesday, 1 July 1744 (New Style), at the western mouth of the Strait of Saint Bernard, between the islands of Luzon and Samar, the Acapulco galleon, Our Lady of Covadonga, caught sight of the Centurion battleship, Captain and Commodore George Anson, commanding.  In these waters,  San Juan de Letran had run aground after its heroic, two year mission to chart the Philippines and create a western --or eastern-- outpost of the Spanish Empire. Narrow and treacherous, they were the worst possible place to find a pirate. Our Lady of Cabadonga's luck had run out.