Friday, May 29, 2015

Postblogging Technology, April 1945, II: Headaches and Hope

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

Dear Father:

I write you in these sad and trying times from what might as well, for this month at least, be the capital of the world. For tonight I am staying in the Grant Avenue rooms, it being far too late to take the drive down to Santa Clara after being presented in a receiving line to the American delegation. I have taken the liberty of finishing up this letter, as I cannot sleep. 

Thus you know that all of this comes to you from my pen a month after the death of the President, even though that tragic event is in the ambit of this letter, and I am plunged back into my feelings of that time, which I omitted from the last letter, out of some misplaced sense of the historical importance of keeping things in their  place.

Oh, what am I saying? That my last letter was cold because I didn't want to confuse a grandchild reading these letters, as I sometimes read your father's? That this letter comes to you with a month passed, to let the President's death recede in the rear view mirror? That I have some excuse to write of things economical and political and technological, and not simply my feelings? It was so easy to adopt Uncle George's cynicism as an observer of the press's ever so careful handling of the President's health over the last year while he was still with us. Now that he is dead, it is like a death in the family, as so many people have said. It is made the worse for me by his being taken from us by the same illness that took my Mama and left poor Father a widower at 40. 

But enough of this. I am not away from my darlings lightly, as you know, and I was not in the city only to play a second-rate Scarlett O'Hara. The conference is well on, and it has been suggested that we might throw some events in this building as well as at Arcadia. I am ambivalent about this. The Brotherhood can find places for our longterm tenants, I am sure, but they are fragile and old, and lonely. They would not be living here if they had families to take care of them, and any deaths of broken heats would reflect horribly on us in the community. The last thing I want is for Grant Avenue to be angry with us!

I also have to think very carefully about what kind of events I want to stage at a Benevolent Association hall in Chinatown! I have already had to ask the builders to take down the gate at Arcadia. I have a suspicion that we shall have guests at the ball tomorrow night who can not only read the legend, but make the connection between世外桃源 and "Arcadia." I'm being paranoid in thinking that this will be enough to lead to the leap of associations with Shugborough, but there are enough navy men around the city that stories of Jame's parentage might be heard 

Appearing out of thin air is the Rose of Allandale, which has made harbour at Oakland instead of San Diego due to engine trouble. I am told that Du's men were not aboard, however. I might even look into it on my way back to Santa Clara tomorrow, as I have promised to stop in at Uncle Henry's. He is in a sulk, as he had promised someone that he would have the Engineer as a "get," and now the blasted man has decided to spend the season in New York, giving the Conference the shoulder and besieging the White House for attention.

(It has also not escaped my attention that after a . . .vigorous. . . interview with Father, Mr. Donald has accompanied some officers of MacArthur's family to New York.)

To be fair, he is not a black-hearted man, and that, combined with his natural conceit, probably has him thinking that he is just the fellow to feed the  hungry of Europe again, no UNRRA needed. He has left his (favoured) son in charge. Which reminds me that he apparently telephoned the ranch house this morning looking for me. The housekeeper tells me that he sounded agitated, but wouldn't leave a message. 

I hope that it wasn't about our "anthropology" ball.  

And with that I must put this to rest, as it is late, and I must leave early tomorrow, and be up very late indeed. Wong Lee's black bag operation is going to very extended, and he has repeatedly urged me to have an iron-clad alibi from its first minute to its last, and I really should listen to the voice of cautious experience. The "naval" GRU is apparently very amateurish, but it would be arrogant to underestimate them. And I certainly want to be fresh for the party. 


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)