Friday, July 24, 2015

Postblogging Technology, June 1945, I: The Inventors

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

Dearest Father:

What a relief! First, the war in Europe is well and definitively over. Second, I am  not to be repudiated by the family! I cannot thank you enough for your support in the matter of assistance. I wish that Uncle George were here, since it strikes me that some naval architectural advice would go far to alleviating the risks involved. The last thing the family would want is another 'white slavery' fiasco. The number of elders of the community determined to provide their grandsons with picture brides is amazing to me, but what am I to say? I shall have to bring up the matter of support and novel ventures again in a moment, but the whole thing is so strange that I shall leave you on the hooks for a moment!

Oh, I am sorry, my manners! I hope that the war finds you well in Australia. One would think that it would! My latest letters from Uncle George and James breathe relief at the end of the dreadful Ryukyus campaign, while it increasingly looks as though the Australian project will come to nothing. While I do not know much about strategy and diplomacy other than what I read in the papers, it seems as though we must look forward to a Japanese peace before my time, the turn of the leaves, or the arrival of British bombers in Okinawa. Next year in California!

"Miss V.C." has gone to the Couer d'Alene house for an extended stay, promising to be on the train the moment she hears of my confinement. She wants to thoroughly investigate the papers there, and has promised in return to supervise some long-pending modernising. Indoor plumbing and replacing the wiring to support something more robust than 60 watt lightbulbs in every room might be a bit much to ask given the lack of labour, but I have a promising lead on an electric furnace, a suitable appliance for the new main we must have anyway --we can then have either radiant heat in the rooms when the house is wired, or persist with the forced air ducting, although it is much too big, I am told, for that to work out well. The same excavation (or wire hanging) can then bring in a  telephone, very much overdue. 

Miss v. Q is in a tizzy over the expected confinements, but much soothed by her rapid progress towards an American driver's license, which apparently she simply must have for teaching in the fall, as life on the Berkeley campus would be, I am told, unthinkable without it. There is also talk of a business visit to a country house in Virginia known to Lieutenant A. --near Washington, I am told with a juvenile wink--. The Lieutenant is here and there and on about the country with manic energy since Wong Lee's little adventure, and not least where "Miss V.C.' is to be found. Although if I find him to be doing the Engineer's business, I shall be cross!

Returning to Miss v. Q., I am not so naive as to wonder whether she needs quite as much practice driving as she claims, but it is a beautiful summer here, and there is so much to see, and Professor K. has invited her to the Napa house several times already. He thinks her a good influence on Miss K., who chatters on about everything except what the good Professor things a young lass should be concerned with. Miss v. Q. takes a more tolerant view, which puts her on good terms with both.   And she does need distraction.

On the matter of her beloved, in so much more danger than mine, we have good news. Our new agent has returned from his voyage to Vladivostok with the package, a heavy bundle of prewar banknotes, carefully concealed with all of Fat Chow's art. I have passed it on to Cousin E., with strict instructions that Uncle Henry is to buy ten year bonds with it, which seems a long enough time frame for the Oahu project. No car factories, steel mills, airports, flying boats, hospitals, or other brainstorms, in other words! It is distressing to think that we are securing the money of the same clans whose sons now aim their aircraft at my beloved's ships, but they are old, old partners. 

Now, the bizarre matter: we have placed a great deal of trust in our new agent, and, of course, he wants something more than money, or he would have taken his chances in stealing our package! Specifically, he wants to be a science fiction writer. I am no judge of literary merit, but he seems more than talented enough by the standards of the competition, although your youngest writes from Michigan that he is put off by the man's style. On the other hand, a striking and odd style is, I am told, apt to gather a devoted following if delivered well. This said, using family influence to secure a placement in some odd literary magazine would be a spectacular waste of effort. I am open to suggestions.

Finally, with the letter, a puzzled note from Fat Chow, who has been approached to reactivate his pretended role as an exiled Kalmyk prince. Something is going on in far Sinkiang. I assume that it is just a matter of the Russians muscling in, but I can't help recalling Sir Eric's assassination. 


A cloverleaf! How romantic.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Fall of France, XI: Nimrods All the Way Down

This rubs me the wrong way. I'm not sure the subtext is as pro-Nazi as I perceive it to be, but, for me, the perception is there. 

Now, this?

I'd explain in detail, but it wouldn't be Very Serious and Scholarly. So here's the Wikipedia links. Jump on board if Clobbering Time's your thing. 1, 2, 34.*

No more obliqueness. It's time to Put a Clobbering on Global Warming!

Never mind. That's probably getting too non-oblique, far too many leaps of logic all at once. I'm talking here about counterfactuals of 1940. I've done so before, in a whimsical way. Some time later, I returned to the subject when provoked by one of those books that manages to be usefully and provocatively wrong. The Foresight War is a "counterfactual" of World War II which, inexplicably, gets the British Expeditionary Force out of the Battle of France, while focussing on important prewar changes to the interwar trajectory. You know, like getting it an assault rifle. 

I have danced around the real counterfactual before, although I can't find it in my older posts in the time I am willing to commit to the exercise, and, anyway, it is a really, really simple point that bears repeating.

On 10 May 1940, when the balloon went up, there were 7 infantry divisions under the BEF, plus one in strategic reserve in France, plus one rotated under French command in the Maginot Line garrison, plus three divisions brought over as for construction work, plus one created new during the fighting from reinforcement depot troops. Depending on who you're blowing smoke for, you might get away with saying that the BEF actually present in France on the day that the German offensive began was 7 divisions, or 12. Or, heck, 13. I think it's perfectly fair for a historian of the German army to focus on the latter. After all, some of the attacking German armies were at least as unready to fight as the "labour" divisions called into the line to join the BEF. If, on the other hand, you want to emphasise just how small the British land contribution was, the "7" number is equally useful. Even if the GHQ-bound 5th Division was released to the BEF the moment the fighting started, the fact is that on 9 May, the GHQ in Arras thought that it was going to lose the division to a peripheral fight in Norway, and the details of its return to the fight had a disproportionate impact on the BEF's mobile forces.**

The point being made by the latter strawman is that Britain, because it was "small," or because it had a large navy, or because of Culture or as a Matter of Historical and Political Tradition (Cromwell! Boo!), just couldn't have a sufficiently large army to influence matters on the continent. It was pointless to try, and the optimum strategy in Avalon Hill's Third Reich, which is (I'm told) to send the entire BEF to Egypt to wipe out the Italian Empire in North Africa, actually makes sense.

Enough delaying the counterfactual turn is after the cut.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Postblogging Technology, May 1945, II: There's a War On, For Your Information

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

Dearest Father:

I hope this letter finds you well, as I am fishing for a way to introduce the fact that I am sick as a dog. Do not worry about my condition, though, as it is only an unseasonal cold. I may be stuffed up, hacking and headachey, but the more important matters proceed normally.

Speaking of, fortified by as much codeine as my doctor would allow, I attended a dinner given for Wellington Koo by the Benevolent Associations last week, in the hopes of smoothing over our recent difficulties. Unfortunately, as we cannot trust all the ethnic press, I could not attend in the company of Wong Lee, and instead went as the guest of Professor K., while Wong Lee brought his daughter in law and Miss v. Q, which unfortunately did not save me from a most unpleasant conversation with Madame Y., in which she took quite malicious pleasure in insulting me to my face in Mandarin in the presence of the China Times correspondent. It did not help that I am sure that I saw Miss v. Q. being forced to suppress a giggle.

Although if I can look past my humiliation, Madame Y. was witty as well as obnoxious. Ah, well. I shall have my revenge some day, and I am impressed at how quickly Miss v. Q. picks up the language --as well as how quickly Mrs. Wong grows round, especially as our dates are only weeks apart.

But you have no time to hear about my social struggles. I sent Wong Lee away after the banquet, and met with the revered elders privately aftewards, and, I hope, made good by lavish promises of postwar travel assistance. I am afraid that I gave away far more seats than the Peru route will take, so, that if we meet my promises, we must move people on the liners again, unless someone comes up with a better idea than your youngest's suggestion of flying them in. I beg your indulgence in this, as though I had the family's permission in advance, I went, perhaps, too far, and must ask you to explain my actions to the Earl and Uncle George.

As for other fronts of barely-concealed domestic hostility, I had a visit from the Engineer's son and Lieutenant A., who pulled up at the house in a roadster even before the party had ended. It's perplexing. They were on the road far too early to have any expectatatin of arriving comfortably "too late," and they assure me that our phone lines are tapped, and that this was the only way that they could reach me with a warning about a scheme of which they had only heard the previous day.

I am less than convinced, and the man looked distinctly down-at-mouth when pressed as to whether his father was also ignorant of the attempt until too late. It could be acting --he is an actor, although of course not a very good one, it is said. I remain torn. I don't like him, but he is just so easily likable, and I do feel for anyone who has to bear with being the illegitimate offspring of a man like the Engineer.

The young lieutenant had a little more grace. He was the one who sought Wong Lee's help in the "black bag" job in the first place, and apparently Wong Lee's team delivered. While I am at a loss as to what some pre-encryption blanks of "book-to-book" cables are going to profit the FBI, or the Army, or the Navy, or whoever was behind this in the end, they think that it is important. so the knowledge that someone used Wong Lee's distraction to attempt to assassinate Great Uncle might touch the consciences of such as are involved who might have one. At least, I am very tempted to complain to Chester. I just do not know how much he has guessed about our family connections, and it might do more harm than good.

On the bright side, your boy is at last safely away in Michigan, even managing to find a minute to phone us at the house for a minute to let us know that he had arrived safely. I shall have to call the phone company about that, though, as the reversed charges for some reason show that he spent thirty minutes on the line to California that night, and that's an enormous amount of money to write off as a clerical error.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Too Late, No One Cares: Grexiting the Late Bronze Age: The Case for Not Everyone Dying in the Process

Again, it is worth pointing out a theory. (That theory is not, as you might suppose, that Erik is too lazy to work on "Techblogging May, 1945, II, today." I have very important reasons for putting that off to the end of the week. Important, I say!) 

As late as the end of the first third of the Nineteenth Century, travellers to Greece were struck by the way that the lowland ports where they debarked their ships in search of the lost landmarks of Antiquity, Pausanias in hand, were tent cities. The "homes" of the Greek peasantry lay elsewhere, up high in the cool mountain heights.

There, for the most part, Pausanias did not go, and neither did the travellers. Mystras, near Sparta, was too famous to ignore, and the Acrocorinth was a good, stiff walk above that city. But as for the heights of Ithome or Ypati, the town travellers were prone to confuse with ancient Thebes, as Mystras was confused with Sparta.

The theory is that our Antiquity-centred view of Greece focusses on the coastal plains which are the most agriculturally productive under a regime of commercial agriculture focussing on the production of crops such as olives for export. What we are seeing in the Nineteenth Century is a resumption of that kind of agricultural economy in Greece under the stimulus of foreign demand, a "return to the plains." 

Here's another take. Ruins, high politics, a past disowned.

Time has not been kind to Nebhepetre Mentuhotep's House of a Million Years. (Though the modern reconstruction is spectacular.) The founder of the Middle Kingdom occupies an odd place in the history of Greece. If you believe Martin Bernal, he is the founder of a great Egyptian empire which colonises Greece. If you don't (and, frankly, you shouldn't), he is the founder of a great state that ought to have exerted a considerable influence on Greece. Hints that the Middle Kingdom did just that can then be heaped up into a mountain of inference that takes you back to Bernal and Black Athena.

But never mind that, because having given credit where credit is due, the issue with the mortuary complex at Deir-al-Bahani is not the distant days of 2000BC, but a tomb, carefully cut into the southern face of the cliffs near the ancient mortuary complex and subsequent additions. Here, some time shortly after 969BC, a priestly clan reburied the mummies of 40 pharoahs of the New Kingdom, removed from their original tombs. A little later, they added the mummies of 150 high priests. To hear them explain themselves, the descendents and followers of high priest Pinedjem I were doing the honly thing they could  to protect the treasures of the pharoahs from relentless tomb robbers. But careful examination of the unfinished tomb of Ramesses XI  reveals that the Pinedjemists used the site to process tomb furniture from these burials into more conveniently, shall we say, disposable, forms? It seems like a pretty disrespectful way to treat the pharaoh, but at the end of the period known as the Suppression, probably exactly as dark and sinister in fact as it sounds in retrospect, the victors were probably not long on respect for the late ruler. 

It suffices to point out that most of the treasure buried in the tombs of Egypt for the eternal profit of the Two Lands was brought back into circulation about 950BC, and not by the tomb raiders who are conventionally blamed, but by the authorities who ostensibly fought them. The period of Egyptian history after c. 950BC gets little attention from Egyptologists. The country is ruled by Libyans and Kushites and even Assyrians and Persians and Greeks, and once you have foreigners in charge, the next step is miscegenation, followed by race mixing, followed by...

I'm sorry, I just got unaccountably aroused appalled by my chain of thought. Anyway, point is, this sort of stuff is bad and wrong and bad, so that even if all the archaeological evidence would seem to suggest a period of unprecedented prosperity, culminating with the Ptolemies, the most nearly world-hegeomic of all Egyptian regimes great power regime we can be sure that Egypt was, in some more  "in decline." Enough of Egypt! The torch has been passed, to the splendour that was Athens, the glory that was Sparta.  That's a Not-Safe-for-Mental-Health link there, by the way.

Only can we just, for a second, please not?