This is one of those tangles that doesn't really have a starting point as such, so I'm going to begin with a Sixteenth Century Venetian historian, Niccolo Zeno, who in 1558 published a series of letters between one of his ancestors, and his brothers. They described various exciting adventures in vaguely located Atlantic islands, back at the turn of the Fifteenth Century. (The best known of the brothers was a Venetian naval hero active in 1400.) This was an exciting era on the triple borderland between Christianity and Islam, the known world and unknown. It was full of Christian adventurers in Muslim lands, Muslim adventurers in Christian; Of converts both ways, both paladins and saints; and of little taifa states trailing down the coast of what the kings of Morocco declined to allow to be Morocco out of their commitment to the inland caravan trails.
Of course, it was also an age of entertaining fictions about the same, and as far as we can tell, that's what the Zeno letters were. That is not, however, what Johann Reinhard Foerster, Calvinist divine and former naturalist on James Cook's first Pacific voyage thought when he encountered the letters, mainly because he fastened on a supporting character in the colourful story, one Prince Zichmni, which Foerster decided was a Venetian attempt to render "Sinclair." This would be an odd error on a late medieval Venetian's part, inasmuch as "Sinclair is just a Scottish form of "Saint Clare," and Santa Clara of Assisi, founder of the Poor Claires, is perfectly well rendered into Italian as Santa Clara.
Foerster's error, if error it was, isn't actually that hard to understand --now that we have Google. The Sinclairs of Greenland and Rattar are an extremely obscure branch of a Scottish noble house that became extinct in 1784. Short of pouring through old genealogies no Nineteenth or Twentieth Century reader is likely to have heard of them before the rise of Google's awesome powers of aggregation. On the other hand, the extinction of the house, which involved its last heir committing suicide in London at the age of 33 two years after being "wounded in the groin" while reconnoitering the works at Yorktown in the company of Lord Cornwallis is not a story that anyone, or, at least, any man, who was alive at the time was likely to be forget!
So Foerster probably had "John Sinclair,Seventh and Last Lord of Greenland and Rattar" on his mind when he encountered "Prince Zichmni." Foerster had no trouble finding a candidate "Prince Zichmni" in the Sinclair family line, albeit one two centuries before a branch of the family named itself for a farm estate in Caithness that, coincidentally, bore the same name as Greenland's icy mountains. Henry I Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Lord of Roslyn (c. 1345--c. 1405) was a Scottish/Norwegian nobleman from the strange era of Sottish/Norwegian condominium in the vaguely defined "Northern Islands" that, I guess, a particularly expansive mind might take to include Greenland and Vinland along with the Orkneys. Henry owed fealty to Scotland for minor properties in Lothan, and to Norway for the Orkneys. In respect to Norwegian affairs, he is recorded as a supporter of King Erik. As far as Good King Robert of Scotland was concerned, he was mainly known as a pest about his Lothian properties, and we might speculate, over the reversion of his wife's lands, which originally included the entire suppressed earldom of Strathearn. Then he was "cruelly killed" by invaders of the Orkneys who might have been English seafarers avenging an attack on an English fleet at Aberdeen by ravaging the Orkneys. The rest is pseudo-history, culminating in "Prince Henry" sailing all the way to Nova Scotia to build some matching New World structures to a classic puzzle-structure in the Old, Rosslyn Chapel, south of Edinburgh. It has to do with Knights Templars and the Holy Grail, you see.
This isn't actually where I started down the rabbit hole. That would be the claim that a Sinclair crest has been found on a tiny bit of jewelry recovered at a dig in Greenland. I don't know. I've been having trouble locating the story online, and if it's in Kirsten Seaver's Frozen Echo, I can't find that, either. (Not to worry, it'll show up on one of my shelves the moment I hit "Post.") It's all pretty irrelevant considering that the old Sinclair crest was a simple saltire cross, so it would be ridiculous to think that a signet ring (or whatever) with a saltire cross on it was a "Sinclair" piece and proof of the doings of Prince Zichnmi.
The issue is that I carried that factoid into my investigation of Arthur St. Clair, himself a fascinating figure in the primordial days of the plantation of North America, as he was the Governor of the Old Northwest (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan) in the earliest, pre-Constitution days of the American Republic, and yet is a surprisingly shadowy figure. I mean, there's almost four times as many people in Ohio as there are in British Columbia, and I cannot even begin to imagine how many graduate students at BC history departments would be on the trail of Sir James Douglas if there were half as many loose ends in that fascinating man's back story as there are in that of Arthur St. Clair!
(Because there weren't any big Christmas songs charting in December of 1950, although see below)
Whenever I put a hyphen after "Techno" in the titles to these appendices, I'm afraid that I will be too ambitious and ride of in all directions. But, c'mon. It's the Korean War. It's MASH and the war that Chuck Cunningham must have died in to traumatise his family so much they never even mentioned him again. It's a rich text!According to Wikipedia, John Clarence Woods was born in Wichita in 1911, enlisted in the US Navy the year he turned 18, went AWOL within months, was found too crazy for the navy, then worked as a general labourer until he was inducted into the army in August of 1943. Soon after he was allowed to volunteer as a hangman on the basis of a claim to have assisted at four hangings in Oklahoma and Texas that could have been disproved by even the slightest research. Sergeant Wood went on to botch at least 11 of the hangings he carried out for the Army (out of only 60 to 7) before he arrived in Nuremberg to add some Nazi war criminals to his list of the slowly strangulated. The Nuremberg trials! I have no words.But some anonymous US Army poets do (as reported by Janet Valentine):Hear the patter of running feet It's the old First Cav in full retreat They're moving on; they'll soon be gone They're haulin' ass, not savin' gas They'll soon be gone. Over on that hill there's a Russian tank A million Chinks are on my flank (Chorus) I'm movin' on, I'll soon be gone With my M-1 broke, it ain't no joke I'll soon be gone Million Chinks comin' through the pass Playin' burp-gun boogie all over my ass (Chorus) Standin' in a rice paddy up to my belly From then on, they called me "Smelly" (Chorus) I sung this song for the very last time Gonna get Korea off my mind I'm moving on; I'll soon be gone I done my time in the shit and slime I'm movin' on.("Well, if they go fast enough, maybe some of them will be home by Christmas" --General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, in unintentional irony)A Russian tank and a million "Chinese laundryman" to use the only slightly less racist language emanating from higher headquarters are on the flank, and it's time to bug out all the to the south bank of the Han. (The People's Volunteer Army deployed 6 corps comprising 18 understrength divisions against Eighth Army's 8 and two-thirds divisions, but whatever makes you feel better, man.)
The particular ordeal of the Ch'ongch'on River was a run through a "gauntlet" of enemy harassing fire through a highway cut where the Japanese-built road leaves the valley of the Ch'ongch'on to climb and then descend a bench before arriving in the town of Kunu-ri. Lacking any anti-armour weapons or even much artillery, PVA blocking forces couldn't lay down anything more than a harassing fire, but over the length of the roadblock, casualties were heavy, and broken-down soft-skinned vehicles blocked passage for artillery and heavy engineering equipment that was eventually abandoned to the enemy. Not for the first or last time in the Korean War, US troops suffered heavily for lack of armoured personnel carriers to move infantry and engineering troops, which brings me to my final and actually significant bit of US Army incompetence:
I hope I didn't give the wrong impression last week. I am not some daring aviatrix flying over the entire South Seas. I have just taken a few weekend jaunts to some islands here and there to meet with old friends of the family. It is so sedate that I have met Uncle George along the way! Of course I am trying to shore up the family's business, but my real motive is that it is so boring in Formosa with Reggie up flying around looking for Russian radio waves. (Not much sign of that, by the way.) As my boredom will solve itself soon, no-one needs to worry that I am about to crash the next generation into the vruel sea.
And with that protestation, I seem to have exhausted the space and time I have for this little note. I hope I don't sound too exasperated at my well-wishing relatives. I even hope to see some out Formosa way this winter!
From January through October of this year, and most especially through the Canadian lockdown, I helped operate a "corner store" concept for my company --4000 sq feet of grocery attached to a pharmacy in the Oakridge shopping mall. An unwelcome legacy of the old Oakridge store was a queue of items that had gone out of stock just before the old store shut off automatic replenishment. Unless we manually removed them from outgoing orders, we got a very eclectic set of items, again and again.
Yes, they included an item identified as kippered herring, although as far as I can tell it's not quite the same preparation as the kippered herring that comes in cans. These particular kippered herrings had to be stored frozen and cooked before eating. I bought a couple and they were . . okay. Products of the Scottish herring fishery, they are Relevant to events of today, as fishing rights come up under Brexit. Foreigners fish some fishing grounds in British waters, and it is perhaps a matter of urgency that they be made to stop. Because of conservation. Or jobs. The fact that the British are great fishers but terrible seafood enthusiasts is a very interesting subtext to the discussion, and perhaps a historical question of some significance.
Getting back to the fish I ate (not a normal part of my diet, either), Alison Mary Locker explains that these short-life preservation techniques came into vogue in Nineteenth Century London because the fish would last long enough to be distributed by costermonger, but didn't ask too much in the way of cooking equipment and time. She's probably not the only historian to explain such things, but, in comparison with agrarian history, there's a bit of shortage of fishing/salt industry historians. In spite of that, there's been some movement in the field in the last few decades, perhaps not entirely synthesised yet. (I keep finding references to Kurlansky's Salt in academic monographs. Surely if there was something less popular, it would be cited instead?)
Pretty cool and historical that the USAF specified that its 1956 fighters should be capable of remote control via the Sperry Zero Reader directing the autopilot, right? Hopelessly precious, to be sure, but even that is grist for the historian's mill. Anyway. What's a Zero Reader?
Stop giving me those pitying looks. I figured it out. The Sperry Zero Reader is just a flight director. I feel dumb not figuring it out, or at least not pursuing the question far enough to find someone to explain it lucidly.There's a little more to be said about its gyroscopic magic, and it wouldn't be Fifties-era militariana if it weren't a little sinister in a nuclear-holocaust-sort-of-way. I'm also going to touch base with a classic of history of technology, Donald MacKenzie's Inventing Accuracy. Looking back a generation later, it does seem to me that MacKenzie's pioneering work ought to have been the starting point of a historiography rather than all the profession has written on the subject. There's a lot going on here that historians could pull into perspective so that we could understand this world of ours before we run head on into slow motion disasters like the 737Max grounding.
I could get to love Hong Kong eventually! If it ever cools down. Best of all, my father threw an absolute fit over my refusing to book a ticket east the day after the war started. ("It's not safe," and "It's that boy!") Well, yes, Dad. It is the boy. You know, my fiance. Who has interests that need looking after whilst he is busy flying in the war. If "snooper" missions over the Straits of Formosa count as war, which I think they do! In fact, I'd like to be in Formosa, but apparently it's no place for an American girl. Of course, you don't want to know what the kind of people who say that, think of Hong Kong. Well, a big raspberry to them. Where else can you go out to a dim sum lunch with movie stars? And admittedly also pay for it, because Hong Kong movie stars can't afford dim sum.
Yes, these reports will continue to be written out of Time and Aviation Week for the foresseable future, as the sad days of normality from B.D, "Before Diphtheria," seem like they will never return.
In 1950's No Way Out, Sidney Poitier and Mildred Joanne Smith play nice Black hospital people who have to deal with a White racist criminal patient. Smith's promising career was cut short on 11 February, 1952, when she was aboard National Airlines Flight 101, a DC-6 departing Newark Airport, when, it suddenly began to veer left while losing altitude. Two minutes later, it clipped an apartment building and plunged into the ground, "narrowly missing an orphanage," says Wikipedia, and bursting into flames. Twenty-nine of 63 people aboard perished, along with another four from the apartment building. Smith survived, but with severe injuries, including a broken back.
The CAB determined that the cause of the accident was the accidental reversal of the propeller of the No. 3 engine. Coupled with the crew's mistaken decision to feather the No. 4 engine, Flight 101 was pretty much a brick. This was three weeks after the crash of an American Airlines Convair 240, with the loss of all onboard and two girls associated with the girl's school near which it crashed, and two months after the crash of a Miami Airlines Curtiss C-46 with the loss of all onboard, again with additional losses on the ground in spite of managing to crash into a warehouse district. Neither of the earlier two accidents go to the subject of this post, which overworked postwar airscrews, turbines, rotors and closely associated spinning things, but they are a pretty good reminder of just how dangerous postwar civil aviation actually was. Having the propellers of a major airliner be subject to three separate Airworthiness Directives in four years, warning of separation of neoprene layers in the propeller core, overspeeding, and engine overheating issues doesn't help. (That's the Stratocruiser, if you were wondering. The poor British taxpayer just can't catch a break.)
|Early jets tended to lack a bit of oomph coming off the runway.|
I've covered the outline of the early passenger jet here before. The De Havilland Comet seemed to have the market to itself at first, but then was pinched out by the Boeing 707, which was developed from a jet-powered tanker that the USAF eventually decided it needed to support its B-47 fleet. The Comet plays an important part in the British narrative that says that Britain's postwar aviation subsidy programme was a big waste of money. Meanwhile, the USAF order for 250 KC-135 Stratotankers cushioned Boeing's 707 project and suggests that Cold War military spending played an important role in the transition to jet transports.
But is there more to say about this? In a quiet week before, hopefully, the UBC Library reopens, I take my inspiration where I find it, and Brad DeLong has posted a lecture online suggesting that the historic expansion of the British economy through 1870 might have run up against a renewed Malthusian world but for a bunch of exogenous factors that accelerated "innovation."
It's modern economics latest surrender to the implacable grasp of the "free lunch" school of technological progress, according to which "innovation" comes from outside the economic process, and that the human species is forever vulnerable to a return to a Malthusian world of subsistence economics at any arbitrary level of technological achievement if we ever fail in our continuing propitiation of the mad gods of invention.
As, away back in May of 1950, the American aviation industry plays with the idea that a transition to jets is impossible, barring some kind of "socialist" intervention to pay the costs of developing a jetliner out of the taxpayers' pocket, I'm inclined to stop and meditate on exogeneity.
Here I am, back at my comfortable computer station in Vancouver, as from 9:40 last night. With the ergonomic issues --and the fatigue that comes from riding six hour+ stages-- I could write something more substantial, but I'm not going to, because I have a very small but personal matter in my teeth, and I am going to get it out!
A large part of high school Canadian history, at least in my day, was dedicated to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. I am not even sure that it is possible to argue that this is wrong, and offer a revisionist "People's History of Canada." It's not that there's not counter-narratives --that is, in fact, what I'll be writing about today-- but there is a very strong case that there would not be a Canada without the "iron road from the sea to the sea." I'm going to waffle all over that claim (I think it's wrong but am utterly unprepared to do the work needed to sustain a counterargument), but it's hard to argue against the economic and geographical logic.
|Hardrock miners on the porch of the Deadwood Store,|
Greenwood, BC, c. 1900. It's hard to understate how strong
the completely unexamined notion that white Britons were
the first "outsiders" in this province
Leaving everything else aside, there was a strong British Columbia connection to the generation that gave us this history, starting with Pierre Berton himself. For them, much of this argument was intuitive. It is hard to get from Vancouver to the interior of the province of British Columbia, and, more specifically, to travel between the Okanagan Valley and the Coast. For my grandfather's generation, you could take either I-95 or I-97 south until they joined away down south, at which point San Francisco --heck, Tijuana-- were as close as the other part of your native province, or the arduous but patriotic alternative of wagon road down the Fraser Canyon.
The Crow's Nest Highway, Number 3, along which I stumbled and bumbled on my vacation last summer presents the Hope-Princeton as the first challenge for the avid bicyclist out of Vancouver, and it is a pretty meaty one.
The way mountain roads are supposed to be, the road ascends a watercourse on one side, reaches the water parting at a "pass," and descends the other side. You might not know that the St. Bernard Pass is reached from a tributary of the Rhone that runs into Lake Geneva, on the one side, and a tributary of the Po on the other, but you know that's how it works.
The Hope-Princeton, on the other hand, ascends a left bank tributary of the Fraser, then switches to climb a significant hill to Sunshine Valley, of which I would have a vacation picture if my motel wireless were up to it.
|Stealing from Wikipedia is faster, and hardly a crime at all.|
The Valley in the Sunshine is carved by the Sumallo River, a tributary of the Skagit and of little consequence unless you live in Bellingham, Washington, where the Skagit enters Puget Sound.
From the end of the Sumallo/Skagit uplands, the highway ascends rapidly to the valley of the Similkameen, a tributary of the Okanagan, which falls into the Columbia far to the south in Washington State. Mount Allison summit, the highest on the route, marks the entry in the Columbia's enormous watershed, and since Princeton is on the Vermilion forks of the Similkameen, it's all downhill from there.
Or would be if the highway didn't depart the Similkameen and climb its merry way up Sugarloaf Sumnit in order to avoid some unspecified hold up in the valley of the river.
While I was not intellectually unaware of the existence of Sugarloaf Sunmit, I encountered it at 7:30 on Friday night, after departing Hope at 7:30 that morning. I summited, and made the hair raising glide down into Princeton in the dark (barring a few mild climbs that had me cursing the perversities of our sublunary world, but I only arrived at the Sandman Motel in Princeton at 9:45, after more than fourteen hours on the road.
Which is why this week's blog post is just me checking in to say that Keremeos is a very night place to catch 11 hours of sleep.
Well, it's definite. No Reds. Just like Uncle George said at Thanksgiving, the typhoons arrived before the Communists were ready for anything like an invasion across the Straits. We've had the first of the season and the Reds have gone for Hainan. We cacn count on no more South Seas invasions till at least, the Fall. At which point, if Hainan is any guide, it'll be curtains for Peanuts and the Koumintang. It's just too much to expect the northerners to cross the mountains in the summer and span the waters in one winter, and this island will be brought beneath communist Heaven under the eyes of the Goddess of Mercy.
Yes, I'm wasting a lot time around here shooting the breeze with practically everybody but Koumintang officers, including an old folk musician who is tickled that I want to hear the old Hakka songs that Uncle George butchers. I was going to share my version with Ronnie, but got the best glare you can give by trans-Pacific phone call, and fair enough when we're spending our retirement money on the calls.
So, around here, we haven't had a coup, we haven't had (much of a) purge, and we haven't had an invasion. We're all watching the invasion of Hainan, and everyone's calculation is about just when and how to jump. I've been firmly instructed to shut up and soldier (by Uncle George, not my CO, since I know you're worried). So all I can do is look forward to furlough in Hong Kong. I'm trying to wrangle a flight down to Singapore to see the other side. Ronnie's coming out in July, probably just before you, and there's rumblings that our subscriptions might be freed from the Post Office purgatory as soon as next month.
I know Mother will complain that she's not hearing from me when I have so much time, etc. So I've sent her a big long letter, regular post, with snapshots of picturesque Formosa. And then another one, and . . At that point, I decided to stifle myself, as I've been warned (by Uncle George), that loneliness and inactivity can loosen the tongue and make you say things you regret.
|Arnarstarpi on Snaefellsnes By The original uploader was Reykholt at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2860812|
I assume that the village of Arnarstapi has the best view of the spectacular cone of Snaefellsjokul, at the tip of the Snaeffellsnes peninsula,. At least. this photograph is far more impressive than the one that illustrates the article for Helgafell,the place where Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir is said to have been buried, and, where, more importantly, the medieval monastery of Helgafell was located. It seems at least likely that both the Flateyjarbok and the Skaholtsbok were produced at Helgafell; although even if not they were both produced in the diocese of Skalholt a generation before. This makes the Helgafell scriptorium the only source for one of the two Vinland Sagas (The Greenlanders' Saga), and probably one of only two sources for the Saga of Erik the Red along with the Hauksbok of approximately a century before.
The issue here is that the Vinland Sagas are often treated as transparent historical sources, even when the skeptical conclusion is that they are useless sources. Yet we owe the foundations of the modern historical method to these same scriptoria and in this same era, as they checked and tested the production of rival scriptoria for the key ecclesiastical purpose of settling real estate disputes. This study of diplomatics seems to have skipped right over the Vinland Sagas, which seems a little odd, all things considered. Fortunately it turns out that "seems" is doing a great deal of work, and in a light blogging week before I get on with postblogging technology for May of 1950 it is worth exploring these studies.
This is very much a problem-oriented inquiry. The heroine Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir appears in a prominent role in both sagas, albeit more so in the Greenlanders' Saga. She is the mother of Snorri Thorfinnson, and ended her life as the wife of a very prominent chieftain, giving her the means to make a pilgrimage to Rome and to endow, it seems, a convent. While the Greenlandic characters in the two sagas are somewhat obscure, Gudrid is a well known figure who appears in the genealogy of the editor/patron of the Hauksbok, Hauk Elendsson.* She is the grandmother and great-grandmother of a number of early Icelandic bishops, not surprisingly considering her son's leading role in the Christianisation of the island. Given all of this, it seems reasonable that the convent that claimed Gudrid as a patroness would promote her history and seek her beatification by producing a hagiography; and, given that, one's attention is drawn to the Vinland Sagas, and especially the Geenlanders' Saga, as a possible outcome of that effort.
Moreover, the genealogical descent of the legendary founder of Greenland, Erik the Red, is for the most part extremely obscure. This is all the odder considering that Gudrid has a tangential connection with the family, having been briefly married to Erik's second on. Surely over four centuries some other descendants followed the path back to Iceland, and are worthy of mention somewhere in the Saga of Erik the Red? And yet the closest we come to it is Freydis Eriksdottir, who appears in the Greenlanders' Saga as a foil to Gudrid, making her own voyages to Vinland, where she is involved in dark and bloody work. The saga predicts through the mouth of Leif Erikson, that "her descendants will not get on in the world." In the post-predictive world of the literary prophecy, that has to mean that there are traditions about Freydis' descendants. Making an enormous leap, I've sometimes wondered if those descendants are figurative, and that we might be seeing hints of a rivalry between religious institutions. There were, after all, several convents and monasteries in Greenland, of which we know precisely nothing.
So that's the problem: Whether the production of the sagas might tell us something about long-dissolved religious communities that might have claimed ownership of the Vinland story in the late 1300s. I'm not sure how far current saga diplomatics gets me down this quixotic path, but it is certainly time to explore the state of the art!