Friday, November 27, 2015

Postblogging Technology, October, I: Forest for the Trees

Mr. R_. C_., 
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Dominion of Canada.

Dear Father:

I hope that you had a Happy Thanksgiving. Uncle George certainly did! When we collected him at the airport, he claimed that he was still so stuffed with turkey that he might as well have flown south on his own. (Turkeys can fly, right? I've heard that they are so inbred that they cannot, any more, but what would they do will all that breast meat, otherwise?) 

It will, alas, be a while before Uncle George takes up the brush again. He claims that he is more than ready to enjoy retirement, but in his eyes you see that it will not be easy for him.  

Now, as to Christmas. You have asked about plane tickets. I have bad news. It turns out that Lieutenant A_. has official business in Montreal this December, and our Chicago relations have kindly offered to foot the ticket for a return flight to San Francisco for both the lieutenant and their daughter. So "Miss V_.C_" will be flying from Montreal to Santa Clara via Chicago, where her parents will join her. Your son will now be returning by rail after the end of exams. 

Miss v. Q. and Fat Chow were married in a quiet, civil ceremony last month. They are still at loose ends in regards to a place to live. It's all a bit complicated, in that they are trying to find a place where they can also accommodate Queenie, and a neighbourhood which prizes the necessary privacy and convenience. Miss v. Q. argues for the Mission district, although the rents are high, Fat Chow for Chinatown --the difficulty there being a Berkely instructor with that address. 

Speaking of Queenie, Tommy will be getting Christmas leave --and then on to the South Pacific, where he has a confidential mission of some kind. 

As for Fat Chow, well, your commission was a bust. Your equestrian neighbour is not a blowhard. His stable reallly is doing well on the California circuit, and we did not need an ace private investigator to discover it! We did, however . . . Well, therein hangs a tale, or half of one. You will by now have heard of Eric W. Johnston's new position. I therefore notice with raised eyebrow that Fat Chow was so bored following up on your neighbour that he put some time in, and located the new head of the MPAA's father. "Mr. Johnston Senior" turns out to be living on the Colville Reservation with his third wife. Exactly what I am to do with this information is not clear to  me, but Fat Chow is keen to blackmail the network over Uncle George's friend, if some leverage vis-a-vis the MPAA and Columbia can be found. 

Essentially, we have some first-grade blackm,ail material, and no real reason to use it. Perhaps Mr. Johnston can get the Engineer off our backs? I am beginning to get a bit itchy about the FBI, for all that they owe us over the break-ins last summer. (We might hear more about that soon, I am told.) The first special delivery went well, but the next one is next month via San Francisco, and the port authorities on the Bay are more familiar with the old tricks and are close to the FBI. 

By the way, speaking of large commitments hastily entered into, I have recruited our old merchant marine friend for some of the work on the water with our special delivery. He is glad of the money, but reminds me about his his writing career, and I am still anxious about satisfying that promise. I have recruited Miss K. as a second eye --she is young, but has good taste, and she assures me that his stories are "fun." 

I just don't know. Placing a few shorts in pulp magazines is not going to make a career. . . Perhaps we could arrange for him to sell some movie rights?

Your suite in Arcadia will be ready by the middle of next month, if you care to join us for American Thanksgiving. If not, enjoy your November, and we will see you at Christmas.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Christ Stops at Kingcome: Yarns of the Plantation

A Viking Yarn
Kingcome Inlet is, as has been mentioned before, a mainland region opposite Port McNeill, the site of my senior high school. The site of the Dzawada'enuxw First Nation reserve, it has sent its children across the strait to be educated in Alert Bay (First Nations) and Port McNeill (White).

So I could say something about how poisonously racialist policies work on the ground, but I won't. The point here is that Kingcome, to which I have never been, is a bog-standard "early" mission site, where a small number of early missionaries, along with some provincial technocrats, established a cattle-raising, pastoral society on land previously used to grow camus bulb to eak out the returns of the sea. The ranching days didn't last, and they're now trying to restore the estuarine meadows to their "pristine" state, but Kingcome may, or may not be a model for understanding Gardar. (More dramatically, Erik the Red might, indeed, be an Eskimo.)

"Christ stops" at Eboli, the end of the rail from Naples. The action in Christ Stops at Eboli takes place beyond Eboli, in the hills of the Basilicata of Lucania, where an internally-exiled Carlo Levi ministers to poor, ignorant peasants, far beyond the reach of modern civilisation. More dramatically, I always think of a Venetian mariner, who once told me about sailing out of Naples at night, and seeing the light of fires above the forest belt, high in the mountains, and supposing to himself that those primitive hill folk lived a life unaltered since the days before Christ. 

Either he'd read Levi, or this was a common cliche. Probably the latter. As it  happens, if those primitives emigrated to B.C., they would live in nice houses, just a little outside Prince George, so that they could afford big back yards, screened from the road by a woodbreak, so that Mama won't be ashamed of the big backhoe discretely parked away on its semi-trailer bed, waiting for Papa to hitch it up again and head out into the woods on another two-week stint of building and maintaining roads and bridges for logging operations. 

I don't know what that says about anything, except that Levi was pedallling patronising cliches. It is a shout-out to my sister-in-law, although her papa had a place to put his machine, and didn't have to take it home with him, which meant that he could live in the city, back in the day before he retired to follow his grandchildren to Campbell River. And as I love my sister-in-law and my nephews and neices, so I am not inclined to believe that Christ really stopped at Eboli. (There's an entire section of Corrupting Sea about Christ not stopping at Eboli, so it's not like I'm being original, here.)

Specifically, the question is whether he stopped at Nanook:

If you're thinking "Nanook of the North," you can be forgiven. Nanook is one of a number of archaeological sites near the old Hudson's Bay post of Kimminut, on the south (Hudson's Bay) coast of Baffin Island. and archaeologists were directed to it by local Inuit. 

Well known, easy to reach, available to archaeologists --a perfect place to look for Norse. Nor were the scientific archaeologists from the south by any means the first.

A Dorset drum recovered from Bylot Island, now at the Canadian Museum of Civilisation.  Source.
To Eastern Arctic Inuit, the Tuniit were  an enigma and a legend.. Who could resist a piece like this, recovered from an ancient site? Surely these ancients, giants, dwarves and shamans, had a connection with the spirit and the land that could be recovered by beating their screaming drums. Driven off the land by the ancestors of the Inuit, the shades of the Tuniit lingered in the mossy tent rings of their people. 

Or, they're Irish. Crazy as Farley Mowat was, the bits of The Wayfarers that wanders along the coasts of Newfoundland touches real, if neglected history --Nineteenth Century history, to be sure, when the Beothuks "disappeared" by becoming ordinary Newfies, but neglected history, all the same. The point is, giants, Irish, if everyone else can be romantic about the Tuniit, so can I.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Benedict's Atlantic: The Last Emperor, the Second Crusade, the Fall of Lisbon, and the Plantation of the Atlantic

It's not a point that gets the attention it deserves, but on 23 May, 1147, an army of, uhm, let's say, ten thousand men, embarked on 150--200 ships, sailed from the Dartmouth, bound for the Holy Land --and fully expecting to get there. 

Dates can get a little unmoored. We have an image of a "medieval" feast as involving candied citron, figs, dates, raisins and sweet Malmsey, and sailing from Devon. That's where Sir Francis Drake comes from, after all! The diet implies the Levant trade. Ladies of Spain, and the wind, imply the West of England. "From Ushant to Scilly is forty-five leagues." 1147 is "medieval." Sou'west winds carry Joseph of Arimathea, citron of Candy, out of the Levant, from Santiago de Compostella to the pastures green. As if to make it all the more uncanny, we have the vast deposits of sub-Roman African Red Slip Ware at Tintagel Castle, where Arthur was conceived, at least as of 1135.

The problem comes when you try to moor 1147. It is seventy-nine years from the conquest, for example, 158 years from Erik the Red's arrival in Greenland, 94 years before the death of Snorri Sturlusson, nine years after the Battle of the Standard, in the midst of the Anarchy of Stephen and Matilda, just after Geoffrey of Monmouth writes, and while William of Malmesbury was composing. It is also not actually the earliest date at which we know North Sea society could mobilise such an effort, since an English fleet appeared off the Levant in March of 1098, pushing the economic context back another two generations, with Sigurd the Crusader's six-year adventure from here to there and back again to place in between. Which I will, if only to get in mention of Sigurd's crusading around Lisbon. If the Levant trade is, indeed, already centuries old in the Twelfth Century, then Sigurd's sailors would have known the Tagus-mouth well. That it is about to become Portuguese in no way erases an obscure past in which it was already a waypoint on the Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land in spite of lying well within al-Andalus, as we anyway know from, of all sources, Adomnan, for a Gallic bishop fetched up, shipwrecked, on the Iona of Adomnan, and furnished him with the information he needed to write a guidebook for the Holy Land, presented to a Northumbrian king in 698.

The difference is, before 1147, these are rousing adventures. In 1147, it was a crusade, and it stuck. There's a difference. I'm guessing that it has to do with St. Benedict.

St. Benedict, not exactly as pictured. Tangent Cafe on Commercial, so way too cool for school.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Recap, II: Economies, 1939 to 1943 as the On-Ramp to 194Q (Learning By Doing Number)

Koxinga: Because Taiwan is rich, and who, in 1950, would have thought it?

What do we make of Henry Luce? One thing we make is the terrible old man of the China Lobby, Madame Chiang's dupe, the patron of Whittaker Chambers, the enabler of McCarthyism. Or you could dig down, notice the Wikipedia article's provocative language in describing Luce's "lifelong partnership" with Briton Haddon. Suddenly one imagines a gay demimonde around Luce, Chambers and Alger Hiss that puts the whole McCarthy era in a framework of an intimacy that dares not declare itself, sordid only in its secrecy, infinitely less consequential than ever supposed. (And how did William F. Buckley go on through the forty years in which his wife appears to have been an invalid and shut in. Once we start inferring and implying there is no end!) 

Or I could talk about politics: about China, and about Chiang's Taiwan, advancing so improbably (at least by comparison with America's Latin American clients) into First World status. Surely that is a vital part of the story of 194Q! If I did, I would talk about family politics, too. Luce, like my maternal grandfather, was born to Presbyterian missionary parents active in China. Luce, however, was born in Penglai, Shandong, my grandfather in England, while his mother was on leave from Xiamen, Fujien. The doctor of Vernon, British Columbia, was thus linked to Xiamen in Fujien the remote, pirate-beset land, far beyond difficult mountains, poor and sea-girt, which produced Koxinga, last Ming loyalist and the conqueror who colonised Taiwan with Hokkien speakers. Shandong, in contrast, plays a central role in China's earliest history. The state of Lu in Shandong is the birthplace of Confucius, and the old implication was that he was born near one of the early capitals of the Shang dynasty. Shandong is older, and more purely Chinese, than even the heartland of the later Shang, never mind of the  latter-day Zhou dynasty that was declining away in Confucius' day, But, that Shandong is on the lower reaches of the Yellow River, where "China's Sorrow" curls like a snake against the mountains of peninsular Shandong, uncertain whether to lunge to the sea to the north or the south of the peninsula. Those mountains, in Confucius' time, were inhabited by barbarians, and so there you have Penglai, close, but not too close, perhaps not close enough, to the heart of the Chinese state. In the end, Luce's friends evacuated to Taiwan and imposed a north Chinese, Mandarin-speaking superstructureon the Fujianese, and the aboriginals before them. So, also, my Grandfather became a Marxist, where Luce was a Republican, and engaged in screaming rows with his mother China that disturbed family harmony and passed into legend.

That's my way of trying to imagine Luce as an insider-outsider-insider, enacting terrible politics out of an alienation he could never acknowledge, because now I am going to talk about Fortue as optimistic and progressive, a voice that deserves revival.  Fortune said that there would not be a depression after the war, that there would not be unemployment and misery, and against the doubters, conjured up a near-future postwar year of full prosperity, a year of televisions and deep freezes, Minute Maid in the fridge and Eggos in the toaster. As it turns out, Fortune was more than right. America had not one, but thirty, more or less, years of "Q." I leave it to economists to explain this, and social critics to unpack its various dark sides. The world is richer than even Luce's Fortune imagined it would be in late 1943, certainly richer than good Communists thought it would be when they argued with their mother's in the Okanagan gloaming of the mid-1950s. Who, again, would have thought that Chiang, of all people, would make Taiwan, of all places, work?