Saturday, October 22, 2016

Postblogging Technology, October 1946, I: A Loss Leader


Dear Father:

I hope that this letter finds you peacefully at home in front of the fire on a rainy day in Vancouver, enjoying a book, a pipe and a glass.

As opposed to, say, writing angry letters to English acquaintances about the Star Leader tragedy, reminding everyone of how often you have predicted that Don Bennett was going to get someone killed.  Or that it is unpatriotic for the English to be buying lumber in Russia. After all, it is not as though there is enough lumber to go around as it is. (Thank you, by the way.) Having just handed out lucky money at the junior Quons' wedding at the Benevolent Association Hall on my way back to ink the deal to build the rest of the houses in the lower corner, I now feel doubly a smuggler and a criminal. 

I've included a sketch of the development layout. You'll notice a blank spot in the upper corner. Uncle George won't be sure until he has met with the surveyor and the civil engineer, but it looks as though the original exemption was slightly larger than the county authorised, and there will be room for two more quarter-acre lots there without building out into the draw. To make sure, we've borrowed an access road approach that has been successful elswhere, sort of a "thermometer bulb" arrangement in which traffic circulates at the bottom of a dead end road around a lamp standard. Developers give it a fancy French name that escapes me, although "Prospect Point" has been floated.I'm not sure why, as the new lots don't have a prospect at all, except possibly from the second-story dormers, and then it is of San Jose. I say that if they pay us extra, we should guarantee that there will be trees blocking the sightlines at the lower end of the road.

Even a machinist can afford a half acre in Santa Clara County!"

Your youngest is over the moon about "ace-ing" his mid-terms, although he refuses to say anything to you for fear of sounding as though he is back to boasting, and James has been bustling about the building chosen for Philco's new research laboratory. We tried to persuade the board to affiliate it with Santa Clara, but, unfortunately, Jesuits and all of that; they are building down in Orange County, instead. 

Per your request, I have sent Wong Lee to Las Vegas to find out what has been happening with your shipments. As Uncle George feared, some of it is going into the Flamingo. We really have to deal with that man. He has been reluctant to order anything final because our contact on that side of things is so . . . irregular. But we've a lead on a most interesting connection now, via our noodlings about Yale. Via a --let's say, friend of a friend-- we have made touch with an American businessman (with NCR, yet, so Uncle George loves him!) who is in the  old country, is cultivating the right connections, and has a need for secure arrangements should he be promoted back to  Washington. There's a wife in the picture, you see, and she has to remain in the picture. (Just typing that makes me feel like a "madam," but it is the nature of the business.) If he can clear matters, we can finally close the book on the matter of respect that has detained us over that noxious musician and now the Flamingo.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Speculating About Population Change in the Peri-Contact Old Northwest: Floating Tom Has Taken His Last Dive

"Floating Tom Hutter" is a character in The Deerslayer: Or, The First Warpath [1841], the James Fenimore CooperLeatherstocking novel that comes last by publication date, first in chronological order. An awful character, who gets what he deserves. 

But that's to get ahead of the narrative by a few pages, and three weeks. In 1740, a twentyish Natty Bumppo, called "Deerslayer," as he is not yet blooded and so is known by a boy's name, and not yet "Hawkeye", emerges from the dark forest onto the Glimmerglass, Lake Otsego. (That's a metaphor, faithful readers! Stop asking, because you'll never know more about Bumppo's childhood. It happened in the darkness of the forest!) Bumppo and his lifelong friend, Chingachgook, are pursuing a Huron raiding party which has kidnapped Chingachgook's fiancee, insofar as pre-conversion Lenape Indian braves have fiancees. (Really: there's a girl. So stop with the slash fiction. Okay, no, don't.)

At Lake Otsego, they find a primeval wilderrness, inhabited only by Hutter and his non-identical twin daughters, dark and light, who live in Muskrat Castle, a structure built directly on an underwater rock which does not quite break the surface of the shimmering lake. The Indians, who travel on Lake Otsego but to not tarry, call Hutter, "Muskrat." Hence the name. 

One interpretation. You will see a less imposing one below.

Everyone then has assorted proto-Western adventures, in the course of which the awful  Hutter is caught alone at the Castle by some Huron braves, and scalped. Fenimore Cooper makes the Hurons comment that they have "skinned" Muskrat, the only use I am aware of what should be a fairly obvious analogy between taking pelts and taking scalps. 

Later, Natty and Hutter's daughters find the mortally wounded Hutter, and, per his last request, lay his body to rest in the lake, weighting his shroud and lowering the body to the same rock shelf below the Castle that Hutter had used as a last resting place for his wife, years before. "Muskrat has made his last dive," Natty muses. Then he rummages through Hutter's chest, discovering all sorts of secrets about Hutter's piratical past, and that of his wife, the mother of the two girls, for Hutter is not otheir father, and their mother is, as Judith will be, a "fallen woman." (Hint hint!) The rest of the secrets, we are told, Bumppo is too naive to interpret. Not only that, but Cooper takes the time to tell us  that this trove of secrets was all washed away in the next flood. Yes! They existed. And you will never know more than has already been hinted! I can see where critics like Mark Twain get frustrated with Cooper. Nevertheless, James Fenimore can hardly make his authorial practice more explicit than he does in this bit. He is all about the hinting, and if you want to know more, you have to interpret the hints.

Having brought America's greatest Southwestern Whig/Republican humourist up, I will continue, because Deerslayer is probably better known today as the main subject of Twain's "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences" than as a novel. In particular, I want to talk about the sequence, two pages or so in, where Twain launches into an extended critique of the physical plausibility of a sequence in which a group of Huron braves attempt to leap, or, rather, dive down from the branches of trees which ark over the East Banch of the Susequehanna River as it emerges from Lake Otsego, onto the deck of Hutter's houseboat, The Ark. 

Now, Twain is right about many aspects of this discussion as a matter of strict realism. Cooper is performing premature magic realism her; but he has a reason, and I honestly cannot tell whether Twain is aware of the myth of Earth Diver or whether he is just being dishonest. Since I do not want to divert you to a link you might not follow, the Earth Diver creation myth can be very succinctly summarised as: In the beginning, there is only flood. A pregnant woman falls from the Heavens.  ("Fallen woman," you see.) Turtle catches her, but there is not enough room for her to give birth. A series of woodland  animals attempt to reach the bottom of the water and bring up mud to build a bower for her. Finally, Muskrat succeeds (and sometimes dies). The bower becomes Turtle Island. That is, the world. Fallen Woman gives birth to twins dark and light. Various further myths ensue. Twain can reasonably be genuinely unaware of the myth, which is buried in Schoolcraft and tainted by hoax. On the other hand, there are enough mythological references that one would think that Twain would be alert to the possibility that something like this is going on.

The other thing Twain makes heavy going of is the notion that Cooper is presenting the upper Susquehanna as much wider than it in fact is at Cooperstown. He's wrong again, but in a much more defensible way, in that he can hardly be expected to have poured over one of Cooper's secondary (at best) novels (Wyandotte: Or, the Hutted Knoll) or the historical introduction to The Pioneers, and discovered that Lake Otsego frequently jams at with flotsam at the outlet, and that on at least one, and probably many more occasions, it has been deliberately dammed there. When the dam built by General John Sullivan's troops was broken on 6 August 1778 specifically, was broken, the released floodwaters lifted the bateaux carrying his supplies down streeam and then up the West Branch into the heart of the Six Nations. More commonly, the dams would have eased the downstream passage of trading canoes, of which more maybe someday. Here, I just want to bring out the point about dams, and broken dams, and their relationship with flooding. Muskrats are not beavers, but muskrats and beavers are semi-aquatic, fur-bearing animals important to the fur trade. 

Anyway, I get to feel special, because, as far as I know, I am the first person to point Cooper's mythological source out --although Lauren Goff caught the emphasis on the flooding and connected it with the myth of the canoe volant, the "flying canoe," which is awfully clever. This is kind of sad, because it doesn't strike me as an insight that would escape over-much academic attention. Cooper is a terrible writer, but being a terrible writer does not make you an uninfluential one. Come on, Americanists! This is a hugely important writer, and the fact that Nineteenth Century Federalist literary critics have little to say about him, says, in turn, a great deal more about Federalist literary critics than the antebellum American literatry scene. 

On the other hand again, maybe the American academy doesn't particularly want to parse Cooper's hints. From Anti-Masonic through Whig through Republican, the American-party-that-isn't-the-Democrats can be, well, weird. 

Hee. I said "Whig."

On a completely unrelated subject, the point here is that skinned/scalped Muskrat is the creator/originator/first settler/real estate developer of the Cooperstown area. 

Tom Hutter (second from left) and his lake cabin, as imagined in Chingachgook: Die Grosse Schlange [1967]. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, etc. 
And that he's got, figuratively, a muskrat pelt for a scalp. Given the week it's been, I just wanted to point that out.
Forrest Tucker, 29 years after playing Tom Hutter in The Deerslayer (1957) and starting to look like a character out of a dystopian movie I watched once. Something about groping women, starting nuclear wars, and building walls? 

That will be quite enough over-close parsing of awful old books and reflecting on recent debates for one post. After the break, I try to get serious, talking about the problem populations, ecology, and the economic geography of the early fur trade. And people who wear strange things on their heads.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

In Silliness, Truth: A Snooperscoping Appendix to August 1946, II

August is the "silly season." Congress, and everyone else, is on vacation (some people will go on road trips in the Canadian Rockies).
Dickey Collection, Revelstoke Museum. Note that this is a point on the old York Factory Express. I think this collection is based on a random set of photos left over in a Revelstoke film developing business. Who is this couple, so clearly dressed up for a formal photo, way out in the wildnerness along the Big Bend Highway? (Seriously: this is no way to dress for a drive around the Big Bend.) A great many people travelled the Express route in the half-century and more of its existence, but as most of them were Metis, we don't have much history to go with them. Public history, anyway.  
Pity the not-so senior staff at Time. They're putting together the beach-read number of the paper. It's going to be Time or Forever Amber. (Okay, it's going to be Forever Amber. But still.) How do you produce a can't-put-it-down number of a newsmagazine without a single high-placed source to tell you how awful Harry Truman or Harold Laski is? The answer is that you run all the "man bites dog" stories.

Well, here's the odd thing. The "man bites dog" stories of August 1946 turn out to be a lot more interesting than the politics of 1946. Maybe that's because I already know who won in 1946, 1948, and 1950. Maybe it's because that stuff just isn't that important in the long run. Well, to be sure, in the long run, the proto-UFO story from Sweden isn't that significant, and the fact that Bing Crosby is being sponsored by the company that will soon produce the first consumer (and computing) transistor products to be placed on the American market is mainly interesting to me. On the other hand, you have Joe McCarthy running for the Senate,  polio, and the bikini.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Postblogging Technology, August 1946, II: A Prolegomena To Any Possible Teeny-Weeny Yellow Poka-dot Bikini

Vancouver, Canada.

Dear Father:

I hope that you are not surprised to hear from me so quickly, for you are not the only one to make a faster-than-expected change of residence! After your warnings about letting work get in the way of life, you will be glad to hear that James and I did not have to cut our vacation short, after all. He was able to arrange an Army flight out of Tokyo for us, and he was back in California in time to attend the. . . 

 I get ahead of myself, especially since you do not follow the entertainment news. Uncle George's friend has found a new sponsor, and also a partner to take on the matter of magnetic-tape-recording. Uncle George hasn't mentioned it, but he was invited to showed your work with direct-film recording of radio signals to the board at Philco this summer. "Mrs. Ch." while she was in Virginia, talked with the industry side as well as the code-breakers. Besides being attached to the one-time-pad burglaries, she has an established expertise in intercepted Far Eastern signals, especially the ones sent as facsimile, a very interesting new code-breaking problem. 

It turns out that, since then, one of the directors has heard an impassioned talk from that madman in Boston that James is always on about. In the question-and-answer afterwards, ideographs came up, and the madman launched into a talk about "direct bio-electronically steeering of" the brain. At some point, someone (if I were talking to you in person, this is when I would roll my eyes at Uncle George), seems to have played up the family's notoriety, there. Of course the Devil Doctor has found a way of using  Chinese ideographs to hypnotise people, etc, etc. It turns out that there are people in Washington who are very receptive to this, as an alternative to the psycho-reactive drugs used by the Germans and, apparently, the Russians. I try to ease my conscience with the thought that a bigot and his money aren't just soon parted, but deserve to be parted. 

Whatever casual contact Uncle George might have had with the board of Philco before, he went to the meeting armed with a precis of your unit's work. Unlike your photographic records, he pointed out that magnetic tape recordings of the signals could be played back, irrespective of whethey they were recordings of the friend and the Andrews Sisters, hostile radar, or direct electronic-feedback-steering of the brain, or however this lunacy is supposed to work. The Philco board, it turns could not resist the combination of Uncle George's friend and the possibility of Navy work, or who knows, mind-control. Mainly, I think, the friend. So, in the end, they got the work, Uncle George's friend got a company willing to break his network's informal embargo, and we got some "stock options."

So, hopefully, Philco makes money on the deal. Uncle Georg'e friend is a huge radio draw, after all. The problem is that he is returning to the radio on his own terms. We have no idea yet how America will take to pre-recorded shows. It is also unclear that Philco will make much money with magnetic-recording. It's too bad we couldn't think of a way to patent the German work! 

Since  Uncle George  feels more comfortable around ships' cabling than electronic valves at their ends, he will still making his trip to Japan. (He pretty much has to, as otherwise we have some ships sitting idle, pumping money out into the river to let more water in).  James is headed back east next month to talk to the company's engineers about electronic valves. It is just too bad that he is too strait-laced to keep up the patter about electronic mind-control! 


P.S. The twins are well, but Vickie came down with a fever while we were away.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Flowing Forward: A Technological Appendix for Postblogging August 1946, I.

(Edited 24 September 2016).

Robert Solo was a Professor of Economics at Michigan State University, East Lansing, for many years. His solid research and long publishing record has made him a famous, widely loved figure, in spite of showing some signs of being an arrogant young man, and and a wise and self-reflective old one.

Just kidding!

Apart from the odd little autobiography with which he decides to begin The Philosophy of Science and Economics (1991), this blurb, cut from the top full-text entry on the American wartime synthetic rubber programme in a Google Books search* is the best the Internet will do for me. An edition of Alexis de Tocqueville's Old Regime and Revolution is a higher hit on Google than the requested obituary when I search for "professor robert solo east michigan state obituary." Try searching for his titles, and Google quickly gives up on "Professor Robert Solo" and moves on to "Professor Robert Solow."

EDIT: After reading a paper on competition in the digital economy that laid out a strained argument about how it might pay a monopolistic search engine provider, for example, to deliberately degrade search results, I fired up Bing on my Surface. (It turns out that this was the first time I'd used Edge on it, and the "welcome" page was a bit  needy. Just saying, Redmond. . . ) Anyway, the first result for "Robert Solo Michigan State" is his 2011 obituary. (Which information admittedly now, or perhaps always, shows up in the first Google search item, although much less prominently.)

In the end, I guess that we can blame Professor Solo for choosng not to be named Higginbotham or writing a book about Zamboanga, as opposed to frontiers of technological progress, or accepting a tenured position at a univesity with a music school that holds solo performances. (Or he could be still alive in his late 90s.) It is certainly not his strong connection with unspeakably obscene ideas of the most perverse regions of the netherworld, such as [TRIGGER ALERT STOP WITH THE PRETTY PICTURE AND DON'T CLICK ON THE JUMP IF YOU HAVE PTSD AND STUFF LIKE THAT]
Image Search  result: "Robert Solo synthetic  rubber" (NSFW source)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Postblogging Technology, August 1946, I: Drones and Continuous Flow

Nakusp, Canada

My Dearest Reggie:

Well, your daughter-out-of-law is off to Hong-Kong, and you are stuck with me! Don't expect me to take this task up on a regular basis, though. Nor, I think, when I compare the volume of your replies to Grace's letters to mine, will you be disappointed to hear that.

I have your brief reply to my note about my own forthcoming trip, and I cannot imagine why you would be jealous of me! Remember those days around the fire, speculating about the joys and pleasures of the Leland Hotel, were we only allowed to be there, instead of blankets and saddles for pillows, out under the stars --when it was stars and not the rain? And now, just a few short years (give or take a half century) you are basking in its comforts, while I face the prospect of being crammed into a DC-4, on my way to Tokyo. Oh, I understand that you are bored with Nakusp and waiting for your final permission to return to Vancouver. But, believe me, flying across the Pacific is in no way a vacation. Even across continent is long enough that I've been tempted to ask the crew to bring a can opener to get me out of my seat on landing. Had I not been able to get such a good deal on those war-damaged C3s in the San Francisco auctions. . .

And now it is up to me to find an idle Pacific shipyard with the labour to get those horrid war-builds back into service. There is only one country we can turn to, and, of course, we can turn to it, though it shames me. So the admiral and Nanking and the memory of the kamikazes aside. . .  You know that I only do this for the good of the family. (I will at least make a detour to Seoul, but I am not hopeful.)

Hopefully, by the next letter, not only will James and Grace be back from their holiday, and free at last to make a home together, but Reggie will be in Santa Clara on furlough, and even some of our other far-flung clan. If you want to take a trip down, you can even stay on and attend Homecoming at the "junior college" as "Miss V.C.'s" escort! Wouldn't that have stuck in old Leland's craw? 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

We Are Gone Away to the Air, I: My American Cousin

(Check it out: new label. "Space Race." Expect a few more posts bearing this label between now and 2040 or so.)

My American cousin is a nice lady who runs a very nice bookshop in Boisie. My American Cousin is a sweet little '80s Canadian movie about someone's American cousin driving up from California on Highway 97 to stay with her family in the Okanagan town of Penticton back in the 50s. He's glamorous and has a nice car, and there's much coming of age.

It's a distillation of an icon and an age, in other words. "The Fifties." Those were days when everyone wanted to be an Americano. Days when Canadians associated Americans with cars, the open road and glamouor. Oh, so much glamour. It's not a real age, being vaguely defined as starting some time before Korea and ending with the last pop song that played on the radio before the first Beatles song.
(This is not that song, because it's not an actual song. But it is a hit of the era, it does play on the loop at my home store, and come on, the video's got the Gipper!)

The question is, how did this happen? The idea is that my American cousin happened on his own, because Americans like cars and "the fifties" were sunshiney days of infinite possibilities. (Insert mandatory comment about there never being a "the Fifties" for women and minorities.) We're willing to let the government be involved with the interstates, Eisenhower-era American government being weird like that, what with the A-bombs and the bomb shelters and all. Besides that, though, it[s all free enterprise.

This paternity test on "the Fifties" points the finger elsewhere. First, from the Land of the Lost, the scenery of a forgotten land. No, seriously, it's a forgotten land. 300 kilometers and more up and around the Great Bend of the Columbia, tracing the route of the old Astoria fur brigades, past abandoned gold rush towns. No-one lives, or drives, here anymore.

The Big Bend Highway, officially in use from 1940 to 1962, but drivable from at least 1932. The road follows the "big bend" of the Columbiaaround from  Revelstoke to Golden, a more-than-300km diversion trhough basically howling wildernss. Clearly people took it, or there wouldn't be postcards on sale in Banff. but there can't have been that many. It's possible, given the route's importance to the old Astoria fur brigades, that the people who did take it had family connections rather than some insane desire to drive to Banff from the west. Who knows?