Monday, March 26, 2012

Running Away to the Air, 6: Brick Walls Always Stand Their Ground

Edit: Oops, forgot to justify last night.


A long time ago, I wrote a juvenile article about the RAF and Britain’s war effort. I called it an industrial history of strategy because it took issue with R. J. Overy’s “production history of strategy" (the which he did not call it ) The Air War, 1939—45. As I conceived it, Corelli Barnett was already in the business of writing industrial histories of strategy. It’s just that his were terrible. There you have it: a neat little thesis. As you might guess from this blog, it turned into a  72 page screed, and bless the Journal of Military History for nursing it into print.

I had my reasons for prolixity. There were just so many people saying such silly, wrong things in print about the air war. I wanted to make an impression. Apparently, I might as well have been butting a brick wall. 

Why care? Let's, by all means, ramp up the stakes. The idea of an Air Ministry was laid out in 1911, and it was created in 1918, on the basis of what British politicians, civil servants, industrialists, and trade unionists thought was the solid model of the Royal Navy. While the Ministry wasn't swimming in either money or manpower, it was the largest and best funded air force of the interwar years. (You'll have to take  my word for it; the numbers are laid out in my article, but they're just collated from the British state papers on the one hand, and a life of Admiral Moffat on the other.)  When I got my anorak on, I counted some sixteen thousand aircraft delivered by the British industry during the interwar. That's a lot more than anyone else ordered, even taking the German surge of the late 30s into account. If policy failed in the face of this relative generosity of resources and thought about the problems of policy, we have reason to be pessimistic about the possibilities for public policy in general.

And, no, I don't think that the RAF got it wrong. 


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Art of Not Being Governed, I: Stateless Topographies and Illegibilities of Resistance

So I promised that I'd talk about polo and bicycles. (Also fox hunting and the King's Cup Aero Race). How about this: aspirational sport fashions come and go. Looking at them might be an interesting way of doing a landscape reception study. 

Now what's really crawled into my brain this week and won't let go until I've talked about it:

From Anarchyandchaos: "Longing for the end times since  I  hit puberty."
Let's see how long that image stays up.  Thanks to taking a transfer to a new store to keep my current (very new and very nice) employment status, I've been spending a great deal of time on busses and a main transit spur line not-to-be-named in the interest of giving my employer some plausible deniability in case I'm ever inclined to rant about the grocery business here,* and that means spending a lot of time trapped with the book you see here. It's brilliant, stimulating, rambling, repetitive, annoying and frustrating. And boy, does it make you think about other things than the people you'll see so much less now that you're working at some not-to-be-named place in the inner suburbs.

So what's the story here? For better or worse, we have a set of nation-building chronicles that lead us to a complex constellation of as many as 50 Southeast Asian theater/mandala/padi states spread throughout the region in about 1600, speckled on bottom lands spread through the Indosinian orogeny. Today, we have the modern nations that these texts serve to historicise, which have filled out the map Southeast Asia in the blocks of solid colour, as the modern nation state paradigm does. Taking the approach of the maps to the recorded political geography of 1600, and you can produce the same kind of map, although you'll need more crayons.

In that sense, we have a history of the uplands. Get the right map, and we'll be able to determine if any arbitrary place in Southeast Asia is part of Pagan, Lan Xang, Annam, Ngoenyang, or choose your own exotic ASEAN name. Just look at the colour key.

  Which is, of course, completely unhelpful. Whether you prefer to talk about the "raw" barbarians, forest Mleccha, or even Appalachian hillbillies, chances are you're going to gesturing in the direction of non-state spaces. Western observers entered Southeast Asia in the Nineteenth Century and promptly discovered an indigenous non-state space in the highlands. Amateur ethnography gave way to state funded political anthropology just after the middle of the last century for various reasons (mood music), part of a full-blown commitment to the stability of the Southeast Asian state that had the usual results. Burmese authorities, meanwhile, proved that it wasn't necessary to be colonised to end up in a guerilla/civil war in the highlands. With a little more detachment from external bogeymen and grand ideological commitments, area scholars proposed a new conceptual label for upland Southeast Asia. It is the Zomia, and by definition it is non-state space, at least until recently.

What we've done here is create a conceptual region by cutting it off from the history that used to constitute it. And, of course, that's a fine thing for political anthropologists to do, because there are lots of questions that, say, development agencies might want to put to the upland that don't require a commitment to what the region looked like in 1200AD. All the same, you might want to ask how these regions got the way they are, at which point you're writing the history of a region without history. Which, again, is hardly an impossible thing to do. I've read some great histories-without-history, and I have a good sense of what to look for: tour-de-force archaeology and gentle criticism of ancient (and Nineteenth Century) cosmogenic historical fantasy (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)).

Well, that's not what you get here. What you get here is a rambling, repetitive case for writing such a history of Zomia, maybe, one day, when the archaeology is in. In the mean time, one can gesture in the direction of what such a history might one day look like. And if the rambling is the bad part, this is very definitely the good part.

If you don't have time to make the jump, here's an excellent summary by an old friend of the blog:

Now with extra ads for Rihanna's latest! Because we all need more irony in our life. Am I being ironic or serious? I can't even tell any more. (Because the Simpsons clip isn't on Youtube any more.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Electric City, I: The First Trip


This post is not about Vienna, but Vienna could hardly not be central to it.For a young graduate student, too over-conscious of his own budget to travel elsewhere in Europe, it was a sole encounter with the built environment of a great European city, and one of his all-too-few chances to get to know a strange city by getting on public transit, riding the line until he was as lost as he could get, and then riding it back. (Spoiler alert: that graduate student was me! Had you going there for a minute, didn't I?)

I lived at a youth hostel near the Hutteldorf-Hietzing station of the U4 Unterbahn line, built on the hill above the valley that the Vienna River cuts as it winds south of the heights of the Kahlenberg towards the city whose wet ditch it fills. The estate proper was the  grounds of a bishop's palace, with an Augustinian monastery and a parochial school still near and over an old Imperial hunting reserve, and the U4 follows the course of the river and the old Linz road on its way to town. If you've taken the subway to see the   Sch├Ânbrunn Palace, you've taken the U4.

Hey, I know! Let's try not valorising the physical tells of borderline personality disorder and enable a descent into morbid substance abuse!* 



Every day that the new Staatsarchiv was open, I took the U4 to its intersection with the U3 line in the Landstrasse, one of a number of multilevel subway stations somehow existing under massive inner city buildings (in this case a rail station) in some nether realm between the properly underground and the aboveground worlds.

Which I wouldn't recognise, because in the interim they've done this on the site.  Wikipedia.
It was always a marvel to me the way that inner Vienna was linked and tunnelled and built. This is perhaps because the U4-U3 axis is a little eccentric by tourist standards. It was he Landestrasse that Metternich was looking down when he said that the Balkans ended a few blocks down, and the neighbourhood earns its reputation by virtue of being a bit of a backwater. The river meets the Danube Canal around here in (of course), marshy low-lying ground. There tends to be a bit of an off-taste in the air, the architecture is unexplaining, and looking down the shopping district, by guide recalled the Metternich comment, although different strokes for different folks, because the sight of all the Asian touristgirls just reminded me of home!  

The regular tourist gets off the U4 at Karlsplatz, and then either takes the U2 a few blocks more, or ascends to the surface, and, ignoring Karl VI's roccoco masterpiece of a commemorative cathedral, heads out along what was once the great enceinte of the fortress on the great Ringstrasse that was built on the filled-in wet ditch once fed by the Vienna River (I presume through a sluice contained within the works?) That's the way to go to see the Hofburg and its unerwhelming Roman ruins, followed by the local and federal parliament, state and popular operas; museums of art and science, and the new university buildings. It's all quite ideologically numinous, and I could make some strained point about state-building knowledge literally replacing earthwork fortifications, were it not for the fact that the ring road eventually reaches the an entire campus of the University of Vienna devoted to training civil engineers, reminding us that at the same time that the Ringstrasse was built, the Danube was being tamed. Between 1870 and 1875, a new, concrete-bound main bed, 900ft wide and 10ft deep was excavated, with a sacrificial zone 1500ft deep on the left bank for flooding, and fully 2400 acres on the right bank won for construction of a greater Vienna, much of it in the hip Thirteenth District. The point? Well, that would be fifteen hundred acres of flooding ground astride the main Berlin road. Not that the K (u.) K. Heer was planning to lose another battle in the lands between Prussia and Austria. But even so.

I saw a great deal of this area, thanks to setting out to find the site of Wagram without the aid of a map. I never got there, but, in the long run, I think seeing the inner suburbs and the recreational boating areas on the Danube were more inspiring. This is a tamed landscape. It's part of a change that took place in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century that the majority of people who live in heavily built landscapes don't even realise has occurred (ask a libertarian intellectual about what happens to books in floods, if you don't believe me), and that those who don't hardly even realise needed to be done. If you do live in flooding ground, you probably think that it happens in Mississippi or Port Alice because of where they're built, and that Vienna and London were built somewhere where it just doesn't flood. It ain't true. It just looks that way because of all the concrete and iron that was buried between about 1872 and 1914.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dreaming of Cavalry, IV: Death Ride of the Battlecruisers

Wait. Jutland? What does a naval battle have to do with the Battle of France? Or the Somme, for that matter. And for such an anticlimactic battle on top of it? (Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan? Hopefully you won't miss the point of the reference, like these guys did.)

It gets worse, though. I've babbled about London as a fortress/electric city, about the location of RFC/RAF bases on commuter lines, about broaching and forging shells. I see a connection. Can I communicated it? Probably not. The sand bars have piled too high on the eastern shore of the North Sea, and this post will ship too much water to get across and home safe to haven.