Thursday, February 4, 2016

You know you should be glad

The Johnny Pez blog now presents the Beatles performing "She Loves You" live at the ABC Theatre in Ardwick, Manchester on November 20, 1963.

Because Beatles.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Iowa never happened

For the last year, the Iowa caucuses have dominated the political discourse in the United States. Presidential candidates from both major parties have poured money and manpower into the state, and traveled there time after time to pay homage to the awesome power of the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow.

And the result? Both major parties ended up with basically tie votes. Clinton and Sanders were so close that several contests had to be decided by coin tosses. On the GOP side, Cruz, Trump, and Rubio all finished in the low-to-mid 20% range. The arcane caucus rules make it impossible to predict precisely which candidates will come to the conventions with how many pledged delegates, but right now it looks like the two Democratic candidates will wind up with 22 each (plus or minus 1), and the three Republican candidates will all wind up with 7 each (plus or minus 1).

So, as far as determining which candidate will win the nomination in each race, the whole long, complicated Iowa caucus might as well have never happened.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Invisible Man VI: The Furniture That Went Mad

As we pick up the story of The Invisible Man in chapter VI, "The Furniture That Went Mad", it's still the morning of Whit Monday, following the bizarre burglary of the vicarage. The Halls are up with the sun, seeing to the brewing of the Coach and Horses' beer supply in the inn's cellar. Mrs. Hall realizes that she forgot her supply of sarsaparilla, and she sends her husband upstairs to fetch it. On his way to get the bottle, Mr. Hall notices that the inn's front door has been unbolted, and that the stranger's door is ajar. He enters, and finds the room unoccupied, as he had expected. He is surprised to find that all of the stranger's clothing is scattered around the room.

Mr. Hall, (whose first name, we learn, is George), runs down to the cellar to get his wife (whose name, we also learn, is Janny). As they return up the cellar stairs, they hear the faint sound of the front door opening and closing. On the hall stairs, each hears a sneeze, but each assumes it was the other. The enter the stranger's bedroom, and note that the bed is cold, and hence hasn't been slept in for at least an hour.

As the two stare around at the room, the blanket suddenly rises up from the bed and leaps over the foot, exactly as if an invisible hand had picked it up and thrown it. The stranger's hat then levitates off the bedpost and flies at Janny Hall. This is followed by the chair rising off the floor and attacking her, driving her from the room. The door to the stranger's room slams shut and locks.

Janny Hall immediately draws the obvious conclusion: the stranger has used magic to bewitch the room's furniture. The Halls are joined by Millie the Maid, and the three retreat downstairs, and help to revive Janny's frazzled nerves by, as Wells puts it, "applying the restoratives customary in such cases."

The Halls send Millie across the street to Mr. Sandy Wadgers, the village blacksmith, to consult with him on how to deal with ensorceled furniture. Mr. Wadgers agrees that they are dealing with witchcraft, and recommends the use of an iron horseshoe. The four are joined by Huxter the tobacconist and his apprentice, and the six continue discussing the matter until the door to the stranger's bedroom opens, and he emerges, clad as usual in goggles and bandages. The stranger stops to address the assembled villagers. "Look there!" he commands with a pointed finger. They all look and see the bottle of sarsaparilla standing neglected by the cellar door. The stranger then enters the parlour and slams the door in their faces.

Mr. Wadgers recommends that Mr. Hall confront the stranger and demand an explanation. When Mr. Hall does so (after some time spent working up his nerve), the stranger barks, "Go to the devil! And shut that door after you!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Invisible Man V: The Burglary at the Vicarage

We take up the story of The Invisible Man with chapter V, "The Burglary at the Vicarage". A vicarage, btw, is the residence of the vicar, the local Anglican parish priest. The vicarage belongs to the local parish of the Church of England, and the vicar and his family (if he has one) live there during his tenure as parish priest.

We met the Vicar of Iping, the Reverend Mr. Bunting, in chapter IV, when the village doctor, Mr. Cuss, had his curious interview with the mysterious boarder at the Coach and Horses Inn. Wells records that the vicar's only reaction to Mr. Cuss's peculiar tale was "It's a most remarkable story. It's really a most remarkable story."

Our story resumes in the early hours of Whit Monday, the day after Pentacost, known in England as Whitsunday. In 1896, the leap year in which The Invisible Man seems to take place,  Whit Monday falls on May 25. This would be a few days after Mr. Cuss's interview with the stranger.

The Rev. Mr. Bunting and his wife are asleep, when Mrs. Bunting is awakened by the sound of their bedroom door opening and closing. She hears the sound of bare feet creeping along the hall outside their room, and she wakes her husband. He does not light a candle, but instead puts on his glasses and a dressing gown and slippers in the dark and slips out of their room. He hears someone in his study downstairs, along with a violent sneeze. Having confirmed that someone has broken into their house, he returns to the bedroom, grabs the poker from the fireplace, and heads downstairs. His wife follows him, but remains for the moment at the top of the landing.

As the Rev. Mr. Bunting makes his way downstairs, he hears the snap of a desk drawer's lock being forced, the drawer opening, the rustle of papers being moved, a muttered curse, and the sound of a match being struck and a candle lit. When the Rev. Mr. Bunting reaches the bottom of the stairs, he can see into his study. He can see the desk with the open drawer and the candle resting on it, but not the burglar.

As the Rev. Mr. Bunting stands indecisively in the hall, his wife joins him. Then he hears the sounds of gold coins clinking. The burglar (wherever he is) has found the household cash: five gold half sovereigns. This the vicar cannot allow, and he rushes into the room and yells "Surrender!"

The room is empty, yet the vicar and his wife are certain they can hear someone inside. The search the room, but can find nobody there. The couple stand there befuddled until they hear a sneeze out in the passageway. They rush out, carrying the candle, and hear the kitchen door slam shut. The vicar opens it, and through the kitchen he sees through the scullery that the back door has opened. They can see the garden beyond the back door in the dawn's early light, but no burglar.

The couple close the back door and thoroughly search kitchen, scullery, and cellar, but they are alone in the house. Sunrise finds them still standing on the ground floor of the vicarage, utterly perplexed.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Birthers: a clarification

Back in 2008, when Senator Barack Obama was running for president, a group of Hillary Clinton dead-enders called PUMAs started running with a conspiracy theory claiming that Obama's Hawaiian birth had been faked somehow, and that he was actually born in Kenya, and was thus ineligible to serve as President of the United States. This was despite the fact that the Clinton campaign itself had found Obama's birth announcement in a Honolulu newspaper. The PUMA conspiracy theory quickly spread to various right wing sources, including Joseph Farah's WorldNetDaily, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and, eventually, Donald Trump. The proponents of this conspiracy theory became known as birthers, by analogy with the 9/11 attack conspiracy theorists, known as truthers.

In an amusing sequel to the birther phenomenon, Donald Trump, now himself the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is claiming that rival candidate Senator Ted Cruz's Canadian birth makes him ineligible to serve as president. Because of the similarity of the claims against Cruz and Obama, and because Trump himself has made the same claim against both men, the term "birther" is being applied to Trump and other figures who are disputing Cruz's eligibility.

This is wrong. The anti-Obama conspiracy-mongers were called birthers because the heart of their conspiracy theory involved disputing that Obama was born in the United States. That is not the case with Cruz. Everyone, including Cruz himself, agrees that he was not born in the United States. Thus, there is no actual conspiracy theory involved; only the legal question of whether Cruz's universally-acknowledged foreign birth disqualifies him for the presidency.

If you want a term for the people who dispute Cruz's eligibility, you might call them "natural-borners", because the issue they raise is whether Cruz is a natural-born citizen within the meaning of the Constitution. Thus, Trump is both a "birther" and a "natural-borner", while Mary Brigid McManamon is a "natural-borner" but not a "birther".

Cruz's current natural-borner controversy is particularly amusing because, had it not been for the birthers making a prolonged fuss about Obama's alleged foreign birth, the question of Cruz's actual foreign birth might not even have come up.

Monday, January 11, 2016

General Philip Benner

General Philip Benner (1762 - 1832) was a businessman in the iron trade from Pennsylvania. Benner Township, in Centre County, is named after him.

Born in East Viincent township, Chester County on May 19, 1762, at a young age Benner served in the American Revolutionary War. Benner went into the iron smelting business after the war in Coventry, Chester County, with a store in East Vincent. After marrying Ruth Roberts (1765 - 1827), Benner purchased land in what was then Upper Bald Eagle Township, Mifflin County in 1792, and established an iron foundry there two years later. It may have been around this time that Benner was commissioned a major-general of militia, the source of his military title. Benner's business interests in the area expanded to include a grist mill and a slitting mill by the time Centre County was established in 1800. From 1802 to 1811, Benner was involved in a legal dispute over the ownership of his land, which ended with him losing his case and being compelled to buy his land a second time.

With the land dispute settled, Benner expanded production from his iron foundry, opening up a trade in iron with Pittsburgh and the western counties. In 1821, Benner became the first president of the Centre & Kishacoquillas Turnpike Company, and assisted in the construction of the turnpike. Benner also contributed to the construction of water-works in the borough of Bellefonte, as well as several houses there. Benner opened stores in Bellefonte and Ferguson township.

As Benner's businesses were expanding in the 1820s, the United States was emerging from the Era of Good Feeling and entering the period of the Second Party System, when the rise of Andrew Jackson split the dominant Democratic-Republican Party into pro- and anti-Jackson factions. Benner was a Jackson supporter, and he served as a presidential elector for the 1824 Jackson-Calhoun ticket. Following Jackson's defeat in the 1824 election, his supporters began building up a new, populist political machine, the foundation of the modern Democratic Party. Benner took part in this partisan activity by establishing the Centre Democrat in 1827.

Despite his general success as a businessman, Benner did suffer the occasional setback. He once spent $50,000 financing the building of a steamboat in Pittsburgh, and loading it with a cargo of iron. The steamboat captain Benner hired was supposed to sell the iron and use to proceeds to purchase a cargo of tobacco for return to Pittsburgh. Instead, he sold the steamboat along with the iron, and absconded to Europe with the money.

Mrs. Ruth Benner died on January 7, 1827 at the age of sixty-two. Her husband died five years later, on July 27, 1832. The couple had eight children.

David Bowie 1947-2016

Today's embedded music video features David Bowie performing the title track from the 1986 film Absolute Beginners.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle: The Carlisle Commission

In For Want of a Nail, Sobel takes a page from our own history, and has Lord North send a peace commission to the Continental Congress in the spring of 1778 headed by the Earl of Carlisle. In our own history, this came after the surrender of Burgoyne's army at the Battle of Saratoga, and was a desperate attempt by North to forestall a military alliance between the American rebels and the French. In our history, North deliberately deceived the commission's members by failing to tell them that he had ordered General Clinton to evacuate Philadelphia. Had he done so, of course, the commissioners would have known that their mission was doomed to failure, and they would have refused to go. As it was, the mission had already failed before the commissioners set out from London, since the Americans and the French had already signed an alliance in February.

One would expect that a British victory at Saratoga would have made the North ministry more determined than ever to use military force to crush the American rebellion. This would have been consistent with 15 years of previous British policy, which was based on a dismissal of American concerns and contempt for the Americans as people. However, Sobel was evidently interested in exploring a world where the Americans returned to being loyal British subjects, and a long, costly British military campaign in America, even if successful, would have sowed the seeds of lasting enmity between Britain and America. So, instead of military conquest, Sobel shows us a British government willing to use negotiations, and satisfaction of American grievances, to end the war. In the Sobel Timeline, the Carlisle Commission basically offers the Americans the same terms as it did in our history. With the Rebellion going much worse for the Americans, this turns out to be an offer that the Americans can't refuse.

* * *
(this section continues on from the Joseph Galloway section)

In London, rumors of victory and defeat in America came hard upon one another’s heels. Word came first of defeat at Bennington, then at Freeman’s Farm, then at Bemis Heights. All of London held its breath, as if fearing that the next news from America would tell of Burgoyne’s surrender to Gates. Instead, news came of Gates’ defeat, and the disintegration of his army. Burgoyne’s victory, along with Howe’s capture of Philadelphia and his repulse of Washington’s counterattack, raised the prestige of the North ministry, and discredited those like Burke and Wilkes who had denounced the ministry’s America policy. Finally, North received word from Paul Wentworth, his agent in Paris, that the French government had grown discouraged by the news from America and was cutting off its supplies of money and arms to the rebels. Wentworth also reported that he had been approached by Franklin, who wished to negotiate an end to the Rebellion and the return of the colonies to British rule. [1]

If the Americans had given up hope of winning their independence, North had given up hope of the military conquest of the rebellious colonies. Burgoyne’s report on his victory had stressed the failure of the expected Loyalist uprising to occur, and the stiff resistance he had encountered from the rebels. He also emphasized the precarious nature of his occupation of Albany, and the general anti-British sentiment of the surrounding country. [2] With these facts in mind, on February 16, 1778, North called a secret meeting of the Cabinet to discuss a possible negotiated settlement of the conflict. No one present disagreed with North’s analysis of the general situation: the ministry had erred badly in its response to the Americans’ growing intransigence in the Crisis, misreading the temper of the American colonists, and the strength of Loyalist sentiment. Instead of cowing the Americans into submission, the ministry’s policies had stiffened the Americans’ resolve to resist, and finally driven them into open rebellion.

Without revealing the source of his information, North informed the Cabinet that the Americans were prepared to return to British rule provided that there was a general settlement of colonial grievances along the lines of Galloway’s Plan of Union. There were heated objections from a few members, notably Lord Germain, but a majority of the Cabinet sided with North, as long as the proposal was seen to emanate from the ministry rather than the colonists. A month later, a commission headed by the Earl of Carlisle was sent to the Congress to offer the proposed settlement. [3]

Events in America continued to favor the reconciliationists. Disillusioned former soldiers from the Continental Army blamed the Congress, and the revolutionary state governments, for the military failures suffered at Saratoga-Albany and Philadelphia. In Virginia, for instance, Governor Patrick Henry was deposed by Theodorick Bland, who had served as a cavalry commander in the Continental Army under Washington. Bland and his supporters (most of whom, like him, were former members of the Continental Army), raised up Edmund Pendleton in Henry’s place. Pendleton issued instructions to Virginia’s delegation to the Congress to support efforts at reconciliation with Britain, leading to the resignations of the radical members Richard Henry Lee and Joseph Jones. [4]

Events in Virginia were echoed elsewhere in the rebellious colonies. By the time the Earl of Carlisle’s commission arrived in America in early May, reconciliationists had gained control of the Congress, and Galloway was one of its most prominent members, replacing Carroll as President on May 23. Under Galloway’s leadership, the Congress agreed on May 27 to ask Lord North for an armistice based on the Carlisle proposals. Carlisle sent word to the British military leadership of the agreement, and they began making preparations for the joint military rule of the reunited colonies that would cause them to be known as the Four Viceroys. The formal articles for armistice were signed by Carlisle and Galloway on June 12, 1778, and over the next two weeks most of the remaining rebel militia surrendered to their British counterparts. The North American Rebellion was over. [5]

1. Dame Brook Alyson. Lord North and His Times (London, 2001), pp. 356-62.

2. Wesley Van Luvender. The Military Thought and Actions of John Burgoyne (New York, 1944), p. 476-79.

3. Henderson Bundy. The Carlisle Commission (New York, 2005), pp. 34-36.

4. Patricia Foster Gooch. Virginia in Rebellion, 1775-1778 (Norfolk, 1997), pp. 282-93.

5. Bundy. The Carlisle Commission, pp. 203-11.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

More armed white men

So, a bunch of armed white men have taken over an unoccupied building in a wildlife refuge in Oregon, in defense of a couple of imprisoned poachers, Dwight Hammond, Jr. and his son Steven Hammond (in other words, more armed white men). Needless to say, the armed white men in question are a group of right-wing gun nuts. The leader of the armed white men, Ammon Bundy, says in a YouTube video that God told him and his followers to take over the building: "I began to understand how the Lord felt about the Hammonds," Bundy says in the video. "I began to understand how the Lord felt about Harney County and about this country. And I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds".

This just confirms my belief that white men are the greatest danger facing our country. None of us will be safe until the government recognizes the danger posed by white men and takes firm steps to bring them under control. I suggest implanting chips in their heads that cause them to lose consciousness when activated. In a country where white men have disproportionate control of political and economic power, it's the only way to ensure the safety and security of everyone else.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Invisible Man IV: Mr. Cuss Interviews the Stranger

Having spent the first three chapters of The Invisible Man describing the stranger's arrival in Iping, Wells shifts to a more general account of his residency there. The stranger mostly keeps to himself in the Coach and Horses, and only goes out into the village after nightfall. There are several theories about the stranger's behavior: Mrs. Hall is satisfied with the stranger's own explanation that he is an experimenter who suffered a disfiguring accident. Teddy Henfrey thinks he is a criminal hiding out from the police. The schoolteacher Gould thinks he is an anarchist planning to commit an act of terrorism. The postman Fearenside continues to believe that he is a piebald half-breed.Whatever the explanation, the villagers generally dislike him. However, Mrs. Hall is content to allow him to stay in her inn as long as he pays his bills on time.

One day, towards Whitsuntide (ie just before Whitsunday, which in 1896 fell on May 24), the village doctor, Mr. Cuss, is driven by curiosity to speak with the stranger. The stranger explains that he is trying to recreate a prescription he was given, but which was blown into a lit fire and burned to ashes while he wasn't looking. Cuss then notices that the stranger is missing a hand. Oddly, his sleeve isn't pinned up; it moves around as though there were an arm inside it, even though he can see that there is no arm. When Cuss draws the stranger's attention to this odd phenomenon, the stranger lifts his arm up and points the sleeve directly at the doctor's face. Then, to the doctor's astonishment, he feels his nose being tweaked, as though by a finger and thumb.

Cuss is badly frightened. He knocks the sleeve away and flees the inn. After he tells his story to Bunting, the local vicar, that man says gravely, "It's a most remarkable story. It's really a most remarkable story."

Friday, January 1, 2016

Sobel Wiki: Remaking a Continent

This month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Kinkaid Canal, the Sobel Timeline counterpart to our own Panama Canal.

As is often the case with the Sobel Timeline, the Kinkaid Canal is a sort of funhouse-mirror version of the Panama Canal. First and foremost, it is in Nicaragua rather than Panama. This is actually a pretty high-probability event. There were a number of proposals in our own time for a canal through Nicaragua, one of them made by none other than then-Secretary of State Henry Clay in 1826. Clay's proposal was turned down, due in part to political instability in Central America, and due to the fact that the British controlled a lot of the territory in the vicinity of the proposed canal route.

The British were not a problem in the Sobel Timeline, for reasons that Sobel never revealed. He makes no mention of the British colony at Belize, though his frontispiece map shows it as part of the Mexican state of Chiapas. He also doesn't say how the British lost control of the Mosquito Coast, the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. All he does say is that Central America is united into a single country called Guatemala (or as he inexplicably spells it, Guatamala), and that this country has spent years disputing possession of the Isthmus of Panama with the South American nation of New Granada. It is this, more than anything else, that convinces Sobel's master Robber Baron, Bernard Kramer, to opt for a canal through undisputed Guatemalan territory.

Kramer Associates was originally formed in 1865 as a consortium of California businessmen with the purpose of improving transportation links between their state and the North Atlantic nations, and especially with the Caribbean coast of the United States of Mexico. Building an interoceanic canal is the obvious project for K.A. to undertake, and Kramer spends his first five years as head of K.A. laying the groundwork for it.

In our own history, the U.S. Navy assisted Panamanian separatists who seceded from Columbia in 1903, as part of a project by President Roosevelt to build a canal. In the Sobel Timeline, it was Kramer's company, acting independently of the Mexican government, that financed a coup d'etat in Guatemala as part of the canal project. The canal received its final name after Mexican President Omar Kinkaid was assassinated, and Kramer decided to name the recently-completed canal after him. This may have started a trend in the Sobel Timeline, because a British canal in Egypt was named, not after the Gulf of Suez, but after Queen Victoria.

Btw, the map of the Kinkaid Canal at the top of this blog post was created by For All Nails mastermind Noel Maurer, who later went on to co-author a book on the Panama Canal with his fellow FAN alumnus Carlos Yu.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

What I Believe

As we look back on the year 2015, I think we would all do well to remember actor/director/comedian Steve Martin's heartfelt message "What I Believe", as true today as when he recorded it back in 1981.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Who is Snoke?

No need for spoiler warnings here, because I won't be talking about any particular plot points in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Instead, I'll focus on an odd bit of background: Supreme Leader Snoke, head of the evil First Order.

The most pressing question concerning Snoke is who is he? The prequel trilogy dealt with several of the older characters in the original trilogy, including both of the major bad guys: Palpatine and Darth Vader. So, say what you want about the prequels (and plenty can be said about them), at least they didn't leave us hanging about who these guys were.

Snoke, on the other hand, is just sort of there, running the First Order. His name suggests ...

You know what? I'm going to pause this analysis for a bit to reflect on what a terrible, terrible name "Snoke" is. Snoke is no proper name for an Evil Overlord. An Evil Overlord name needs to be something Greco-Latinate like Sidious or Galactus or Thanos or Davros; or else something that sounds just plain evil like Morgoth or Voldemort. But Snoke? Snoke is the name you give to the comic relief character, or at best to the plucky sidekick. You do not name the Evil Overlord Snoke.

Where was I? Oh yeah, his name (which is, I must repeat, just terrible) doesn't suggest a Sith Lord, even though he seems to be a master of the Dark Side of the Force. Maybe he's just some bush league Force sensitive bad guy who happened to luck his way into the leadership of the First Order. Or ..

Or you may be familiar with a fan theory that was making the rounds a few months ago, arguing that Jar Jar Binks was the secret mastermind behind the rise of the Galactic Empire in the prequel trilogy. Is it possible that Darth Jar Jar is Snoke? True, Snoke looks nothing like Jar Jar, but bear in mind that we never actually see Snoke in the flesh. He's always just an image, a hologram issuing orders to Kylo Ren and General Hox, and images can be manipulated, or even created from scratch. The Darth Jar Jar theory suggests that Jar Jar always operates from behind the scenes, using Palpatine as a catspaw in the prequel trilogy (and presumably in the original trilogy as well). Creating a holographic alter ego to act as the face of the First Order would be completely in character for Darth Jar Jar.

In that case, maybe the name Snoke is Jar Jar's crowning achievement: giving the presumed evil mastermind a name that's even more ridiculous than his own.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Invisible Man III: The Thousand and One Bottles

We resume the tale of The Invisible Man the day after he takes a room at the Coach and Horses. Mr. Fearenside, the postman, has brought the stranger's belongings from the railway station: a couple of normal traveler's trunks, a box of books, and a dozen or so assorted other boxes. Mr. Hall's curiosity gets the better of him, and he looks in one of them. He finds dozens of bottles packed in straw. The stranger emerges from the inn to supervise the unloading of his boxes, and is immediately set upon by Mr. Fearenside's dog, who rips one of the stranger's gloves and tears a pantleg. The postman uses his whip to drive the dog away, and the stranger rushes back inside the inn. Mr. Hall follows him to his room and enters. Inside the dark room he gets a brief impression of three empty spots in the bandaged face, and a handless arm, before a sudden blow sends him tumbling out of the room.

The two trunks are brought to the stranger's room, while the rest of the boxes are delivered to the parlour. The stranger unpacks the bottles and sets to work combining their contents in a set of test tubes. Mrs. Hall pauses outside the parlour long enough to hear the stranger groan in dismay at the vast scope of the project before him.

Later that afternoon, while Mr. Fearenside is having a beer with Mr. Henfrey, he reveals that after his dog tore the stranger's clothing, there was nothing but blackness within. Given that the stranger's nose is pink, the two men come to the conclusion that he is some sort of piebald half-breed.

We also learn in this chapter that the date of the stranger's arrival is February 29, and thus that the story takes place in a leap year, most likely 1896, the year before its publication, and probably the year Wells wrote it. The incident of the dog in the daytime took place the next day, on March 1. If the story was indeed set in 1896, then the stranger would have arrived in Iping on a Saturday.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Invisible Man II: Mr. Teddy Henfrey's First Impressions

 In chapter II of The Invisible Man, we are introduced to Mr. Teddy Henfrey, the local clock-jobber. If anybody in the Bramblehurst-Iping Metropolitan Area has a clock that needs repairing, Mr. Teddy Henfrey is the man to call. He turns up at the Coach and Horses around four in the afternoon, as the light of this snowy day is starting to fade. Mrs. Hall is pleased to see him, since he has his bag of tools with him, and the clock in the parlour has an hour hand that won't move.

The parlour of course is the room her mysterious guest has rented for the week, so for Mrs. Hall the arrival of Mr. Henfrey is doubly fortuitous. She taps lightly at the parlour door and ushers Mr. Henfrey in. Her guest is asleep in the armchair facing the fireplace, and the dying embers provide the only illumination. She can just about make out his bandaged and goggled head in the dim light, but to her astonishment she can't see any sign of his jaw; it's as though his mouth has expanded to absorb the lower quarter of his face.

Then the mysterious man wakes up and holds a muffler over his mouth, and Mrs. Hall decides she was seeing things. She asks her guest if Mr. Henfrey can come in and fix the clock, and he agrees. He then asks Mrs. Hall to fix him some tea after Mr. Henfrey is finished, and she agrees. He also inquires again about the boxes he left at the train station, and Mrs. Hall explains that she has told the postman, who will be picking them up the next day. The guest once more asks whether that's the earliest he can have them, and Mrs. Hall, now becoming annoyed by his persistence, tells him again that, yes, that's the earliest he can have them.

The guest, clearly not wishing to see his hostess become annoyed with him, explains that he is an inventor, and that the boxes contain his supplies and apparatus. This increases the landlady's opinion of her guest, and he goes on to explain:
"My reason for coming to Iping," he proceeded, with a certain deliberation of manner, "was ... a desire for solitude. I do not wish to be disturbed in my work. In addition to my work, an accident—"

"I thought as much," said Mrs. Hall to herself.

"—necessitates a certain retirement. My eyes—are sometimes so weak and painful that I have to shut myself up in the dark for hours together. Lock myself up. Sometimes—now and then. Not at present, certainly. At such times the slightest disturbance, the entry of a stranger into the room, is a source of excruciating annoyance to me—it is well these things should be understood."

"Certainly, sir," said Mrs. Hall. "And if I might make so bold as to ask—"

"That I think, is all," said the stranger, with that quietly irresistible air of finality he could assume at will. Mrs. Hall reserved her question and sympathy for a better occasion.
As he sets to work on the clock, Mr. Henfrey is just as unnerved by the guest's appearance as Mrs. Hall was, and he deliberately takes his time working on the clock so he'll have more time to rubberneck. The guest sees what Mr. Henfrey is up to, and becomes annoyed. When Mr. Henfrey tries an opening conversational gambit about the weather, the guest interrupts him. "Why don't you finish and go?" said the rigid figure, evidently in a state of painfully suppressed rage. "All you've got to do is to fix the hour-hand on its axle. You're simply humbugging—"

Mr. Henfrey quickly finishes his work and retreats from the Coach and Horses. On his way into town, he passes Mrs. Hall's husband, who is returning from a trip to a neighboring village in the inn's horse and carriage. We learn that Mr. Hall and his wife are recently wed, and Mr. Henfrey surmises from Mr. Hall's driving that he remained at the neighboring village for a while to wet his whistle.

Mr. Henfrey warns Mr. Hall that he's got "a rum 'un" at the Coach and Horses. He darkly suggests that the guest has disguised himself for some nefarious purpose, and expresses alarm over the fact that the guest hasn't revealed his name. Mr. Hall decides he'd better look into the matter, but when he arrives at the inn Mrs. Hall gives him hell for staying away so long. After the guest retires to his bedroom for the night, Mr. Hall sneaks into the parlour to make sure he hasn't nicked any of the furnishings. He sees a sheet of mathematical computations that the guest left behind, but is not impressed by it.
When retiring for the night he instructed Mrs. Hall to look very closely at the stranger's luggage when it came next day.

"You mind your own business, Hall," said Mrs. Hall, "and I'll mind mine."

She was all the more inclined to snap at Hall because the stranger was undoubtedly an unusually strange sort of stranger, and she was by no means assured about him in her own mind. In the middle of the night she woke up dreaming of huge white heads like turnips, that came trailing after her, at the end of interminable necks, and with vast black eyes. But being a sensible woman, she subdued her terrors and turned over and went to sleep again.
The outstanding question the reader is left with from chapter II is not anything to do with the mysterious stranger, but what Mr. and Mrs. Hall see in each other. Mr. Henfrey observes that Mr. Hall is "a man of sluggish apprehension", and apparently he's also lazy and rather too fond of the bottle. Not only do they not act like newlyweds, they act like an old married couple who have grown heartily sick of each other. Is it possible that the two of them had a drunken night of sexual hijinks that left her pregnant and in need of a husband? Or does he know some dark secret about her, perhaps regarding the mysterious death of a previous husband, and blackmailed himself into a comfortable situation with the owner of a moderately profitable business?

Perhaps we'll learn the answers to these questions in chapter III, "The Thousand and One Bottles."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Trump's Deal" jumps the shark

 "Trump's Deal" famously began in 1984, when NBC approached veteran television producer Stephen J. Cannell about creating a "prime time soap" for them in the mold of ABC's "Dallas" and "Dynasty". Cannell agreed, and that fall NBC premiered the hour-long drama starring Ted Danson as New York City real-estate mogul Donald Trump and Czech supermodel Paulina Porizkova as his wife Ivana. NBC got the backdrop of wealth and high fashion it wanted, but it also inevitably got Cannell's quirky humor. "Trump's Deal" was as much a satire of the prime time soap genre as a member of it. Danson's Trump was a loud, vulgar buffoon who moved among New York's wealthy elite like a rhino among a herd of thoroughbred horses.

The series was not the blockbuster NBC had been hoping for, but it quickly won a dedicated fanbase, and its solid ratings made it a fixture on the network. However, network executives clashed with Cannell over the direction of the series in 1990, and he left the show. Series star Danson took over production of the show, and he made a series of changes to the show that alienated longtime fans, including writing out co-star Porizkova in favor of Shelly Long, with whom he had co-starred in the short-lived sitcom "Cheers".  The series' rating fell sharply, and NBC cancelled "Trump's Deal" in 1992.

The series was unexpectedly revived in 2004 due to a chance meeting between Danson and actor/comedian/producer Gary Shandling. Shandling was best known for "The Larry Sanders Show" (1992-1998), an HBO series in which he played a talk show host, with the series centered around the production of the talk show. Shandling was looking to produce a similar series about a reality show. Danson convinced Shandling to use the Donald Trump character as the host of the series, and the result was the second incarnation of "Trump's Deal". Now the Trump character was the host of a reality show called "The Apprentice" where he tyrannized a group of would-be business executives, firing one at the end of each episode.

"Trump's Deal" was facing cancellation again last year when Danson arranged for the series to move from HBO to AMC, this time with Aaron Sorkin as producer. Once again, the series underwent a radical change in format. Now, the Trump character was running for president in the Republican primary. Sorkin took advantage of cutting-edge CGI to show the Trump character interacting with actual Republican primary candidates, including Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Dr. Ben Carson.

Unfortunately, Sorkin's own liberal political ideology has turned "Trump's Deal" into a travesty. The loud, vulgar buffoon has been transformed into a loud, vulgar racist ideologue. And not content with having Trump run as a Republican, Sorkin has him leading the candidate field by a large margin. The result is a bizarre alternate version of the Republican primary, with frontrunner Bush reduced to a pathetic also-ran, Dr. Carson parodied as a somnolent know-nothing evangelical Christian, and Fiorina launching a series of defamatory attacks on Planned Parenthood.

Sorkin clearly intends to continue the series by having the Trump character win the Republican nomination, and rumors from the production suggest he intends to have Trump win the general election. Sorkin apparently seeks to turn "Trump's Deal" into a dark mirror-image of his celebrated NBC series "The West Wing" (1999-2006), showing a crazed Republican administration under Trump. We can only hope that AMC has better sense than to renew the series for a second year.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Invisible Man I: The Strange Man's Arrival

Now that I've finished reading (and blogging about) H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau, I've decided to move on to his third scientific romance (and fifth novel), The Invisible Man, a Grotesque Romance. Like Moreau, The Invisible Man is a classic SF novel that shares the fate of all classics: everybody has heard of it, but hardly anybody has read it, including me.

Unlike Wellls' two previous scientific romances, The Time Machine and Moreau, The Invisible Man does not have a framing story or a first-person narrator. We simply have an ordinary third-person narrative, which opens with the arrival of a man at a country inn. The inn is the Coach and Horses in Bramblehurst, a fictional town in West Sussex. It's early February, there's a driving snowstorm, and the man apparently walked all the way from the railway station carrying a small black suitcase. Given the weather, it's not surprising that the man is bundled from head to toe. What is surprising is that the man is wearing goggles, so that the only visible part of his entire body is the tip of his nose. The man pays two sovereigns* for a room, and the inn's owner, Mrs. Hall, is not inclined to argue with such a generous guest, especially given how rare guests are at this time of year. Mrs. Hall, by the way, speaks with a bucolic accent that Sam Gamgee would find perfectly familiar, scolding her lethargic servant, "ain't you done them taters yet, Millie?"

Oddly, when Mrs. Hall offers to take the man's hat and coat and hang them in the inn's kitchen to dry, the man refuses, saying, "I prefer to keep them on." He also never removes his goggles. The man sits down and warms himself in front of the fire in the inn's parlour, still wearing his hat and coat. When Mrs. Hall brings the man his lunch, she sees that he has finally removed his hat, revealing that his whole head is bandaged, and she assumes that he has been injured. When she hints about it to him, he neither confirms nor denies her supposition. He does mention that he left some baggage at Bramblehurst railway station, and asks whether anyone can go get it for him. Mrs. Hall tells him that it won't arrive until the next day. It seems that the road to the station is too steep to travel in the snow. The man, though disappointed, resigns himself to the wait. He spends the rest of the day alone in the parlour.

Mrs. Hall is quite perplexed at her guest's peculiar refusal to allow his face to be seen. The reader, however, knowing that the story is called The Invisible Man, will have his own suspicions about the man's reasons. We will doubtless learn more of the man's story in chapter II: "Mr. Teddy Henfrey's First Impressions".

*A sovereign is a gold coin worth £1.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Moreau After Dark

H.G. Wells was not a man to shy away from the most intimate aspects of humanity. However, writing in the late Victorian Era, he could not be as explicit as he may have wished to be. For instance, in The Island of Doctor Moreau, you have a situation where three men are living on an island full of uplifted animals of both sexes. If the uplifted female animals are sufficiently human, the men are going to be sexually attracted to them. Wells never actually comes right out and says that any of his human men are banging the animal girls, but if you read between the lines, it becomes clear that, yeah, they are.

In chapter XV, "Concerning the Beast Folk", for instance, Prendick makes an odd observation about Montgomery: "I fancied even then that he had a sneaking kindness for some of these metamorphosed brutes, a vicious sympathy with some of their ways, but that he attempted to veil it from me at first." This sentence is sufficiently opaque that Prendick/Wells might have been talking about anything, but given the attitudes of the time, the only subject he would need to be opaque about would be sex. In addition, a few paragraphs earlier, Prendick/Wells states that "The females were less numerous than the males, and liable to much furtive persecution in spite of the monogamy the Law enjoined." In other words, the Law included a prohibition against rape and sexual promiscuity, but most of the male uplifted animals ignored it, and it doesn't require a great stretch of the imagination to believe that this was the "vicious sympathy with some of their ways" that Montgomery exhibited.

As for Prendick himself, after Moreau and Montgomery are killed, he takes to living in the village established by the uplifted animals. As the uplifts slowly revert to animalism, Prendick remarks on "how the quasi-human intimacy I had permitted myself with some of them in the first month of my loneliness became a shuddering horror to recall." Again, this is sufficiently vague that Prendick/Wells could be talking about anything; it is suggestive because there is only one topic he would need to be this vague about.

A few decades later, when Hollywood made its first film version of this novel, "Island of Lost Souls" it was made explicit that the Prendick character (named Parker in the film) was attracted to an uplifted panther woman named Lota. Every subsequent dramatization of the novel includes a romance between the variously-named Prendick character and an uplifted animal woman, because every Hollywood movie needs a romance plotline, and the writers can't resist the idea of a match between a human man and an uplifted animal woman.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Moreau XXII: The Man Alone

As chapter XXII: "The Man Alone" opens, Prendick sets out from the island of Doctor Moreau on board a ship's boat. As he drifts along, eating and drinking sparingly from his stores, he finds that he doesn't particularly want to return to the company of his fellow humans. He remains adrift for three days before being rescued by a brig sailing from Apia to San Francisco.

In his introduction, Prendick's nephew states that his uncle was rescued on January 5, 1888. Working backwards from this, we find that Prendick first saw the boat's sail on December 31, 1887. He first boarded it, dumped its deceased occupants on the beach, and sailed off on January 1, 1888; the next day he made his last visit to the island for food and water, then set out for the open sea.

Prendick tells his story to the captain and first mate of the brig, but they refuse to believe him and decide he must have been driven mad by solitude. After that, he keeps his story to himself, feigning amnesia to avoid explaining how he spent the eleven months after the wreck of the Lady Vain.

Although he of course doesn't use the term, it is clear that Prendick is suffering from post-traumatic stress. He observes, "My memory of the Law, of the two dead sailors, of the ambuscades of the darkness, of the body in the canebrake, haunted me; and, unnatural as it seems, with my return to mankind came, instead of that confidence and sympathy I had expected, a strange enhancement of the uncertainty and dread I had experienced during my stay upon the island. No one would believe me; I was almost as queer to men as I had been to the Beast People. I may have caught something of the natural wildness of my companions. They say that terror is a disease, and anyhow I can witness that for several years now a restless fear has dwelt in my mind,—such a restless fear as a half-tamed lion cub may feel."

Prendick's PTSD results in his being unable to relax around other people. He can't rid himself of the feeling that they, too, are uplifted animals (as in a sense they are, though due to natural evolution rather than Moreau's brutal surgery), and that at any time they may start to revert to animalism as Moreau's experimental subjects did. Once back in London, Prendick tells his story one more time, to a psychiatrist who knew Moreau, and who is inclined to give Prendick the benefit of the doubt. The psychiatrist is able to help Prendick come to terms with his experience, though he is never entirely free from the terror. In the end. Prendick leaves London and takes up residence in the unpopulated countryside, where he reads and conducts chemical and astronomical research. His greatest solace is to look up into the night sky and contemplate the stars.

Prendick's nephew notes that the only island known in the region his uncle was picked up was Noble's Isle, "a small volcanic islet and uninhabited. It was visited in 1891 by H. M. S. Scorpion. A party of sailors then landed, but found nothing living thereon except certain curious white moths, some hogs and rabbits, and some rather peculiar rats." Noble's Isle is an invention of Wells; the area where he places it is an open stretch of the Pacific Ocean about 500 miles west of the Galapagos Islands.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Moreau XXI: The Reversion of the Beast Folk

As chapter XXI: "The Reversion of the Beast Folk" opens, Prendick acknowledges that he has "became one among the Beast People in the Island of Doctor Moreau." He awakens at night to find that the uplifted St. Bernard dog has joined him in his hut. The uplifted dog declares himself Prendick's slave, and Prendick accepts him. With a faithful servant at his side, Prendick's courage revives. Together, the two of them join a score of the other uplifted animals who have gathered together around a fire. Prendick repeats that Moreau is not dead, and is still watching over them.
“The House of Pain is gone,” said I. “It will come again. The Master you cannot see; yet even now he listens among you.”

“True, true!” said the Dog-man.

They were staggered at my assurance. An animal may be ferocious and cunning enough, but it takes a real man to tell a lie.
Over the course of the next hour, Prendick manages to convince a few of the uplifted animals, and sow enough doubt in the minds of the others to ensure his own safety and maintain the force of the Law.

However, Moreau's surgical uplifting was not permanent. By slow degrees, his experimental subjects lose their grip on humanity and revert to animalism. As they do so, Prendick and the uplifted dog move out of the uplift village and set up a separate hut in the ruins of the burned-out compound. "Some memory of pain, I found, still made that place the safest from the Beast Folk."

Prendick keeps watch for ships, especially the Ipecacuanha, but the few he sees never come close enough for him to signal them. By September or October, after his arm has healed, Prendick starts to build a raft, but he is severely hampered by his own lack of mechanical skill. After his first attempt fails, Prendick is moping in his hut when the uplifted sloth -- by now almost completely reverted -- returns. Prendick eventually realizes that the sloth wants him to follow it, and he does. The sloth leads him to a clearing in the jungle where he finds that the hyena-swine has killed the St. Bernard. The predator growls at Prendick, and simultaneously Prendick shoots it as it leaps at him. The hyena-swine knocks Prendick down, but it is already dead from his shot, and he is able to crawl out from underneath it.

With the animals almost completely reverted, Prendick realizes that he has to leave the island to save himself from them, and he makes another attempt to build a raft. Before he can launch it into the sea, he sees a sail slowly approaching the island. Prendick builds a signal fire, but the boat ignores it. The next day, the boat is close enough for Prendick to see that its two passengers are dead. The boat beaches itself, and Prendick goes aboard. He finds that one of the dead men has red hair like the captain of the Ipecacuanha. (In his introduction, Prendick's nephew states that the Ipecacuanha had gone missing.)

Prendick tilts the boat over and drags the corpses out. This immediately attracts three of the remaining carnivores, two wolves and a bear-bull hybrid. Prendick pushes the boat out to sea and climbs in. He sails around to a stream near the former village of the uplifted animals, fills an empty keg from the boat, collects some fruit, and kills two rabbits with the last of his cartridges. Prendick is ready at last to leave the island of Doctor Moreau.