Tuesday, October 6, 2015


I didn't realize it at the time, but I reached a crucial turning point in my life when I chose "Johnny Pez" over "Augustus Sol Invictus" as my online pseudonym.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sobel Wiki: "Heaven, thy name is California"

This month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on California, the wealthiest and most populous of the United States of Mexico.

Sobel's California is not like Sobel's Southern Confederation. The S.C. was a sort of funhouse-mirror version of our history's Southern Confederacy, voluntarily abolishing slavery in 1841 rather than clinging to the institution to the bitter end. Sobel's California, however, is an awful lot like our history's California. It had a gold rush just like ours (albeit ten years early), it's an agricultural wonderland just like ours, and it seems to have an Anglo majority just like ours.

Sobel's California is rather larger than ours, since it also includes our world's Baja Peninsula, most of our world's Oregon, and about half of our world's Washington state. The major difference between Sobel's California and ours is that his gave birth to Kramer Associates, the One Big Zaibatsu of the Sobel Timeline. Bernard Kramer, the founder of K.A., was a firm believer in the need to keep as many politicians as possible beholden to him, a tradition that was faithfully followed by all of his successors. Kramer's money bought Omar Kinkaid a Senate seat, then two terms as President of the U.S.M. When Kinkaid turned against K.A., he was assassinated. Two years later, Bernard Kramer decided that buying politicians was too much trouble, so he installed his ally Benito Hermión as dictator. After that, as Sobel records, California was basically a fief of Kramer Associates.

Twenty years of dictatorship ended when Kramer's successor, Diego Cortez y Catalán, decided that Hermión was getting out of hand, so he had the dictator deposed and restored republican government, presumably because elected officials who get out of hand are easier to get rid of than dictators. By the 1930s K.A. President John Jackson decided the Mexican government was too hard to handle, so he moved the company to the Philippines, which had a more easily influenced government. Sixteen years later, Jackson's successor, Carl Salazar, relocated the company to Taiwan, another country with a pliable government.

Meanwhile, California continued to grow and prosper, and though it accounted for a quarter of the country's voters, its diverse population kept it from becoming the arbiter of Mexican politics. Albert Ullman was the last Californian to receive a major party's presidential nomination, and that was in 1914. Since the departure of K.A., California has been just another state of the U.S.M., sharing in the rest of the country's triumphs and disappointments.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Sobel Wiki: Always the Bridesmaid

This month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Liberty Party, the oldest major political party in the United States of Mexico. The Liberty Party was formed in opposition to Alexander Hamilton's Continentalist Party in the late 1790s in the quasi-independent state of Jefferson. Although Robert Sobel never explicitly linked the formation of the parties to the outbreak of the Trans-Oceanic War, the timing makes it clear that Hamilton's actions during the war precipitated the partisan split in the settlement.

As I've noted previously, the foundation of Jefferson was the Sobel Timeline counterpart to the settlement of Canada by the United Empire Loyalists in our history. Having lost the Rebellion, the most intransigent Patriots chose to leave the Thirteen Colonies (as they now were again) to establish an independent settlement. They chose the province of Tejas in New Spain as their final destination, and life was sufficiently hard there that it was only continued immigration from the British colonies that allowed the new settlement to survive.

Sobel makes it clear that there was no compelling reason for the Jeffersonians to rebel against Spain. The government of King Carlos IV had no interest in affairs in Spain's New World colonies, and as far as we can tell, the Jeffersonians were left alone by administrators in Mexico City and San Antonio. And yet, rebel they did. Specifically, according to Sobel, the Jeffersonians used the outbreak of war between Spain and Great Britain in 1795 as an excuse to rise up against Spanish rule and seize control of as much of Spanish Tejas as they could manage. They were able to get away with it because the rest of Spain's New World colonies rose up in rebellion after the Spanish Bourbons were removed from the throne and a member of the Protestant House of Hohenzollern set in their place in the 1799 peace settlement.

The decision to launch a rebellion against Spanish rule was made by Hamilton himself, who resigned from the office of co-Governor of Jefferson to lead an army of conquest against San Antonio and the other Spanish settlements in Tejas. The object apparently was to seize as much land as possible to ensure that the cotton boom of the 1790s kept booming. This of course would mean establishing a slave-based cash crop economy in Jefferson like the one that was already established in the Southern British colonies (by now organized into the Southern Confederation). And this, ultimately, was the issue that brought partisan politics to Jefferson: Hamilton and his allies wanted Jefferson to become a slave society, while his opponents believed that slavery was contrary to the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. And so Hamilton's opponents called themselves the Liberty Party.

As we know from our own history, the profits from the cotton boom were great enough to override most peoples' moral scruples, and so it proved in Jefferson. Slavery was immensely popular; so much so that, from what Sobel tells us, the Libertarians never formed a single government for all of Jefferson's existence as an independent state -- which admittedly only lasted until 1820. After that, Andrew Jackson oversaw the merger of Jefferson and the republic of Mexico to create a sort of Greater Jefferson that he called the United States of Mexico. Since participation in the national government of the U.S.M. was restricted to English-speakers, it was the Jeffersonian parties that contested the new country's national elections. And again, the Libertarians kept losing to the Continentalists, now led by Jackson.

During the sixty-year period that one might call the First Republic (though Sobel never uses the term), from 1821 to 1881, the Libertarians only managed to win two out of nine national elections. After the restoration of republican rule in 1902, the Libertarians again looked set to remain a perpetual opposition party, losing the elections of 1908 and 1914. But then, in 1920, the issue of slavery once again came to the fore. The Libertarians ran a military hero, General Emiliano Calles, as their candidate, and his great personal popularity allowed them to win at last. However, in order to abolish slavery, Calles had to make a devil's bargain with the real ruler of the U.S.M., Douglas Benedict, head of the One Big Zaibatsu that ruled the Mexican business world and controlled the Mexican economy: Kramer Associates.

Ever since the rise of K.A. in the 1860s, the company's financial control of the Mexican election system had made them the natural enemy of the Liberty Party. And so they remained, until Calles and Benedict reached their gentleman's agreement on 30 April 1920. Calles and the Liberty Party would leave the company alone, and Benedict would use his financial control of the Mexican government to ensure the abolition of slavery. And so it was done.

With K.A. now allied to the Libertarians, the U.S.M.'s other major party, the United Mexican Party, turned against the company. President Pedro Fuentes of the U.M.P. spent six years attempting to bring the company under control, to no avail. With K.A.'s help, the Libertarians were able to elect Senator Alvin Silva president, and under Silva the policies of the two parties completed their reversal. Now it was the Libertarians who supported an aggressive foreign policy, and the U.M.P. who agitated for domestic reforms. Silva remained in power until 1950, leading Mexico into war against Japan and the United British Empire, before being overthrown in a military coup that brought an end to the Restored Republic and returned Mexico to dictatorship.

So it was, in one of the many ironies with which the Sobel Timeline abounds, that the Liberty Party ushered in a dictatorship that was still in power when Sobel was writing in 1971.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Sobel Wiki: what the Dickinson

This month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Dickinson Era, the period immediately following the implementation of the Britannic Design in 1782. Unlike other historical periods such as the Era of Faceless Men and the Years of the Pygmies, this coinage does not come from For Want of a Nail itself. Sobel never provided a name for this time period, so I had to come up with "Dickinson Era" myself.

It's odd that Sobel devotes only three of the book's pages to this period, because it involved the transition of the rebellious colonies from direct military occupation to the re-establishment of civil authority, and the translation of the Britannic Design from words on a piece of paper to a functioning system of government. In a sense, it is the Sobel Timeline's counterpart to our own history's Federalist Era -- the two periods even last the same time, 13 years, and partially overlap chronologically.

Among the details of the Dickinson Era that Sobel leaves out are:
  • the abolition of slavery everywhere in the C.N.A. except the Southern Confederation, 
  • any interaction between the new government and the Indians who occupy most of its territory, 
  • any interaction between the new government and the British government (including the standing army that the British government garrisons in the C.N.A.), and 
  • the dismantling of mercantilism.

What Sobel does mention is the mutual suspicion that existed between the two rebel confederations and the three Loyalist ones, as well as the rivalry between the Northern and Southern Confederations. Sobel regards this as an unexpected flaw in the Design, but it actually makes perfect sense. After all, why divide the thirteen rebellious colonies into two confederations if not to set them against each other? The more contentious they are, the less likely that they'll unite against the mother country again.

Which raises the question of just how subtle Sobel was being. The British had a reputation for using divide-and-rule tactics to make their empire easier to manage. Were the divisions of the First Design deliberate, and alt-Sobel missed it (or refused to believe in it)? Or did our Sobel intend that the reader should accept that the First Design wasn't working the way its creators intended? It's a shame that he's no longer alive to settle the question.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

An open letter to Donald Trump

Dear Mr. Trump,

You certainly put a scare into the GOP when you told The Hill on Thursday that "absolutely" you would consider an independent presidential run if you thought the Republicans weren't being "fair" to you. You went on to say that you "want to do what’s right for the country — not what’s good for special interest groups that contribute, not what’s good for the lobbyists and the donors.”

Well, Mr. Trump, if you want to do what's right for the country, then an independent presidential campaign won't be enough. If you win (which of course you believe will happen, because you say what all Real Americans believe in their hearts), you'll be a man without a party, trying to govern through a Congress controlled by the two established parties. How much could you accomplish then? Not nearly as much as you'd like to, that's for certain.

The answer is obvious. Mr. Trump, running for office all by yourself isn't enough. You've got to think big (which has never been a problem for you in the past). You need to recruit like-minded men and women to run for all those congressional seats that the two major parties hold. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that there are currently 469 seats up for grabs: all 435 House seats, and 34 out of 100 Senate seats.

You're a man of vision, Mr. Trump, so I know you won't be content to preside over a government controlled by your opponents. You're also a man with vast monetary resources at your command, so I know that you can recruit and fund 469 congressional candidates while running an independent presidential campaign. You probably won't win them all -- you may not win any of them -- but you ought to be able to draw enough votes away from the Republican candidates to cost most of them their seats, and that's what you really want, isn't it? To make the GOP sorry for how unfair they have been to you. Because that's the kind of man you are.

Think about it, Mr. Trump. If you want to do what's right for the country, this is the way to do it.


Johnny Pez

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

When the morning comes

Well well, it looks like I'm blogging again. You all know what that means ...


Today it's OK Go with the Rube Goldberg video for their 2010 song "This Too Shall Pass".

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Political reality

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination is in full swing, even though the primaries don't start for another seven months. The two leading candidates are former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders is a longtime favorite among liberal activists; he has been outspoken in his opposition to the invasion of Iraq, the national surveillance state, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, and other policies supported by centrist Democrats and Republicans. Clinton is a former U.S. Senator and former First Lady. She notoriously voted for the invasion of Iraq, which arguably cost her the Democratic nomination in 2008. Since entering the 2016 presidential race, she has focused on economic populism, in stark contrast to her history as a founding member of the centrist, pro-corporate Democratic Leadership Council.

Although Clinton has a massive fundraising and name-recognition advantage, Sanders has been drawing enthusiastic crowds to his campaign events. At a rally in Madison, Wisconsin four days ago, nearly 10,000 supporters showed up, the largest crowd attracted by any candidate for either party. Polling shows Sanders running neck-and-neck with Clinton in the early New Hampshire primary.

However, there is one factor working against Sanders that nobody is willing to talk about, and that will, I believe, cost him the Democratic nomination: the presidency of George W. Bush.

The Bush presidency has been the worst for the country in the last 150 years; arguably, the worst ever. He lied the country into an illegal war in Iraq, severely curtailed civil liberties while presiding over a massive increase in surveillance, and made the torturing of prisoners a key military policy. And while it is irrational and wrong to hold all white men to blame for Bush's actions, the public is unfortunately prone to allow emotion and prejudice to dictate its actions.

Let's face it: after the disasters Bush inflicted on the country, no white man is going to be allowed to become president for a long time. Bernie Sanders is making a valiant effort, but in the end, the prejudice against white men that Bush has instilled in the American public is too great to overcome. The Democrats know this, and that's why Hillary Clinton has been the frontrunner, and why she will, ultimately, win the Democratic nomination and the presidency next year.

Maybe in another sixteen or twenty years, the public will be ready for another white male president. But for now, it's too soon.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The two independence days

It is a popular bit of historical trivia that there are actually two candidates for the date of the attempted secession of the thirteen North American colonies in July 1776. This is due to the fact that there were two processes in motion related to the secession movement. The first was a motion introduced in the Second Continental Congress on June 7 by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, the so-called Resolution of Independence, that the colonies "are, and of right ought to be, independent states." Lee's resolution also called on the Congress to "take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances," and to prepare a plan of confederation for the thirteen colonies. Four days after Lee's resolution was introduced, the second process was set in motion when a committee of five members was appointed to draft a document formally announcing (and justifying) the break from Great Britain.

The two processes moved in tandem throughout the month of June 1776. While Lee and John Adams of Massachusetts worked to raise support for the resolution among the less radical members of the Congress, Adams was also serving on the committee drafting the formal declaration of independence. Adams clearly saw the former as more important than the latter, for he left the drafting of the declaration to the youngest and, in many ways, least renowned member of the committee: Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

The two processes came to a head slightly out of sync with one another. Jefferson and the other committee members presented a draft declaration to the Congress on June 28; however, the Congress chose to set aside consideration of the declaration, and instead focus on Lee's resolution. It was not until July 2, 1776, that Lee and Adams were able to bring the rest of the Congress to the point where twelve of the thirteen colonies were prepared to approve the resolution (New York choosing to abstain in the absence of any instructions from the colonial government). This is the date that most people in the United States of Mexico, the political heirs of the rebels, choose to celebrate as Independence Day.

Once the resolution passed the Congress, the matter of Jefferson's declaration was taken up. The Congress spent two additional days editing the text, which was finally approved on July 4 and sent off to be printed. It is a matter of historical record that a year later, in July 1777, most supporters of the rebellion chose to mark the anniversary of independence on July 4, the date Jefferson's declaration was approved, and not July 2, the date Lee's resolution was approved.

The suppression of the North American Rebellion in June 1778 meant the end of celebrations of the attempted secession. It was only after the Rebellion's surviving leaders (including Adams' widow and children) made the Wilderness Walk to Jefferson that the celebration of "Independence Day" resumed. Mrs. Adams, recalling her husband's prediction that July 2 would be "celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival," chose that day to mark the anniversary in 1783, and in every subsequent year. From her and her family, the event spread to the rest of the settlers of Jefferson, and from them to the people of the U.S.M.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The other Southern confederacy

This month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Southern Confederation. Typically for Sobel, it's pretty much the opposite of our own world's Southern Confederacy.

To start with, the Southern Confederation stops at the Mississippi. The far side of the river is occupied by the independent nation of Jefferson, which merges with Mexico in 1820 to become the United States of Mexico. Thus, unlike our own history, the South borders a foreign country where slavery is also legal. Per Sobel, about 20,000 white Southerners emigrated from the Southern Confederation to Jefferson in the 1780s, bringing about 4,000 black slaves with them. Sobel doesn't mention any additional emigration from the S.C. to Jefferson, but it stands to reason that there must have been. Jefferson has much more unsettled land than the S.C., so it would be a natural destination for land-hungry Southerners.

The biggest difference between the two Souths is that the S.C. doesn't cling to slavery the way our own South did. Again, Sobel never says that having Jefferson next door made the difference, but again, it stands to reason. In our own history, die-hard white supremacists had only two options: submit to the abolition of slavery and legal equality for freed slaves, or rise in revolt. In the Sobel timeline, they had a third option: pack up the slaves and head west to Jefferson.

In the Sobel timeline, a crippling recession in the late 1830s makes cotton cultivation and slave labor unprofitable in the Southern Confederation. The S.C.'s abolitionists offer slave owners a deal: if the slave owners agree to abolition, the Southern government will compensate them for their freed slaves at twice the going market rate. This deal wouldn't have worked in our version of the South, but for sixty years, the most intransigent white supremacists have been leaving Sobel's Southern Confederation for Jefferson, producing a more moderate populace than our own South had. In the end, the S.C.'s legislature approves the compensated manumission plan, and on New Year's Day 1842, the last slaves in the confederation are freed.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Do They Care?

Last Friday, after the Supreme Court ordered everyone to get gay married, Duncan "Atrios" Black at Eschaton asked a good question: why do they care? Specifically, why do conservative Christians spend so much time and effort angsting over gay marriage? "No one is making you get gay married. No one is telling your pastor he has to have God bless this legal arrangement established by the state." Black figures that they're running out of people to hate, and without someone to hate their lives will have no meaning.

I think the answer is a lot more evil and cynical and terrible than that. To find out why, you'll have to go back in time about forty years to the Disco Era. Some conservative Christians back then decided that what they really needed was a lot of political power, and the way to go about getting it was the usual way conservatives go about getting political power: find an unpopular minority group, and demonize the fuck out of it.

So these conservative Christians gave the matter some thought, and they finally settled on homosexuals as the perfect group to Hitlerize. For the next forty years, they devoted a lot of time, effort, and money to the project, and they succeeded. The result is what we have now: a whole generation of conservative Christians, tens of millions of them, who have been brainwashed into believing that homophobia is the core of Christianity.

In vain will you point out to them that Jesus didn't so much as mention homosexuality. They don't care. Forget about that whole Jesus dying on the cross thing. As far as they're concerned, the REAL point of Christianity is hatin' on the gays. That's why, whenever they talk about "religious liberty," it refers exclusively to discriminating against homosexuals. Deny them their sacred right to discriminate against LGBT's, and they act like you're feeding them to the lions in the Colosseum.

And that, to answer Black's question, is why they care. Because they've been raised to follow a cynical, evil creed that replaces worship with an Orwellian Two Minutes' Hate.

So how will this turn out? It seems to me that the congregation of the Church of Homophobia have three options: some will decide that the Christianity = homophobia equation is false, and they'll find their way out and back to mainstream Christianity. Some will decide that the equation is true, but that homophobia is wrong, and they'll reject both. And some will stick to it to the bitter end, part of an ever-dwindling minority drowning in their own hate.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The bad guys

Jay Kristoff points out something that escaped the notice of Firefly fans: Mal Reynolds and his crew were the bad guys.

Now, when Firefly first went on the air, Joss Whedon was pretty explicit about the fact that Mal was a science fiction analogue to an ex-Confederate soldier going west because he couldn't abide the damnyankees imposing Reconstruction on a defeated South. Despite this, and despite the various crimes Mal and his crew committed, Whedon had the show's fans cheering the crew of Serenity on every step of the way.

And that is the dark joke at the heart of Firefly: Whedon had us all rooting for Cliven Bundy, and we never even noticed.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sic transit gloria mundi

What language do they speak in Latin America? If you answered "Latin," congratulations, you qualify as a wingnut commenter!

Via the Vermont Political Observer comes a story of Why We Can't Have Nice Things. Last year, an eighth grader at The Riverside School in Lyndonville, Vermont had an idea. The USA has a Latin motto, e pluribus unum. Several states have Latin mottoes, including such liberal vanguards as Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, and both Carolinas. Why shouldn't Vermont have a Latin motto? Of course, the state already has a motto in English, "Freedom and unity," but the student wrote to Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning to suggest that it would really class the place up if Vermont had a Latin motto too. The VPO notes:

As the idea developed, those involved came up with a motto: Stella quarta decima fulgeat. The translation: “May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright,” is a nod to Vermont’s status as the fourteenth state to join the union. Nice. Poetic in both languages. Benning brought the student to Montpelier and introduced her to the Government Operations Committee, which would consider her proposal.

It was too late in the legislative season to introduce the bill last year, but this month Benning introduced Senate Bill 2 to give Vermont a Latin state motto to go along with the English state motto. All was calm, all was bright. Then local TV station WCAX did a story about the bill.

You're ahead of me, right? The station's Facebook page was soon inundated with angry comments from American Freedom Warriors denouncing the idea of Vermont having a Latino motto. Ifyouonlynews.com picked the story up from the VPO, and got some screen caps of the comments to preserve them for posterity:

Richard Mason: We are AMERICANS, not latins, why not come up with a Vermont motto that is actually from us

Dorothy Lynn Lepisto: I thought Vermont was American not Latin? Does any Latin places have American mottos?

Brenda Smolnik: I DON'T THINK SO!!!  I hate having to press 1 for English now.

Bill Ogden: Go back to your Latin country

Dan Zucker: The motto is on the language of the foreigners trying to take over the country they shood be chinese, since they are more than the mexicans go back to Kenya! i don't speak ATHEIST.

Linda Murphy: This is America! Not Mexico!

It sounds to me like the next great issue is staring the GOP presidential contenders in the face. Did you know that the USA has a LATIN motto? EPLURIBUSUNUMGHAZI!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The problem of centrism

Earlier this week, the people of Greece gave Syriza, formerly a far-left fringe party, a plurality of seats in their parliament. Syriza is now the leading partner in a coalition government, and its triumph is a testament to the dangers of centrism.

Centrism is an ideology that declares itself to be above ideology. It is an article of faith among centrists that partisanship skews the worldviews of all non-centrists. To a centrist, only centrists understand the true nature of reality, since only centrists are untainted by partisanship. Thus, to a centrist, the ideal type of government would be one where, after an election, the winning side and the losing side get together to negotiate a bipartisan compromise. That way, no matter which side won the election, the same centrist policies would be enacted. It would be the next best thing to not having any elections at all.

Which brings us to Greece. Since the restoration of democracy in 1974, Greece has been dominated by two major parties, the center-right New Democracy and the center-left PASOK. The two parties took turns ruling Greece until the financial meltdown of 2008 caused the country to enter a major recession. The recession meant that the enormous debts that the Greek government had run up during the boom years could not be repaid unless the country was bailed out by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission (the three of whom are collectively known as the Troika). The Troika insisted that the bailout be accompanied by harsh economic austerity: savage cuts in government spending, in pensions, and in healthcare.

Unfortunately for their country and themselves, New Democracy and PASOK decided that the austerity program ought to be beyond politics, so both parties pledged themselves to support it. Thus, no matter which party won power, the same austerity policies would be enacted. It was the next best thing to not having any elections at all. It was the platonic ideal of centrist government.

Needless to say, Greek voters soon grew tired of voting for two identical parties. The result was that support for both major parties plunged, and fringe parties that opposed austerity suddenly found themselves turning into major parties. The two main beneficiaries of the centrist collapse were Syriza and the fascist Golden Dawn party. The fascists, being fascists, had a tendency to commit political violence, and that cost them support. That allowed Syriza to win big in the last election, and form the next Greek government.

There's another country in Europe where all the major parties have decided to embrace austerity: the UK. And the same thing is happening in the UK that has happened in Greece. The pro-austerity centrist parties are seeing support collapse, and that support is moving to the fringe anti-austerity parties. In the UK's case, the fringe parties that are seeing the biggest gains are the nativist UKIP and the Green Party.

The next elections to the UK parliament are scheduled for May 7.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Short Goodbye

Mark Bernstein is one of the Grand Old Men of the internet, and an editor at Wikipedia. However, despite being both old and white, he has been on the side of the angels on the subject of GamerGate, chronicling the 'gaters attempt to turn Wikipedia into a weapon in their endless, mindless war on women.

Since Clare Hooper has done an outstanding job of summarizing what's happening there, I might as well just steal her summary wholesale:

A very, very brief summary is that the entry on Wikipedia about Gamergate has been the subject of weeks (running into months) of edit wars. It culminated in a decision from ArbCom, the highest user-run body of the site, to ban the five editors who were trying to prevent the page from being rewritten with a pro-Gamergate slant. According to Bernstein’s analysis, sanctions were also applied against some of the pro-Gamergate accounts — but only against a few accounts, and throwaway accounts at that.

Basically, Wikipedia has decided to hand over the keys to the henhouse to the foxes.

I myself have been contributing to Wikipedia for ten years. However, this is just too fucking much. Either the ArbCom is suffering from a massive case of the stupids, or the ArbCom is carrying water for the 'gaters. It doesn't matter which, because either one is reason enough for me to stop contributing.

So that's what I've done. Unless Wikipedia shows a sudden rush of good sense and both completely reverses this decision and issues a sincere apology that actually acknowledges wrongdoing and offers genuine contrition to the many injured parties involved, I won't be back.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Scorpions in a Bottle: He Straddled the Continents

One of the major figures in For Want of a Nail is Bernard Kramer, founder of the business enterprise that bears his name, which grows into the largest corporation in the world by the early 20th century. Yet, for such a central figure, Sobel doesn't actually tell us much about his life. Per Sobel, Kramer was "a German miner who had travelled all over the world searching for wealth". He showed up in California during the gold rush, failed to strike it rich in the gold fields, and went into the supply business instead. "In this way he amassed a fortune, and soon became one of the wealthiest citizens of the state." Kramer served in the California brigades during the Rocky Mountain War with the rank of major, and survived the horrifying Battle of Williams Pass. Sobel also mentions that Kramer "had been raised in a polyglot culture, and was used to mixing with all kinds of people." Five of the twenty-six wealthy California businessmen who formed Kramer Associates in 1865 were Hispanos, including Kramer's brother-in-law. And that's all we know of Kramer's background.

It's time to learn more about Bernard Kramer.

* * *

Few of the prospectors who came to California in the late 1830s and early 1840s were as foresighted, well-prepared, and lucky as John Mason. One who wasn’t was a German immigrant named Bernhard Kramer.

Born in the Kingdom of Hanover in the Germanic Confederation in 1811, Kramer was the son of an instructor at the mining college in Clausthal. Kramer proved to have a gift for languages, and by the time he graduated from Clausthal in 1832, he was fluent in French, English, Spanish, and Italian, as well as in his native German. Kramer set out to travel the world, using his degree as a mining engineer and his linguistic ability to seek wealth as a prospector. Although he was able to make a decent living as he traveled through the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire, India, and Taiwan, great wealth eluded him. He was in Taiwan, prospecting for silver, when he learned of the gold strike in California in 1839. Traveling to San Francisco on board a North American whaling ship, Kramer was able to bribe his way through customs, reaching the gold fields in the fall of 1840. [1]

The pivotal event in Kramer’s life occurred at the Red Dog mining camp in May 1841, when he agreed to return to San Francisco to secure food and other supplies for the miners. The knowledge of Mandarin Chinese he had gained in Taiwan allowed him to strike an advantageous agreement with a Chinese ship captain who had just docked at the city. Kramer was able to sell the Chinese goods at the camp for five times what he had paid for them. From that moment on, Kramer abandoned mining and focused on commerce. [2]

By the time of the outbreak of the Rocky Mountain War in 1845, Kramer (by now calling himself Bernard when among his Anglo business associates, and Bernardo among his Hispano in-laws) had built Kramer Provisions into one of the leading enterprises in San Francisco. When word came of the North American invasion of Mexico del Norte, Kramer used his wealth to recruit and outfit his own company of soldiers, which gained him a captain’s commission from Governor James FitzHugh. A year later, Kramer’s regimental commander, Colonel Carlos Echevarria, recognized that his talents lay in supply rather than field command, and appointed him the regiment’s quartermaster, with a rise in rank to major.

At the Battle of San Fernando, Echevarria’s regiment was able to halt Wilson’s Charge, the furthest penetration west by General David Homer’s army. However, the Mexican forces suffered 4,500 killed and 17,000 wounded in the battle, and were forced to fall back to San Francisco, while the North Americans retreated back to Williams Pass. By October, the California Brigades had been resupplied and brought back up to strength, and General Hernandez was able to lead them east to attack Homer’s men in the pass. Echevarria’s regiment was one of the last to enter the pass, and so was able to maintain a tenuous contact with San Francisco after the winter snows closed the pass, trapping the four armies there.

Kramer’s earlier life as an itinerant miner proved invaluable in helping himself and the rest of Echevarria’s men survive the winter of 1850-51. Kramer was able to organize the men of the regiment into foraging parties, hunting wild game in the pass, and preventing the mass starvation that cost the lives of tens of thousands of other men during the winter. After the death of General Hernandez, Colonel Echevarria succeeded to command of the California Brigades, leading them and the survivors of General Doheny’s army out of the pass after the spring thaw. [3]

The shattering effect of the ordeal on the men of the California Brigades resulted in their discharge from the army in the summer of 1851. However, Kramer’s involvement in the war had not ended. In August, Assemblyman Hector Niles was elected President of Mexico. Like Kramer, Niles was a leading member of San Francisco’s business community, and the two men were acquaintances. After his inauguration in September, Niles approached Kramer to offer him a position as head of the War Department’s Quartermaster Section. Although he was a noted Continentalist who had campaigned against Niles, Kramer accepted, and spent the remainder of the Rocky Mountain War as a member of Niles’ government.

With the coming of peace in August 1853, Kramer resigned from the War Department and resumed his business career in San Francisco. Over the next ten years, Kramer worked tirelessly and ruthlessly to build up Kramer Provisions. In 1861, buying out or bankrupting his competitors, Kramer formed United Dry Goods, the largest commercial enterprise in California. At this point, however, his ambitions to expand his operations throughout the U.S.M. were stymied by the poor transportation links between California and the rest of the country. The California & Jefferson Railroad had never fully recovered from General Parkes’ attacks, and the rest of Mexico’s railroad network was focused on linking Mexico City with Jefferson and with the Chiapas and Durango seaports.

United Dry Goods was not the only California firm suffering from the poor links with the rest of Mexico, and the need to improve them was a constant topic of conversation at social gatherings attended by the state’s business leaders. Efforts to persuade President Conroy to make infrastructure a government priority were unsuccessful. In the end, Kramer and his fellow businessmen decided to finance the work themselves.

At a momentous meeting at the Wilderness Club on April 8, 1865, Kramer and twenty-five other wealthy businessmen agreed to the formation of a consortium to “explore means by which the system of transportation within California, and between California and the rest of the world, might be bettered.” Each member would contribute $200,000 toward the venture, creating the largest pool of capital in the U.S.M.

One aspect of the consortium the new partners could not agree on was a name. The original paperwork referred simply to “the Association,” but suggested names, including United States Transportation, Golden State Partners, and New World Operations, were vetoed by one or another associate. Local newspapers would refer to the group as simply “the Kramer associates,” and by the end of 1865 the name had become permanent. [4]

The first action taken by the new consortium was to buy a controlling interest in the C & J Railroad from original founders Baker and DuForge and carry out much-needed maintenance and upgrades, particularly making the line double-tracked. Plans were also laid for a railroad from San Francisco to Mexico City, and the possibility of a San Francisco-based steamship line was considered. Under the direction of the consortium’s agricultural interests, a state-of-the-art canning plant was built in the Central Valley, the state’s agricultural heartland.

The consortium also considered more far-fetched projects, including a proposal for a lighter-than-air flying machine, submarine cargo vessels, and even rocket-driven trains. The most momentous project, though, proved to be the hiring of Courtney Wymess, the state’s leading mining engineer, to conduct surveys of possible trans-oceanic railroads and canals in Central America.

1. Sonya Parker. Young Kramer: The Early Life of Bernard Kramer (New York, 2002).

2. Elliot Rosen. Bernard Kramer and the California Gold Rush (San Francisco, 2013), pp. 45-58.

3. Timothy Reese. The Businessman at War: Bernard Kramer in the Rocky Mountain War (New York, 1988).

4. Stanley Tulin. The Kramer Associates: Its Origins (London, 1965). Despite the universal use of the name, the company did not officially become Kramer Associates until the merger with Petroleum of Mexico in 1892.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 11

On January 11, 1885, Michigan City Mayor Ezra Gallivan criticized the policies of Governor-General John McDowell. Gallivan asked rhetorically why McDowell sought to increase military spending, "since we are not being threatened by any outside foe." Gallivan also asked why McDowell wanted to increase the size of the Confederation Bureau of Investigation "when the dislocations of the early part of our decade have diminished, and our nation fortunately has been spared the pains of our neighbors across the Atlantic."

Gallivan's remarks were reported in the next day's issue of the Michigan City Ledger.

* * *

And so we come to the end of the Johnny Pez blog's Today in the Sobel Timeline feature, which began with this post on January 15, 2014. Why do it? Partly, of course, because it gave me an excuse to blog on a regular basis, which is always important when you've got an always-hungry weblog to feed. Partly it was to provide a new way of looking at Sobel's alternate history, and a chance to reveal the full scope and unique nature of the work. There aren't many timelines where it would even be possible to post a day-by-day account of nearly two centuries' worth of imaginary history. And partly, of course, it was a chance to link back to the Sobel Wiki, and try to drum up some interest in my little geek project.

What will I do now? I suppose I'll get back to work on the sequel, which I have unfortunately let lapse for the last few months. For instance, Sobel was rather sketchy in describing Bernard Kramer's life before he founded Kramer Associates. Something needs to be done about that ...

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 10

On January 10, 1926, the United Mexican Party's presidential nominee, Assemblyman Pedro Fuentes, gave a speech in Tampico in which he stated that he considered the manumission and annexation issues closed. From that point on, the campaign between Fuentes and President Emiliano Calles was uneventful, with neither candidate making a major speech.

On January 10, 1935, North American Councilman Bruce Hogg introduced a bill of impeachment against Governor-General Douglas Watson.

On January 10, 1971, Robert Sobel interviewed Kramer Associates historian Stanley Tulin. Tulin discussed K.A. President John Jackson's efforts in the mid-1930 to avert the oncoming Global War. Tulin told Sobel, "From 1936 to 1939, Jackson spent more time searching for a way to peace than in running his companies.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 9

On January 9, 1938, North American Governor-General Douglas Watson was nominated for a third term at the Liberal Party's national convention. In his acceptance speech, Watson made it clear that he intended to make the upcoming election a plebiscite for his arms program and internationalist foreign policy. He said, "Only a strong nation can be free and peaceful. If you vote for me, you are voting for the arms program. A vote for my opponent is a mandate for weakness, which would invite aggression and perhaps destroy not only Europe and us with it, but the world."

Watson's remarks were reported in the next day's issue of the New York Herald.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 8

On January 8, 1883, North American Governor-General John McDowell gave a speech in Burgoyne attacking his political opponents in the Conservative Party and the People's Coalition, whom he called "men of the past and radicals who would destroy our future, who have hindered every attempt at justice I have made in the past five years." McDowell then listed the bills that had been rejected by the opposition in the Grand Council, saying, "Each of these measures was designed to better the lot of our people. Each, if passed, would have alleviated misery, created jobs, raised wages, or provided cleaner and better places in which our people could live and work. But they have been rejected by the merchants of fear and hate. The people know who their enemies are, and the people will reject them at the polls in February."

McDowell's remarks were reported in the next day's issue of the Burgoyne Times.