Friday, December 31, 2010

For All Nails #304: Look Both Ways Before Crossing

This is the latest entry in the For All Nails project, a continuation of the alternate history of Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. The following vignette is a direct sequel to For All Nails #300: Descendants, which can be found here at the Sobel Wiki FAN archive.

From Newstime
14 April 1980

After all the rhetoric attending the French referendum on union with Ghana, the final results have been anticlimactic. By an overwhelming majority approaching 90%, the French people have rejected the proposed union. French Premier Yvette Fanchon, who was careful to distance herself from the referendum, appears to have sustained no political damage from the results. "The people of France have spoken," she stated after the final results had been announced. "As much as we might respect and admire our African cousins, it is best that we continue on our separate paths."

How the results will play in Ghana is less certain. Paramount King Victor Fontaine must return to the nation over which he reigns and tell his subjects that their French "mother" (as Fanchon's great-grandfather once put it) has rejected them. The vote cannot help but be seen as a rebuke, and Victor, whose power over his subjects is more theoretical than real, may find himself facing a backlash that could conceivably topple him from his throne.

14 April 1980

"What the devil do you mean by this?" an annoyed Justin McIntee inquired of his uninvited guest.

"I must apologize for the irregular nature of this visit," said the dark man in heavily accented English. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Count Moussa Traoré, and I am Ghana's Minister to the Court of St. James."

McIntee wasn't quite certain whether he believed the fellow, but if he was telling the truth, then the nature of his visit was not difficult to guess, nor the reason why he had turned up at his home and not at his office in the Colonial and Empire Ministry. "Very well. Will you have a seat, Minister Traoré?"

"Thank you, Minister, you are most kind."

"I assume," McIntee began after seating himself across from Traoré, "that your visit has something to do with the recent referendum in France."

"My visit has everything to do with the referendum," Traoré said with a smile. "My sovereign had an ulterior motive in seeking it. He knew well enough, you see, what the outcome would be. He felt that he could count on the French people to reject his overtures, and reject them overwhelmingly. He wanted to make it clear to his subjects just where they actually stood with respect to France, and the French have obliged him. There is now a great deal of anti-French feeling in Ghana. The people wish to make those feelings known in some concrete fashion, and that is why I have come to you."

McIntee nodded. "Am I correct in supposing that King Victor wishes to come to some sort of arrangement with the United Empire?"

"You are, sir, quite correct. If Lord Sidney were to extend an offer of membership in the Empire, my sovereign would be quite happy to oblige, and my people would as well."

"Yes, I can certainly see how this would benefit King Victor," said McIntee. "Tell me now how it would benefit the United Empire."

"The Empire is currently suffering a surfeit of what your people call 'bad publicity'. The American War did not turn out well, the North Americans have severed their ties with you and moved closer to your German enemies, and five years on, Vincent Mercator still remains at large, despite Sir Geoffrey Gold's emphatic promises to bring him to justice. If my people need to celebrate a triumph, so do yours. If my people would like to see the French discomfited, so would yours."

McIntee had to admit, Traoré made sense. It was the fiasco over the American War that had cost his predecessor his post as Colonial and Empire Secretary. Over half the cabinet had followed Gold into political oblivion in the shakeup following the war. As well, the NRP had lost nearly thirty seats in the last election, giving them a bare 3-seat majority in the Commons. With a by-election in Bolton coming up, they needed something to point to to convince the voters that the NRP still had a viable vision for the future. If King Victor had planned all this in advance, then his sense of timing was exquisite.

Cautiously, he said, "If, speaking hypothetically, we were to agree to the admission of Ghana to the United Empire, what sort of terms would you be asking?"

The other man's smile grew wider.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sobel Wiki Update 4

It's been exactly four months since I created the Sobel Wiki, an online encyclopedia of Robert Sobel's counterfactual history For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. 122 days of moderately diligent work on my part has resulted in a wiki with 185 pages, about twenty-five of which are mere stubs. Moreover, not content merely to wikify the most detailed timeline in all of alternate history, I've chosen to expand the Sobel Wiki to include an archive of all 303 (at last count) vignettes from the For All Nails project. Needless to say, it's going to take a while to get all 303 set in place (unless I get some help from some of the other members of the FAN Cabal, hint, hint), but once that's done, the Sobel Wiki will be the online resource for all things FWoaN-related!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

If man is five

While I'm busy with various other projects, here's a music video to keep you entertained. It's the Pixies doing a 1989 live performance of "Monkey Gone to Heaven" on BBC Two's The Late Show.

Monday, December 6, 2010

DBTL Extra: Kelly, Jack, and Eddie visit Białystok

Kelly, Jack, and Eddie visit Białystok
by Dan McDonald


The New York Times, March 3rd, 1950


Washington - President Alben Barkley met with military and industry officials today before their departure to Warsaw, Poland, for a Warsaw Pact summit. The summit, the first since the Senate ratified the Warsaw Pact treaty, starts Monday . . . .


With voters polarizing on the issue of international involvement, the 1950 congressional elections look to be . . .


The Lockheed C-23 (a military repackaging of the Lockheed JetCon) now labelled "Air Corps One" just crossed over the western shore of Scotland. General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, soon-to-be-exiting commander of the US Army Air Corps, looked out the window of the smaller of two "offices" on board the transport. The larger one belonged to the President.

"Kelly, I just want to know one thing. Can you build me something that can keep up with anything we've seen," he grimaced, "including those goddamn British rocket planes? Or do I have to stay on an extra year and beg to Congress to buy something off the Polish government?"

Clarence "Kelly" Johnson anticipated this question, and calmly replied, "General, those rocket planes are a waste of money and metal. They are good for small-payload missions. Great for dropping an A-bomb and then scrambling, but not much else. And it's not like anyone else besides the British or the Poles will have them. What we want is something that can go fast, say just below Mach 1, and still be able to turn on a dime and fight."

Arnold stared out over the Atlantic, now the only thing in view, and said, "I like that. A jet-powered dogfighter. Something like the Lily, but faster."

Johnson chuckled at the flowery names of planes originating in the Garden, "Yes. A straight-wing jet won't cut it here.[1]"

"Can you do it? And have a prototype before I retire?"

"I'll need to set up my own shop, my own way. I don't want people looking over my shoulder," he looked around, "Christ, I had Howard Hughes and his goons bugging me constantly while working on this lady."

Kelly Johnson's Lockheed Jet Constellation (JetCon, his "lady") and Boeing's 287 (Dash) had kept American aviation moderately up to snuff with European passenger designs. The swept-wing, four-engine JetCon held the passenger aircraft speed record for New York to London, and had secured Johnson's reputation as a designer. In spite of this, he chafed at the restrictions the private sector placed on his designs.

He was surprised when General Arnold had invited him, Jack Northrop, and Eddie Allen of Boeing along for a visit to the Polish Commonwealth. He was more surprised at the escorts that flanked the JetCon upon entering Polish airspace. Jet powered fighters that kept up with and even outran his speedy entry into commercial aviation. Now that was what he dreamed about, reading Tom Swift as a child. Finally, he was floored at being allowed to visit the fabled "Garden" at Białystok. The Orchid bomber, which could reach any city in Europe from Warsaw and fly back after dropping its load; and the Lily, the straight-winged jet that was the mainstay of the Warsaw Pact air forces - both of these made Kelly Johnson jealous. He could've built either one of these given what he was asking of Arnold. He'd heard whisperings of a "Sunflower", but couldn't suss anything about it save its absolute secrecy.

Arnold continued, "If we can grow it at home, I don't think anything will be too unreasonable. Just ask for it, money, men."

Johnson interrupted, "I want to hand-pick my men, and I won't need a lot of them, nor a lot of money. I just want freedom to build what I want to outfly the Lilies, or whatever the Russians, Japs, or anyone else have."

Arnold nodded. Arnold had heard his own whispers, about Soviet defectors flying their MiGs into the Commonwealth.

Johnson continued, "I'll give you reports, but I don't want to have to bury myself in red tape and paperwork."

Arnold smiled, "Done."

Johnson smiled, "General," he paused, "I can put us ahead if you let me."


From Skunk Works at 50 - An Illustrated History (c) 2001

On the flight back from Warsaw, Arnold, convinced that Johnson could deliver, commissioned specifications for new jet-powered military aircraft. Three types, a trans-oceanic bomber, a medium-range low-flying bomber, and a air-to-air fighter, were to be put out for contract.

Lockheed bid for, and won, the fighter contract. With Arnold's help, Johnson convinced Lockheed to commission the Advanced Projects Facility. . .

. . .

The Lockheed YF-1 Lightning shocked the world. In two years, Johnson's Skunk Works had prototyped the world's first supersonic fighter. It would prove to the Warsaw Pact, and the American people, that the US intended on being an equal partner in its new alliance.

"The funny thing about the Lightning was that we would've been ready sooner were it not for engine problems," said Johnson after the 1955 introduction of the F-1A, "We still beat the Tigerlily by 6 months, but we had to invent concepts like an afterburner, not to mention build them."

(Picture of a plane that looks like a cross between OTL F-104 Starfighter, F-100 Super Sabre, and F-4 Phantom.)

[1] In OTL, Johnson's first jet, the P-80/F-80 Shooting Star, was a fixed-wing aircraft that soon proved behind the times in Korea. With commercial and Soviet vs. Japanese swept-wing experience in DBTL, he understood the advantages.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Pachydermian Candidate

Suppose you were a Republican mole who had managed to burrow his way into the Democratic Party. Suppose your chief objective was to destroy the Democratic Party from within. And suppose you managed to get elected president as a Democrat. What would you do?

Here are some suggested actions:
  • Actively cover up your Republican predecessor's crimes.
  • Pursue Republican policies like tax cuts, Romneycare, cap & trade, and "entitlement reform".
  • Force Congressional Democrats to support these Republican policies.
  • Ignore pressing problems like high unemployment in favor of nonissues like "deficit reduction".
  • Refuse to abandon pointless, destructive wars.
  • Establish a government program to encourage banks to forclose on homes.
  • Make pre-emptive concessions to Republicans in the name of "bipartisanship".
  • Fail to fight back against Republican attacks.
  • Fail to push back against Republican lies.
  • Fail to articulate a Democratic message.
  • Fail to coordinate Democratic election campaigns.
  • Allow Republicans to dominate the political discourse.
  • Ignore repeated Republican vows to destroy you.
  • Blame yourself for Republican intransigence.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, it can serve as a starting point. If you follow it, in just two years, you can completely alienate the Democratic base and erase a Democratic Congressional majority that required two election cycles to create. How you spend the second half of your term (and let's face it, after a performance like this, you're only going to get one) is up to you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For All Nails #303: Buque Nights

Buenos Aires, Argentina
9 February 1981

Mary Smith, the pilot, was always reticent about her past. That she was Manitoban was obvious from her accent when she spoke English. That she was ex-military was clear enough from her bearing. That she was an exile from the CNA Sophia knew from an occasional comment she had let drop.

But that mattered little to Sophia. Smith had been with them for five years, through the worst of the Alliance War. After the fall of Bogotá, she had kept the Royal Family of New Granada one step ahead of the Alliance troops, flying in a succession of small, fragile aeromobiles. Now that peace was restored and the occupation of New Granada was over, Smith was chief pilot of the Royal Family's official aeromobile, the Nueva Granada.

Sophia, standing behind Smith, looked dubiously out of the windows of the Nueva Granada's flight deck at the swirling white mass beyond. "Looks awfully . . . dense . . . to me," she said in English.

"Nothing to worry about, Sophia," the Manitoban pilot assured her in the same language. "We'll have at least five hundred feet of clear air to land in. Piece of goddamn cake. Now go back and strap yourself in."

"Aye aye, captain," Sophia said, giving the pilot a snappy salute before turning and making her way back to the passenger area. She brushed aside the curtain and entered the cabin she shared with her husband, King Fernando. He, smug bastard, was already strapped in, as if he hadn't a care in the world despite the fog hovering over Buenos Aires.

"How can you be so calm?" she wondered in Spanish as she took the seat next to his.

"As far as I'm concerned," he said, "any landing where we're not being shot at is an easy landing."

"My standards have risen since the war," Sophia told him. "I now consider a landing easy only if there is no mortal danger at all involved."

"If we do all die in a crash," Fernando said philosophically, "at least our troubles will be over. Poor Alexander, on the other hand, will have to start all over again, with an even younger king."

Sophia sighed. The attempt to lift her spirits might have worked, had it not reminded her that her son was back in Bogotá. Alexander Elbittar had persuaded them that the heir to the throne ought not to travel by aeromobile with the rest of the royal family. Elbittar might no longer be Prime Minister of New Granada, but his power was just as great, if no longer as clearly defined. He was still the literal kingmaker, having created the Neogranandan monarchy through sheer force of will. And, damn him, he was right; it had been prudent to leave Don Fernando at home. But that didn't mean Sophia had to like it.

However, Smith proved to be as adept behind the controls of the Nueva Granada as ever, and within half an hour the aeromobile had landed without incident. "You see," said Fernando in English, "your fears of crashing were groundless."

Shaking her head, Sophia said, "You can be deposed, you know."

"You'll have to sieze power later," said Fernando as he unbelted himself and rose from the seat. "Right now, we have a state visit to attend to."

This particular state visit, Sophia knew, represented a major triumph for Alexander Elbittar's new policy. In a time of War Without War, he had reasoned, the proper way to build an empire was through conquest without conquest. Through some thought process that Sophia didn't understand (and there was much about the man's thought processes that she didn't understand), Elbittar had chosen to call his policy el imperio del buque, the empire of the ship. Instead of using military force, he would use cultural and economic power to spread his cherished ideals of Hispanidad.

Argentina represented the first triumph of that policy. Thanks to covert assistance on the part of New Granada, with the even more covert assistance of the European Union, a popular Argentinian movement called the Coalición para la Gente had won a majority of the seats in the Argentine Assembly, ousting the pro-British Partido Liberal. The Coalición's charismatic leader, Angel Taveras, had just been named President by the Assembly, and Fernando and Sophia were the first heads of state to pay their respects to the new leader.

As always happened in these situations, the Nueva Granada had come to a halt a few hundred feet from the airpark terminal, and the Argentinians were wheeling the boarding stairs up to the door. Fernando and Sophia had been joined by the rest of their party: Fernando's secretary Ortiz and his old mentor Brother Francisco, little Leonora and her nursemaid, Elbittar's man Gomez and his security detail. Gomez had a handspeaker and he was quietly communicating with his opposite number among the Argentinians. Gomez looked up and said to Fernando, "We're all set, Sire."

"Tell me one thing," Sophia said as they prepared to leave the aeromobile. "Was it your idea to call them the People's Coalition?" Fernando had been educated in the CNA, and Sophia suspected he had found the idea of Argentina's Liberals facing a People's Coalition irresistable.

"I disclaim all responsibility," said Fernando. "As far as I know, Señor Taveras and his colleagues came up with the name all by themselves. I suppose they were hoping that history would repeat itself, and it looks like it has."

"Not that I'm complaining, mind you," Sophia added. "Seeing the Nats lose their last ally in Latin America is worth a little historical plagiarism."

Fernando chose not to comment, but that was all right. He was well aware of Sophia's loathing for the ultranationalistic National Renewal Party that had ruled her native Great Britain for the past fifteen years.

A member of Gomez's detail opened the door, and they began to file down the boarding stairs. Outside, the airpark was overcast and rather damp, though warmer than a similarly overcast day in London would have been. There was a crowd occupying a cordoned-off area by the terminal building, waving Argentinian and Neogranadan flags, as well as banners bearing the CG's clasped-hands symbol. Another, much smaller cordoned-off area held a small group of journalists and vitavision film crews. A cluster of Argentinian officials was waiting for them at the bottom of the stairs. The stairs were wide enough for them to descend two abreast, so Fernando and Sophia remained side by side as they went down, waving at the people.

At the foot of the stairs they were met by a stout, formally dressed, middle-aged man, with his head shaved Mexican-style. He gave the royal couple a slight bow and said, "Welcome to Argentina, Your Majesties. I am Esteban Martucci, Secretary of the Interior, and I bear the greetings of President Taveras. The President has asked me to escort you and your party to the Presidential Palace."

"Thank you, Secretary Martucci," Fernando replied, "and my thanks as well to President Taveras."

Two liveries with motowheel escort pulled up to the Neogranadans, and Fernando and Sophia joined Secretary Martucci in the first. The motorcade slowly pulled away from the Nueva Granada, circled the terminal building, and exited through a double gate.

The airpark was ten miles downstream from the center of Buenos Aires, in a suburb called Quilmes. As the motorcade made its way along a locopista toward the city, the fog closed in around them, giving the landscape an insubstantial look. Sophia was reminded once again of London; were it not for the fact that they were driving on the right side of the road, and the road signs looming out of the fog were in Spanish, she could imagine they were passing along the Thames estuary.

Fernando and Martucci were discussing the recent elections, which had seen the CG jump from 39 Assembly seats to 157. Martucci told stories of street fights in Buenos Aires between Liberal and Coalición partisans, and Sophia got the distinct impression that the newly-minted cabinet secretary had been personally "busting heads," as he colourfully put it.

They passed through a flyover interchange with another locopista, and a sign bearing the name AVENIDA RICHARD MASON flashed by in the fog. Puzzled by the Anglo name, it took a moment for Sophia to place it: Richard Mason had been Governor-General of the CNA twenty years before.

"You have a road named after a North American?" she asked Martucci.

"What?" Martucci said, then his puzzled expression cleared and he said, "Oh, the Avenue. Yes, Señor Mason is greatly honoured here. It was very bad here during the war, very bad." Sophia recalled that Argentina had gone through a nasty civil war in the 1940s as factions backed by the British and the Mexicans fought for control of the country. "There was much hunger, our cities in ruins. But you of New Granada, you know how that goes."

"We do," said Fernando, and Sophia nodded. Three years of war had left New Granada in dire straits . . . and once again, the North Americans had jumped into the breach, helping to rebuild a war-torn nation. Though, probably the last thing Carter Monaghan had in mind when he found himself back in the Square Room was becoming the new Richard Mason.

The locopista came to an end, and the motorcade began passing through city streets that had been cleared of traffic. At first there were only occasional small groups who would appear out of the fog to wave their hands (or shake their fists) as they passed. As they drew closer to the center of the city, though, tbe groups became larger, until at last they merged into two continuous crowds of people lining the street. By the time they reached the Plaza de Septiembre, it was like the crowd at the airpark had been transported bodily through space. The motorcade circled once slowly around the plaza while the people cheered, then stopped at the foot of the broad steps leading up to the main entrance of the Presidential Palace.

The Presidential Palace, Sophia knew, was the latest in a series of buildings that went back to the sixteenth century. The current structure dated back to 1877, and was rather typical of the neomannerist style that was popular at the time. Sophia found the building a trifle bland for her taste, but there was no denying its beauty, especially with the fog softening its lines.

Secretary Martucci led the royal couple up the steps and to a temporary platform built to one side that was hung with Neogranadan and Argentinian flags and decorations. Among the people occupying it was a tall, bespectacled man whom Sophia recognized as President Taveras. The short, plump woman standing beside him was Señora Taveras.

The protocol for the initial meeting between president and monarchs had, of course, been worked out beforehand. As a fellow head of state, Taveras would shake hands with Fernando, and give Sophia's hand a gallant kiss, followed by a similar exchange of greetings with Señora Taveras. Then the president would yield the microphone to Fernando, who would give a short address to the gathered multitude. Sophia would not be speaking, to her great relief; even after seven years as Queen of New Granada, she still came down with stage fright at the thought of making public addresses in Spanish.

Fernando's speech sounded rather generic to Sophia, though she knew her husband had worked on it for days. He thanked Taveras, congratulated the Argentinians on their recently-concluded election, and expressed hope for closer relations between the two nations. Then Taveras resumed his place behind the microphone and gave an equally generic speech.

The crowd seemed to enjoy both speeches. Perhaps Sophia had become too critical of oratory; she had heard so many speeches, both as Queen of New Granada and as a royal daughter back in Great Britain, that listening to one made her feel like a jaded theatre critic attending yet another performance of The Maid of the Oaks.

After the speech-making (Fernando liked to copy the late Governor-General of the CNA and call it "speechifying"), the assorted dignitaries entered the Presidential Palace. "It's a lovely building," she remarked to Martucci, "but it could use a little more colour. Have you ever thought of painting it?"

"Painting the Presidential Palace?" He seemed faintly scandalised by the thought.

"Yes. A pastel, say. Mint green, or lavender, or pink perhaps."

Martucci burst into laughter. "A pink Presidential Palace? Not in Argentina, Your Majesty!"

Within the palace, the decor bore a strong resemblance to the interior of a history museum. Sophia was not surprised. The public areas of the Royal Palace in Bogotá, and for that matter in Buckingham Palace, looked much the same: a showplace to impress tourists.

The party of dignitaries ascended a broad staircase and made their way down a corridor whose decor was more in keeping with the palace's neomannerist exterior. This was the private part of the palace, where the government offices and living quarters were located. The visitors from New Granada had been allotted guest quarters on the second storey, facing the Rio de la Plata.

President Taveras and his wife escorted them into their rooms, and they said their farewells. Then Fernando and Sophia were alone, and the Queen of New Granada let herself fall backwards into an upholstered chair. She had been in constant motion, from palace to airpark to airpark to palace, for eight hours, and she intended to luxuriate in her current state of motionlessness.

Fernando was too considerate to remind her that they still had a full itinerary of tours and receptions and meals to deal with later on. Besides, he seemed as grateful for the break (he usually called it a "breather", another North Americanism acquired during his days at the University of New Orleans) as she was.

She must have been more exhausted than she thought, because her drifting thoughts had taken her back to the Royal Palace, and she was watching Don Fernando romp across the floor with his Congo terrier Nefertiti when she started awake. There was a discreet knocking at the door to their suite, and Fernando was crossing the room in shirtsleeves and stocking feet to answer it.

It was Gomez, a handspeaker in one hand, a clipboard in the other. "Just a reminder, Your Majesty, in thirty minutes we're due to join the president and his party for a tour of the city."

"Thank you, Serjeant. We'll be ready," said Fernando. Gomez was no longer a serjeant, of course, but he had been one that day eight years before when he and Alexander had come to New Orleans to offer Fernando the newly-created throne of New Granada. He nodded to the king and retreated from the suite.

"Up and at 'em," he said in English, yet another North Americanism, a catch-phrase derived from some animated vita show. If only he had gone to Oxford instead of New Orleans.

A quick change of clothes, and Sophia was ready to be introduced to Buenos Aires. The rest of the day passed in a blur of motorcades, speeches, official visits, museums, monuments, schools, hospitals, and public works, with a formal dinner and reception back at the Presidential Palace to top it all off. It was all moving along like a well-oiled machine, so Sophia should have known there was trouble lurking at the end of it.

She and Señora Cicilline, the wife of the Secretary of Labour, were having a fairly interesting conversation concerning the relative merits of Mozart and Beethoven, when Señor Gomez appeared at her side. "Your Majesty," he said quietly, "I fear I must interrupt your conversation. May I speak with you in private?"

A mood of foreboding came upon her. She made her apologies to Señora Cicilline, then followed Gomez out of the salon where the reception was being held.

"Your Majesty," he told her, "it appears that a . . . situation has developed on board the Nueva Granada."

"What sort of situation?"

He was silent for several seconds, before saying, "I think it best that I not say." All this reticence was quite unlike Gomez, who was generally as straightforward as they came. "I think it would be best if you accompanied me to the Nueva Granada. The King has already been informed, and will meet us there."

Gomez had a vehicle waiting for them at a side entrance to the Presidential Palace. The fog had become even thicker with nightfall, and the ride back to the airpark had an unreal quality to it. Gomez remained silent throughout.

There was another locomobile parked at the foot of the boarding stairs when they arrived, and Fernando was just emerging from it as they pulled up. He was accompanied by his secretary Ortiz, and Sophia saw a look pass between Gomez and the secretary. The two were clearly operating in tandem.

As she joined Fernando, he asked, "Do you know what this is about?"

"No. Gomez wouldn't explain."

"Neither would Ortiz. Well, we'll soon find out."

Once on board the aeromobile, Gomez led them to the crew quarters. They entered Mary Smith's cabin, and Sophia was astonished to see a man bound and gagged on Smith's bunk. Smith herself was standing beside him, holding a gun pointed at his head. Without a word, she passed the gun to Gomez, who took up the task of pointing it at the bound man.

"Well, Captain Smith?" said Fernando in English.

Smith radiated confidence. "Your Majesties," she answered in the same language, "that fellow there is named Martin Falcone. He works for Vincent Mercator." A smile touched her lips as she added, "And I bet if we ask him just right, he'll tell us where we can find his boss."


Monday, November 29, 2010

Sobel Wiki Update 3

It's been exactly three months since I created the Sobel Wiki, an online encyclopedia of Robert Sobel's counterfactual history For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. Ninety-one days of moderately diligent work on my part has resulted in a wiki with 147 pages, about twenty of which are mere stubs. I'm happy to say that I have fulfilled my quest to celebrate National Blog Posting Month by posting at least one new article to the wiki every day. Or, to be more exact, I will have fulfilled my quest after posting tomorrow's article. I am also proud to announce that the Sobel Wiki has seen the appearance of a second editor, AltWorlder, who created an article stub for the Mexican supercorporation Kramer Associates. Hey, it's a start.

Wage freeze for federal employees

Great policy, or greatest policy?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Old memes never die . . . they just smell that way

Apparently the "BBC 100 books" meme is making its way through Facebook again. Although I blogged about this meme the last time it made the rounds a year and a half ago, I figure I might as well have another go. After all, if the memes keep coming back, what else can we do but keep blogging about them?

This one goes back to March 1, 2007, when the UK version of World Book Day held an online poll asking respondents to list their "top 10 books they couldn't live without". They got 2000 responses, and the Guardian wrote up an article listing the top 100 books that resulted.

Fast-forward to February 2009. Some wag on Facebook posts the following provocative message:

‘The BBC believes the majority of people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here.
Go to your profile, choose notes, post a new note – copy and edit.

Instructions: Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.’

And follows it with the list from the World Book Day poll. Why the BBC? Why 6 books? Undoubtedly to provoke outrage over the idea that those bastards at the Beeb think we're all a bunch of unlettered yahoos.* "I'll show them," the reader says to himself. "Only six books indeed. Humph!" And thus an internet meme is born.

In the current iteration of the meme, instead of simply marking an x after those books one has read, one bolds the books/series one has finished, italicizes the books/series one has started but not finished.

I've got a feeling this meme is going to continue popping up from time to time, like a case of online literary herpes.

*Veiled literary reference.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

You say you want a French Revolution

What's that? You say you want the French Revolution set to Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance"?

Your wish is my command.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

All we are saying is, give catfood a chance

Back in February, the unemployment rate stood at 9.7 percent. It rose up past nine percent in May, then rose past ten percent in October, and only dropped back down below ten percent four months later. The last time the unemployment rate had been so high for so long was during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The country desperately needed action to put people back to work.

That was when President Obama signed Executive Order 13531 creating a bipartisan deficit commission to reduce the federal budget deficit.

Now, nine months later, the unemployment rate is still above nine percent. In fact, it's been stuck at 9.6 percent for the last three months. This is the main reason the Democrats got creamed in the midterm elections, losing control of the House of Representatives. And in response, the two co-chairmen of Obama's deficit commission, the men Obama himself appointed, have released their preliminary proposal for reducing the federal budget deficit: cut benefits for old people, cut taxes for rich people.

Needless to say, most of the Democrats who aren't Barack Obama strenuously objected. Obama's reaction was this:

“Before anybody starts shooting down proposals, I think we need to listen, we need to gather up all the facts.”

In other words, we need to give the catfood commission a chance, we can't dismiss it just because it was a bad idea in the first place and it's going to make a bad situation worse. C'mon, guys, we need to be open-minded here!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Digital Day 111110


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Digital Day 111010


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Boehner for the White House

For people who claim they don't want to shut down the government, the Republicans are spending an awful lot of time talking about how it'll be Obama's fault if they shut down the government.

I'm starting to think I was wrong about Republicans wanting to impeach Obama. After all, impeachment is a long, difficult process. It would be much more in keeping with their crush kill destroy governing philosophy if they just shut down the government and refused to start it up again until Obama and Biden resigned. Result: Acting President John Boehner.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Digital Day 110110


Friday, October 29, 2010

Sobel Wiki Update 2

It's been exactly two months since I created the Sobel Wiki, an online encyclopedia of Robert Sobel's allohistory For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. Sixty-one days of moderately diligent work on my part (and I'm still the only editor at the Sobel Wiki) has resulted in a wiki with 108 pages, about a dozen of which are mere stubs.

Some monkeying around with the Magic Google Machine has allowed me to determine that if you type in the name "clifton burgen", the top Google hit is the Sobel Wiki article on C.N.A. Governor-General Clifton Burgen. I view this as significant.

Since the Sobel Wiki consumes much of the little free time I've got, I've decided that when National Blog Posting Month starts on Monday, I'm going to fill my NaBloPoMo blog with 30 newly-written Sobel Wiki articles.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Can't make up my mind

Which would be more entertaining? Watching the Republicans take over the HofR and impeach Obama, or watching them not take over the HofR and freak out? Impeachment would be more dramatic, but it would probably take the GOP months or years to build up to it; they'll probably wait and see if Obama wins a second term, just like they did with Clinton, before they start the main event. The freakout, OTOH, would start right away, so there's instant gratification, but would be an awful lot like the current freakout, only with more voter fraud conspiracy theories and a higher level of violence.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

That darned government

Radley Balko goes full metal libertoonian:

The only coercive power any of these corporations have would be power that they’ve bought from the government.
Yeah, we all remember how Enron used the coercive power of the State to manipulate the California energy market. And why are the Koch brothers trying to buy the government? It must be so they can wield government power. It couldn't possibly be because they want to neutralize the government, thereby freeing themselves to do WHATEVER THE HELL THEY WANT.

Balko, when your ideology requires you to make obviously nonsensical assertions like that, it's time to get yourself a new ideology.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Sobel, Manitoba, and the HBC

Back in the early days of the For All Nails project, Noel Maurer took a good hard look at Robert Sobel's United States of Mexico, and he didn't like what he saw. Bear in mind that Noel is an economic historian who specializes in Mexico, and he's written and co-written several books on the subject. In particular, Noel found the six states of the U.S.M., ostensibly created by Andrew Jackson in 1819, to be completely unbelieveable. No way, said Noel, would the Mexicans go along with Jackson's plan to put 90% of the country's population in one of the six states. (The joke among the FAN Cabal was that Jackson had just discovered the medicinal properties of Mexican marijuana when he drew his map of the U.S.M.) So Noel took the liberty of redrawing Sobel's U.S.M. to make it, if not plausible, then at least semi-plausible.

It's been seven weeks since I undertook my own project to Wikify For Want of a Nail, and I've only just gotten around to starting the article on the Confederation of Manitoba, one of the five original constituents of the Confederation of North America as established in 1782. Writing this article has led me to the conclusion that Sobel's failure to even mention Hudson's Bay Company in For Want of a Nail is at least as egregious as anything involving the U.S.M. Sobel's Manitoba is basically Rupert's Land, the territory controlled by the HBC, with the northern coast of Lake Superior thrown in. Thus, the HBC would own almost all of the land in Manitoba.

Sobel describes Manitoba as "a land without politics," but in reality Manitoba would be highly politicized, and would bear a strong resemblance to colonial Pennsylvania, with the colony's settlers pitted against its proprietors (in Pennsylvania's case, the Penn family). Administering Manitoba would be problematic for any man the Crown appointed to govern the confederation, since he would be constantly butting heads with the HBC's Chief Factors, while the HBC's Governor back in London pulled strings to undermine his authority (unless of course the Company got one of its own men appointed to the post, which is highly likely). According to Sobel, the first Governor-General of Manitoba in 1782 was Francis Legge, who was recalled from Nova Scotia in 1776 due to his tactlessness in dealing with that colony's inhabitants. However, since Legge died in 1783, he would not have been in charge for long. By the early 19th century, the governors of the C.N.A.'s confederations were elected rather than appointed, which would of course make for even more dramatic politics in Manitoba.

Stay tuned for further updates on the Sobel Wiki.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Digital Day 101110


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Digital Day 101010


Thursday, October 7, 2010

An important question

Does this post make me look fat?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Digital Day 100110


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sobel Wiki Update

It's been exactly thirty days since I created the Sobel Wiki, an online encyclopedia of Robert Sobel's alternate history novel For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. Thirty days of moderately diligent work on my part has resulted in a wiki with 57 pages, about a dozen of which are mere stubs. I'm still the only person who has contributed to the wiki, but that may change when I start posting links in a few appropriate fora, such as the soc.history.what-if newsgroup, Facebook, and the book's Wikipedia article.

Stay tuned!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tipping point

So, we had a wedding party staying at the hotel Saturday night. The Best Man contacted me to let me know that they needed a mini-fridge in the Bride's room to hold the top of the wedding cake. Having seen to the delivery of the mini-fridge myself, the Best Man decided to give me a tip: 3000 Costa Rican colones that he happened to have burning a hole in his pocket. Since businesses in Rhode Island don't take Costa Rican money, if I wanted to spend my tip, I'd have to take it to the bank and convert it into American dollars. At the time the Best Man gave me the money on Saturday night, it was worth about $5.93. By the time I got to the bank on Monday morning, the exchange rate had fallen to the point where my 3 rojos were worth $5.19. Deducting the three dollars the bank charges for currency exchanges, my tip brought me $2.19. Still, it's $2.19 I didn't have before, so I'm not complaining.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I accept the challenge

Following the lead of Barry Deutsch of Alas, a Blog, Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon has challenged the left blogosphere to provide a proper dose of mockery to a dumbass webcomic called "Least I Could Do". The original version can be found by following the links back to Barry's and Amanda's posts. And now, the Johnny Pez version:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

If you want to survive

Now that the dog days of summer are over, what better way to celebrate than with an embedded video of Florence + the Machine performing "Dog Days are Over"?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Get out!

First he refs P. G. Wodehouse, now it's Cyndi Lauper. Get the hell out of my head, Duncan Black!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

For All Nails #302: Legal Challenge

As promised, this is the latest entry in the For All Nails project, a continuation of the alternate history of Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga. Briefly, Sobel's history deals with a failed American Revolution that resulted in a reformed British colonial administration called the Confederation of North America, and with the United States of Mexico, a nation co-founded by exiled Patriots. In the 19th century, a Mexican corporation called Kramer Associates was founded, which has grown to become the largest in the world, and which has since relocated from Mexico to Taiwan. In 1962, scientists employed by Kramer Associates built the world's first atomic bomb . . .

We shall never use this device in the cause of aggrandizement. But we will not hesitate to destroy any nation that has the foolishness to re-open the Global War.
-- Carl Salazar, President of Kramer Associates, 20 July 1962

No. 10 Downing Street
London, England, UK
15 February 1965

If you had asked him three months ago, Harold Fuller would have told you that the two most vile words in the English language were "snap election." Since then, events had changed his mind. The two most vile words in the English language, he had decided, were "coalition government."

Putting up with the Tories had been bad enough when they had been in Opposition. As coalition partners, they were well nigh intolerable. Bruce Edgerton, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, spent more time posturing in front of the vitavision cameras than he did in HM Treasury. Simon Carter, the Home Secretary, was a pint-sized Machiavelli who probably schemed in his sleep. Stephen Horne, the Minister of Education, was a spiritualist who spent more time attending séances than he did Cabinet meetings.

Just now, though, they were all ears, even Horne. Fuller started the Cabinet meeting by nodding towards Martin Ashton, the Minister of War, and saying, "Well, Martin, how did it go?"

Ashton was radiating confidence, which in itself told Fuller everything he needed to know. "Everything went smoothly. Detonation occurred at 03:33 Greenwich time at Kulgera Testing Ground. Energy of detonation is estimated at 170 kilosmiths, about half again as much as the original Kramer device. We've another device at Darwin, and the boffins at Ampleforth say we'll have enough processed uranium for a third by the end of June. After that, they say they can build up production to the point of producing a new device every two months. Work is also proceeding apace on a plutonium device. They say they should have the bugs worked out by the end of the year. If all goes well." Fuller had noticed that Ashton always referred to the atomic bombs as devices. He supposed it made it easier to deal with making the infernal things. Fuller didn't envy the atomic scientists their jobs.

"Thank you, Martin," Fuller replied, "and well done to everyone on the project."

"I'll be sure to pass that along, Harold."

"Right, then," said Edgerton. "How soon before we can start using them on the Germans?"

"In fact, Mr. Edgerton," Fuller answered blandly, "we've not yet decided whether we are going to use them on the Germans."

"Of course we are," Edgerton insisted. "Why else have we built the wretched things if not to pay the Weiners back for Buckingham Palace?" [1]

"We built them," Fuller explained with as much patience as he could muster, "because we knew the Germans were building them. And the Mexicans, and the CNA, and possibly the Japanese as well. We built them because we couldn't afford not to build them. Using them is a completely different matter. Remember what Salazar said about destroying anyone who restarted the war. And mind you, he used the word destroy specifically."

"Could he?" asked Carter. "Destroy us, I mean."

Fuller looked at Ashton, who said, "As you can imagine, the War Ministry has been giving that question a good deal of attention. Kramer has a good two years' head start on us, and no doubt Salazar has been stockpiling his own bombs." When it came to someone else's atomic bombs, Fuller thought, Ashton wasn't so delicate in his language. "We estimate he may have anywhere from ten to twenty available for his use. The more pertinent question is whether he can actually use them on us, Taiwan being quite a long way off. While it is theoretically possible to fit them as warheads on missiles, we don't believe missile technology has advanced to the point of making that a practical reality. That will change within ten years, possibly as soon as five years. At the moment, though, the only way to deliver one of the devices is via ship or airmobile."

"So what you're saying," said Carter, "is that any ship or airmobile bringing goods from Kramer Associates may be carrying atomic bombs as well as vitavision sets and washing machines."

"That possibility had already occurred to us," said Fuller. "Rest assured, not a crate comes in from Kramer Associates that we don't inspect. And if war comes, not a single Kramer vessel of sea or air will be allowed within thirty miles of these islands."

"That's assuming we know they're coming from Kramer," Carter responded. "The Octopus has so many damned tentacles it's impossible to know for sure." Octopus, Fuller knew, was a translation of El Pulpo, the Mexicans' own nickname for the much-loathed commercial behemoth their nation had spawned.

"All the more reason," said Fuller, "to think twice before making any decision to use the bomb."

"That's not going to sit well with the people," Edgerton stated. "They're going to wonder why we aren't using them now we've got them. Leigh-Oswald's lot in particular are going to be clamoring for war."

"Don't remind me," said Fuller with distaste. Mosely Leigh-Oswald's National Renewal Party had surprised everybody by winning over 150 seats in Halliwell's [2] dunderheaded snap election, necessitating the current Whig-Tory coalition government. "It's all very well for the Nats to start braying for war. They don't have to worry about Kramer."

"Erm, speaking of Kramer," said Attorney General Anthony Barker, "I've just received word this morning that they're, erm, suing us."

"Suing us?" said Fuller, perplexed. "Us, meaning the government?"

"Yes," confirmed Barker. "They say that their atomic bomb is proprietary information, and that by building our own we're guilty of copyright infringement."

"How can they be suing us?" demanded Labor Minister John Eckersley. "They're not even British."

"As signatories to the Taipei Convention," Barker explained, "we're obligated to enforce Taiwanese copyright law. If Kramer Associates want to assert copyright protection over the atomic bomb, they have the legal right to do so. And the actual lawsuit has been filed by Vandelay Industries, a Kramer subsidiary incorporated in the United Kingdom in 1930. [3] They've also requested that all work on the atomic bomb be halted pending the outcome of the suit."

"Can they do this?" said an appalled Edgerton. "Can they stop us making our own bombs?"

"Hardly," Barker sniffed. "We can have the lawsuit dismissed under the National Secrets Act, and we will. If ever there was cause to dismiss a lawsuit in the interest of national security, this is it."

"Then what can they hope to gain from this?" said Fuller, mystified.

Barker shrugged. "Carl Salazar is a businessman, and for all of his posturing as a national leader, he still thinks like a businessman. When things don't go his way, his first instinct is to sue."

"Do you think we could counter-sue?" Carter spoke up. "After all, it's my understanding that it was Penhurst's Law of Relative Motion that served as the theoretical basis for the Kramer Bomb. We can claim that they're the ones who are infringing on our copyrights."

"I don't think you can copyright laws of nature," Barker answered. "Though I suppose we could claim that Penhurst's original paper is under copyright. We might well sue on that basis. It's certainly worth a try, and I'll admit I would enjoy giving the bastards a taste of their own medicine."


[1] Buckingham Palace was destroyed during the second German invasion of Great Britain in 1942, when a damaged German bomber plowed into it with a full bomb load and its fuel tanks half full. Although most of the Royal Family was elsewhere at the time, the Queen and her three youngest children were killed in the explosion. The palace was rebuilt after the war.

[2] Philip Halliwell, Fuller's predecessor as Prime Minister.

[3] Kramer Associates' Vandelay subsidiary was first mentioned in For All Nails #46. You can't pin this one on me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

FAN Lives!

As I recently noted, I was a participant in the For All Nails project, an attempt by several alternate history geeks at the soc.history.what-if newsgroup to continue the timeline of Robert Sobel's For Want of a Nail past the book's 1971 terminus. The last For All Nails post to appear on shw-i was #300, my own "Descendants" from July 26, 2005.

Now, thanks to the miracle of Google and a search for the name Ezra Gallivan, I've come upon For All Nails #301: An Independent Quebec Within a United CNA, the new most recent installment, at Acts of Minor Treason, the blog of fellow FAN Cabal member Andrew Barton.

Well, clearly, this aggression cannot stand, man. It looks like I'm going to have to come up with FAN #302. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


I rarely suffer from allergies, but rarely isn't the same as never. I occasionally get a really bad allergy headache around this time of year, and Tuesday afternoon was one of those occasions. I did what I usually do when it happens, which is lie down, go to sleep, and hope the headache is gone when I wake up.

It was around 3:30 Wednesday morning when the headache finally went away. I carefully removed myself from the two dogs that were curled up beside me, got out of bed, and on a whim, picked up a copy of The Mote in God's Eye and started reading. I didn't feel like blinding myself by turning on a room light, so I went into the bathroom, turned on the night light there, sat down on the rim of the bathtub, and started reading.

About ten minutes later, I looked up, and found that both dogs had got up from the bed, walked into the bathroom, and planted themselves by my feet, watching as I read. This is something to bear in mind about dogs: they want to be around us. If you get up and go into another room, they'll wait a couple minutes for you to come back, then they'll follow you.

When I noticed the dogs, I left the bathroom, put the book away, and went back to bed. The dogs followed me, jumped into bed, and curled up next to me. We all went back to sleep.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sobel Wiki

Back in the days of my youth, when the internet was wild, rich, and largely spam-free, I found myself spending a lot of time on the alternate history Usenet group soc.history.what-if. It was there that I created my alt-hist magnum opus, the Drowned Baby Timeline. And it was there that I participated in the For All Nails project.

The FAN project had its origin in a book published in 1973, For Want of a Nail: If Burgoyne Had Won at Saratoga by Robert Sobel. Sobel was a business historian best known for his histories of the stock market, The Big Board (1965) and The Curbstone Brokers (1970). The summer of 1971 found him between book contracts, so he took up a suggestion from a former student and wrote a mock-history of an America that lost the American Revolution.

As the subtitle indicates, Sobel's alternate history diverges from our own in October 1777, when the British General John Burgoyne beats the Americans at the Battle of Saratoga and captures Albany. Conciliationists take control of the Continental Congress, and in June 1778 the war ends with the colonies returning to British control. Just as our history saw the Loyalists leave the newly-established United States of America for Canada, so Sobel's history sees the Patriots leave the re-established British colonies for Mexico, specifically Texas, where they establish themselves as the State of Jefferson. In 1781 Parliament passes a bill that reorganizes the North American colonies into a new dominion called the Confederation of North America, while in 1819 the State of Jefferson merges with the Republic of Mexico to create the United States of Mexico. Sobel then tells the histories of these two nations up until the time he was writing in the summer of 1971.

For Want of a Nail is a legend among alternate history fans, since it is easily the most detailed alternate timeline ever created. So when I noticed a copy for sale for a mere dollar at the Newport Public Library in August 2001, I snatched it up.

Three months later, Noel Maurer, economic historian and regular shw-i poster, decided to launch the For All Nails project to bring Sobel's history up to the 21st century. He invited other shw-i regulars to join in, and several did so, including my own now-fully-up-to-speed-on-Sobel self. The FAN project continued for two and a half years before those of us in the FAN Cabal let it drop, after yielding some 300 posts covering most of the 1970s; the results can be found here.

While the FAN project was going on, it occurred to us in the FAN Cabal that For Want of a Nail would make a damn good subject for a wiki, what with all the myriad people and events it covers. Sadly, we never got around to building that wiki.

Until now. The Johnny Pez blog is proud to announce the newly-formed Sobel Wiki at Since it's less than 24 hours old at this point, there are a grand total of five articles with actual content in them, and placeholders for 15 more. Hey, that just means there's more room to grow! I'll be adding more articles as time goes on, and hopefully some other Sobel fans will show up and join me.

Let the world tremble! The Sobel Wiki is online!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Most of all

What else are YouTube videos for than to embed in blogs? Here are The Black Keys performing "Tighten Up" during their appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on May 25, 2010.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Job security

As more liberals call on President Obama to fire ex-Senator Alan Simpson from the Catfood Commission in the wake of Simpson's characterization of Social Security as "a milk cow with 310 million tits", the question in everyone's mind is: will it happen? Will the President fire Simpson?


Why not? Because Simpson is simply doing the job that President Obama hired him to do: make the case for cutting Social Security benefits. That's what Obama wants, and that's what Simpson is going to get him.

So, unless Andrew Breitbart releases a doctored videotape of Simpson, don't expect to see him get a pink slip from the President.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Astounding Online Index

For some time now, the good people at Project Gutenberg have been posting entire issues of Astounding Stories, one of the Gernsback Era pulp science fiction magazines, and the forerunner of today's Analog magazine. As each issue has gone up, I've added a link to it in my Astounding Stories Online sidebar, as a service to my hypothetical readers. They've currently got the entire first year of 1930, with the curious exception of the very first issue from January; they've also got 1931 up to July, except for the June issue.

But which issues contain which stories by which authors? It's all just so many undifferentiated links unless you've got an index. So, I've decided to add an index, with all the usual links, alphabetized by author, and then by story title. As each issue is posted, I'll be adding more stories until, presumably, the entire thirty-four issue run of the Clayton Astounding is available.

UPDATE: The June 1931 issue is now available.

UPDATE 2: The August 1931 issue is now available.

Astounding Stories Online

Harry Bates
"The Slave Ship from Space", July 1931

Harry Bates and Desmond W. Hall
"The Hands of Aten", July 1931
"The Tentacles from Below", February 1931

Miles J. Breuer, M.D.
"A Problem in Communication", September 1930

Arthur J. Burks
"Earth, the Marauder", July 1930, August 1930, September 1930
"Manape the Mighty", June 1931
"Monsters of Moyen", April 1930

Hugh B. Cave
"The Corpse on the Grating", February 1930
"The Murder Machine", September 1930

Ray Cummings
"Beyond the Vanishing Point", March 1931
"Brigands of the Moon", March 1930, April 1930, May 1930, June 1930
"The Exile of Time", April 1931, May 1931, June 1931, July 1931
"Jetta of the Lowlands", September 1930, October 1930, November 1930

Tom Curry
"From an Amber Block", July 1930
"Giants of the Ray", June 1930
"Hell's Dimension", April 1931
"The Soul Snatcher", April 1930

Charles Willard Diffin
"Brood of the Dark Moon", August 1931, September 1931, October 1931, November 1931
"Dark Moon", May 1931
"The Eye of Allah", January 1931
"Holocaust", June 1931
"The Moon Master", June 1930
"Out of the Dreadful Depths", June 1930
"The Pirate Planet", November 1930, December 1930, January 1931, February 1931
"The Power and the Glory", July 1930
"Spawn of the Stars", February 1930
"When the Mountain Came to Miramar", March 1931

Sophie Wenzel Ellis
"Creatures of the Light", February 1930
"Slaves of the Dust", December 1930

Paul Ernst
"Marooned Under the Sea", September 1930
"The World Behind the Moon", April 1931

Lloyd Arthur Eshbach
"The Gray Plague", November 1930

Ralph Milne Farley
"The Danger from the Deep", August 1931

Jackson Gee
"An Extra Man", October 1930

Anthony Gilmore
"Four Miles Within", April 1931

Desmond W. Hall
"Werewolves of War", February 1931

Edmond Hamilton
"Monsters of Mars", April 1931
"The Second Satellite", August 1930

Thomas H. Knight
"The Man Who Was Dead", April 1930

Murray Leinster
"The Fifth-Dimension Catapult", January 1931
"Murder Madness", May 1930, June 1930, July 1930, August 1930

Robert H. Leitfred
"Prisoners of the Electron", October 1930

A. T. Locke
"Vandals of the Stars", March 1930

Lilith Lorraine
"The Jovian Jest", May 1930

F. V. W. Mason
"Phalanxes of Atlans", February 1931, March 1931

S. P. Meek
"The Attack From Space", September 1930
"Beyond the Heaviside Layer", July 1930
"The Black Lamp", February 1931
"Cold Light", March 1930
"Into Space", February 1930
"The Ray of Madness", April 1930
"The Port of Missing Planes", August 1931
"The Sea Terror", December 1930
"Stolen Brains", October 1930
"The Thief of Time", February 1930
"When Caverns Yawned", May 1931

James P. Olsen
"The Cavern World", June 1930

Anthony Pelcher
"Mad Music", February 1930
"Vampires of Venus", April 1930

H. Thompson Rich
"The Diamond Thunderbolt", July 1931
"The Flying City", August 1930
"The Sunken Empire", January 1931

William Merriam Rouse
"The Destroyer", November 1930

Victor Rousseau
"The Atom-Smasher", May 1930
"The Beetle Horde", January 1930, February 1930
"The Invisible Death", October 1930
"The Lord of Space", August 1930
"The Wall of Death", November 1930

Will Smith and R. J. Robbins
"The Soul Master", March 1930

Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat
"The Death-Cloud", May 1931
"The Revolt of the Machines", July 1931

David R. Sparks
"The Ape-Men of Xlotli", December 1930

R. F. Starzl
"The Earthman's Burden", June 1931
"If the Sun Died", August 1931
"The Planet of Dread", August 1930

Harl Vincent
"Gray Denim", December 1930
"The Moon Weed", August 1931
"Old Crompton's Secret", February 1930
"Silver Dome", August 1930
"The Terror of Air-Level Six", July 1930
"Terrors Unseen", March 1931
"Vagabonds of Space", November 1930

Hal K. Wells
"The Gate to Xoran", January 1931
"When the Moon Turned Green", May 1931

Jack Williamson
"The Doom from Planet 4", July 1931
"The Lake of Light", April 1931
"The Meteor Girl", March 1931

H. G. Winter
"The Midget from the Island", August 1931

Sewell Peaslee Wright
"The Dark Side of Antri", January 1931
"The Forgotten Planet", July 1930
"From the Ocean's Depths", March 1930
"The Ghost World", April 1931
"Into the Ocean's Depths", May 1930
"The Man from 2071", June 1931
"The Terrible Tentacles of L-472", September 1930

Saturday, August 21, 2010

About those Muslims

Let's face facts. It's easy to see why people wouldn't want to see a mosque going up in their neighborhood, or indeed in anyone else neighborhood. After all, it was the Muslims who killed our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And it's well known that Muslims commonly kidnap and murder Christian children to use their blood in their secret rites. What's more, there's no way the America-hating liberals can deny the vast Muslim plot to take over the world when it's right there in black and white in the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Mecca.

So let's not pretend there aren't plenty of good reasons to be suspicious of the Muslims.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dust to dust

My air conditioner has a sort of lint-trap thingie to filter dust out of the air it conditions. Of course, as the A/C runs, the dust builds up, and periodically has to be taken out of the unit and cleaned out. How to clean it out without getting built-up dust everywhere has been a problem, but I am proud to announce that it has only taken me ten years to come up with the answer: use the hose attachment on the vacuum cleaner to do it.

My friends, this is the sort of quick-thinking innovation that has made the Johnny Pez blog a power in the land.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A moment aloft

In its effort to break new ground in the field of embedded music videos, the Johnny Pez blog now presents three, count 'em, three different videos for the Temper Trap's 2009 hit "Sweet Disposition".

Friday, August 6, 2010

Judicial review: a clue for the clueless

Since some members of the Right seem to be having trouble wrapping their minds around the concept of judicial review, here is a helpful primer, made as simple as possible in hopes of their being able to follow along if I don't use too many big words.

Let us suppose that the California GOP decided to nominate Box Turtle Ben Domenech to run for Barbara Boxer's Senate seat this year. Since Box Turtle Ben is only 28 years old, the GOP gets an initiative placed on the ballot lowering the age limit for the US Senate to 28, and the initiative passes.

The Democrats file a lawsuit alleging that the new law violates Article I Section 3 of the Constitution, which says that only people 30 and older can serve in the US Senate. The judge rules that the Democrats are right, and as a result the new law is overturned.

See how that works? It's the judge's job to rule on whether or not a law is consistent with the Constitution. And even though the voters of California voted to lower the Senate's age limit to 28, the Constitution takes precedence over state laws, so any state law that conflicts with the Constitution is invalid, no matter how many people voted for it, and that's how the judge has to rule.

I hope that clears the matter up.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The geezers are alright

Atrios expresses pleasant surprise that people who are considerably older than his own 38 are not stuck "in an endless nostalgia loop", listening to the same songs by the Doors, Fleetwood Mac, and the Eagles, over and over and over, and instead are getting their groove on over new bands like The Arcade Fire.

Speaking as someone who will be turning 48 next month and who has actually listened to The Arcade Fire on the radio, I'd like to share with my vast global blogging audience how I managed to avoid the nostalgia loop. Our story goes back to those vintage days of the 1970s when AOR stations like Philadelphia's WMMR and WYSP played a steady diet of Kinks, Doors, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Steve Miller Band . . . you know what I'm talking about. Going to high school in New Castle, Delaware, those were the stations I listened to, and the music I listened to.

Fast-forward to February 1992. I'm still in New Castle, still listening to AOR stations, and the Doors' "Break On Through" comes on, and it suddenly occurs to me that after fifteen years, including The Great Doors Revival of the early 80s, I'm sick of listening to the Doors. I want to listen to something new, dammit! So I go twirling through the radio dial, and I fetch up against WXPN, a college radio station playing alternative music. Throwing Muses! L7! Matthew Sweet! Now that's more like it! The only problem was that I couldn't always pick up WXPN on the radio, but that ceased to be a problem when WIBF started simulcasting New York's WDRE in November. I even managed to attend a concert in Newark headlined by Belly (opening band: Radiohead).

All was bliss until WDRE Philadelphia was bought out in December 1996, switching over to a hiphop format on February 8, 1997. Three days later, I moved to Newport, Rhode Island, where I now listen to WBRU.

I've never voluntarily listened to the Doors again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


So, like, I'm Googling "Johnny Pez" because this blog is always the top hit and that makes it easy for me to find it on the toobz, and I've just typed in the P and sweet merciful crap, there it is in the drop down list! OMG!! OMFG!!!!

That's it, folks, I now have direct confirmation from The Great Gazoogle itself that I am a Big Fucking Deal!

I am a golden god!!!!!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Carter Manuscripts

The name of Norman Carter Bean is one that is familiar to scholars of the two Carter Manuscripts. Paradoxically, the name is practically unknown to the millions who have read the four published excerpts from the Manuscripts, which is just how Bean preferred it.

Norman C. Bean (1855 - 1942) was the son of Julian Hastings Bean, a Richmond, Virginia businessman, and Emily Carter, youngest daughter of Colonel Randolph Bulmer Carter, patriarch of the influential Carter family of Ares, Virginia. Colonel Carter, as a member of Virginia's landowning gentry, initially opposed the match between Emily and Julian, referring to the latter as "a common peddler." However, he was persuaded to change his mind when "Uncle Jack" Carter intervened on the couple's behalf.

John Carter was one of the most colorful and mysterious figures in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For decades many historians disputed his very existence, but the careful scholarship of the noted genealogist and man of letters J. B. Cabell firmly established the astonishing facts surrounding Carter's life. As far back as the seventeenth century, there have been references to a "John Carter," a tall young man with dark hair and gray eyes. Despite the years that pass, John Carter's apparent age is always said to be in the neighborhood of thirty years.

In his 1922 genealogical monograph "The Carters of Ares Plantation," Cabell was able to substantiate a popular legend among the Carter family, that placed its origins in the year 1644. It was in April of that year, according to Cabell, that John Carter adopted a two year old boy who had been orphaned in an Indian attack. Naming the boy Norman Carter, John Carter raised him on a plantation that he had named Ares after the Greek god of war. When Norman Carter married in 1665, John Carter granted ownership of Ares Plantation to him and his wife, then left to fight in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

For the next two centuries, the Carter family continued to own Ares Plantation, and always the figure of "Uncle Jack Carter" hovered in the background, disappearing for years, and then returning to make the acquaintance and win the devotion of another generation of Carters. It was during one such visit in 1853 that Uncle Jack Carter intervened on behalf of Julian Bean's suit for the hand of Emily Carter. This earned John Carter the couple's undying gratitude, and it was at his suggestion that they named their first son Norman Carter Bean in 1855.

The American Civil War (1861-65) proved disastrous for the Carter family. By war's end the family had lost possession of Ares Plantation, while Emily Carter Bean's father and brothers were all killed in various engagements. By contrast, the Bean family prospered, as Julian Bean's Richmond general store expanded to three Richmond stores and a fourth in Petersburg. Thus, 1865 found Julian Bean as the de facto head and chief financial support of the surviving members of the Carter family.

Julian Bean's business acumen brought continued growth to his business, and the J. H. Bean's Dry Goods Company had expanded to ten stores throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1876, the year that saw the sudden return of Uncle Jack Carter. Carter had joined the Confederate Army in 1861, serving as a Captain in a Virginia cavalry regiment, and after the defeat of the C.S.A. in 1865 had gone west to prospect in the Arizona Territory. No records exist of John Carter's activities between his arrival in Tucson, Arizona Territory in October 1865 in the company of his partner James K. Powell, and his appearance eleven years later in San Francisco, California, with a pack train full of newly-mined gold.

The Bean family was immensely pleased by John Carter's return, and all of them urged him to remain with them in their home in Richmond. He did so for the next year, but eventually purchased a property in Westchester County, New York, on the banks of the Hudson River, and made it his permanent residence. In his introduction to the first excerpt from John Carter's memoirs, Norman Bean remarks on the change in Carter's personality that his latest absence had brought about: " . . . when he thought himself alone I have seen him sit for hours gazing off into space, his face set in a look of wistful longing and hopeless misery . . . . "

At this time Norman Bean worked as a purchasing agent for his father's company, and whenever his business brought him to New York City, he would travel up the Hudson to visit with Carter. We know that Carter formed a strong attachment to the man whose birth he had helped to facilitate, and who may have reminded him of the orphan he had rescued over two centuries before. When Carter's lifeless body was found on the grounds of his Westchester County home on April 4, 1886, his will revealed that he had made Norman Bean the executor of his estate, and the beneficiary of the income from his numerous investments.

Among the papers Bean found in his "great-uncle's" possession was a sealed manuscript. Carter's will instructed that the manuscript remain sealed until eleven years after his death, and Bean, faithfully adhering to his favorite relative's wishes, did not open the packet until shortly after midnight on the morning of April 4, 1897. What he found was the document now known as the First John Carter Manuscript, or JCM 1 as it is known to scholars.

Over the next week, Bean read JCM 1, a massive work more than 300,000 words long. In it, Captain Jack Carter told of Powell's death at the hands of an Apache war party, and of a strange out-of-body experience that Carter himself underwent in an Arizona cave. With his corporeal body lying lifeless on the floor of the cave, Carter's spirit was drawn across interplanetary space to the planet Mars. The JCM 1 document records Carter's ten years on the planet Mars, first as a captive of the savage Tharks, and later as the husband of Dejah Thoris, a beautiful Martian princess. At the end of ten years, with the planet dying, Carter was able to open a way to a suddenly nonfunction "atmosphere plant." Losing consciousness, Carter awoke to find himself back in his corporeal body in the Arizona cave.

Bean was at a loss to know what to do with his great-uncle's manuscript. Carter's will had specified that the manuscript remain unpublished for an additional ten years. In any case, there was little prospect that the manuscript would see publication even after that time, due both to its fantastic subject matter and its great length.

Bean's dilemma was doubled in August 1898, when he learned that his suspicion about John Carter's 1886 death proved true. Carter's "death" had actually been a second out-of-body experience, and his corporeal body, lying in an open casket in a Richmond mausoleum, had reawakened three months before. Bean again met John Carter, and was given the Second John Carter Manuscript, or JCM 2, an equally massive document detailing Carter's return to Mars, and the next eleven years of his life there. Concerning the publication of his memoirs, Carter told Bean, "Give them what you wish of it, what you think will not harm them, but do not feel aggrieved if they laugh at you."

As he had expected, Bean's attempts to have his great-uncle's memoirs published proved fruitless. The two manuscripts might have remained unpublished to this very day, had it not been for a business trip Bean made to Chicago in June 1911. It was there that Bean met Edgar Rice Burroughs, a stationery salesmen twenty years his junior, in the course of his business dealings. The two men struck up a close friendship, and one night Bean revealed the existence of the two manuscripts to Burroughs. It was then that Burroughs suggested a solution to Bean's dilemma: that he publish excerpts from the Carter manuscripts in a popular fiction magazine. Bean's desire to see Carter's memoirs published overcame his distaste at the idea that they would be regarded as fiction, and he invited Burroughs to visit him in Richmond and read the two manuscripts himself.

It was at Burroughs' suggestion that Bean omitted all of the events in the first Carter manuscript between Carter's marriage to Dejah Thoris in July 1886 and the events surrounding the atmosphere plant in March 1876, resulting in a 70,000 word excerpt. It was also at Burroughs' suggestion that Bean translated the Martian placename Jalarth, or Second Element, as Helium, the second chemical element. Newell Metcalf, the Managing Editor of All-Story Magazine, accepted the resulting manuscript for publication in November 1911, and the excerpt was serialized in All-Story between February and July 1912 under the title Under the Moons of Mars.

Bean was gratified at the positive response the excerpt received from the magazine's readers, but found that he intensely disliked becoming a public figure. When Metcalf wrote in 1912 requesting that Bean "write a sequel" to Under the Moons of Mars, Bean contacted Burroughs with a proposition: he would turn over the two Carter manuscripts to Burroughs, and it would be up to Burroughs to edit them into publishable form. Furthermore, all future excerpts from the manuscripts would be published under Burroughs' name. Burroughs accepted, and over the course of the next four years he published three excerpts from the JCM 2 manuscript. They appeared in All-Story under the titles The Gods of Mars (January through May 1913), The Warlord of Mars (December 1913 through March 1914), and Thuvia, Maid of Mars (April 8, 15, and 22, 1916).

When the A. C. McClurg publishing company released the original excerpt as a hardback book on October 10, 1917, under the title A Princess of Mars, Burroughs was listed as the author. However, Bean's original introduction to the story ran unaltered under Burroughs name, so that the Chicago-born Burroughs appears to be claiming to have been born in Virginia in 1855. The book publication of The Gods of Mars in September 1918 included an account of Bean's 1898 meeting with Carter, also under Burroughs' name.

Carter remained in sporadic contact with Bean for the rest of the latter's life, and several of these contacts resulted in further accounts of events on Mars. A 1920 meeting produced an oral account that was serialized in Argosy All Story Weekly from February 18 to March 25, 1922 under the title The Chessmen of Mars. A 1925 meeting brought the Paxton Manuscript, which was published under the title The Master Mind of Mars in the 1927 issue of Amazing Stories Annual. A 1933 meeting resulted in another oral account, published in Blue Book Magazine from November 1934 to April 1935 under the title Swords of Mars. Finally, a 1940 meeting resulted in yet another oral account, published in four separate installments in Amazing Stories magazine in 1941 and collected together in 1948 as Llana of Gathol. When Burroughs wrote of these meetings in his introductory remarks to these later accounts, he substituted details of his own life for that of Bean, writing of meetings between himself and Carter in Arizona and Hawaii.

Since Bean's death in 1942, there have been no more reports of John Carter returning to Earth; Bean's death had severed the last link between Carter and Earth, and since then Carter has been content to mind the affairs of his adopted Martian homeworld.

Following the magazine serialization of Thuvia, Maid of Mars in 1916, Burroughs returned the original Carter manuscripts to Bean. Bean had the manuscripts sealed, and in accordance with the instructions found in Bean's will, they remained sealed until the 65th anniversary of Bean's death, March 5, 2007. On that date, per Bean's instructions, the two Carter manuscripts were turned over to the College of William & Mary. Since then, Professor Simon Joyce, Director of Literary and Cultural Studies, has been editing the two manuscripts for publication. JCM 1 has been scheduled for publication by W. W. Norton on September 5, 2010, while JCM 2 is tentatively scheduled for publication in September 2011. The upcoming publication of JCM 1 is eagerly anticipated by both Carter scholars and fans of Carter's already-published memoirs.