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.