Friday, January 31, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 31

On January 31, 1969, the Confederation Bureau of Investigation revealed the existence of a major Mexican spy ring in Michigan City targeting the North American atomic weapons research project there. The revelation caused the two nations to sever diplomatic relations with each other. Raphael Dominguez, the nominal President of Mexico, released a statement that said, in part, "We are surrounded by enemies, and a cornered nation, like a cornered man, must often strike out in self-defense. This is not a threat, merely an observation. I hope our enemies understand the meaning of my words and will act accordingly."

Dominguez's remarks appeared the next day in the Mexico City Times.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 29

On January 29, 1966, Governor-General Perry Jay announced his intention to abolish the National Financial Administration by the end of the decade. Jay explained that the agency had been of great use while the nation was expanding rapidly. "But today, when we have entered an age of large corporations and complex relations, the N.F.A. is no longer as necessary. The government will continue to aid new enterprises, but through a new, far more limited agency."

Governor-General Jay's announcement was reported the next day in the New York Herald.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Sobel Wiki: The Mexican Augustus

Hector Niles
This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Hector Niles, the fourth President of the United States of Mexico. In 1851, six years into the Rocky Mountain War, Niles was a San Francisco businessman serving in the Assembly, the lower house of the Mexican Congress. In spite of being a member of the minority party, he was the head of a special committee in charge of armaments.

The incumbent President, Pedro Hermión, was assassinated on the floor of the Mexican Congress after delivering a special address on 19 June 1851. Suspicion immediately fell on former president Miguel Huddleston, the leader of Niles' Liberty Party, because the assassin shouted "Viva Huddleston y paz!" before being gunned down by the Congressional Guard.

The leaders of the Liberty Party were understandably wary about who they should nominate for president in the upcoming August elections, and they finally settled on Niles. The campaign was a quiet one, in deference to the recent death of Hermión, but Niles' opponent, Acting President Raphael Blaine, couldn't resist the temptation to ridicule him as "the faceless wonder of San Francisco" and mock his butterfly collecting hobby.

Niles won the election, and offered to negotiate a truce with his opposite number in the C.N.A., Governor-General Henry Gilpin. Gilpin, however, was determined to win conquer Mexico, and spent the next year and a half launching a series of futile offensives, before finally being turned out of office in February 1853. Gilpin's successor, William Johnson, accepted Niles' offer of negotiation, and a truce was declared in August while an international arbitration panel in The Hague compiled a report on a possible settlement.

In the meantime, Niles took advantage of the truce to repair the damage of the war, and try to restore the Mexican economy. Then, in 1855, the panel issued its report, recommending that Mexico cede some territory to the C.N.A., and that the C.N.A. pay an indemnity to Mexico. Both nations agreed to the terms of the proposed treaty, and the war officially ended in August 1855. However, Niles' political opponents denounced the treaty as a shameful surrender, and for the remainder of his term, Niles lived in constant fear of assassination. When he ran for re-election in 1857, he was defeated.

All works of history are the products of the time in which they were written, because a writer can't help but see the past through the lense of the present. This is even more true of a work of alternate history like For Want of a Nail, because the writer uses his own understanding of how history unfolds, and his own experiences of current events, to create his imaginary history. Given this reality, the question that inevitably arises is the extent to which the incidents in the alternate history reflect the writer's own beliefs.

For Want of a Nail was written in the summer of 1971, at a time when the Vietnam War was the dominant political issue confronting the United States. Robert Sobel was writing Nail at a time when the Pentagon Papers were being published by the New York Times, revealing that the Johnson administration had been systematically lying to the public, and to Congress, about the war. As a result, popular opposition to the war, which was already high, increased even more. Protests against the war had been growing since 1964, and the year before, four students had been killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State College in Ohio during an antiwar protest.

In Nail, the populations of both nations in the Rocky Mountain War want it brought to an end by 1851. Both major candidates in the U.S.M. campaign on negotiating a peace agreement with the C.N.A. However, as soon as a treaty is actually concluded, the Mexican people (or at any rate, those with a voice in politics) denounce it, and within two years the man who was elected to end the war is driven out of office.

The closest parallel in American history to these events is the Communist victory over the Kuomintang government in the Chinese Civil War in 1950, and subsequent Republican Party attacks on the Truman administration for "losing China." The Republicans subsequently won the 1952 Presidential election amid claims that the Truman administration's foreign policy was directed by Communist Party members in the State Department.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 26

On January 26, 1781, King George III reluctantly gave his assent to the Britannic Design, a bill that had been sent to him three days earlier after passage by Parliament. The King had been opposed to what he regarded as lenient treatment of the American rebels by the North ministry. After Lord North sent the original version of the Design to Parliament, the King used his friends there to wage a struggle against it.

Ever since coming to the throne in 1760, George III had been attempting to recover the powers of the monarchy which had been allowed to lapse by his grandfather and great-grandfather. The influence he wielded over Parliament contributed greatly to the worsening of relations between the American colonists and the British government, and ultimately led to the outbreak of the Rebellion. As Sobel notes, Lord North's decision to ignore the King's wishes in formulating policy for the colonies after the Rebellion resulted in his government, and those of his successors, being more independent of Royal control than at any time since the Commonwealth (when there was literally no Royal control of the government, since the monarchy had been overthrown).

Ever since the establishment of the C.N.A. in July 1782, January 26 has been celebrated as a patriotic holiday called Design Day.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

I got no regrets

That's right, once again the Johnny Pez blog is pleased to present for your entertainment an embedded music video. Today we have Postmodern Jukebox performing a swing jazz interpretation of Selena Gomez's "Come and Get It."

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 25

On January 25, 1794, the newly-chosen Senate of the State of Jefferson met for the first time. Under the Lafayette Constitution, which had been ratified three months earlier, the Senate selected the three men who would serve as co-Governors of Jefferson: James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Samuel Johnston. Hamilton would still be serving as co-Governor twenty-one years later, when Jefferson intervened in the Mexican Civil War.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 23

On January 23, 1781, the British Parliament sent a bill to King George III establishing a system of government known as the Britannic Design for the North American colonies. The Design was a response to the outbreak of the North American Rebellion in 1775 among thirteen of the colonies, who attempted to break away from the British Empire and establish an independent republic.

The Britannic Design sought to address two issues that had arisen during the crisis that led to the Rebellion. Firstly, the issue of Parliamentary taxation of the colonies was modified. Parliament no longer claimed an absolute right to levy taxes on the colonies. Instead, the colonies were given the power to veto Parliamentary taxes. Had this provision of the Design been in effect in the 1760s, the colonies would have been able to veto the Stamp Act, the Townsend Duties, and the Tea Act as a matter of course, and the steadily mounting contest of wills between colonists and Parliament would never have taken place.

Secondly, the colonies were discouraged from taking any more concerted actions against Parliament by being divided into two rival confederations. This, combined with the creation of three additional administrative units from the more loyal colony of Quebec, ensured that the thirteen rebellious colonies would always be a minority in the newly-created Confederation of North America.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sobel Wiki: the accidental executive

Douglas Watson
This week represents a milestone of sorts for the Sobel Wiki. An encyclopedia of Robert Sobel's alternate history For Want of a Nail..., the Sobel Wiki started from scratch at the end of August 2010. The first two articles dealt with the two primary nations in Nail, the Confederation of North America and the United States of Mexico. From there, article stubs were created for the two nations' component states and political leaders, and in the three and a half years since then, the stubs have, one by one, been expanded into full articles.

And now, at last, the completion of this week's featured article on Douglas Watson means that all eighteen governors-general of the C.N.A. have achieved full coverage. Watson was the fourteenth governor-general, gaining the office under dubious circumstances after the death of his predecessor, Henderson Dewey, on 10 May 1929. Watson led the C.N.A.'s Liberal Party to its greatest triumph in the 1933 Grand Council elections, winning 104 out of 150 seats. Then, over the course of the next five years, his popularity plummeted as he attempted to end the C.N.A.'s traditional isolationism and align it with Great Britain, France, and Japan in the looming Global War. In the 1938 elections, Watson led the Liberals to a narrow defeat at the hands of the isolationist Bruce Hogg of the People's Coalition. Hogg reversed Watson's active foreign policy, leaving the British and their allies to suffer a series of defeats after war broke out in 1939.

There remains much work to be done on the Sobel Wiki. Six of the articles on the U.S.M.'s 18 leaders are still mere stubs, as are most of the articles on the Mexican states, the North American confederation, and the two nations' political parties and major elections. But one by one, the major pieces of the Sobel timeline continue to be filled in.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Palinization of the G.O.P.

As Rick Perlstein once noted, the modern conservative movement has always been as much about fleecing the rubes as it has been about gaining and wielding power. This is not surprising coming from an ideology that considers wealth to be a sign of divine favor. To conservatives, anything you do to make yourself rich, no matter how underhanded, is morally justified, and that includes defrauding other conservatives.

Until recently, conservatives were able to keep their greed from interfering with their lust for power. There was plenty of money to go around, enough to line their pockets and still win elections. However, the advent of Sarah Palin has introduced a new factor into the equation. Palin has discovered that it is possible to make a very comfortable living by being a presidential contender. Ever since she and her running mate John McCain lost the 2008 presidential race, Palin has been working the marks: writing* books, appearing on Fox News, giving speeches, posting YouTube videos, tweeting, and in every other way possible keeping herself in the public eye as a potential presidential candidate. When she found her job as governor of Alaska cutting in on her campaigning/moneymaking, she resigned without a moment's hesitation. In addition to the benjamins she earns from book royalties, speaker fees, and her salary as a Fox commentator, she also gets a nice chunk of the money that her faithful worshipers donate to her political action committee, SarahPAC.

Sarah Palin is a profession presidential contender.

What's more, it's really easy money. As Palin has demonstrated, all you have to do is make a lot of noise about culture war issues, do some guest spots on Fox News and right-wing radio shows, and start up your own political action committee, and you'll soon be rolling in dough.

The threat to the Republican Party is obvious. Now that Palin has shown that it can be done, there will always be a temptation for other presidential contenders to forego an actual effort to get elected president in favor of just taking the money and running. Worse, now that the niche exists, the Republican presidential race will attract more and more conservatives who have no goal greater than their own enrichment. Do Rand Paul and Ted Cruz really have presidential ambitions, or are they just trying to get in on Palin's racket? By the time 2016 rolls around, will the G.O.P. have any actual presidential candidates running for president, or will they all be Palin wannabees looking to make a quick buck?

*Or at any rate, putting her name on books written by other people.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 18

Early on the morning of January 18, 1950, Colonel Vincent Mercator, the commander of the Guadalajara garrison, arrived in Mexico City for a meeting with ten other garrison commanders about the growing political crisis in the United States of Mexico. When Mercator and the others emerged, they announced that it would be impossible to allow the inauguration of President-elect Paul Suarez the next day, since such an action would provoke civil war.

Mercator then proclaimed a "provisional government not of politicians, but of those whom the politicians have betrayed." Within an hour, Suarez had been taken into "protective custody," while incumbent President Alvin Silva was arrested for "crimes against the republic." That evening, Mercator announced the formation of his provisional government, which would be led by Field Marshal Felix Garcia, and in which Mercator himself would serve as Secretary of War.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 17

On January 17, 1938, Councilman Bruce Hogg of Northern Vandalia was nominated for Governor-General by the People's Coalition at their national convention. Hogg had been a tireless critic of Governor-General Douglas Watson's activist foreign policy and increased arms appropriations, and following the economic collapse of 1936, he also criticized Watson's failure to bring about an economic recovery.

In his acceptance speech, Hogg said, "We have sufficient problems at home not to have to worry about the rest of the world. This February, the people will choose between the bankrupt candidate of a bankrupt party who would engage us in a war which we neither want nor need, from which we gain nothing; and the party of peace and recovery, one that is concerned with the Confederation of North America, and not the globe."

Hogg also pledged to name Councilman James Billington of the Northern Confederation to the office of Council President. Billington was one of only ten Negroes in the Grand Council, and being named Council President would make him the highest-ranking member of his race in North American history.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 16

On January 16, 1950, political violence in the United States of Mexico continued to mount, as more protests against the election of Admiral Paul Suarez took place around the country, leading to more deaths, injuries, and property damage. As the U.S.M. drew closer to a state of anarchy, Colonel Vincent Mercator, the commander of the Guadalajara garrison, took it upon himself to declare martial law in his district, essentially setting himself up as dictator of western Chiapas. Other garrison commanders elsewhere in the U.S.M. followed suit.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: January 15

On January 15, 1940, the final day of a poll was conducted among the people of the Confederation of North America. The subject of the poll was the public's reaction to the ongoing Global War in Europe, which had broken out at the beginning of October 1939.

The poll showed that 79.9% of North Americans "would feel safer if Britain defeated Germany," while only 10.1% "would feel safer if Germany defeated Britain." Another poll from mid-January showed that 55.8% of North Americans would "give Britain the aid it may need but not send troops there," while 21.4% favored "aid to Britain, even should it mean war."

As Sobel notes, the policy followed by Governor-General Bruce Hogg followed the polls. Hogg initially declared the C.N.A.'s neutrality in October, but the German defeat of the French on 27 November and capture of the Victoria Canal on 25 December led him to adopt a policy of providing covert aid to the British, which began in February 1940.

On January 15, 1950, there was a major protest demonstration in Mexico City which resulted in the deaths of fifteen people. The protest concerned the recently-concluded national elections in the United States of Mexico, in which Admiral Paul Suarez of the United Mexican Party narrowly defeated incumbent President Alvin Silva of the Liberty Party. During the campaign, each side had accused the other of terrorizing its supporters, and afterwards both charges were substantiated. Suarez accused Silva of disenfranchising servicemen, while Silva accused Suarez of election fraud in the states of Jefferson and California. After the election, Silva's supporters refused to accept the election results, and as Suarez' inauguration approached, political violence increased.

Monday, January 6, 2014

You asked me what's my pleasure

Time for another embedded music video, because that's a thing I do from time to time. Today the Johnny Pez blog celebrates the new year by bringing you Blondie performing "Dreaming" live at Glasgow's Apollo Theater on New Year's Eve 1979.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Catching up with Sobel Wiki

My friend Mia has posted an end-of-the-year update on her conlang Nevashi. Being a highly suggestable person, this has led me to post a similar update on the status of my own geek project, the Sobel Wiki.

Since its creation at the end of August 2010, the Sobel Wiki has expanded to include 2124 pages, and 436 photos and maps. This actually sounds more impressive than it is, because about three fifths of those 2124 pages are actually For All Nails vignettes and footnotes in the Sobel Wiki FAN archive, most of which were written about ten years ago. Thus, the actual number of encyclopedia-type articles on For Want of a Nail is closer to 850, and that includes redirects, navboxes, and other behind-the-scenes wiki stuff. That works out to about two-thirds of an article per day over the three years and four months since I created the Sobel Wiki.

On a more hopeful note, the last year has seen the Sobel Wiki community grow by an astonishing thirty-three percent, due to the arrival of a new Sobel enthusiast, Christina Taylor. Christina has created a timeline of events in FWoaN and a list of rulers, as well as articles on Japan, Italy, and Florida, and the most recent FAN vignette, "A Shogun Falls".

So stay tuned to the Johnny Pez blog for all the latest breaking Sobel Wiki news.