Saturday, February 27, 2016

Schrödinger's vulgarian

Aficionados of quantum mechanics will be familiar with the paradox of Schrödinger's cat, which was posed by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. Since one version of quantum mechanics holds that different outcomes of a quantum event exist simultaneously until the event is observed from outside, Schrödinger pointed out that a cat in a box whose life depended on such a quantum event would be simultaneously alive and dead, until somebody opened up the box and looked inside.

Now consider Donald J. Trump, short-fingered vulgarian and Republican presidential candidate. Trump has been leading polls among Republican voters for the last six months, has won the last three Republican primary contests, and currently has 82 pledged delegates to his name, more than all the other Republican candidates combined. As Trump's chances of winning the Republican primary increase, two possible futures are coming into existence, depending on whether or not he wins the general election in November.

In the Trump-wins outcome, he is remaking the GOP into a right-wing populist party along the lines of Marine Le Pen's National Front and Geert Wilders' Party for Freedom. In this outcome, Trump is a transformative figure, the Franklin Roosevelt of the Right, harnessing the widespread xenophobia of the American electorate to creat a national-populist majority, and altering the contours of the American political system.

In the Trump-loses outcome, he is destroying the GOP by pandering to an extremist xenophobic minority. In this outcome, Trump's extremism leaves downticket Republicans with the equally unattractive choices of either embracing his radical xenophobia, or trying to distance themselves from it, either of which would alienate an important Republican voting bloc and risk handing hundreds of Federal, state, and local elections to the Democrats.

Eight months out from the general election, it's impossible to know which outcome to expect when Trump faces off against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Will Trump end up steamrolling Clinton as he has all of his Republican opponents, or will his tactic of out-crazying his opponents fail against a candidate who doesn't have to be crazy to win votes? One can make a case for both outcomes, and we won't know for certain until November 8 rolls around and the nation actually votes.

In the meantime, Trump the Transformer and Trump the Destroyer co-exist in the person of the blustering candidate. Only time will tell which one we're currently watching.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle

Those of you who are not long-time readers of the Johnny Pez blog may be wondering: "What is this Scorpions in a Bottle of which you speak?

Basically, it's a project I embarked on some time ago to write a sequel to Robert Sobel's classic work of alternate history, For Want of a Nail ... Sobel wrote his book back in 1971, and the alternate timeline he created ends there. I felt that there was a crying need to extend Sobel's timeline to the early 21st century, so that's what I'm doing.

"But Johnny," you may be saying, "you can't write a continuation of someone else's work just like that. It's under copyright. You'd need permission from Sobel's estate." True. That's why I contacted Sobel's estate and secured their permission. I am fully authorized to write and publish a sequel, which I have tentatively decided to call Scorpions in a Bottle, which was Sobel's original title for his book. Having accomplished this, only two obstacles remain before me: actually writing it, and finding an actual publisher.

The writing is ongoing, and I've posted written sections of Scorpions in a Bottle on this blog. This particular post will serve as a sort of running tally of what bits I've written so far, and an outline of what remains to be done.

Here's what I've done so far (with links, because blog):

Prologue: The Albany Congress
1. The American Crisis
2. Outbreak of Rebellion
3. The Rebellion Ends
   A. The Hudson Campaign
   B. The Battle of Saratoga-Albany
   C. Joseph Galloway
   D. The Carlilse Commission
   E. The Restoration
4. The Wilderness Walk
   A. The Loyalist Reaction
   B. The Greene Expedition
   C. The Settlement of Jefferson
   D. The Lafayette Convention
5. The Britannic Design
   A. Drafting the Design
   B. The First Viceroy
6. The Dickinson Era
   A. The First Grand Council
   B. Abolitionism
   C. Settlement and Conflict
7. The Trans-Oceanic War
   A. The Florida War
   B. The Jefferson War
   C. The Louisiana War
   D. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle
8. The State of Jefferson
   A. Rise of the Parties
   B. The Mexican Civil War
9. The Conquest of Mexico
10. The Jackson Era
11. The Clinton Era
12. The Crisis Years
13. Mexico in Transition
   A. John Mason
   B. Miguel Huddleston
   C. The Rise of Pedro Hermión
   D. The Henrytown Convention
14. The Rocky Mountain War
15. The Kramer Associates
   A. Bernard Kramer
   B. The Guatemala Canal
   C. Omar Kinkaid
16. The Era of Faceless Men
17. The Fall of the Republic
18. The People's Coalition
   A. The Norfolk Convention
   B. Woman Suffrage

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle: The Loyalist reaction

The last excerpt from Scorpions in a Bottle marks the end of the chapter on the British victory over the Americans. We continue on from there to describe the Loyalist reaction, which Sobel notes included the lynching of "some one thousand" former rebels in 1778-79. I provide a few details of that dark time here:

* * *

It seems to be a law of nature that a people suffering oppression will respond to liberation by oppressing their former tormentors. For three years, Loyalists in the American colonies had been subjected to various forms of harassment by supporters of the Rebellion. Now that their own side was ascendant, they took advantage of the reversal of fortune to revenge themselves in kind for the slights they had suffered.

The most notorious instances took place in Virginia. As soon as General Clinton established his military headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia, in September 1778, he was besieged by Lord Dunmore, the colony’s Royal Governor, demanding that he be reinstated. Lord Dunmore had been forced to flee Virginia in 1775 after issuing a proclamation declaring martial law and offering freedom to any slave who deserted a rebel master. He had left for Britain in 1776, but with the restoration of British rule to the colonies he returned. The Ministry had continued to issue Dunmore his salary as Royal Governor of Virginia during his sojourn in Britain, and he was finally able to prevail upon Clinton to restore him to power in the colony, supplanting Governor Pendleton.

Clinton had ordered the arrest of several prominent rebels, including Washington, Jefferson, and Henry, and they had been sent to London to face charges of treason against the Crown. Dunmore was not satisfied with these limited measures. He was determined, he said, “to see treason extirpated root and branch from this country.” Although Clinton prevented Dunmore from carrying out mass arrests of former rebels, the governor was later accused of encouraging lynch mobs that killed at least 600 men who had served on Committees of Correspondence and Safety and in the Continental Army. Some former Continentals began organizing their own militia to fend off the lynch mobs, and clashes between the two groups threatened to develop into civil war. At the behest of Bland and other moderates, Clinton finally removed Dunmore from office, appointing Bland in his place.

By then, however, the rebel militia had become too powerful to disarm, and too distrustful of British rule to disband. They found a leader in Francis Marion, a South Carolinian who had fought against the Cherokee during the French and Indian War and received a captain’s commission in the Continental Army. Apart from a battle with the Royal Navy in June 1776, Marion had seen no action during the Rebellion. However, his commission in the rebel army resulted in his arrest after the restoration of British rule, and the forfeiture of his property. After escaping a lynch mob in November 1778, Marion fled to Virginia, where he soon joined the rebel militia being organized against Dunmore. Marion’s experience fighting the Cherokee allowed him to successfully ambush several lynch mobs, and the militiamen elected him their general early in 1779. When Clinton sent his own troops to put down Marion’s militia, they withdrew into the Virginia and Carolina backcountry. For the next 25 years, Marion’s men eluded capture while carrying out raids against prominent supporters of British rule. [1]

Similar incidents of lesser severity occurred in the other twelve colonies. These served to convince many former rebels that they could expect nothing but further harassment from their fellow Americans, and that their only hope for a decent life was to leave the American colonies. Hamilton later wrote, “The nature of man is to seek revenge for real and imagined wrongs. Reluctantly, then, we must move on. To stay here is, unfortunately, unthinkable.” [2]

By 1780, Hamilton, Arnold, and various other leading former rebels had organized two expeditions. The northern expedition, led by Artemas Ward, set out from Pittsborough in March and traveled down the Ohio River to the settlement of Kaskaskia (later Fort Radisson) on the Mississippi. At this point, Ward chose to cross the Mississippi and travel overland to the west, rather than sail upstream to the former French settlement of St. Louis. Nothing further is known of Ward’s expedition; no word from any member ever reached the British colonies. [3]

1. Sir Douglas Carlisle. The Four Viceroys: Burgoyne, Carlton, Howe, and Clinton (New York, 1967), pp. 43-58.

2. Hamilton, Farewell to Change, p. 98.

3. The mystery of the fate of the Ward expedition has become a perennial subject of speculation, similar to that of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke. As early as 1797, during the conquest of Spanish Louisiana, some of the men in General Edward Curtis’s army sought for evidence of the expedition’s fate, but in vain. Most likely, the expedition was slaughtered by hostile Indians before it was able to establish a permanent settlement. The most thorough account of the expedition itself, and the efforts to locate it, is Angela Ott. The Ward Expedition: History and Myth (New York, 2007).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle: Back to normal

In For Want of a Nail, Sobel shows the American Revolution ending in June 1778 with the Continental Congress agreeing to return the Thirteen States to British rule. And then ...

That's basically it. The next thing you know, almost all the American armies have surrendered to the British, and the Thirteen Colonies are under martial law while everybody waits for Parliament to come up with a permanent settlement. How did thirteen separate revolutionary governments each decide to surrender power and accept subordination? We never find out.

Clearly, this is a matter that needs explaining in my sequel to Sobel, Scorpions in a Bottle. This is what I came up with:

* * *

(this section carries on from the Carlisle Commission section)

With the Rebellion at an end, and the American colonies once more restored to British rule, Galloway held that the Congress had completed its task, and adjourned the body. As direct representatives of the North ministry, the members of the Carlisle Commission found themselves acting as a de facto government for the colonies. The commissioners established themselves in Philadelphia, and in consultation with General Howe, directed the restoration of the ministry’s authority. [1]

Reconciliationist regimes had been established in the Southern colonies, including Maryland and Delaware. In the middle colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, the British Army had succeeded in establishing civil authority in the areas they controlled. However, the story was a different one in the New England colonies, where the Rebellion had begun, and where opposition to the return to British rule was strongest.

Burgoyne’s victory at Saratoga-Albany had broken the spirit of the New England militia serving under Gates. These men had returned to their farms and villages, bringing with them tales of Gates’ incompetence and the fecklessness of the Congress. Benedict Arnold, probably the most able rebel military commander in New England, might have been able to rally the New England rebels to continue their resistance had he been able. Arnold, however, had suffered a serious injury at the Battle of Freeman’s Farm, and was recuperating in isolation at his home in Connecticut. With him gone, there was nobody in a position to counter the growing sense of despair among the New England rebels. [2]

At the behest of Galloway and the Carlisle Commission, Dickinson agreed to serve as an envoy to the rebel government in Boston. Dickinson found the city in turmoil, as mobs championing different rebel factions fought in the streets. The city’s leading merchants, fearing the loss of all order, agreed to Dickinson’s proposal for a regiment of British soldiers to be stationed in the city. [3] The Carlisle Commission assigned Howe himself to the command, and on October 17, 1778, two and a half years after their withdrawal, the British Army returned to Boston. Once order had been restored, Howe appointed Elbridge Gerry, by now a leading Massachusetts reconciliationist, as head of the colonial government. [4] Over the course of the next year, Howe was able to use similar measures to bring the other three New England colonies under his authority. With Howe in control of New England, Burgoyne in charge of the middle colonies, and Clinton in the South, the era of the Four Viceroys had begun. [5]


1. Henderson Bundy. The Carlisle Commission (New York, 2005), pp. 78-95.

2. Bamford Parkes. Benedict Arnold: The Rebel Genius (New York, 1965), pp. 217-25.

3. Lord Henry Hawkes. Peace and Victory: The Last Stage of the American Rebellion (London, 1884), pp. 623-35.

4. Robert MacKreith. Lord Howe and the Rebellion (New York, 1965), pp. 303-14.

5. Sir Guy Carleton, Governor of Quebec, is considered the fourth Viceroy, although he did not share in the task of pacification of the rebellious colonies.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

You know you should be glad

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

Because Beatles.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Iowa never happened

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

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

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