Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sobel Wiki: last in the hearts of his countrymen

I'm back from my enforced hiatus in the land of inner-ear malfunctions with a new featured article at the Sobel Wiki on George Washington.

One of the original reviews of For Want of a Nail when it was first published forty years ago was called "If Washington Hadn't Been The Father of His Country", and alt-Sobel's treatment of the rebel general in the opening chapters helped set the book's tone. He spares no pains in giving the reader a negative portrait of Washington, writing, "A man of little talent and less imagination, though of great pride, Washington saw in the Rebellion a chance to make a career for himself, and so deserted his class for the sake of his ambition. Needless to say, his selection was the greatest mistake the rebels could have made."

This is the real Sobel showing us that alt-Sobel isn't entirely reliable as a narrator of his world's history. In fact, Washington's generalship in the period before Nail's point-of-divergence in October 1777 gained him considerable respect among Europeans who followed the American rebellion. Frederick the Great of Prussia spoke of Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton thus: "The achievements of Washington and his little band of compatriots between the 25th of December and the 4th of January, a space of ten days, were the most brilliant of any recorded in the annals of military achievements." Washington's attack at Germantown, although unsuccessful, prompted the French foreign minister, the Count de Vergennes, to write, "Nothing has struck me so much as Gen. Washington's attacking and giving battle to Gen. Howe's army. To bring troops, raised within the year, to do this, promises everything."

The real Sobel highlighted alt-Sobel's bias by having his Mexican critic, Frank Dana, write, "The most serious problem is his presentation of the North American Rebellion, in which the loyalists could do no wrong, while the rebels are presented as fools, clowns, traitors, and knaves." The portrait alt-Sobel's draws of George Washington is probably Nail's clearest example of this.

The point, of course, is to let Sobel's readers know that this is not the American history they has been trained to expect. This is a loyalist perspective on the American Revolution from a world where the loyalist perspective is the priveleged one. In its way, Sobel's retelling of the American Revolution is a lesson on the unperceived biases that color our view of history.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


I recently suffered an attack of vertigo that has made it difficult for me to use a computer, so my appearances online will be few and far between. I'll be back if and when I recover.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sobel Wiki: Don't mourn, organize!

The major articles in the Sobel Wiki can be roughly divided into two categories, which might be called longitudinal and latitudinal. Latitudinal articles are generally about people or events, such as Ezra Gallivan or the Rocky Mountain War, and go into great detail (preferably as much detail as Sobel provides) on a limited period of time. Longitudinal articles are generally about places or organizations, such as Manitoba or the National Financial Administration, that are woven through For Want of a Nail like threads through a tapestry. This week's featured article is a longitudinal one on the labor union.

As I note in the article, all of the labor unions that Sobel mentions by name arise in the Confederation of North America. Partly this is due to the fact that the C.N.A. industrializes earlier, and to a much greater extent, than the United States of Mexico. Partly it is also due to the fact that Kramer Associates' control of the political system in the U.S.M. after 1869 would have ensured that no labor unions would develop there (Sobel specifically states that by the 1890s Mexico had no labor unions). Alt-Sobel, who tends to both glorify and whitewash K.A., never specifically connects K.A.'s political and economic power to the absence of unions in the U.S.M., but it isn't hard to imagine Bernard Kramer and Diego Cortez y Catalán engaging in union-busting, the former with his characteristic ruthlessness, the latter relying on Benito Hermión's Constabulary agents.

In the C.N.A., Sobel mentions textile workers organizing a union in Massachusetts in 1826, and the mill owners quickly crushing it. The first union to be mentioned by name is the Grand Consolidated Union, an early one-big-union established in 1835 and ruthlessly crushed by Henry Gilpin in the winter of 1840-41. Sobel then mentions three more unions being established after the Rocky Mountain War and gaining considerable political influence. A union official is elected to the Grand Council in 1893 and becomes the leader of the radical wing of the People's Coalition. An organization called the Workers' Army forms part of the League for Brotherhood in the early 1920s.

And that's it. Apart from that one brief reference to the Workers' Army, all of Sobel's labor history is confined to the 19th century. A comparable history of the USA would mention the United Autoworkers sit-down strike against G.M. in 1937, the A.F.L.'s split with the C.I.O. in 1938, and the merger of the two in 1955. Of course, both Sobel and alt-Sobel were business historians, and Nail reflects that, with much more space being given over to business history and the N.F.A. than to labor history.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sobel Wiki: power to the people

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the People's Coalition, a populist political party in the C.N.A. that managed to do what our own history's Populists didn't: gain power. The People's Coalition is created in 1869 out of disparate groups of discontented people who are alienated from the existing political system by the corruption of the two major parties. The Coalition receives a major boost when the C.N.A.'s economy suffers a recession in the early 1880s. This enables Ezra Gallivan, the estranged son of a railroad tycoon, to win election as Mayor of Michigan City (our own world's Chicago). Gallivan proves to have a gift for political organization, and under his leadership the Coalition gains a plurality of seats in the Grand Council nineteen years after its founding.

Robert Sobel, the Australian business historian who is the nominal author of For Want of a Nail, is careful to avoid noting the strong ties between the founders of the Coalition and the leaders of the North American Rebellion of a hundred years earlier. The reason is clear enough: Sobel is utterly contemptuous of the rebels of '75, which he readily admits to at one point in the book, and which Professor Frank Dana of the United States of Mexico emphasizes in his critique of Nail. The last thing Sobel wants to do is admit that the Coalition, which has become thoroughly respectable at the time he is writing, drew its inspiration from the despised rebels.

Thus, Sobel mentions without comment the fact that the Coalition's founding document was called the Norfolk Resolves. He ignores the obvious implication of the Coalition winning control of the most pro-Rebellion areas of the C.N.A., the provinces of New Hampshire, Virginia, and North Carolina. He lays no stress upon the fact that Gallivan thoroughly distances the C.N.A. from Great Britain, in sharp contrast to his predecessor John McDowell's attempts to bring the two closer together.

Eventually, the People's Coalition falls victim to its own success. After thirty-five years of uninterrupted power, the Coalition becomes complacent. When a new protest movement appears in the early 1920s, its target is the same mechanized, industrialized, modern society that the Coalition had helped to create. Calvin Wagner, the fifth successive Coalitionist head of the C.N.A., is baffled by the challenge. Wagner becomes the first Governor-General to lose a re-election campaign since John McDowell, the man Ezra Gallivan defeated in 1888.

The new Iraq

The Obama administration has officially released a budget plan that calls for cutting Social Security benefits, making him the first Democratic president to put Social Security cuts "on the table" as they say. Why? There are no good reasons, only several bad ones.

I think cutting Social Security is Barack Obama's version of invading Iraq. That is to say, it's a very harmful, very stupid, very unpopular policy that he has nevertheless been determined to pursue, by whatever means necessary, since the day he entered office.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The wages of sanctity

Roy Edroso's latest column in the Village Voice is about conservatives' sudden desire to scold straight people for not getting married. A factoid that most of the wingnuts mention is that married people tend to be wealthier than single people.  Needless to say, they know as well as you and I do that the chain of cause-to-effect there runs from money to marriage.  Nevertheless, all the wingnuts pretend to believe that it's the other way around, that getting married causes people to become wealthier.

It isn't hard to see why they prefer to lie about the cause and effect. Given their insistence that marriage is a Good Thing, then if they admitted that financial security encourages marriage, they would have to embrace the idea that the way to get more people to marry would not be scolding them, but bribing them.

Since the wingnuts won't go there, I will. I hereby declare that marriage is a Good Thing, and that the government ought to encourage marriage by offering married couples a guaranteed annual income of $50,000. And since wingnuts are so insistent that the point of marriage is procreation, I further propose that the guaranteed annual income be doubled if the couple has a child, and doubled again for each subsequent child. The salary continues for as long as the couple is married; if they get divorced, it not only ends, but each person has to pay an annual divorce tax. (However, if the marriage ends with one spouse surviving the other's death, the surviving spouse continues to receive the full income.) Furthermore, in order to encourage couples to remain married to their original spouses, a second marriage does not result in resumption of the guaranteed income. And just to hammer home the fact that Divorce Is Bad, a second marriage that ends in divorce results in a doubling of the divorce tax.

And since I believe in rewarding past good behavior as well as future good behavior, I propose that couples who are already married should get their income retroactive to the year they were married. For instance, since I just celebrated my 15th wedding anniversary last week, my wife and I ought to receive a lump-sum payment of $750,000. And my parents, who will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary next year, ought to be getting . . . well, actually, this is going to be complicated. They married in 1954, and had six children over the next ten years, so their lump-sum payment would be:

1954: $50,000
1955 - one child: $100,000
1956 - two children: $200,000
1957 - three children: $400,000
1958 - three children: $400,000
1959 - four children: $800,000
1960 - four children: $800,000
1961 - four children: $800,000
1962 - five children: $1.6 million
1963 - six children: $3.2 million

and an additional $3.2 million dollars for every year from 1964 to 2012, which works out to $161.95 million dollars total.

Wingnuts, if you want to encourage marriage, that's the way to do it. No need to thank me, I'm happy to help, but you can contact me by email to offer me my Heritage Foundation fellowship.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Sobel Wiki: release the hounds

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is Henry Gilpin, the second Governor-General of the C.N.A. and the architect of the Rocky Mountain War.

As I've noted before, Robert Sobel had a tendency to allow people from our own history to play roles in For Want of a Nail despite having been born decades after his history branched away from ours. Gilpin is a rather extreme example. His parents were born 3,000 miles apart, and only met because Gilpin's father was visiting Lancaster, England in the 1790s.

On the other hand, the prominent role Gilpin plays in the history of the C.N.A. makes Gilpin the obverse to people like James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln, major figures from our history who play minor roles in the Sobel Timeline. In our own history, Gilpin's most notable accomplishment was being named Attorney General under President Martin van Buren in 1840. In the Sobel Timeline, he serves as Governor of the Northern Confederation for three years, a leading delegate to the Concordia Convention of 1841 and the Burgoyne Conference of 1842, one of the founders of the Unified Liberal Party, Minister of War under Governor-General Winfield Scott from 1843 to 1849, and Governor-General himself from 1849 to 1853, after engineering Scott's fall.

Gilpin is also one of the major villains of the Sobel Timeline, though alt-Sobel goes to some lengths to whitewash his actions. Gilpin's rule of the Northern Confederation in the early 1840s is dictatorial, as he oversees the suppression of the N.C.'s leading labor union during a bloody purge that costs the lives of over 40,000 people. As Minister of War, he maneuvers the C.N.A. into a war with the United States of Mexico, and as Governor-General, he sacrifices the lives of over a hundred thousand North American troops in a disastrous campaign aimed at capturing San Francisco, a city of no strategic value.

Writing Nail in the summer of 1971, Sobel happened to name two of the North American generals involved in Gilpin's ill-fated campaign David Homer and FitzJohn Smithers. Thirty years later, when I became involved in the For All Nails project, I found the coincidence irresistable, and I ended up writing a series of Rocky Mountain War-era vignettes with a definite Simpsons flavor in which Gilpin was modeled on Mr. Burns.