Wednesday, April 30, 2014

For All Nails #318: Who You Gonna Call?

For All Nails #318: Who You Gonna Call?
By Johnny Pez

Gallivan Hall, Burgoyne University
Burgoyne, Pennsylvania, N.C., CNA
30 April 1952

He paused at the door to his office. There was a note pinned to the door with the words VENKMAN BURN IN HELL scrawled on it. With a sigh, Professor Peter Venkman pulled the note off and fumbled his key into the lock. He told himself that it least it meant that he had succeeded in making people passionate about economics. He had been looking to stir things up when he published his book, and he had clearly succeeded.

Inside was the old oak desk he had inherited from his father, the bookshelves he had acquired over the years, the framed prints on the walls. The desk was piled high with books, notes, paperweights, and trays, all jostling for room with the dactylograph and telephone, and a vase of flowers. There was a smell of old paper, and begonias. He had just seated himself behind the desk when the telephone rang.

After a brief internal debate, he picked up the handset. “Venkman,” he said simply.

“Professor Venkman?” said a female voice on the other end. The accent was distinctly Virginian. “This is Councilman Mason’s office. Can you hold for the Councilman?”

“Certainly,” Venkman said automatically, not quite understanding the conversation. Did he know a Councilman Mason? Could he be a member of the Burgoyne City Council? Then, a moment later, the combination of the accent and the name brought a sudden epiphany. No, not the City Council, the Grand Council. The country’s national legislature.

Venkman was ready when the familiar voice came on the line. “Professor Venkman? This is Richard Mason.”

“Good morning, Councilman,” said Venkman, and he was pleased at the tone of insouciance he was able to bring to the words. As though he routinely accepted phone calls from North American political leaders. “What can I do for you?”

“I was hoping we could talk about your new book,” said Mason. “I’ve just finished it, and I find your ideas intriguing. Perhaps you ought to consider publishing a newsletter.”

“They’re not my ideas, as such,” Venkman said.

“Yes, Professor, you’ve been careful to give proper credit to Mister Morris and Monsieur De Bow. That’s the mark of a true scholar and gentleman, and one of the reasons I think you’re just the man I’m looking for.”

Was Mason saying what Venkman thought he was saying? “Sir, are you offering me a position with your campaign?”

He heard a chuckle from the other man. In his mind’s eye, an image came to him of Mason on the vitavision with his head tilted back, giving just such a chuckle in response to one of Jeffrey Martin’s borderline-rude interview questions. “You’re not a man who believes in beating about the bush, are you Professor?”

Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. “Councilman, the economics profession is unfortunately oversupplied with people who use words for concealment rather than illumination. As a matter of sheer self-preservation, I’ve had to develop a capacity for cutting through pointless verbosity and getting to the point.”

Another chuckle. “Professor, you make economics sound an awful lot like politics. No, I’m not quite ready to offer you a job, but it is a definite possibility. That’s the reason I’m calling you now, to find out if you’ve got the right sort of, oh, temperament for the job. For example, were you being deliberately provocative when you called your book The Ghost of Lawrence French?”

“To be honest, Councilman, yes I was. Given the state of the world today, and particularly the state of economics, I thought that something provocative was just what was called for.” Venkman shifted in his chair, and glanced out the window. The day was overcast, as it usually was in Burgoyne. In spite of the threatening sky, there were students out in the quadrangle playing an impromptu game of cricket.

“That’s just what I was hoping to hear, Professor Venkman, because I feel the same way myself. Mr. Billington’s devotion to balanced budgets is an admirable thing in the abstract, but I think we need something more to pull us out of the slump we’ve been in since the end of the war. I find your book to be an admirable explication of why that is, and what needs to be done about it.”

“Councilman,” said Venkman cautiously, “I hope you’ll forgive me for saying so, but it sounds to me like you’ve already decided what you want to do, and you’re just using my ideas as a useful way to rationalize it.”

Another chuckle from the Councilman. One of the things Venkman had noticed about Mason was that he wasn’t shy about expressing his emotions. Ever since Owen Galloway started giving his vitavision talks thirty years back, every politician on the national stage had felt the need to curry favor with the voting public by imitating his dull monotone. Even Governor-General Billington mostly kept to the same pattern, with only occasional flashes of dry wit. Mason, by contrast, spoke with conviction, letting his voice and expression show what was in his heart. It seemed to Venkman that the Councilman’s popularity came not so much from what he said, as how he said it. After a generation of Owen Galloway imitations, it was like a breath of fresh air on a stuffy day.

“Well, not so much to rationalize, Professor, as to confirm my own ideas,” said Mason. “I read Mr. Morris’s General Theory myself back in the day, and I found it very convincing. And I was here in Burgoyne back in ’38 and ’39, so I was able to see the policies of your colleague Professor French in action. As you yourself pointed out in your book, the contrast between Mr. Morris’s policies in Britain and Professor French’s here in North America provided an unparalleled opportunity to determine who was right and who was wrong. Mr. Morris was proved right, and Professor French wrong. You say you wish to exorcise Professor French’s ghost from the halls of power here in Burgoyne. I am prepared to do so, and I would very much enjoy your assistance in doing so, if you are willing to provide it.”

Once again, Venkman felt the need to cut to the chase. “You wish me to join your campaign as an economic advisor, then?”

“No, Professor Venkman, I do not.”

Venkman found himself at a loss. “Then, I’m not certain … “

Again, there was that chuckle. “You, Professor, are a man with a talent for clear prose and the pithy phrase, and a knack for explaining the more, shall we say, impenetrable intricacies of economics in a way that the layman can understand. That talent would be wasted in the rough and tumble of a political campaign. What you need, sir, unless I am much mistaken, is a platform from which to speak on the economic issues of the day. And I may have just such a platform from which you might speak. You are familiar, are you not, with Mrs. Pynchon?”

Venkman, of course, was quite familiar with her. “The publisher of the Burgoyne Tribune?”

“The very one,” said Mason. “Mrs. Pynchon’s family, and the Tribune, have long been mainstays of the Liberal Party, and I know for a fact that she would be pleased to offer a weekly column to the author of that notable work of popular economics, The Ghost of Lawrence French.”

“And I would write for your campaign?” Venkman found the idea distasteful.

“You would write on whatever topic happened to seize your fancy, Professor. Have no fears on that score. As long as you maintain the intellectual standards of both the newspaper columnist and the professional economist, you would have free rein.”

As Venkman considered the idea, he could not deny that he found it attractive. There was a dreadful amount of foolishness published in the country’s newspapers and general interest magazines, to say nothing of the vitavision, on the subject of economics. It would be bracing to have the chance to counteract it on a regular basis.

“Very well, Councilman,” he said at last. “You can tell Mrs. Pynchon that if she’s willing to risk it, so am I.”

“Splendid, Professor, just splendid!” Mason enthused. “I’ll inform the dear woman, and she can set the wheels in motion. Oh, and if she should ask what name you have in mind for the column, what should I tell her? Knowing the newspaper business as I do, I suspect that she’ll want to associate it in some way with your book. A spectral theme seems called for.”

Venkman thought about it. “The Exorcist?” he suggested. “That might turn a few heads.”

Mason sounded less than enthusiastic. “If you’ll forgive me, Professor, that strikes me as perhaps a trifle obscure. Apart from the occasional enthusiast for religious history, it would mean little to the general newspaper reader. I also suspect Mrs. Pynchon would find it somewhat lacking in what the journalistic profession calls ‘sock’.”

Sock, eh? Venkman grinned suddenly. “In that case, Councilman, how about The Ghost Buster?”

“Just the thing, Professor,” said Mason with another chuckle. “Just the thing! You may expect to hear from the Tribune in the near future. For now, I must bid you a reluctant farewell.”

“Good-bye, Councilman,” Venkman replied. “And thank you.”

“Oh, no, Professor. Thank you!”

A click, and Mason was gone. Venkman set the phone’s handset on its cradle, and leaned back in his chair. The cricket game was still going on outside.

A newspaper columnist, he thought to himself, and smiled.


Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 30

On April 30, 1920, two pivotal meetings took place in Mexico City. In the morning, newly-elected President Emiliano Calles met with Kramer Associates President Douglas Benedict to discuss the issue of slavery in the United States of Mexico. Speaking indirectly, Calles agreed that his government would not attempt to regulate K.A., and Benedict agreed to use his financial control of the Mexican Congress to push for the abolition of slavery. Hours later, Senator Rodrigo de la Casa, a leading proponent of slavery, met with Secretary of State Albert Ullman. De la Casa indicated that if Calles introduced a simple manumission bill to Congress, it would be quietly passed by a voice vote in both chambers, and sent on to the President for his signature.

On April 30, 1957, Jeffrey Martin, the editor of the New York Herald, published an editorial mocking North American Governor-General Richard Mason's calls for greater simplicity and spirituality in the C.N.A. "The Governor-General has not yet told us how rustic souls can increase wheat production ten percent and provide the amount of earthmovers for China that are needed. Perhaps on his next trip up the mountain he can ask his Friend for the answers, and then communicate them to the poor mortals below."

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Secret History

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Omar Kinkaid, the sixth President of the United States of Mexico, and the second to be assassinated.

Kinkaid is one of the pivotal figures in the history of Sobel's U.S.M. In one sense, he is the Mexican counterpart to Herbert Clemens, the North American governor-general whose period in office largely overlaps his: both came to power due to rampant political corruption. However, the differences between them are instructive. Clemens was able to achieve power by being personally corrupt, spending his own considerable fortune as a dry goods magnate to buy votes. Kinkaid was personally honest, but served as the figurehead for Bernard Kramer . . . a corrupt dry goods magnate who used his considerable fortune to buy votes on Kinkaid's behalf.

Ironically, Clemens' corruption proved to be less politically damaging than Kinkaid's honesty, since it gave the impetus for a reform movement in the C.N.A. that was eventually able to put an end to government corruption. In the U.S.M., a similar reform movement was derailed by the country's toxic racial politics, and by the fact that the source of the corruption, Kramer, was content to manipulate the political system from behind the scenes.

Kinkaid himself bears much of the blame for the corruption of Mexican politics by Kramer. He was well aware of the fact that he was Kramer's puppet, but was content to ignore the fact, until the growing polarizaton of Mexican politics finally convinced him of the need for reform. By that time, though, it was too late. There was an armed uprising in progress, and Kramer was already laying plans to have another figurehead seize power and rule autocratically. Kinkaid's efforts to reduce Kramer's control of Mexican politics ended with his assassination under mysterious circumstances in December 1879.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 26

On April 26, 1956, North American Governor-General Richard Mason gave (or performed) a vitavised speech in a full chorale setting, and singing the speech's last few paragraphs (or verses). Sobel cites this as evidence that Mason growing increasingly erratic and emotional as his first term went on.

The Burgoyne Times reported on Mason's speech the next day.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 23

On April 23, 1932, Senator Alvin Silva was inaugurated as the twelfth President of the United States of Mexico. In his inaugural address, he spoke of foreigners "who would threaten our nation. Even now," he warned, "Hawaii is in danger of attack." Sobel notes that, consciously or unconsciously, Silva had paraphrased a speech given by Chief of State Benito Hermión just before the outbreak of the Great Northern War.

The London Times reported on Silva's inaugural address the next day.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Balance of power

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Trans-Oceanic War, the last major European war of the 18th century.

In our own history, the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars of 1792 - 1815 were fundamentally different from the conflicts that had preceded them from 1688 to 1763. The wars of 1688, 1701, 1718, 1740, and 1754 involved the establishment, and then the maintenance, of the balance of power in Europe. The wars can all be summed up as attempts by the British, the Dutch, the Prussians, and the Savoyards to prevent the creation of a continent-dominating union of Spain, France, and/or Austria. In our own history, the American Revolutionary War can be seen as a continuation of this tradition, as the French, Spanish, and Dutch combined to prevent British domination of Europe.

The final wars of the 18th century, though, were different. They were fought by Europe's traditional monarchies to extinguish the radical revolutionary republic that had come to power in France, while the French revolutionaries in their turn attempted to spread their own revolution and overturn the other monarchies as they had overturned their own.

In the Sobel Timeline, though, the nascent French Revolution was put down in 1789, and the French monarchy continued. When the Trans-Oceanic War broke out in 1795, it was a traditional balance-of-power conflict in which the French regent, Marie Antoinette, built a coalition with Austria and Spain for the purpose of seizing control of Prussia and Portugal. She was opposed by an alliance of Prussia, Portugal, and Great Britain (and possibly also the Netherlands, Piedmont-Sardinia, and Russia, though Sobel doesn't specifically mention them).

The point of the Trans-Oceanic War, for Sobel's narrative purposes, was to give his newly-established North American nations of Jefferson and the C.N.A. an excuse to invade and conquer Spain's American colonies, specifically Florida and New Spain. This allowed him to set the stage for the creation of the United States of Mexico, and the coming conflict between the U.S.M. and the C.N.A. that alt-Sobel, at least, regarded as the inevitable rematch between the rebels and loyalists of the 1770s.

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 21

On April 21, 1920, newly-elected Mexican President Emiliano Calles gave an address before the Senate outlining his legislative agenda, the first time a Mexican president had done so since the restoration of democratic rule twenty years before. His speech was less than four minutes long, and focused exclusively on the slavery issue. Calles gave the background of the situation, including the Chapultepec Incident and its consequences, then offered his solution: "Slavery must be abolished in Mexico. We shall try to do so by constitutional amendment, but if this is not possible, other ways will be found. We have talked long enough of this subject. In all the reports I have yet to find one reasonable argument in favor of keeping the Negro enslaved. The free population of Mexico numbers 132 million. There are some 103,000 Negro slaves in the country. Giving these poor wretches their liberty will not dilute our national bloodstream; nor will it poison our lives. It is a small price to pay for the benefits manumission will bring."

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 20

On April 20, 1870, Guatemalan President Vicente Martinez granted rights to build a trans-oceanic canal to the San Francisco-based consortium Kramer Associates. Although it was widely believed that Mexican President Omar Kinkaid had arranged for the coup d'etat that overthrew Martinez' predecessor, Kinkaid in fact had no involvement in the operation, which was directed and financed entirely by K.A. Guatemala would be the first country to have its government subverted by K.A., but not the last.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 17

On April 17, 1933, Governor-General Douglas Watson addressed the British Parliament as the culmination of his European Tour. In his introduction of Watson, Prime Minister George Bolingbroke called him "the leader of a great nation, a man of extraordinary vision, and a most welcome visitor to our shores." Bolingbroke called the close relations between Great Britain and the Confederation of North America "a model for all mankind," and said, "We are brothers because men wiser than we saw the need for self-government in North America, and we shall stand united no matter what the foe, no matter what the problem." Watson responded by saying, "Our loyalty to the Crown remains undiminished, and our relations with the Empire continue to be that of brothers."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 15

On April 15, 1836, the Manhattan Bank, the fourth largest in New York, declared insolvency, part of a growing bank panic that would cripple the economy of the Confederation of North America for the next six years.

On April 15, 1853, C.N.A. Governor-General William Johnson informed Mexican President Hector Niles that he would accept Niles' offer from two years earlier to negotiate peace terms to end the Rocky Mountain War.

On April 15, 1920, newly-elected Mexican President Emiliano Calles announced that he would present his legislative program to the Senate within a week.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 14

On April 14, 1806, the Mexican Civil War began when a detachment of Federalist soldiers surrounded the town of Cuautla in the Province of Mexico, while searching for several priests who were leaders of the Clericalist guerrillas in the area. After entering the town, the soldiers were ambushed by Clericalist guerrillas, suffering 42 dead and wounded. The Mexican Civil War would continue for the next eleven years.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Guns and Wood

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the 1950 Mexican elections, the most important election in the U.S.M. in the 20th century.

Sobel's United States of Mexico had already suffered the consequences of one suspended election in 1881, which resulted in the Hermión dictatorship of 1881 to 1901. Despite this, incumbent President Alvin Silva chose to suspend the 1944 elections for the duration of the Global War, which he had entered in dramatic fashion by launching a surprise attack against Japan two years earlier.

The people of the U.S.M. did not take kindly to having their elections suspended, and two separate insurrections broke out, one by Mexico's black freedmen, and the other by the country's Mexicano majority. Sobel quotes a Mexican historian who says that if the two groups had cooperated, they might have succeeded in overthrowing Silva, but instead they spent as much time fighting each other as they did the government.

The situation was bad enough when Mexico was winning the war, but by the late 1940s the country had suffered a series of defeats, and Japanese airmobiles were carrying out bombing raids against San Francisco and invading the Mexican states of Hawaii and Alaska. Silva finally found himself compelled to hold the suspended elections, which he announced in July 1949 would be held six months later.

Silva had seized control of the Mexican news media around the same time he suspended the 1944 election, and he had used them to denounce the opposition United Mexican Party as little better than traitors for opposing the war. To insulate themselves from accusations of treason, the U.M.P. chose Admiral Paul Suarez to run against Silva. Suarez had resigned as commander of the Mexican Pacific Fleet in the fateful year 1944, and he became the de facto peace candidate, in spite of his intention to continue the war.

On election day, both sides used violence to intimidate opposition voters, and when Suarez narrowly defeated Silva, the President accused him of stealing the election. Violence between the two sides continued after the election, and threatened to degenerate into a full-scale civil war as Suarez' inauguration approached. To head one off, a group of garrison commanders led by Colonel Vincent Mercator had both Silva and Suarez arrested, and established a military junta.

Despite a sham election held in 1965, Mercator continued to rule the U.S.M. at the time Sobel was writing For Want of a Nail in 1971.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 12

On April 12, 1795, Marie-Antoinette, Queen of France and regent for her infant son King Louis XVII, signed a treaty of alliance with King Charles IV of Spain. Charles had initially been reluctant to join the Franco-Austrian alliance against Prussia, but the appearance of a French army on the Franco-Spanish border persuaded him to change his mind.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 11

On April 11, 1839, the Jefferson and California Railroad began laying tracks from San Francisco, California. Due to the outbreak of the Rocky Mountain War in 1845, the railroad connecting San Francisco to Henrytown, Jefferson would not be completed until 1848.

That's when they'll disappear

You know what we could use around here? An embedded music video. So here's the Go-Go's with their 1981 hit "Our Lips Are Sealed".

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sobel Wiki: Heart and Soul

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Pedro Fuentes, the eleventh President of the United States of Mexico.

There's no denying that alt-Sobel, the in-universe author of For Want of a Nail, is an unabashed fan of Kramer Associates, the global megacorporation. A more uncertain question is what our own Sobel, the book's actual author, thought of it. After all, Sobel wasn't just the author of Nail, he was also the author of Frank Dana's critique, in which he wrote that K.A. "dominated Mexican life for much of its existence, and was finally expelled from the nation after a long and bitter struggle. Many of Mexico's problems may be traced to the work of Kramer Associates," and noted that "no nation is safe from its influence, the more frightening since Kramer has power without responsibility."

Which brings us to Pedro Fuentes, the first President of the U.S.M. to take serious steps to curb K.A.'s power. Fuentes didn't have an easy time of it, because one of the first things K.A. founder Bernard Kramer did after forming the company was start to donate large sums of money to elected officials to ensure that they voted the right way. Kramer's successors continued this tradition, until by the time Fuentes was elected in 1926 the Mexican Congress was doing pretty much whatever K.A. told them to do. (My Sobel Wiki colleague Christina suggests that K.A. nobbled Taiwan from Japan that way in 1948; funded an independence movement, then purchased a referendum while the Japanese were busy fighting the Mexicans.)

Fuentes attempted to work around the corrupted legislature by creating a presidential commission to investigate K.A. Sobel reports that K.A. President John Jackson was able to keep the commission hopelessly baffled by carrying out a massive reorganization of the company. Noel Maurer found this idea ludicrous, and suggested that what really happened was that Jackson used the reorganization as cover while buying off the commission.

Sobel paints Fuentes' attempt to rein in K.A. as an inept failure, but was it? Five years after Fuentes set up the commission, Jackson moved the company headquarters from San Francisco to the Philippines. Jackson claimed the move was "to be closer to our Asian interests," and Sobel never offers any alternative motive, but it may well be that Fuentes was able to pry the Mexican government out of Jackson's hands after all.

As for what our own Sobel thought of K.A., it may be significant that thirteen years after Jackson's move, his successor, Carl Salazar, moved the company again from the Philippines to Taiwan. Alt-Sobel writes, "Taiwan had a more skilled population and a better climate than Luzon, and in addition, was more stable politically." The last clause is telling, because alt-Sobel never mentioned any political instability in the Philippines before then. Reading between the lines, it seems as though the Filipinos, like the Mexicans before them, got fed up with having their country run by an unelected, unresponsive commercial behemoth, and the company fled the growing popular discontent.

Alt-Sobel was writing a little over twenty years after the move to Taiwan, and if the Taiwanese people were also growing restive at having their country run by K.A., he might not see fit to mention it, just as he didn't see fit to mention political instability in the Philippines. Carl Salazar was around 70 when alt-Sobel was writing, and it may be that in the not-too-distant future, his own successor will find it expedient to find a new, more politically stable home for Kramer Associates in the 1970s.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 4

On April 4, 1914, Henri Fanchon, the President of France, recalled the French ambassador to the United States of Mexico, the latest step in his calculated plan to leave the U.S.M. diplomatically isolated and vulnerable to attack.

On April 4, 1961, Jeffrey Martin, the editor of the New York Herald, continued his attacks on Governor-General Richard Mason, writing, "Mr. Mason has lost his grip on reality. Now he thinks himself a re-incarnation of the Prince of Peace. He is presently measuring himself for the cross. Do we want to be crucified along with this megalomaniac?"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 2

On April 2, 1887, Grand Council Minority Leader Scott Ruggles of the Northern Confederation gave a speech in which he harped on the failures of Governor-General John McDowell's policies. Ruggles said, "Let Mr. McDowell ask us for what he will. He has a majority in the Grand Council, and can have anything he wants from it. Indeed, we would be willing to support his plans, for the People's Coalition wants peace and harmony as much as anyone else. The truth of the matter is that the Age of Renewal is, and always has been, a sham. The Liberals have had their chance, and have failed. Now it is time for true reform, and not just fancy maneuverings."

Ruggles' speech was reported the next day in the New York Herald.

On April 2, 1901, Chief of State Benito Hermión announced the transformation of the United States of Mexico into the Mexican Empire, with himself as its first Emperor, and his thirty-three year old son Frederick Hermión as Crown Prince.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Today in the Sobel Timeline: April 1

On April 1, 1914, newly-elected Mexican President Victoriano Consalus broke diplomatic relations with Argentina in response to Argentina's growing alliance with France.

On April 1, 1926, incumbent President Emiliano Calles lost his re-election bid to Assemblyman Pedro Fuentes. The next day, the Mexico City Times wrote, "General Calles was important in spite of himself, but he was no republican. Without realizing it, Calles was in the mold of El Jefe. Fortunately for the nation, he lacked the sophistication to know this."

On April 1, 1929, Jack Norris of the Burgoyne Inquirer wrote a column castigating the administrators of the National Financial Administration as "secret little men with untold power and no public mandate for its use." This was part of a larger public outcry against the N.F.A. for neglecting areas of the Confederation of North America outside the industrial heartland of the Northern Confederation and Indiana, and in support of Governor-General Henderson Dewey's attempt to reform the agency.