Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Invisible Man VI: The Furniture That Went Mad

As we pick up the story of The Invisible Man in chapter VI, "The Furniture That Went Mad", it's still the morning of Whit Monday, following the bizarre burglary of the vicarage. The Halls are up with the sun, seeing to the brewing of the Coach and Horses' beer supply in the inn's cellar. Mrs. Hall realizes that she forgot her supply of sarsaparilla, and she sends her husband upstairs to fetch it. On his way to get the bottle, Mr. Hall notices that the inn's front door has been unbolted, and that the stranger's door is ajar. He enters, and finds the room unoccupied, as he had expected. He is surprised to find that all of the stranger's clothing is scattered around the room.

Mr. Hall, (whose first name, we learn, is George), runs down to the cellar to get his wife (whose name, we also learn, is Janny). As they return up the cellar stairs, they hear the faint sound of the front door opening and closing. On the hall stairs, each hears a sneeze, but each assumes it was the other. The enter the stranger's bedroom, and note that the bed is cold, and hence hasn't been slept in for at least an hour.

As the two stare around at the room, the blanket suddenly rises up from the bed and leaps over the foot, exactly as if an invisible hand had picked it up and thrown it. The stranger's hat then levitates off the bedpost and flies at Janny Hall. This is followed by the chair rising off the floor and attacking her, driving her from the room. The door to the stranger's room slams shut and locks.

Janny Hall immediately draws the obvious conclusion: the stranger has used magic to bewitch the room's furniture. The Halls are joined by Millie the Maid, and the three retreat downstairs, and help to revive Janny's frazzled nerves by, as Wells puts it, "applying the restoratives customary in such cases."

The Halls send Millie across the street to Mr. Sandy Wadgers, the village blacksmith, to consult with him on how to deal with ensorceled furniture. Mr. Wadgers agrees that they are dealing with witchcraft, and recommends the use of an iron horseshoe. The four are joined by Huxter the tobacconist and his apprentice, and the six continue discussing the matter until the door to the stranger's bedroom opens, and he emerges, clad as usual in goggles and bandages. The stranger stops to address the assembled villagers. "Look there!" he commands with a pointed finger. They all look and see the bottle of sarsaparilla standing neglected by the cellar door. The stranger then enters the parlour and slams the door in their faces.

Mr. Wadgers recommends that Mr. Hall confront the stranger and demand an explanation. When Mr. Hall does so (after some time spent working up his nerve), the stranger barks, "Go to the devil! And shut that door after you!"

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Invisible Man V: The Burglary at the Vicarage

We take up the story of The Invisible Man with chapter V, "The Burglary at the Vicarage". A vicarage, btw, is the residence of the vicar, the local Anglican parish priest. The vicarage belongs to the local parish of the Church of England, and the vicar and his family (if he has one) live there during his tenure as parish priest.

We met the Vicar of Iping, the Reverend Mr. Bunting, in chapter IV, when the village doctor, Mr. Cuss, had his curious interview with the mysterious boarder at the Coach and Horses Inn. Wells records that the vicar's only reaction to Mr. Cuss's peculiar tale was "It's a most remarkable story. It's really a most remarkable story."

Our story resumes in the early hours of Whit Monday, the day after Pentacost, known in England as Whitsunday. In 1896, the leap year in which The Invisible Man seems to take place,  Whit Monday falls on May 25. This would be a few days after Mr. Cuss's interview with the stranger.

The Rev. Mr. Bunting and his wife are asleep, when Mrs. Bunting is awakened by the sound of their bedroom door opening and closing. She hears the sound of bare feet creeping along the hall outside their room, and she wakes her husband. He does not light a candle, but instead puts on his glasses and a dressing gown and slippers in the dark and slips out of their room. He hears someone in his study downstairs, along with a violent sneeze. Having confirmed that someone has broken into their house, he returns to the bedroom, grabs the poker from the fireplace, and heads downstairs. His wife follows him, but remains for the moment at the top of the landing.

As the Rev. Mr. Bunting makes his way downstairs, he hears the snap of a desk drawer's lock being forced, the drawer opening, the rustle of papers being moved, a muttered curse, and the sound of a match being struck and a candle lit. When the Rev. Mr. Bunting reaches the bottom of the stairs, he can see into his study. He can see the desk with the open drawer and the candle resting on it, but not the burglar.

As the Rev. Mr. Bunting stands indecisively in the hall, his wife joins him. Then he hears the sounds of gold coins clinking. The burglar (wherever he is) has found the household cash: five gold half sovereigns. This the vicar cannot allow, and he rushes into the room and yells "Surrender!"

The room is empty, yet the vicar and his wife are certain they can hear someone inside. The search the room, but can find nobody there. The couple stand there befuddled until they hear a sneeze out in the passageway. They rush out, carrying the candle, and hear the kitchen door slam shut. The vicar opens it, and through the kitchen he sees through the scullery that the back door has opened. They can see the garden beyond the back door in the dawn's early light, but no burglar.

The couple close the back door and thoroughly search kitchen, scullery, and cellar, but they are alone in the house. Sunrise finds them still standing on the ground floor of the vicarage, utterly perplexed.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Birthers: a clarification

Back in 2008, when Senator Barack Obama was running for president, a group of Hillary Clinton dead-enders called PUMAs started running with a conspiracy theory claiming that Obama's Hawaiian birth had been faked somehow, and that he was actually born in Kenya, and was thus ineligible to serve as President of the United States. This was despite the fact that the Clinton campaign itself had found Obama's birth announcement in a Honolulu newspaper. The PUMA conspiracy theory quickly spread to various right wing sources, including Joseph Farah's WorldNetDaily, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and, eventually, Donald Trump. The proponents of this conspiracy theory became known as birthers, by analogy with the 9/11 attack conspiracy theorists, known as truthers.

In an amusing sequel to the birther phenomenon, Donald Trump, now himself the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, is claiming that rival candidate Senator Ted Cruz's Canadian birth makes him ineligible to serve as president. Because of the similarity of the claims against Cruz and Obama, and because Trump himself has made the same claim against both men, the term "birther" is being applied to Trump and other figures who are disputing Cruz's eligibility.

This is wrong. The anti-Obama conspiracy-mongers were called birthers because the heart of their conspiracy theory involved disputing that Obama was born in the United States. That is not the case with Cruz. Everyone, including Cruz himself, agrees that he was not born in the United States. Thus, there is no actual conspiracy theory involved; only the legal question of whether Cruz's universally-acknowledged foreign birth disqualifies him for the presidency.

If you want a term for the people who dispute Cruz's eligibility, you might call them "natural-borners", because the issue they raise is whether Cruz is a natural-born citizen within the meaning of the Constitution. Thus, Trump is both a "birther" and a "natural-borner", while Mary Brigid McManamon is a "natural-borner" but not a "birther".

Cruz's current natural-borner controversy is particularly amusing because, had it not been for the birthers making a prolonged fuss about Obama's alleged foreign birth, the question of Cruz's actual foreign birth might not even have come up.

Monday, January 11, 2016

General Philip Benner

General Philip Benner (1762 - 1832) was a businessman in the iron trade from Pennsylvania. Benner Township, in Centre County, is named after him.

Born in East Viincent township, Chester County on May 19, 1762, at a young age Benner served in the American Revolutionary War. Benner went into the iron smelting business after the war in Coventry, Chester County, with a store in East Vincent. After marrying Ruth Roberts (1765 - 1827), Benner purchased land in what was then Upper Bald Eagle Township, Mifflin County in 1792, and established an iron foundry there two years later. It may have been around this time that Benner was commissioned a major-general of militia, the source of his military title. Benner's business interests in the area expanded to include a grist mill and a slitting mill by the time Centre County was established in 1800. From 1802 to 1811, Benner was involved in a legal dispute over the ownership of his land, which ended with him losing his case and being compelled to buy his land a second time.

With the land dispute settled, Benner expanded production from his iron foundry, opening up a trade in iron with Pittsburgh and the western counties. In 1821, Benner became the first president of the Centre & Kishacoquillas Turnpike Company, and assisted in the construction of the turnpike. Benner also contributed to the construction of water-works in the borough of Bellefonte, as well as several houses there. Benner opened stores in Bellefonte and Ferguson township.

As Benner's businesses were expanding in the 1820s, the United States was emerging from the Era of Good Feeling and entering the period of the Second Party System, when the rise of Andrew Jackson split the dominant Democratic-Republican Party into pro- and anti-Jackson factions. Benner was a Jackson supporter, and he served as a presidential elector for the 1824 Jackson-Calhoun ticket. Following Jackson's defeat in the 1824 election, his supporters began building up a new, populist political machine, the foundation of the modern Democratic Party. Benner took part in this partisan activity by establishing the Centre Democrat in 1827.

Despite his general success as a businessman, Benner did suffer the occasional setback. He once spent $50,000 financing the building of a steamboat in Pittsburgh, and loading it with a cargo of iron. The steamboat captain Benner hired was supposed to sell the iron and use to proceeds to purchase a cargo of tobacco for return to Pittsburgh. Instead, he sold the steamboat along with the iron, and absconded to Europe with the money.

Mrs. Ruth Benner died on January 7, 1827 at the age of sixty-two. Her husband died five years later, on July 27, 1832. The couple had eight children.

David Bowie 1947-2016

Today's embedded music video features David Bowie performing the title track from the 1986 film Absolute Beginners.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Scorpions in a Bottle: The Carlisle Commission

In For Want of a Nail, Sobel takes a page from our own history, and has Lord North send a peace commission to the Continental Congress in the spring of 1778 headed by the Earl of Carlisle. In our own history, this came after the surrender of Burgoyne's army at the Battle of Saratoga, and was a desperate attempt by North to forestall a military alliance between the American rebels and the French. In our history, North deliberately deceived the commission's members by failing to tell them that he had ordered General Clinton to evacuate Philadelphia. Had he done so, of course, the commissioners would have known that their mission was doomed to failure, and they would have refused to go. As it was, the mission had already failed before the commissioners set out from London, since the Americans and the French had already signed an alliance in February.

One would expect that a British victory at Saratoga would have made the North ministry more determined than ever to use military force to crush the American rebellion. This would have been consistent with 15 years of previous British policy, which was based on a dismissal of American concerns and contempt for the Americans as people. However, Sobel was evidently interested in exploring a world where the Americans returned to being loyal British subjects, and a long, costly British military campaign in America, even if successful, would have sowed the seeds of lasting enmity between Britain and America. So, instead of military conquest, Sobel shows us a British government willing to use negotiations, and satisfaction of American grievances, to end the war. In the Sobel Timeline, the Carlisle Commission basically offers the Americans the same terms as it did in our history. With the Rebellion going much worse for the Americans, this turns out to be an offer that the Americans can't refuse.

* * *
(this section continues on from the Joseph Galloway section)

In London, rumors of victory and defeat in America came hard upon one another’s heels. Word came first of defeat at Bennington, then at Freeman’s Farm, then at Bemis Heights. All of London held its breath, as if fearing that the next news from America would tell of Burgoyne’s surrender to Gates. Instead, news came of Gates’ defeat, and the disintegration of his army. Burgoyne’s victory, along with Howe’s capture of Philadelphia and his repulse of Washington’s counterattack, raised the prestige of the North ministry, and discredited those like Burke and Wilkes who had denounced the ministry’s America policy. Finally, North received word from Paul Wentworth, his agent in Paris, that the French government had grown discouraged by the news from America and was cutting off its supplies of money and arms to the rebels. Wentworth also reported that he had been approached by Franklin, who wished to negotiate an end to the Rebellion and the return of the colonies to British rule. [1]

If the Americans had given up hope of winning their independence, North had given up hope of the military conquest of the rebellious colonies. Burgoyne’s report on his victory had stressed the failure of the expected Loyalist uprising to occur, and the stiff resistance he had encountered from the rebels. He also emphasized the precarious nature of his occupation of Albany, and the general anti-British sentiment of the surrounding country. [2] With these facts in mind, on February 16, 1778, North called a secret meeting of the Cabinet to discuss a possible negotiated settlement of the conflict. No one present disagreed with North’s analysis of the general situation: the ministry had erred badly in its response to the Americans’ growing intransigence in the Crisis, misreading the temper of the American colonists, and the strength of Loyalist sentiment. Instead of cowing the Americans into submission, the ministry’s policies had stiffened the Americans’ resolve to resist, and finally driven them into open rebellion.

Without revealing the source of his information, North informed the Cabinet that the Americans were prepared to return to British rule provided that there was a general settlement of colonial grievances along the lines of Galloway’s Plan of Union. There were heated objections from a few members, notably Lord Germain, but a majority of the Cabinet sided with North, as long as the proposal was seen to emanate from the ministry rather than the colonists. A month later, a commission headed by the Earl of Carlisle was sent to the Congress to offer the proposed settlement. [3]

Events in America continued to favor the reconciliationists. Disillusioned former soldiers from the Continental Army blamed the Congress, and the revolutionary state governments, for the military failures suffered at Saratoga-Albany and Philadelphia. In Virginia, for instance, Governor Patrick Henry was deposed by Theodorick Bland, who had served as a cavalry commander in the Continental Army under Washington. Bland and his supporters (most of whom, like him, were former members of the Continental Army), raised up Edmund Pendleton in Henry’s place. Pendleton issued instructions to Virginia’s delegation to the Congress to support efforts at reconciliation with Britain, leading to the resignations of the radical members Richard Henry Lee and Joseph Jones. [4]

Events in Virginia were echoed elsewhere in the rebellious colonies. By the time the Earl of Carlisle’s commission arrived in America in early May, reconciliationists had gained control of the Congress, and Galloway was one of its most prominent members, replacing Carroll as President on May 23. Under Galloway’s leadership, the Congress agreed on May 27 to ask Lord North for an armistice based on the Carlisle proposals. Carlisle sent word to the British military leadership of the agreement, and they began making preparations for the joint military rule of the reunited colonies that would cause them to be known as the Four Viceroys. The formal articles for armistice were signed by Carlisle and Galloway on June 12, 1778, and over the next two weeks most of the remaining rebel militia surrendered to their British counterparts. The North American Rebellion was over. [5]

1. Dame Brook Alyson. Lord North and His Times (London, 2001), pp. 356-62.

2. Wesley Van Luvender. The Military Thought and Actions of John Burgoyne (New York, 1944), p. 476-79.

3. Henderson Bundy. The Carlisle Commission (New York, 2005), pp. 34-36.

4. Patricia Foster Gooch. Virginia in Rebellion, 1775-1778 (Norfolk, 1997), pp. 282-93.

5. Bundy. The Carlisle Commission, pp. 203-11.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

More armed white men

So, a bunch of armed white men have taken over an unoccupied building in a wildlife refuge in Oregon, in defense of a couple of imprisoned poachers, Dwight Hammond, Jr. and his son Steven Hammond (in other words, more armed white men). Needless to say, the armed white men in question are a group of right-wing gun nuts. The leader of the armed white men, Ammon Bundy, says in a YouTube video that God told him and his followers to take over the building: "I began to understand how the Lord felt about the Hammonds," Bundy says in the video. "I began to understand how the Lord felt about Harney County and about this country. And I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds".

This just confirms my belief that white men are the greatest danger facing our country. None of us will be safe until the government recognizes the danger posed by white men and takes firm steps to bring them under control. I suggest implanting chips in their heads that cause them to lose consciousness when activated. In a country where white men have disproportionate control of political and economic power, it's the only way to ensure the safety and security of everyone else.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Invisible Man IV: Mr. Cuss Interviews the Stranger

Having spent the first three chapters of The Invisible Man describing the stranger's arrival in Iping, Wells shifts to a more general account of his residency there. The stranger mostly keeps to himself in the Coach and Horses, and only goes out into the village after nightfall. There are several theories about the stranger's behavior: Mrs. Hall is satisfied with the stranger's own explanation that he is an experimenter who suffered a disfiguring accident. Teddy Henfrey thinks he is a criminal hiding out from the police. The schoolteacher Gould thinks he is an anarchist planning to commit an act of terrorism. The postman Fearenside continues to believe that he is a piebald half-breed.Whatever the explanation, the villagers generally dislike him. However, Mrs. Hall is content to allow him to stay in her inn as long as he pays his bills on time.

One day, towards Whitsuntide (ie just before Whitsunday, which in 1896 fell on May 24), the village doctor, Mr. Cuss, is driven by curiosity to speak with the stranger. The stranger explains that he is trying to recreate a prescription he was given, but which was blown into a lit fire and burned to ashes while he wasn't looking. Cuss then notices that the stranger is missing a hand. Oddly, his sleeve isn't pinned up; it moves around as though there were an arm inside it, even though he can see that there is no arm. When Cuss draws the stranger's attention to this odd phenomenon, the stranger lifts his arm up and points the sleeve directly at the doctor's face. Then, to the doctor's astonishment, he feels his nose being tweaked, as though by a finger and thumb.

Cuss is badly frightened. He knocks the sleeve away and flees the inn. After he tells his story to Bunting, the local vicar, that man says gravely, "It's a most remarkable story. It's really a most remarkable story."

Friday, January 1, 2016

Sobel Wiki: Remaking a Continent

This month's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the Kinkaid Canal, the Sobel Timeline counterpart to our own Panama Canal.

As is often the case with the Sobel Timeline, the Kinkaid Canal is a sort of funhouse-mirror version of the Panama Canal. First and foremost, it is in Nicaragua rather than Panama. This is actually a pretty high-probability event. There were a number of proposals in our own time for a canal through Nicaragua, one of them made by none other than then-Secretary of State Henry Clay in 1826. Clay's proposal was turned down, due in part to political instability in Central America, and due to the fact that the British controlled a lot of the territory in the vicinity of the proposed canal route.

The British were not a problem in the Sobel Timeline, for reasons that Sobel never revealed. He makes no mention of the British colony at Belize, though his frontispiece map shows it as part of the Mexican state of Chiapas. He also doesn't say how the British lost control of the Mosquito Coast, the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. All he does say is that Central America is united into a single country called Guatemala (or as he inexplicably spells it, Guatamala), and that this country has spent years disputing possession of the Isthmus of Panama with the South American nation of New Granada. It is this, more than anything else, that convinces Sobel's master Robber Baron, Bernard Kramer, to opt for a canal through undisputed Guatemalan territory.

Kramer Associates was originally formed in 1865 as a consortium of California businessmen with the purpose of improving transportation links between their state and the North Atlantic nations, and especially with the Caribbean coast of the United States of Mexico. Building an interoceanic canal is the obvious project for K.A. to undertake, and Kramer spends his first five years as head of K.A. laying the groundwork for it.

In our own history, the U.S. Navy assisted Panamanian separatists who seceded from Columbia in 1903, as part of a project by President Roosevelt to build a canal. In the Sobel Timeline, it was Kramer's company, acting independently of the Mexican government, that financed a coup d'etat in Guatemala as part of the canal project. The canal received its final name after Mexican President Omar Kinkaid was assassinated, and Kramer decided to name the recently-completed canal after him. This may have started a trend in the Sobel Timeline, because a British canal in Egypt was named, not after the Gulf of Suez, but after Queen Victoria.

Btw, the map of the Kinkaid Canal at the top of this blog post was created by For All Nails mastermind Noel Maurer, who later went on to co-author a book on the Panama Canal with his fellow FAN alumnus Carlos Yu.