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It's the twenty-fourth* of May,
The Queen's birthday!
If you don't give us a holiday,
We'll all run away!



Happy Victoria Day! Or, as Canadians of more republican sympathies call it, "May Two-Four." *Even though this year the actual May Two-Four has been annexed by Memorial Day weekend and so is being observed on May One-Nine instead. Confusing.

Perhaps some of you have noticed me piping up in the comment pages of your LiveJournals recently and surmised that the school year must be over. It's true, this is the time of year I go from being grossly overmatched by my duties to just mostly overmatched. In that spirit, I'd thought I might write up a bunch of Alternate Queen Victorias to mark the day. But I'm out of practice, and inspiration eludes me. So I throw it open to you, my clever friends. Alternate / Eliptonical / Secret / Weird Victorias. What springs to mind?

If that question doesn't grab you, here's another one. How might you go about illuminating / eliptonizing / secret historicizing the War of 1812? There's no shortage of Napoleonic weirdness, but I don't know if I've ever seen anything on North America's 1812. Any suggestion on books to check out or promising historical nuggets to begin with? Just something I'm playing with in my head.
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Tags: Metadata, show your work, sausages being made.

The Annotated Gipper

One of the most common comments I get when people discover this weblog–after “How do you have the time to do this?” which is a tough question to answer, since patently, I don’t–is some variation on, “I don’t get it.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from Old is the New New. Comments welcome.
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Tags: Koschei the Deathless; Dudley Manlove; the Gipper; eat your heart out, Edmund Morris.

We talked about the Reagan years in one of my classes this week. That’s all the excuse I need, really, to recycle this post of mine from the week Reagan died (and I got my PhD): the Ronald Reagan alternate history film festival. (Oh, and speaking of deceased American icons: did you hear about Captain America?)

Ooga Booga!

The Ronald Reagan Alternate History Film Festival

Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from Old is the New New. Comments welcome.
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In other news, yesterday I read George Pendle's Strange Angel, a fun biography of Jack Parsons. I'm assuming the Parsons fans on my Flist know about this book already ([livejournal.com profile] head58, I'm looking at you), but if not, high thee to a library. Parsons is a great character: rocket scientist, wife swapper, black magic cultist extraordinaire. When L. Ron Hubbard is calling you loopy and Aleister Superfreak Crowley writes you from England saying, "Uh, maybe you ought to lay off the black magic for a while for a while, Jack--you're weirding me out" it's time to at least consider a sabbatical. But no, Jack summoned the Scarlet Woman of Babylon, then blew himself up.

One random tidbit I'd never heard about Crowley, from a life made up of random tidbits: in 1913, the Great Beast led an all-female string septet called the "Ragged Ragtime Girls" on a disastrous tour of Russia. What do you suppose that was all about? Game ideas featuring Crowley in an insane Some Like It Hot / Road To Tunguska mashup involving some combination of Tony Curtis, Tsar Nicholas, Jack Lemmon, Lenin, Rasputin, and Marilyn Monroe are left as an exercise for the reader.

Dick

Jun. 6th, 2005 09:37 pm
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Bernstein and Woodward

There's new content on robmacdougall.org today. I note this because a) I basically always note it, and b) it's the kind of silliness (alternate Deep Throats) that I would normally post over here. But this time it's, like, historical, you know? I also have something new on Cliopatria, part of a group discussion of Barry Gewen's essay “Forget the Founding Fathers” in this Sunday's New York Times.
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So Mark Felt was Deep Throat. It’s like having a magic trick explained, isn’t it? A mystery is never as fun once the answer’s been revealed…

Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from Old is the New New. Comments welcome.

Fubar

Dec. 21st, 2004 12:22 am
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This one is for [livejournal.com profile] editswlonghair and [livejournal.com profile] chrislehrich to share. I don't know if they've ever gamed together, but I know they both dig the essential elements of this mashup. It was a long, cold drive home, so I'm not working too hard on this. Just like at a retro Chinese restaurant: take one pulp standby from column A, one from column B, rip off Hite*, and it basically writes itself:

Read more... )
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It's Labo(u)r Day! (For a few more minutes.) And tomorrow is the first day of my new job!

Some of you with keen eyes have already figured this out, but L now has her own LiveJournal, under the user name [livejournal.com profile] papersource. She chose this user name, of course, in honor of Paper Source, the supplier of high end stationery and other fancy paper goods that certain artistically-inclined females find more addictive than Nazi crank. I couldn't convince her to go with any of my noms de cute for her, like [livejournal.com profile] cuticle or [livejournal.com profile] cuddlefish. But [livejournal.com profile] papersource is more than appropriate. L has been known to hit the joint with some of her rowdy coworkers after a couple of after-school martinis and just turn the sucker out of glassine envelopes and decoupage. Anyway, she is of course as witty and delightful online as off, and I encourage you to visit her LJ, Friend her, and shower her with the love and comments she deserves. I do hope this new hobby will survive the onslaught of back to school, but if it doesn't, c'est la vie. No impugning of L's stick-to-it-ive-ness intended, just that it's the day before school starts, and I've seen it before: September hits these poor teachers like Paul Anka's mighty hammer. We shall see.

But! L is not the only one the cool weather has imbued with super human energy and an illusory sense that all things are possible. Here I commemorate the last day of summer and perhaps too many cups of coffee with one of those ever popular "Games I'd Like To Run" posts.

Thirteen is a magic number. )
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Reagan and Marilyn

The Ronald Reagan Memorial Film Festival
Check your local listings.


Murder Out of Space
1940. Ronald Reagan, Eddie Foy, Lya Lys. Director: Max Castle. 1½ stars.

The fourth in a series of B-movies starring Ronald Reagan as Secret Service agent Brass Bancroft. After Bancroft's "T-Men" raid a counterfeit ring operating out of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, he is reassigned to the "Green Deltas," a secret squad of government agents fighting fifth columnists from beyond the stars. There, Brass foils a plot by a Siberian sorceror named Koschei the Deathless to steal the Inertia Projector, a device that banishes extra-dimensional irruptions and incursions. Forgettable in the 1940s, Murder Out of Space gained notoriety in the 1980s because of parallels between the Inertia Projector and President Reagan's controversial Sorcerous Defense Initiative, designed to protect the nation from entities out of space and time. "The Sorcerous Defense Initiative has been labelled Star Wars," Reagan said in 1985. "But it isn't about war. It is about peace. If you will pardon my stealing a film line: Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."


House of Meese
(aka The Terrortastic House of Meese, aka The Frightatious House of Meese, aka Dr. Gipper's 3-D House of Meese)
1954. Bela Lugosi, Ronald Reagan, Tor Johnson. Director: Edward Wood, Jr. ½ star.

After their car breaks down during an unconvincing thunderstorm, a young couple (played by B-movie stalwarts Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis) seeks shelter in a seemingly abandoned white mansion at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Shrieking and running away from the mansion's monstrous geriatric denizens ensues. Some genuinely frightening villains do not redeem this otherwise by-the-numbers Ed Wood stinker. "The President," played by Bela Lugosi, is barely seen. Lugosi, drug-addled and close to death during filming, munches on jelly beans and makes a couple of good speeches, but it's hard to believe he's entirely aware of the idiocy going on around him. The House of Meese really belongs to his diabolical minions, including a haughty, blood-sucking "First Lady" (Vampira), the sinister "Michael Deaver" (Dudley Manlove), and Tor Johnson as the lumbering "Ed Meese." A goofy introduction by the psychic Criswell (as the First Lady's astrological adviser) alerts us that this story is set in the far-off future year of 1984, and the plot does involve some claptrap about using flying saucers to shoot down missiles or vice versa, but otherwise it's your basic cross between Assisted-Living Dracula and Manos, Hands of Fate.


Bedtime for Gonzo
1969. Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson, Ronald Reagan. D: Dennis Hopper. 2 stars.

This bizarre, hypnotic slice of late 1960s psychedelia, loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, features Peter Fonda as "the Gipper," an amnesiac biker driving across a post-apocalyptic California with a slightly sinister chimpanzee named Gonzo (Jack Nicholson). It is a surreal desert mindscape where ketchup is a vegetable and trees cause acid rain. Reading road signs, the hexagrams of the I Ching, and patterns in Gonzo's stool, the Gipper discovers traces of a strange alternate reality in which he himself seems to have been a movie actor who became governor of California and later president of the United States. (Footage of Fonda as "the Gipper" is spliced with stock footage of Ronald Reagan throughout. Reagan was of course the real governor of California when this film was made. Nancy Reagan used her own political clout to block the film's release and destroy almost all copies, but it is rumored that Ronald Reagan himself enjoyed the film immensely.) The trippy special effects are dated, but the final peyote trip in which the Gipper discovers his own part in the nuclear armageddon that destroyed his world remains powerful. He falls to his knees on a rocky beach while Gonzo the chimp shrieks, "You maniac! You blew it up! Damn you! God damn you to hell!"


Sandanisto Y El Demonio Azul Contra Los Contras
(aka Sandanisto and The Blue Demon Versus The Contras)
1986. Santo, Alejandro Cruz, Roxana Bellini. Director: Alfonso Corona Blake. 2 stars.

¡Los Yanquis Maldecido están viniendo! ¡Los Yanquis Maldecido están viniendo! ¡Ay-ay-ay! ¡Es una invasión de los luchan comandos de la robusteza de los Estados Unidos! ¡Conducido por los consejeros malvados de "NSC," Juan "El Piledriver" Poindextro, y Oliver "El Norte" Norte, el Contras desea a nuestras mujeres! ¡Funcionan sin la sanción! ¡Venden los brazos a Irán! ¡Los medios de la "Boland Amendment" nada! ¡Pararán en nada! ¡La llamada sale! ¿Quién puede ahorrarnos? ¡Solamente los héroes de lucha, Sandanisto (Santo) y el Demonio Azul (Alejandro Cruz), los amos del "círculo ajustado"! ¡La aclamación como Sandanisto y el demonio azul luchan legiones de los goons de CIA y de los barones vampiros de la droga de Medellin! ¡El grito de asombro como "el Norte" sujeta a Demonio Azul a la "Desfibradora" temida! ¡La emoción como Sandanisto aborda a gringos locos con una tapa-cuerda Frankensteiner! ¡Viva el Demonio Azul! ¡Viva Sandanisto! ¡Lucha para los niños! ¡Lucha para la libertad! ¡Lucha para Nicaragua!

Edit: English translation now available in comments, below.

You Talking To Me?
1989. Jack Lemmon, Anthony Michael Hall, Molly Ringwald. Director: John Hughes. 3½ stars.
This odd and underrated film marked a transition between director John Hughes' teen comedies in the 1980s and his more family-oriented films in the 1990s. Jack Lemmon is brilliant as "Ronald Reagan," an outgoing president who strikes up an unusual friendship with "John Hinckley" (Anthony Michael Hall), the needy and twitchy young man who once tried to assassinate Reagan in order to impress a girl. Although initially wary, the two film buffs bond over a shared love of the movies and thin grasp of reality. Hinckley introduces Reagan to Taxi Driver; Reagan shows Hinckley The Sound of Music and Ghostbusters. The president, secretly wiser and more capable than he appears, engineers a romance between Hinckley and "Jodie Foster" (Molly Ringwald), the serious-minded actress who has stolen the boy's heart. But the real chemistry in this sweet though never saccharine buddy picture is the May-December friendship between Hall and Lemmon. The president teaches the would-be assassin he can make friends just by being himself; the young man teaches the president that it's wrong to have the CIA sell AIDS-laced crack to ghetto children in order to fund Latin American death squads. Or something like that.
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The Arrogant History of White Ben, by Clemence Dane
This is an odd one. Cited by the Great and Terrible Ken Hite in his Suppressed Transmission column about scarecrows, it's a weird forgotten novel from 1938 in which a scarecrow comes to life and becomes the King of England. The scarecrow's name is White Ben, and entirely by coincidence, Ben is also the name of the Scarecrow Who Would Be King in our Unknown Armies game. So obviously I had to track this down.

It is a strange book, musty and seemingly out of its proper history, not unlike good old Harry Smith's anthology. I think I was the first person to check it out of Widener since the late 1940s. In the book, there is a war on, and has been for as long as anyone can remember. With Germany, one presumes, though it might as well be the Hundred Years' War—nobody remembers what the war started for and nobody expects it to come to an end anytime soon. It's just something that England endures. Then Ben, the scarecrow, comes to life. And he hates crows. That's pretty much his sole motivating passion. But when he talks about killing crows, everyone assumes he's talking metaphorically about whoever it is in society they don't like. So they believe he's giving voice to all their hatreds and prejudices, and they love him for it. It's like the Anti-Being There. White Ben is the evil opposite of Chance the Gardener. Ultimately, they make him King or something and he presides over a bloody holocaust where everyone suspected of being a "crow" is killed. It has a storybook quality to it that is a little reminiscent of Oz, but it's dark as hell.

"The night was a noisy one. More were killed than even Ben had proscribed, in his astonished anger that there still existed such monsters, scums, filths, dwarfish horrors. In short that there existed people who would not agree with him. … Ben's plan for testing a crow had become known, and many were flung from roofs and windows to die slowly on the pavements or to be trampled under the looters' feet. Houses were set on fire, and men and statuary shot to pieces. Nevertheless there was a certain good-humoured regret about the business, a general feeling that the fun couldn't last forever."

I must admit I didn't make it cover to cover. I read to page 182, but that took weeks, then skimmed the rest. The musty unworldliness of it all put me to right sleep within pages every time I picked it up. As occasionally happens with books of this sort, the fact that the book exists is probably cooler than the actual activity of reading it. (But I haven't returned it to the library yet—so if anyone local wants to take a crack at it...)

Last One

Jul. 10th, 2003 11:14 pm
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Let's see, we've riffed on Canada being cold, on Canada being peaceful and nice, and on Canadians being indistinguishable from Americans. This final alternate takes off from Canada's newly emerging image as a pot-smoking, gay-marrying, wife-swapping Babylon North. It's also a tribute to Pierre Trudeau, Canada's Prime Minister and Philosopher King from 1968 to 1984. Some of the Canadiana in this one is going to be pretty obscure for our American friends, I fear. But everyone mentioned by name here is in fact Canadian.

Read more... )
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It's pretty cool, symbolically speaking, that the 1947 Roswell Crash, the seminal event in UFO mythology, happened on America's birthday, the 4th of July. (OK, there's actually disagreement about exactly when the crash happened, but that's kind of to be expected since really it didn't happen at all.) But what if them little green butt-probers crashed their saucer a few days earlier... and a little farther north? Read more... )
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(This is Alternate Canada #2. #1 is here.)

"Canada should have enjoyed the culture of the French, the government of the English, and the know-how of the USA. Instead, it ended up with the government of the French, the know-how of the English, and the culture of the USA."
—John Robert Colombo, Canada's keeper of random historical trivia and weird-ass Fortean stuff

This is probably going to be the longest of these alternates, since it doesn't employ any fun history-benders like zombies, time travel, or nanotech—just that old chestnut of alternate history, the South winning the American Civil War. Which is not to say that what follows is at all plausible. Or desirable. Just a fever dream brought on by the heat, and by the fact that the-South-wins alternates rarely have much to say about how such a change might affect the rest of the world. In this alternate, Canada gets Colombo's formula "right," with a little help from the Confederacy. The moral is, be careful what you wish for Colombo, ya dodgy old kook.

"He shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth."
—Psalm 72:8, the source of Canada's official name ("The Dominion of Canada") and national motto ("From Sea to Sea")

When Robert E. Lee outfoxes the Union Army Read more... )
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OK, so I had all this written up and ready to post last week in honor of Canada Day. That's July 1st, the anniversary of the original Confederation of Canada in 1867. But then I couldn't get LiveJournal to work by remote, and this never got posted. What the hell, better late than never. Now that I'm back from my home and native land, here is my Canada Day present to y'all. Maybe I'll backdate it to July 1 once it has rolled off your Friends pages.

It's been said that Canada has "too much geography and not enough history." I don't entirely agree, but I do know that Canada doesn't have nearly enough alternate history. And it's a shame. Bookshelves groan with Nazi alternates (alterNazis?) and Civil War alternates; I've never seen an alternate Canada. Of course, Canada is kind of an alternate version of the United States already. What if the Thirteen Colonies had not revolted in 1776? Well, four colonies didn't—skip ahead a couple of centuries and they're legalizing swinging and queer marriages and smoking the chronic.

"What am I talkin' about? I'm talkin' about sex, boy, what the hell you talkin' about? I'm talkin' about l'amour! I'm talkin' that me and Dot are swingers, as in "to swing." I'm talkin' about wife swappin'!"
—Glen, Raising Arizona (Sorry. I can't mention swinging without thinking about that line. "Keep your damn hands off my wife." Hee.)

What was I talking about again? Anyway, here, in honor of that storied day, on which four colonial administrations only somewhat reluctantly coalesced, sort of, into a moderately well-conceived bureaucratic fiction that much later began to think of itself, at least part of the time, as something resembling a nation, but not really, I give you five journeys north of the border gone astray: five alternate Canadas.

Read more... )
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Here's the original pitch for my space pulp Red Madness game, described here.

[Insert Your PCs Name Here] Vs. The Red Madness!
will be a tale of thrilling pulp adventure, but set in the Amazing Stories future rather than the Doc Savage past. Welcome to the World of Tomorrow! Ether zeppelins and rocket planes traverse the solar system! Jetpacks and heli-cars whiz around the gleaming cities of tomorrow! Exo-archaeologists race to find the secrets of the Exploded Planet! Bug-eyed monsters plot their conquest of the Earth! Exclamation points are outrageously over-used! Think Indiana Jones in space. Think Gernsback with Nazis. Think Phantom Menace without Jar Jar. Now grab your turbo-pistols, snap on your big bubble space helmet, and rocket to adventure in the Astounding year of 1963!

Huh? This game is set in 1963? Well, yes, the year is 1963, but this is 1963 as imagined in the science fiction of, say, 1936. So even though there are rayguns and bug-eyed monsters, the feel should very much be “classic” pulp. The technology is all weird science World of Tomorrow stuff, but socio-culturally, this world still looks and feels like the 1920s and 1930s. And all the character types that would work for a classic pulp game should translate handily. The dashing young aviatrix becomes a dashing young rocket-plane pilot (a rocketrix?). The two-fisted archaeologist becomes a two-fisted exo-archaeologist. The English lord raised by apes in Africa becomes an English lord raised by blue-skinned savages in the jungles of Venus. The giggling mad scientist becomes—well, she's still a giggling mad scientist, but she has a lot more to giggle about now...

We’ll be using the new Adventure! RPG system for our game. Despite the shift in setting, the rules and the tone and “feel” of the game will be very much the same. I’ll come up with stats for ray-guns and space vehicles, but other than that, I don’t foresee having to change any of the rules.

What follows is a short handout describing the world of tomorrow, what I’m calling the Astounding! Age of Adventure. It describes the recent history of the world we’ll be gaming in and then has a brief discussion of science in the Astounding Age. You don’t need to study it at great length, but if you like this sort of thing (I do, that’s why I wrote it!) it should help you to imagine your character and get into the spirit of the game.

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"We entered macrospace. Splintered across the endless, infinite worlds of the superspectrum: the immense rainbow of realities where everything you ever imagined is just as real as everything else and all at once."

"Big deal. Then what?"

—Marvel Boy & Oubliette, Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy

My freakish tear of game-related writing continues, with thoughts towards running a straight-up uber-powered superhero game. The notes are all hidden away behind an LJ-cut because these are fragmentary, stream of consciousness jottings, and because I have no idea when or if I would ever run this. Certainly not before Unknown USA ends. Read more... )
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Here are some things that are great about James Bond movies: the suits, the drinks, the stunts, the cars, the hubcaps of the cars, the men, the women, the posters, the weather, the music, the sex, the life. Here are some things that are not so great about James Bond movies: James Bond movies.
—the excellent Anthony Lane, in an excellent James Bond retrospective, which alas I cannot link to online, in the New Yorker a few weeks ago

Die Another Day, the 20th James Bond movie, comes out this weekend. In honor of my favorite superspy and his Dorian Gray-like longevity (While Connery, Moore, Brosnan et al must thicken and age, James Bond himself stays eternally spry...), I feel like playing a little Ken Hite. Let's do like Sex Mob, ring a few variations on the James Bond theme, and transfer 007 into several different centuries.

1587: On Her Majesties' Sorcerous Service )

1777: The Man with the Golden Musket )

1887: From Calcutta with Love )

1977: License to Funk )

2007: You Only Rave Twice )

OK, maybe that last one is kind of lame. Tell you what: just crank Moby's remix of the 007 theme and toss some shit together involving nanobots and cyberspace. That's all any of the real James Bond producers are gonna do, anyway.

Hope you enjoyed. Please feel free to play along at home by sending in your own ideas for Alternate 007s.

Next time: Alternate Buffys. No, wait—Alternate Elvises. Oh, no, even better—Alternate Popeyes! (Look out, Hite.)
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I'm reading and enjoying Glen Gold's Carter Beats The Devil. It's a novel about the adventures of a Houdini-style illusionist in the 1910s and 1920s, who gets mixed up with the mysterious death of Warren Harding, Yale's Skull and Bones society, and the fight for control of television. It's in much the same vein as Kavalier & Clay, and if it's only, say, 75% as good, that's hardly a stinging criticism.

The book gets extra points from me because one of the key supporting characters is the real life Philo T. Farnsworth. Philo Farnsworth was an earnest, gawky farm boy born in an honest-to-gosh log cabin near Beaver City, Utah in 1906. He grew up on a potato farm in Idaho, rode to high school on horseback, and never went to college. When he was nineteen, he pretty much invented electronic television.

The invention of television is a messy, complicated story, and it's almost impossible to pick one single "Inventor of Television" out of the melee of mad Scots and visionary Russians and guys in basements in Cleveland who all had a hand in TV's birth, but Philo is a definite contender. He was the first to use a scanning electron beam to create a picture. All previous efforts were mechanical, and usually involved spinning giant wooden disks. (Lovers of outre steampunk technology take note.)

Philo's story is great—he was just this "aw shucks" milk-drinking Mormon kid who got the idea for the parallel scanning lines of the electronic picture tube while tilling the furrows of his family's potato farm. He married his high school sweetheart at age 19 and said to her on their wedding night, "Pemmie, I have to tell you. There's another woman in my life. Her name is Television."

The whole thing sounds like a made up Boy Inventor story—Tom Swift and His Electronic Picto-Vision! In fact, I often think it should have been one. It could have been serialized in Chum Magazine in the 1940s, or made into a Disney double feature with Davy Crockett, called "The Boy Who Invented Television." Young Philo would have made a great 1950s TV character. He could have worked with the Pinkertons maybe, having wild adventures across the West with his best girl Pemmie at his side, doing battle with his ingenious electrical inventions against the top-hatted fat cats of the evil Radio Trust.

About five years ago, I wrote the script for a comic book called "Channel Ocho," about two crypto-TV-archaeologists that searched for mythical "lost" TV shows. Sort of a Planetary meets Nick-at-Nite kinda thing. The hero and his nemesis were named Farnsworth and Zworykin, after Philo and his main rival. Maybe I should dig that puppy out of mothballs.

Alas, in real life, the top-hatted fat cats of the evil Radio Trust (aka David Sarnoff and RCA) screwed Philo over pretty darn good. He never got the recognition he deserved, and though RCA eventually paid him off for the patents they squeezed out of him, he spent much of his life bitter and unhappy about how he and his great invention had been misused.

There's a couple of books about Philo out now: The Last Lone Inventor, by Evan Schwartz, and The Boy Genius and the Mogul, by Daniel Stashower. There's also this tribute site with the excellent URL farnovision.com. All of them basically follow the romantic "noble-lone-inventor-versus-greedy-fat-cats" model. But Malcolm Gladwell wrote an interesting New Yorker column (saying "interesting Malcolm Gladwell column" is usually redundant, IMHO) about Philo's story, turning the model on his head. Gladwell says the story exposes the value of big corporations, and points out how much happier Philo's life would have been if he'd only worked with RCA rather than tried to go it alone. I don't know. It's one thing to say Philo was naïve and stubborn and that he paid dearly for trying to fight the big boys. It's another thing to say that this is therefore how things ought to be.

But anyway. Mad props to Philo T. That's all I really wanted to say.

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