New Year’s Eve

19 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve”

  1. One of my favorite writers in Jack Finney who wrote a number of novels and short stories, the favorite of mine is “The Woodrow Wilson Dime.

    It is set in New York and the character is a rather bored young man whose career is muddling along.

    On his way home from the office, he stops by his usual newspaper stand and, in his change, gets a Woodrow Wilson dime, something he has never seen before. He gets home and finds that his wife is the girlfriend he thought of marrying in college and did not.

    He decides it must have something to do with that dime. He has entered a world of things he might have done but didn’t .

    He goes to the office the next day and finds his career is doing much better than it had before.

    A goodreads reviewer

    Though often referred to as science fiction, The Woodrow Wilson Dime is more appropriately fantasy. The fantastical element is made up of time travel and an alternate New York, yet the time travel method to this alternate landscape is pure fantasy with no allusions to science whatsoever. Bennell stumbles upon the portal uniting the two realities by using a coin from the other world to purchase a paper in this one, and logically the way back is the same, by substituting the Wilson dime with one from his own New York. The alternate New York is almost identical to our narrator’s New York but with gaps in technology, such as the absence of motor bikes and zippers, along with gaps in culture, such as the music of Cole Porter. The alternate world is on a different course from our own, with different former presidents occupying the face sides of coins (though we know Wilson was president in both universes), and people pursuing different steams and obtaining different levels of success.<

    It's a fun read. Alternate reality.

  2. Mike…speaking of Woodrow Wilson and time travel:

    Time Cop: I know you sent me back in time to kill baby Hitler, but I killed Woodrow Wilson instead.

    Time Cop Chief: Who is baby Hitler?

    (via Grim)

  3. The other outcome of that dime is to realize your life took a horrible turn for the worse :-)

    What was that Ray Bradbury short story where the tourists go back in time to the dinosaur age, are strictly warned to not veer off the elevated walkway – a man trips, falls onto the grass….and finds his present changed ever-so-slightly?

  4. “I’ve often wished that you could split at each important choice in life. Go both ways, each time a fork in the road came up.”

    This in a nutshell is the Many Worlds cosmology described by Sean Carrol and others. As quantum events can have several outcomes, the idea is that the universe takes both paths, splitting constantly, to fulfill all possibilities.

    Its a very compelling idea, that I’m not sure I agree with. ;)

  5. @David

    That statement about Woodrow Wilson and Hitler has kept me thinking half of the night. I attribute the cause of the birth of Hitler as the Versailles Treaty.

    I just read this, and what struck me was the conciliatory nature of Great Britain. They certainly had their share of loss.

    Their view here, if true, was certainly a harbinger for the future.

    Plenty of reasons why I can’t stand Woodrow Wilson but giving birth to Hitler?

    Now back to trying to get to sleep.

  6. “… the conciliatory nature of Great Britain”

    Historically, conciliation does not seem to have been in the English soul during their age of empire. These were the guys who fought the Opium Wars to force China to take English drugs and who invented the concentration camp during their war against South Africa’s Boers. In the aftermath of World War I with France bled dry and England still having major armies in France, the English could have been hard-nosed with the French over the Treaty of Versailles if they had really wished to force the French to be conciliatory. The probability is that the alleged “conciliatory nature” existed mainly in the minds of some later English apologists.

    There is a part of the post-WWI history that does not get much attention — the continued English maritime blockade of Germany after the war to force the Germans to accept the harsh Versailles Treaty. Apparently, very large numbers of German citizens (women & children hardest hit, as the New York Times would say) died after the war because the Brits continued the blockade, preventing importation of foodstuffs. I have seen only short references to this period in various books. If anyone knows of a good account, I would much appreciate it. Obviously, England continuing the Act of War of blockading Germany after the cessation of hostilities is not consistent with a “conciliatory nature”.

    I remain of the view that US intervention in Europe’s squabble was a giant mistake. Russia was out of the war, Britain and France were exhausted. If the US had not provided a fresh source of men and materiel, WWI would have ended in a stalemate. There would have been no WWII, and probably no successful Communist takeover of Russia.

  7. Gavin, re the blockade of Germany….Georg von Trapp, best known as The Captain in The Sound of Music, was an Austrian submarine commander in WWI and wrote an interesting memoir about his experiences and thoughts. Although he initially felt no anger or hatred toward the enemy (our side), he was embittered by the impact of the blockade on civilians:

    It is exactly one year since I sank the Leon Gambetta; I can well remember how I had felt then. But…during this past year much has changed. I have been home on leave. There I watched my children eat beetroot; meat, vegetables, butter, and eggs are not even talked about anymore. I heard that gypsum was mixed into the flour for bread and that supposedly coffee was made of roasted May beetles.. When you had to eat the stuff, you could almost believe it. I have seen women who couldn’t nurse their own children because they themselves had nothing more to eat, and children, even very small ones, who had to be fed with a substitute tea…Today I would not have any scruples about sinking my first cruiser. Since my leave I understood what the enemy means by “war”—annihilation. And the whole future generation would be annihilated with it.

    I don’t remember him commenting on the continuation of the blockade after the armistice.

  8. These were the guys who fought the Opium Wars to force China to take English drugs a

    There is a little different version of that story. The English developed a great affinity for tea after it was imported from China. Probably because it was made by boiling water. The Chinese emperor would only accept silver bullion in payment. As a result, China might have ended up with all the silver in Britain. The English merchants like the founders of Jardine Matheson, discovered that Chinese loved opium which the English could obtain from India. As a result, the traders, not the government, established a trading circle involving opium from India, sold for silver which was then used to buy tea. The tea was shipped to England, sold there and more opium purchased in India.

    Trade always results in such circles. Eventually, the traders establish Hong Kong as a base when their Shanghai godowns were attacked. Finally tea plants and seeds were stolen, as the Chinese refused to export them, and the opium trade declined. The tea was established as a crop in India and there was no longer a need to buy tea in China.

    The story was fictionalized by James Clavell in his “Noble House” novels.

  9. In re: The blockade. I didn’t realize until a few months ago that anywhere from half 1,000,000 to 700,000 Germans died of starvation due to the blockade. I’ve always thought Germany (The country and civilians) merged relatively unscathed from world war one

  10. “As a result, the traders, not the government, established a trading circle involving opium from India …”

    It was not the traders who organized the troop ships and sent the armed forces of Her Majesty deep into China in two separate devastating invasions to force the Emperor to accept English imports of opium.

    From what I understand, it is correct to say that the fundamental problem was the trade imbalance between England & China — England wanted lots of things from China, such as tea & silk; China wanted no goods from England, and would accept only silver. When England began to run out of silver, the English went to war to open up the Chinese market for opium.

    There may be a lesson there for us all today — trade imbalances tend to end badly for someone.

  11. Happy New Year all. I don’t believe in the multiverse theory. I still think that is a nice sentiment by Neptunus Lex, and it is so without a bunch of infinite, relativistic possible futures but a rich objective totality. The classic quantum double-slit experiment that supposedly proved the non-objective dualism of parallel universes was finally debunked once and for all this year when it was confirmed that the particles don’t have uncertain or deterministic patterns, but they are governed by signals actually appearing to move backwards in time.

    But a hidden variable with additional information-carrying capacity can restore the classical causal model’s ability to explain the statistics observed in the modified delayed-choice experiment.

    In addition, the most popular hidden variable theory remains unaffected by these experiments. The de Broglie-Bohm theory, a deterministic and realistic alternative to standard quantum mechanics, is perfectly capable of explaining the delayed-choice experiment. In this theory, particles always have positions (which are the hidden variables), and hence have objective reality…

    This hidden variable is God. Gödel believed time wasn’t relative, but that it didn’t even exist. An unknowable, unmeasurable variable that unites the past with the present would seem to confirm it.

  12. It was not the traders who organized the troop ships and sent the armed forces of Her Majesty deep into China in two separate devastating invasions to force the Emperor to accept English imports of opium.

    Again, I think that is not exactly the way it happened.

    The Opium Wars arose from China’s attempts to suppress the opium trade. British traders had been illegally exporting opium to China, and the resulting widespread addiction was causing serious social and economic disruption in the country. In 1839 the Chinese government confiscated all opium warehoused at Canton by British merchants. The antagonism between the two sides increased a few days later when some drunken British sailors killed a Chinese villager. The British government, which did not trust the Chinese legal system, refused to turn the accused men over to the Chinese courts.

    Hostilities broke out, and the small British forces were quickly victorious.

    I don’t think there were troop ships involved.

    Wiki’s version.

    In the 17th and 18th centuries, the demand for Chinese goods (particularly silk, porcelain, and tea) in Europe created a trade imbalance between Qing Imperial China and Great Britain. European silver flowed into China through the Canton System, which confined incoming foreign trade to the southern port city of Canton. To counter this imbalance, the British East India Company began to auction opium grown in India to independent foreign traders in exchange for silver, and in doing so strengthened its trading influence in Asia. This opium was transported to the Chinese coast, where local middlemen made massive profits selling the drug inside China. The influx of narcotics reversed the Chinese trade surplus, drained the economy of silver, and increased the numbers of opium addicts inside the country, outcomes that worried Chinese officials./i>

    That’s closer to the version I have read. You may consider the East India Company the government, of course. In India it had its own army with its own uniforms. But it was not the government.

  13. “I don’t think there were troop ships involved.”

    “[In 1840] a full-scale expeditionary force of 44 British ships launched an invasion of Canton. The British had steam ships, heavy cannon, Congreve rockets and infantry equipped with rifles capable of accurate long range fire.”

    If the point is that the English were selling opium into China prior to the First Opium War … then yes!, we are in agreement. When the Chinese authorities attempted to stop the English from doing this, the British Government authorized military force and sent the Royal Navy half way round the world to force the Chinese to continue to accept opium. That was not the traders, it was Her Majesty’s Government. This was not a minor police action — the war lasted from 1839 to 1842. And when the Chinese Emperor later reneged on the treaty and tried again to stop English importation of opium, Britain’s Government again sent an expeditionary military force for the Second Opium War (1856 – 1858).

    Obviously this whole sorry affair does not fit with modern England’s rosy view of itself. But books have been written about the subject. Lots of fascinating details, such as the English attempting to get Chinese officials to kow-tow to a portrait of Queen Victoria, and the Pekingese dogs brought back to the Queen as war booty.

  14. LOL. God … the hidden variable. We sure have come a long way with this exalted being.

    There ain’t no particles. Just fluctuations in the quantum fields governing that particle.

    So what I find interesting is that it appears that possibility, or probability if you want, does not have absolute value. There does not appear to be either 100% or 0% chance in the world we inhabit.

  15. Sir James Barrie (he of “Peter Pan”) wrote the seldom-read “Dear Brutus,” which had as a plot device a wood one could enter on Midsummer’s Eve and encounter the life you would have had if you had made the major decision of your life differently. One man encounters a young woman of 15 who looks remarkably like a woman he almost married 20 years earlier. The girl calls him father offhandedly, and he watches in an awful poignancy of the only few minutes with that daughter he will ever have. A beautiful scene on stage, BTW.

    As for WWI, GK Chesterton said immediately after the war that there would be another, because the German arrogance had not been eliminated by complete defeat, only cruelly punished by the victors after semi-victory – worst of both worlds.

  16. Touche, Gavin.

    One man encounters a young woman of 15 who looks remarkably like a woman he almost married 20 years earlier. The girl calls him father offhandedly, and he watches in an awful poignancy of the only few minutes with that daughter he will ever have. A beautiful scene on stage, BTW.

    This is similar to the plot of a Neville Shute novel called “The Rainbow and the Rose.”

    The chief character is a pilot who has an affair with a married woman in the 1920s. She gets pregnant but her husband, who is in an insane asylum, will not give her a divorce. She kills herself and the woman’s mother tells the pilot/father that the baby died.

    He leaves England and becomes a pilot on an international flight. A young woman becomes an air hostess on his flight years later and they spend time together.

    Spoiler alert

    He asks her to marry him, and she reveals she is the daughter that he thought had died as an infant.

  17. I think the fact that the Taiping rebellion (and the attendant tens of millions of casualty had something to do with the collapse of chinas resistance.

  18. The Taiping Rebellion certainly weakened China’s ability to deal with the Europeans. However, the technological difference between the English and the Chinese made the outcome of the Opium Wars almost inevitable. In the 1800s, England was the technological leader of the world, while China was stuck at a much more primitive level. That technological difference may have helped feed the English attitude of looking down on the natives. Militarily, China’s primitive technology put them at a huge disadvantage.

    To return (in part) to the original theme of David Foster’s post, there is an interesting “road not taken” buried in China’s then technological backwardness. China is of course an ancient civilization, and for centuries (if not millenia) had been the world’s most advanced society. By the 1400s the Chinese were even sending Admiral Zong He across the oceans with large fleets. Then in the 1430s, it all stopped; China closed its borders, burned the fleets, and stopped technological advancement.

    Apparently, a lightning strike on the imperial palace convinced the Emperor that his pursuit of progress was running the risk of losing the Mandate of Heaven. China stopped, frozen in time, while then-primitive disputatious Europe continued to make technological progress. What might today’s world have looked like if it had not been for that random lightning strike?

    For an entertaining read about this period in history, try Gavin Menzies’ “1421: The Year China Discovered America”.

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