Tag Archives: History

An Open Letter to Albert Berg

Dear Albert Berg,

Does your treachery know no bounds? Does your power have no limits? Have you no shame good sir?

I must admit that at first I was someone bemused to find your Wikipedia entry was the first to appear when that noblest of search terms, “Albert Berg”, was entered into the all powerful search bar of Google.com. I read with some curiousity to see what you, my namesake, could have done to have your name enshrined in that hallowed hall of internet knowledge, perching ever so tantilizingly just above the search result that would lead readers back to this very website. But over the months my curiosity turned to frustration and my frustration to boiling anger. With each successive post, with each tag cloud carefully seeded with my name I expected to rise above your mediocre achievments.

After all, what is your work compared to mine?

One football game. ONE!

And one that you did not win good sir. There are those in the world who would try to dissuade my from writing this letter no doubt they believe that after all of these years you must be dead. But I know better. Is it for nothing your date of death is listed as unknown? No I suspect you still walk amongst the children of men, alive and well.

And after all these years I, only I, suspect the  truth. It was no coincidence that you lost that game, that one single football game played at the dawn of that great American sport. You threw that game intentionally, purposely placing your players in positions of weakness at every turn, frustrating their brave-hearted efforts mercilessly.

But who could blame you? For this one game, this one single moment of loss, you were offered the greatest gift of all: the gift of eternal life. And did it matter from whom that gift came? Did it matter if he hid is hooves in his boots, and his breath smelled of sulfur?

And how could you know? How could you know that from that one moment of time the course of history would shift and pivot toward a new path. One game. It seemed so inconsequential at the time. But surely by now you must see as I do, the true consequences of your actions. Dare I speak the name of this new evil, one you unwittingly helped to birth into this world with your selfish lust for eternal life? No. I dare not.

But mark my words: This. Is. War.

I will hound you. I will wage the battle until the skin is flayed from my body and every one of my bones is broken in a  hundred pieces. I will not rest until it is MY name at the top of the pile, the first in the list of blessed results.

You may enjoy your ill-gotten mortality as the years roll by, but I will defeat you in the arena of SEO. Of this you have my solemn vow.


Albert Berg

P.S. I see that as I was in the very throws of writing this blog post, you had the gall to update the Wikipedia page that bears your name with a date of death. Do not think I am fooled. I know you are out there no matter how hard you may try to cover your cloven hoofed tracks.

Bizzaro Book Review: The Invention of Air by Steven Johnson

I almost didn’t write this review. I said to myself, “Albert you reviewed a non-fiction book two weeks ago. A biography of Joseph Priestley hardly fits under your “bizzaro” designation does it? Why not just give it up and write another film review? I know you’ve been itching to talk about Primer.”

And all of those are good arguments. But to be honest…I love this book.

Because even though at it’s heart it’s a biography of Joseph Priestly in reality The Invention of Air is a book that touches on topics as diverse as philosophy, science, religion, politics, and history.

The fundamental question of this book, and the thing that made it truly fascinating to me was, What is at the core of greatness? Is it personal genius? Some kind of intelectual zeitgeist? Socioeconomic factors? Or could it be that it is a combination of all these things?

Joseph Priestly was a scientist who flourished in the era leading up to the Revolutionary War. He discovered that plants produce oxygen, as well as discovering oxygen itself. But he was also much more than this. He was a dissenting minister who preached radical doctrines which brought the ire of the Church of England down on his head. He was a political activist who argued strongly for America’s right to be an independent nation, and eventually fled there when his radical views sparked outrage in England.

But as I said, this book goes beyond simply recounting the evens of Priestly’s life, and delves deep into the world that Priestly lived in. It goes to great lengths to help us understand the forces that helped to bring that world (and by extension, Priestly himself) to into being. Steven Johnson creates a fascinating framework for history stepping far back and envisioning world events as nothing more than the transfer of energy. The energy bound up in England’s shallow coal deposits, the energy of the Gulf stream bringing warmth to the British Isles, all of these and more conspiring together to create an environment where knowledge and intellectual passion could finally blossom in the age known as the Enlightenment. Reading this book, one comes to understand that the individuals we focus on in our historical texts are simply a small part of a much larger movement, shining examples of an entire world as it changes.

I was also fascinated by how studying Priestly’s life unveiled the deeper facts of America’s founding. From Franklin’s reluctance to go to war to the role that gunpowder from the French played in the American victory, viewing history through the lens of one man’s life brings out so many little details that seem to get lost in the overview historical accounts we’ve all learned in school.

And a deeper knowledge of history is invaluable to understanding the present. Priestly’s involvement with the Alien and Sedition Acts directly parallels the kinds of arguments Americans are still having today over detaining suspected terrorists indefinitely. Seeing similar events through the perspective of history helps to put political and constitutional debates today in better context. Despite the doomers and the gloomers the truth is that from the very beginning our republic has had to face upheaval and uncertainty, and despite many the many pitfalls and setbacks, we’ve managed to pull through.

And if for no other reason than to learn that lesson, The Invention of Air is well worth reading.


Aaaand I’m still shilling for my Old Yeller meets Night of the Living Dead novella called A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw. If you don’t have a Kindle there are now multiple formats including but not limited to EPUB PDF and TXT available at Smashwords. Do check it out if you haven’t already.

Thaddeus S. C. Lowe and the Steampunk Space Race

So I’ve got this problem see? A little over a year ago I had the idea for a story. Like many of my story ideas it was crazy, weird, and difficult to catagorize into a specific genre. (By the by, I’m petitioning for “crazy, weird, and difficult to categorize into a specific genre” to be it’s own genre, but so far, no luck.)

The basic premise of the story was this: wouldn’t it be neat if there was a space race between the North and South during the American Civil War?

Don’t laugh. It’s not as outlandish as it sounds.

Okay, yes. It’s exactly as outlandish as it sounds. But the the idea was to write a story that seemed believable, a kind of non-fiction account of an alternate history of the Civil War with a dash of steampunk thrown in for good measure.

I wanted to make the story as believable as possible, so I started doing some research into the flight technologies of the era, which were mostly limited to balloons and maybe a few gliders. Almost immediately I stumbled across a gentleman named Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe, a pioneer in the field of aeronotics and head of the Union army’s balloon corps.

When I read Mr. Lowe’s story something clicked in my head. “That’s my guy,” I thought. “He’s the one I’m going to build this story around.”

Why? Well, for starters his name is Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe. If that doesn’t scream EPIC right in your ear then I don’t know what will.

Thaddeus was a self-made scientist and balloonist. He rose from humbled beginnings and eventually became recognized by the scientific community as an expert in his field. When the Civil War started, Thaddeus demonstrated how the use of balloons could greatly enhance the army’s ability to gather inteligence regarding the movement of enemy troops. Despite stiff competition from several other noted baloonists, Thaddeus was eventually offered the position as head of the Union balloon corps where he served until 1863 at which point questions about the effectiveness of the balloon corps were raised, and Lowe resigned in disgust. A few short months later, Thaddeus recieved a letter from a mysterious gentleman who claimed to represent the interests of the Southern forces which proposed Lowe come to work on a project of far larger scope: the building of a device which would “gain far greater heights than a balloon ever could.”

No, wait. That last part didn’t actually happen. I made that up. Because, hey, I’m a writer. That’s what I do.

The problem is that, to a certain extent, I’m writing about real people in real history which means…deep breath, I can do this…research.

I mean really, I graduated high school for a reason you guys.

And sure, I could just go ahead and fabricate whatever I want to. I mean it’s not like anyone’s going to get bent out of shape that my book about space flight during the Civil War is historically inaccurate, but…darn it if these Civil War balloonist guys aren’t the kookiest, craziest, most egotistical nutcases you’ve ever seen in your life. Even if I wanted to just make it all up, I don’t think I could make up anything as interesting as what actually happened.

I’m still planning to go ahead with the book, but it’s going to take me longer than I initially expected. I’m going to have to dig up all the facts I can about Thaddeus S. C. Lowe and his wacky contemporaries. Something about this is starting to smell a lot like work.

But you know what? I’m kind of looking forward to it.