Going on the Account: Privateers Beyond Booty

I came across a review for the documentary AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD that read like an effort to rush Talk-Like a Pirate Day:  “Avast, Eco-Pirates, Here Be Whalers.”

So of course, the question is, why roll out the Long John Silver Speak?  This becomes obvious as you read Sea Shepherd’s introductory info page.  The group portrayed in the documentary is active in the campaign to protect wildlife, and are willing to take the methods and swagger of old-time buccaneers into the fight.

But does claiming the black flag  of a pirate make you one?

The first thing to remember about all acts of piracy is that they are essentially a sub-class of theft.  There’s goods being seized for personal profit, or at least as part of an strategy where economic warfare is being waged, but in all cases someone is getting rich off of swiped property.

By that test, the Sea Shepherds seem more pirates in name than fact.  As they are working within the confines of enforcing international law in cooperation with the authorities (as claimed by them), it’s hardly going on the account as practiced long ago in the Carib, or today off Somalia.

I suppose if we wanted to be both technical and generous, they could claim to be privateers.  There is a grand tradition of ships being hired to conduct what Zhou Enlai called “diplomacy by other means,” much as the Gale just did in the novel.  While the Sea Shepherds volunteered their services to the UN as opposed to being hired by them, the principal is essentially sound.

So we end up with a group that helps confuse further the taxonomy of pirate, in addition to the environment.  It’s not the first time the terms “privateer” and “pirate” have been confused, and it won’t be the last; especially as sometimes a little confusion can save you form the gibbet when you’re caught…



If you’re still here and anxious to read about “pirates,” there’s word today that the most downloaded TV show right now is HEROES.  Considering how the show’s developed, I have to hope that these viewers were all ripping Season One; the alternative is difficult to accept here…

Going on the Account: Raising and Lowering Their Anchors

Word today from VARIETY is that Steven Spielberg will be adapting Michael Crichton’s PIRATE LATITUDES for the screen


How excited you may be over this probably depends on how well you received HOOKwhen it was released.  Based on that, Speilberg certainly proved he’s capable of rigging a ship well for the camera.  Of course, the director who did that film went through a few shifts in focus (no pun intended) as he expanded his subjects beyond what he was doing in 1991, so as they say on financial commercials, past performance is no guarantor of success.


For that matter, you could say the same about Crichton.  There’s a big gulf in terms of what to expect between 1969’s THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and 2004’s STATE OF FEAR.  As the book’s so far unpublished (due to hit shelves November 24th), it’s hard to say where on that scale it’s like to end up.  And it certainly seems something of a departure for him to throw himself into a pirate tale set in 1665.


Says the kid from New York who was better known before now for horror-SF tales set in the 20th century along with a few gaming articles…




Speaking of sea tales, mention must be made of ODYSSEUS THE REBEL by Steven Grant and Scott Beiser.  The link here takes you to the start of the online graphic novel, which just finished uploading updates.


This adaptation of Homer’s THE ODYSSEY is especially interesting for its main conceit, that Odysseus’ wanderings stem from refusing to acknowledge the primacy of the gods over men.  The idea of re-casting this Greek hero as a champion for human determination and self-reliance is a unique approach, and works well as a fresh way to re-visit the story.  And in addition, the artwork is incredible; their rendition of the visit to Hell is worth the price of admission alone.

The end of the novel leaves me sorry that I won’t have anything new to look forward to; but all good tales do come to a good end.  Still, this is a great tale to revisit; good enough even to pick up the printed version of, for enjoyment away from the machine.  You can click here for helpful purchasing information on how to get your hands on a grand graphic novel.

Going on the Account: Set Sail for Farmingville!

Got this press release from Ye Pirate Brotherhood, concerning their next event:



Long Island’s Own “Ye Pyrate Brotherhood” announces the 2nd Annual Long Island Pirate Festival.

 To be held on sept 19th –20th, 2009 at Bald Hill in Farmingville , NY.  We are benefiting Mather Memorial Hospital’s Lymhedema Clinic, JDRF and parking fees are going to CFF. Also with a canned good for Island Harvest, you will receive $1.00 off the gate.

Prices are a mere  $10.00 for admission, children under 5 free. There will be Pirate entertainment, a kids area, Belly Dancer “Court”, Pirate encampments and fun for all.

In keeping with the rich nautical history of Long Island, this hearty group of buccaneers and seadogs, strives for historical and educational re-enactment with a fun flair.  Last years premier event in Sayville played host to over 6,000 in attendance and brought pirates from up and down the eastern seaboard. With kids events, great entertainment, vendors and good food, it was a huge success. this year’s event promises to be bigger than ever.



I do heartily recommend going to this event this year, especially as it (a) is a charity benefit for a hospital and (b) falls on the weekend of Talk-Like a Pirate Day


(Unfortunately, it also falls on the weekend of Rosh Hashanah this year, which makes for a conflict on my calendar.  Saturday’s definitely out, but if there be some way to make Sunday, we shall see…)

Going on the Account: Ventures Big and Small, and the Differences Thereby


As I mentioned earlier, part of my summer offline involved going to see two different pirate exhibitions, the Real Pirates show currently at the Field Museum in Chicago, and Pirates, Privateers and Freebooters at the Pointe-à-Callière in Montreal.  When I went to both shows, I expected to get a better feel for what I was writing about, maybe learn something that I hadn’t come across before I started writing the novel, and otherwise just immerse myself in items piratanical as part of the fun of my vacation.


What I hadn’t expected was an observation of curatorship in scale demonstrated as explicitly, or some telling warnings about what our museums may look like in the future.


To preface this, I went with both the Lovely and Talented Susan and Darling Son Jamie to both shows.  I was hoping to share some of the interest and excitement I had in my work with them, to give them a better sense of what compelled me to start the novel.  Oh I admit, they certainly have been and are supportive of the venture, but every writer who inhabits a milieu always feels that if they can bring someone into their work the way the ducking-stool brought respect of the law to the 17th Century, they take the chance no matter how horrifying the image of the first half of this sentence; God, I need a better simile…


Anyway, we went to both shows:


The Real Pirates exhibit lived up to it’s billing as the most complete collection of artifacts that could be directly attributed to a pirate vessel.  Everything you could expect from a show of this nature was here, from sacks of booty to raised cannons, laid out in order from the Whydah’s first few voyages as a slaver ship (complete with lots of attention to the horrors of the Triangle Trade which in many ways made piracy an inevitability during the period) through her sinking in 1717 and recovery starting in 1984 (and still ongoing today).


What actually got the biggest reaction from me, however, were the personal effects of John King, the young man who willingly went on the account with Bellamy.  Seeing his shoe and shin bone alongside the ship’s bell gave a tactile reality to everything shown before that point; the adage that a pirate’s life be merry but short doesn’t quite resonate the way it does when you have the bones of a boy close in age to your son before you.  This brings home everything that none of the three pounders nor muskets ever could about the sweet trade, hammering home the potential costs these mariners were willing to wager against while pursuing their lifestyle.  And the great bromide Twain gives in LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI about being a pirate if one is good faces a daunting challenge against real pirate bones belonging to a buccaneer you can sympathize with.


(Mind you, the skull of a complete bastard like Francois l’Olonnais would probably not be as touching if they brought that to the surface…)


Come port of call Montreal, and we found ourselves in an exhibit pieced together from over 20 different collections, most of them Canadian, showing articles that would have been in the hands of pirates (as opposed to verified as actually having been) while discussing piracy in general, from the 1600s through the 1800s and in particular Canadian experiences with piracy.  There was plenty of text and images on Pierre Baptiste and Robert Chevalier, and some of the materials pulled up from the quest for treasure at Oak Island.  No, no mention of Michael Geist here… 


My own reaction was, for a show put together about a currently hot topic, the curators did an OK job of assembling the artifacts, laying out the presentation and organizing the collection in a satisfactory manner.  I probably could have appreciated it more had we not had to fight two groups of day campers being given a tour by an interpreter who got underfoot in some tight spaces, but I felt the folks who put it together did a decent job in presenting the assembled collection.


Susan and Jamie, however were less impressed.  And when asked about their reaction, it came down to the same answer:


“The other exhibit was better.”


Straightforward, no allowances, no nuances.


Frankly, comparing the Montreal assemblage to the traveling show underwritten by big corporate money like that is a little like pitting in a straight fight a launch against the Queen Anne’s Revenge.  (By the way, if they do confirm the wreck that was found in North Carolina is Blackbeard’s infamous ship, the exhibit for that would put the Whydah artifacts to shame.  Just saying here…)  I might be more open to accepting the head-to-head comparison without question if both shows came together the same way, but that’s just not the case here.


The Real Pirates show is a major traveling expedition, mounted by National Geographic through AEG Live.  As you can see at the link, these folks are a major corporate entity, one that in addition to mounting museum exhibits (including the Tutankamen exhibit also visiting museums today) does a large amount of business mounting concert tours that play at the 32 venues.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s these folks that were going to host Michael Jackson’s return at the O2 in London (one of their halls, BTW), and are now trying to recoup their investment by mounting a traveling exhibition of his memorabilia.


Which means in this case that Sam Bellamy is being repped by the same folks who are displaying Michael’s artifacts, as well as putting Britney Spears on the road and giving Bette Midler her stand at Caesars Vegas.  Simultaneously.


And while the exhibit showed considerable thought and conveyed real learning, there’s still the undeniable fact that the show was made possible by a corporation that thought there was a profit in this.  And that if Jerry Bruckheimer had not turned a ride at Disneyland into a successful film franchise, that the bottom line under this show might not have made the organizers share these artifacts with the public.


Compare that with the Montreal show, mounted by a single institution where most of the resources go towards the main mission of the institution, in this case unearthing the foundations of Montreal in the basement.  In all likelihood the exhibit was mounted by either a small team of curators or a single professional with a staff, contacting each institution where items came from by themselves, worrying about the costs for transporting and mounting each loaned item, tying together the best show possible given their limitations.


In other words, operating under the same strictures that most museum shows assembled during the 20th Century had.  No, no one’s getting rich here, but is that the primary mission for many museums?


This raises all sorts of questions as to what this means for curatorship in the future:  Can a single museum mount a show as best as possible in the face of corporate competition?  Would one even bother to if the institution knew that a corporation was willing to park their show in their building if they played their cards right?


And if this is the future, what happens to centers of learning like museums?  Do they try and support their permanent collections as best as possible and pray for a good pre-packaged program to come along and fill the water tanks to keep them going until the next mobile blockbuster rolls in?  For that matter, what if the organizers decide to ask the museums to walk the plank like a (fictitious, playing to the crowd’s expectations) pirate might?  Already, Discovery Communications has an exhibition center in Times Square, where artifacts that might have gone to, say, the American Museum of Natural History uptown, now end up in a corporate-controlled space where the sponsor has complete control over how the floor space is allotted, as well as 100% of the gate and all net from concessions (food and gift shop sales).


And what does this do for how we teach kids and share our knowledge with all people in the future?  Do our artifacts, our exhibits, the tactile connections we have with what we are trying to learn, are they all now commodities?  Does our ability to learn through contact with the past and the wider world, away from books websites (sorry, showing my age…), depend now on someone’s quarterly reports being in the black?  Do we lose contact with these artifacts if they don’t move enough mugs and scarves at the gift shop and get replaced with another exhibit that might turn a quicker dollar?


A little while ago, I came up with a scenario of pirates in the future prompted by an io9 posting.  After this trip, I could add a second pitch:


By the end of this century, corporate control of our artifacts had closed down or bought out all museums around the world.  To see the Mona Lisa, one has to wait until it’s rolled out every five years in a random city; the T-rex skeleton of Sue was now available for corporate meetings (allow five weeks notice for assembly at the site); and if you were lucky, you could get a combo ticket to see the collected Renaissance masters if a boy band you could tolerate was willing to share venue space on a joint tour.


But there’s word of a band of hijackers, the “Black Flag Curators,” who stage daring raids on the warehouses and shipping containers containing these treasures.  Rumor has it that they pilfer these items, collect them in hidden bases, then direct through clandestine communications groups of kids and their concerned guardians to come for a show mounted temporarily, free to the attendees but brief lest they be caught and tried for piracy. 


These Brethren of the Museum mount their shows for brief times, then usually leave a tip for the authorities as to where they can pick up their loot once they escape.  Some get greedy and try to keep their ill-gotten exhibits, but few of them stay free for long when their possessions weigh them down.  Travel light, impart the knowledge you can through ‘borrowed’ exhibits, and keep a step ahead of the corporate goons:  That be the life of a Black Flag Curator!


And hey, you can’t deny the role monarchical greed played in spawning the Golden Age of Piracy, so who’s to say historical patterns may not come into play again…?

Going on the Account: Random Entries from the Log

aka How I Spent My Summer Vacation, in no real order:

  • The lure of the sea was never quite as strong as the need to go online; next time I hit the road, I either go someplace where being wired is out of the question, like Antarctica, or bring my own gear to stay tethered to Virtualopolis
  • Some things can be scarier than a full gale at its height, like a pissed-off CTA bus driver for whom the phrase “run over pedestrians are merely collateral damage” could serve as a badge of honor…
  • Chicago was bonkers of buccaneers this summer in support of the exhibit at the Field (more of which I’ll discuss in a later post); I’m not sure if it was the Field Museum or sponsor National Geographic who put up the doubloons for the many banners, standards and plaster pirates that adorned the Loop, but it was an impressive campaign
  • The Fest for Beatles Fans was a happy gathering, all said; the sutlers didn’t do outstanding trade with the attendees, though there were a few satisfied cases, and as long as Jamie had the time of his life we’d have to have had a major disaster to not call it a success
  • The question of how comfortably you could have a work of fiction that had as elements both the Beatles and pirates came up a few times; there may be a way to work with these (cue the maniacal devilish laughter…)
  • There’s an old saw about a sailor who wished to retire, who took an oar over his shoulder and proceeded inland.  It was said that when he got to a place where someone spying the oar would comment about the silly-looking piece of wood he was carrying, he’d put it down and call that spot his resting place.  My folks have a place that used to be a lot like that, a good few years behind the rest of the world where you were miles away from fast food and cable TV; modernity has closed the gap on it a bit, but it still feels far enough from everything that you can it your resting place, if even for a very short time
  • The exhibit in Montreal was interesting in ways I’m not sure either I expected or the curators intended; more on this when I write on the matter in detail
  • Two weeks is sometimes just not enough
  • Of course the rest of the world didn’t take off while I was away; the entire drama of the Arctic Sea played out while I was away from most interactive sources, though the latest on the hijacking shows that there’s going to be more questions than answers in the near term…

I’m getting things re-started bright and early tomorrow; the next part’s going up bright and early as we re-start the hunt for the Little Plate Fleet, and what happens when the Gale pursues a rumor only to face a deadly reality…

Going on the Account: Careening

Just a reminder that I’m going to be putting the site on hiatus for two weeks beginning tomorrow and picking things up again on the 24th.  During that time, I’m not going to be in a position to moderate posts, respond to queries or (hardest of all to do away with) posting new parts to the story.

Truth to tell, I could use a break.  There are times when, in this over-wired world we live in, we need to take the red pill and wake up from the Matrix, and this is certainly one of them.  I posted pretty regularly for close to a year and a half, and my psyche could use a rest.  Not to mention my poor family, which does not want to be around me as I snarl while crafting new chapters…

So, what’s going to happen while I’m “at sea,” as it were?  I have a few things lined up…


* I’m going to catch the well-reviewed Real Pirates traveling exhibition at the Field Museum in Chicago.  This is supposed to be one of the best collections of pirate artifacts ever mounted, which is not coming to New York but will be in a city I’m going to.  Kismet, anyone?

*I’m going to be attending the Fest for Beatles Fans in Chicago, August 14th through 16th.  Yes, I have interests other than pirates…  I’ve been invited to be on the panels covering writing fiction about the Beatles, hosted by the Lovely and Talented Susan, editor of Rooftop Sessions.  Also at the Fest will be Aviva Rothschild, the author of the recently released novel WITH STRINGS ATTACHED and fellow trouble-maker extraordinaire. While the main business will be Beatles-related, well, you know what they say about what happens when you encourage an old salt…

* Afterwards, there’s going to be a side trip to see the Pirates, Privateers and Freeebooters temporary exhibit at the Pointe-A-Calliere Museum in Montreal.  I got word of this through a number of sources (one of which was Ye Pirate Blog) and from the description it might make for an interesting supplemental study with the other exhibit.


If you end up in Chicago next week and catch the Fest, I’d love to meet you there.  And if you’re at either museum and spot a man with the jolie rouge of the Raging Gale 

And I promise, when I get back, I’ll post here what I saw at the exhibits and anything that happened that’s worth discussing… be me; stop me and say hi. that’don his t-shirt (you know, the logo on the site),

Going on the Account: Answers Ashore?

News from Nairobi concerns a statement from Secretary of State Clinton pledging America’s support for Somalia’s interum government.  The stated reason for doing this is to prevent Somalia from becoming a terrorist haven, a la Afghanistan.

The unstated reason is, of course, to stop Somalia from being a pirate haven, a la Tortuga.

The one sure way to keep the shipping lanes open around the Horn of Africa is to prevent the pirates from leaving their bases to begin with.  And with a stable authority on shore, so goes the theory, the pirates will either have less reason to go forth or be kept on shore by good government.


Oh yeah, right…

Sadly, there’s a few things working against this assumption:

1) Greed: There’s no way you can ask any of these modern buccaneers to stay home and accept a 99.5% cut in income without any reinforcing elements, like a true desire to see a modern state work.  Which is unlikely thanks to…

2) Bad memories:  The last time we were there for UNOSOM I we ended up not bringing much to the Somalis, and they weren’t all that happy with our being there to try and help.  (Anyone else remember BLACK HAWK DOWN?)  Whatever help we can provide is going to have to be delivered with a lot of spin and smiles to get over the bad history.


Frankly, anything that has a stated goal of improving the lot of a population at large is worth pursuing.  If the stated purpose is to bring order out of chaos and provide something close to the Four Freedoms to another population, I’m all for that.  (Beats the crud out of an “iron fist” approach to securing an area, for sure.)  And just because the odds are longer than a supertanker doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried.

I just wish I wasn’t giving such low chances on success for this effort.  Because we didn’t succeed that well back in the 1990s, it puts the new effort much further behind than anyone should be comfortable with.  As much as I hope for success and an improvement in the lies of the average Somali, I can’t say I’d put the good money on the effort…

Going on the Account: What Course We Be Heading On, Now?

This got posted today at io9 by Charlie Jane Anders, about new plotlines for science fiction stories to replace the ones we currently have.  Of particular relevance was the following portion of the piece (attributed here with more care and credit than sister site Gawker gave the Washington Post, he typed with a smile…):

Statelessness.The collapse of the modern nation-state may be one of the big stories in the next decade or two. On the one hand, you have multinational corporations getting more and more powerful, and global challenges like climate change will require stronger international responses. On the other hand, if our current econom-ick goes on for a decade, governments may become more impoverished, overstretched and weakened. Result: More countries will start to look like Afghanistan or Somalia, with governments that barely govern.


What kind of science fiction could we get? Pirates! Please, let there be pirates! Preferably space pirates as well as futuristic ocean pirates in the style of Waterworld.

I tend to agree with most of the sentiment above; my one divergence from her point is acknowledging WATERWORLD.  Yes, it’s a movie with pirates in it; let’s speak no more on the subject…

It looks like we’re already moving into a new age of SF pirates, though, with Warners announcing that they’re doing a space-based version of CAPTAIN BLOOD. Is this a case of sighting the sail before she shows o’er the horizon?


Since we may be looking at an SF swashbucklers boom in the near future, maybe I best give my own scenario now, throw it out there to go back and build into a new work later while having this posted online as a spot marker (which may beat the heck out of mailing myself a closed envelope):

In the near future, when the world’s inter-connected economic ties collapse, some advanced weapons-producing states will be unable to hold onto their monopoly of more advanced systems and keep them out of the hands of non-states.  Hand-in-hand with this development is a movement among these (suddenly well-armed) groups that feel that it’s these powers that are the cause of all their problems. 

Soon, it’s not enough for these folks to just go after what little shipping is left on the waves.  They decide to revive a pirate tradition as old as the first theft at sea: Raiding sites on land and grabbing what resources they can.  Goods, data records, people; anything that can be ransomed off or sold goes to sea with the raiders…


OK, we’re talking Somali pirates becoming Vikings.  Hey, it’s a rough sketch, but we can take it forward from there with a few rewrites.

And besides, my other SF pirate idea got shot down when Pirate Bay went legit…