Monthly Archives: August 2010

Going on the Account: Part the Two Hundred Sixty Seventh

Part the Two Hundred Sixty Seventh of RAGING GAIL is now up, and may be read here.

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Going On The Account: Part the Two Hundred Sixty Sixth

Part the Two Hundred Sixty Sixth of RAGING GAIL is now up, and may be read here.

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Going on the Account: Part the Two Hundred Sixty Fifth

Part the Two Hundred Sixty Fifth of RAGING GAIL is now up, and may be read here.

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Going on the Account: So Ye Want to be a Space Pirate, Eh?

So here I was, going to break the news about Alex Aja doing an adaptation about Cobra – The Space Pirate, before a bad health incident hit me.

How bad?  Imagine yourself on the tenth day of nothing but hardtack and bracken water, your intestinal system compromised, and let’s leave it at that…

So by the time I stopped needing to do what I need to do regained my normal faculties, the story above was widely reported elsewhere.  So for me, it’s less of a piece of news than a reinforcement of what’s been said previously here, between my gushing for Captain Harlock and support of other Brethren of the Spacelanes…

Though I should address an injustice here, before I continue.  For the life of me, I don’t know why there hasn’t been a shout out given yet here to Crimson Dark, the twice-weekly webcomic about privateers being pressed into service in an interstellar war.  My apologies for brainless forgetfulness, as I do enjoy the strip but somehow never gave it its due…

Anyways; the point herein works on the following assumptions:

  • Assuming we all believe in Mark Twain’s assumption, “Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates,” and
  • We accept the idea that we’re not going to ply the sea lanes the way our ancestors did during the Age of Sail when they went on the account*; and
  • We’re not about to follow the Somali/Indonesian/Nigerian/modern model of how to conduct oneself as a pirate

Then herein it is required that we must learn how best to go boldly on the account where no one has gone before…

To that end, a few things need to be taken into account before you go on the account:

1)      Know Your Knots.  Yes, yes, I know, ropes in space, so Méliès and all, but there’s a meaning behind that statement.  You just need to know what you’re doing when you go on the account, and that means having all the basics down cold as far as being a valuable assent on crew for a space-going vessel.  Admittedly, for most of the 20th century the requirements for being an astronaut were pretty stringent, but with space tourism requiring much less of passengers and crew than NASA used to, this is a gap that’s more easily bridged as we go forward.  And consider this: By the Age of Sail, the learning curve was a lot lower for potential crew than it was for most sailors preceding that time, to the point where someone accepting the King’s Shilling by “accident” was considered seaworthy; as a result, the future should the pattern holds means a lower bar to jump graces you than your predecessors face…

2)      Be Prepared to Work Hard.  This seems to get lost in a lot of the literature about pirates, both historic and fanciful, but folks going on the account faced the same basic job description met by anyone in the service of whatever branch they ended up in:  Days of routine punctuated by minutes of terror.  And that routine is filled with lots and lots of maintenance, whether it’s swabbing the deck, checking the air seals, or whatever you need to do to keep your vessel battle ready (or at least sea/space-worthy, depending on how much you need to bring to the game to go on the account; quite frankly, buccaneers in the Golden Age of Piracy were held to a stronger standard than those plying the lanes of Mare Nostrum during the Roman period) between bloody engagements, which leads us to…

3)      Be a Ruthless SOB.  And yes, the so-called “killer instinct” is a requirement for this line of work, more so than you’d need on Wall Street or in Sales.  In all civilized venues, piracy is considered a crime (even under the UN’s Law of the Sea; good luck with proper enforcement, though…) which requires a Spartan do-or-die attitude towards the Sweet Trade.  If you spare a life, it better be damned well worth it…

4)      Have Your Intel Handy.  From the beginning, knowing who your likely targets were out there has been essential.  The seadogs of the Golden Age of Piracy had in their favor the current of the Caribbean; the Flota de Indias had to conform with the sea and air currents in the Caribbean, which meant the likelihood of a treasure heading to Espania outside of such requirements as “stop-first-at-Granada-sail-to-Mexico-then-sail-to-Cuba-then-on-to-home” were minimal.  Consider as well the intel the Somalis require to pick the proper target sailing through the Gulf of Aden.  With this in mind, it’s important to know what you’re fighting for before the first shot is fired, as it’s a better use of your limited resources to have your target in sight and known before engaging it.  It’s only in fiction that you find your manifest expanded beyond your expectations exponentially (cough*thisnovel*cough); the more you know, the better when you finally claim your loot, and the less you’re going to be disappointed when the time comes to log the new manifest…

5)      Have Realistic Expectations for What You’re Going to Face. If you think each encounter is going to be as exciting as it is terrifying, then you have an unreasonable expectation.  As the current state of the art stands right now, each such climactic battle in space will be less like Star Trek and more like Run Silent, Run  Deep, which means you should be prepared for your moments of terror to being turned into Spam-in-a-can should you loose…  (And frankly, if you’re going into battle, watching Burt Lancaster duke it out with Clark Gable throat-in-fist until the bitter end is a lot more explosive and informative than anything J. J. Abrams could bring to the table in his movie…)  This all assumes that the evolving state of the art isn’t going to give you impressive vid screens or effective tactile sensations when you reveal the colors near term, as opposed the likely closed-system-under-fire engagement rules we’re likely to see in the near term.  If we end up at such a point where when we engage in piracy in outer space someone can claim, “There’s an app for that!” then all damn bets are off…

6)      Know Ye Limits, And When to Quit. There’s an old adage that when a sailor wanted to get away from it all, he’d put an oar over his shoulder, and stop heading inland when someone asked him, “What the heck is that thing?” at which point he’d stop and settle down as a yeoman farmer.  Likewise, anyone going on the account should have a proper skill level; if you have enough credits in your account to but all but purchase the European Union debt, you probably have too much liquidity to survive a reasonable audit…

All said above, there’s a few potential routes you could apply yourself to…

a)      The Moon-to-Earth Route: If the assumed H3 supplies in the Moon are actually there, this could be a potentially profitable route for those willing to go for it;

b)      The Mars-to-Earth Route: for whatever reason we need to get our ass to Mars, there’s something worth taking when we seize their ships en route from the Red Planet to Earth.  And even if there’s nothing there, there’s the potential for possible tradable goods seized from any traffic seized from trade with this world

c)      The Asteroids-to-Earth Route: With the potential for riches from mining the asteroids, this is an obvious potential source for income, assuming that the powers that be would rather hand the situation to local authorities at that end as opposed to dealing with it themselves; given what’s involved, we could be looking at the virtual equivalent of the Treasure Fleet here, assuming that there’s no better score to be made from fleets coming in from Io, Titan, and some of the better-endowed moons of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus,,,

d)      Extra-Stellar Riches:  If we assume that some of the goodies we find around nearby G-type main sequence stars (i.e., the ones like our stars) are comparable to what we need and therefore what we want, there’s a lot of potential there for interdicting any trade between Tau Ceti or  Alpha Centari and Sol (us).  Again, major assumptions regarding potential markets here, but what are good are projections except to anticipate potential markets…

All said above, we’re talking a great potential for those wanting to engage in the Sweet Trade if they gaze upward, which is of value to those of us wanting to see the next generation going on the account the way our forefathers did when we were their age.#

And that’s the beauty of the Sweet Trade: The desire for riches beyond the expected is there for the taking if you are both reckless and daring enough to want it!

*This is not to disparage the fine recreation units out there reminding us of America’s piratanical past; that said, if you’re willing to do thing in the method a la mode, there’s a few organizations who are recruiting for action in the Indian Ocean that could use your help…

#As for my own contribution to the cause, it looks like my progeny is likely to take a different path…

…and become, God help us,  a musician…

Mind you, should he ply the space lanes and end up the “guest” of a red-haired pirate captain and end up following her, I can think of worse fates for my progeny than being smitten by such a captain…

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Going on the Account: Written Up

So Forbes released its list of this year’s ten highest-paid authors.  And no surprise, James Patterson (Inc.) is first, as was assumed would be the case…

Frankly, the old question comes up when I read such stuff: Where is the love?  More precisely, why is it so important to look at units moved and positioning your sales vis-à-vis your peers?

In some ways, the whole question of the Cincinnatus imperative is inevitable, wherein the question of whether we write for something other than the advance must be raised.  And frankly, Louis B. Mayer’s motto Ars gratia artis has only a limited amount of weight compared with where that all ended up over time, to the point where the current state of MGM’s liquidity is becoming a major running gag in an on to itself…

But are we now in the Information Age (or Post-Information Age if you go with those folks) at the point where this shouldn’t mean anything anymore?  Are we now poised where the thinking about writing that was influenced by industrial processes no longer applies?

As of late, I’m finding that the old childhood myths about a writing career seem rather quaint, but for different reasons.  In the past, it used to be that when you gave up on your writing career, it was because you accepted that something was wrong with you, and settled for some established mediocrity wherein you agreed with everyone else that no, you were not a writer.

Imagine all the folks who could of, should have, been realized, and compare them with the ones who were that we ask, why where they?  And there are a few folks on Forbes’ list that fit that later category, where you read a page and cry for the canon that this is the high art…

For good or ill, we now have the tools whereby we can reach the masses without relying on the established channels for distribution.  I say good or ill, knowing full well how much crap we’re going to endure when we get to go through this stuff, but is it any worse than the process whereby someone with a unique voice outside the expected gets shunted because it doesn’t fit into the market model?  What if Kurt Vonnegut gave up before the critical mass of received rejection letters was hit, which allowed him to become the icon we now have?  And think about the rejection letters Jules Verne racked up before he broke it big, not to mention Philip K. Dick’s two walls of rejection that preceded all the films based on his works (though we’re still waiting for someone to tackle The Man in the High Castle)…

And by comparison, ask yourself: Who amongst these ten at the top of Forbes’ list would you not read unless the life of a family member was at stake…?

It’s a new world out there, where you can work as a writer and have something to put in the hand of your audience to show for your effort without the gates being closed on you, rightly or not.  The only real determinants of your success are the true real rules of the market (as opposed to the ones that certain vested interests want you to buy into), where there’s a more honest exchange between artist and audience that hadn’t been seen before.  And it doesn’t look like there’s that level of exchange going on right now between the members on Forbes’ list and the readers, all said…

Bitter and cynical much?  Lord, I hope not…

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Going on the Account: Part the Two Hundred Sixty Fourth

Part the Two Hundred Sixty Fourth of RAGING GAIL is now up, and may be read here.

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Going on the Account: Those Who Do Not Dance the Hempen Jig

Please forgive me if I seem confused; I’m still trying to take in the fact that piracy charges against those who attacked the USS Ashland were thrown out today.

Forgive my language, but as they say in the Blogosphere… WTF?

I’m trying to imagine how Judge Jackson, serving in the Fourth Circuit, could have possibly decided that the state “failed to establish that any unauthorized acts of violence or aggression committed on the high seas constitutes piracy as defined by the law of nations.”  This is especially surprising, considering Judge Jackson’s military background and the association of jurists within the Fourth Circuit of being a bit conservative; if the judge had not served and ruled from within the Ninth or Second Circuit, I might not have thought the universe had warped so badly…

I’d have to read the briefs filed by the defense, because the initial reports as issued by the US Navy are pretty clear-cut, which means there must have been some dramatic recounting by the Somalis as to what occurred.  For the charges to be dismissed, DoD would have to have somehow failed to produce evidence of the battle damage the pirates did to the Ashland (no matter how cosmetic), and proved that the crew of the skiff were unarmed and did not engage in hostile action.

Even with that, the law’s pretty hard to ignore on the activities the Somalis may have been engaged in.  Title 18 of the US Code, Section 1652, sets the bar so low for what constitutes piracy that failing to prove that case would be very difficult for any newbie Judge Advocate General, let alone any decent prosecutor.

And yet the six who engaged in action against the Ashland will not see a mandatory life sentence for engaging, which gives hope to the five facing similar charges for their action against the USS Nicholas.  The pirates are likely to face imprisonment should they be convicted of other pending charges, so we’re looking at some time, and even if by the end of the process these folks face no time here, their being off the waves would be at least some accomplishment.

But still, not being charged for a crime that’s very hard to deny?  As is asked in any good court case or mystery, cui bono?

Is there perhaps a strategy in play to make the buccaneers of the Modern Age of Piracy assume that if the US takes you in, you’re looking at a soft going off the account?  Compare what happened to these eleven folks with what happened to the pirates who were stopped from storming the Moscow University; maybe there is a subtle message being given here regarding the application of “soft power” to this situation.

(And the first one of you that makes a “soft power” joke, you’re on my list…)

Consider this scenario:  Word gets out that getting picked up by the USN sees you serving a fairly low term for seizure and hostage taking, maybe 7-to-15 years.  (Murder and homicide, I’m assuming, is off the table.)  Knowing this, when pirates encounter US-flagged ships, they become more willing to trust the mercy of the system, knowing that being off the sea lanes a few years as opposed to a lifetime is preferable than a lot of other fates out there.  And when they get out, a number of personal options may or may not suggest themselves, but in the meantime their days as seadogs for that period have come to an end; and with enough such pirates taking on this deal, the seas are pacified and commerce can flow freely.

It’s simple and maybe too nuanced considering American policy approaches over the last 30 years, but it makes for an interesting assumption…

If this is the case, it’s a radical departure from how major powers treated pirates in years gone by.  The last well-known clemency offered a pirate was to Jean Laffite being thanked for his assistance at the Battle of New Orleans; before that, you’d have to go back to Grace O’Malley’s meeting with Queen Elizabeth I for a similar welcome ashore.  And these were special, talented individuals; whatever else you can say about the eleven Somalis in US captivity for these two cases, none of them were Henry Morgan…

But do such actions have a chance of accomplishing the set goals of CTF-151?  Is there some math being considered that looks at the operation and considers this from the respect of a project triangle (which is probably the last great philosophical revelation of the 20th century, IMHO), that to accomplish their goals, they are willing to look for a good and cheep approach to the matter?  (This is opposed to going all guns ablaze, a good and fast approach that’s hard to justify amidst the current deficit worries…)

The last time the US was this willing to befriend privateers was before the Somers Affair, which had its purpose considering we were a small upstart force compared to the Royal Navy, and even then the American government was more often than not somewhat wary about any such engagements.  If we’re engaged in some form of payoff for pirates, which Thomas Jefferson heartily disapproved of, then we’ve certainly traveled a few times around the block, to put it mildly…

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