Monthly Archives: February 2011

Going on the Account: A New Tact?

There is a piece in tomorrow’s NY TIMES comparing the S/V Quest incident with Yusuf Karamanli’s showdown with President Jefferson.  It goes on to quote sources not authorized to talk to the media, saying that tactics may escalate out there, even though collateral damage could be too high and are not a good substitute of nation building in Somalia.

 

The frustrating thing about all of this is hearing yet again that something is going to change, and not seeing it.  For years, since I began the novel, much of the argument Gentleman’s piece move towards is more self evident than the truths Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence.  And yet, nothing is done, either constructively or out of terrified reaction.  It’s as though Somalia is being left to fester, with no one putting a hand on the line and heaving as they should to get it straightened out.

 

Building a stable state may be a frustratingly long drawn-out process, but it’s still better than carpet bombing the coast with B-52 strikes followed up with Tomahawk missiles, which may be the only effective short term plan the US has for disrupting piracy for a few weeks.  And yes, we are talking loss of life, hostages and civilians in numbers greater than pirate casualties, not to mention the moral questions of using so much firepower against at best irregular forces.

 

But both options are far better than the current one, to just do the bare minimum, close to nothing.  With no impetus for change, a whole generation on the seas may know nothing but crime, and create a cycle of violence and diminishing returns that will leave them unable to find a place in the world at large.  For all the other high prices incurred by piracy, the cost of human potential subsumed by going on the account without any other option must surely be the highest.

 

Unfortunately, any potential “game changer” referred to in the TIMES piece will likely be just more games, leaving the serious necessary work undone…

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Going on the Account: The Aftermath to Come

What happened aboard the S/V Quest and the USS Sterett may take a little time to figure out, but the initial word is, something went horribly wrong.

 

There’s no profit in killing a hostage, ever, either tactically (you lose that payday) or strategically (more resistance every time you sail).  If people were being sensible, the pirates might have had a chance to just sail away with the Quest and chalk up this encounter with the USN as a near miss, but saying so after the fact doesn’t revive dead hostages or keep you out of the brig.  And in situations like this, mistakes are very, very costly.

 

What happens from here on out is hard to say.  There are too many hostages for some grand sweeping operation to free them all, so cutting off the pirates at the knees is not going to be a snap operation.  And even if there were less than 660 people over 30 ships to rescue, a single retaliatory bold strike won’t cure the situation the way a stable Somalia would, which could take years to develop.  And in the interim American-flagged vessels may be in more danger in those waters as the fallout from this incident metastasizes, with angry crews looking for revenge or treasures that don’t require living hostages to deal with.  It’s easy to think that American warships might have little more to fear, but one never dismisses a person who is mad and/or crazy and determined enough to make any damn fool plan work…

 

No, there’s no such thing as victimless crimes or an easy mark, and if anything what happened to the Adams and their friends is stark proof of that.  But will the costs this time be far greater…?

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

 

After this horrible incident, we could use a laugh, and this small advert cartoon with a few scallywags comes close to offering a few.

 

Lord, let’s hope we’re not entering a time where people start saying, “Remember when we could laugh at pirates?”  (Do cut them some slack, as they probably meant to say “with pirates.”)  It would be a cruel day should pirates go back to being universally feared…

 

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Going on the Account: A Moment of Silence…

Scott and Jean Adam and their friends seized by pirates were killed by their captors.

 

I have nothing I can say that would add to this, so I ask for a moment of reflection…

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Going on the Account: Of Potential Significance

Let’s just say that this F MINUS strip has resonance for reasons that will become a bit clearer, in, oh, a few weeks time…

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Going on the Account: Boarded and Seized!

Well, looks like Somalia’s going to make the headlines in the US again…

 

Word of the abduction of Jean and Scott Adam, a retired American couple who have been sailing the world since 2002 and blogging about the experience, was reported a few hours ago.  Their plans according to their itinerary on their site were to go from India to Crete via Oman, Djibouti and the Suez Canal.  What’s striking is that there’s nothing on any of their pages to indicate that they were worried about going into such waters, or for that matter prepared for it.

 

This may be something about the pirate mentality that is not fully appreciated:  the reason a ship that gets seized by pirates is a called a “target of opportunity” should be self evident…  It is damned foolhardy to assume that small craft would not be of interest to people whose waters you sail through just because they were mainly going after merchant vessels before.  Wolves have been know to go after even chipmunks if there’s a chance for a quick bite out there.

 

(Yeah, I could have gone with a shark analogy, but with large schools of sharks off Palm Beach the last few days already in people’s minds that seemed heavy-handed…)

 

The point is, if you have the money to take a yacht around the world, you take precautions if you’re going into dangerous waters.  Avoidance is usually a good idea, especially for small craft without provision for arms.  That said, the S/V Quest’s Emergency Card with their piracy plan shows that they weren’t blithely ignorant of the possibility; somehow, Point 1 didn’t seem to have happened for them.  And as noted, as a target of opportunity, their captors probably didn’t have anything thought out ahead of time with which to use against them.

 

All we can say for now is, expect an American reaction and interest close to what surrounded Paul and Rachel Chandler during their ordeal.  My hope’s for a quicker release than the Chandlers faced that ends successfully…

 

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Going on the Account: Words of Note…

Three…  Three…  Eleven…

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Going on the Account: “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action”… *

There’s a piece in today’s NY TIMES from the Authors Guild that discusses online piracy and how it affects authors.  There’s a lot in there about how paywalls were responsible for a flourishing of creativity, and their main point stressed in the article on how making people pay for output is important for fostering creativity, which pirates circumvent.

 

Allow me to play pirate’s advocate…

 

Please note that I am not in any way advocating piratanical acts.  There’s a lot of good reasons why piracy should not be resorted to, some of which are in line with the article’s points.  All I’m doing here is providing a case of cause and effect, which some of the signatories on the piece may want to consider before taking drastic wrong-headed action.

 

Let’s consider the why of the situation, namely why there might be literary pirates out there.  (And if there are, I’d like to see one; the idea that the written word would require the same level of interest to snatch and grab it the way video and music are these days amazes me a bit…)

 

Among the reasons a pirate might operate are:

 

  • Greed:  Always present, never appreciated; we cal all agree that that’s a bad reason for pirates to snatch and grab material from a creator
  • Frustration with Distribution:  Anytime a product is not getting to all of its potential audience, and can’t make it to them, demand breeds providers to fill that gap; with e-reader apps coming on line, this is less of an issue than it has been, a sign that the providers are starting to understand their audience and reacting in an appropriate manner
  • Sense of Just Value:  Anytime the supplier is affected with greed, the inverse of the first point above, there is a natural reaction by an audience that might have otherwise been unable to access the product to find ways to get it without meeting what they feel is an unfair price; the music business certainly suffered from this during the last few years, and if the publishing business doesn’t take a cold hard look at its practices they way well meet the same fate

 

All of these breed pirates, and have their solutions to keep pirates away.  Solutions that are a lot better than advocating more heavy-handed legislation and enforcement, which if employed as advocated will more likely lead to further piracy.

 

Since the writers are apt to use historic simile (badly, as will be pointed out later), let me offer an alternative model:  The mercantilist system employed by England in the colonies.  The initial response to the heavy imposition to prevent trade from leaving the hands of the Crown was to resort to piracy, and her cousin smuggling.  With greater imposition of regulation and enforcement, a new response came from the colonists: revolution.  And lest it’s tough to see the connection, consider this:  Involved in both phases of reaction to this was John Hancock, smuggler and patriot…

 

Putting aside our differences between the solution to the piracy issue. let’s consider what else was in the TIMES piece that was so grating:

 

  • The attempt to tie the banning of theaters by the Commonwealth to their argument that closing off art behind a paywall is at best clumsy, if not downright disingenuous; there was a lot less commerce than faith involved in the decision, and bringing it up here is likely to remind people of how heavy handed responses to an issue are never popular
  • Using an image of Shakespeare done up like Mickey Mouse, an icon belonging to Walt Disney, who were major supports of the Sony Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, which probably inspired more pirates than deterred, may not have been a good choice
  • Of all the people to cite as beneficiaries of paywalls and needing protection from pirates, they had to use Shakespeare, whom THR, Esq. reminds us had been accused of pirating the works of Christopher Marlowe and other contemporaries…

 

At the very least, the piece’s writers didn’t cite the lost play Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter

 

 

 

* Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2

 

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Going on the Account: Piece O’ (the) Eight(h) On the Horizon…

Got word this morning of the capture of a Somali “mother ship” by the HDMS Esbern Snar.

 

One of the links in the article was to an analysis piece that notes the situation is getting worse off Somalia, and that one of the things that has given the pirates the advantage is that they have at least eight mother ships from which to engage from.  Further down in the piece is where they quote someone from a maritime security firm that suggests that, things going the way they are, that world trade will be severely hampered by the crisis.

 

Talk about bad timing…  Going on about eight of these mother ships bringing the world to a crisis, buried in a link from a story about one of these ship’s capture, now making it 12% less likely thanks to the capture of one of these ships.  Not what you call good placement…

 

Setting aside the agenda of the person quoted in the piece (maritime security expert, after all; need we say more?), there’s a question as to how much we can ever know about any conflict in real time.  This is especially true in cases where one side is composed of irregulars, which is used here for anyone that’s on the waves without any central coordination.  (And if there is some center giving orders to these folks on the level of THRUSH or Quantum, they are doing such a good job of keeping a low profile that even WikiLeaks hasn’t ratted them out yet…).  Kidding aside, it’s always tough to assume you have an understanding in cases like this; for all we know, most of the pirates out there are going day-to-day without any grand plans to follow.

 

This assumption comes from looking at past pirates and seeing how they conducted their business.  Considering these folks were in a business that was entirely situational, reliant on what they could find and other whims of fate, I’m not so sure that the mindset or goal orientation is in any way comparable to the folks commanding the navies looking for them.  And maybe there won’t be a solution until the warships out there start to think “more pirate” than they do now.

 

Likewise, if the pirates had a sense of what the other side considered, they might be leaving the sweet trade en masse.  Considering how Sir Henry Morgan conducted himself in a radically different manner than Morgan the raider of Panama, so likewise having a stake in a Somalia that’s a state as opposed to a name on the map would go some way towards bringing the crisis to an end.

 

That’s always the danger of trying to look ahead; not every shoal is on the map, and the waters may be as smooth as glass in the height of hurricane season.  That’s not going to stop people from making assumptions or guessing what’s over the horizon, but no one should ever make a pronouncement and not expect their pronouncements to come back and haunt them.

 

Especially me…

 

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Going On the Account: On the Shoals

Some days it’s tough to get even a few words on paper.

 

I started to go on a rant here about all the things a non-full-time writer has to go through before getting to the writing, too burned out from all the other stuff to do any writing, but really what’s the point?  You can’t type about that without coming off as whiny and self-centered, which I think every human being has a tendency to slide into now and then, and maybe has an inalienable right to over-indulge in egocentric manias for the sake of well balance, but who wants to read that crap?  You know it’s bad if you’re reading your own stuff and going, “Keelhaul that f’n’ wuss!” as you read it…

 

So yeah, this is sort of a low point right now.  I’m hoping to get a new project ready to go by the beginning of March, and there’s a lot of neurotic self-doubt preying on me as I get the final touches together to launch, all sorts of devastating distractions to keep me from getting anything done.

 

Then I read about Diane Duane’s self-publishing project falling apart, followed by J. L. Smith getting fired from her own series THE VAMPIRE CHRONICLES, and then my problems get resized in perspective…

 

…and seem even more like self-indulgent crap!

 

*sigh*  Well, back to the rowing bench on the galley…

 

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Going on the Account: Drama At Sea With New Actors!

Word was received of the second action by Indian forces to liberate vessels held by Somali pirates.  This came only a few weeks after South Korea made its own rescue of one of its seized vessels.

 

Seems that what got noticed here back in October of 2009 is definitely preceding apace, with nations that had not been considered before when discussing states with effective far-presence navies are now coming up on the news with stories of successes to tell.  It’s interesting to see how many nations we don’t immediately think of when we consider deep water action are out there with CTF 150 trying to make the waves safer.

 

It’s also interesting to see by the end of this (which at this rate may be about the time my unborn grandkids go to college) who ends up being the go-to state in the future when security at sea is threatened.  The Somali situation may be a barometer as to who ends up being the preeminent naval power, not so much by who can amass the biggest armada  but who can use their ships to best effect, much the same way the debate about big-sized firms versus small start-ups has been playing out.

 

 

It’s also of interest because it does dovetail into my next work…  Which is coming together at its own pace, and Lord willing I can start sharing very soon with you…

 

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Going on the Account: Avast, TARDIS Off the Port Bow!

I may not have made much mention of it here, but I am a very, very big fan of DOCTOR WHO.  And if you’re reading this with any regularity, you can probably guess what else draws my fancy…

 

So of course seeing these posts from DOCTOR WHO SPOILERS about recent filming of an episode that prominently feature pirates just have to be noted here!

 

Sometimes, the Fates are very good to us…

 

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Going on the Account: An Ill Dry Wind…

There’s word that drought has visited Somalia, making a bad situation worse.

 

One thing not mentioned in Valarie Amos’ assessment is what this means to the New Brethren of the Coast:  In all likelihood, the pirate bands are going to have a lot more people volunteering to go on the account.  It’s not enough now that these bands offer riches; the promise of food may be an even greater motivator now…

 

And boy, is there enough to go around off the coast.  With the crisis in Egypt threatening to shut the Suez Canal, and possibly threatening the equally-if-not-more-important Sumed pipeline, a lot of traffic that might have gone through the Red Sea will now have to sail past them.  More pirates, more targets, not a good combination…

 

The next few months could get very messy…

 

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