Monthly Archives: February 2012

Going On The Account: Finders, Kee- Hey Wha’?

Someone flagged for me this story of Spain taking possession of recovered treasure that had gone down with (what the report claimed was) a galleon.

At first I wasn’t sure this dovetailed as well into my interests, as the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes went down in 1804, a little beyond the Golden Age of Piracy.  And the fact that it wasn’t pirates or privateers that brought her down, but the Royal Navy, also at first made me pass it by.

Then I read the account of the Cape Santa Maria Action, and suddenly the sails filled again.  For now we had an act of piracy and  a cursed treasure that makes for an interesting story, maybe not as cinematic as the other one, but still worth a read…

For those wanting a little context, October of 1804 saw the US Navy going up against the Barbary Pirates to the east of the Straits of Gibraltar, while Napoleon was consolidating his hold on Europe with an eye on invading England.   Spain under Charles IV was a power on the way down, still receiving and living off the Treasure Fleet without encouraging the middle class to create capital on its own, still trying to do things the old way without realizing that that party was over.  Which I can sympathize with, having overstayed my welcome at a few affairs over the years…

Because Spain was pressured to align its interests with France’s, which is a nice way of saying it was bullied to death, there was distrust of Spanish intentions by the British, and when word came to London of Spain’s secret payments to Napoleon in order to maintain their neutrality (or if you prefer, “protection money”), the British decided to take action to force the issue.  Which is a description you can apply to a good portion of action during the Napoleonic period; bold audacity with steely resolve and a willingness to “make it up as you go along.”  An approach we get a lot of from Horatio Hornblower, who then begets Captain Kirk and Han Solo…

And so, four British frigates attempt to seize the Treasure Fleet, which no matter how you parse it is an act of piracy.  Yes, it’s a state agency (the Royal Navy) going after treasure, but it is the seizing, not the seizers, that makes the definition, and in this case we really need to render unto seizers what belongeth unto seizers…

OK, over the line; sorry…

Furthermore, Captain Moore’s action against Rear Admiral Bustamante y Guerra comes to force the issue of Spanish neutrality, by denying Spain the means of paying off the French through the sinking of the  Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes  with what is estimated in today’s currency to be worth half a billion dollars.


A treasure that the folks at Odyssey Marine Exploration certainly thought they were entitled to when they recovered her cargo off the coast of Portugal, until the Spanish government (which had gone through a few cycles since Charles IV and the Bourbons were swept away) stepped in to claim it.  And after five years of litigation between Odyssey and Spain, which much like the conditions around the importance of the treasure before it went down was tied to secret government dealings if some WikiLeaks cables are verified, the Spanish finally brought their silver home.

(Well, technically “their” silver, as the article does mention in passing that Peru made an appeal for a claim, as the silver in the treasure was mined from their country by Spanish colonial agents.  The courts, however, apparently decided that historical fairness can only go back so far…)

So in the end,  the treasure aboard the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes  is indeed a tale of high seas action, with greedy raiders firing broadsides to claim a contested treasure.  And much like tales of modern conflicts, there were also plenty of lawyers, guns and money, though not in equal portions at all times…



And for their efforts, the Spanish are claiming that this haul is going to a museum, which seems strange considering their current position…

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Going On The Account: RED JENNY Fifty One

Part Fifty One of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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Going On The Account: Getting The Word Out

Found an interesting article about the Canadian government denying scientists access to the press.  Which I could go on about and find some pithy way to tie it to the recent work, had there not been a kerfuffle about stealing a story from The New York Time’s online site.

But since in the end, it’s all about communication, there’s a trunk from which both branches spring, so…


What’s interesting in both of these pieces (which you’re welcome to read in their full at the links, no need for me to skim either of these while I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life…) is yet another example out there of how going forward various interests are trying to contradict Stewart Brand’s famous slogan and make folks shell out shekels for info.  Which might have made sense, say,  before the model of complimentary content was embraced as a way to get users to go online in the first place.  People forget that when the Internet was opened up in 1994 to allow users not tied to CompuServe to find sites directly, one of the big selling points was the amount of content that was available for free.

But as is true in any environment, the climate changed and adaptations needed to be made.  Access was a lot easier to the Web, connectivity allowed more folks online, profit margins shrank through a few recessions and realignments, and suddenly the days when you needed to get data through GEnie, Prodigy or (shudder) AOL seemed to info providers as golden as the 1950s used to to a lot of Americans.

(Truth to tell, online service providers had as bad a problem with connectivity via dial-in issues and bad load timess as the 1950s did with segregation and the Red Scare, so on some level it is a good analogy…)

Which makes for this move to provide more centralized control of the flow of information look like a goal for the future.  Which is all we need, an ambitious goal for the future…

…that harkens back to an old classic, mercantilism.  And we all saw how well  that  ultimately worked out…


Of course, I can’t entirely write it off, as it did give us some very solid models of pirates to fascinate us with.  Never forget your roots, after all…

Mind you, Kim Dotcom is no  Bartholomew Roberts in any way, shape, form or any other comparative you could find.  In fact, you could argue that digital pirates are not as big a threat as the buccaneers sailing the Spanish Main back in the day, despite what some media interests will ask you to believe.  If anything, the study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research makes it clear that the main threat to the studios’ profits is the lag time between domestic and foreign release for films, which can be countered by closing the window between the two.  The fact that the broadcast window between DOCTOR WHO on BBC and BBC America shrinking from months to hours could cut down on downloads for this show probably played into the Beeb’s thinking about distribution; that we don’t hear a lot about  pirating of this show as much as we used to in 2005 seems to support the action.


So assuming that we are heading into a New Mercantilist Era, or if you rather a Digital Mercantilitst Model, are we going to see the same issues that brought the 18th Century down around the Great Powers hit the big media companies as hard?  Will we see efforts to hold onto empires that lead to revolution, bankruptcy and wars to the death?  (Such wars taking place not on the steppes of Russia or the plains of Belgium, but in courtrooms in Delaware, of course.)  And will it be the pirates who again offer resistance, and ultimately models and examples to follow, that will impact the new (media) world?

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Going On the Account: You Think This Is Bad…?

When I started working on RED JENNY, I had a few ideas as to what one would find in a municipality that’s in default and broken.



Then I read in today’s TIMES about Jefferson County, Alabama, and I’m starting to think the Buffalo of a time our children will know better got off easy…



My sympathies to the folks in Birmingham.  As bad as things in Buffalo and Niagara Falls got at times in the last few decades, it never got quite that bad.


Well, OK, yeah, there was the Rainbow Centre Mall, an effort to play catch-up with Niagara Falls’ better off neighbors on the other side of the border.  It was a big project opened in 1982 to try and bring people back into downtown, complete with a year-round winter garden that had hothouse plants you could walk among, which on a snowy Western New York winter’s day was wondrous and gave you a serious break from the five months of chill and ice.  It had plenty of places to eat, relax, and offered a place to park on this side while you walked across the Rainbow Bridge to hit up Clifton Hill on the other side.


Which in the end is probably what killed it; everyone would park there, maybe hit the currency exchange first in the mall, then go over to Canada for the day, and then come back and drive away without putting too many dollars into the complex.


I went a lot during the 80s, watching as the complex that started as this bright colored vibrant project got more shopworn and seedy year after year.  By the time my son was born and we went there for the day as a family in 1999 we got this distinct unease walking through the halls on the way to the bridge, seeing only two businesses left.  It seemed alien to me, a place that had bustled with so much commerce having become a tomb where good intentions killed by bad planning had come to be interned.


Soon after the place closed up for good, its decay documented by urban explorers.  As bad as my last visit there had been, I look at the two sets of pictures and shake my head even more so.  I can’t look at a show like THE WALKING DEAD now and not think about the Rainbow Center; and also how clean everything in post-Zombiepocalyptic Georgia is compared with what plain ol’ urban neglect does to a place…


In some ways, the Rainbow Centre could be looked back on as one of those inspirational pieces of back story to give the other work perspective.  Seeing the decay as it wore down the complex, as intent met inertia and motivation gave way to malaise, is something that finally found expression in a work I did and served as a model on which to inspire and expand.


And for the first time in a while, the job stayed local and didn’t move south like Trico Products did.  Sorry Birmingham, but this one stayed here…


I suppose I could go on about what happened with Trico too, but I’m going to try one of those “long tail marketing strategies” offers:  If you want me to continue about connections between the current novel and experiences with Western New York’s decline, look me up and offer me a round or two.  A live author appearance, a little company, you could do worse…

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Going On The Account: In Memory of Arthur

Earlier today, I mentioned in passing that I was going to a funeral for a good friend.


I think he deserves better than just a passing mention.


I knew Arthur Galub most of my life; he was a colleague of my dad’s where he worked, at Bronx Community College.  The two of them spent their academic careers there, and retired at about the same time; Arthur taught political science and chaired the Social Sciences department, while my dad taught and chaired the History department, which made them units in the same firm that sometimes competed for resources, probably the best way to explain it to those not in the ivory tower crowd.  Yet despite their points of competition, they were very good friends that shared quite a bit between themselves.


Arthur went into teaching after having gotten a law degree at Yale law, so yes, not everyone that goes to law school checks their soul at the door…  He did practice on the side though, which gave me a professional contact with him.


No, not what you’re thinking; despite some of the purple prose that comes out from me with authority, I was pretty well behaved.  What Arthur did was help me with some real estate, when I bought and then later sold an apartment in the Bronx.


Lots of people you can point to and say, “That person made me a man,” or “That person made me write.”  I could point to Arthur and say, “He made me a member of the bourgeoisie.”  Which I did a number of times, and he laughed every time; he could take a good joke, and considering where I stand on a lot of things it is pretty funny all said…


That was one of his great strengths, the ability to see both sides of an issue and understand where someone stood and how they got there.  Because he wanted to know. And if he thought where someone stood was not a great spot, he’d give that person some good, persuasive reasons to move, appealing to reason and having a good argument at hand to move you.


What I didn’t know until the funeral was that after retirement, he kept taking classes at Columbia University because he could not stop learning.  Yes, a few courses on business law and history, but the sections on astronomy and contemporary lit were surprises; or maybe they shouldn’t have been, as someone so keen in the dealing of knowledge would not be happy with only so much and no more.


And that’s what struck me the most as I spent the day thinking about him:  In a time like ours when people turn up the volume to browbeat you into submission, facts be damned, we lost someone who was a real thinker, who not only had an open mind but shared it, very well, with others.  We lost someone for whom reason was not a lost art, who showed us the value of open and working minds.


Arthur, I wish ye well beyond us.


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Going On The Account: Because We Need To Smile At *Something*…

So while I’m getting ready to go to a funeral for a good friend, I hear about the death of John Severin, an artist whose work I grew up with.


So there’s two reasons to feel sad and contemplate mortality going on at once, when this comes up as a recommendation…



Sometimes, you just need something a little silly to make the rest of it work for you…

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Going On The Account: RED JENNY Fifty

Part Fifty of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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Going On The Account: RED JENNY Forty Nine

Part Forty Nine of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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Going On The Account: RED JENNY Forty Eight

Part Forty Eight of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.

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