Monthly Archives: November 2012

Going On The Account: Blogtober – “…but she doesn’t have a lot to say…”

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cking believe that I called “Game Over” on this Blogtober schtick a whole f’n’ day early.  Should’a done this damn day-a-thing-thing back in February…

All right, gotta do one more bit, huh…?  How about…

[Sung to the tune of the Beatles’ accidental anticlimax from Abbey Road]:

This blogging is a pretty sweet gig

If you really have something to say

This blogging is a pretty sweet gig

Even though it doesn’t pay

It really makes you push your writing skills

Whether you want to praise or whine

This blogging is a pretty sweet gig

I think I find it really fine, oh yeah,

I think I find it really fine

bu-

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And if you are reading the hidden text here, let me first congratulate you for looking for it and finding the “hidden tracks” in this piece.  Three gets you five it’s probably showing up plainly in the subscriber feed; if that’s how you’re seeing this, go, take a look at how this looks on the page.  I’m kinda proud of how it turned out…

Let me reiterate what I said yesterday, a bit more sincerely.  While I kid Jen and Speaker7 for prompting this stunt, I think it had more positives than not.  I hadn’t been doing this much content to this many deadlines since my college journalism days, and the practice did me a lot of good.  I found a few strengths I didn’t know I had, and found a few weaknesses that need to be addressed.  Anyone that helps you find your abilities and tests them, that’s worth something.  If either of you are in my town some time, do look me up; I need to stand you both a few rounds.

I also need to stand for a few rounds Susan Rocan, whose observations during the run were always appreciated, and whose example was inspirational.  She did this before I did, and with a lot more grace than I showed during the course of the run.

I need to thank all the other readers who dropped on by, and hopefully liked some of what I did.  

I need to thank all the historical, referential and news sites that were linked to in The Pirates of New York.  As I said, this is a popular history, so it is rather casual, but I may have more modest plans for the collected work than what I joked about yesterday; when I know more, I’ll share it with you…

And of course my family, Susan and James.  I love you both very much.  There wasn’t quite as much strife as I went on about yesterday, but they did show a lot of patience as I concentrated on this.  The good news is, I think going through this exercise of writing under the gun, with all of us under foot of each other, made me a bit more distraction-proof.

Not that much, but enough that we can work around each other more easily than we could at the beginning of the month.

Again, thanks for coming along this far; hope to keep seeing you all as we plot a further course…

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – And That’s A Wrap!

And here we are, the end of Blogtober!

[SFX: Throngs of cheering crowds]

Yes, our long international nightmare is over, and with this last piece the Internet will once again be safe for cat pictures, silly GIFs and wacko political rants delivered in half-sentences.  I’m going back to somewhere a bit east of San Clemente, and you won’t have Jim Ryan to kick around anymore.

Until the inevitable sequel, probably with a “II” after the title, or if I go old school a “Son Of” at the front…

[SFX: Maniacal laughter]

Or I could just say “Screw it all!” and just commission a spin-off.  I could collect The Pirates of New York and do something with that all by itself.

In fact, I have my people contacting Marty‘s people right now; it’s right up his alley, all that history thing he did, and some of the ancient stuff he just did might put him in the mood for some more.  We can even get Bobby De Niro to play Bill Tyron; I’m sure given a chance, he’d love to take another crack at doing a pirate, only this time without coming up with…

And hey, I bet you that Geena Davis could be up for Sadie the Goat.  Yeah, I know, the last time didn’t work out so good, but y’know, you never know, y’know…?

Speaking of working out good, my thanks for the inspiration from Sips of Jen and Tonic and Speaker7.  Yeah, I took the dare, I made the effort, and I got to the end of the month.

Sure, I did piss off the Lovely and Talented Susan with a lot of snarling as I insisted on staying up late to churn out content, but I think it was worth it, some days.  And yeah, my son just looks at me with contempt because I told him I was too busy to hear him go on about some things at school and in his life, but hey, teenagers, they get over it, right?

So what’s a little strain on the family for the sake of Internet bragging rights, am I right?

And I did it with only a few photos to fill in the content, and one old poem.  Count your blessings, because had the month gone on another day, I’d have had to get back in touch with the dark arts practiced during my filking days.

For those who wonder about filking, let’s put it this way: Remember when Mad used to do alternate song lyrics?  When they would take a tune you kinda knew and put up a goofy set of words for it?

Yeah, that; ’nuff said…

So here I am, with so much stuff out there with all these posts that I could keep an entire PR firm busy doing spin for years to clean all at up.  I regret none of it (yet), and there’s a (small) portion of it that I’m rather proud of.  Like I said, I may do The Pirates of New York in another venue; hey, Julie Taymor may have gotten over her last project enough that this might be just the thing for her…

I’m having another rum and coke as I sit back with pride at having made it through is.  If Nietzsche was right, after this month I should damn well be immortal…

I recommend doing this, if you haven’t given it a try yet.  I can recommend a site that did this last month, mywithershins, that shows us all how it’s done.  The meeting of all these deadlines, one right after the other, does wonders for your discipline, and forces you to find creativity that you didn’t know you had.  And if you find yourself under the gun, you better find that creativity, sucker!

And so, I hope you will forgive me the sin of pride as I raise (yet another) glass to myself, thankful at having gotten through all twenty nine days of Blogtober; if anyone is going to pat you on the back for mak-

[SFX: sudden gag reflex]

Whata-  wait a sec…  Twenty nine days?

Twenty NINE?

Oh for the love of…  What, how the hell did I lose a day here?  I still got one more of these to do?  Of all the damnab

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Going On The Account: RED JENNY Part Ninety

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

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Pirates Of New York – Epilogue

This is the twenty eighth day of Blogtober; I wonder which of us is more anxious for this to end…

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Speaking of endings, we come to the end of the popular history miniseries we’ve run here.  It’s been fun working in nonfiction on this series, and with a little organization consideration, there might well be life for this beyond these blog pages.

Speaking of life beyond…

Epilogue, or Always Something There To Remind Me

There are communities that do a better job of remembering their pirate pasts than New York does.  Salem, Baltimore, Charleston, Key West, all of them have more active remembrances, including pirate themed tours, even pirate festivals, while New York does not bring up that part of its past.  When it comes to pirates, New Yorkers have a case of amnesia regarding their place in the Sweet Trade.

And had it not been for Abdulwali Muse, we might still have been able to claim total ignorance…

The thing about New York, even from before the days when Richard Lonergan was killed by Al Capone, was its tendency to keep looking forward, keep changing, not hold on to the past as it raced towards the future.  It’s this purging of the past that enabled Central Park to obliterate the community of Seneca Village, and that allowed Ebbets Field to be replaced by a housing project.  In fact, the preservation movement to save New York landmarks did not begin until the demolition of Pennsylvania Station in 1963 which helped save Grand Central Station form a similar fate.
Perhaps the most dramatic case of New York putting her face to the future while showing her ass to the past was the fate of Five Points, the most notorious neighborhood in New York.  The center of the Seventh Ward, which abutted the pirate-infested Fourth Ward, it was the center of the major gang activity of the Nineteenth Century, and spawned many a criminal that sailed with the Swamp Angels, the Patsy Conroy Gang, and Sadie the Goat’s crew.

Come the early Twentieth Century, the neighborhood was completely razed; even the streets were re-drawn, obliterating the unique meeting of corners.  In the place of the tenements that had been there, a set of municipal court buildings were placed around what would be re-named Foley Square (named for, of all people, a lieutenant in the Tammany Hall organization).

This act of exorcism by an urban planning commission, removing the nastiest neighborhood in the city and replacing it with the center of all justice dispensation for New York County, southern New York State and the Second Circuit for the United States, was the most deliberate effort to blot out the past.  The effort to remove from our memories all the old gangs, including the river pirates, and by extension the privateers before them, might well have succeeded.

Yes, they would have gotten away with it too, had it not been for that meddling kid…

On April 8th, 2009, the MV Maersk Alabama  was hijacked off the Somali coast.  Four days later, the US Navy recaptured the vessel, with most of the pirates killed.  There was one survivor from the boarding crew, one Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, who was brought to the United States to stand trial for piracy.

What brought his case to the Second Circuit in New York was the feeling that this court had had plenty of experience hearing cases involving Americans being attacked overseas.  With piracy by this point being considered a form of terrorism, and with the New York court having handled such instances as the Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman case in 1994, the 1998 Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombing case, and almost becoming the venue for hearing cases against Guantanamo detainees,  the argument made sense, and New York saw its first real pirate in years.

One could argue whether the Halalis and Sudrys video piracy ring busted in 1996 should count as piracy, or whether the content theft being fought by the Mayor’s Office of Film and TV (the municipal office that overseas permission to film in the city) through a public awareness plan to keep people from downloading pirated music and movies should also be considered piracy. Whether you agree with putting these in the same category as actual piracy on the high seas can be debated over a barrel of grog for an entire evening, and the grog will invariably run out before a consensus is reached…

During Muse’s time going through the legal process, having an actual pirate opened a few memories for some.  Reminders that such features on the map as Phillipsburg Manor, Van Cortland Park, Willets Point and Fort Tyron Park owed their existence to shares from pirate voyages came up again and again.  Reminders that landmarks near Foley Square with ties to pirates came to mind; the fact that some pirate voyages were planned at Fraunces Tavern, better known for being where Washington bade goodbye to his troops, and that Trinity Church was built with some of William Kidd’s booty, were not lost on those following Muse’s case and the circumstances of his arrest.  And remembering the pirate gangs who sailed a few blocks to the east of Five Points when they weren’t walking the neighborhood’s streets after searching for booty prevented Foley Square from hiding from its past.

On February 16th, 2011, Muse pled down in a plea deal; he avoided the charge of piracy itself, pleading to hijacking, hostage-taking and kidnapping.  Had he pled to piracy and been found guilty, under 18 USC § 1651, he would have faced life in prison.
All said, he got a much better sentence than the pirates of old; even if convicted of piracy, he would have fared better than those pirates whose bodies were displayed at the harbor mouth after their hanging.  On these reduced charges, Muse received 33 years and nine months, which would make him 56 years old on his release, older than whatever country emerges from the ruins of Somalia for him to return to would be…

There is no reason to believe that Muse will be the last pirate New York ever sees.  We may be a few years between reminders, which is why we need to better remember the past , to never forget what these sea rovers did for us, how they contributed not only to our culture but our physical features as well.  We should never forget that we New Yorkers owe our place on the banks of the rivers leading to the ocean, to those who had gone on the account.

POSTSCRIPT:  As of this writing, Frauncess Tavern and South Street Seaport need help recovering from Sandy.  Anything you can do, even just visit to shop there, would be appreciated.

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Testamental

Blogtober, day twenty seven, when we ask the ever-important question:

Just what the hell am I doing?

A few of you are probably saying to yourselves, “So only now is he asking this…?” But the question takes on a whole new dimension after yesterday’s New York Times piece about diaries in the digital age was uploaded.  The were a few things noted by the round table contributors who wrote in that tied in with the Blogtober project that made the timing on the piece perfect for me.

Especially as I was about to run out of content…

The discussion covered a number of points that pertained to what I was dealing with that drew my attention.  One of the chief points involved the connection between blogging and diary keeping, and whether the practice of keeping a diary is attended to today with the same care it was before the Information Revolution.  I’m on the fence on this point (like I am on quite a few), as there are two considerations that need to be kept in mind:

We all have a need to put markers on the field to prove we came through this way.  It’s primal, it’s an inherent compulsion we all have, the same impulse behind our desire to mate, to build an empire, but through an outlet that strokes our minds above all those other organs.  The desire to provide testament, to let others know we were here, that we did walk the earth once, is a strong enticement to put something down by writing it up, whether its on paper, on screen, on the walls of the subway-

-though let me tell you, the penalty for tagging a train these days can be pretty steep…

Balanced with that is how close you want to get to your audience.  I have a few deep things I’d love to offer, but some of those I would probably want to wait until I’m gone to share it.  The problem is, some of the deeper material, I would have to explain that to the millions/ thousands/ hundreds/ scores a couple of people who would read it here and then be upset that something like that was exposed before its time, coming out too early.

Once upon a time, before digital photography, you had pictures being taken on film, which required that that media be developed in a dark room and have a chance to come into focus.  And if the film were exposed to the light before the proper time and conditions were allowed, you ended up with ruined pictures that were nothing like what you wanted to share.

Case in point: Answered Prayers.  Truman Capote called it his “posthumous novel,” in that “either I’m going to kill it, or it’s going to kill me.”

Novel 1, Author 0…

Are bloggers diarists without a cure period?  Are they just columnists (without the value of an editor), or do they do something that goes beyond just the first draft of history as a primary source?

And does it all matter really in the face of Facebook?

Because that was another point brought up in the article of note, that maybe the days of blogging are done with everyone getting on Facebook and relying on sharing their thoughts through status updates.

I admit, I have a presence on there as well, and there’s some content there that doesn’t make it’s way here, sort of like Bill Murray keeping the comedy and drama films separate from each other.

(Though I wish he’d have done a better job of differentiating which were which for his audience; in case you hadn’t gone through this experience yet, don’t expect a lot of laughs from Lost In Translation…)

But with Facebook going through its own self-inflicted threats to itself right now, with the bad reactions to the seven dollar promotion stunt leading to all kinds of tsuris, it may be too soon to write off blogging just yet.

Part of the reason for that is that WordPress.com is getting more social, fulfilling promises Facebook used to make.  The social connectivity routines of WordPress compared to Facebook sometimes feels like the difference between The New Yorker and The New York Daily News; the audience for the former seems smaller, maybe a bit more select, and can discuss the issues in greater detail.

I have enjoyed my times with many of the people I have met through WordPress, and have made some good connections through this confederacy of bloggers.  You can blame two of them, Jen and Speaker7, for this writing stunt, and value the example Susan Rocan offered when she did the blog-a-day marathon last month with more panache than I’ve so far shown.

And while I have also made a lot of good connections through Facebook, as of late it’s been getting harder to hang with my homies at the House of Zuck.  Lately it feels there like I’m at a party where the host looks at you with cold menace because you grimaced after being poured only half a bottle of beer into your glass at the bar; surely you weren’t expecting more than that, were you…?

And because we are all more than just a few links and cute pictures, we will always have a need for a wider canvass, a desire to share more deeply (or at least deeply enough) our thoughts, ideals and dreams.  As long as there are people with something that needs to be said, there will always be means like this to offer such thoughts out there.

There damn well better be, because God only knows how I could shove crap like this into one hundred forty characters

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Sick Inspiration

It’s the twenty sixth day of Blogtober, and with any luck as you read this I’m still alive.

No, I’m not being that melodramatic.  I’ve been told I sometimes milk it when I feel unwell, usually by people who are a bit of a hypochondriac themselves.  I don’t know if this happens because it’s a way for them to deny their natures, or if I really am as creepy as Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  when I feel like crud and need some TLC, as one victim caregiver accused me of once.  The truth lies somewhere between those two poles, probably, maybe 85/15 between their denial and my squealing like Blanche being served a rat when I’m like that…

But I really didn’t want to spend my Sunday waking up fine, then getting a sudden bust of chills that felt colder than the sudden arrival of winter in New York that morning.  The nose got stuffy, the headaches came hard and fast, and I could barely keep my head up.

Worse, it was just me and my illness.  Susan had left earlier to be with her mom and was gone for the day, and Kiddo had plans to go see a movie with some friends. I was not going to impose myself on my son, especially if this was communicable.  It may still be; if so, Susan and James, I am deeply sorry for what you’re going to have a touch of shortly…

How bad it it get at its worst?  I actually turned off RedZone as the Bills game was on…

(Then again, watching them lose to Indy might have killed me…)

And as I lay dying** there in my bed, I started to ask those questions we start to ask when we think there may not be time left and wonder if we were doing the right thing:

  • Was I a good enough husband to my wife?  Did we spend too much time arguing about tiny stuff that grated on our nerves when we could have been doing something else?
  • Did I provide well enough for my son?  With me gone, is he going to be able to go to college with whatever survivor benefits may come his way with my passing?
  • Did I leave enough notes that someone could put the last few chapters online for the novel, so that everyone could see the end of the work?
  • Will anyone else remember me when I’m gone?  And will they say a few good words now and then?
  • Three possessions, and you had to punt them away every time?  No wonder we’re not seeing the playoffs…
  • And why the hell is ARROW still being recorded on the DVR?  I thought I removed that from the queue weeks ago…

Well, with those horrible fears and concerns going through my head, I found my inner Jesse Ventura:

Right:, then  A hot shower, a few more layers, a few rounds of nasal irrigation-

[yes, that:  A little saline solution in boiled water, a squeeze bottle with the nozzle up my nose, resulting in a load of mucus being flushed out the other side of my nose into the sink.  Nasty, yes, but very effective in releasing pressure and removing infectious crap from inside you.  A hell of a lot more effective than bloodletting, and a lot easier for a lay person to perform…]

-some broth, some citron tea, and before you can say “future governor of Minnesota” ver-r-r-r-r-y  sl-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-w-ly, I ended up being functional, well before Susan got home.

And I do what I do every time I get nastily sick:  I revisited the notes for that apocalyptic pathogen piece I’ve tooled with.  Some people tune their motorcycles, the ones that stay in the back of the garage and never go anywhere; some go to boat shows to walk the decks of cabin cruisers that they keep talking about buying and finding a slip at the marina for, that they never actually get around to purchasing and christening.

Me, I have a general idea of a work that involves a nasty disease and what it does to society at large.  And the reason it’s being tooled with as opposed to, actually, written, is the fact that I need to try and work with those elements without owing too much to Stephen King or Rob Kirkman; there are ways to do this, but I need time to get this together.

Provided I live long enough to get around to it…

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**Please note that this phrase was typed totally without thinking; I am in no way impinging on the William Faulkner estate, which is suing left and right like crazy as of late; honest mistake, really…

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Going On The Account: Visual Aids

Hey, no one said I can’t put up pieces that are not part of the Blogtober madness…

 

Just wanted to offer the following multimedia piece published in today’s NEW YORK TIMES online edition, showing the effects of sea level rises on a selection of American cities.  This does a great job of detailing on interactive maps what we can expect in a time our children will know better…

 

Y’know, maybe we should look again at those listings in southern Ontario…

 

 

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – In Terris Sicut Es In Etiam Pila…

It’s day twenty five of Blogtober, and this is the last Sunday I have to share the demand for content with the other big demand on my day.

Yes, I do what a lot of Americans do today; they too are thankful for Sunday, on which they do not go to work but still work themselves up, going through their rituals, giving thanks for what they have been bestowed or asking for the strength to bear with what they have been given, looking for something beyond themselves to be a part of on a higher level.

Yes, I too watch football…

Unlike some competitors for our attention on how to spend that day of the week, the National Football League has done a much better job of packaging its promises of participating in a purposes beyond oneself.  The sense of community it engenders does feel more inclusive, encourages more consideration of the implications of alternative interpretation, and can explain its stands clearly and with little doctrinaire trickery, the way the league I used to follow could not…

Yes, it is more inclusive.  Admittedly, there are some strong divisions between sects that have problems reconciling most of the time, I admit.  Even I too have felt some disdain for Cowboys fans, which I acknowledge isn’t entirely fair.  Even during the years when their pride gets the better of them and they get to be unbearable, one needs to show better tolerance; and the way things are going for them this year, they probably need a bit of sympathy as well…

As for alternative  interpretations, the NFL does hold out hope for everyone, at least at the very beginning of the season.  And unlike some who claim no hope for you from the get-go, your inability to get where you wish to be is entirely in your own hands.  For even the lowest of the low have it entirely in their power to rise up and find final glory through their own actions and commitment.

That said, some folks just have a world of trouble, despite everything…

As for explaining its stands… Well, yes, they have had their issues with these, much as others have had them.  The ref strike was not the high point of where the leaders should have taken us, especially coming at the time the NFL started to take the concussion issue more seriously, showing us that they did listen to their members and responded, unlike some groups refusing to heed other voices.

Why, you may ask, the religious comparisons?  Probably because of how I got involved…

I was living in Buffalo at the time, getting my life straightened out, questioning everything around me.  It was a dank day, wisps of snow dancing along the sidewalk, blown off Lake Erie like a line of ballet dancers, which looks pretty the first time you see it, but by day 17 starts to eat at you.  Looking for a little break from the cold, I popped into a convenience store, dropped a few quarters into the video game there, then tried to extend my stay by being pickier with what bag of chips I wanted to have with my soda.

(Even though I lived in Buffalo for quite some time, I never ended up calling “soda” by the locally preferred phrase “pop.”   What that says about what happened to me that day, I leave to smarter people with a better understanding of psychology and neurosurgery…)

And there around the counter by the register were three people, folks a little older than I was, discussing the Buffalo Bills‘ options that season.  It was not a good season that year, and worse was coming.  They knew they were doomed, that things were bleak, but they held out hope for next year, discussed where they could do better, offering their hopes for better times to come.

A cynic would have laughed at them.  A hard hearted statistician would have tried to  kill what little of their faith had been there.  A hardened criminal would have taken advantage of their malaise, grabbed four bags of chips and an extra soda, maybe a magazine, and booked with the lot while hoping they could get three blocks before the owner called the cops…

I did none of that.  I was swept up in the only warm glow that dreary day held, and like Constantine the Great I started to appreciate their hope and longings.  A few days later, when Sunday rolled around, I started to watch a Bills game in a whole new way.

Like any convert, I immersed myself in the minutiae that those born into it  just accepted.  This served me well when the two-point conversion was introduced into pro football, as I was better able to handle it without some of the rancor others around me were showing, and it enabled me to better weather the last NFL realignment by seeing it in the context of a wider debate.

And I’m still very much a fan of the Bills to this day.  For a while, I would catch any Bills game that might be in this market (thankfully, we’re committed to two because of the conference rivalry with the Jets), but when NFL RedZone was introduced I had the best of all worlds in that I got in real time the the important parts of the Bills games, along with those of the other big games that Sunday.

Between you and me, when your TV market is geared around the Jets and the Giants, there are some seasons if those are your only games that day that your faith gets seriously tested…

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You know, this is the most I’ve written about football.  Maybe it’s just the Blogtober screaming demand for content seasonal cheer here, or its because the League moved faster than one of my stories…

I had in my back pocket on the list of pieces to write a story set in the near future about the NFL, trying to handle a crisis concerning an appalling appearance of sexism after an unfortunate incident with a few players, deciding that one way to handle it would be to bring in a female referee squad to handle a game, and show the world the League was not as much of a “boys club” as it was appearing to be.

Well, before I could get around to that one, Shannon Estin became the NFL’s first female ref during the strike, which made my piece no longer as timely and daring as it would have been.  Unfortunately, her stand came about because of the strike, and it got lost in the circumstances of the dispute which was better remembered for the Packers-Seahawks fiasco (which thankfully she was not calling).

My hope is that on a non-emergency basis the League will allow for more such chances in the future, and give more women the chance to ref a game.  Clearly they can do better than that other league.

On this, I hold some faith…

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Tooled Up

Blogtober, Day Twenty Four, and the hits keep right on coming.  I wish a few when they came would actually land somewhere near the target, but…

What I need is something that will help me target my writing better, something that gives me the means to get the pieces read by people, make them want to pass it along, spread my words like a pathogen infecting a population.

What I need now is, I need some kind of tool.  Had it not been for the tools I’ve had access to, I’d not have gotten this far, so why stop using them now…?

I did say earlier on that I would discuss having gotten a tablet recently.  For me, getting one required a bit of luck, the same product relied upon by all writers, entertainers, gamblers, criminals, and other such so dependent on it.  Without getting into too many embarrassing details,  Fortuna showed up like the host of Dialing for Dollars  calling my number, and I was able to give her the right answer when she asked.

(Yeah, I’m dating myself here, though the fact that the show gets name checked in Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” which I have done a capaella for a happy audience a few times, gives it a personal resonance with me; if you ever want to catch me sing, it’s usually part of my gig…)

How I ended up with it is not as important as what happened afterwards; there were suddenly a host of new options as far as my work flow and practices were concerned.  Whole new options, opening whole new vistas:

14th Street Station, IRT (4,5,6 Lines)

(Just imagine what kind of complete pain-in-the-ass I could turn into if I got a more serious camera…)

So, if I haven’t bored you away by now, the question you might be asking is, how did it make me feel having this?

As pleased as the last few times I had a new innovation to assist me:

There was the time I got a modem to hook up to the computer, which suddenly turned the box on my desk from a self-contained unit into a gateway to a wider world.

(And if you’re asking, “Wait, an external modem, what…?” then yes, I am dating myself yet again…)

There was the time I got the computer itself, which suddenly made the process so much easier when it came time to compile drafts, correct texts and do some of the spit and polish needed when you write.

And before that, getting my own typewriter, which meant not only was my output now legible, but it got finished way faster.

Stop asking just how old I am, you!

The main point here isn’t how I adopt to hardware, but the impressions gleamed from having had access to new tools that assist with the process.   Other writers and content providers must go through this as well, and some of them might even realize more daring possibilities than I have so far.

It’s like a personal Information Revolution every time something comes along that assist with the process, watching it take the output in a new direction, showing a new set of possibilities for what can be done with the material.  And even if the work would have been the same regardless of the means of production (the same way NEUROMANCER would have been the same had Gibson used a word process instead of a typewriter), the potential for getting it to a new set of eyes beyond the older channels available cannot be dismissed out of hand.  Going digital for most writers was like Martin Luther being introduced to Johannes Gutenberg; so much potential, so much promise…

One of the discoveries that came out of exposure to these new processes is the ability to dialog.  Which is my invitation to ask you, what have you found that changed your process?  What did you find that made things different for you, changed your game, made you rethink what you were doing?

And if you don’t have anything to offer, hey, I’m perfectly happy to keep the dialog going if you just want to ask any questions about anything.

Except for old I really am…

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – The Pirates of New York – Five

Welcome to the twenty third day of Blogtober, hoping that you had all the turkey you could stand yesterday, whether it was what you ate at the table for your main meal or what you watched if you went out to catch RED DAWN

Yes, I kid, and I opened by picking on a very easy target; I’m slotting this early so as to keep the holiday free, as I had no idea at that time what kind of Pats-Jets game joke would work in the beginning here.  But like Will Rogers said, sometimes you don’t need to make a joke, just let the news speak for itself…

49 to 19, after being down 35 to zip?  That’s a really sick joke, you ask me…   Or a crime, if you want.  Of course calling it criminal, considering the actions of Coach Bill Belichick over time, would seem redundantly silly…

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Speaking of criminal acts, we resume our popular history miniseries on the pirates of New York, with…

Part the Fifth: The River Pirates, or Dream Global, Act Local

While the city matured and became respectable in the Nineteenth Century, a curious thing happened to those New Yorkers who want to take to ships and become rovers:  While opportunities to commit mayhem once they sailed beyond the Verrazano Narrows diminished, they actually increased if they stayed closer to shore.

And as the conditions that drove some of them to this act were quite desperate, some of those who took to the rivers were quite spectacular.  In particular, there was one woman who either became or was a legend, who deserves special mention because, well… Well, because…  You don’t have a problem with what we do here now, do you…?

The reputation New York had for being crowded, dirty and violent came more out of the 1800s than the 1900s, although it was pretty bad in the 1970s, as I recall when I was younger.  The influx of immigrants from Europe and urbanization drawing in citizens from the countryside resulted in a radical population explosion throughout the century.  After the American Civil War, some wards in New York that contained lower class families could have between 165,000 to 210,000 people per square mile.   By contrast, Manhattan’s density as of 2000 was only about 69,800 per square mile, one third the population stuffed onto the island.  Compare those figures with what was available for residents in the Nineteenth Century versus today (i.e., lack of indoor plumbing for some until the 1890s, electrification only coming online as of 1882 and then only to addresses able to afford it), and the true misery facing those in these over-crowded areas becomes starkly apparent.

And like many impoverished populations before and since, some elements in the face of squalor turned to crime.

Crime in New York was much like everything else here, in that it was bigger and engaged in with gusto and verve.  Probably the best account of the culture of the streets from that period was Herbet Asbury’s The Gangs of New York, which Salon did a good job of summarizing here.   The book was a sensation when it was first published in 1928, and recaptured the imagination when Martin Scorsese adapted in for his film in 2002.  It’s a history that is well worth pursuing, but for our purposes, we will focus on those known elements who decided to take their mayhem not to the streets, but the rivers.

Do note that we are talking about the “known” elements; as we discussed earlier, no history of a shadow culture can claim to have total authority without acknowledging that for every instance on the record, at least one act would not have been noted.  Do bear in mind that for every success that got a police report, there were possibly a few that did not go down so well that disappeared like a body weighed down and thrown into the middle of the river to hide the evidence.

As the middle of the century came and the city faced an influx of people, criminal gangs sprang up, some to get rich quicker than the honest paths afforded those who moved here, some in response to other criminals preying on the weak.  Most of the river pirates were in it for the money, as opposed to organizing around neighborhood protection or out of ethnic purpose, and many of them called the Fourth Ward their home port, an area of Manhattan on the East river bordered by Catherine Street, Chatham Street, and a west-to-east line drawn down, Spruce Street, Ferry Street, and Peck Slip.

The methods employed by these pirates were understandably somewhat more modest than those used by buccaneers at sea; tighter theaters on the water and lack of equipment meant that those means and ways we usually associate with pirates could not be used here.  The usual MO involved the gang members commandeering a small craft, such a rowboat, and making their way out to a larger craft.  Some pirate gangs had members resort to swimming out to their targets, then climbing aboard them to seize the vessels.

Once aboard, the river dogs would brandish guns if they had them, or otherwise use improvised weapons (usually clubs, sometimes razors).  They would commandeer the craft, offloading the cargo if they had a fence that would receive the goods, otherwise grab what they could from the crew and pocketed the loot in a quick snatch and grab.

In short, they were as much pirates as those found on wider waters, but like everyone who moves to New York they have to work with less space and smaller appliances…

Among the early pirate gangs of note were the Swamp Angels, who terrorized the East River starting in the 1850s.  They helped set the pace for later crews, pioneering the seizure of vessels on the river while setting up a seamless fencing operation to unload and liquidate cargo within hours of taking a craft.  Their success carried through most of the Nineteenth Century, and inspired others to take up the sweet trade on the rivers around the city once the Civil War had ended and revenues from shipping through the port returned to the levels they had been when New Yorkers were profiting on the cotton trade (as we noted last time).

Among the more infamous and better documented of these pirates were the Patsy Conroy Gang, who made a major name for themselves when they raided the brig Mattan, and the Hook Gang, whose schemes for unloading pirated goods by making the fencing look like planned street work may have been the inspiration for many a heist movie plot point.  And for every named group whose members made the newspapers (some 90 newspapers were being published in New York in 1870) or the court records after their arrest, there were likely countless others who had a hand in the trade who didn’t make the grade, or even through one bad night.

Which brings us to Sadie the Goat.

Sadie Farrell may or may not have actually existed; the evidence is scant on her, as is the wont of anyone in the Sweet Trade wishing to avoid undue attention.  And yet her story is so vibrant that the universe would be a much poorer place were she to have just been a fiction; with any luck a second account of her exploits that verify she was here will someday turn up.

What we do know of her is rich, right from her name on.  Please note that her nickname did not come from her looks, nor from her horrible diet (even if she would have had to wait about 100 years for the restaurants at the South Street Seaport to start serving dinner…).  Rather, it came from her MO on the street, where she would walk before her victim, then stop, turn 180 degrees, lower her chin down and head-butt the vic in his chest.  Two accomplices would be there to catch the vic when he fell backwards, holding him as she rifled his pockets to relieve him of his valuables before making a run for it.  The accomplices would either drop the vic or throw him to the ground before high tailing it out of there, to rendezvous with Sadie later and split the booty.

She was quick to seize and board, got what she needed quickly, and hit the seas as fast as she could; a natural born pirate, and a woman after my heart…

At some point after the Civil War, Sadie and a loyal crew decided to go from just using pirate tactics to being real pirates.  As relayed by Asbury, Sadie found herself a sloop that she hijacked and appropriated, then set about to behave like raiders from the Golden Age of Piracy, putting ashore to raid such exotic pirate locales as Peekskill, Wappingers Falls, and Poughkeepsie.  According to one account, she even seized some craft on the river itself, showing some aptitude with boarding actions that took others some time to learn.

By all accounts, her career was brief, a few months at most; while it’s not specified anywhere, we might be able to assume it was the chill of late autumn-early winter and cold winds coming down the Hudson River that drove her to scuttle her sloop and go ashore for good.  Its claimed that she stayed ashore and lived to a ripe old age, which most pirates could never claim to do; had she done so, she would have proven herself better at the game than most.

While Sadie “the Goat” Farrell may have had a happy ending, or at least a quiet one, most of the river pirates were not so lucky.  Patsy Conroy, whose gang was named after him, got sentenced to twenty years for his crimes in 1874 before disappearing into the system.  The Hook Gang were victims of their own success, their aggressive actions encouraging the New York Police Department to form the Steamboat Squad, the first aquatic patrols that form the nucleus of the NYPD Harbor Unit.  Better policing and greater vigilance did their part to rein in the river pirates.

So too did the evolution of crime.  The Swamp Angels, one of the early gangs that helped establish the river pirates, found itself merging with other gangs working the waterfront, ultimately forming the White Hand Gang, an Irish response to counter the Sicilian Black Hand Gang that formed as the Twentieth Century came about.  Both gangs continued their operations of robbing traffic on the piers, and both took on new opportunities as the Eighteenth Amendment became law and countermanding prohibition became a revenue opportunity.

One of the White Hand’s leaders, Richard Lonergan, inheritor of the legacy of the river pirates, met an untimely end as he spouted off at a Black Hand-affiliated social club in Brooklyn against its Italian patrons, many of whom were in the process of forming the Five Families during business hours.  The suspected trigger man who killed this inheritor of New York’s pirate ways was one Alphonse “Scarface” Capone, who soon left Brooklyn to handle things in the new territory, the Chicago Outfit.

Where, just as they had been doing back in New York, he relied on smugglers to bring product ashore, in this case whiskey and other hard liquors from Canada, showing that no matter how far inland criminals go, they ultimately return to the sea, for profitable crimes…

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – What Are We Thankful For?

This is the twenty second day of Blogtober, which this year coincides with Thanksgiving Day in the US.

It’s a  time for family to get together, air their grievances, eat and drink too much, and pretend not to care about who the Lions and Cowboys are playing.

It’s a time we go on about the traditions the Pilgrims brought about, even though our Thanksgiving owes more to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt than it does Miles Standish.

It’s a time that came about in remembrance of Union victories in the American Civil War, which makes me wonder how many self-conscious folks in the Deep South might be having problems eating a deep fried turkey today.

It’s a time when people who complain about their traditions and customs being impinged upon have nothing to say about a New York tradition being rebranded as the “Macy’s Day Parade,” because apparently a company wanting your money taking over your holiday is somehow better than others trying not to be exclusive.

It’s a time when some families will have members having to leave early to report for their retail jobs tonight for employers who forget what “holiday” means.

It’s a time when some families are so messed up that a few members wish they had jobs they had to show up at 5 PM for that night.

It’s a time some folks wish they had jobs, period.

It’s a time when some households will be thankful for how things are, while some insist everyone at the table signs their secession petition.

It’s a time we complain about the pain of going through this day, the travel, the cooking, the relatives we have to sit with, and yet we do it every year.

It’s a time when no matter how much we bitch about it, when we are at the table and can say a few words, we find that yes, we have at least something to be thankful for.

And if you find yourself at this time without anything to be thankful for, you’re in my thoughts and have my wishes for better times to come your way soon.

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Seeds of Doom

This is the twenty first entry in the Blogtober self-flagellation exercise; maybe I should be glad I never got that journalism career, the way the carping’s coming hard and fast here…

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Speaking of distressing things, there was an article at io9 that directed me to this older piece from Nature that makes an interesting claim:  That for every rise of the mean temperature by one degree Fahrenheit, we can expect a species’ geographic range to extend northward by fifty miles.   Thus, if the average temp goes up ten degrees, we should expect species that are at home five hundred miles to the south of us to be quite comfortable in the New York area.

Of course, if the temperatures go up over that ten degree mark, we could be seeing so radical a die-off from the extreme conditions that the rest of this discussion is rendered meaningless, so let’s stick to this as our upper limit, shall we…?

Now, for the sake of visualization, as you can see on the map provided here, 500 miles to the south of New York would put you in the center of Wilmington, NC, a place we considered a little while ago.  Which means that should we see radical climate shift, that the great outdoors here would look much like they do down there now.

And of all the species that would be getting some southern hospitality here, the one we have to fear most has no fangs or claws…

The kudzu plant, a decorative vine imported from Japan that became an invasive species in the US, would feel quite at home here.  Compare the 500-mile radus map linked above with this map of kudzu’s infestation area, and you can see that the New York area could soon disappear under a sheet of green the same way areas near Atlanta and Mobile have.  And this assumes that the plant hasn’t adapted for here yet; one sighting in Albany was noted in 2006, and some areas north of the city have been observed to be overgrown during the warmer months.

In addition to the issues with overgrowth taking out the native plants, there’s the problem of kudzu being a major source of surface ozone pollution, which can increase the rate of global warming as well as being a direct health threat itself.  Which means it will not only bake you and choke your garden, it’ll destroy your lungs; lovely stuff, kudzu…

Sometimes, the threats you need to pay the most attention to are the ones you don’t hear…

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Speaking of threats, if you’re looking for further detailed examination of the world our children will know better, you’re in luck.  The World Bank just released their climate change report, detailing the changes they envisaged for a world that is four degrees Celsius warmer on average, the same scenario I run with.  Theirs is a bit more  precise and covers a wide number of factors affecting areas beyond Western New York; in all fairness, they have a bigger staff…

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