Monthly Archives: November 2012

Going On The Account: RED JENNY Eighty Nine

Part Eighty Nine of RED JENNY AND THE PIRATES OF BUFFALO in now up, and may be read here.  Have yourself a Happy Thanksgiving, and hope to see you all next week Thursday.

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – But I Just HAVE To!

It’s day twenty of Blogtober, as I ask you for your patience…


Her screams were not you wanted to hear that early in the morning.

No one wants to hear a little girl raise her voice under any circumstances.  The sounds produced at such times suggest something amiss is going down; a potential crime is being committed, or a danger to the group has reared it’s head.

Or there was the other option:  She wanted something she was denied, and insisted.  Forcefully.

Right there on the bus.

And the mother of the seven year old screamer was doing her best to do as parents should.  She stayed calm, listened to her irrational rationalizations for curing her ills, and patiently told her no, and why not.

At which point the whingy little darling got screechier as she doubled down on the pain she could inflict.

Yes, I am convinced with certainty that she knew what she was doing, that she not only believed that if she found just the right pitch she could get the walls to fall for her as they did for Joshua, but that she was certain where she could dial it to get there the fastest.

I have no illusions; I raised a seven year old, and remember very well what I tried to pull when I was that age.

I was almost convinced that the little whinger had been especially proficient, as I thought I could still hear her after I got off at my stop, her power pleas able to pierce the shell of the bus over the din of traffic on Broadway.  It took a moment to realize that I had gotten off the bus (fled, more like) mere moments before the troublesome tyke and her ma had also disembarked.  She was still driving her mother to a vice of her choosing while mom was patient, both of them walking together in a leisurely synchronicity, steadily on as though rehearsed.  Which, if their dynamics regularly consisted of such behavior, they probably were…

As they carried on with the carrying on, I had to take a moment to consider the timing of this, beyond just the fact that it was too f’n’ early for this crap.  The fact that there are some folks who have let their unhappiness with not having gotten their way, who have taken to drastic discussions still making loud screechy noises going into this week, days before we’re supposed to reflect on what we have, came to mind as I experienced the tyke of terror yesterday morning.  The similes were astounding to contemplate, once contemplation was possible; I’m guessing the young lady’s effective range to be about seven meters, maybe twelve without the traffic noises to baffle it…

But there’s one thing to keep in mind about crying children: They ultimately stop.  Even the worst of children realize that at some point, the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in, and they quiet down, either to acquiesce or to connive a new plan.  And beyond that, children do grow up, they understand what is and isn’t appropriate, what is the right response to a situation.  Ultimately the storm passes, the clouds break, and progress moves on with everyone doing better in the long run.

I am beyond certain that if this youngster does remember this years later, it will be tinged with self-reflective nostalgia and cited as evidence that she has made considerable progress in her life.  Absolute worst case, the little dear grows up to be a complete shit, makes a name for herself as a real estate CEO or a member of the House of Representatives where she can say all sorts of damnable idiocies, and maybe someday learn that things can move on despite her, much the same way the adults who preceded her will soon find…

And whatever her mother used to be a lot more patient with her child than I was with mine, I wish I could have a double of that this week…


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Going On The Account: This Is The End, My Only Friend, The End…

This is the nineteenth day of Blogtober, where we look back as we look ahead…

Tomorrow night, The New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series presents a new set of readings by contributors to the anthology After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia.  Among the readers expected to be there are Matthew Kressel, N. K. Jemisin, and Genevieve Valentine, sharing stories from the collection of teens making their way after disaster hits.

Which, being held in a neighborhood that lost power for a week in Sandy’s wake when she blew through, seems very apropos…

In honor of the event, I dug up a poem I’d written a few years ago:


When I see you for

The first and last time,

Your hair blowing back,

Your smile touching me

The way I want to touch

The curves of your body,

Which are shown off well

In the sudden light

That just fills me up

With intensity;

The warmth that I feel

With you in my sight,

So intense the warmth,

The way it melts glass

And makes the rocks slag,

Vaporizing steel,

Burning the air;

How I long for you

With all of the strength

That flattens buildings,

Turning all structures

Into a thin paste;

How I desire you,

Our parts mingling,

Coming together,

Drawn to the heat,

My lips to your lips,

My hips to your hips,

Carbon to carbon

Drawn into the cloud;

How we dance in love,

Mine in and on you,

Flying overhead,

Dancing on a breeze

Before the wind dies,

And we two coupled,

Poisoning the land

Together for a

Joint half-life as one;

When they remember

Me in memory

Among all the dead,

None of them will know

That in the very

Last second of life

As I was dying

I was truly alive.


The New York Review of Science Fiction Reading Series


Tuesday, November 20

Doors open at 6:40 — event begins 7-ish  ( Please note slightly later opening time.  Should you arrive any earlier, you will be asked to help set up chairs.)


The SoHo Gallery for Digital Art

138 Sullivan Street  (between Houston & Prince St.)

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

Welcome to the eighteenth day of Blogtober, where we try and recall the glories of the past.  I remember how glorious it was getting sleep at regular intervals; next time Speaker7 and Sips of Jen and Tonic suggest something crazy like a post a day all month, I should just ask the Lovely and Talented Susan to keelhaul me.  Twice!


Which has a plus in that, now we’d have an excuse to get a boat…




And speaking of getting something to go to sea with, the next part of our miniseries THE PRIATES OF NEW YORK continues, as we cover a lot of different ships, from frigates to aircraft carriers, many of whom are involved directly in the Sweet Trade…


Part the Fourth: From Privateers to Professionals, or Taking Care of Business


New York’s involvement with the Sweet Trade can be compared with Henry Morgan’s career, in that like the captain the city started off with a wild side that encouraged all sorts of rowdiness, but as they both matured they stopped going on the account, and later had a hand in reigning in the pirates on the seas.


They also both got heavily involved in having their names and likeness associated with major product branding, but that’s a post for another time…


When the United States was formed, New York was already established as a major port city where many of the goods from the newly formed United States.  So important was the city that it served as the new nation’s capital from 1785 through 1790, which was convenient for those looking for jobs as privateers; under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 11 of the US Constitution, Congress has the power to grant letters of marque and reprisal, which were probably sought with great frequency to go after the first foreign powers the United States went to war overseas with:  The Barbary Pirates of North Africa.


Unlike the Revolution, however, the United States this time went with professionals to do most of the fighting.  Ironically, a nation that owed its birth to privateers used regulars to go after pirates themselves, which gave Stephen Decatur his baptism by fire and gave the US Marine Corps something to sing about, having marched to the shores of Tripoli during this action.


This was not to say, however, that we were done with such rogue.  Came the War of 1812, aka Round 2 of our issues with Great Brittan, or as the British thought of it, “that damnable sideshow keeping us from fully dealing with Napoleon,” and suddenly letters or marque were being issued with greater  frequency, nationally as well as on the state level.


It was inevitable that a war whose causes included impressing American sailors at sea, an act that required the seizure of ships in open water and removing content (in this case compliment) off board, would result in calling up privateers.  One survey of the privateers of the War of 1812 indicated that out of 518 vessels logged, 100 claimed New York as her home port.  The only port to have more vessels claim her as their home port was Baltimore, and only by a thin margin.


Let’s keep two things in mind with regards to the rush to issue letters of marque, one verifiable and one assumed.  What we do know is that many of the ships issued license were sloops or schooners, many with no more than eight guns on their decks, often less.  A look at the actions listed in the link above shows that not all of these vessels running out with the “naval militia” were successful in patrolling the seas; quite a number were more prey than predator.


The second, an assumption, is that with the large number of sloops and schooners claiming some form of authorization to board and seize vessels, that a number of captains and ship masters may have tried to use the crisis to their advantage to engage in their own boarding actions, who when asked for their letters of marque might have claimed any number of excuses as to why they could not produce their paperwork.  The opportunity and temptation was probably too great for a number of potential pirates to not hoist the colors and engage in their own actions, though at this point there is no verification of this, merely an understanding of human greed that allows for such to be a possibility.


Regardless of who was a privateer and who was an out-and-out pirate, there were more small boats willing to go up against a professional foreign navy than there were small boats in the climax of The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (which frankly is a great film, if you have a moment to watch it).  This proved to be an issue with the British, especially to Vice-Admiral Alexander Cochrane, who was stationed in Bermuda and tasked with putting down the American naval presence.


Cochrane had a number of options before him, which included going into the known pirate dens and taking out these centers.  (Bear in mind, to the British any vessel engaged in seizure, letter of marque or not, was considered a ‘pirate.’  Hell, they still thought John Paul Jones was a pirate back then…)  And given the fact at sea, he had to consider the possibility of coming for New York, which was filled with such raiders as well as being a major economic target.


Unfortunately, there was the matter of the just completed Castle Williams, built to insure that the British would not repeat what happened in 1776.  Placed on Governors Island, her two tiers outfitted with a combination of 32-, 42- and 52-pounder guns enabled the fortress to take out just about any vessel that got between her and Manhattan, with heavy direct fire shot on a stable platform that would have taken out even the heaviest first-rate designated vessel.


Castle Williams, New York Harbor
Photo Courtesy of Susan Ryan


The alternative for Cochrane was the other great hub of pirates that plagued the seas, Baltimore, which was less well protected by a smaller-grade set of defenses, a set of works call Fort McHenry…


Fort McHenry, Baltimore


As a result of New York’s defenses, the British decided not to come here, instead going south, losing a major ship-to-shore engagement, in addition to losing a favorite drinking song, “Anaceron in Heav’n”.  Yes, New York’s pirates lost some of their cred because of Castle Williams, though as no one wanted to go through repeats of what happened 40 years before they were more than willing to forego a little reputation for some safety…


What would remind people of the potential pirates found on the wharfs here was an incident that changed how the US Navy trained its recruits.  In 1842, the brig USS Somers was launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and served as a school ship for potential seamen by giving them “on-the-job” training.


This “school” wasn’t exactly Fordham Prep, unfortunately.  The vessel was badly over-crowded with too many young men given intimate exposure of some of the worst elements of a sailor’s lot, which drove some of the midshipmen to discuss what it would take to mutiny and become pirates.  They may or may not have been joking when they discussed this, depending on whom you asked and when.  Considering the recruits were probably not used to the harsh realities of naval service and thought they could cashier out when they got ashore, versus how truly ugly a sailor’s lot was then, the truth may have been somewhere in the middle.


Unfortunately for the pirate wannabes, her captain Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, a native of New York and a 27 year veteran who fought Barbary and West Indian pirates and witnessed atrocities in the fight against them during his service,  was probably not the person who should have been in command when some of his midshipmen discussed mutiny.  A combination of low tolerance and bad fortune saw members of the crew placed in irons for discussing becoming cutthroats; ultimately, Mackenzie used his prerogative to execute three of the mutineers while thirteen days out of New York, where a court martial could have been held for the mutineers there.  When Mackenzie pulled into harbor, the court of inquiry held in the matter concluded by a split vote that while the captain was within his rights to do so, they did not endorse his actions, which effectively ended Mackenzie’s naval career.


It also ended the experiment in “on-the-job” training, and encouraged the War Department to consider a new way to train seamen.  One of the condemned conspirators, Philip Spencer, was the son of Secretary of War John Spencer, whose experience may have helped berth and launch the United States Naval Academy, founded at Annapolis, Maryland, a convenient trip from Washington even in the 1840s that would have insured that had another Cabinet member’s son discussed going pirate he could be visited by his dad quickly and talked out of such foolishness.


It may also have been the inspiration for Herman Melville’s Billy Buddyet one more legacy to come out of either a failed mutiny or a bungled command, depending on where you stand on the incident…


Once again, something touched by pirates leads to some business heading south.  There’s no apparent record if they ever considered putting a naval academy here in New York, but it’s probably for the best; imagine the chaos the Army-Navy Game would engender every time if the two campuses were only an hour’s drive away from each other…


Speaking of pirates, southerners and New Yorkers, we come to an unfortunate set of facts in the continuing narrative, how New Yorkers came to be involved with the blockade runners of the Confederate States of America.


Before the American Civil War, there was a lot of money to be made by New Yorkers willing to deal with King Cotton.  The ROI on trading cotton, buying it from Mississippi and selling it to England, could be between six to seven cents for every penny paid out, which made the product very desirable and a lot of New Yorkers rich, in particular the shareholders of John Fraser & Co.


While the US had moved away from relying on privateers since the last war with the British, and had established a professional navy that was being led by graduates from Annapolis, the seceding states were in desperate need of a navy, especially as the Union blockade cut off the southern coastline.  What resources they had went more into R&D (resulting in such vessels as the CSS Virginia and the CSS H L Hunley) in order to break the hold on them, leaving few ships to go up against the US Navy itself.  This led to President Jefferson Davis requesting from the Confederate Congress the power to issue letters of marque, to grant to ships to run the blockade, sell goods to England and France, use the money to buy munitions to bring back, and if they had a chance to take out a Yankee merchant vessel or two.

In short, the plan was to encourage a new generation of pirates and smugglers to ride the waves again on behalf of the new nation, much the same way the first war for independence relied on a private navy.


And a major  agent on the business side representing the Confederacy was John Fraser & Co., which through offices in New York, as well as Liverpool and Charleston, handled not just trades as shipping agents between Richmond and the European capitals, but provided a ship for the cause.  The CSS Kate Dale was a steamer originally intended for customer service before the war between New York and Charleston, funded by John Fraser & Co., which joined the rebellion when hostilities broke out.  She had 20 successful runs through the line before she was captured off Tortugas in 1863, ending her career.


Also of note was the CSS Nashville, whose hull was also laid in Brooklyn and became the first CSN warship to raise her colors in the English Channel in 1861.  After she captured two prizes, she changed name twice before her sinking in Georgia, brought down by the USS Montauk.


The ship that brought her down is worth note here, as it is indicative of how New York found its way into both sides if the conflict, for the Montauk was also built in Brooklyn.  In fact, her entire class of vessels, the Monitor-class (named for her most famous namesake, USS Monitor), was developed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which would go on from there to provide more warships for the navy than raiders for pirates come 1865.  Among the more famous ships launched into the East River from there would be the USS Arizona, the USS Missouri and USS Constellation, none of which were ever in danger of mutiny the way the USS Somers had been…


Despite the sympathies a number of business leaders had for the Southern cause, or more precisely for the profit to be made from the Southern cause, by the 1860s respectable New York did not engage in the widespread funding of pirate ventures the way their ancestors had before the Revolution.  Upper class New Yorkers were decent, law-abiding citizens, who were above such foolishness.


Their lower class neighbors, on the other hand, were about to make one last grand going on the account…


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Going On The Account: Blogtober – The One That Got Away

This is the seventeenth day of Blogtober, where we express to excess with daily posts filled with words of wisdom.

Although today, we’re going visual…

A few months ago, I got a tablet device with a camera, which opened up a few options.  You’ve probably seen some of the results in some earlier posts (mainly here, here, and the two shots from yesterday’s tomorrow’s entry in the popular history mini-saga), and there’s a very good chance that there will be more posts with pics in the future.

I’ll probably talk about the tablet itself in a later post; hey, I have a few days of Blogtober that need to be filled…

I’m probably living proof of the old adage:  Give a man a picture, he has a memory; teach a man to shoot a camera, he becomes an annoying shutterbug…

As a result, I find something interesting, and I have the device with me, I take a second to frame the shot and take it.  Yes, I am in danger of getting as annoying as Andy Warhol and his damned Polaroids

And yet, with every shot I take, I think about the one moment before I got the device that I wish I had shot:

It’s a dreary morning, the light’s low, and it’s a cafe with outdoor tables.  There’s a person sitting at one of the tables, someone who’s BMI is a bit on the high side.  This person’s eating something from this place, and does not seem to be enjoying it.  In the window of the cafe, you can clearly see the NYC Department of Heath Letter Grade on the same plane as this person’s face, the bright green of the ‘B’ grade the only real color in the shot…

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.  As that last description I gave was only a paltry 87, it probably wasn’t much of a picture, all said…

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

Welcome to the sixteenth day of Blogtober, where we try dancing as fast as we can to provide something to read.  Hopefully some item we’ve done here has been worth your visits…

Let’s see; maybe another history chapter.  Yeah, that seems to be working so far…..


And now, our popular history series continues; without further ado and with a lot less silliness…

Part the Third: Towards a New Nation, or Revolting Developments

Sometimes the winds die and the ship suffers the doldrums.

An honest history of New York’s involvement in the Sweet Trade would have to acknowledge that not every year was a good one for those seeking anchor there.  As happens with all noted pirate haunts, there come days when the trade has to move elsewhere; Port Royal, New Providence and Ocracoke, when their governors cracked down, all had to say so long to the colorful characters that used to be on the streets.

For New York, the end came when the governor came back, from having been scared away by the rowdies in the streets, at the head of one of the largest flotillas the Royal Navy had ever amassed.  And once he came back, he proved to be as mean a rover as any displaced raider he’d sent off.

When he was appointed governor of New York in 1771 by the Crown, William Tryon came into the position with a reputation for cruelty that would have earned the respect of the most heartless sea dogs.  Tryon was noted for the heavy-handed suppression he brought to bear against the Regulator Movement at his last posting in North Carolina, where the citizens rose up against him in part because he had grand plans for the new governor’s mansion that needed to be paid for somehow.

Perhaps it was his reputation as a hard-handed administrator who could get results and wasn’t afraid to spill a little blood that made him seem the ideal candidate for the post.  New York was in revolt as the Tea Act incited riots from Boston to Philadelphia, and the citizens insisted on turning the ships back.  In the midst of the crisis, governor’s mansion in New York burned to the ground, and Tryon was about to go through the whole process of getting a new house built, showing a certain amount of callous disdain that should have warned the colonies of what was to come…

Once word reached Manhattan as to how Boston’s Sons of Liberty treated their tea consignment, Tryon soon found his position untenable.  He left for England on April 7th, 1774, a few weeks before New York emulated Boston (probably the last time that ever happened…) when the local chapter of the Sons of Liberty seized at anchor off Sandy Hook the Nancy and the London as it attempted to smuggle the hated tea while in the harbor.  Like pirates throughout the ages, the Sons of liberty boarded the ships and seized the cargo; where they varied the routine was in the dumping of the tea into New York Harbor.

Which, when you consider what went into the rivers once the Industrial Revolution started, wasn’t all that bad…

Unfortunately for Tryon, by the time he comes back to New York, things have gotten a lot worse.  During the eighteen months since he sailed for London, British troops had fired on militias at Lexington and Concord, and open rebellion enflamed the colonies.  As agent of the Crown, he was not well trusted, and with good reason; he was active in a plot to kidnap General Washington, despite the General’s intervening on Tryon’s behalf to keep him from being strung up on disembarkation, the discovery of which forced Tryon to seek refuge aboard the sloop of war Halifax.

He would spend a good deal of time aboard her, allowing us a moment to look at the birth of the Continental Navy.  The colonies, not allowed a standing navy before the troubles, had to encourage seamen to come to the cause, and the best method available to the Continental Congress and some state legislatures was the issuance of letters of marque, offering generous shares of the booty seized from any British or Tory ships to any captains so licensed.  These supplemented the eight frigates that did manage to get to sea after being commissioned by the Continental Congress, none of which had the same rate of success as the privateers that sailed for life and liberty.

Which for some captains probably came a close second behind the booty seized…

So, this large privatized navy now fighting for the United States soon set themselves up at ports of call up and down the Atlantic.  Many of them found safe anchor in New London, Connecticut, as Long Island Sound was an active hunting ground for pirates; ships laden with loaded wares leaving New York en route to England made for very attractive targets, and the narrows as one entered the Sound going past Hunts Point and Throgs Neck in the Bronx and Whitestone in Queens left little room to maneuver away from an active pursuer who knew the wins and waters.  As a result, the Sound enjoyed a reputation in the 1770s similar to those held by the waters between the Bahamas and Cuba during the Golden Age of Piracy.

New York itself, however, did not enjoy as many pirate captains walking her streets.  And with damned good reason!

August of 1776, and William Howe sails into New York with 22,000 men, aboard 400 to 700 vessels, what some witnesses called “a forest of masts.”  There was probably a lot of far more colorful descriptions and exclamations made as well, which probably went along the lines of this modern exclamation:

(In all fairness, this came from a film made by a man who almost made a great movie about the Bismarck as his next project following his piece on that other ship tale…)

Once Howe had put boots to the ground and the Battle of Brooklyn was fought, New York’s ability to be a freewheeling port of call for pirates was for the most part finished.  Not all nefarious seaborne activity could be put down, though, as Washington would rely on the fishermen of the 27th Massachusetts to smuggle his troops across the East River out of Howe’s hands, then across the Hudson just south of what would later be called, ironically, Fort Tyron Park, about the spot where the two towers of the George Washington Bridge span the river.  (As it so happened, this was good practice for these fishermen for their more famous deployment.)  And later, Washington would rely on more smugglers to keep in contact with his Culper Spy Ring as they ferried him information out of Tory-held New York.

And speaking of holding New York…  Once Howe had re-established the Crown’s peace, Tyron finds himself back ashore, administrating a colony formerly in rebellion.  This includes establishing the prison ships on the East River, which claimed the lives of 11,500 incarcerated souls aboard them, and engaging in some wonton raiding of his own:

In July of 1779, Tyron embarked onto a fleet of British ships to raid Connecticut, coming ashore to engage at New Haven, Fairfield and Norwalk.  Designed to try and draw Washington north towards British troops in New York (which failed), the raids were noted for their ferocity and their unsparing cruelty towards civilian targets, which included the burning of homes, schools and churches.  Much like Morgan’s raid on Panama, Tyron engaged in some bloodthirsty action in his seizures and acts of destruction.

If some can say New York-based William Kidd was too harshly judged a pirate, then the argument that William Tryon not judged harshly enough as one, for his greed, cruelty and bloodthirstiness does not appear to have been fully appreciated.  If the British still judge John Paul Jones to have been a pirate, one could argue that Governor William Tryon of New York deserves no less a notation in the log.

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Idea-l Conditions

Welcome to the fifteenth day of Blogtober, which coincides with the beginning of the third week of my self-imposed sleep deprivation ordeal; nice how that all works out, no…?

This came about thanks to some goading from the suggestions provided by Speaker7 and Sips of Jen and Tonic to try and get around NaNoWriMo by posting every damn day this month instead of working on a book.  Which, actually, I am still doing anyway while tying myself to the mast here; what that says about me, I leave you to figure out…

Of course, I did notice in my colleagues’ statements that when they committed themselves to the project, they were soliciting ideas for what to write about this month from their associates, which was something I should have considered; get a few topics, build a buffer around those, slot them in, grab some sleep.  If there’s ever another Blogtober, that may be the way to go.

Or not.  Because to be quite frank, it’s not whether you have an idea, it’s how you use it.

Seriously, there are only a few plots writers have to work with, simple descriptions for which that are the core of your work that can be summarized by one single sentence.  And  the quality of your work frankly depends less on the sentence you have than how you build off of that sentence.

All plots are essentially armature, a skeleton that you apply bits of clay to, or sheets of papier-mache to, or hang busted Christmas lights off of; whatever media you work in, you get the idea that it’s how you expand off that sentence that ultimately determines the work’s worth, whether you have a masterpiece or a-  well, something else, let’s say…

Let’s look at a few examples of this:  I’m going to give a one sentence descriptive, and two works for which the sentence sums the core thereof nicely.  By doing that, it should prove the point that it’s not so much your story, but how you tell it, that differentiates your work.

[EDIT:  I had word that the images that are part of the post do not show up for all viewers, so for their sake I’m including titles with links where the images would send them.  It’s not the first time a joke mine lost something in translation…]

EXAMPLE #1:  An ex-soldier opens a bar, get involved with a conspiracy that the authorities are trying to shut down.

You could end up discussing CASABLANCA:

or you could be discussing BARB WIRE:

EXAMPLE # 2:  Teenager gets telekinesis, deals with complications from that gift

Either you mean CHRONICLE:

or you mean ZAPPED!:

EXAMPLE # 3:  Man given duties out in the wilds takes up the cause of the people he meets there against those who sent him out

We could be discussing DANCES WITH WOLVES:


EXAMPLE # 4: Aliens launch a plot against Earth, using indirect means to take control of the planet


Or what you got is PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE:

(They colorized that? Dear Lord…)

EXAMPLE # 5: Young girl is possessed by demon and terrorizes her family

You may end up with THE EXORCIST:


As you can see, it’s all in the execution.  With any luck, if you draw a light enough sentence, you don’t ave to worry about execution; just do your time and wait for the paro-

Uh, sorry, a little off-topic there; damn sleep deprivation…

The main point here is, it’s not your ideas you have to be concerned with, it’s how you use them.  I can’t be the only person who’s ever seen this; if anyone reading this knows of a few more, I’d love to see the examples you have…


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Going On The Account: RED JENNY Eighty Eight

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


Please note that next week’s piece is going up earlier in the week, on Tuesday the 20th, thanks to the Thanksgiving holiday in the US.

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Something NOT Sailing With The Tide…

Welcome to the fourteenth day of Blogtober, where we waste my time and yours (but mostly mine) with doing more work to ignore NaNoWriMo through blogging than it would have taken to just, you know, ignore it  maybe…

As I keep reminding everyone by reposting the same damn intro every entry, I get reminded that I did sort-of commit myself to one topic right off the bat; to quote:

Heck, at least one piece will be how what happens November 6th is going to impact the Modern Age of Piracy…

Funny, that I used the word “commit” to discuss this…

To be honest, I figured this was going to be an easy one; I pretty well knew how November 6th was going to be, thanks to a certain core faith I held, and reading lots of Nate Silver’s posts since May, so getting the piece up and ready should have been a slam dunk.  Unfortunately, the last person to call anything like this a “slam dunk” was George Tenet, and we all saw how that turned out…

It seemed so easy, I thought; Obama was going to continue with coalition actions, using Combined Task Force 151 as a model for further activities, wrapping up Somalia and getting ready for dealing with actions elsewhere, such as off Nigeria where actions have recently gotten more heated, and the waters of Indonesia which has seen a rise in actions.  And with the announced basing of 2,500 Marines in Australia announced last year, the odds of Indonesia going the way of Somalia seemed remote.  Nice simple piece, write it in my sleep…

Sleep; I remember sleep…

Funny, talking about “sleeping with” here…

OK, I delayed the “but” long enough here; speaking of “bu-”

[SFX: Getting slapped for the delays]

Okay.  So what went wrong?  The Petraeus Affair, that’s what.  Yes, I am calling it an “Affair” without the slightest  irony whatsoever; anyone using the word “Scandal” wishes it were a lot bigger than it was, in order to justify their worldview that they are on the way out thanks to nefarious dealings against them as opposed to, oh… say, a bad message for the wrong audience, poorly delivered…

The thing of it is, this is an ongoing story that takes more twists than a sloop in the middle of a Cat 5 hurricane; by the time I post this, some new facet will reveal itself and put everything stated before in an entirely different context.  And the steam which is running the boiler for this craft does not look to be petering out any time soon; we could be dealing with revelations throughout the rest of the month the way this is going.

And until that plays out, a major component of American power projection can’t be honestly assessed from without, and maybe not from within as well.  Even if it all comes to a tidy end right now the way Kevin Clash’s ordeal just did**, there’s still the matter of picking up the pieces; a new director for the CIA needs to be found and vetted, which could change some of the key people and focus tracking piracy worldwide.  The fact that General John Allen is also caught up in this, a man who on his way to commanding NATO, which was conducting Operation Ocean Shield off the Somali coast, makes the picture even cloudier.

Having a new Secretary of Defense as assumed might happen with the Cabinet shuffle would not have had as dramatic an impact on these efforts as the changes closer to the field has had, at least before this.  Without the Patraeus Affair, finding a new head at DoD would have been a bit less of a circus than it will be now, as legislators start looking for ground from which to build upon, ground composed of ruined careers and reputations.

Let’s be clear here:  The people involved may not have compromised national security or weakened this country through their actions, but they were just too f’n’ stupid in how they conducted themselves.  They will probably all get what’s coming to them, which is all going to be short of a turn in the brig, but within that limitation very likely deserved.

And until this all plays out, until every tear has been cried, every scream has been screamed, every bad feeling felt, until then we can’t really know what’s next in pirate interdiction.  And if anything, something like this should serve as a reminder that the more we think we know, the more we assume that we have it all figured out, that it’s that moment that a black swan comes in for a landing on the water, reminding us all to check our egos at the hatch and be careful what we say…


** EDIT:  So much for tidy; Kevin Clash has just resigned from Sesame Workshop to deal with further allegations regarding his personal life, which will probably take up the majority of his time from now on.  What was that about black swans, again…?

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Was It The Way We Remembered It…?

This is the thirteenth of Blogtober, as our minds start to wander…

So who else wonders if history could have been different?  Other than Karl Rove, I mean…

(Yeah, it’s a cheap shot, but damn, that just ain’t getting old any time soon…)

Early on in my career, I did a lot of alternative history for the sorely-missed Rooftop Sessions.  I think the first piece I did online that got something other than just a byline was “I Read The News Today” which was an epistolary examination of what happened after NYPD picked up Mark David Chapman at 10:40 PM the night of December 8th, 1980.

I remember being in some workshops with that one at the time and getting reactions from the folks I was with that were, well, not quite raves.  The main criticisms were not with the technique or approach, but the subject matter; there were not a lot of John Lennon fans among these folk, and the idea of him getting a second wind to his career with some “out of studio” influence after 40 seemed a little far-fetched.

Mind you, at that time Bono was only in his thirties, so who had a point of reference to work from in my favor…?

And it was fun to keep mining that vein for a while.  I got to use an AltHis focus on the Beatles to do some writing about the Kennedys, Doctor Who, and comic books.  All said, I think I got more ideas to explore out of that than I had before then.

There were a few other ideas I never got to fully develop, that didn’t see the light of day in their original form.  Some of that ended up in bits of RED JENNY AND THE IRATES OF BUFFALO, in a somewhat adulterated form of course, which makes a great argument for recycling.  Or at least for explaining why you have a messy desk at home…

I bring all this up as I consider what happens after RED JENNY.  As does any novel, this one too has an end, which will go up online in a few months, an end I am polishing between other distractions.  Which of course leads to that question, “So now what?”

I happen to be a little superstitious and have issues with discussing works before I’m ready to share them.  There have been too many times where I talk up an upcoming project that dies before it makes its way to the other side, and I’m left holding the bag with nothing to show for it.

But, I am willing to experiment, like any writer willing to work in AltHis.  So what I am going to say is, I did leave a clue in one of these three posts I made here.  Hopefully if this works, I can obliquely discuss the future, or at least an alternative for it, and if it doesn’t I can claim that the past never occurred, or that it happened in a different way than we remembered it having done so.

Just like an AltHis writer.  Or Karl Rove…

(Nope, ain’t old yet…)

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

Welcome to the twelfth day of Blogtober, on which my true love gave to me:

12 raiders raiding

11 sloops a sailin’

10 wenches wenching

9 guns a’ firing

8 blunderbusses

7 fine cutlasses

6 swashbucklers

5 buccaneers

4 treasure chests

3 galleons

2 doubloons

and a shot at the Treasure Fleet

Yes, at least someone is thinking about me today…


And as you can savvy from the above, it’s time for the next part in our popular history mini-series, where some of the research for the first book into a section that got cut from the final draft gets some use here online.  Truth be told, some of those lost chapters might find their way into print someday in another work; as I’ve noted elsewhere, lots of stuff I write that doesn’t see the light of day the first time can get another chance.  Like George Harrison’s solo tracks he wrote while with the Beatles, I try to find a place for those down the road…

In the meantime:

Part the Second: The Colony of New-York, or Pay to Play

Before we move further beyond 1664, when the English sailed into the harbor, claimed New Amsterdam for themselves and hung an “Under New Management” sign on the palisade Wall Street is named after, let’s take a moment to look at that other not-entirely-above-board sea trade that often occurs alongside piracy, smuggling.

Both acts share a number of common elements, obvious and otherwise.  Both revolve around the movement of goods by vessel, goods that the possessor is not entitled to.  Good seamanship is a necessity for success in either endeavor.  And perpetrators of both acts often need to find confederates with whom to trade and/or sell their illicit cargoes with once ashore.

The reason this needs to be brought up is the symbiotic relationship between the two trades:  Where there were smugglers, there would well be pirates, with conditions in an area equally able to breed both.  Sometimes a captain may move between careers depending on the circumstances, needing to smuggle to keep revenue coming if armed seizure of cargoes was not an option, or to seize cargoes at sea that might not otherwise be loaded aboard his vessel.

As an island nation whose lifeblood was circulated by vessels at sea, England had quite a number of corners that cultivated these practices.  Cornwall, of course, was the most famous breeding ground in England for pirates and smugglers (and their bastard children, the wreckers), but as of 1664 a new piece of the expanding British Empire soon brought forth more opportunities to practice both trades, sometimes simultaneously.

For the newly seized colony, named after Charles II’s brother James, the Duke of York, who would soon be the center of an interesting tale involving amazing seamanship himself, the conditions were right for smugglers and pirates to find booty around this addition to empire:

  • England had their hands on a well-placed colony with one of the best harbors in the New World
  • The new harbor was centrally located, surrounded by resources the English had either cultivated or just grabbed from the Dutch and Swedes, that needed to be shipped back home from this port
  • The citizens in the newly acquired colony were geared towards commerce, which was the guiding principal that drew them to these shores under the guidance of the Dutch West India Company
  • The English had passed the year before the ironically-named “Act for the Encouragement of Trade” which legislated that all goods going to American holdings had to be shipped on English vessels via English ports, where the goods would be inspected and taxed, after which the shippers would pass on the fees to the colonists

So, a perfect port, with loads of goods coming in and out, peopled by traders in the New World to make a fortune, where the authorities are skimming as much as they can; you can almost hear the furious unfurling of sails within three days of the Verrazano Narrows as you think about it…

And people wonder why the mercantilist system and the Golden Age of Piracy coincide so nicely…

So, you may ask, if New York was such a pirate haven, why did it not get the same reputation as Port Royal?

In a word, subtlety.  That, over and above Port Royal being closer to the action as far as going after the Plate Fleet and being warmer year-round, plus the Jamaican sin city’s furious sudden demise by earthquake in 1692, allowed New York to stay in the shadows, where most smugglers and pirates prefer to be, as opposed to carousing in the open all hours of the days.

Or, to put it another way, the institutional allowance of supporting both piracy and smuggling enabled the Sweet Trade to be conducted in an orderly manner that did not come with the same flash and attention that were drawn by those pirates in Port Royal.

A good example of this was Governor Benjamin Fletcher, who during his term from 1692 to 1697 undertook a robust if unique economic development plan to allow the colony to compete with Boston and Philadelphia.  Fletcher would grant licenses to captains willing to engage in “the Red Sea trade,” which was a euphemism for fencing ill-gotten gain.  The theory was, any such goods so procured were assumed to have been seized by a commissioned privateer who harassed Barbary Coast corsairs on the Red Sea; the fact that the captain with a license may have only gotten as far east as Montauk was just not discussed in polite company…

And among Fletcher’s polite company was one Thomas Tew, one of the more infamous sea dogs to have plied the waters.  Tew’s seizure of an Ottoman treasure ship in the Indian Ocean had been done with a letter of marque issued in Jamaica, under terms that Tew was not willing to live up to; wanting to hold on to a bigger percentage of his booty, he made for New York, and when he arrived in 1694 made contact with the Governor, who not only welcomed him but had him as a dinner guest quite a few times.  Tew not only got to keep more of his treasure under Fletcher’s re-negotiated license, but even got a new partner in Fletcher, who helped finance his next venture later that year.

Fletcher was hoping to have an even bigger return on his investment; who knows, if Tew and Henry Every, a horror in his own right, had been able to take on the Fateh Muhammed without Tew being disemboweled by cannon shot, Fletcher might have done pretty well for himself.  But before his ship could come in (literally), Fletcher found himself recalled, to be replaced (when he got around to heading on over here) by Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont.

Bellomont was in an interesting situation, under orders from back home to clean up the mess his predecessor left behind.  To that end, he needed to take care of some of the bigger problems Fletcher had left him, and at the top of that list was Tew.  So, needing to go after a notorious pirate with a license from New York (who unbeknownst to everyone had already been killed by Ottoman deck guns), Bellomont offered a privateering license to another captain to go after Tew.

Choosing one William Kidd for the job…

Kidd’s career is a great story of the wrong man for the job managing to make a good run of it for a while at least.  He never expected to become a feared pirate; considering what he had waiting at home for him, which was why he was en route to New York when he was seized by British authorities and placed in irons,  he could be considered one of the more tragic figures to sail as a pirate.

Of course, there are the legends of his unclaimed treasure being buried somewhere close to New York, with every small island between Cape Hatteras and Cape May having been considered at some point over the last 300 years.  Even Liberty Island was thought to be a good suspect an some point.

Perhaps the story came out of a lot of folks looking for get-rich-quick schemes; certainly the number of guesses of where Kidd left his treasure start to go down after New York adopts the lottery in 1967.  Another possible source, far more likely, comes from how Kidd earned his money before he took to the Sweet Trade himself: As a privateer (a pirate with a license) and an investor is various privateering expeditions (more licensed piracy), he was able to plow a good amount of taken treasure back here.

Including a large chunk used to found Trinity Church, at the end of Wall Street.

Which should not be a surprise, as quite a number of prominent families invested with privateers, and maybe a little bit on the side with pirates and smugglers, families whose names are on the map as a result.  Landmarks and places such as Philipsburg Manor just north of the city on the Hudson, Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and (semi-indirectly) Willets Point in Queens, all came to be because of booty seized on the seas and unloaded ashore in New York.

These of course are the ones we can state with certainty.  Some families may have wanted to keep their connection with illicit trade quiet, for the sake of pride or as not to arouse envious suspicion.

And some of those families on the edges of the Sweet Trade that had done well might have lost naming rights come 1775, if they were on the wrong side of conflict that starts then…

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Going On The Account: Blogtober – Lest We Forget…

It’s the eleventh day of Blogtober, a month that so far has not been one without anything dramatic to write about, between the weather and the election.


A month that also has in it the eleventh day of the eleventh month: Armistice Day, which became Veterans Day for those who didn’t log in as much time on the inappropriately-named “War to End All Wars,” and Remembrance Day for those who were there from the beginning.


I wish I had more to say, but there’s the looming fear of being glib and wounding some folks close to me.  I have by way of very, very few degrees of separation folks who are veterans who should be taking advantage of all the free meals being offered today for active personnel.


Save for the fact that despite their prior service, their country still needs them.


This is one of those “don’t hate the player, hate the game” moments you see thrown around elsewhere, where in those cases the stakes are far smaller than life, death, national security and geopolitics.  One of the results of putting war on a credit card was similar to deferring maintenance on the car:  You keep with the old parts until you absolutely have to replace them.  They applied the same principle you would to your break pads and put in place stop gaps to keep active units and federalized national guard on the front lines for multiple tours of duty.


People, unfortunately, aren’t brake pads, and treating them as such does no service to them or their cause.  Our cause, I should say, though in order to fight the wars of the last decade the home front was kept as far from actual contact with it as possible, forcing us to take the blue pill and not ask the serious questions a people going to war should ask their leaders.

Would we have gone into these wars the way we did if we owned more of them?  If we had a more active stake, maybe a bond drive, or even a draft the way there had been during the First World War and the other long engagements before this, would things have come to this point?


My hope for those waiting to finish their tours as I remember them and everyone else who gave the ultimate service is that, if we don’t end all wars this time around, that we at least shut them down for the near term, and not need to send anyone else for a while.  Do take a moment, if you can, to remember those who’ve gone out, whether they came back or not.


And if you can, offer a hope that those still out there can come home soon.

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