Category Archives: Pirates

Pirate fiction

Going on the Account:Looking Ahead While Falling Behind

It’s been how long now since I’ve been here…?

Dang, that’s a while.

I suppose I could state that I’m living by the old statement, “If you don’t have anything nice to say…”

Because these days, it seems like no one has anything nice to say about anyone.  Which is normal for an election year, though this year’s especially nasty the way it’s falling out.

 

It could also be because there’s not been a general conversation that feels like I have anything to add to it.  Some times something comes up, there’s an impulse to spout, but then I take a second and ask, “Is what I’m going to say actually of interest or add anything to this?”  And if the answer after a few minutes is at best, “Eh,” then I move on.

Which is a sad tact to take if you write, because it means walking away from the craft.  It’s like a ball player who doesn’t take the field, or an actor who doesn’t take a role.  But there really wasn’t anything that felt worth discussing through “Going on the Account” during that period; I got some points out through my Facebook page which is to expressing yourself via a blog what dining on fast food and vending machine fare is to eating, but there wasn’t that much to say.

Until today.

There was an article at Motherboard that referred to a report posted at the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies that examines piracy in the modern age.  And a lot has changed even since I started posting Raging Gail here, or for that matter Red Jenny…

For one, the terminology has changed; the preferred term in the paper for the rovers is “Maritime Non-state Actors” or MNSAs.  Which is a little clinical, very exacting and probably a lot more accurate in terms of describing people on the water.

It’s also an effort at re-branding that allows people who think of tri-corner hats and parrots when you hear “pirate” to not associate them with modern sea dogs.  And with such a term, not having to put a face to them makes them easier to think of in more clinical terms, which allows you to consider options that would be more difficult if they were, oh, people…

The big surprise from the piece, however, is bringing up the emerging trend of drones being brought to bear by MNSAs.  (Sorry, pirates…)  It’s not out of character after years of tradition, having pirates get their hands on the latest arms to become a presence out at sea, so the idea that pirates in the future would command a drone or two, or even an entire swarm as they go after a prize, is not out of the realm of the possible.

It is, however, something that suddenly makes Red Jenny seem quaint.  I admit, when I wrote the novel, the idea of militarized drones being in the hands of armed civilians (or, if you insist, MNSAs) was not part of the consideration.  As the world building that went into the work postulated a general economic contraction as climate change whacked the planet, the idea of “exotic” weapons in the hands of pirates who would otherwise have more pressing needs getting their tools together was not a consideration.  The fact that drones could be weaponized so easily and cheaply since the last chapter was posted just makes this omission even more glaring.

In other words:  Dang, whoops.

(And to add to the embarrassment:  The author of the piece, David Rudd, wrote this from the perspective of how the Royal Canadian Navy could best deal with this situation.  Yes, the RCN, the same folks who had they been written into the book would have ended the West Seneca Crew’s adventures within three pages of first sighting.  Damn, talk about irony…)

But that happens.  I remember reading The Third World War: August 1985 when it came out in paperback, being impressed by the author’s projection of then current trends out into a believable scenario.  And I was willing to cut him some slack, as much of what made up his scenario when the book was published in 1978 quickly slipped away thanks to Ayatollah Khomeini, Ronald Reagan, and a number of other events that decided to follow their own course.

So when 1982 rolls around, we get The Third World War: The Untold Story, where Sir John Hackett… whacks the world against the reset button.  Instead of recognizing realty on the ground, he forces the ground to conform to his own will, making the world take a few radical steps to the side so that he didn’t have to rewrite the first book.  Maybe it was Sir John‘s being captured during Operation Market Garden or having to oversee the withdrawal from Palestine which resulted in years of pain left behind that did something to him to make him pull a stunt like that; who knows?  All I can do is shake my head at doing some serious defense of my work in the face of reality like that.

So no, if there’s a follow-up to Red Jenny, there will not be such shenanigans done to that level.  Tempting as it might be to engage in some wishful proclaiming, I would not do that, and just acknowledge that I got something wrong.

Mind you, I do have a few bottom-of-the-drawer projects that involve drones and pirates, stuff that takes place nowhere near Buffalo in the near future; if I get some time, I might do something with that…

In the meantime, I am going to try and come back here more often.  It’s too long since I’ve done some real, home-cooked, get-your-hands-messy-in-the-kitchen-honest blogging, and as much as the quick FB post at the House of Zuck can cover you, no, it’s just not the same.  I need to keep writing.

It’s not like I’m not writing at all; my output at REBEAT magazine has been pretty substantial, including a regular column called “Fantasia Obscura” that looks at older genre films (SF/horror/fantasy) that are in danger of being forgotten, so there’s that at least.

Hopefully this won’t be as easily forgotten as those are, least of all by me…

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Going on the Account: An Bhfuil Tu Do Fior?

I’m not looking forward to Tuesday, which is a hell of a thing for someone from an Irish family from Buffalo to admit aloud.

Yes, Saint Partick’s Day is supposed to be a day of Irish heritage, though as I was growing up I watched it get referred to as “Amateur Night” by people who noticed that the drinking aspects of the day  was being embraced bu folks of all backgrounds a bit inappropriately, as in “felony assault” level embracing.

Which could be lived with if things stayed at that sad level.  Over the last few years, though, there’s been an effort to get people to buy beads to wear as you go out drinking.

St. Patrick’s Day beads.

Yes, you read that right.  Saint.  F’n’.  Patrick’s.  Day.  Beads.

When in the hell did they go and turn this holiday into “Shrove Patrick’s Day”?

It reads a lot like the scene from the last week of the Passion, when Jesus chases the moneylenders out the temple.  Part of me would love it if on some bar that night, Denis Leary would pull an epic take-down of some frat bros weighed down in beads and call them what they were; since we’re trying to show a little decorum here, I’ll leave the particulars as to what he’d call them to your imagination, which much like a nasty fate in horror or a good sex scene in any genre is always better imagined than displayed…

As for me, I’ll stay away from stuff that the oltoiri trom will cast away in a haze that’s likely by Easter to find itself part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  I’ll have a few drinks on my own, honor the Irish who came before and made the world a better place, folks like Grace O’Malley (of course), maybe put on some music, a little CLancy Brothers, some Black 47, throw this one into the mix…

Because there’s way more to that day than an excuse to get sheit-faced.

And there’s no excuse for those f’n’beads!

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Going on the Account: What a Sick Dude

It could be all the antibiotics I’ve been taking this week talking, but I want to revisit some of my old plague fiction.

If I were a bit more subject to assigning purpose to an event’s timing, I’d say my bronchial misadventures this week were Nature’s way of asking me to look outside my normal wheelhouse.  All the coughing, the two-hour-a-night sleeping sessions with nothing to show from those overnight experiences except for a large plastic grocery bag fulled with mucus-encrusted tissues, the multiple visits to the doctors before I was prescribed something where drink plenty of fluids should not mean rum-and-cokes (or in my case rum-and-diet colas, or “R&Ds”) once I started on those, all the time in the world before me but unable to do any writing because of the hacking wheezes every few minutes…

Stuff like that can color your perspective.

Once upon a time, I wrote a few pieces to share in a writer’s group I was in; the first comment I got was, “Congrats on re-writing The Stand.” Not sure if he was kidding, thought it was a compliment, or why he chose that comparison over Camus’ The Plague, but any event, the comment stuck.  And I suppose other than pirates, sickness has been been a go-to point I’ve had for a lot of my stuff.

In fact, I did between fits of blowing my nose think about something that manages to combine the two, along with a few other elements.  It’s not high on the list right now, it’s very preliminary, but it’s something that may get a little more attention when I hit a few walls and want a break on some stuff.

Right now, it’s good to be able to say that I tried to write something and got this produced.  For the first time in a week, I got to run my fingers over the keys, without having to then interrupt myself to get a Kleenex to wipe up the snot that I just spewed all over the screen.  Keep this up, I may be able to call myself productive in ways that don’t involve bodily fluids…

Now, where’s those pills marked with letters that scream DO NOT TAKE WITH ALCOHOL…?

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Going On the Account: At Least Both Groups Carried Rum Aboard Their Vessels, So…

So how am I going to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day this year?

 

By talking about gangsters…

 

Which is not as big of a disconnect as, say, putting up a Christmas tree on Memorial Day.  I’ve already noted before how the pirate culture influences the gangster culture that follows, and there’s mention I note in the book The Pirates of New York as to one direct connection between the fall of the pirates and the rise of the gangsters.  There are cultural connections that were made, mindsets and traditions that hit men took from seadogs as a mercantilist economy was replaced by an industrial one and the talent pool shifted their focus elsewhere.

 

It makes for an interesting discussion, which will get some mention during the night of the 19th as I present another lecture at the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism.  Apparently, the last talk I gave on Jewish pirates was well enough received that I was invited back, this time to present a cultural program on a different set of rough characters:

 

Event:   Shabbat Service and Cultural Program

Start:    September 19, 2014 7:30 pm

 

End:     September 19, 2014 9:30 pm

 

Venue:   St. John’s Lutheran  Church

81 Christopher Street, New York, NY, 10014

AN OFFER YOU CAN’T REFUSE: The Rise and Fall of Jewish Mobsters

The best known Jewish gangsters – Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Mickey Cohen – were involved in the numbers rackets, illegal drug dealing, prostitution, gambling and loan sharking. The roots of Jewish gangsterism lay in the ethnic neighborhoods of the Lower East Side; Brownsville, Brooklyn; Maxwell Street in Chicago; and Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Find out more about this unsavory crowd, from the Brownsville Boys to Julius Bernstein, the last Jewish mobster.

 

 

More details can be found here; if you’re in the Village that night and want to be celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day among their spiritual successors, I’d love to see you there!

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Going On The Account: Pressing Your Luck

A more detailed account appeared today about the death of two security providers for the MV Maersk Alabama.

 

Yes, that ship, the same one whose encounter off Somalia made Americans aware of modern pirates and spawned a film up for an Academy Award this Sunday.  Like all vessels not sunk by pirates, she was gone over after the encounter, made seaworthy again, and sent on her way, hoping never to see anything like this again.

 

At least she had before two ex-SEALs hired to defend her were found dead in their cabins.

 

They make mention of it in passing in the piece and try to quash it there, so let’s be clear here:  There is no Maersk Alabama curse.  Five years between two incidents with tangential connection does not constitute a Jonah ship.  If such things like this had any weight, Carnival Cruises would have been scuttled and NBC would have long ago cancelled Saturday Night Live to fight its curse, both of which some folks out there might still want to see…

 

The sad fact is, claims of curses are not warranted.  Bad luck, maybe, if you can believe in luck as being bad.

 

I think I can say without fear that there is luck in the world, a certain amount of chance that affects everything.  It allows for some groups of people to find favorable conditions that encourages them, and for some to have the odds become ever so much longer.  It allowed for some of the winners of the past a chance to thrive, and proved too much of an impediment to some who might have been better able to make a go otherwise.

 

There was no pre-ordained factor planned out to make Cortes’ invasion of Mexico an automatic success; he had some luck go his way in terms of who he met and what happened to the Nahua before he got there.  There were plenty of factors by design to allow for sea dogs of the Golden Age of Piracy to be a success, but any one of them who denied the role of luck in their ventures was a damned fool.  My getting you to read this piece, despite all the marketing tricks I can afford without selling my soul, ultimately relies on an act of chance that you got this far.

 

But while there is luck in the world, I’m not convinced of it being “good” or “bad.”  Luck is like other primal elements, in that it exists for good or ill, and that it’s how we make the most of it that determines its character.  Like fire and rain, it exists, and how we work with it and react determines how we move ahead.

 

What happened to Jeffrey Reynolds and Mark Kennedy is a sad tragedy that hopefully will be explained soon, with appropriate closure to come.  But to call it a “curse” at any time would be a disservice to them or the ship they were upon.

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Going On The Account: Have Spiel, Will Travel…

I did mention a little while ago that I had a talk coming up about pirates…

 

…which all said seemed to go pretty well.  I got a chance to turn my research notes for Raging Gail into a presentation, customizing it a bit for the audience (stressing that night the Jewish contribution to the Golden Age of Piracy, for an audience that was approaching the Age of Sail with a limited background).  I had a few technical issues with the venue, which is why I only have stills from the presentation as opposed to footage:

Photo courtesy of peter Mones

Photo courtesy of Peter Mones

 

Yes, I did come with visual aids; due to technical considerations, I had to bring physical materials as opposed to projecting files via a PowerPoint presentation.  Which was probably for the best, as one of the technical challenges was discovering the death of the sound system with moments to go before we started.

 

Out of this came a valuable lesson:  If you’re going to make a presentation, have two versions of your talk ready to go, as the version you hoped to give with a mic is just not going to work so well when you have to shout to the room…

Photo Courtesy of Peter Mones

Photo courtesy of Peter Mones

 

The one part of the speech that did go as I had rehearsed:  Yes, that’s a small bottle of rum on the podium.  Which I brought with me as a living artifact, as the history of mercantilism in the New World is best told by holding up as an example one of the main resulting products thereof, a bottle of rum.

 

No, I won’t go into what was said then right here; in fact, if you are interested in what a talk like this covers, I am willing to give a version of this at an event that is willing to book me.  The main body of the talk (about the history of piracy in the New World, covered in Raging Gail) can be amended to stress specific aspects noted in the novel, such as the influences that Jews and women had on the Sweet Trade.  The talk can also be geared towards material covered in the work The Pirates of New York.  As I said, the main body of the talk was geared towards people coming to this subject without an intense background, so it can serve audiences approaching this time and place cold.

If you wish, you can contact me via my Facebook page.

And as you can see, if I come to where you are, I will bring drinks…

 

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Going On The Account: Seized Booty: Me Write Good

For the first time, I’ve re-blogged another person’s entry…
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Let me introduce you to Speaker7, the woman who made a name for herself with her summations of Fifty Shades of Grey that allows you to understand that work without actually suffering through it, and re-introduced the world to the Hugo Man of 1000 Faces puppet, which frankly for everything the 1970s has haunted us with was relatively benign…

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So why am I reposting her stuff here?  Other than for the fact that this was a particularly good piece, and that I had to offer some props to her for encouraging me to engage in the Blogtober stunt last year?

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Well, there’s my professional standing amongst the Brethren of the Coast, Local # 180164 (hey me folks, arrrgh!).  I got a note from the shop steward-cum-first mate that it’d been too long since I’d seized a prize, and that for the sake of me professional standing I had to swoop down and grab me some booty to take with me that I then be bound to pull into port with where I was to then take her and…

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…well, the rest of the requirement is both technical and graphic, so let’s leave it at that point and just say that after the swooping in and claiming of the prize, that I have renewed my right to carry on in the name of a proud tradition in place since the 1600s.

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Or at the very least I can justify carrying on…

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My thanks to Speaker7 for being a good sport, and hoping Mr. Speaker did well in his race for office tonight.

Speaker7

Now that I’m writing daily, I figured this was an opportune time to analyze who I am as a writer.

I am not doing this because I’m desperately looking for something to write about only three days into NaBloWriMo, but because….um…yeah, I can’t even finish this sentence.

Analyzing takes a lot of work and takes away from the time I should be watching my son while he sticks legos into the garbage disposal. Luckily there is a website that does it for me: I Write Like.

You likely have heard of this site because it became super popular three years ago–this is why this blog is on the cutting edge, according to a search I performed in AltaVista.

The basic premise is you paste some of your stuff into a comment box and presto! you are told you write like a great artist such as a Norman Mailer or…

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Going On The Account: Um, Really…?

Supposedly, Britney Spears music is being used to deter pirate acts off Somalia.

 

Not.  Saying.  A.  Word…

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Going On The Account: Because It Amuses Me, No…?

I had a good friend on Facebook (where I can be reached if you so desire) share with me the following YouTube video…

 

Which, frankly, is a lot more prescient than you might initially imagine…

 

Consider this closely:  Both Edward Teach and Alphonse Capone did the same thing, in that they built an organization to maximize their enterprises and bring efficiencies to their operations, both of which were not accepted by the so-called “legitimate” economic authorities of their time.  Both Blackbeard and Scarface offered product in high demand in an economic environment where a market existed despite the desire of the authorities to prohibit the demand, if not outright outlaw it.

Which makes the two figure and their culture fairly equivalent.  Though, granted, we’re not likely to see a lot of Tony Montana imitators showing up at Gasparilla any time soon, if given a chance to meet on neutral ground, they might find a lot more commonalities than initially assumed…

But there is a serious question posed here:  How much of the pirate culture ends up influencing the gangster ethos we find later on?  Do the efforts to countermand the mercantile economics of the 17th Century play a role in the formation of the gangster alternate economic model we face in the 20th Century?  Can we claim that the Five Families owe their existence and organizational framework to the work done by those members of the Brethren of the Coast hundreds of years earlier?  Is there a solid connection we can make between the two?

And what would the impact be if we could?  Would pirate fest organizers have to start serving folks in Fedoras as equals if they started showed up at their events?  Could I get a discount at any tour of Chicago’s mob tour sites if I started to say, “Avast! I’ll have that bilge rat boarded and plundered if ye not be striking yer colors, now!”

(And trust me, if you hear me saying that, ’tis a pretty dire situation; I can be quite loud when I get pirate-y…)

In the end, does the under-culture that infuses American history bear a strong connection from pirates to gangsters?  And are we better off recognizing this?  Admittedly, when there was some direct connection between the two cultures, Scarface did whack the successor to the local New York pirates, so perhaps there’s not as much natural affinity between the two groups as one would imagine.

Then again, we could always use allies against those damned ninjas…

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Going On The Account: Looking Further Out

Forgive the radio silence; too many late nights lately, including one that came close to being heart-wrenchingly fatal…

In the interim, word came out about two Americans seized by pirates off the coast of Nigeria.  The only real surprise here is that this action didn’t take place sooner.

 

You’d think that the world would have assembled a flotilla along the same lines of CTF-151 to sail off the west coast of Africa before now, but we’re not hearing much about actions to protect vessels out this way.  Whether it’s because unlike Somalia, there is an actual state ashore that’s (supposedly) providing order and can handle their own crises, or the fact that said state which may or may not be doing what it needs to happens to be a member of OPEC, and thus has a few friends we don’t want to piss of if push came to shove there, or if the appetite for foreign adventure has dimmed after being on station for four years already, there’s no apparent call for all hands on deck to address this side of the continent.

 

Maybe the push to frack the hell out of as much shale gas as possible here is what’s keeping Nigeria from turning into another international crisis.  Which is a great example of the Law of Unintended Consequences; we come up with a solution to a long-standing issue (dependence on energy from overseas) but find ourselves with problems we hand’t counted on (unprotected shipping).  Just as the only way you can ever truly be carbon neutral is to just be dead already, so we will never solve anything with a solution; all we’ll ever do is fix one issue and get ready for the next one that results out of our fix…

Speaking of resolving an issue, there’s an interactive piece over at nytimes.com, “A Game of Shark and Minnow” that looks at the stand off between China and the Philippines and their claims over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.  Even if you don’t have a lot of interest in the issue itself, the coverage provided at the site is very innovative and worth scrolling through just to admire the software engineering used to relay it.

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Going On The Account: Take His Advice, Please!

 

Listen to the nice carp; he knows what he’s talking about…

Don’t end up like Mohamed Abdi Hassan, aka “Loud Mouth,” who was conned into leaving Somalia by Belgian officials who pretended they wanted to make a movie based on his exploits, and wanted him as a technical adviser for their own Captain Phillipsinspired piece.

Apparently, the promise of getting an additional booty from his trips to sea, or maybe a strong desire to come up with a more accurate account of the action (though he might have made a few coins on the side if he was a professional witness against Mersk to counter Phillips testifying against his former crew…), led him to be talked into flying from Somalia to Kenya, where he was picked up by Belgian officials who were Lying-in-wait than Lions Gate.  They whisked Loud Mouth off within moments of grabbing him, and he’s scheduled to face arraignment on October 15th in Bruges.

Let’s be clear here:  If you were part of a Somali pirate crew, and someone claims to be a producer who wants to take a meeting with you, DON’T DO IT!

At the very least, Skype first, then insist on taking a face-to-face somewhere safe, like Dubai…

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Going On The Account: Talking Like/About Pirates!

Arrrr!  And it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day today, it be!

And once again, ye land-lubbers can be pretending to be going on the account, yellin’ to the wenches and sirs, “Avast! Prepare to be boarded!” as ye be taking liberties with them, blaming it all on the grog the whole time.  Arrrr, ye almost be making Cinco de Mayo and Saint Patrick’s Day look respectable by comparison…

Aye, yes, it be me, the Jonah to the buzz of the day, jabbin’ on about what we can learn from pirates, asking again to have us think about pirates, not just be using them as cheap excuses to get drunk.  If ye be meaning to get all ye sheets full into the wind, ye can get drunk to toasting your local postman, which may not be the most glamorous reasons to hoist a few, but it’s an excuse for a drink, right…?

Arrr, so I be drinkin’ with me small crew portside and not be doing no learnin’ to ye the way I be hoping to each year, unless ye picked up me tome, The Pirates of New York, which be free for the seizing today.  And if ye missed getting yer hands on this booty because ye be looking for other booty elsewhere (and no, she’s not into ye at all, so stop staring at her, matey…), she be yours for a mere twelve bits.

As for me wanting to teach ye, I get me chance a few days off…

Arrr!  Let me be parroting here the write up about me talk to the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, SEMETIC SEADOGS! Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, that I be giving on October 4th:

The story of an unlikely group of swashbuckling Jews who ransacked the high seas!
They had boats with names like the Prophet Samuel, Queen Esther, and Shield of Abraham. They attacked and plundered the Spanish fleet while forming alliances with other European powers to ensure the safety of Jews living in hiding. Their tales are filled with attractive and repellant personalities, including a warrior rabbi, a shady arms dealer, and loathsome Spanish inquisitors. Learn not only about the Jews who practiced the Sweet Trade, but how many of them got away with it!

So aye, I be offering me knowledge about pirates close on the day after all.  The notes I took in bringing Samuel de Cadiz to life, that be the basis of me talk that night.

And I promise you, it will not be entirely in pirate argot like this post; fun as that might be, I’ve got an audience to think of here…

So here be where the parley be, if ye be in the port of New York that night:

City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism

October 4th, 2013

7:30 PM

14th Street Y

344 East 14th Street (near corner of 1st Avenue)

New York, NY  10009

Arrr, if ye be willin’ to see me keel haul meself before an audience, and ye have a need to see something different for free on a Friday, then this be your course to chart, aye…

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