Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:40 PM * 0 comments
Applications for the Viable Paradise Writers’ Workshop (taught by, among others, Miss Teresa and Mr. Patrick) close three weeks from tonight at midnight, EDT.
Now in its seventeenth year, held every autumn on Martha’s Vineyard, this is a one-week intensive workshop on writing commercial fantasy and science fiction. We deal with both novel-length and short fiction.
This year’s instructors:
- Debra Doyle
- Elizabeth Bear
- James D. Macdonald
- Patrick Nielsen Hayden
- Teresa Nielsen Hayden
- Sherwood Smith
- Steven Brust
- Steven Gould Special Guest: Scott Lynch
We have food, music, pancakes, jellyfish, lighthouses, stars, and a pretty good track record. Three out of three of this year’s RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Book Awards in SF/Fantasy, for example (Scalzi, former instructor; Jemisin, graduate; Bear, current instructor). The writers’ successes are their own; still, we’re proud of ‘em.
Class size is limited to 24.
Application information is here. (Short version: 8K word writing sample plus a $25 application fee.)
Learn the VP Oath and discover for yourself the Horror that is Thursday!
Posted by Patrick at 05:54 AM * 16 comments
Teresa is Editor Guest of Honor at ConQuest 44 in Kansas City this weekend. It’s the first time any con has had TNH as a solo guest, rather than as part of “Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden,” so naturally she’s been looking forward to it. It’s also one of her (and my!) favorite regional SF cons anywhere. In not unrelated news, the external pins were removed from her left foot earlier this week, which means she can now (cautiously) get out of the house and go places after twelve weeks of being almost totally housebound.
As luck would have it, though, the same mid-continent weather system that spawned the deadly tornado in Oklahoma City is now sending band after band of thunderstorms over the East Coast. Our mid-Thursday-evening flight to Kansas City was cancelled mid-Thursday morning, and we were automatically rescheduled onto a flight leaving Friday morning. But we can read the weather forecasts, and it looked (and still looks) like that flight won’t be going anywhere either. In fact, it looked increasingly likely that we might not make it to Kansas City until Saturday.
It occurred to us, however, that while thunderstorms routinely ground passenger aircraft, automobiles can punch through thunderstorms just fine. New York to Kansas City would be rather a long drive…but New York to Cleveland, Ohio, on the other side of the weather system, is entirely manageable. With admirable alacrity, the ConQuest people rebooked us onto a noon-Friday flight out of Cleveland, and we grabbed a one-way car rental and set forth early Thursday afternoon.
For science-fictional good luck, and because it’s at pretty much the right point in the drive, we got a motel room in Clarion, Pennsylvania, which is indeed the town where the famous SF writing workshop was originally held. Now it’s 6:00 AM on Friday and we’re about to check out and drive the rest of the way to Cleveland. Yesterday’s drive across Pennsylvania was gorgeous, with ever-changing light conditions through the mountains and valleys, and only occasionally terrifying as the bands of heavy rain reduced visibility to near white-out conditions. (I should note that not only is TNH a very skillful driver, but also that her instruction in case she’s pronounced clinically dead is that she be put behind the wheel of a car, since that’s the single thing most likely to revive her.) So that’s where we are—driving from New York to Cleveland in order to catch a flight to Kansas City. Hey, it’s better than missing half the con.
Meanwhile, I see from Locus’s Twitter feed that they’ve now posted, to their web site, some excerpts from their recent interview with us. Worth a look if you haven’t got a copy of the magazine itself.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:24 AM * 128 comments
If you absolutely have to talk about the herd of laser unicorns that so unexpectedly appear at the climax of the latest Star Trek movie, but do not dare do so in public because your friends will look at you sadly for spoiling the film for them, THIS IS THE PLACE to talk about the laser unicorns.
For here there be SPOILERS!
Posted by Patrick at 05:00 PM * 120 comments
I really don’t want to get back into the business of being a big critic of Wikipedia, a site I use every day. But if, like me, you use it and care about it, you really should read the article Andrew Leonard has on Salon today: ““Revenge, Ego, and the Corruption of Wikipedia.”
As Andrew asks: if this has been going on, with (up until today) no consequences to its perpetrator, what else don’t we know about?
Posted by Patrick at 09:45 AM * 53 comments
Urban light rail — and a construction site that’s been allowed to eliminate a whole block’s sidewalk, not even building a protected detour for pedestrians.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:01 AM * 25 comments
This recipe is from the intensely talented fantasy author Stacia Kane, and is reprinted here with her permission. Stacia is originally from the USA but now lives in England.
I like puff pastry crusts for meat pies—I like a high crust-to-meat ratio—so I buy it ready-made; making puff pastry is so time-consuming (all that buttering and folding and rolling and resting in the fridge and buttering and folding and rolling and resting in the fridge), and I’ve actually never gotten great results. Pepperidge Farm makes a really nice ready-made puff pastry; you can find it in the fridge or freezer section in any grocery store (I also did smaller pies using their little round hors’d’ouvres pastry crusts: one with ground beef and one with shredded chicken, which are much quicker than the steak pie). (Here in the UK I use Jus-Rol, but Pepperidge Farm is the way to go in the US.)
I have made a nice hot-water pastry for meat pies, too, but I like puff. All those flaky layers.
So, here’s what I do, for a regular 9-inch pie. You’ll want to do this either quite early in the day, or the day before, because ideally the filling will be cool when it goes into the crust:
3 lbs stewing beef (if you want, you can buy a chuck roast and cut it into chunks)
1 16-oz can/bottle dark (stout) beer; I prefer Murphy’s Irish Stout to Guinness (really, I’ve used both and for me there’s no comparison)
1 onion, chopped fine (if you want; I use onion powder, usually)
In a large frying pan/saucepan/braiser with a good lid, brown the beef in a Tbsp or so of butter, with a tsp of olive or vegetable oil to keep it from scorching. Brown it in batches (I put the browned meat in the upturned lid to save washing dishes).
If you’re using chopped onion (I’ve minced a shallot in there, too, on occasion), add it after the meat is browned and stir it until it’s soft. Then add the beef back in, and add a handful or two of
Stir well to make a sort-of roux; this will help thicken the filling later.
Once the flour is cooked (just a minute or two), add salt and pepper; not too much at first, maybe a tsp of salt and half a tsp of pepper?
Then add your herbs etc. I usually use (all of these are dried, as this is a long-simmered dish):
½ tsp or so of:
¼ tsp or so of:
a dash of nutmeg/rub the nutmeg over the microplane grater once or twice
Now add at least a tsp or two of Worcestershire (VERY important!). Sometimes I add a splash of soy, too. If you have some Kitchen Bouquet that’s great to add. I also often add a bit of beef stock concentrate, just as a flavor boost.
This next bit depends on how hot your burners run. Mine run very hot—it’s hard to get a good low simmer—so I add the entire can of beer (slowly so it doesn’t foam over). When I had a burner that ran lower I’d add about ⅔ of it and wait to see if it needed more. So that would be my recommendation unless you have a hard time simmering something low.
Scrape up all the fond (most of it probably came up already with the flour/Worcestershire, and especially if you used diced onion).
Add two or three bay leaves (I use three).
Cover and let simmer 2½ - 3 hours. I like the meat VERY tender; you may want to stop simmering sooner, but as with any stew beef recipe you’ll want to give it at least a couple of hours. Check it every once in a while to see how the liquid level is doing. When it’s done, taste it and adjust the seasonings. Remember that the pastry crust is rather bland, so it’s okay for the meat to be a little more highly flavored.
At some point during the cooking, preheat your oven to 400° F and thaw one of the pastry sheets. You want it to still be cold, but not frozen hard. Personally, I just sort of push and manipulate it with my hands to fit it into the pie dish; you may want to roll it out, but I’ve made this at least a hundred times over the years so no longer bother with all of that. I just plop it into the dish, push it into the edges, and trim the excess (which I then squeeze into the parts where it isn’t covering the rim of the dish). A good way to keep it from shrinking too much is to fold the tiniest bit over the rim of the pie dish. It will still shrink some but that won’t matter too much.
Some people only use a top crust. IMO that’s not a pie, that’s beef stew with a pastry lid. (Like I said, I am a pastry girl and like a high crust-meat ratio.)
Anyway. Shove that bottom crust into the oven and bake it about fifteen minutes (or according to package directions, but don’t give it the full time, just most of it). This will help keep the bottom crust from getting too soggy. Again, you’ll want to do this fairly early on, because ideally this bottom crust will be cool when you add the filling. (I have often added hot filling to hot crust, and it’s fine if you just don’t have time to let it all cool etc.—it won’t ruin the pie or anything—but it really is nicer if you can let it all cool, both for a less-soggy crust and a thicker filling.)
Once the meat is done, let it sit uncovered for a while, stirring occasionally. It will thicken as it stands. It’ll still be a bit liquidy, FYI, but it won’t be AS liquidy. Take out the top crust when the package tells you to, in terms of how far in advance.
I have a little Le Creuset pie bird. They’re very inexpensive, and good/kind of fun to have, but they’re not necessary. If you have one, plunk it into the center of the bottom crust and add the filling around it. If not, just add the filling. I recommend spooning the filling into the crust, because you can control the liquid level better. Honestly, you probably only want like ¼ cup of the liquid in there.
The top crust is easier than the bottom crust, and again, I just trim the ends off and plunk it on there. Also again, make sure it’s still quite cold! Otherwise it won’t rise and flake as nicely. If you have a pie bird, fit the center around the bird’s beak and cut a few more vent slices in the top crust. If you don’t, make an X in the very center and reflect back the points so you have a little hole, and cut some vents—I usually do four vents, which makes it look pretty. The vents also really help the top crust puff and flake up.
Pop the pie into a 400° F oven. Set your timer for ten minutes. Take a look at the ten minute mark; is it browning? It’s not uncommon for the edges to puff and brown before the center (which will look sunken and bumpy as it “melts” over the meat before puffing up), so there’s nothing wrong if it’s doing that but at some point you may want to cover the edges with foil to keep them from burning. Also at that ten-minute point, give it a turn to help even cooking.
Check it again at twenty minutes. If the top crust isn’t fully puffed and golden, give it another turn and another five-ten minutes. This really depends on your oven and even stuff like humidity etc. Usually my pies take about twenty-five - thirty minutes for the top crust to be all nice and flaky/puffy.
Let the pie sit five minutes or so before cutting (longer if you can, up to about fifteen).
You can use the leftover cooking liquid to make gravy, but keep in mind how highly flavored that liquid probably is; you’ll want to add water and simmer it down. Sometimes I use gravy mix and add a few Tbsp of that liquid to that, because I’m lazy and because at that point I’ve got my big burner going with potatoes to mash and at least one smaller burner with vegetables, and there’s not room for the big braiser I did the meat in, too. But that’s up to you.
This is just as good as leftovers, and really, you can easily make the meat the day before and just assemble the pie as usual. I’ve actually put the filled bottom crust into the fridge before when dinner plans suddenly changed, and just popped the top crust on and cooked it the next day, and that worked great, too.
You can add whatever seasonings you want, of course. Sometimes I add a bit of mustard powder. Whatever you like. I stick to the savory herbs, because that’s what I like. And I really don’t recommend garlic in this; I’m not sure why but it just always tastes weird to me to have garlic in here. But hey, give it a try if you like.
Sorry if these are a tad disjointed; again, I’ve made this so many times I don’t really even have to think anymore about what I’m doing. But that’s the basic recipe/method, and again, one of my absolute favorite dinners and something we all like and have a lot. So I’d love to hear what you think!
Stacia’s latest book is Chasing Magic. Buy one. Better still, buy a dozen. They make excellent gifts.
Cooking With Light (Recipe Index)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:54 PM * 70 comments
Ray Harryhausen died today at the age of 92.
I can’t stress enough how much a part of my life he and his work were. I remember being ticked at Lyndon Johnson for preempting Earth vs. the Flying Saucers in order to sign the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Using … numerous pens. About half a letter per pen, then put that pen aside, pick up another, and write another half-letter… meanwhile my movie was playing on WPIX, New York. In those pre-videotape days, if you missed a film in the theaters during its first run, you might catch it in a second-run theater a year or two later. If you missed it then you had to wait for it to come on TV. And if you missed it on TV it might be years before it came around again. If ever. (I did eventually get to see it, when I was in college.)
Every Sunday the New York Times had a TV section listing for the following week: Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13. Channels 9 (WOR) and 11 (WPIX) had the Creature Features. 13 was PBS. 2, 4, and 7 were WCBS, WNBC, and WABC. Channel 5 was WNEW. I’d take the listing, and circle in red pencil the shows I wanted to watch. WOR and WPIX had most of them. Any time a Harryhausen film film was listed, it got circled.
(Channel 5 had Soupy Sales in the afternoon, which was the only thing worth watching if there weren’t any decent movies showing. Channel 11 had Ivanhoe, starring a very young Roger Moore.)
I remember seeing It Came From Beneath the Sea on a black-and-white TV that my father built. It Came From Beneath the Sea featured the giant octopus (which only had six arms if you got around to counting them) attacking San Francisco.
One of the disappointments of my youth was going to The Bedford Playhouse (in Bedford, New York, years before it was cut up into a two-screen theater, when movies were a dollar, and, on Wednesdays, when the show changed, they’d have a double feature for that same dollar) one Saturday afternoon, because they had a hand-lettered sign out front promising The Mysterious Island. Alas, the film that actual showed was some Brit invasion-from-outer-space/bodysnatchers-ripoff film.
On my wedding day my new bride and I, after the ceremony, went to a double-feature of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Warlords of Atlantis (along with many members of the wedding party).
You can keep your CGI for all that — the stop-motion animation that Ray Harryhausen did… that was real movie magic.
Posted by Patrick at 02:00 PM * 23 comments
The latest Locus features an interview with us. It’s not online—the contents of the printed magazine and their web site mostly don’t overlap—but you can buy a printed copy (or a downloadable ePub, Mobi, or PDF version) here.
It was a slightly disquieting experience, not least because I’ve been reading Locus for (unbelievably but truly) 43 years. The interview was taken in Liza Trombi’s hotel room one morning at last year’s Worldcon. Their basic method is to have a lively conversation with the interview subject, transcribe the whole thing, and then remove all their own questions and prompts, so it looks as if the person being interviewed is a prodigiously voluble monologuist. Or, in our case, a pair of prodigiously voluble monologuists. (Low-hanging fruit. Go for it.) Then they send the transcript back to the subject, for fact-checking and horrified second thoughts.
By and large, their method works well. When we’d finished chatting with Liza, we both had the sense that we’d been dismally incoherent, but when the transcript arrived in our email a few months later, somehow they’d managed to make us look much smarter than we remembered being. It did turn out to be a lot more about our long-ago past in fandom, and 1980s NYC publishing, than I think I expected when I walked in the door. But that’s really okay.
(I posted a brief excerpt from the interview to our calling-card page at nielsenhayden.com, which was about a year and a half overdue to be updated anyway.)
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:55 AM * 118 comments
This is a thread for SPOILERS concerning the recent film release.
No need for ROT-13 or SPOILER Alerts inside here, because this thread is for SPOILERS.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:20 AM * 86 comments
When some guy loses his life savings playing a carnival game, you just say, “Hunh?” When a government ministry lays down millions to buy pixie dust, you have to say “Wow!”
If you’re going to have security theater, you need props. Allow me to introduce Mr. James McCormick, sentenced yesterday in the UK to three ten-year jail terms (to be served concurrently, eligible for parole in five), for selling magic wands.
The ADE 651 is the device that made Mr. McCormick’s fortune. ADE stands for Advanced Detection Equipment. It’s the fourth device in the series, following the ADE 100, the ADE 101, and the ADE 650.
Let’s back up a bit. Allow me to introduce the Gopher. This is a gag golf-ball detector, sold in joke-and-party stores in the US for under twenty bucks. What it is, is a plastic handle with a metal rod attached to the front on a hinge so it can swing left and right. When your golf ball goes into the rough and you can’t locate it, pull out your handy Gopher and the rod will swing to indicate which way it lies!
This works by the same principle that moves the planchette on a Ouija board. Tiny involuntary muscle movements make your hand tremble, causing the rod to swing. As to how well it works, the words “random chance” should appear in your mind.
The War On Terror brought a huge market for bomb-detection technology. McCormick saw his chance, bought up a bunch of Gophers, peeled off the labels and replaced them with labels of his own. He repackaged them, and sold them for $6,000 and up (up to $30,000-$60,000 each) to security forces in twenty different countries. It was proved in open court that mold-marks and imperfections in the Gopher handles were identical with the mold-marks and imperfections in the handles of the ADE 100.
Over the ten years that McCormick sold the things he made improvements. To make the device seem more trustworthy he made the handle heavier. Later versions came in hard-sided carrying cases with pre-cut foam packing. The device now had two parts; the handle with the swinging rod attached by a cable to a belt pouch where the detector box was located. That box had a slot into which you’d put a plastic card identifying what it was you were looking for. The box, though, contained no components. The cards, colorfully printed on one side and with an RFID pasted to the other, were just pieces of plastic.
As to how Mr. McCormick sold the things: A combination of high-pressure sales tactics and sleight-of-hand. He claimed that his detector could find any explosives within a kilometer; through lead; through ten feet of earth or twenty feet of water; or from an airplane. The detectors could also supposedly find bank notes, ivory, blood, and a wide variety of drugs. He used fancy words like electrostatic ion attraction and electrochemical (Thermo-Redox) detection to describe how they supposedly worked.
The ADE didn’t have any apparent power source. McCormick explained this by saying it was powered by the static electricity generated by the operator.
He also used old-fashioned bribery. He supposedly sold $122 million worth of the devices to the Iraqi government, but at the cost of $65 million in bribes, leaving him with just $57 million in profit (from which he’d have to subtract the manufacturing cost of up to $60 each).
McCormick bought a house and a yacht. Not just a house, an $8 million house in Bath, England. And a vacation home in Florida. And another in Cyprus. That’s a pretty nice-looking yacht, too.
Let us suppose that you are trying to sell the Card Color Detector 5000. The most advanced Card Color Detector in the world, operating by Heisenbergian Macro-Wave Format Vibration. Here’s how you make one: Take a length of thread. Tie on a finger ring. There you go! Now explain that the CCD 5000 will swing in a straight line over black cards, and in a circle over red cards. To prove it, lay down a series of playing cards face down. Hold the CCD 5000 above each in turn. It works every time! (It’s lots easier for you to do this demonstration if you use marked cards.) Now allow the person to whom you’re selling it to try. Each time it correctly determines the color, say, “See how well it works!” Each time it doesn’t, say, “You weren’t relaxed enough.” Put it in a nice box, include a four-color glossy brochure, and slap a five-figure price tag on it. Remember: A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demonstration.
The “not relaxed enough” line was the actual excuse for why the thing didn’t always function: The operator wasn’t relaxed. Nothing says “relaxed” like “trying to detect terrorist bombs at a police checkpoint in Pakistan.”
As Judge Richard Hone at the Old Bailey said:
“The jury found that you knew the devices did not work, yet the soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere believed in them, in part due to your powers of salesmanship and in part the extravagant and fraudulent claims made in your promotional material.
“After a six-week trial, I am wholly satisfied that your fraudulent conduct in selling so many useless devices for simply enormous profit promoted a false sense of security and in all probability materially contributed to causing death and injury to innocent individuals.”
Worried that you won’t be able to detect explosives now? You can smile! The GT200, manufactured by a different
conman company is still on sale! They’re being used right now today in Mexico (among many other countries) to find weapons and drug caches.
And, presumably, golf balls.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:01 AM * 27 comments
It’s the end of an era for the famous (and at times infamous) Hotmail service. Hotmail pioneered Web-based email prior to its acquisition by Microsoft in 1997. In making the move to Outlook.com, Microsoft’s online team will leverage the brand of the company’s widely used Outlook software, while seeking to bring its consumer email service into modern world of tablets, smartphones and other devices.
“We’ll have one clean story across Microsoft for how you get mail,” said Microsoft’s Dharmesh Mehta. “Outlook equals mail from Microsoft.”
It started in 1996 as HoTMaiL. Web-based email. Now … it isn’t. As of 03 May 2013 @hotmail.com is deprecated.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 09:35 PM * 49 comments
North Country Computing Terms
- Log On: Making the wood stove hotter
- Log Off: Don’t add any more wood
- Monitor: Keeping an eye on the wood
- Download: Getting the wood off the truck
- Megahertz: When you’re not careful getting the firewood
- Floppy Disk: What you get from trying to carry too much wood
- Ram: That thing that splits the wood
- Hard Drive: Getting home in the winter time in the snow
- Prompt: What the mail isn’t in the winter time
- Windows: What you shut when it’s cold outside
- Screen: What you shut when it’s black fly season
- Byte: What those dang black flies do
- Chip: Munchies for the TV
- Microchip: What’s in the bottom of the munchies bag
- Modem: What you did to the hay fields
- Keyboard: Where you hang the keys
- Software: Those dang plastic forks and knives
- Mouse: What eats the grain in the barn
- Mainframe: What holds up the barn roof
- Port: Fancy wine
- Random Access Memory: When you can’t remember what you paid for the rifle, when your wife asks.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 06:33 PM * 284 comments
I’ve been thinking about the ways people fight* for a long time. It’s a “sticky” subject for me: something that draws my attention, over and over. And because I’m a classifier and a categorizer, I’ve been thinking about classes of arguer. In the end, I’ve come down to two: truth-shouters and cutlery-loaders. Both styles are perfectly valid ways of dealing with conflict, but they don’t work well together.
Truth-shouters look to arguments to bring out the things that they’re unable to express any other way. There are some truths that cannot be spoken (or even, sometimes, thought clearly). But the emotional singularity of an argument, when the rules of discourse change, means that these things are suddenly articulable. They can be shouted. (Note that “truth” in this context is “as factually understood by the shouter”. Sadly, anger does not turn truth-shouters into Thomas the Rhymer†‡)
Cutlery-loaders are completely different. For them, arguments are a chance to blow off steam, to express their emotions without spending as much attention on the words they use to do it as they would otherwise. They’re like the characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie who, running out of cannonballs, load the ship’s cutlery into the cannon and fire that off.
Needless to say, arguments between these two types do not go well. A truth-shouter will take the cutlery-loader seriously (because arguments are the place for difficult truths.) Meanwhile, a cutlery-loader will assume that a shouted truth is just some random fork and ignore it or, worse yet, counter it with something worse and less true. And it can drive cutlery-loaders nuts to be called on things they said for emotional effect rather than content.
(There are probably other ways that truth-shouters hurt cutlery-loaders in arguments. Being a truth-shouter, I don’t necessarily know them, and hope for instruction. Also, I’ve probably biased this discussion towards truth-shouters. I’d be happy to have a more cutlery-loading view as well.)
The most hideous fights I’ve suffered through or witnessed have been across argument-type lines, particularly when some piece of fired-off cutlery triggers a truth-shouter’s Goddamned Tapes.
I bring this up because a number of discussions in recent DF threads sound to me like truth-shouters trying to deal with cutlery-loaders. It’s worth asking yourself, when an argument goes particularly spectacularly badly, whether the other person is shooting forks while you’re shouting truths (or vice versa).
* In the sense of quarrel, not in the sense of box
† Besides, at least as Kushner wrote him, True Thomas was a cutlery-loader. Awkward.
‡ However neat a Thomas the Rhymer/Hulk crossover fic would be.
This is part of the sequence of Dysfunctional Families discussions. We have a few special rules, specific to the needs and nature of the conversations we have here.
- If you want to participate but don’t want your posts linked to your contributions to the rest of Making Light, feel free to choose a pseudonym. But please keep it consistent within these threads, because people do care. You can create a separate (view all by) history for your pseudonym by changing your email address. And if you blow it and cross identities, give me a shout and I’ll come along and tidy it up.
- On a related note, please respect the people’s choice to use a pseudonym, unless they make it clear that they are willing to let the identities bleed over in people’s minds.
- If you’re not from a dysfunctional background, be aware that your realities and base expectations are not the default in this conversation. In particular, please don’t do the “they’re the only family you have” thing. Black is white, up is down, and your addressee’s mother may very well be their nemesis.
- Be even more careful, charitable, and gentle than you would elsewhere on Making Light. Try to avoid “hlepiness” (those comments which look helpful, but really aren’t). Apologize readily and sincerely if you tread on toes, even unintentionally. This kind of conversation only works because people have their defenses down.
- Never underestimate the value of a good witness. If you want to be supportive but don’t have anything specific to say, people do value knowing that they are heard.
Previous posts (note that comments are closed on them to keep the conversation in one place):
- Have a Dysfunctional Families Day
- Dysfunctional Families Day: Inversion Experience
- Dysfunctional Families Day: No Expectations
- Dysfunctional Families Day: Tangled Emotions
- Dysfunctional Families: You Must Be This Unhappy To Ride
- Dysfunctional Families: Circled Strangers
- Dysfunctional Families: Fish Hooks
- Dysfunctional Families: Everybody lined up for the parade?
- Dysfunctional Families: Sitting and Rising
- Dysfunctional Families: Surviving and Thriving
Posted by Patrick at 07:54 PM * 80 comments
The Arthur C. Clarke Award is, as its site says, the most prestigious award for science fiction published in Britain. It has gone to some very fine books. (Including some written by non-Britons; certain Canadian SF awards with an unwholesome obsession with official citizenship or immigration status should please copy.) (Also including this year’s winner, Dark Eden by Chris Beckett; congratulations!) And I have no particular bone to pick with the fact that it’s a juried award. I’ve served on the jury for juried awards. I think vox-pop awards like the Hugo are what they are and juried awards are what they are. No problem there.
No, the subject of my gratuitous, out-of-left-field rant is capitalization, specifically the capitalization in the basic mission statement on the front page of the Arthur C. Clarke Award’s site:
The Arthur C Clarke Award is the most prestigious award for Science Fiction in Britain, presented annually for the best Science Fiction novel of the year.This is silly. Science fiction is many things, but it is not a proper name. It is not a painting, a country, or a ship of the line. It is a kind of narrative. It does not take upper-and-lower-case style.
Perhaps I am the only person in 2013 who reads Excessive Upper-and-Lower-Case Style this way, but I don’t think so. When I see people prosing on about “Science Fiction” when they could just as easily be saying “science fiction”, what it sounds like to me isn’t dignity. What it sounds like is this:
When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. (—A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh)Not that there’s anything wrong with Winnie-the-Pooh, he said hastily, well aware that there are living humans on planet Earth who remember me at age five obsessively memorizing large chunks of said work of literature, and quoting them back in social contexts not necessarily improved by long discursions into the language of A. A. Milne. But! (There’s always a “but.”) Is this really the kind of thing—the discourse, if you will—with which we wish to associate our hard-won, long-desired high-quality science fiction?
I rest my extremely silly case.
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:50 PM * 159 comments
I don’t have the gene or mental quirk or whatever it is necessary for writing fanfic. Seanan McGuire even bit me on the arm once to see if it would transfer over, but it didn’t. So I’m just gonna leave these here:
- Mashup of Dragnet and The Man Who Was Thursday.
- A story about Saruman’s political corruption of the Shire, titled “Sharkey’s Machine”.
- Hitler, Robot Fighter — “This fascist kills machines.”
- A story from the point of view of one of the cylon fighter ships in the new Battlestar Galactica, written as a pastiche of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
- Anna Karennadanna.
- “Their faith was weak, they needed proof;
You kicked an old man off the roof.
‘It’s one less mouth to feed!’ That’s how she knew you….”
- A Deadwood/My Little Ponies mashup titled “Herpy Doves”.
- Sentai giant robot story, but crew are characters from The Office (US version). Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight, not sure who should be 5th. (Though Titan Maximum already occupies a similar environmental niche.)
- “There have always been Blackadders at Cold Comfort.” (For some reason, everyone I mention this to thinks it has something to do with A Game of Thrones.)
- The Bill and Ted movies, told from Ted’s point of view, in the style of the Book of the New Sun. (Or maybe vice versa.)
- Dr Who, Dr Which, and Dr Whatsit. (Not sure what TESSERACT would be an acronym for.)
- The Seinfeld characters in the Labrys Arms apartment building from Dhalgren.
- The Dread Chocolatier Wonka.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:50 AM * 624 comments
The question was, “Ye Hielands and ye Lowlands, O, whaur hae ye been?” The answer is, they were off burning Auchindoun. Y’see, the Earl of Moray was a Mackintosh, and Huntly owned Auchindoun. The rest follows.
The Burning of Auchindoun Child #183
Balvenie Castle1 in Dufftown used stones from the ruins of Auchindoun in its construction.
1. Not to be confused with Balvenie Distillery. Rome was built on seven hills / Dufftown stands on seven stills.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:12 PM * 65 comments
From today’s Manchester Union Leader comes this story:
The title of this entry comes from this marvelous page of Carny Lingo put up by Wayne Keyser:
Flat Store or Flat Joint — Generally, gambling game, a game at which money is the prize rather than goods. The game at a flat joint is always entirely unwinnable. So called because the “wheel of fortune” or whatever other rig is played there, once set vertically for all to see, is now set flat horizontally so that only the player and the agent can see it. After you lose a bunch of money they might throw you some sort of prize to get rid of you. “Almost all of the carnies don’t like the flatties because you can’t win at their game and they take people for lots of money. I have seen a flattie take people for a week’s pay, their car, sometimes even their home. There is no way any other type of agent comes close to making the money a flattie does.” (Anonymous) “Always leave the mark with a dollar for gas”, say some carnies.
Part of Making Light’s beat is fraud, and that’s what we have here. This is the story:
MANCHESTER - An Epsom man says all he wanted to do was win his kids a prize at a carnival on Saturday. Instead, he ended up embarrassed, angry and out $2,600.Yeah. The guys were good at it. It’s what they do for a living. You do the cigarette-through-coin thirty times a night, table-to-table at a restaurant, you get good at it. You do the short-change swindle four times an hour, hitting every store on every Main Street you come to, you get good at it. You run a flat joint all day every day, town to town, you get good at it. Naturally the townies don’t expect it. If the guys dressed like crooks with striped tee-shirts and black masks, or like villains with little waxed mustaches, frock coats, tall silk hats, and spats, you’d be on your guard.
“You hear about stuff like this, but you don’t expect it at a carnival like this,” said [Name redacted—JDM] of Epsom. “The two guys at that game knew what they were doing, and they were very good. I know I fell for it. I was feeling good and I never recognized what was happening, but you just don’t think about that at something like a carnival like this.”
This isn’t about blaming the victim: There isn’t anyone I know, including me, who can’t be taken by the right pitch on the right day.
[Name redacted] attended a Kids Carnival, operated by Fiesta Shows, at the JFK Coliseum on Beech Street Saturday afternoon, when he decided to try to win his kids a prize at a $5 game called “Tubs of Fun.” The goal is to toss two softballs into a large tub - also known as the Bushel Basket Toss. [Name redacted] said he came close to winning a prize, but fell just short. That’s when he started receiving encouragement from the two carnival workers to keep playing. “They said they would double my money if I could get 10 balls in the bucket,” said [Name redacted]. “I was loud and into it, and they said I was helping to draw a crowd over to the booth. They said I would win my kids an X-Box Connect, which are like $400 I think. So I gave it a try.”
Yep, you get into the moment. This speaks to situational awareness. It’s why a lot of the people at the Station nightclub fire didn’t try to leave until it was way too late. You’re in the zone, you’ve got tunnel vision, and … bad things happen. This guy eventually laid down enough to buy six X-boxes with enough left over for dinner at the best place in town.
The story doesn’t stop there. When he got home, he got to thinking … that he’d been had. Which he had been. He went back to the show the next day:
[Name redacted] said he returned to the carnival Sunday and complained to management. He said a manager gave him $600 and an oversized, dread-locked stuffed banana for his troubles, but was told that was “all they could do” for him.
A two-thousand-dollar stuffed banana. With dreadlocks.
From Carny Lingo:
Mark — A townsperson you focus on as a victim. When a carny spotted a towny with a big bankroll, he would give him a friendly slap on the back leaving a chalk mark so other carnies would know that this customer had lots of money. Often the ticket seller would mark the ‘mark.’ The booth would have a high counter, above the average person’s eyesight, and the ticket seller would short-change the customer, leaving the change on the counter. If the customer didn’t notice or didn’t count his change, the ticket seller would lean over to give him some “friendly” advice about the best attractions, putting his hand on the customer’s shoulder to point him toward the show he simply must see, simultaneously dusting his back with chalk from a hidden supply. If the customer instead complained about the wrong change, the ticket seller could always push the remaining change to him and say “I told you to take it.” And what do you do when you spot a mark? You “play” him - that’s right, just like you play a fish. But a carny truism is, “Always leave the mark a dollar for gas.” With gas money he can go home (you don’t want him stuck there growing angrier with you every minute).
The mark informed the police and the newspaper. The newspaper investigated, and discovered….
On Sunday night, a woman working the guest services booth at the carnival who gave her name as “Chrissy” said she was aware of the claim, but that the workers involved were not there. She attempted to reach a manager, Dan Delisle, who oversees the game booths, but he did not answer his cell phone.
“He’s already broken down a few rides and games, and is probably headed off to the next spot,” said Chrissy. The Fiesta Shows schedule has carnivals in both Sharon, Mass., and Derry later this week.
A call to Fiesta Shows’ New Hampshire Sunday night seeking comment was not returned.
Apparently Chrissy didn’t give a last name. What a surprise. Yeah, the guy you want to talk to “probably headed off to the next spot.” Bet this isn’t the first time she’s told that story. It isn’t even technically lying. She didn’t say that he had left, just that he’d probably left. And she didn’t say when he’d “already” broken down a few rides and games. Maybe she was referring to the the games and rides he broke down last week. You know how one day blends into another. Three gets you seven that the name on the young lady’s birth certificate isn’t anything even close to “Chrissy,” either.
The police don’t offer much hope:
“It will be assigned to the detective division, but where it goes from here is uncertain right now,” said Manchester police Lt. Mike Hurley. “It may be difficult to track the people down, because I believe they may be from out of state, but the detectives will get started on it this week. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Me, I have a bad feeling.
From AARP’s Scam Alert
7 Rigged Carnival Games:
“It’s not that every carnival game is rigged, but any can be, and many are,” says Bill L. Howard, who’s been investigating carnival games since 1978 and wrote Carnival Fraud 101, a guidebook for law enforcement officers on tricks of the trade.
5. Tubs of Fun
The goal is to toss two softballs into a large tub. You may remember this as the Bushel Basket Toss. But farming baskets have been replaced with plastic “muck” buckets from home improvement stores so that the ball gets extra bounce.
The real trick: “From inside the booth, the carny tosses a softball and from his vantage point, it stays inside the tub,” says Howard. “Then he gives you the second softball for a practice throw — and it stays in for a win.” Why? The carny’s first ball remains inside the tub to deaden it and prevent your toss from bouncing out. But once you hand over your money, he removes both balls and hands them to you. Without a deadening ball, guess what? Your first toss bounces out.
“You might as well throw your second ball across the midway because no way it will stay inside the tub, either,” says Howard..
The next two places this particular carnival will play, this week, are apparently Sharon, Massachusetts, and Derry, New Hampshire. Seven gets you ten that the particular guys that Name Redacted saw won’t be anywhere to be found on either lot.
I don’t think Name Redacted will get his money back. They gave him the old razzle-dazzle.
From Carny Lingo:
Razzle or Razzle Dazzle — Usually dressed up as a “football” game in which the player must scores a specific number of “yards”. Played by spilling 8 marbles from a cup onto a game board with about 120 numbered holes. The numbers are added up to a total which the jointee compares to a conversion chart to determine the number of “yards” scored. The numbers most likely to come up are worthless or only indicate that the player must add to, or even double, his cash bet. The chart is incomprehensible to the player, who must believe the flattie’s constant patter claiming that a win is almost within reach with just one or two more bets. The cost per game builds up exponentially and the winning score is claimed to almost within reach for a big payoff. This game can empty a mark’s pockets quickly and completely, and some marks might even get ‘put on the send’ (q.v.) to come back with more money. A definite swindle covered in the “Games” chapter of my book “On the Midway”.
Posted by Avram Grumer at 06:40 PM * 8 comments
I am flabbergasted that, with a less than a week to go in the Starstruck: Harry Palmer Kickstarter, it’s still $19k short of the money needed to put the book out in color.
Y’all know about Starstruck, right? One of the best science fiction comics ever published? A complex, gorgeous, sprawling, punk feminist space epic that started out in 1980 as a stage production (by Elaine Lee, with art production by Michael Kaluta), then spawned a prequel in comic book form a couple of years later. Most recently, thanks to colorist and designer Lee Moyer, much of the old material has been republished in a book from IDW.
But there’s still some old material that hasn’t been reprinted, and new material yet to see the light of day! The Kickstarter project has already passed the threshold for putting out the second book in black and white, but here, click these thumbnails to check out a couple of scans I just made from my copy of the IDW book:
For more, check out this gallery of Starstruck covers on Kaluta’s website. Wouldn’t it be a shame to not have that beautiful artwork in color?
(Also, for fans of Strong Female Protagonist — Elaine Lee is
Michael Brennan Lee’s Brennan Lee Mulligan’s mother.)
(Oh, I almost forgot: That artwork is ©2011 Elaine Lee & Michael Kaluta.)
Posted by Teresa at 10:17 AM * 104 comments
I’ve recently been asked about posset recipes. This one, for a Sack Posset, is from The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened: Whereby Is Discovered Several Ways for Making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, &c. Together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As Also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c. (1669), page 111:
TO MAKE A SACK POSSET:It may help to understand if you read his other posset recipes, which are usefully grouped together, and which merge into the recipes for syllabubs, clotted creams, curd creams, and a thing called “My Lord of S. Alban’s Cresme Fouettee” which sounds both like and unlike modern whipped cream. If eggnog had been around, it would probably be included in this range.
Boil two wine-quarts of Sweet-cream in a Possnet; when it hath boiled a little, take it from the fire, and beat the yolks of nine or ten fresh Eggs, and the whites of four with it, beginning with two or three spoonfuls, and adding more till all be incorporated; then set it over the fire, to recover a good degree of heat, but not so much as to boil; and always stir it one way, least you break the consistence. In the mean time, let half a pint of Sack or White muscadin boil a very little in a bason, upon a Chafing-dish of Coals, with three quarters of a pound of Sugar, and three or four quartered Nutmegs, and as many pretty big pieces of sticks of Cinnamon. When this is well scummed, and still very hot, take it from the fire, and immediately pour into it the cream, beginning to pour neer it, but raising by degrees your hand so that it may fall down from a good height; and without anymore to be done, it will then be fit to eat. It is very good kept cold as well as eaten hot. It doth very well with it, to put into the Sack (immediately before you put in the cream) some Ambergreece, or Ambered-sugar, or Pastils. When it is made, you may put powder of Cinnamon and Sugar upon it, if you like it.
It’s interesting to see how recipes get grouped during different periods. For Digby, sweet drinks containing cream were part of a continuum that included semi-solid cream-based desserts. These days we’d group the semi-solid desserts with recipes for custard, flan, mousse, and possibly ice cream, and hive off the fancy beverages into a separate chapter.
The other thing I’ll note is that in New York, possets and syllabubs gradually shed their sack, sherry, eggs, and cream, ending up as the wonderfully confusing New York “egg cream” that’s a mixture of milk, U-Bet chocolate syrup, and seltzer.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:41 PM * 403 comments
Multiple outlets and law enforcement officials are reporting what a horrific looking scene makes clear: The headquarters at the Boston Marathon have been locked down after two explosions were reported near the downtown finish line mid-Monday afternoon, near the Boston Library. Boston police confirmed that there were two explosions — and doctors were told to expect casualties — but no one was saying who or what might be responsible.
EMS, firefighters, other public safety personnel, and any civilians on the ground — my thoughts are with you. Stay safe.
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 03:48 AM * 32 comments
I rarely do the “mutely pointing at another article on the web” kind of blog post, mostly reserving that kind of reference to the Parhelia. But, via John Mark Ockerbloom’s Twitter stream, I found myself sucked into this fantastic and absorbing account of literary and academic sock-puppetry stretching across decades.
No single excerpt can sum the piece up. It’s got everything: Dickens, Dostoevsky, bad literary fiction, bad science fiction, a faked car accident, a dubious death in a shoot-out with the Estonian People’s Militia, and an extremely persuasive argument based on descriptions of women’s nipples. It’s an excellent piece of academic and literary detection by Eric Naiman. All it’s missing is a scorecard, which I’ve had to assemble myself to keep track of the shifting, interlacing pseudonyms and personalities he investigates.
Go, read it. Really.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:40 PM * 156 comments
Perhaps you have without knowing it.
Did you ever sing, sotto voce, “O say can you see?” whilst walking through the concourse of South Station, Boston? Did you ever rhythmically chant, “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore” in a Burger King in Woburn? Ever intone “Blest with victory and peace” while you were waiting in line to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield? Well, ignorance of the law is no excuse, chum.
General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
CRIMES, PUNISHMENTS AND PROCEEDINGS IN CRIMINAL CASES
(Chapters 263 through 280)
TITLE I CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS
CHAPTER 264 CRIMES AGAINST GOVERNMENTS
Section 9 National anthem; manner of playing
Section 9. Whoever plays, sings or renders the “Star Spangled Banner” in any public place, theatre, motion picture hall, restaurant or café, or at any public entertainment, other than as a whole and separate composition or number, without embellishment or addition in the way of national or other melodies, or whoever plays, sings or renders the “Star Spangled Banner”, or any part thereof, as dance music, as an exit march or as a part of a medley of any kind, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one hundred dollars.
Woo! Any movie that contains just a part of the national anthem is illegal; any theater chain that shows such a film is part of a criminal organization. If you and a chum get together and plan to sing just the first stanza you may be guilty of conspiracy, and that might be a felony that can get you hard time.
To help you discover whether a crime is in progress, here’s the full text of The Star Spangled Banner. Singing any less than all of it is a crime. Don’t do it!
Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 07:28 AM * 54 comments
This is the New Hampshire maple syrup that we serve at Viable Paradise. It’s local to me, and I know the people who make it. It’s also, in my opinion, the best in the world. The syrup came in a couple of weeks ago.
Here’s the deal: David has 142 gallons.
1/2 Gal: $28.95
1/2 Pint: $5.95
Grades currently available:
Grade A Light
Grade A Medium Amber
Grade A Dark Amber
The grades we serve at VP are the medium and dark amber. There may be some Grade B available later in the season.
Call P.A. Hicks & Sons, Inc. 1-603 237-5531 Packing is free. As I understand it shipping is by USPS flat rate, and is at cost.
P. A. Hicks and Sons
120 Main St.
Colebrook, NH 03576
Phone (603) 237-5531
Fax (603) 237-4190
Store is open 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. - 12 noon Saturday, closed Sunday. All times Eastern.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:42 PM * 105 comments
Yea, stranger engines for the brunt of war— Dr. Faustus, Marlowe, Act 1 scene i, lines 92-94
Than was the firey keel at Antwerp bridge I’ll make my servile spirits to invent….
As Dwight Eisenhower said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”
Some years ago, a young Naval officer assigned to Panamá , was tasked with coming up with a plan to defend the famous canal in that country. Making plans like that is a constant thing in the military; it’s a way to keep junior officers busy, to keep them out of trouble, and also to have something on file to pull out in the event of any odd event. Canada invades the US through Port Huron? Someone’s planned for it, and if it happens someone else can pull out those plans and start moving assets.
So: How could the Panama Canal be attacked, and what could the Navy do about it? Something coming in at fifty thousand feet and doing Mach Two — there wasn’t going to be anything the Navy could do about it with assets at hand or reasonably procurable. That would be an Air Force problem. An armed force attacking overland would be an Army problem. Sabotage by workers, intelligence assets would have to deal with detecting and preventing that. Which left seaborne attack. This young Naval officer had a literary/historical turn of mind, as it happened, and instantly thought of his favorite play: Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus.
Back during the Eighty Years War the Dutch had a problem. The Spanish had blockaded the port of Antwerp with a half-mile-long bridge, strongly defended, across the River Scheldt. The bridge was constructed of stone piers with parapets and blockhouses at each shore, and a series of ships tied together side-by-side and planked over floating in the stream between the piers. In order to supply the city, the bridge had to be destroyed. But how? A landward attack would face stiff resistance, and seaward attack lacked resources. The bridge was under the command of the Prince (actually Duke) of Parma, Alexander Farnese, an active and intelligent officer.
Fireships were a known military technology — take a hulk, put some barrels of pitch on it, set it on fire and set it drifting down toward an enemy fleet. Fire is a serious hazard at sea, particularly when wooden ships with canvas sails, caulked with tarred hemp were floating tinderboxes at the best of times. To counter this threat the Spanish had set rafts outboard of the floating portion of the bridge with spears and hooks pointing upstream to ward off unmanned vessels.
The Dutch had a secret weapon, though, in the person of a professional bomb maker. He was an Italian military engineer named Federigo Giambelli, who was secretly in the pay and under the command of Elizabeth I of England. If you want to think of this as Tudor England meddling in the internal affairs of Hapsburg Spain using plausibly deniable non-state assets, that would be a pretty good description.
So. Giambelli came up with a plan, involving waves of ordinary fireships to act as a diversion and cover, to be followed with a special floating bomb. With typical engineering frame of mind he went for a 100% backup; he constructed two of the special fireships, called hellebrenners, each one sufficient if the other failed. These were converted merchantmen, with a compartment inside running the length of the ship, one yard in cross section by twelve yards long, each containing three and a half tons of black powder. The bomb chambers were floored with brick. The walls were five feet thick, the powder compartment was covered over with flat slabs of rock (old tombstones) set vertically and sealed with lead. Above and to the sides of each chamber was packed with scrap iron and broken rock. The entire thing was decked over.
Each ship carried a pilot aboard who would steer it until close to the target bridge, then escape using a skiff towed astern.
The two hellebrenners had separate firing mechanisms; one used conventional slow-match, the other had a clockwork-and-flintlock time delay device.
We now join sober history to describe the events that dark night:
From HISTORY OF THE UNITED NETHERLANDS, 1584-1609, Complete From the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Year’s Truce Volume I. By John Lothrop Motley (at Project Gutenberg)
The 5th April, (1585) being the day following that on which the successful assault upon Liefkenshoek and Saint Anthony had taken place, was fixed for the descent of the fire-ships. So soon as it should be dark, the thirty-two lesser burning-vessels, under the direction of Admiral Jacob Jacobzoon, were to be sent forth from the neighborhood of the ‘Boor’s Sconce’—a fort close to the city walls—in accordance with the Italian’s plan. “Run-a-way Jacob,” however, or “Koppen Loppen,” had earned no new laurels which could throw into the shade that opprobrious appellation. He was not one of Holland’s naval heroes, but, on the whole, a very incompetent officer; exactly the man to damage the best concerted scheme which the genius of others could invent. Accordingly, Koppen-Loppen began with a grave mistake. Instead of allowing the precursory fire-ships to drift down the stream, at the regular intervals agreed upon, he despatched them all rapidly, and helter skelter, one after another, as fast as they could be set forth on their career. Not long afterwards, he sent the two “hellburners,” the ‘Fortune’ and the ‘Hope,’ directly in their wake. Thus the whole fiery fleet had set forth, almost at once, upon its fatal voyage.
It was known to Parma that preparations for an attack were making at Antwerp, but as to the nature of the danger he was necessarily in the dark. He was anticipating an invasion by a fleet from the city in combination with a squadron of Zeelanders coming up from below. So soon as the first vessels, therefore, with their trains not yet lighted, were discovered bearing down from the city, he was confirmed in his conjecture. His drama and trumpets instantly called to arms, and the whole body of his troops was mustered upon the bridge; the palisades, and in the nearest forts. Thus the preparations to avoid or to contend with the danger, were leading the Spaniards into the very jaws of destruction. Alexander, after crossing and recrossing the river, giving minute directions for repelling the expected assault, finally stationed himself in the block-house at the point of junction, on the Flemish side, between the palisade and the bridge of boats. He was surrounded by a group of superior officers, among whom Richebourg, Billy, Gaetano, Cessis, and the Englishman Sir Rowland Yorke, were conspicuous.
It was a dark, mild evening of early spring. As the fleet of vessels dropped slowly down the river, they suddenly became luminous, each ship flaming out of the darkness, a phantom of living fire. The very waves of the Scheldt seemed glowing with the conflagration, while its banks were lighted up with a preternatural glare. It was a wild, pompous, theatrical spectacle. The array of soldiers on both sides the river, along the dykes and upon the bridge, with banners waving, and spear and cuirass glancing in the lurid light; the demon fleet, guided by no human hand, wrapped in flames, and flitting through the darkness, with irregular movement; but portentous aspect, at the caprice of wind and tide; the death-like silence of expectation, which had succeeded the sound of trumpet and the shouts of the soldiers; and the weird glow which had supplanted the darkness—all combined with the sense of imminent and mysterious danger to excite and oppress the imagination.
Presently, the Spaniards, as they gazed from the bridge, began to take heart again. One after another, many of the lesser vessels drifted blindly against the raft, where they entangled themselves among the hooks and gigantic spearheads, and burned slowly out without causing any extensive conflagration. Others grounded on the banks of the river, before reaching their destination. Some sank in the stream.
Last of all came the two infernal ships, swaying unsteadily with the current; the pilots of course, as they neared the bridge, having noiselessly effected their escape in the skiffs. The slight fire upon the deck scarcely illuminated the dark phantom-like hulls. Both were carried by the current clear of the raft, which, by a great error of judgment, as it now appeared, on the part of the builders, had only been made to protect the floating portion of the bridge. The ‘Fortune’ came first, staggering inside the raft, and then lurching clumsily against the dyke, and grounding near Kalloo, without touching the bridge. There was a moment’s pause of expectation. At last the slow match upon the deck burned out, and there was a faint and partial explosion, by which little or no damage was produced.
Parma instantly called for volunteers to board the mysterious vessel. The desperate expedition was headed by the bold Roland York, a Londoner, of whom one day there was more to be heard in Netherland history. The party sprang into the deserted and now harmless volcano, extinguishing the slight fires that were smouldering on the deck, and thrusting spears and long poles into the hidden recesses of the hold. There was, however, little time to pursue these perilous investigations, and the party soon made their escape to the bridge.
The troops of Parma, crowding on the palisade, and looking over the parapets, now began to greet the exhibition with peals of derisive laughter. It was but child’s play, they thought, to threaten a Spanish army, and a general like Alexander Farnese, with such paltry fire-works as these. Nevertheless all eyes were anxiously fixed upon the remaining fire-ship, or “hell-burner,” the ‘Hope,’ which had now drifted very near the place of its destination. Tearing her way between the raft and the shore, she struck heavily against the bridge on the Kalloo side, close to the block-house at the commencement of the floating portion of the bridge. A thin wreath of smoke was seen curling over a slight and smouldering fire upon her deck.
Marquis Richebourg, standing on the bridge, laughed loudly at the apparently impotent conclusion of the whole adventure. It was his last laugh on earth. A number of soldiers, at Parma’s summons, instantly sprang on board this second mysterious vessel, and occupied themselves, as the party on board the ‘Fortune’ had done, in extinguishing, the flames, and in endeavoring to ascertain the nature of the machine. Richebourg boldly directed from the bridge their hazardous experiments.
At the same moment a certain ensign De Vega, who stood near the Prince of Parma, close to the block-house, approached him with vehement entreaties that he should retire. Alexander refused to stir from the spot, being anxious to learn the result of these investigations. Vega, moved by some instinctive and irresistible apprehension, fell upon his knees, and plucking the General earnestly by the cloak, implored him with such passionate words and gestures to leave the place, that the Prince reluctantly yielded.
It was not a moment too soon. The clockwork had been better adjusted than the slow match in the ‘Fortune.’ Scarcely had Alexander reached the entrance of Saint Mary’s Fort, at the end of the bridge, when a horrible explosion was heard. The ‘Hope’ disappeared, together with the men who had boarded her, and the block-house, against which she had struck, with all its garrison, while a large portion of the bridge, with all the troops stationed upon it, had vanished into air. It was the work of a single instant. The Scheldt yawned to its lowest depth, and then cast its waters across the dykes, deep into the forts, and far over the land. The earth shook as with the throb of a volcano. A wild glare lighted up the scene for one moment, and was then succeeded by pitchy darkness. Houses were toppled down miles away, and not a living thing, even in remote places, could keep its feet. The air was filled with a rain of plough-shares, grave-stones, and marble balls, intermixed with the heads, limbs, and bodies, of what had been human beings. Slabs of granite, vomited by the flaming ship, were found afterwards at a league’s distance, and buried deep in the earth. A thousand soldiers were destroyed in a second of time; many of them being torn to shreds, beyond even the semblance of humanity.
Richebourg disappeared, and was not found until several days later, when his body was discovered; doubled around an iron chain, which hung from one of the bridge-boats in the centre of the river. The veteran Robles, Seigneur de Billy, a Portuguese officer of eminent service and high military rank, was also destroyed. Months afterwards, his body was discovered adhering to the timber-work of the bridge, upon the ultimate removal of that structure, and was only recognized by a peculiar gold chain which he habitually wore. Parma himself was thrown to the ground, stunned by a blow on the shoulder from a flying stake. The page, who was behind him, carrying his helmet, fell dead without a wound, killed by the concussion of the air.
Several strange and less tragical incidents occurred. The Viscomte de Bruxelles was blown out of a boat on the Flemish side, and descended safe and sound into another in the centre of the stream. Captain Tucci, clad in complete armour, was whirled out of a fort, shot perpendicularly into the air, and then fell back into the river. Being of a cool temperament, a good swimmer, and very pious, he skilfully divested himself of cuirass and helmet, recommended himself to the Blessed Virgin, and swam safely ashore. Another young officer of Parma’s body-guard, Francois de Liege by name, standing on the Kalloo end of the bridge, rose like a feather into the clouds, and, flying quite across the river, alighted on the opposite bank with no further harm than a contused shoulder. He imagined himself (he said afterwards) to have been changed into a cannon-ball, as he rushed through the pitchy atmosphere, propelled by a blast of irresistible fury.
[The chief authorities used in the foregoing account of this famous enterprise are those already cited on a previous page, viz.: the MS. Letters of the Prince of Parma in the Archives of Simancas; Bor, ii. 596, 597; Strada, H. 334 seq.; Meteren, xii. 223; Hoofd Vervolgh, 91; Baudartii Polemographia, ii. 24-27; Bentivoglio, etc., I have not thought it necessary to cite them step by step; for all the accounts, with some inevitable and unimportant discrepancies, agree with each other. The most copious details are to be found in Strada and in Bor.]
Folks who want a visual reference for this sort of thing can see Game of Thrones, Season Two, Episode Nine, “Blackwater” (currently nominated for a Hugo despite its having the stupidest, most incompetent movie-version amphibious assault since the Medieval Mike-Boats in the recent Ridley Scott Robin Hood). At the time of the attack on the ship-bridge, the explosion was the largest ever seen in Europe.
The results were not good, however, and the siege was not lifted; the Dutch had failed to plan for what would happen if the attack worked; no followup was mounted, and the Spanish were able to repair the bridge and maintain the siege.
Okay, that’s one example of an attack against stonework from the sea. The young Naval officer asked himself if there were any examples more recent than four hundred years ante.
Yes, as it happened. The Normandie Dock raid during WWII. And, as it happened, one of the Royal Navy officers who had been involved in that operation had written his memoirs recounting the raid, and the young US Navy officer had read them.
During WWII, Nazi Germany had two super-battleships; Bismarck and Tirpitz. Either could cause immense damage to Atlantic shipping. But they were both so large that, when they needed repair and refit (as any ship, particularly a warship, would) in a drydock, only a very few yards in the world had a dock large enough. The only such dock on the Atlantic coast of continental Europe was in St. Nazaire, France. It was known as the Normandie Dock, since it had been built for the passenger liner SS Normandie, at that time the largest passenger ship ever constructed, 147 feet longer, and displacing 18,990 tons more, than RMS Titanic.
Normandie burned and capsized in New York harbor in 1942 while she was being re-fitted as a troopship under the name USS Lafayette. But our story does not concern her, but rather the dock in which she was constructed. The Normandie Dock was the only place outside of the Baltic where major German warships could be repaired. Bismarck had been heading there after the Battle of the Denmark Strait before she was sunk. Therefore, destroying the Normandie Dock became a priority for the Allies. Given the lack of accuracy of WWII-era bombs, the difficulty of destroying massive concrete-and-steel structures using aerial bombardment, and the stiff anti-aircraft defenses in the area, the Royal Navy was tasked with destroying the dock with a seaborne assault.
The plan was this: An obsolete destroyer, HMS Campbeltown (ex-USS Buchanan), was fitted as a floating bomb. The bilges were filled with high explosives fitted with a chemical time fuse, then concrete was poured over and around them. The resemblance to the hellebrenner with its compression chamber and its clockwork fuse should be obvious.
The decks of Campbeltown were crowded with commandos. The plan was: Get Campbeltown going as fast as she could. Ram the drydock gates. The commandos would leap ashore and destroy as much as possible in the area, including pump houses, generators, machine shops, and other facilities that would render the dock useless. They would then get aboard Royal Navy small craft to be transported back to England.
This worked semi-well. After midnight on 28 March 1942 Campbeltown hit, and became lodged in, the dock gates. The commandos carried out their mission. But, by then, most of the small craft had been sunk. The surviving commandos got together and agreed to attempt to make it back to England by any means necessary, and, if that proved impossible, not to surrender while they still had any ammunition. They then broke up into small groups to operate independently. Five eventually did make it back to England via Spain and Gibraltar.
The cold sea water slowed down the chemical fuse in the 4.5 ton high-explosive charge in Campbeltown. It didn’t go until noon the next day, while the deck of the wedged ship was crowded with high-ranking Nazi officials inspecting the scene and planning how to dislodge it. Once again, as at Antwerp, debris and body-parts rained down on a town.
The young Naval officer in Panamá considered this. A drydock is very similar to a canal lock. How could he defend the Panama Canal against a night-time attack based around a ship filled with explosives going as fast as it could, intending to ram?
He came up with a plan that seemed feasible to him. What that plan was, and whether it was adopted, I cannot say.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 01:13 PM * 40 comments
From CNN: Corruption case a blow to GOP diversity
The details of the scandal sweeping the New York Republican Party are tawdry, sad and infuriating — and a wake-up call to a national party that is urgently seeking to make inroads among black, Latino, and young voters.
Barely two weeks after RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and New York state Republican Chairman Ed Cox held a press conference at a black church in Brooklyn to launch the party’s ambitious, $10 million diversity campaign, FBI agents arrested Malcolm Smith, a longtime black state legislator.
According to federal prosecutors, Smith spent months organizing cash bribes to two top city Republican officials in exchange for a slot on the ballot in this fall’s Republican primary for mayor. Unfortunately for Smith, a real estate tycoon he enlisted to make cash payments was, in fact, an undercover FBI agent, according to federal prosecutors
Without getting into the FBI’s habit of targeting prominent Blacks, and the question of whether anything would have happened had their guy not offered money, the question of how smart this fellow was has to be answered.
A good rule is, never do anything in secret that you don’t want to see top-of-the-hour on CNN.
I’ve been thinking of offering a service: If anyone has any questions about what to do in some case, they can call me on the phone. I’ll advise ’em. Imagine how differently things might have gone:
Bill Clinton: Hey, Jim, there’s a young lady named Monica here offering a blowjob. Should I accept it?
Me: No, Bill. Bad idea. Go see a movie instead.
Eliot Spitzer: Jim, this nice young lady is asking for four thousand dollars for a night of pleasure. Should I?
Me: Eliot, bad idea. Go see a movie instead.
Erik Menendez: Hi, Jim. Me and my brother want to shoot our parents, say it was a robbery gone wrong, and live on their money. Should we?
Me: Dude. Do you want to do life without parole? Go see a movie instead.
Bill Allen: Jim, I’ve been thinking of fixing my friend Ted’s house for free if he’ll vote for a law that gives special privileges to my oil company. Do you think I should?
Me: No, Bill. Bad idea. For both of you. What’s playing down at the Roxie?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:12 PM * 947 comments
Born today in 1515, Saint Teresa of Ávila, (Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada) after whom our own Teresa is named.
Died, amid the smell of roses, in 1582, canonized in 1622, named a Doctor of the Church in 1970, St. Teresa is patron saint of bodily ills, headaches, chess, lace-makers, the loss of parents, people in need of Grace, people in religious orders, people ridiculed for their piety, the city of Pozega in Croatia, sick people, sickness in general, and Spain. Her feast day is October 15.
Considered (along with St. John of the Cross) founder of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule of St. Joseph. On the day St. John of the Cross knocked at her door, St. Teresa (who was exceedingly tall, and known to her friends as “Long Teresa”) remarked to St. John of the Cross (who was exceedingly short), “God be praised! He has sent me half a monk!” St. Teresa also remarked to God, in her prayers one day, “If this is the way You treat Your friends it’s no wonder You have so few.”
St. Teresa’s books, The Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection, and autobiography Life Written by Herself, are still in print. Her collected letters are also available.
St. Teresa is famous for her religious ecstasies, during which she was embarrassed to levitate. She was also an avid gardener.
In her youth she delighted in reading romance novels, which she shared with her mother, but kept secret from her father on the grounds that he would not approve of such frivolity.