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April 30, 2013
Fanfic ideas
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:50 PM * 160 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.

Open Thread 183
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:50 AM *

Y’know The Bonnie Earl O’ Moray, the guy who gave us Mondegreens?

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.

April 29, 2013
Flat Joint
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:12 PM *

From today’s Manchester Union Leader comes this story:

Epsom man says he was taken for a $2,600 ride at carnival in Manchester

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.

“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.”

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.

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”.

April 25, 2013
“The fate of the free multiverse — in your hands!”
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:

Starstruck thumbnail 1 Starstruck thumbnail 2

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.)

April 22, 2013
Sack posset
Posted by Teresa at 10:17 AM * 111 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:


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 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.

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.

April 15, 2013
Explosions at the Boston Marathon
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:41 PM * 403 comments

Explosions at the Boston Marathon

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.

April 12, 2013
Dickens, Dostoevsky, and a Whole Lot More
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.

April 10, 2013
Want to Commit A Crime Against Government?
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
(Chapters 263 through 280)
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 cafĂ©, 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!

April 08, 2013
Maple Syrup
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.

Price is:

Gallon: $48.00
1/2 Gal: $28.95
Quart: $16.95
Pint: $8.95
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.

April 05, 2013
The Firey Keel of Antwerp’s Bridge
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:42 PM *

Yea, stranger engines for the brunt of war
Than was the firey keel at Antwerp bridge
I’ll make my servile spirits to invent….
— Dr. Faustus, Marlowe, Act 1 scene i, lines 92-94

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.

April 03, 2013
You Hate To See That Kind of Thing At This Level of Play
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?

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