24 October 2014

Driving a Boat into a Helicopter

Or:   Of Rubber Ducks, Double Ducks and Duck Recovery Ops

DUKW ("Duck")  Not this duck!

by Dixon Hill

I've covered some aerial infiltration and exfiltration methods for land-based operations in the past two posts.  So, today, I thought we'd take a quick gander at some aerial INFIL/EXFIL ops that include water as a medium.

Zodiac Rubber Assault Boat with outboard motor.
Note the red fuel bladder. Everything on our boats
was black.          Photo courtesy: 
Kitairu Suppliers


I spent quite a bit of time on water operations teams, so I have quite a bit of experience with what the army calls Rubber Ducks, Double Ducks and Duck Recovery.

Now some of you may have seen the word Duck and thought of the vehicle in the photo at the top of the page: the GM-produced DUKW (pronounced "Duck") used by the US military during WWII. However, I'm writing about a different type of duck op.

The Rubber Duck

The Rubber Duck is an operation that parachutes team members onto a body of water (usually a sea, near a coastline) with a Zodiac Rubber Assault Boat.


Stack of standard pallets.  These may be
locked into the aircraft floor.
Since the pallet is going to be lost,
cheaper pallets --like this -- tend to
be used for ducks and double ducks.
It works like this: Team members strap a Zodiac to a pallet, which can be locked down on the aircraft floor.

The outboard motor is removed, and placed inside the boat, atop several layers of "crush material."



This crush material is usually composed of thick cardboard honeycomb, which is designed to expend the energy of airborne impact as it (the cardboard) collapses.  Thus, critical and sometimes fragile components of an operation (such as outboard engines for boats) are hopefully saved, arriving in usable condition after being tossed out the back of a plane moving at 125 knots, 1250 feet above the ocean.

How you push a pallet. (Zodiac pallet is shorter.)
One school of thought holds that it's okay to strap rucksacks down in the boat.  However, it's been my experience that this is a good way to lose equipment.  Consequently, my team nearly always jumped while wearing our rucks, loading them into the boat once we hit the water.

Once the boat is palletized, the team loads a C-130, C-141 or other similar aircraft with it.  And, once over the drop zone, they assist the aircraft Load Master in pushing the palletized Zodiac out the back ramp.
Don't think the load master is a coward, just because he's
strapped into the aircraft.

As the Zodiac's parachute deploys, the team chases the boat out the door, parachuting into the ocean behind it.  (Or, in front of it, depending on how you view things.)

This photo shows a different type of boat being parachuted.  However, it's probably about the same dimensions as a "Double Duck" which I'll get to in a minute.

If this were an SF Duck op, the team would be lined up on the right side of the ramp, waiting to run off.

After hitting the water, the team ditches parachutes, dons fins (and sometimes mask and snorkel) and swims to the boat.  This is why team members RUN off the ramp behind the boat: nobody wants to swim a mile and a half to reach the darn thing -- particularly in open ocean.

When preparing to jump, team members hold the fins together, usually under the left arm.  The fins are held firmly in the left hand (which also grasps the left side of the reserve chute in a standard jump), with the ankle straps wrapped around the left wrist.  The fins are also often "dummy corded" (tied) to the jumper's equipment.

Mask and snorkel may be carried in buttoned pockets, or lashed firmly to gear, or taped down with "100-mile-an-hour tape" (military duct tape, which is Olive Drab on the outside, instead of gray). Rifles are loaded with one magazine, then wrapped in two plastic garbage bags (see-through kind), leaving some extra air inside to provide assistance in firing from the bag, if necessary.  Weapons are slung upside down and dummy corded to the jumper.  Sidearms are placed in large plastic baggies, then holstered securely. [Some teams like to strap weapons and load-bearing vests (LBE) to the rucksacks, but I always worry about losing my ruck.  Hence I tended to wear my LBE and weapon.  After all, my LBE had canteens of fresh water, pen flares, and other important survival equipment.]

Our local scuba team liked to jump wearing their gear over T-shirts and UDT shorts, or else in wet suits. Most of the time, however, my team jumped in full uniforms, knowing we'd need to wear them when we hit shore. (Conducting a surprise fire-fight in shorts and a T-shirt would not be fun imho.  The SCUBA Team, of course, expected to wear SCUBA gear into the shore landing, so they looked at things differently, expecting to change into uniforms after landing.)

Rucksacks hang off the jumpers' fronts, clipped on with two clips, just below the reserve parachutes. Each jumper carries a 20 to 30 foot length of 1-inch nylon tubing (or a rope) snap-linked to his equipment harness.  The other end is snap-linked to the frame of his rucksack, in which all equipment has been sealed in large plastic trash bags with most of the air removed.  The nylon tubing or rope is S-coiled into a cargo pocket on the jumper's hip, or into a side pocket on the ruck, for ease of deployment when needed.

On the way down, jumpers try to "slip" their parachute, or drive their "steerable canopy" parachute, in the direction of the boat, to cut down on how much time it takes to put the boat into action and move out.

Upon hitting the water, jumpers remove their parachute harnesses, letting the chutes sink.  They swim a short distance away to avoid becoming entangled in parachute lines as this happens.  Then, they get their fins loose and put them on.  Fins NEVER go on bare feet.  (I had scars for over ten years, because I repeatedly swam with fins on bare feet in pre-scuba school, because booties were unavailable to me.)


Jungle Boots
Dive Booties
Fins may be worn over booties, or military boots.  However, standard combat boots are designed to prevent excessive ankle movement and, in my experience, consequently inhibit efficient swimming with fins.  Wearing booties tends to solve this problem, but booties provide limited foot protection when landing on coral, or when conducting initial patrols inland to secure the beach.  I have found that regular issue jungle boots tend to provide all the ankle movement I need for swimming with fins on, and they permit me to cross beach, hinterland, or even coral with no problems.  Just be sure to wear socks!

After donning fins, etc. the swimmer (who used to be a "jumper" but it no longer jumping -- that part's over) pays out the nylon tubing or rope, that's S-rolled in one pocket, and starts swimming for the boat, towing his rucksack behind.  If properly prepared, the air trapped in the trash bag, inside the ruck, will provide slight positive buoyancy, keeping it barely afloat.

Upon reaching the boat, team members unstrap the boat from the pallet and let the pallet sink.  They then remove the snap-link that holds the nylon tubing, from their gear, and clip their ruck rope or nylon tube to the boat. After the ruck is secured, and still floating, they climb aboard and remove the parachutes, letting them sink.  After this, the motor is cut loose and fastened to the transom -- the (about two inches thick) wooden board that makes up the boat's stern.


This boat design is different,
but you can see the engine plate quite well.
The transom has a metal plate on it, called an engine plate, because this is where you fasten the engine.  The outboard is held by what are essentially two permanently installed, large C-clamps, which you screw tight to the engine plate on the transom.  It usually takes two guys to do this, if you don't want to lose the engine overboard in high seas.  And, engines are heavy, made of metal, and sink fast!  So, you have to be careful not to drop it, or all those folks who USED to be your friends, are going to be helping you paddle miles into shore. (Some far-thinking team members dummy cord the engine to the boat, until everything is clamped firmly, just for this reason!  It's still a pain to haul the engine back up, and get it going, but it sure beats the alternative.)

The fuel bladder is then hooked up, using the clip valve on the end of the long, thin rubber tube that connects the bladder to the engine.  If you're smart, you lash down the bladder so you won't lose it in high seas.  Rucksacks are pulled in and loaded aboard, and everyone gets situated.  Then the engine is fired up -- and you're off!

All of this stuff is best conducted at night, of course, to prevent prying eyes from watching your movements -- which throws a very special monkey wrench into everything: including finding the boat and getting it ready to go.

For this reason, red chemical lights are usually attached to the boat when it is palletized, and "cracked" (turned on) just before pushing it out the door.  The first person to find the boat usually climbs on top and waves a red chem light as high as he can, to assist others in finding the boat at night, in high seas.  Red is chosen because this color is a bit tougher to see.  Make of this what you choose.


Once the boat is "up" and everyone is situated, the coxswain drives the boat across the ocean, aiming to land at a desired location.  Navigation may be based on lights seen ashore, GPS equipment, magnetic compass and chart references, nautical navigation tools (such as tide charts and whiz wheels), or a combination of any or all of the aforementioned.

Scout-swimmers seldom wear rucks.
While, technically, you can take an M-16
and fire it almost as soon as you take it out
of the water, you may have problems if
water is still in the barrel.  This is why we
trash-bagged our weapons, leaving room
for air and expended rounds in the bags.
At a few hundred meters from shore, two scout-swimmers are put into the water.  These are usually the team's best swimmers, and they'll swim into the landing site, ensure no enemy are present, then conduct a reconnaissance before taking up security positions over-watching each end of the beachhead, and signalling the boat to come in (usually by flashing a pre-arranged Morse letter signal, using a red-lens flashlight).

How the boats come in: HOT!
Once the signal is received, the coxswain cranks the throttle and drives the boat hell-for-leather into the beach, trying to make it climb the sand as high as possible.  Coral is highly destructive to a rubber boat, so it is avoided if possible.  If the boat must land on coral, this will be made clear with a signal from the scout-swimmers, and the coxswain will slow as he approaches the beachhead to minimize damage.

After the boat is beached, the team will carry it inland, often deflate it, then try to hide it: burrying it, and/or camouflaging its location.  The boat location will be marked in the standard manner used to note cache sites.

Double Ducks

Double Ducks are run just like Rubber Ducks, but two boats are used.

The reason for this is simple: One Zodiac fits about half an A-Team, with their gear.  Any more, and it gets overloaded, which causes problems.  So, the team jumps in with two Zodiacs, instead of one.

When palletizing, the two Zodiacs are stacked on top of each other on the pallet.  Everything is strapped and lashed together, to form one cohesive package for the drop.  And, once everybody's in the water, the boats are pushed apart and each team works on its own boat, readying it for the run in.
A Double Duck makes landfall.

Duck Recovery

Duck Recovery Operations vary, depending on the vehicle being used to recover the boat(s) and/or swimmers.  And it's a place where the SF mantra of "That's wild, and undoubtedly quite dangerous, but we can do it," becomes something more like: "You've gotta be kidding me!"

I've spoken to SCUBA team guys who waxed long about the exciting experience of having a submarine surface with the conning tower just astern of the long ropes holding the team's two Zodiacs together.  The sub kept moving slowly forward as it surfaced.  When the conning tower caught up to the ropes, it caught them, and the two boats were swept back over the rear deck area of the sub.  As the sub came farther out of the water, team members used paddles to keep the boats from being swept over the side, and were later able to step from their boats onto the (relatively) dry deck, deflate their boats, and go below.

I've never done that one, but I have driven a Zodiac into a helicopter several times, and been on board Zodiacs driven into helicopters several more times.

(At left is the photo of a model of a CH-47 Chinook.  Though it's a model, I think it gives you the best look at the overall bird.)





The secret here is that the CH-47 Chinook helicopter does NOT float . . . but it does sink slowly.

Special Operations puts this fact to use, by letting a Chinook "land" in a body of fairly flat, calm water.  This doesn't work very well in open ocean, but can be done in inland waterways, on lakes, or in coves, etc. where the waves don't get too tall.



The pilot puts his rear ramp down, when landing, and keeps the rotors running (there are two rotors, fore and aft: see photo).  This provides lift, increasing the helicopter's "float" time.  Meanwhile, the team on the Zodiac drives as fast as they can get that little rubber boat to go -- right up the ramp and into the back.  The chopper's got about six inches to a foot of water in it, by this time, so the boat has water to run across as it comes in.  Just before entering the ramp area (Remember: the ramp is down, and lying under the water starting about five or six feet back from the open rear of the chopper!) the coxswain cuts the engine as his assistant unlocks the engine, permitting them to hinge it up and forward, lifting the prop out of the water.  The boat continues to coast, but team members rapidly grab the wide nylon webbing of the troop seats that have been folded up against the interior sides of the helicopter.  Team members continue to grasp this netting -- hanging on for dear life! -- as the pilot lifts off, moving forward, and all that water spills out, running in a river right out the back of the open ramp.  As the water runs out, the boat settles.  Eventually, the ramp is brought up and locked closed, at which point the team can let go and stand up, getting out of the boat.

At this point, the Zodiac may be deflated and the troop seats may be lowered so team members can sit in them for the flight back to wherever they're going (usually an intermediate staging area, where they leave the CH-47 and board a large jet transport like a C-141 to make the long flight home).

In my experience, however, since this recovery operation usually comes at the end of a long, exhausting deployment, team members often opt to keep the boat inflated, then flop in,on and around it to fall deeply asleep until the chopper lands.  If the Crew Chief, Pilot or Load Master decide to deflate the boat, however: it gets deflated.  Anyone who complains is usually invited to walk or swim home.

Oh, one other thought: this is also usually done at night.  And the coxswain is usually equipped with goggles to help him deal with the sea spray kicked up by the Chinook.  Unfortunately, not only is it dark.  Not only is the chopper marked with dim chem lights.  But, also: those goggles are usually pitted and scarred to near un-usability.  Consequently, finding that chopper can be tough.

Once, in training, it took me so long, as coxswain, that when we finally got to the penultimate moment, my Team Sergeant suddenly lunged back at me, knocking me to the floor of the boat, just as we shot under the open ramp of the rising chopper, gallons of water dumping on us and swamping the boat.  The Chinook pilot had decided he either had to fly, or sink!  So he chose to fly, of course.  I hadn't been able to see through the dark night, sea spray and awful goggles.  The pilot came back, though, and we did it again -- successfully this time.

That's it for now.  See you in two weeks!
--Dixon

23 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution - Part 2

by Eve Fisher

Where we left off two weeks ago, was with the collapse of old regime governments and the rickety nature of the moderate governments that take over.  That rickety nature is because, as I said last time,
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes (the radicals) because
  • the moderates must maintain government, want to maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it.
The Extremists 

Revolutions work in stages:  from moderates to extremists, until finally the lunatic extremists take over.  Now the lunatic extremists are always a minority, and such a tiny minority that everyone discounts them, because obviously they don't speak for the majority.  But the extremists are willing to do ANYTHING to get into power, including attending all those boring committee meetings that everyone else ignores, where they quickly become the secretaries, treasurers, and chairmen.  This means they run the bureaucracy of the revolution:  they control who gets elected, who gets jobs, who gets money.  And, as the extremists' candidates start winning elections, they change the voting rules - the electorate is shaved down, elections are rigged and eventually elections are eliminated, because the extremists have to stay in power in order to "maintain the revolution."

And then comes the Reign of Terror.  Ideological purity is made the touchstone of everything, which makes it increasingly dangerous to be different - and the lunatic extremists keep changing the goalposts, making ideological purity not just harder and harder to achieve, but impossible to achieve. Nobody is ever pure enough.  Let me repeat that point, and please remember it, because it's a dead giveaway, then and now and in future:  Nobody is ever pure enough for the extremists.



The Reign of Terror (and there always is one)

The Revolution has been very busy killing off its enemies:  the obvious Royalists, White Army, capitalists, bourgeois industrialists, or feudalists, Quakers, Anabaptists, Catholics, Huguenots, and whatever other category they deem dangerous.  But now it starts eating its own.  The last thing to be in a revolution is one of the first revolutionaries, because you are going to get killed:  Danton is guillotined; Trotsky gets it in the head with an ice axe; Liu Shaoqi - former President of the People's Republic of China - dies naked and alone in a windowless cell.  Robespierre, Stalin, and Mao all killed almost everyone who used to be their comrades in arms, as well as thousands to millions of innocent citizens.

The other fun things about the Reign of Terror are:
  • Individual liberties are suppressed, if not made illegal, especially free speech and the right to dissent.  As I said earlier, elections are either obviously rigged or banned outright.  
    • NOTE:  This is actually not hypocrisy.  The extremists know that they have the true answer to how men should live, and so any opposition must be wiped out for the good of the country, perhaps even the good of humanity.  To oppose them is to oppose God (or whatever term the extremists use).  
  • Virtue is enforced.  They ban every vice, from gambling to drinking, whoring to theater, and a lot of stuff that just seems like it might be fun, like dancing or reading.  And it doesn't have anything to do with religion:  although some revolutions have been religious in basis (the English Civil Wars were quickly taken over by extreme Puritans, among others), even atheist revolutions (Mao's Cultural Revolution) are extremely ascetic.  
  • Robespierre guillotining the
    executioner after having
    guillotined everyone else in France
    • NOTE:  This is why George Orwell's Big Brother banned sex; as Julia says to Winston, "When you make love you’re using up energy; and afterwards you feel happy and don’t give a damn for anything. They can’t bear you to feel like that. They want you to be bursting with energy all the time. All this marching up and down and cheering and waving flags is simply sex gone sour. If you’re happy inside yourself, why should you get excited about Big Brother and the Three-Year Plans and the Two Minutes Hate and all the rest of their bloody rot?" 
    • FURTHER NOTE:  Quite a few leaders of the extremists, like Robespierre and Thomas Paine, are Pure Young Men, which only increases the push for extreme virtue and terror, because nobody is ever pure enough for a Pure Young Man, who will, if pushed, kill maniacally in his cause.   For a definition of a Pure Young Man, see yours truly's article in SleuthSayers http://www.sleuthsayers.org/2014/06/emergency-pure-young-men.html.  For an example, watch the scene in "Lawrence of Arabia" where Peter O'Toole's Lawrence starts shooting everyone in sight, with great bloody joy.
  • Extraordinary courts and special revolutionary police are set up - no evidence needed, no lawyer provided, just a quick snatch off the streets, and a rubber-stamp of "guilty - condemned" for all who are unfortunate enough to be hauled before them. 
  • There are mass exiles, imprisonments, and executions.  Endless executions.  Sometimes it seems if the extremists want everyone dead.  Sometimes they do.
  • War is common, indeed necessary:  War is used to spread the gospel of revolution abroad and as a distraction from how bad things are at home under the extremists.  (Sometimes it's imaginary - North Korea's been battling the United States in its own mind for almost 70 years - but it's still effective.)  
The End of Extremism

Here comes the good news:  flesh and blood can only take so much, and eventually the extremists are ousted.  For one thing, the common man and woman just can't take being forced into early sainthood, and fear will not work forever, even if it seems like it.  Some, like Robespierre, call for one too many deaths and are executed themselves. Others, like Mao and Stalin, die of natural causes, and afterwards their supposed followers can't move fast enough to lighten things up.  In China, they arrested the Gang of Four, led by Mao's last wife, Jiang Qing, and blamed them - especially her - for everything; shortly thereafter, Deng Xiaping declared "To get rich is glorious!"



In France, once Robespierre was dead, people opened the bars, pulled out the wine, and women started dressing sexy again, which is how Josephine Beauharnais nabbed Napoleon.  It's a giddy time - everyone is free, free, free!

Madame Recamier, by David, bringing sexy back
Return of Absolutism

And then comes the Restoration.  Literally in England, with Charles II.  Brezhnev in Russia.  Calles in Mexico.  A brief empire under Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and then the Bourbons returned.  (Talleyrand said of them, "They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing," which is why the restored monarchy only lasted until 1848.)  The Chinese Communist Party clones, president after president.

      

And yet, something has changed.  Just as nobody survives a deadly disease without some change to their psyche, so no country survives a revolution without some changes to their society.  Not habits:  human habits are hard to change, or at least were before mass media required us all to mimic Hollywood images. But ideas did change, took root; civil rights were expanded; there was some redistribution of wealth and/or land.  In France, the Revolution left behind a secularization, universal education, the metric system of weights and measures, and governmental centralization that is still in place, and, thanks to the Napoleonic Empire, was spread all around Europe.  In both China and Russia, the peasants got land and permission to engage in some capitalistic behavior, in exchange for which the Party was allowed to stay in power.  What were once revolutionary symbols - the Pledge of Allegiance, the Star Spangled Banner, the Marseillaise, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" - become the national liturgy.  And each revolution "proves" that revolution can work - if you just get it right, so maybe next time...

And the memory of the Great Revolution is enshrined, if not downright embalmed in holy incense, as a sacred time when people were unified and pure.  Or as a time of amazing excitement and brotherhood, such as never has been known since.  It is a Golden Age.  Except, of course, to the families of those who were killed.  But who's listening to them?  After all, "You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs" - that came out of the French Revolution, too.

22 October 2014

Dreadful - John Horne Burns

by David Edgerley Gates


The big books that came out of the Second World War are THE NAKED AND THE DEAD, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, and THE YOUNG LIONS. They were successful at the time, and they're still read, if not the Irwin Shaw so much, which is a shame.

My dad, though, who was himself a Navy vet - the North Atlantic, the Med, and later the Pacific - had a soft spot for John Horne Burns' THE GALLERY, which is a series of linked stories about Naples, under Allied occupation. It's fallen between the cracks, these days.



I discovered an odd, tangential connection of my own to Jack Burns, when I went to the Loomis boarding school, in the 1960's. He'd taught at Loomis, after the war, and then got mired in a scandal of his own making. THE GALLERY had been published in 1947, and got terrific reviews. Jack was on the cover of Saturday Review. A little full of himself - or past caring - he gave an interview to the Boston GLOBE where he waxed snide about Loomis' provincialism. It didn't sit well with the headmaster, the imperious Nathaniel Horton Batchelder, who called Jack on the carpet. Not long afterwards, Jack and Loomis parted ways.



The next novel he published was LUCIFER WITH A BOOK, a poisonous diatribe about a thinly-disguised New England prep school. You wouldn't find it in the Loomis library. And by the time I got there, Jack Burns was the name nobody spoke out loud. There was something else, too.


Jack was gay. He didn't come out of the closet until after he'd left, but it was pretty much an open secret with most of the Loomis faculty, if not the boys. This isn't what put him in Dutch with Batchelder, one of those muscular Christians whose world-view probably didn't admit of Jack's persuasions, but it was one last nail in his coffin.

One of those odd coincidences, another guy who was at Loomis, a few years after I was, is David Margolick, who got interested enough in the Jack Burns mystery to write a biography, DREADFUL. David and I wrote a couple of letters back and forth, it happens, but I couldn't shed much light on the contretemps, other than the enormous silence that descended whenever Jack's name came up. To me, the interesting thing is that David's curiosity was put in play by that very silence. In other words, banishing Jack from living memory only served to whet our appetites, the temptation in the forbidden. You might even find there's a metaphor, here. Jack Burns drawn to the flame.


He wasn't, by all reports, a very nice guy to be around, and he certainly didn't suffer fools gladly. What struck me, re-reading THE GALLERY again, is how chilly it is, even contemptuous. His sympathies aren't invested. You begin to feel sorry for the characters because he so obviously isn't, which is off-putting, as if they really aren't worth his time. I'm not suggesting in the least that this is homosexual self-loathing, but the distance he puts between you and the book creates a disturbance. You wonder why you should care. I don't think this is a conscious effect. I do think it betrays a deep, glacial reserve in Burns. He won't let himself show any weakness. He may have been like that in life, brittle and guarded, all too vulnerable.

He drank himself to death, in Florence, in 1953. He was thirty-six.

http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

21 October 2014

Playing in the Shallows

by Janice Law

We all love profundity, heartbreak, piercing stories of love and loss and heroism, and some of us aspire to write them. But fortunately there is also the category of guilty pleasures, encompassing what used to be called “tired businessmen’s entertainment.” As far as television mysteries go, I refer to the pleasant shallows of predictable scripts, familiar characters, and faintly absurd premises.

NCIS, the most popular show on television as my husband reminds me, is strong on all three. Every week, the Marines and or the Navy takes a substantial hit to its personnel. If the show continues with its LA franchise, and opens, as planned, an NCIS New Orleans, I doubt we will have enough manpower to staff our ships.

Of course, the NCIS corps of detectives is charming. The cases ingenious. The action sporadic but exciting. But what I think really draws the public is the fantasy element: the smooth working of every conceivable technology from CCTV to the multitude of data bases at the fingertips of the clever NCIS techies.

Who hasn’t gotten lost in the wilds of cyberspace or wasted endless time in searches that go nowhere. Not the folks at NCIS. A photo or a license number or a blood type gets tapped in; almost instantly the screen blossoms with a complete dossier or photos of the getaway car or the crucial piece of information that links a drop of blood to – voila– some arch-villain of the terrorist persuasion. This is the sort of fantasy that writers, at least, can really enjoy.

At the other end of the spectrum is a guilty pleasure of my own, the British ITV import Midsomer Murders. Once again, the plots are complex, and if the cast is maybe less interesting than NCIS, the scenery – stately homes, thatched cottages, trout streams and woodlands– is considerably better. Besides, Midsomer Murders goes to the heart of the matter: the victims will generally, as the Lord High Executioner was wont to say, “not be missed,” while the killers are even less fetching. No pity needed!

Where Midsomer Murders even exceeds fantasy levels of NCIS, however, is in the reaction of the quaint and pretty Midsomer hamlets to a body count that would embarrass Detroit. The residents are shocked. The aristocrats (at least one per episode) are shocked to be questioned. The middle class is shocked to be suspected. The working class is shocked to be arrested. “Things like this just don’t happen here,” is the standard reaction by one and all.

And this is why, despite the fact that nearly every episode begins with either someone walking in the night forest – never to emerge alive again; or with an early morning walker out with a keen-nosed dog – soon to discover the latest corpse, the villagers continue to tramp the woods and venture out alone on lonely paths in the dark of night.

Worse yet, the locals continue to hold those most dangerous of human gatherings, the village fete. We didn’t expect anything better than a string of killing from the Film Festival which attracted outsiders and theatrical outsiders at that. The Literary Fest was almost as bad; the star attraction coming from London and literary feuds being notorious for their viciousness, but still the body count was more than even the most pessimistic organizer could have imagined.

We did, however, expect that the annual Garden Fete, featuring as it did innocent horticultural pleasures would prove harmless.

Not a chance. Gardeners were bumped off almost before the flower judging began, while both the Music Fest and the Midsummer frolic laid waste to multiple victims, some in the latter with ancient Celtic implements.

When even archeology is against you, there’s as little chance of survival in Midsomer as in NCIS’s supposedly more gritty urban D.C. But then neither show is realistic, despite the country charm in one case and the technical hardware in the other. Both deal with another commodity, an undemanding predictability. Lets face it, there are days then the shallows look pretty enticing.

20 October 2014

A Week In The Glamorous Life...

Jan Grape
by Jan Grape

Class, I'm not working on a particular writing project at the moment...have a couple of irons in the fire. But after this week, I need to get back to writing just to rest up.

On Monday, I had a horrible sinus headache, but managed my usual putting clothes in the washer, transferring same to dryer, folding and putting away. I did drive the 5 miles into town only to discover the major fact that I had forgotten...Columbus Day is a Federal holiday and the bank and post office were closed. The way I found out the bank was closed was I parked, jumped out and at the front door, I pulled. It was locked...why??? Then I saw the sign stating they would be closed for Columbus Day. I turned around and said out loud, "My first clue was no cars in the parking lot." This is a small regional bank and there's usually not many cars around. Back home to make dinner and cleaning up the kitchen, then shower and finally into bed, still nursing my aching head.

On Tuesday, I bowl in a bowing league. Now that probably doesn't sound too exciting to most of you, however, I have bowled once, twice or three times a week for over thirty years. Last year, the bowling center in my nearby town closed. Shortly after that I drove into Austin, 58 miles one way on a Thursday night to bowl. That wasn't fun.  This year a group of us bowling ladies started a league and are bowling in Fredericksburg, 39 miles one way. The best part is that one of my team members and I take turns driving. It's good fun and good exercise. We leave Marble Falls at 11:15am, bowl at 1:00pm and get home about 3-to-3:15p. Back in Marble Falls, I drive to the bank and PO and take care of a couple other errands that I missed out on the day before. I also called my primary doctor's office to see if I could get an appointment soon. The new federal law that went into effect on Oct. 6th says you must see your doctor and get a written prescription to get your Schedule 2 pain pills. Fortunately, they had had a cancellation and I could come in the next day at two p. Great, I say, put me in at that time.

On Wednesday, after showering and getting ready I head to Austin at 12:45p, this is for a 65 mile one way trip. I get 30 miles from Doctor's office and get caught in a huge traffic jam.  Finally, the traffic moves, but it's only 8 minutes until my appointment time. Never did see the cause for the jam but there is one of those over-size load trucks parked on the shoulder so guess that might have been part of the problem. I call the appointment person and am told they will informed the nurses in back. When I get to the doctor's office at 2:30, I wait a few minutes and discover that I won't be able to see the doctor but I can see the physician's assistant. That's okay because she can see me, then catch the doctor who will then write the prescription for me. But I do have to wait...and wait...and wait, for almost two hours. While I'm in with the PA we're talking about the new law and we agree it's necessary because too many people abuse it. And she said, with people like you, we know you and know you're not going out on the highway when you're caught in traffic jams and sell your pain meds. "You mean I could have done that? Darn I missed the boat." She almost fell off her stool laughing. With my precious prescription tucked into my billfold and inside my purse, I head west at 4:50p which is now rush-hour time in the city. This late I'll miss my music night out and dinner out so I stop and get BBQ to go and then stop and get gas for my car. By the time I get home it's ten to seven and I'm a bit draggy.

Thursday rolls around and I catch up on a little housework. Clean up hairballs from the cats and then get ready to go once again. I'm volunteering three hours (from 3 to 6p) at our little Cottonwood Shores library. Since I have a 5:30 committee meeting, I do manage to leave a little early for that. But I spent over two hours rearranging paperback books. We had a large number to add in, but not enough space where they were shelved. Some new shelves were added so it's a matter of adjusting them now and yet keeping them in alphabetical order. I'm getting good exercise however, bending up and down. Oh, my aching back. I get to my meeting only to find it's been postponed until next week. I hadn't checked my email in several hours.

Suddenly it's Friday. My male kitty, Nick (he and my female kitty, Nora, are 17 and a half) has been urinating in various and hidden places instead of the liter box.  Terrible for carpeting. I have an appointment with our vet who's been taking care of them for 9 years but is eighteen miles one way in Johnson City. Why don't you have Doctors and Vets that aren't so far away, Jan. Simple answer, when you find someone that you really like, it's just hard to change. So our appointment is at 2:30p and we leave at 2. Thank goodness no traffic problems. The attendant helps carry him inside and weighs him. He's lost about a pound since his visit back in the spring. That's not too good. Nick gets his yearly shots then they say they need to put him to sleep to draw blood. They do that and also give him some fluid IV because he's a bit dehydrated. No thyroid problems. Shall we do some testing for kidneys...we have enough blood for that but it will take about another 15-20 minutes and more charges. Go ahead, I say and start mentally adding up in my head what this will cost me. However, these cats are my fur babies. I've had them since they were 8 weeks old, they've seen me through a lot and I have to take care of them. Nick's back in his big carrier but complaining a bit and scrabbling in there. He's drunk from the anesthetic and acting goofy. Thank goodness, all the news was good. Nothing more than old age and perhaps a little infection that I get an antibiotic for and head home, after two hours. I did manage a quick stop for a couple of grocery items. When I got home I collapsed on the sofa and was happy I still had BBQ left over for my dinner.

On Saturday, I realized I didn't have to go anywhere for the next two days and I realized how tired I  was feeling. Thinking about my week was well, amazing. just full of adventure and glamour, like any other writer.  Don't forget, class I'm sixty-fifteen now and can only dance every other dance now. But at least I can still dance.

Until next time, don't forget to take out the garbage and all those other glamorous things we writers do. I'm off to watch a little TV, then to read a little more of Sara Paretsky's new paperback, Critical Mass before bedtime.

19 October 2014

DuMont Episode 3 ~
A Fate Worse than Death

DuMont Television Network
by Leigh Lundin

Continued from last week

The Fate of DuMont’s Library

Today, only 1½% of DuMont shows survive, one or two episodes of a series here and there, three or four of another. Of most programs, none at all remain. Only Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners, which was stored separately, remains largely intact.

Often, recordings were simply recycled to recover the silver halide in the film itself. Even so, DuMont had saved more than 20 000 individual shows recorded by kinescope, a process where a broadcast is captured on film directly off a television screen. Through other acquisitions, this historic library ended up in the hands of ABC.
Edie Adams
Edie Adams
Ernie Kovacs
Ernie Kovacs

Here is the testimony of Edie Adams, wife of DuMont television star Ernie Kovacs, before a Film Presentation Board public hearing:
In the earlier ’70s, the (former) DuMont network was being bought by another company, and the lawyers were in heavy negotiation as to who would be responsible for the library of the DuMont shows currently being stored at the facility, who would bear the expense of storing them in a temperature controlled facility, take care of the copyright renewal, et cetera.

One of the lawyers doing the bargaining said that he could “take care of it” in a “fair manner,” and he did take care of it. At 2AM the next morning, he had three huge semis back up to the loading dock at ABC, filled them all with stored kinescopes and 2" videotapes, drove them to a waiting barge in New Jersey, took them out on the water, made a right at the Statue of Liberty and dumped them in the Upper New York Bay.
That corporate attorney destroyed the earliest and priceless television film library, 20 000 irreplaceable kinescope recordings.

And that concludes the story of the world's first television network.



Today’s Video

This is another for Dale Andrews and his friend Kurt Sercu, experts vis-à-vis all things Ellery Queen. Today, I present the third of three episodes of an early Ellery Queen television show from when Dale was a wee lad, an episode broadcast 08 November 1951.

Of the three available episodes, this is my favorite although Ellery appears dismayingly gullible. However, it had been only a decade since Mary Astor, in the form of Brigid O'Shaughnessy, planted the notion that occasionally women can be bad guys. The title sequence certainly sets an atmosphere. I doubt it was intended to be so noir, but I like it.


Note that Dale Andrews will return to SleuthSayers the 25th of January 2015.

18 October 2014

Fifty Mysteries by John M. Floyd, Master of the Mystery Short


by Elizabeth Zelvin

It's no surprise that such notoriously hard to crack writers' markets as Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, The Strand, and Woman's World keep gobbling up John Floyd's short mystery stories. His latest collection, Fifty Mysteries: The Angela Files (Dogwood Press, 2014), is no exception. The simplicity of these stories is deceptive. (It's no coincidence, perhaps, that his last collection was titled Deception.) They slip down as easily as a crême brulée: smooth as silk, but it's got plenty of flavor and crunch, and it leaves you wanting more.

The stories in Fifty Mysteries, almost half of which first appeared in Woman's World, avoid many of the tropes that crime fiction relies on. These fifty stories about the cases of Sheriff Chunky Jones and his former fifth-grade schoolteacher, Angela Potts, can't be called page-turners, because they're only seven hundred words long, not counting the solution to the mystery of the embedded clue. The protagonists are not psychologically tormented or even flawed, unless you count Sheriff Jones's figure ("Don't call me Chunky.") The stories eschew graphic sex and violence. They aren't long enough to twist or develop subplots or relationship arcs. Yet each one is a gem that has all a successful mystery needs: the elegant structure of crime, investigation, and fair-play solution, a setting that manages to be fully realized without many explicit details, and two extremely likable protagonists. The sheriff provides the cases, and the clever and observant Ms. Potts solves them.

John Floyd sketches a sleepy Southern town where everyone has known everyone else all their lives, and villains, bullies, victims, and the law all did their time in Angela's fifth grade classroom. Like a Chinese or Japanese brush painter, he achieves his effect with just a few strokes. Roscoe's Cafe: "Banjo music blared from a radio behind the counter" and Angela teases Roscoe about being "an extra in Deliverance." An escaped prisoner's grandmother's living room: "The old lady...took a seat in an overstuffed chair--on the table beside it were a teacup and a half-finished knitted potholder--and directed Angela to a second padded chair. The sheriff pulled up a footstool..." A scenario that would never occur in a big city: "Young Jeffy had crashed his pickup into the Civil War statue on the courthouse lawn in the wee hours and was now sleeping it off as a guest of the county."

Each of these elegantly executed flash stories is a solve-it-yourself puzzle, and the book's format discourages cheating by providing the solutions in a separate section at the end. I opened the volume with some trepidation, afraid I would find that Angela Potts is smarter than I am. To my relief, I was able to solve most of the mysteries without peeking--but by no means all of them. John Floyd is a pretty smart guy himself. May he never run out of puzzles--and I bet he won't--and may Ms. Angela Potts live forever--and I bet she will!

John Floyd's short stories and features have appeared in more than 200 different publications. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he won a Derringer Award in 2007 and has been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. John is also the author of five collections of short mystery fiction: Rainbow's End (2006), Midnight (2008), Clockwork (2010), Deception (2013), and Fifty Mysteries (coming in October 2014). He and his wife Carolyn live in Mississippi. More information about John and his writing can be found at www.johnmfloyd.com.