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.

17 October 2014

Arch Riordan


by R.T. Lawton

A few lawmen in the Old West became famous, like Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Pat Garett, but what about the ones who didn't get written up in dime novels and didn't have some version of their lives and dramatic events turned into movies for the silver screen or into weekly episodes for television? What of those who went about their jobs in once growing towns which later faded into almost obscurity, those individuals who did not receive much recognition in the records of history?

Arch Wilder Riordan was one of those old time lawmen overlooked in most history books.

In late 1874, after gold had been discovered in the Black Hills of South Dakota, prospectors started heading into the area. Many traveled north from Sydney, Nebraska, and then turned west where they followed the route used by buffalo herds making their way from the prairie into the hills and out again with the seasons. The great influx of people soon called for a town to be established at the beginning of this natural opening in the landscape. This town became known as Buffalo Gap.

Eleven years after the gold rush started, the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad reached Buffalo Gap and made it a shipping point for both cattle and travelers. At one point, the town claimed to have 17 hotels and eating establishments, 4 general stores, one hardware store, Bonesteel's Ready To Wear store, 2 drug stores, Van der Vort's furniture store, 4 Chinese laundries, 3 livery barns, 4 blacksmith shops and 2 large sporting houses plus several small ones. It also had a station stop established by George Boland for the Sydney Stage Line. As there were no churches, religious services were held in tents.

The quickly growing town soon attracted a collection of low-lifes and law-breakers. Since the local sheriff was not held in high esteem, the town's businessmen met in secret to discuss the problem of law and order. That's when they asked Arch to become their Town Marshal. The salary by 1886 became $75.00 a month.

Arch stood about six feet tall and weighed in at 240 pounds, had an easy manner and a southern accent. He'd come into the Dakota Territory as a cattle drover and found the community and surrounding area to his liking. Deciding to settle down, he opened up a combination drugstore and saloon, which became quite profitable. Believing that a good citizen should do his part in the community, Arch agreed to take on the job of Town Marshal.

Unhappy at the prospect of a cowboy turned Town Marshal riding herd on their rowdy activities, the local hoodlums had their own secret meeting. As a result, they hired Charlie Fugit, a gunman, to come over from Wyoming and take care of their problem. The plan was to start a fight in one of the dance halls, and then when Arch showed up, Charlie would kill him. All went as intended until Charlie confronted Arch in the dance hall. Turned out Arch was a deadly shot and faster than Charlie. Charlie did not survive the shooting.

In another incident, Arch took a gun away from a bad guy named Sam. (Sorry, Sam's last name didn't make it into the history book.) Sam got lodged into the Buffalo Gap jail, a ten foot by ten foot building with stout doors and bars on the windows. Arch turned his back and started to walk away, not knowing that Sam had a small revolver concealed in his boot top. The outlaw called out to Arch. As the marshal turned back to him, the outlaw shot and missed. Arch drew his own weapon, informing Sam that he would bear evidence of this attempted murder for the rest of his life, and then shot off Sam's left ear lobe.

Arch went on to survive several dangerous situations, never using his firearm without due provocation. In later years, he was appointed a U.S. Marshal.

Over time, the railroad pushed north up to Rapid City, the new hub for the Black Hills. Several businesses from Buffalo Gap then moved up the line. Buffalo Gap had peaked and soon faded into near obscurity.



Historical information for this article was taken from Our Yesterdays, the collected writings of oral histories from early pioneers by the Eastern Custer County Historical Society during the late 1960's.

16 October 2014

Wut Werkz and Wut Duzn't in Historrikuhl Fikshunn, Part Deyuh


by Brian Thornton

We'll begin today's post with a quotation within a quotation, and end it by posing a conundrum for the reader. 

First the quote within the quote. The initial one comes from The Great Game, Peter Hopkirk's magisterial history of the Anglo-Russian struggle for control of Central Asia (and by extension, both India and all trade routes to the Far East). Within that quotation lies a telling quotation from the recollections of one of the so-called "Great Game's" most colorful players, a British army officer and diplomat named Alexander "Bokhara" Burnes:


Finally in August 1831, laden with gifts and compliments, Burnes and his companions crossed back into British territory, making for Ludhiana, the [British East India] Company's most forward garrison town in north-west India. There Burnes met briefly a man whose fate was to be closely bound with his own - Shah Shujah, the exiled Afghan ruler, who dreamed of regaining his lost throne by toppling its present occupant, the redoubtable Dost Mohammed. Burnes was not impressed by this melancholy-looking man who was already turning to fat. 'From what I learn,' he noted, 'I do not believe that the Shah possesses sufficient energy to set himself on the throne of Cabool.' Nor, Burnes felt, did he appear to have the personal qualities or political acumen to reunite so turbulent a nation as the Afghans. 

It almost goes without saying that not much has changed in or about Afghanistan over the 183 years since "Bokhara" Burnes wrote the bit quoted by Hopkirk above (Brutal terrain? Check. Unruly tribes with nearly no attachment to the central government? Check. Hostility to outside influences? Check. The list goes on...).

And yet so many things actually have.


"Hindoostan" and Environs - 1830s
Not least the fact that, as a result of events from 9/11 onward, most Americans have actually heard of Afghanistan and might even be able to find it on a map.
The same region today

Another thing that has changed is the cessation of the at times unintentional Occidental practice of  transforming proper names and other nouns into sometimes wholly other words, or at the very least, of mangling them so badly in translation as to render them nearly unrecognizable.

Not THIS Burns (Scottish poet Robert)
Take Burnes' reference above to "Cabool." Anyone who knows anything about the region (or hasn't been living under a rock for the past 13 years) is likely quick to realize that Burnes was, of course referring to modern-day "Kabul," the capital of Afghanistan. You see this all over the place, especially during the 19th century, and particularly when reading historical accounts written by British soldiers, sailors, explorers, scholars, etc.

At times seems as if this is nothing more than an extension of the old joke about English gentlemen being fluent in any number of languages, so long as it's understood that they'll speak them s-l-o-w-l-y and with an impenetrable English accent.

For example, at the mouth of the great Indus River that drains all of Pakistan, a large chunk of
THIS Burnes (actually a distant cousin, despite the difference in spelling)
Central Asia and a significant amount of Northwestern India sits a port city called Karachi. I have seen this spelled a variety of ways, including "Kurachee," "Carratchee," and "Kharatchee."

And then there's "Hindoo" (Hindu), "Hindoostan" (Hindustan), "Peking" (Beijing), and a host of other place-names. The British take on the world they set out to colonize and "make English" through the administration of British laws and forcing British customs on the locals seems to be forever misspelled, especially from a modern perspective.

Now, of course this sort of thing isn't really limited to the British. It's just fun pointing out a few choice examples from Britain's storied imperial past.

In fact to do this is to be human.

Remember these guys...
Everyone does it. Corrupting and breaking down and reshaping words is part of what keeps languages "living." Seen the capital city of Turkey referred to as "Nova Roma" ("New Rome") as anything other than a term of art lately? That's the name the Roman emperor Constantine the Great gave the city when he founded it during the 4th century A.D. Or when was the last time that anyone other than indie rock jingle writers They Might Be Giants referred to this self-same city by it's later Greek name of  "Constantinople"?


...who did this song?
(And now you've got it running through your head, admit it..."...If you've a date in Constantinople, she'll be waiting in Istanbul!")

In fact the modern name "Istanbul" comes from an old Greek nick-name for the city: "eis tēn polin" ("into the city").

Confused yet?

Anyway, for me where it gets really sticky is when you're trying to write fiction. And not just fiction, but historical fiction about places with history such as these.

Allow me to refer yet again to Hopkirk's example above. Elsewhere in his book (and if you've not read it, you really owe it to yourself to give it a look. "Compelling" doesn't even begin to describe it.) he refers to the chief city of the Afghans as "Kabul," using the modern, accepted spelling.

But of course when quoting from an historical source it is of the utmost importance to preserve the text in its original form if at all possible. This is why actual misspellings tend to be quoted whole cloth (followed by a helpful "sic").

But what to do when writing, not history, but historical fiction?

Of course it really depends upon which person you're writing in. So much historical fiction these days is written in the form of a supposed first person memoir. This is especially true of historical mystery fiction.

If you're writing in the first person, you're golden. You can use any weird-ass, archaic derivation of one of the places you're discussing that pleases you. In fact if anything it's going to help establish your narrator as a product of the time about which they're (really you're) writing.

BUT

(Aaaaand here's the question with which we're going to end today's post)

What if you're writing a third person multiple point of view story?

What then?

Case in point: as part of my current novel-in-progress, I have my protagonist talk about a visit to the Fiji Islands during the year 1840.

Fijian (Feejeean? Feegeean?) Club Dance, as witnessed  by members of the United States Exploring Expedition, 18


During this time period the word, "Fiji", had nearly as many old misspellings as "Karachi" (see above).

Note the spelling in the map's title (Upper left corner).

Think about it. As I mentioned in my last post, a good cardinal rule of historical fiction writing (and of fiction writing in general) that you don't want to put anything into your work that will jar the reader out of the story. Scare? Sure. Frazzle? Absolutely.

But if you knock your reader out of the story, they may just give up on it.

So how about it? If I have my protagonist talking about his cruise through Fiji, should it read: "I sailed the Fijis?"
A view of Fiji (Feejee? Feegee?) in 1840

Or should it read: "I sailed the Feejees"?

Or: "I sailed the Feegees"?

See the problem? He's not writing it down. He's talking about it.

Maybe not that big a deal for some, but I have heard many readers complain about just exactly this sort of thing.

What works for you, Dear Readers? Which option is least likely to take the reader out of the narrative, and why?

Istanbul...Constantinople...Tomato...Tomahto....?

15 October 2014

Ghost Story Story



by Robert Lopresti

You will no doubt be thrilled to know that the world is now richer by one more book.  I have just released into the wild Shanks on Crime, a self-published collection of thirteen stories about a curmudgeonly mystery writer named Leopold Longshanks.

It is available on Kobo and Kindle. If you consider buying it, bless your heart, I would recommend Kobo, since you can purchase it through your favorite independent bookstore and throw some much-deserved cash their way.  If you want an autographed paper copy, see me.  I can fix you up.

Most of the stories have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and I have written about each of them here or at Criminal Brief, So I thought I would  tell you about one of the four brand-new tales, and this being the month of Halloween I decided to introduce "Shanks' Ghost Story."

For the origin we have to go to Ramat Rachel, Israel in the summer of 2009, where my wife and I had volunteered for an archaeological dig.  (The photo above shows me finding a cup handle.)  It was great fun, but exhausting, and yet somehow the writer part of my brain found time to think up a story idea.  Being deep in a semi-tropical summer my thoughts turned to –  winter in Pennsylvania.

Hmm. How'd that happen?  Who knows?  The writer's brain is not particularly interested in logical patterns.

But somehow I got to thinking about one of my favorite gimmicks, the story-within-a-story, in which  a bunch of characters gather to hear one of them tell a tale.   I decided to try the English tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas time.  (And let me urge you to read Jerome K. Jerome's Told After Supper, a hilarious Victorian book that pokes fun at half a dozen versions of the traditional ghost story.  Unlike mine, Jerome's is free.)

I decided that Shanks, my hero, would share my attitude toward the supernatural.  (We differ on many other points, by the way, like music and exercise.)  So, as a skeptic, Shanks attitude toward the ghost stories his friends tell would be polite disbelief.

Ah, but he is far too much the storyteller to let his turn pass.  So he decides to tell a story about being a ghost writer.   Early in his career, it seems, he was hired to produce what would supposedly be the last novel by a recently deceased bestselling crime writer.  

So, no ghost.  But hold on a moment.  Is that bestselling author really dead?  Because Shanks begins to get…

Well, that would be telling.   I hope those of you who are suffering from scorch marks on your clothing where currency has burst into flame will consider reducing your fuel load by picking up the book.  For the rest of you, tell your library to buy it for you. They are public servants, after all.  Command them.

14 October 2014

From The Case Files Of Chief David Dean:
The Affair Of The Dissappeared Man


by David Dean

When you police a resort town a lot of things can happen; especially during the summer months.  Mostly these things are what you would expect of the Jersey Shore: bar fights, noise complaints, drunk drivers, block parties, thefts, burglaries, the occasional domestic violence case, boating accidents, and sometimes a drowning.  People who vanish are rare.  Of course, lots of children wander away from the parents, but most are found within minutes by life guards or police.  So when an adult goes for a walk on a crowded, guarded beach, and simply disappears, it's what we  in the police business call unusual.

Shortly after I was promoted to the rank of chief, I arrived at the department one very hot July morning and, as was my habit, spoke to my second-in-command on my way to my office.  Being a good captain, he always arrived before me, scanned the incident reports from the previous evening, and briefed me on anything of note.  This morning seemed a part of that routine until he cleared his throat a little nervously, and said, "An older fellow was reported missing late yesterday afternoon.  Night shift said he still hasn't turned up."

I'm the grey guy with the grey beard in the grey suit
My captain, having known me for many years (hell, we had gone through the academy together), no doubt suspected what my reaction might be.  "Since yesterday?" I repeated, my blood pressure rising perceptibly.  "And nobody thought to call me, cap?"  "No sir.  Um...they didn't call me, either.  I just found out myself when I came in."  Every promotion brings it challenges, this was one it seemed.

The captain hastened to fill in the details: Sometime around four o'clock the previous day an elderly man had taken leave of his family to go for his daily walk on the beach.  They had seen him walking north from the 72nd street entrance.  When he had not returned within an hour they went looking for him.  By six o'clock they were in full panic mode, his wife and adult sons reporting the incident to the police.  This was during shift change, and the night shift (patrol worked 12 hour shifts from six to six) received the report.  The shift sergeant, newly promoted by yours truly, promptly contacted the beach patrol for their help in locating the victim.  All of the guards were polled and not a one remembered the gentleman in question, nor had there been any rescues involving someone matching that description.  Inquiries at the hospital proved similarly fruitless.  His car was still parked in the driveway, the keys hanging in the house.  He had no cell phone (these were still somewhat unusual at the time).  Worse still, the wife reported that her husband of more than half a century was in the beginnings of both Parkinson's disease and dementia. 
Beach Path Through High Dunes

As I mentioned in the beginning, it was a particularly hot July and, unusually for the shore, brutally humid, so dehydration had to be considered a factor here.  In other words, these were a bad set of circumstances.  A single witness had been found who thought, but wasn't certain, that she had witnessed an elderly gentleman who matched the description of the missing man, staring up at the dunes around forty-fourth street.  She thought he appeared confused.  Enlisting the aid of the volunteer fire department, the newly-promoted sergeant began a search of the dunes in the vicinity, but darkness overtook them.  And in spite of a brilliant bank of search lights provided by one of their ladder trucks, the firemen and police officers found the steep, heavily forested, dunes nearly impenetrable; the angled illumination only deepening the inky shadows.  The search had been halted around mid-night without a trace of its object, and I had been left in a similar darkness.

I set about to remedy this situation.  Declaring this an emergency operation, I requested the presence of the fire chief, rescue squad chief, beach patrol captain, the emergency management director, and the director of public works.  I also notified the mayor formally, though he was a member of the fire department so I knew that he would be on hand in any case.  Utilizing a bay of the fire department as a command post, we began to gather our forces as my senior detective, acting as my operations officer, set up tables and maps, and began to orient and coordinate the upcoming effort.  My captain was to function as my administrative officer responsible for the smooth functioning of the police department's routine operations, as well as supplying any additional police personnel I might request.  The sergeant on duty was placed in charge of logistics (vehicles, equipment, communications, etc…).  The rescue chief saw to it an adequate amount of water was distributed throughout the day, while keeping a rig dedicated to treating any searchers who were injured or overcome by the heat.  The borough finance officer was even on hand to approve expenditures for food and drink for the small army that was being assembled.

Within the span of a few hours, searchers provided by the fire department, public works, and beach patrol, as well as many other volunteers, were literally combing the town, block by block, house by house.  Considering the missing man's possible mental status, it was conceivable he could be anywhere, so I instructed the searchers to ignore nothing, including crawl spaces and to look beneath any object that he could fit under, such as a child's overturned wading pool, shrubbery, or in the back seat of an unlocked car.  It had been my experience with such cases that sometime persons being looked for hid in terror of their searchers.

As each block was combed, the various teams called in their lack of success, and the detective drew an X through another grid on the map.  Meanwhile, a state police helicopter performed aerial reconnaissance, K-9 units were sent out, and marine officers quietly patrolled the back bays in search of the worst possible result.

The day dragged on growing ever hotter and more humid.  Volunteers and officers alike were becoming fatigued and dehydrated.  Those in the dunes (which are some of the largest on the Eastern Seaboard) were exhausted from breaking brush in the  relentless heat.  By five o'clock, the mayor was growing worried about the hundreds of volunteers who had been at it all day.  So was I.  Both he and the fire chief suggested we call the search off and consider resuming tomorrow.  I was both reluctant to give up the remaining daylight, and flummoxed as to where this man could be.  By this time, we had covered nearly every possible area he could have reasonably reached.  I was looking at miles of x'd-out grids.  It was as if he had stepped through the looking glass...and this bothered me.  I didn't believe in a looking-glass.  He was still out there somewhere.  But where the hell could he be?  And I was deeply concerned about his physical condition under the circumstances.  Based on what I had knew of his advanced age and shaky health from his wife and family, I wasn't at all sure he could make it through another night.  My mind raced… then screeched to a halt. 

Going over to the map table, I asked the detective sergeant to show me exactly where the search of the previous evening had ended.  He pointed to the spot in the dunes where we had begun the daylight effort.  "They covered everything north of this point," he assured me.  I was looking at a fairly small area of extremely steep and rugged maritime forest; all that the night shift had been able to search before losing the natural light and giving up on the artificial.  Turning to the mayor and fire chief, I said, "We can start bringing the searchers back in, but I want a team to go back to the area of the dunes night shift covered and search them again while we still have the light."  The fire chief reluctantly nodded, then got on the radio to dispatch them. 

As the dozens and dozens of exhausted, dirty, and thirsty men and women began to filter back into the fire dept. bays, their despondency was palpable.  We all hated the thought of leaving another human being, especially one who couldn't fend for himself, to endure another night alone and afraid, possibly injured.  After having spoken with the missing man's wife and children earlier that day, I had gotten a sense of their anguish.  I dreaded having to tell them we had failed again and was considering what I should say, when suddenly my portable crackled into life with an excited voice crying, "We've found him!  I think we've found him!"  Leaping to my feet, I keyed my mike and asked, "Is he alive?"  The answer was immediate, "Yeah, I think he's okay."

The headquarters erupted into cheers, and I knew in that moment that this would always be one of the highlights of my police career– I had had one of those brief, shining moments that don't happen often enough.  In truth, I had only thought of the obvious when I sent the team back to the starting point, but at that moment, I felt like Sherlock Holmes.  As it turned out, he had been hiding under a bayberry shrub very near the start of the original search.  Fearful of the Chinese Communist troops he believed were pursuing him, he had remained hidden for over twenty-four hours.  His rescuer had spotted the toe of one his shoes jutting out from beneath the heavy brush.  They had passed right by him the night before.

Chinese Communist Troop–Korea circa 1950
When I drove to his home to break the good news to his family, the whole neighborhood was out on their decks and lawns waiting for the news. Being in uniform, and unable to keep from smiling, they easily guessed the outcome, and the entire block began to cheer. It was a good day to be chief.

Postscript: The following day I penned a general order that any time an agency outside of the police department was requested to assist in an urgent matter, myself and the captain were to be notified immediately as to the circumstances. No exceptions.

13 October 2014

"Rules" and Comments


by Fran Rizer 

In 2010, a bargain-loving friend of mine found Stephen King's memoir/writing guide On Writing in a clearance bin at a dollar store. She bought every one of them and sent them all to me.  The problem was  that there were over twenty-five copies.  I sent one to almost every writer I knew personally.

Recently I introduced a young sci fi writer to the realm of Stephen King--not the movie or television version, but the world found in his written words.  As my friend read It, I wished I had one more copy of On Writing to share with him what King said about writing and the story about the baby sitter. I bought one for him, but I was also fortunate enough to locate a list of King's "rules" on writing.

I grew up a rebel child who hated "rules," so I'll call these suggestions. You've probably seen most of them before along with those that overlap Elmore Leonard's, but I found these gentle reminders worthwhile. I couldn't resist the color red for my comments though I graded papers in purple when I taught school. (Some of you may recall that I did, however, write "Dear John, go to hell" letters in red.)

Today, I share twenty suggestions from Stephen King.


1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story,you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”  My next two books are a thriller in January and a horror in June, 2015.  I think I'm writing for myself these days and I have no idea what story is going to insist on being told next.

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.” And for heaven's sake, learn what the passive voice is.  I've dealt with too many young writers who think linking verbs are passive voice.  No comment on the timid lovers.

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.” I add "most of the time" to this or maybe "usually" is a better choice.

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”  See number three.

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.” I always told students they needed to learn the rules as well as when to break them.  Sometimes those grammar rules are necessary.



6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”  Here I differ with Mr. King.  Years ago, when I attended a large writers' group, we encountered several truly horrendous writers who positively knew they were fantastic and tried to justify why they shouldn't follow any suggestions.  It's not surprising that those folks still aren't published.

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” Amen!

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”  I'm struggling with this right now.

9. Turn off the TV. “TV really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”  Why do we need television when we have shows in our minds?

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”  This is no problem for me since the Callie books averaged six weeks for the first drafts, but I don't see how King does it with some books over a thousand pages.  How about you?  How long does it take to get that first draft written or do you have some that "wrote themselves" in a short time and some that take forever?  

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physically healthy, and I stayed married.”  Too late for me to accomplish either of those.

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”  I would add that commercial success is accomplished one reader at a time.

13. Eliminate distraction. “There should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.” There should also be no family members who constantly interrupt writing with insignificant questions and comments having nothing to do with the story (unless they are grandchildren).

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”  "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery," but does flattery have any place in creative writing?

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.  I like King's reference to the writer's toolbox.  The goal is to fill that toolbox with all possible skills and ideas and then develop the craft of knowing what to use where.

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.” And sometimes, going back and reading it after a layoff enables a writer to think, "Dang!  That's pretty good!"  (Okay, I know Elmore said no exclamation marks, but I love them so long as there aren't more than two per page. I began this by mentioning my dislike of rules from a young age.  What really p-o's me is when participants aren't given the rules until they are reprimanded for breaking them.) Back to the subject:  Sometimes after that six-week rest of a manuscript, a writer goes back, reads it, and says, "Oh, s- -t.  I can't believe I wrote that."

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)” Writing is also an excellent way to kill some people who are not your darlings.

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story.“Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”  I try to avoid this in writing and hate big info dump/back stories when I'm reading.  I don't like to read fiction that is obviously an effort to teach me a skill or history. (Janice Law provides an excellent example of writing historical novels that don't shove lessons down the reader's throat.)

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing.“You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”  I once knew a poet who refused to read other poets' works because he didn't want his "talent to be influenced by others."  He gave me a sincerely blank look when I mentioned "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," and the last time I saw him, he was coming out of a local pawn shop.  

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”  How about you?  I personally get a lot of happiness and pleasure from "falling into the page," but greater commercial success would take me closer to a happy ending.


See a fuller exposition of King’s writing wisdom at Barnes & Noble’s blog.




Your task for today is to let me know if you have a favorite among these twenty or if you have a suggestion you'd add to the list or if you flat out disagree with one of King's suggestions.

Until we meet again, take care of … you.

12 October 2014

DuMont Episode 2 ~
Slow Torture, Slow Death


DuMont Television Network
by Leigh Lundin

Continued from last week

Demise of DuMont: the FCC

The Fates conspired to wreak havoc upon DuMont. Bad FCC policy was partly to blame, an agency ill prepared to see the future and beholden to special interests. (Arguably, the FCC  remains much the same today, vis-à-vis Net Neutrality and an open Internet.)

Federal Communications Commission
For four years, the Federal Communications Commission effectively closed its doors to applications for new licenses, which handicapped DuMont from expanding. In the meantime, the FCC decided to restrict the VHF to certain markets, already dominated by NBC and CBS. This forced DuMont into the UHF band at a time when manufacturers had little incentive to add UHF capability to new models. In other words, DuMont was stuck in a realm where manufacturers wouldn’t support UHF because active UHF channels were virtually non-existent and broadcasters avoided UHF because most television sets didn’t support the UHF band. This alone put DuMont in a stranglehold.

AT&T allocations
Another problem was America’s telephone monopoly, the AT&T Corporation. AT&T Long Lines owned and controlled the cables used to send network broadcast signals. Unfortunately, they didn’t have sufficient capacity to serve all four networks, so they divided two hundred hours per month between CBS and NBC, allocated fifty-some hours to ABC, and allowed DuMont, the company who’d started it all, 37 hours. In other words, DuMont was allowed just over an hour a day at a time dictated by AT&T. Adding insult to injury, AT&T also required the networks to lease radio transmission services, which put DuMont at a severe competitive disadvantage, it being the one network without radio facilities.
AT&T LongLines

Also hurting DuMont was an FCC policy of not allowing networks to own more than five stations. The other networks owned the maximum five but DuMont owned only three. However, the FCC prevented DuMont from expanding to five arguing its minority shareholder, Paramount Pictures, owned two channels of its own.

Demise of DuMont: Paramount

Internally, Paramount was hostile toward DuMont, believing the network stymied its own growth but refusing to let go of its grip on DuMont, fearing it could become a run-away competitor. They undercut DuMont in multiple ways, competing with DuMont in some markets and refusing to share promised resources in others. Paramount openly berated DuMont, criticizing its understandably low-budget programming down to the quality of DuMont television sets.

Paramount
Paramount’s dog-in-the-manger refusal to divest itself of either its stations or its DuMont stake, allowed the Paramount mangy tail to wag the DuMont dog. Moreover, a spun-off division of Paramount Pictures, United Paramount Theaters, began a merger with DuMont’s rival, ABC, infusing them with cash and allowing ABC to better compete with CBS and NBC.

About the same time, NBC developed a private and likely illegal scheme to further starve DuMont out of existence. They proposed sharing the syndication of their premium programs with ABC, giving that growing network exclusive access to popular reruns. ABC declined but failed to draw the attention of federal authorities to the machinations of the large networks. If Paramount was aware of the plot, they apparently did not object.

Largely denied access to VHF and relegated to the UHF desert, limited to three stations compared to competitors’ five each, absent supporting radio networks and starved for cash, DuMont understood it was in trouble. They began negotiations with ABC for a merger that would be highly beneficial for both companies. However Paramount, still holding that 40% stake in DuMont, refused to sign off on the deal, killing any hope of DuMont’s survival.

In the autumn of 1955, Paramount seized total control of DuMont Laboratories and its network, driving a stake through the company’s heart.

Stations that hadn’t already been sold became the Metropolitan Broadcasting Company. Paramount itself underwent a buyout by the end of the decade, which became Metromedia. It would be half a century before other network failures, Paramount’s UPN and the juvenile WB, which merged to form the CW Television Network.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp purchased Metromedia and the two original DuMont stations to form the core of the Fox Broadcasting Company. Fox also obtained and renamed the original Madison Avenue DuMont Tele-Centre.

Next article, those with a grudge against lawyers (Dale Andrews not included) might find some justification.




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 second of three episodes of an early Ellery Queen television show from when our own Dale was a wee laddie, an episode broadcast 10 May 1951.

I'll be the first to admit this is not an exciting example, although a couple of reviewers disagree with me. The episode has no real deduction, nothing to challenge the viewer. But then again, bear in mind this is a live action presentation. At the end, note the line “The Adventures of Ellery Queen are based on stories by Ellery Queen and tales from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.”


Don't touch that dial! Next: A Fate Worse than Death

11 October 2014

Selling Out to Hollywood! (In which our writer goes temporarily nuts)


By Melodie Campbell

I read one of those self-help books the other day, and I’m beginning to realize why I’m not getting very rich.  (For one thing, I’m not writing self-help books.)  It is patently obvious that nobody is going to get wealthy writing zany crime novellas unless they whack somebody over the head with them during the course of a bank robbery.

So I’ve decided to switch media here and become a screenwriter.  I’m a natural.  I can sit in those funny collapsible canvas chairs just as well as the next guy, and besides, I know hundreds of unbelievable plots; I live in Ford Nation <Toronto>.

So here goes: for my first screamplay <sic> I’m going to do something made for TV; specifically one of those romance-suspense-action-thriller-northern-southern-civil war epic-type things, maybe a miniseries.  It would have everything – sex, violence, sex, betrayal, sex, revenge, sex - and maybe even some dialogue.  It would star a ravishing but thoroughly spoiled female lead, maybe called Sapphire, and her male lead, Rot.  Here’s a preview:

Sapphire flings herself up the sweeping staircase, catching bottom of skirt on knob of banister.

Sapphire (yanking at fabric):  Go away, Rot!  Just go away!

Rot:  I’m going, I’m going.  But one last thing, Sapphire honey, I’ve got to know.  How do you manage to go to the bathroom with that bloody hoola- hoop attached to your skirt?

Sapphire (rolling downstairs on her side):  Don’t go, Rot!  Please don’t go.

Rot (doffing hat):  Frankly Sapphire, I don’t give a hoot.

(From outside, several barn owls hoot.)

I predict a blockbuster.  But just in case, I have a second one planned.  It’s a 1960s historical spy flick, based on the true-to-life adventures of very bad people who might possibly be Russian.

First Spy (possibly named Boris):  Gee comrade, do you theenk perhaps we are raising peeples suspicions speeeking English with Russian accent?

Second Spy (also named Boris):  Especially seence it is very BAD Russian accent, comrade?

Okay, so it needs a bit of work, and maybe some more sex.  I’m thinking of calling it Czech-mate. And if we bring it forward to modern times, the possibilities are endless.  What about a ‘Spy of the Month’ reality series?  Boris could live in an LA frat house with nine other comrades named Boris, and the survivor…

Or I could go back to writing silly novels.

Melodie Campbell continues to write the zany Goddaughter mob caper series for Orca Books.  There appears to be no cure.

10 October 2014

EXFIL


by Dixon Hill

In my last post, I compared rappelling against fast-roping.  Both of these are infiltration (INFIL) operations.

People seemed to like the article so, thinking that some among you might be cooking-up suspenseful cloak and dagger novels in those writerly brains of yours, I thought I might discuss some methods of exfiltration (EXFIL) this week.  True: I used these techniques in the military.  But, intel agents or spies can use them as well (see the CIA link below). There is no law preventing this.  :-)

Helicopters refueled by C-130 in flight.
These days, due to our current ability to refuel certain types of helicopters (particularly SpecOps birds) in the air, helicopter EXFIL is quite commonplace.

Commonly, the chopper just lands and picks the person or people up.  At other times, the helicopter can't land: such as in forested or jungle areas, on steep mountain sides, or from building roofs festooned with tall antennae.  In such a situation, a SPIES rig or some other method may be used.


SPIES RIG
Up, up and away!

Evidently, this can be called a "SPIES rig" (pronounced: speeze rig) or a "SPIE rig", but I learned it as a SPIES rig, and will address it as such.

SPIES supposedly stands for "Special Patrol Insertion Extraction System," but don't quote me on that.

The system is pretty basic: A line is lowered from the hovering helicopter, personnel wearing Swiss seats (or other harness types) hook into the line with a snap-link, and the helicopter takes off, dragging these folks through the air.  Eventually (hopefully!) the pilot spots a place where he can lower them to the ground.  They then clear the helipad, and the pilot lands the helicopter.  After which, the team members who recently acted as "dopes on a rope," now climb into the chopper, which flies away.

In these photos, the operation is presented from slightly different angles.  Arms and legs are not extended just to look stylish.  They're used for stability, in order to help prevent twisting in the wind -- which is very important if you don't want to lose your lunch.


I used to think getting air sick on a SPIES line was the worst fate a person could suffer. Then, however, I learned the truth: The worst fate is to suffer through the guy ABOVE YOU, on the line, getting sick!









The SPIES rig can be as simple as this fast-rope (below) with those white hook-lines woven in.  A rider just snap-links into the hook-line, and enjoys the ride -- which can make a person feel rather like Super Man!











STOL 
I'm hardly an aircraft expert,
but I believe this is the type of STOL
we used in SF when I was in.
When a short -- VERY short! -- relatively flat spot of land is available, but a helicopter is not, Short Take-Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft can be used.  The pilot lands; the team jumps on; the pilot flies off.  These aircraft are quite small and very light.  You can't cram more than five or six guys, plus their gear, onto one aircraft.  Well . . . you can cram more guys in, but I don't think you'd ever get off the ground -- though I have seen these planes  carry a surprisingly heavy load at times.

If you read the CIA paper below, which mentions mail-operations, you may like to know that SF uses that type of mail drop also, and we used these planes to do it.

Rocket-Assist Take-off





Additionally, the MC-130 Special Operations aircraft is capable of great range (which may be further augmented by aerial refueling), landing on a relatively short airfield, and using "Rocket Assist" to make short take-offs, as the MC-130 may be outfitted with rockets on the sides of the fuselage.  I can attest that the near-instant acceleration of a rocket-assisted take-off makes for one heck of a ride.

C-130 aerial refueling,
in case you didn't know how it works.











SKYHOOK

Skyhook, or the Fulton Extraction System, developed in the '50s and '60s, is undoubtedly the most spectacular EXFIL method I've ever seen.

Though aerial refueling of helicopters may seem to have rendered this practice obsolete, the system may still be in operation today, as I found an online pic of an MC-130 with the tell-tale "hooks" on its nose, but was unable to gain permission to post it.  I do know it was still available for use when my A-Team trained with the Special Operations Air Wing in Florida, around 1992.  At that time, however, humans were not permitted to be extracted during training missions.  Hence, we used a dummy instead.

The Fulton Extraction System works like this:

a. A container is parachuted to the team/individual on the ground.
The suit.

b. The team/individual opens the container and removes a rubber-insulated suit with hood, about 500
feet of braided nylon cord attached to a deflated "blimp" about six feet long, a tank of helium, and sometimes two telescoping poles (for use if suitable saplings are not available for easy cutting). [Note: The suit is insulated because the aircraft, when it strikes the cable, may impart a tremendous electrical shock to the system -- reportedly due to the aircraft's creation of static electricity -- which would otherwise give the rider a nasty jolt.]

c. The person being extracted dons the suit, while poles are erected and the nylon cord is run through in a loop, then hooked to the shockline hook on the suit.
Catching the line.
Note "blimp" near photo top.

d. The "blimp" is inflated and permitted to rise in the air, as the suited person sits on the ground, back to the poles.

e. A plane, with the hook (what look like scissors) attached to its nose, flies along and catches the nylon cord (hanging from the blimp, and attached to the suited fellow on the ground).  It catches this line about 450 feet above the ground.
Back on the ramp.





f. The line jerks tight, and the suited person rises rapidly, to fly away, sailing through the sky behind the aircraft.  Meanwhile the aircrew, back by the aircraft rear ramp, are securing the line, as it runs beneath the fuselage, with a long hook.  Once they capture the line, they hook it to a winch and reel-in the fellow on the far end up to the open ramp.

Almost in!



The "victim" tries to keep his/her arms and legs out, and his/her back toward the aircraft, while flying, in (what is sometimes a vain attempt) order to prevent him/herself from spinning or oscillating in the aircraft's wake.  Being reeled-in can take up to ten minutes, and be extremely disorienting.  In fact, it is reported that parachutes were once issued to the person being extracted, but this practice was halted, because the "extractee" feels as if s/he's falling the entire time s/he's being reeled-in.  Once the extractee arrives in the aircraft, aircrew grab the new passenger on both sides, and strap him/her down before releasing the new passenger and confirming that the mission has been successful.  (It's my understanding that some disoriented personnel have accidentally walked off the ramp while the aircraft was flying, when this was not performed correctly, and that this is why humans are not permitted to be used as "training dummies.")

You can see the system used on film, if you watch the movie The Green Berets, or you may read a CIA paper, about Skyhook's use in an intel operation HERE

This is probably enough for now.  If you like learning about this stuff, let me know.  I'd be happy to write about driving a Zodiac rubber assault boat into a sinking CH-47 Chinook helicopter, in the middle of a dark night, next time, if you'd like.

--Dixon

09 October 2014

Anatomy of Revolution, Part 1


by Eve Fisher

As well as a writer and omnivorous reader, I'm an historian by trade, and I love patterns in history. Searching down and matching up cross-cultural, cross-chronological patterns is my specialty.  And there are a lot more patterns than people are aware of, because (1)  we always like to think that we (our generation, country, tribe, religion, etc.) are unique and (2) we often get the pattern wrong.  And we generally get it wrong because we're trying to get the pattern to match a predetermined belief system.

For example:  There's an illusion that revolutions are started by the poor and downtrodden masses, who have finally had enough and Rise Up! against the oppressor, and all hell breaks loose.  Sorry. That's not how it works.   As Leon Trotsky once said, "The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection:  if it were, the masses would always be in revolt."

Delacroix - Liberty Leading the People

Nor do revolutions erupt when societies are at their lowest, economically/socially/morally.  Actually, when things are at their worst, no one has time for revolution.  Survival takes up everyone's time and energy. Instead, revolutions occur just as things are, finally, getting better.  And they are launched not by the masses, but by a thin wedge - actually many thin wedges - of which the most common are intellectuals (sometimes, but not always, of the upper classes, socially and/or economically), grumbling property owners, radicals, and extremists who - SPOILER ALERT - would not be satisfied if God came down from heaven and gave them everything they claim to be their heart's desire.

Crane Brinton (1898-1968)
Back in 1938, Crane Brinton, a history professor at Harvard University, wrote a book called "Anatomy of Revolution".  He revised it in 1965, and I only wish he had lived long enough to incorporate the Chinese Cultural Revolution in it as well.  Basically, he compared the English Civil war of 1642-1651, the American Revolution of 1765-1783, the French Revolution of 1789-1799, and the Russian Revolution of 1917-1922, and found significant patterns that ran through all of these.  He compared revolution to a fever, and he wasn't far wrong.  I'm not going to use all of his jargon, and I am going to simplify some things and add others, but here's the general run-down, in case something strikes you as familiar, or potential, or possible.  Personally, I find predicting revolutions far more practical, although much less hilarious, than predicting apocalypses.

The Pre-conditions of Most Major Revolutions:

In every revolution  (Britain, Colonial America, France, Mexico, Russia, and China), the economy was actually improving before the revolution.  BUT as things got better, people felt more discontented than they did when they were starving to death and could only focus on food.  Now they had food, and they started wanting more.  They were hopeful for the future, but they felt they were forced to accept less RIGHT NOW than what they hoped for.  And (sorry if this comes as a shock) they always blamed it on the government in power.

Brinton said that, in each case, the Old Regime was:
  • Economically weak - the government had deficits and/or debts and had to enforce taxes, which everyone hated.  
  • Louis XVI of France
    • NOTE:  In most countries, taxes were paid almost entirely by the poor, even though, throughout pre-revolutionary history the 5% wealthy/middle class owning 95% of the wealth was the norm. One of the purposes, and major achievements, of revolutions was to change those statistics significantly.  For one thing, today we EXPECT there to be a substantial middle class, and are worried when there isn't.  Thank the American and French Revolutions for that one, folks.  
  • Politically weak - the government was ineffective and could not enforce policy.  
    • NOTE:  this was especially true in governments that were based on hereditary royalty, which almost always eventually run out of steam, not to mention genetic material. 
  • Intellectually deserted - the intelligentsia (scholars, thinkers, some artists) gave up on the way their society operated and joined the reformers, speaking out against the government, often (especially in France and Russia) sawing off the branch they were sitting on.  
  • Riddled with class antagonism - there was a growing bitterness between the social/economic classes, with the classes closest to one another being the most hostile to each other.  (Basically, the poor don't have the time to hate the rich, they're just trying to survive; and the rich can easily ignore the poor, because they hardly ever see them.)
The Revolution Begins

Zapata in Cuernevaca
So all this is stewing away, and then a symbolic action rallies the people against the old regime.  The Boston Tea Party; the taking of the Bastille; the Petrograd strikes in February, 1917; Viva Zapata!; the Guangzhou Uprising in China of 1927; the mass rallies of the Cultural Revolution.  These are followed by planned "spontaneous" revolts (usually carefully orchestrated by the intellectual elite), and the government can't repress the rebellion without a level of violence that they fear will lead to total revolution. But total revolution happens anyway.  And the government... succumbs.

Change to Moderates

Charles I on trial for his life in 1649
In France, the Legislative Assembly ruled until 1792; in China, in 1911, the Qing Dynasty fell and Sun-Yat Sen became first President of the Republic; Charles I of England was held prisoner by Parliament, which ruled the country; Francisco Madero, a wealthy reformer, became President of Mexico; in Russia, Alexander Kerensky took over the Provisional Government.  In all of these and more the moderates quickly took over the mechanism of government.  Everyone celebrates!  "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!" (Wordsworth)  Everything is changing!  New constitutions!  New institutions!  Sometimes a new war!

BUT there's always somebody who isn't happy, whether you want to call them radicals or extremists or what ever other name is popular. Two VERY important facts:
  • The moderates fail to - and indeed cannot - satisfy those who insist on further changes because
  • the moderates want to/must maintain government, and the radicals want to destroy it. (Or at least the radicals want to destroy the moderates' government.) 
The honeymoon period is brief, sometimes as brief as a heartbeat.  In Mexico, President Madero was assassinated by his generalissimo successor Huerta, who claimed that the former President had gotten caught in an accidental crossfire; In 1911 China, Sun Yat-Sen was ousted by the old warlord Yuan Shi-kai in a matter of days.  (Sun Yat-Sen, no fool, resigned rather than stick around to be killed.)  In 1917 Russia, Lenin and the Bolsheviks got rid of Kerensky's government within months. In France, Robespierre took over the Committee of Public Safety...

And in all cases, any members of the former royal house still in the country get imprisoned and/or executed.

And now the Extremists, self-righteous, self-assured, irreproachable, illimitable and insatiable, are coming...

More next time.