Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review of the Biography THE SECRET AGENT

 
Subtitled “In Search of America’s Greatest World War II Spy,” this brief biography of Swedish-American oilman Erik Erickson by Stephan Talty lives up to its billing. Erickson’s courage and his impact on the outcome of the battle against Nazi Germany places him at or near the pinnacle of my pantheon of heroes. 

Erikson’s motivation? “We were raised to resist tyrants and dictators---and against any and all that used brutality and force to gain their goals.” Add to that the personality of an oil wildcatter and the desire to live up to the example of his heroic older brother, and you have the makings on an extraordinary man, the subject of an extraordinary biography.

Teamed with a courageous Swedish prince, the charming and talented Erickson eventually worms his way into the confidence of those at the highest level of the Nazi hierarchy, including Heinrich Himmler, the monstrously evil head of the dreaded Gestapo and arguably the second highest official in the “Thousand-Year Reich.”

Erickson’s goal? Disrupt the oil and gasoline supplies that fueled the German war machine. Eventually, he became trusted enough by the Nazis that he obtained frequent visits to the refineries and processing plants they used to create gasoline and eventually synthetic fuels, as their oil and gas supplies were reduced by Allied bombings and land victories.

During the beginning years of the war, Allied efforts were focused elsewhere, but by the last two years, it was realized that cutting off gasoline and lubricants could halt major elements of the Nazi military, especially its tanks and planes. The deeply hidden chemical processing sites were ravaged by bombing guided by the information supplied by Erickson. The Nazi air force largely shifted from defending the coasts to defending their oil and gas supplies. Logistics trumped territory protection.

Erickson was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, predecessor to our Central Intelligence Agency. To carry off his deception, Erickson had to become plausibly pro-Nazi gradually while maintaining industrial, governmental, and social contacts in Sweden, where his own petroleum-based business was centered. This imposture cost him his wife, his lover, his friendships, and nearly his life. The second woman he loved, Anne-Maria, an anti-Nazi German collaborator, was executed by hanging in his presence; neither acknowledged the other during the gruesome procedure, thus sparing Erickson‘s life. After the war, her carried her picture with him for the forty years until his own death.

Biographer Talty has resurrected Erickson’s story with the help of materials he recently uncovered. Decades ago, the spy had been the subject of numerous journalistic interviews and even a somewhat factual Hollywood movie, his heroism an inspiration. The details newly discovered only make him stand even taller. He was principled, patriotic, persistent, and dauntless.

Where does a country get such brave and dedicated men and women? Will we have them again, if needed? Examples such as that of Eric Erickson will help inspire and encourage them.

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[This is a “Kindle Single,” from amazon.com for its kindle e-reader and other similar devices. The length is about 20,000 words, roughly 80 pages.]


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Too Tall?

 
Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mom, am I too tall?” Tess Williams asked her mother as they finished washing and drying the dinner dishes.

“Why do you ask?”

“I’m the tallest girl in seventh grade, and I’m taller than almost all the boys, too.”

“When I was your age, I too was the tallest girl in class. Does being tall bother you?”

“A little. Sometimes I get kidded about it, nothing terrible, but it makes me feel funny.”

“When you get older, you’ll find that being taller than average is better that being shorter, even for a girl.”

“Why?”

“Most sports favor the taller players, though not always. At work, you will find that you are taken more seriously, listened to with more respect. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but often it is.”

“Do boys date girls who are taller than they are?”

“Some don’t, but your father did. When he was in high school he had a crush on a girl who was an inch or two taller than he was, and they dated. It happens.”

“What was her name?”

“I’ll tell you that story another day. Her family was in a bad car accident, and their lives were never the same. Being tall had nothing to do with it, by the way. There are many more important things in life.”

“Is there anything I can do about being so tall?”

“Not really. You may choose not to wear high-heeled shoes, and some clothes will make you look less tall, but you should stand up straight and be proud of yourself, rather than slump and hide your height.”

“What about the kids who make jokes about my height?”

“Unless they are really mean, you can laugh along with them. They may be jealous, in fact. When you are grown up, you will do well and have the last laugh.”

Mr. Williams had been listening in. “It’s true that I really liked a very tall girl in high school. People have different tastes, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is an old saying with a lot of truth to it. Anyway, it is a mistake to make a big deal out of how people look.”

“You can’t tell a book by its cover,” Mrs. W. added, always quick with an old saying herself. Then she quoted another, “Beauty is only skin deep.”

“Tall is tall,” said Tess, with feeling.

“And small is small,” was Tim’s comment. He was a bit shorter than most of the kids in his fourth-grade class. He hoped to grow much taller.

“You’ll grow. You’ll grow!” his dad said, while thinking:
It is hard on boys to be short, but many short men have had happy lives.
Sometimes, they may have had to work harder to succeed, but they did well.
Rick is average height, and Tim will most likely be that tall, at least.
Time will tell.

Mrs. Williams had the final say. “We are told to improve what we can improve, accept what we cannot change, and learn the difference between them. You each will be as tall as you will be, and Dad and I will love you no matter how tall you are.” Then she put the last few dried dishes on the very top shelf…without even standing on her tiptoes.


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One of our series of 50 instructional short stories for  young readers.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

REVIEW: Carac Allison's DARK DIGITAL SKY

 


I’m writing this on 9/11/2014, thirteen years after the al-Qaeda attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Out here, seventy miles north of New York City, we get few worrisome planes over-head and no drones, so far, but drones are likely to play major roles in our lives soon, as they do in this fascinating detective novel by Carac Allison.

The story begins with Chalk’s being hired by a Hollywood mogul, the filthy-rich Hyena, to track down three possible offspring that might have resulted from the mogul’s sperm donations during a period of personal penury. Using skills partly acquired during his short-lived career as an FBI agent, Chalk identifies three probable sons of the Hyena: young men notable for their anti-social activities, not so different from their putative father’s behavior.

Eventually, the young men are recruited into a conspiracy by General Jack Ripper [his pseudonym], a plot that includes crashing drones into buildings along the West Coast. Why? The General is a nut, a very bitter nut.

I found Chalk hard to like. His loss of his son to a conniving wife is sad, but the woman simply was even more unscrupulous than Chalk, who lies his way throughout his pursuit of the truth. A bipolar, manic-depressive, personality barely controlled by drugs and drink gives our hero added depth, although what is at the bottom of that depth is to me unattractive. Well, we find Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes unlovable at times, too. All three are surprisingly effective as detectives.

A sub-plot concerns Bacchus, a man who makes young women disappear, to re-appear as ingredients in the brownies he distributes at rock concerts. A family I know lost their eldest daughter decades ago when she ran away from home in her teens, never to be heard from again. Chalk maintains that there is a “dark pantheon” of serial killers behind the many people who become permanently missing every year.

It takes a brilliant writer to create a plausibly brilliant detective, whether it be Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Allison’s private investigator is nick-named “Chalk,” but his English professor father had christened him “Chaucer.” Chalk’s eight tattoos are the covers of eight great books, several of which I would have chosen, also. None of which I would have painted indelibly on my body, however. Chalk’s opinions about these books and his knowledge about a wide variety of topics make his brilliance credible.

Carac Allison has written a fascinating novel, succeeding in solving the central puzzle while leaving some loose ends to be tied up in a sequel or two or three. I await the next one eagerly.

###

I gave this novel 5 stars in my simlar amazon.com review.

 

 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Recital, a #YA Short Story

 
Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Are you nervous?” Tess asked her friend May Lee, shortly before May’s piano recital at the local music school.

“Not really. I’ve practiced this piece many, many times.”

“Where’s your sheet music?”

“We can’t use it. We have to know it by heart.”

Tess Williams and her mother had come to this little recital that Wednesday evening mostly to hear May play. There were a dozen students on the program, students ranging from first grade to twelfth.

The audience was made up of parents, brothers and sisters, and friends. The youngest students would play for a few minutes or less, with sheet music. The older ones were to play longer and more difficult pieces, without sheet music.

“Mom, what’s this ‘Etude by Chopin’?” Tess asked. This is what May was scheduled to play.

“It‘s pronounced ‘AY-tude by SHOW-pan,’ ‘Etude’ is French for ‘Study,’ and Frederic Chopin was a famous composer of classical piano pieces. I think you will like it. I hope so.”

The children played, with the audience applauding after each piece. The pieces got more difficult as the program went on. May seemed to play perfectly, as did most of the others.

After the recital, there were refreshments: cookies with juice for the kids and coffee or tea for the adults. May and her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Lee, came over to talk with Tess and Mrs. Williams.

“You were wonderful,” Mrs. W. told May.

“Thank you. Almost perfect. One C that should have been C-sharp.”

“It sounded perfect to us,” Tess said.

“How long has May been studying piano?” Mrs. Williams asked her parents.

“Six years, since first grade, and she will continue through twelfth grade,” Mrs. Lee replied, with pride. She could have added that Asian-American parents often strongly encourage their children to study a musical instrument, such as the violin or the piano.

The piano teacher, Mrs. Gilbert, came over to the group. “I hope you enjoyed the recital. I was pleased with the performances.”

Dr. Lee commented, “We thought May played well, and we appreciate your very skilled teaching.”

Mrs. Gilbert responded, “I understand that her mother is a very good pianist, too.”

Mrs. Lee blushed, “You are too generous.”

Tess’s mother added, “They say, ‘like father, like son,’ but here I’d say, ‘like mother, like daughter.’”

May didn’t want a big fuss made over her. She mentioned again that she had not played quite perfectly.

“Some say ‘practice makes perfect,’” Mrs. Gilbert said, “but we say, ‘perfect practice makes perfect.’ May is an excellent student.”



Mrs. Williams smiled at May Lee and her parents and her teacher. “We think May is terrific. You must be doing something right!”

 

May Lee went on to study piano another six years and had a recital with a community orchestra soon after she graduated. That night, Tess asked May the same question she had asked six years before, “Are you nervous?”

“Very!” May replied. Despite that, she played beautifully, getting a standing ovation at the end. She had risen to the challenge.


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One of our series of fifty instructive short stories for young readers.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Review of THE ONE HOUR CHINA BOOK


China is the second largest economy in the world, after the United States, and rapidly will become number one. This will open up new opportunities for some Americans, as well, both in trade and in educating ourselves to interact more effectively with our Chinese business colleagues: the Chinese value modesty, tact, etiquette, education, respect for elders, which is not as habitual for some non-Asian Americans.

In their recent best-selling and wryly titled book, designed to introduce American businessman to modern China, The One Hour China Book: Two Peking University Professors Explain All of China Business in 6 Short Stories, Professors Jonathan Woetzel and Jeffrey Towson highlight and explain six trends in China that business executives must heed:

1. URBANIZATION: “China is currently witnessing the largest migration in human history. Hundreds of millions of people are flooding from the countryside into the cities.” 300 million have done so already and another 350 million are likely to follow. “…the equivalent of adding the entire population of Japan every 8 years.” They all hope to have middle-class living conditions, at least, with housing, jobs, schools, hospitals, transportation, etc. The impacts are tremendous, especially on public services and the environment. “There will soon be 1 billion Chinese city dwellers,” in lots of new cities, generating and spending great wealth.

2. HUGE MANUFACTURING SCALE: The cost of producing a unit of production usually decreases with the total number of units produced, due to the learning curve, and with the rate at which they are produced, due to efficiencies of scale. This leads Chinese companies to invest heavily in production equipment and personnel, hoping to drive out their competitors with lower prices allowed by their lower costs. The winner of this cut-throat competition is the last company still standing. Chinese manufacturing, the world’s largest, has matured from making toys and clothes to making computer chips, just as Japan’s had done previously.

3. RISING CHINESE CONSUMERS: “Chinese (and Asian) middle class consumers are the future,” far more important than Europe, Brazil, Russia, or even India, and eventually eclipsing North America. Currently, they shop for bargains, for value, but are likely to choose on more “emotional” bases in the future, as has happened in America and Europe before. For example, they like meat, 3 million chickens per week, making farming a hot “new“ Chinese industry. Worldwide pork prices have risen largely due to Chinese demand.

4. MONEY---AND LOTS OF IT: “China has over $15 trillion in bank deposits and these grow by over $2 trillion every year.” A trillion here and a trillion there, and you are beginning to talk about big money. “There is basically just a ton of cash.”

5. THE BRAINPOWER BEHEMOTH: “…the number of college graduates has gone from approximately 1 million in 1998 to 7.5 million in 2012.” There graduates, especially those trained at the best schools in China and the U.S., form a highly valuable resource in the global competition for markets. The number of Chinese patents per year now exceeds the number of U.S. patents, although the quality of the former is not generally up to that of the latter. As the solar panel producer, the giant Suntech, demonstrated once government subsidies for solar power expired, these companies are not invincible, and the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
 

6. THE CHINESE INTERNET: Professors Woetzel and Towson note that the Chinese Internet, a much more recent innovation in China than in America, now has a half-billion participants already, twice number of Americans, and Chinese is the predominant language of the Internet world-wide. Sixty percent of the Chinese participants started within the past three of four years, and the impact on Chinese communications and commerce has been explosive. A company known as “Tencent” has 700 million users of its QQ instant messenger service and is predicted soon to dominate on-line multi-player gaming world-wide. It also combines many of the popular features of Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Yahoo, Gmail…. “In the 60 largest Chinese cities, people spend around 70 percent of their spare time online.” Amazing!

“Word of mouth,” as opinion expressed on the Internet, is of particular importance in China, where government-influenced sources of information are generally less trusted. Bloggers are powerful.

“Chinese e-commerce is the next really big thing.” And it is “winner-take-all,” “spectacularly competitive.”

You have been alerted.

 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

My Foreword to But...at What Cost: A Skeptic's Memoir

What made a busy former tutor and small-business entrepreneur a Tea Party activist? Why did she threaten to quit? What caused her to switch from political organizing to writing her memoir?

You will find the answers in But…at What Cost?  Author Judy Axtell has experienced, as the Chinese say, “interesting times.” She became a changed person. Socrates is credited with admonishing, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Judy Axtell’s often-challenging, closely examined life has been well worth her struggles. She has lived and learned.

Initially, a few years ago, Judy emailed me to ask that I prepare a flier for her Tea Party group, summarizing our joint skepticism about “global warming”: Is the climate actually getting warmer? Due to human activities? More bad than good? Preventable at reasonable cost? My background in environmental physics, mathematics, and modeling was just what she wanted in support of the position I shared with the Tea Party. A friend I was helping write a memoir had called me to Judy’s attention. We quickly became allies, by phone and Internet.

Judy and I first met in person in the fall of 2013. We agreed to work together on a book that would distill her experience of seven decades into an explanation of how and why her views had changed radically from the liberalism of her youth to the conservatism of her maturity. We met about twice a month to discuss and debate her ideas and hone their presentation. She wrote rapidly and well, finishing her first draft in less than half a year, despite her continual revising in an effort to get it just right. She has given her views prolonged, serious thought, and hers is a life story worth reading.

Some say that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. Others have claimed that one would need to be cold-hearted to be a conservative in one’s youth and empty-headed to be a liberal in one’s adulthood. Those two messages are much the same: experience teaches, and it often teaches that lofty ideas fail when applied to real people.

Judy Axtell’s book is a cry from her heart that America must return to the principles of individual freedom and responsibility that catapulted this country to greatness over the past two centuries. She believes only this will help erase the terrible consequences of slavery, America’s “original sin.” Until politicians stop pitting one group against another, we will continue to pay the price for past slavery, segregation, discrimination, and Jim Crow. Rather than recognizing and protecting the individual as the basic unit of society, politicians divide us into voting blocs, as “mascots” and “targets” in the words of the brilliant black economist and political philosopher Thomas Sowell, one of Judy Axtell’s heroes and one of mine.

It was my real pleasure helping Judy to produce her book, a candid and thoughtful memoir we hope its readers will both profit from and enjoy.

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.

Editor
douglas@tingandi.com


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Judy's book is available through amazon.com.
http://www.amazon.com/But-What-Cost-Skeptics-Memoir/dp/1478736739/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1409144274&sr=8-1&keywords=but...at+what+cost

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Field Day, A Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

Rick asked Tess and Tim, “What do you want to do for a booth at Field Day this year?”

Every year, on the Memorial Day week-end Saturday, their town held Field Day, where people came to watch a softball game between the police and fire departments, to ride on a few rented amusement park rides, and to buy various items from tables set up by the townspeople, with the profit to go to upkeep for the town’s Bradley Field, including such things as mowing the grass, keeping the softball diamond ready for play, repairing the swings and other park equipment.

“Refreshments stand,” said Tess, and Tim nodded in agreement.

“Would you be selling food? That seems rather hard, especially if anything needs to be cooked.”

“Soda,” said Tim, and --- surprisingly --- Tess agreed.

They sat down at the dining room table, and Rick started writing their plans on a large pad of lined paper. First came a discussion of what sodas to sell: Coke or Pepsi? Diet or regular? Root beer? Mountain Dew? Ginger ale? Orange soda or lemon-lime? They listed lots of other possibilities.

Mr. and Mrs. Williams got involved briefly in the planning. Mrs. Williams thought that on a hot day people would not be very choosy about their drinks, and she quoted the saying, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

“What’s a gander?” Tim asked.

“A female goose,” Tess answered quickly, as though it were a TV quiz show question.

Mr. Williams had a different view, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.”

“Poison?” asked a puzzled Tim.

“I mean that what one person likes another person may dislike. It’s just an old saying.”

“Oh,” said Tim.

Mrs. W., sometimes a history teacher, thought to herself, I’m tempted to joke that one man’s Mede is another man’s Persian, but I doubt anyone will laugh.

Having given the children the benefit of their advice, although not agreeing with each other, the parents wandered off.

The three Williams kids then decided to limit the number of soda types to four: cola, diet cola, ginger ale, and orange soda. They chose flavors they would be willing to drink if they did not sell them all. Cans or bottles? Cans seemed safer, nothing to break.

How much soda should they buy? They hoped to raise $50. If they sold the sodas for $0.50 each more than each cost, then they would need to sell 100. Could they sell that many? It would depend on the weather and on how many people came.

How many people would likely be at Field Day? Rick estimated it would be a couple of hundred. The police and fire softball teams had about 15 members each, a total of 30, and most of their spouses and kids would probably come, for a total of around 100. Other people would be there to watch the game and to go to the different tables, so maybe that would be another 100, a total of 200 or so. That seemed like the crowds they had seen at the last couple of Field Days, too.

“This is not so easy to figure out,” Tess complained.

“You can see the problem business people have,” Rick answered.

“Will everyone buy a soda?” Tim wanted to know.

Rick said, “Good question.”

“Not likely,” Tess replied.

They decided to buy at least 100 sodas, probably more. They knew that the sodas came in cases of 24 each, and the crew ended up planning to buy two cases of regular cola, along with one each of diet cola, ginger ale, and orange, so five case, a total of 120 sodas.

They arranged to get a table and a large garbage can, then started buying what they needed: the sodas, plastic cups, napkins, and ice that they kept in their freezer.

Field Day came. Rick, Tess, and Tim arrived early and set up their table. It was sunny and was going to be hot for the end of May, so they were likely to sell all their sodas, which they put in the shade. They had a large insulated container for their ice, and put up a sign listing the soda choices, the price for each, and stating that the profits would go to the Field Day Fund.

Business was good before the softball game, then slowed during it, but picked up briskly when the game was over. The three of them were kept busy getting and opening the cans, putting ice in the cups, pouring the sodas, taking the money, making change.

Ginger ale did not sell very well, but a lady who had just come from eating a hot dog hurried over and bought a ginger ale. “Ginger ale is great for an upset stomach,” she said softly enough so that the hot dog stand people wouldn’t hear.

Mrs. Williams came by, looked at the people lined up for drinks and at the number of soda cans left. She trotted over to the family car and drove off. She headed for home, quickly returning with lemons, sugar, a dish, bottled water, a few spoons and a sharp knife.

“What’s all that for, Mom?” Tess asked.

“Lemonade!” Mrs. W. got to work, and her lemonade sold more rapidly than any one type of soda. It was a hit.

When Field Day ended, the Williams crew had made more than $100 profit…they donated it all. They were pleased and proud.

Mr. Williams was happy, too. For the fourth year in a row, the Fire Department, for whom he played third base, beat the Police Department…soundly. Mr. W. made a few fine plays and got a couple of hits, as well.

That night, chatting about the day, Mr. Williams couldn’t help joking, “They say that when things are tough, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade…and I’d say that when wife gives you lemons, sell lemonade.”

Nobody laughed at this, but Mrs. W. smiled, commenting, “They also say there is no disputing taste…each to his own taste…perhaps they meant taste in humor.”

Only Rick laughed.

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One of our fifty instructional short stories for young readers.