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.

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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


##

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.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Fair Play


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mr. Williams, I want to speak with you,” said the mother of Aaron, one of the kids on the fourth-grade, week-end soccer team that Mr. W. coached.
“Sure. What about?”
“Why didn’t you play Aaron as much as some of the other kids?”

“I did play him half the game, as our AYSO rules specify.”

“Yes, but you played other boys more, including your own son, Tim.”

“True, but I play the better players more, and I also keep track of who comes to the practices. Aaron is pretty good, has missed some practices, and played about as much as other kids of similar skill.”

“That’s not fair. They all want to play, and they should play about he same amount each.”

“I understand your opinion, but I don’t agree. I think the better players and those who attend practices regularly should be rewarded with more playing time. Making sure every player plays at least half the game seems fair enough to me.”

“You won the game 3-2. Didn’t that allow you to substitute more?”

“No. In soccer, a goal can be scored suddenly, and if they had scored, the game would have been tied.”

“Then everyone would have been happy.”

“Not really. A common sports saying is, ’A tie is like kissing your sister.’ Do you see how hard the kids play? They are trying to win, and as long as they play fair, I am happy to see them do that.”

“Who cares who wins the game?” Aaron’s mother questioned.

“Well, it means less to you or me than it does to some of the players, but their feelings count, too.”

“Would you have played Aaron more if you were way ahead or way behind?”

“Yes. It would have been good experience for him, and he would not have been in danger of losing the game for the team, which would have displeased at least some of his teammates.”

“I don’t agree with you. I think all the boys should get equal playing time.”

“Next year, you or your husband are welcome to take the job of being a coach for the boys, and you can run the team as you see fit. This year, it is my role and my rules.”

Later, when Mr. Williams told his wife what happened, she agreed with him, “Aaron really needs to improve if he is to keep up with the other boys. He needs to ‘walk before he can run,’ needs to work on improving his skills before expecting to play a lot or be a star.”

“I could have told his mother that, but I did not want to hurt their feelings. I knew I was within the rules and was doing what I thought was right. I had the final say, the power as coach. As Theodore Roosevelt advised, I spoke softly but carried a big stick…the power to decide how much paying time each boy would get.”

“Just like former President Teddy Roosevelt, eh?” Mrs. W. kidded her husband. “Perhaps this position of great power is going to your head.”

“Well, my love, they say ‘there is no “I” in ‘team’ but I see that there is ‘me’ in manager…somewhere.”

“Yes, there’s an ‘m’ and an ‘e’ in ‘manager’…and a ‘nag,’” she teased.

“Even a good thing can be overdone,” Mr. W. admitted, deciding not to try to come up with another old saying in reply.


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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review of THE CUT-OUT


 
KILLING PRINCESS DI
 
Americans are less aware of it than are the British, but in 2008 a British jury concluded that Princess Diana and her lover Dodi Fayed were “unlawfully killed,” a charge just shy of “murdered.”
 
Jon King’s book, The Cut-Out, gives chapter and verse with only some names and details changed to protect the guilty and the author.
 
In espionage jargon, a “cut-out” is an unwitting individual used to pass messages or material. The author finds, eventually, that he himself was a dupe for a high-ranking officer of Britain’s MI6, their CIA. In investigating Princess Di’s death, King is fed clues to lead him in certain directions desired by MI6. When he breaks free from his leash, his investigation is hampered and his resulting book is eventually embargoed. Despite this, he succeeds in getting an official investigation of the killing of Princess Di, who would have likely survived this crash of her sabotaged Mercedes limousine if her seat belt had not also been deliberately damaged.
 
King’s own investigation reveals that, for reasons of church and state, government officials decided that either Camilla Parker-Bowles or Princess Diana had to die, by “accident,” before the impending marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla. An unsuccessful attempt on Camilla’s life made the killing of Princess Di deemed necessary.
 
King’s book is fascinating, well worth reading by those who like riveting stories and those who want to know what goes on behind the scenes when a government rules without ethics.