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.”


“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.


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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014



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 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.


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

Thursday, September 4, 2014


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.