Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cuba: realism or traición?

Last week President Obama unveiled what he called a “new approach” to U.S.-Cuban relations.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries," Obama said. "These 50 years have shown, isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach."

This doesn't really mean much yet, as only Congress has the power to lift the embargo on trade with U.S.

This fact was not lost on Raúl Castro, the hermanito of Fidel and current dictator of the communist regime in Havana.

"This decision by President Obama deserves the respect and recognition of our people,” Castro said in measured tones.  Castro then qualified his already qualified praise with the disclaimer that such "does not mean that the most important issue has been resolved. The embargo on our country ... has to end."

(Translation of the translation: We comrades appreciate the hugs Mr. Obama, but what we could really use an infusion of Yankee dollars into our woefully mismanaged, sclerotic Marxist basket case of a country.”)

This has of course been controversial, as Obama surely knew it would be. The U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba dates back to October 1960. (For those of you who are a little weak on the presidents, Eisenhower was still president then.) Throughout the long decades of the Cold War, the embargo was a key pillar of United States’ policy of opposing the spread of communism—globally in general, but specifically in the Western Hemisphere.

I’m a Republican, more or less of the conservative variety, and I tend to reflexively object to almost anything this president does. I’m one of those “wouldn’t vote for Obama for dog catcher” types. But in the same spirit of Hitler-did-build-the-Autobahn-after-all, I have to cautiously take President Obama’s side in this matter.

I don’t take his side wholeheartedly. One can make a strong case based on principle alone that the U.S. should have only minimalist relations with dictatorships. This would include not only Cuba, of course—but also China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia.

For better or for worse, this is not American policy, and has not been for some time. A strategic embrace of communist dictatorships has long had a place in U.S. foreign policy. In 1979, Washington sold the only serious Chinese opposition down the river with the Taiwan Relations Act, and officially declared the communists in Beijing to be the American-recognized rulers of the Middle Kingdom.

The dream of selling a billion widgets to a billion Chinese has dominated our foreign policy where China is concerned ever since. We didn't stop with simple diplomatic recognition (which was originally done to turn China resolutely against the Soviets). China has long enjoyed favorable trade terms with the United States, and in 2012, Sino-American trade totaled some $579 billion.

Nor have we stopped with trade. In recent years, the U.S. has carried out joint naval exercises with China. In the name of “improving Sino-American relations,” in other words, we essentially treat our primary geopolitical competitor like Sweden, Japan, or the UK. Or at least sometimes we do.

That’s a lot of engagement with a country that is still a one-party dictatorship. The Chinese government still idolizes Mao Zedong, the murderer of millions of Chinese. The current government has, certainly, revised some of Mao’s economic policies. But the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on political power remains as firm as ever.

There are no legal opposition parties in China. Religious and philosophical dissidents, like members of the Falun Gong, have been detained, jailed, and even killed. 

In June 1989, the Chinese government ended a peaceful student protest in Tiananmen Square by sending in tanks and soldiers. No one knows for sure how many Chinese citizens were massacred in Beijing that June, but the number surely reached into the thousands.

In the aftermath of the massacre, then U.S. president George H.W. Bush, while expressing disapproval of the killings, warned that America should not “pull back and declare that China is simply too impure a place for us”. Bush was making the case for the renewal of China’s most-favored nation (MFN) status.

As most readers will know, American business certainly did not pull back. The Detroit automakers now regard China as a central element of their sourcing strategies. Chicago-based Motorola is just one of the many high-tech American companies that has turned China into an R&D hub.

This latter development is especially worrisome given China’s invariable demands for technology transfers, and the fact that the People’s Liberation Army has its hands in everything that takes place in China. It is not too much of a stretch to say that American companies aid the Chinese military when they perform R&D in China. This is the same military that massacred the peaceful protestors in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the same military that enforces the communists’ one-party rule.

Oh, and they also have nuclear missiles aimed at American cities.

But the policy of Washington—not to mention the American business community—has been that principle should never trump trade. Nothing—not massacres in communist capitals, nor nuclear missiles aimed at American cities—should take precedence over the growth of the abstraction known as the global economy. As recently as the postwar era, American business did just fine without the global economy as we know it today, but now we are told that unless we have unfettered trade and engagement with every nation on earth, the entire economic machine will come to a screeching halt, and we’ll all be riding around in horses and buggies again, and making our own homespun clothes because we can’t order them from China.

Ergo, trade with China. Also, trade with communist Vietnam, since Bill Clinton lifted the embargo in 1994. Vietnam is also a one-party communist dictatorship. The Vietnamese people are not free to criticize their government, but you might be gratified to know that there is now a Starbucks in Hanoi.

The only Asian communist country that we don’t trade with is North Korea. The reasons here, though, are related to specific situations rather than ideology or a lack of internal freedoms. No peace treaty was ever concluded for the Korean War of 1950-3. The Korean Armistice Agreement ended hostilities, but just barely. In the years since the war, the North Korean government has captured a U.S. navy ship, kidnapped Japanese citizens from their home islands, and conducted numerous acts of terrorism against South Korea—including the attempted assassination of South Korea’s president in 1983. And of course, there is the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

Cuba, by contrast, has no nuclear weapons program. And given the precedents set with China and Vietnam, it is difficult to find a reason why we shouldn't have trade and commerce with this relatively small Caribbean nation.

One of the justifications frequently given for trade with dictatorships is, “free trade will make them exactly like us!” This was more or less the argument that Bush 41 made for China’s MFN back in 1991.  

We will have no leverage; we will not be able to advance our cause or resist repression if we pull back…We want to promote positive change in the world through the force of our example, not simply profess our purity. We want to advance the cause of freedom, not just snub nations that aren't yet wholly free.…

Fair enough. However it is difficult to assert that the U.S. is “changing” China when Beijing is the largest holder of U.S. debt, and they have nuclear missiles aimed at us. Distant Vietnam is also unlikely to turn into Orange County, California overnight. We didn't topple Vietnamese communism with our military. Does anyone seriously believe that we are going to get the job done with Starbuck’s?

Cuba, on the other hand, seems ripe for the soft imperialism of Yankee influence. With a population of 11 million, Cuba has about the same population as Ohio. On the other hand, Cuba’s economy is less than half as large as the economy of Ohio. The Republic of Cuba is a basket case economically, politically—in just about every way that a nation can possibly be a basket case. About the only things Cuba has going for it are sugar and those ridiculous Che Guevara tee shirts.

(Note: The image of the bloodthirsty Che Guevara is not copyrighted by Cuba, so the tee shirts sold in the U.S. aren’t currently made there or in any way licensed by the Cuban government. However, one can easily imagine a hipster sensation if official “Hecho en Cuba” Che shirts ever hit the U.S. market. This would provide a novel way for the American Left to show its solidarity with the twentieth century’s most stylish mass murderer.)

Unlike Vietnam or China, Cuba is small and weak, and close to the United States geographically. Less than one hundred miles of ocean separate Cuba and the Florida Keys. Cubans speak Spanish; so do millions of Americans. The culture of Cuba is quasi-European, just like the culture of the United States.

Once the glories of American capitalism become fully apparent to los cubanos, how long will it be before the Cuban masses are clamoring for their country to become the next Puerto Rico? I for one am betting that the communist parties of China and Vietnam survive American engagement a lot longer than the communist party of Cuba possibly can.
 
Nevertheless, it’s very apparent that much—if not most—of the Cuban-American community disagrees. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla), a Cuban-American and a fluent Spanish speaker, wasted no time in lambasting the opening to Cuba. Rubio’s logic seems to be that while Motorola transferring technology to the Chinese military is innocuous if not benign, even a paltry interaction between the U.S. and Cuba will permanently enshrine communism on the island:

Rubio dijo al presentador de CNN Wolf Blitzer que la reducción de las sanciones y el acercamiento a Cuba no mejorará las condiciones de los ciudadanos cubanos sino que convertirá al gobierno comunista en algo "permanente para siempre".

The word I hear and read with conspicuous frequency in the Spanish-language media of the U.S. is traición. This word means “treason” or “betrayal”. Traición is a strong word in Spanish, just as its equivalents are in English.

Consider the following headline, as but one example of this line of rhetoric:

Cubanos de Miami consideran 'traición' el acercamiento entre Cuba y EE. UU.

What breach has the U.S. government committed against Cuban-Americans that would qualify as traición? Since the communist takeover of Cuba, the United States has opened its doors to thousands of Cuban émigrés. Cuban-Americans have, it must be said, contributed immensely to American life. Among Hispanics, Cuban-Americans vote disproportionately Republican, and several of the GOP’s current wunderkinder (Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio) are of Cuban origins.

All fine and good. I wouldn't repatriate a single Cuban who came here since that country’s Marxist revolution. I do, however, object to the idea that the goals of the anti-Castro Cuban opposition, circa 1962, should become an unchallengeable fixture of American policy.

Because if that were the case, then what about the Vietnamese-Americans? The Vietnamese didn't leave their country en masse due to French colonialism, Japanese occupation, or three decades of civil war. It took a Marxist government in Hanoi to do that. Yet this is the very same government that Western companies are rushing to conclude deals with.

And what about all those Americans, now mostly in their sixties and seventies, who served in the Vietnam War? Should Starbucks really be serving up Frappuccinos and Chestnut Praline Lattes to a people who still officially embrace Marxism, who killed 58,308 American servicemen? (The Vietnamese government is also suspected of having kept American POWs in captivity long after the war—all of whom are probably deceased by now.)

For that matter, I’m sure there must be at least as few nonagenarian WWII vets who regard my choice of a Toyota Avalon as a traición. After all, the Empire of Japan did kill 2,403 Americans in a cowardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese soldiers killed and mistreated thousands more American servicemen during the war that followed. (And we haven’t even touched what the Japanese did in Asia.)

My grandfather was a WWII vet who refused to drive anything Japanese for that very reason. He was a lifelong Ford man, and I only occasionally pointed out to him that Ford Motor Company not only purchased components from Japan, but also had a partnership agreement with the Japanese automaker Mazda for about thirty years!

I understood why my grandfather felt the way he did. But I also understood that history marches on, and there is no shortage of historical grievances in any direction. I’ve never held any individual Japanese responsible for Pearl Harbor, just as I’ve never felt any responsibility to apologize to my Japanese friends for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And let us not forget that America’s first enemy was Great Britain—the country that most of us now regard as our closest ally. My grandfather was stationed in England during WWII and became a lifelong Anglophile. Think about what all those American Revolutionary War veterans would have thought! Oh, the traición.

During his farewell address, America’s first president, George Washington, admonished us to beware permanent alliances—and by extension, permanent enemies. Long before the revolutionary generation passed, there was already a faction of Americans who strongly advocated trade and cooperation with Great Britain—the country that tried its utmost to deny America its very existence. Oh, the traición.

Let us not delude ourselves: The communist regime in Cuba is pure evil, an anathema to freedom-loving people everywhere. However, there is really no legalistic argument to be made for not engaging with it, based on U.S. policy vis-à-vis other communist countries. Let’s face it: The prioritization of the global economy above all else often requires American corporations to become bedfellows with some bad actors—including many Marxist-Leninists with dictatorial streaks.

But if we truly believe that free trade can promote dissent within an unfree nation (and eventual “regime change” from within), then the Cuban government is a soft target, as dictatorships go. Starbucks won’t bring down communism in Hanoi or Beijing. It just might do so in Havana.

That would not be a betrayal of Cuban-Americans’ aspirations for a free Cuba. That would be a peaceful way of achieving what—to grudgingly quote President Obama—fifty years of embargo have failed to achieve. 

Cops vs. de Blasio?



Summary from CNN:
  • Ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani blasts comments from former Gov. George Pataki
  • Pataki blames Mayor Bill de Blasio, AG Eric Holder for "anti-cop rhetoric" supporting protests
  • Officials, public outraged over the killings
  • Police officers turn their backs on the mayor at a news conference

A key issue that is missing from this entire debate about police brutality and police overreaction:


Yes, we need to hold police accountable for their actions. However, we also need to hold accountable those suspects who violently resist arrest.

If Eric Garner had not resisted arrest, he would be alive today. The same can be said about Michael Brown. 

Has even one of the "pundits" on CNN made this important point?

When we leave this realization out of the debate, we endanger the lives of police officers and suspects alike. 

Police should not use excessive force, but suspects in crimes should not resist arrest, thereby inviting police escalation. 

Sony and the wussification of corporate America

The Sony debacle places me in the odd position of finding myself in agreement with President Obama. What happened to the days when corporations in the free world had backbones? 



(Yes, I know that Sony is in fact a Japanese company with substantial interests in the U.S. But still…)

Friday, December 19, 2014

"Happy Holidays!", he said with a snarl

It’s been a few years since the controversy over the relative offensiveness of various Christmas greetings reached the height of its fury. However, one can still find a few sanctimonious op-ed pieces on the topic.

The narrative, in the mainstream press and blogosphere, goes something like this:

Sometime around the middle of the last decade, dictatorial, crazed American Christians told corporations that they must not address holiday shoppers with the words, “Happy Holidays”. American Christians will settle for no Christmas greeting that does not include an explicit reference to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the Three Wise Men. (The sprinkling of holy water is also enforced in shopping malls in heavily Roman Catholic areas.)

The truth of the matter is just the opposite. American Christians never objected to Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, or Happy Yuletide. It was, in fact, slavishly multicultural, politically correct corporate nitwits who raised the issue in the first place. (They were soon joined by the slavishly multicultural, politically correct nitwit bloggers.)

The fundamentalist zealots here are not the Christians, but the multicultural secularists.

Anyone who can remember at least a full decade of the twentieth century will know this to be true.  The distinction between Merry Christmas and the more secular forms of holiday greetings was not always as political as it has come to be in recent years. Throughout most of my living memory, in fact, believers and nonbelievers alike moved seamlessly between the two forms.

I remember walking into stores with my parents, about the time that Jimmy Carter was president. Some stores greeted you with a, “Merry Christmas”, others with a “Happy Holidays”. (You heard “Happy Hanukkah!” a lot, too.)

But you seldom noticed either way—because we had not yet been told that explicit references to Christmas are really nothing but veiled expressions of hostility toward all of the Muslims, agnostics, Wiccans, and Buddhists who happen to pass within earshot. Not to mention those practitioners of Yoruban shamanism who happen to be browsing at Radio Shack that day.

The whole thing is more than a little silly—for numerical reasons if not for traditional ones. To begin with, 75% of Americans identify themselves as some variety of Christian. Among the remainder, about 20% are “no affiliation”. (That includes people who are atheists, agnostics, and “spiritual but not religious”.) Only 5% of Americans are solidly attached to a religion other than Christianity.

The folks who get worked up about “Merry Christmas” in Western societies seldom get upset about the fact Japan has so many Shinto shrines in public parks, or that so many Muslim countries have the star and crescent on their national flags. To the PC crowd, ceremonial displays of majority religious beliefs are only offensive when they involve (presumably white) majorities in Western societies. When non-white, non-Christian societies display their faith, it's “multiculturalism”.   

And anyway, Christmas is multicultural, if you want to get technical about it. Christmas has long been a holiday that means many things to many people in many lands.

Christians, of course, regard the holiday as a spiritual milestone, the birth of Christ. But Christmas is also celebrated in Japan, a country with a negligible Christian population. In Japan, Christmas Eve is a night not for prayer, but for romantic interludes—hardly something that your local Baptist or Methodist preacher would approve of.

Even Ayn Rand, a renowned atheist of the twentieth century, gave Christmas her backhanded seal of approval. In 1976 Rand wrote:

“The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized . The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.” -Ayn Rand, The Objectivist Calendar, December 1976

Ayn Rand is hoisting something of a straw man when she describes “[Christian] mystics” decrying the commercial aspects of Christmas. On the contrary, Christians never needed atheists to encourage them to have fun on the holiday. Throughout most of the history of Western Christendom, the Christmas holiday was a drunken, boisterous affair. These fun-hating mystics are mostly a product of Ayn Rand’s imagination. Christian efforts to make Christmas a purely dour, somberly religious holiday have always been limited to a few small-time initiatives that mostly failed.

During the mid-1600s, England was briefly under the control of Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan and one of history’s most infamous killjoys. Cromwell effectively banned Christmas celebrations; but within a few months of Cromwell’s death, the people of England banned Cromwell’s regime. After the Stuart Restoration of 1660, Cromwell’s body was dug up, put on trial, and hanged. The restored Stuart monarchy also restored Christmas, while they were at. The [Christmas] holiday festivities resumed.

In the tradition of the Stuart monarchy, I’m all for the tradition of saying Merry Christmas—whether the meaning of Christmas is primarily religious for you, or secular, or both. But in the same way, I had never found myself objecting to Happy Holidays, either. It’s all good, as they say—or all very merry. 

Or at least it was, until the PC thought police got involved.

The words “Happy Holidays” didn't become odious in any sense until they had been embraced by the cult of militant multiculturalism. And then they became truly odious.

In 2004, Macy’s—along with some other prominent businesses—banned all corporate references to Christmas, more or less as the Puritan Cromwell had done in the 17th century.

This was done in the name not so much of atheism, per se—but of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is but one of the religions of the New Left, and its fundamentalists are as dogmatic and inflexible as the Protestant Christian Puritans of the 1600s. (They are also just as adamantly opposed to anything that is remotely fun.)

Never mind the fact that Christmas has long since been appropriated, secularized, and modified by non-Christian peoples throughout the globe (such as the Japanese have done). The cult of multiculturalism is not so much about respecting other cultures, as it is about finding petty pretexts for offense in the traditions of Western culture.

In other words, if the Buddhists of Japan and the Yoruban shamanists were not sufficiently outraged by the acknowledgement of Christmas, Macy’s management would be outraged for them.

Macy’s finally relented after a backlash and a threatened boycott; but the “Macy’s effect” reverberated throughout American business policies and corporate life.

Company Christmas parties used to be just that. Sometimes they were called “holiday parties”; sometimes they were called “Christmas parties”. No one really noticed or cared.

But ten years after the Macy’s brouhaha, the company “Christmas party” has become yet another article of forbidden speech. Most corporations would sooner hire strippers for their holiday party than call the annual gathering a Christmas party, like they did only a few years ago.

There is nothing especially wrong with a year-end “holiday party”—except when it becomes verboten to call it a “Christmas party”—just like there is nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays”, so long as it’s okay to say “Merry Christmas”.

But when you tell me I can’t say “Christmas party” or “Merry Christmas”, then you’ve waved a red flag. Then I’m going to call that party a “Christmas party”—just to spite the lemmings.

Oh, and have yourself a Merry Christmas, while you’re at it.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Reading "Eleven Miles of Night": Preface and Chapter 1

The video that follows is part of a series of reading videos I am doing for YouTube. 

In the video below, I read the Preface and about half Chapter 1 of Eleven Miles of Night.







Preface: The Bridge

He stepped into the darkness of the covered bridge and told himself: Only a few more miles to go, if only your nerves and your sanity hold out, that is.
The inside of the bridge’s enclosure smelled of mold, mildew, and the unseen waters that ran beneath it. It had the dank, black feeling of the bottom of a well.
As he placed one foot down on the first creaking plank of the bridge, he half-remembered a nightmare: a dream of an evil presence that was vaguely female—or no, that pretended to be female. She (it?) might be a ghost or possibly something much worse. And she was lying in wait for him, like the evil witch in the children’s story, Hansel and Gretel.
He took another step into the all-consuming darkness. The wood creaked again, practically groaned this time. She’s waiting for you, he thought. Whatever she (or it) is, you’ll find out before you reach the other side of this bridge.
Now why would the sound of that creaking wood trigger such thoughts?
Then he remembered: Because she had told him that she would be waiting for him here. At the bridge.
He looked ahead and saw the moonlit pavement of the open road not a stone’s throw away. He could not go back now. Even worse things were waiting on the road behind him. He had to move forward.
Just walk, he thought. Take some long strides and you’ll be out of here in no time.
And so he walked, observing how narrow the bridge was, and reflecting that surely two cars coming from opposite directions could not pass through here at the same time.
The wood beneath his feet continued to creak, but that was nothing to worry about. The bridge supported the weight of cars, after all.
He heard a sound above him, from the rafters of the enclosure. It was like a hiss, like air escaping from a poorly tied balloon. Then he heard another sound: the sound of weight shifting, of something moving around up there.
Don’t look. Just keeping walking. If you look up there, what you see will drive you mad, even more so than the other things you’ve seen this night.
He was now in the middle of the bridge; the open, starry sky and the solid pavement were only a few paces away. He could make it in a short dash.
The thing above him seemed to sense his impending flight. He heard it scratch against the wood overhead.
And now he had the feeling that he must look upward and confront it—that this was the central task that he had set out tonight to face. It would also be true to say that the malevolent presence aroused his darkest curiosity. Like Lot’s wife fleeing from the burning wreckage of Sodom, he felt compelled to see the worst, and suffer the consequences.
Slowly and deliberately, he stopped his forward trek, steeled himself, and looked up into the rafters of the covered bridge.


Chapter 1

Four days earlier…

The portly, fortysomething stranger hailed Jason Kelley in the corridor of the University of Cincinnati’s Old Chemistry Hall, just as the latter was exiting Video Journalism 201. And Jason, oblivious, walked right by the unknown man without even slowing down.
Jason’s thoughts were still lost in the lecture that had just ended. The professor who taught Video Journalism 201, Dr. Reinhold, was a transplanted Californian, a PhD who had worked for a time with Universal Studios. Dr. Reinhold had feverishly lectured the class through the end of the hour, even though it was the last week of classes, and everyone was feeling lazy in the early June heat. That was Dr. Reinhold for you: He was passionate about his subject matter, unlike so many other profs, whom you could tell were only going through the motions.
But school was not the only thing on Jason’s mind; and he immediately began to daydream about other matters. (This was why he did not hear when the stranger addressed him by name a second time amid the hum of the crowded university hallway.)
Jason was daydreaming about Molly Russell. Molly was a coed who on one night several weekends ago had quite unexpectedly spent the night in his apartment. Thoughts of Molly simultaneously stirred feelings of deep longing and unease. Jason was aware of the paradoxical and contradictory nature of this combination of feelings, and was wondering how it could be so.
Jason was thinking about the way he had treated Molly since their encounter, and feeling guilty about it. Jason knew that he had been a bit of an insensitive jerk lately. He was also thinking about his mother and father; that meant even more feelings of guilt.
And his sister, Amy—no, he didn't even want to think about Amy now.
Jason was about to walk around the corner of the hallway—the one that led to the main exit—when the stranger called out yet again.
Jason Kelley! Excuse me!
This time the sound of his own name snapped him out of his reverie. Jason stopped, turned around, and saw the source of the voice: an older man who looked somewhat out of place in the swirl of late teen and early twentysomething students.
“Hello?” Jason responded. Jason knew immediately that he had seen this man somewhere on television—or perhaps on the Internet. Jason was barely twenty-one years old, and he could count his middle-aged acquaintances on two hands—not including professors and relatives. This man, who was balding and had flecks of gray in his beard, was neither of the above.
“I thought you were going to keep walking,” the man went on. “I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to run you down and tackle you.” These words were phrased as an offhand joke; but Jason could detect a slight ripple of irritation beneath the observation. This was obviously not a man who was used to being ignored.
“You are Jason Kelley, aren’t you?” the stranger said, when Jason continued to look confused.
“I am,” Jason said neutrally. “And you are—”
Where have I seen this guy before? Somewhere, I’m sure. But I have no idea where.
“Ah,” the man said. “Allow me to introduce myself.” Clearly he had expected Jason to recognize him on sight; so he was obviously some sort of a celebrity—albeit a minor one, in all likelihood.
“Thank you.”
“My name is Simon Rose. Does that name ring a bell?”
Simon Rose! Now Jason got it:
“It sure does,” Jason said, brightening. “Of course I recognize you: Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose.”
“Guilty as charged,” Simon Rose said. He removed a business card from his shirt pocket and handed it to Jason. The business card contained Rose’s contact information, plus a little logo that featured a stylized cartoon ghost. “And I know this is strange, approaching you like this, but Dr. Hoffman said that I could find you here. With this being the last week of school and all, I wanted to make sure that I caught up with you before you took off for the summer.”
Jason nodded, his excitement growing. Now this was starting to make sense. Dr. Hoffman was his academic advisor. And this was indeed one of his last classes of the school year. He would be exiting his campus apartment in a matter of days, though his residence during the summer was still a contentious issue. That made him think of his parents again, and he quickly stifled those unpleasant thoughts. This was Simon Rose who had sought him out. Simon Rose of Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose.
Students milled about them, their pace and conversations buoyed by early June levity. A warm summer breeze swept into the corridor through a set of metallic doors that were propped open to allow a flux of students in both directions. To Jason’s surprise, no one else seemed to recognize Simon Rose, either. Cable television and the Internet had minted a lot of second-tier celebrities in recent years, Jason knew.
Simon Rose’s domain was cable TV. Ghost Hunting with Simon Rose was a regular staple on the Biography Channel—or possibly TLC. (Jason couldn't remember which one for sure.) And, of course, both authorized and pirated clips of the show could be found throughout the Internet.
“I was very impressed with those two short films you entered in the Southern Ohio Regional Scholastic Film Competition last month,” Simon said. “No—I didn't attend the actual event; but I saw them on the Internet. You’ve got real talent, Jason. Now, I have a proposition for you. Would you, by chance, be free for lunch so that we might discuss it?”
“Absolutely,” Jason said. His next class was not until the late afternoon. And he would have gladly skipped it anyway. It wasn't everyday that a man like Simon Rose paid a personal visit to an Electronic Media major at a public university in Ohio.
“Perfect,” Rose said. “How does Indian sound?”

To be continued.....





Talking about "Eleven Miles of Night"

For my YouTube audience, I'll be reading my recent novel "Eleven Miles of Night" on video. In the video below, I discuss the premise of the book and why the subject matter interests me.


Hay Moon and Chinese vampires

I recently received some reader email about the story "The Vampires of Wallachia," which appeared in the collection Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and SuspenseIf you've read the story, you'll know that this tale involves a group of Chinese vampires who have set up base in rural Ohio. 


The reader specifically wanted to know if I had researched the subject of Chinese vampire lore before writing the story. The answer is yes. We tend to think of vampires as a purely Western bit of mythology. Somewhat surprisingly, however, vampire legends appear throughout the world--including Asia.


The Chinese version of the vampire is called jiāngshī (殭屍 in Chinese characters). My research tells me that these aren't vampires as we Westerners understand them, though. The jiāngshī might be better described as "supernatural zombies". They are reanimated corpses that kill the living and thereby absorb their life essence. 


Therefore, the vampires in the story "The Vampires of Wallachia" are Western-style vampires, if you want to get technical about it. 


The larger point, though, is that the concept of the reanimated dead coming back to prey on the living in one form or another is obviously a universal trope of sorts, and one that transcends any  particular religious or cultural tradition.


Paperback




Kindle edition

“Managing out” problem employees—the fictional version


A reader of my novel Termination Man recently asked, via email:

“Ed, I know you spent a lot of years in the corporate world, and that Termination Man is based somewhat on your experiences. But what gave you the specific idea for an undercover consultant who entraps ‘marked’ employees into self-incriminating behavior?”

A good question. Many of my novels and stories contain some elements of my real-life experiences; but these are usually buried under so many layers of fiction that they would be unrecognizable even to people who have known me for twenty or thirty years.

Termination Man is different in this regard. Termination Man is a corporate thriller set in the automotive industry, where I worked—in various roles and capacities—between 1990 and 2011.





I had always wanted to write a corporate novel, but I held off for many years. My first published novel, Blood Flats, is a crime thriller; and my short story collection, Hay Moon, is filled with horror tales and other short works of speculative fiction. I didn't want my third book to be a dull, fictionalized version of corporate politics. What the marketplace didn't need, I decided, was another “the corporate workplace is an impersonal, soul-draining salt mine” novel—which is what I would have written at that time.

Nevertheless, I knew that there were stories worth telling in the workplace. Although corporate life can be quite dull, there is actually a lot of human drama there—including the occasional moments of sex and violence.

But how to turn that into a novel? I needed a specific angle—a hook, if you will.

And then I found one, quite serendipitously. While I was still a corporate employee, I would often read nonfiction books from the “how-to-get-ahead-at-work” genre.

The idea for Termination Man came to me after I read Cynthia Shapiro’s excellent nonfiction title in this field: Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know---and What to Do About Them. In this book, Shapiro, a former human resources insider, disabuses readers of their paternalistic notions about company life. For example, she points out that there is “no right to free speech in the workplace”.

I found myself getting many “ah-hah” moments while reading Corporate Confidential—but especially when I read the sections about the practice of “managing out”.

“Managing out” is basically a tactic that employers will use to avoid legal liabilities: Suppose that an employee isn’t a good “fit” for an organization, but there are no real grounds for firing him or her. Management will often place the employee in a no-win situation so as to encourage a voluntary departure.

For example, a chronic complainer might be given an excessively difficult workload, or placed in a dead-end position. In many cases, the problem employee will “fire himself” by simply leaving the organization. This obviates the need for the employer to provide a severance package. More importantly, it usually removes any legal liabilities. After all, the employee wasn't terminated; he or she voluntarily resigned!

Termination Man involves a sinister interpretation of the practice of managing out: Suppose that employers attempted to lure problem employees into explicitly self-incriminating behavior—like casual drug use, sexual misconduct, and even embezzlement. Then it would be even easier to get rid of them. The employer wouldn't have to wait for a problem child to give up and send out resumes. They could fire the problem employees at will—with no legal repercussions (so long as their methods were never discovered, of course).

Now suppose that an independent management consultant specialized in this unique form of “managing out” problem employees. I knew from my years in the workplace that within the highly specialized world of management consulting, there are consultants for practically every purpose. Why not a management consultant who specializes in doing the dirty work of human resources departments?

If such a management consultant did exist, I decided, he or she would likely work by going undercover in organizations. The consultant would have to befriend the targeted employee, then convince him or her to engage in the offending behavior.

This is the premise behind Termination Man. Craig Walker is a consultant who—for a price—will find a way to remove any problem employee from an organization without the risk of legal fallout. Like a rogue CIA operative, Craig Walker works unofficially and off-the-books. So if anything goes wrong, his corporate clients will be shielded by plausible deniability.

Early in the novel, Craig Walker describes his work:

“They call me the Termination Man. I never really cared for that nickname; but once the moniker arose in client circles, it sort of stuck. The Termination Man inevitably calls to mind that series of movies from the 1980s and 1990s, in which a future governor of California portrays a homicidal android who goes about blasting hapless mortals to kingdom come. There is nothing even remotely science fiction-esque about the services performed by Craig Walker Consulting, LLC. In my job, I am part lawyer, part private investigator, and part crisis management specialist. 
 I am called when a company wants to terminate an employee for reasons that cannot be strictly traced to job performance issues. This is more common than you might imagine—unless you have ever worked in corporate human resources, or in one of the corner offices of company management. There is a wide range of factors that might drive a corporate employer to oust one of its own. 
 A few years ago, every CEO and CEO-wannabe was reading a management book entitled Good to Great, by Jim Collins. The author stated that in order to succeed, a company has to “get the right people on the bus.” Otherwise, the bus—the organization—won’t go in the desired direction. 
 The corollary here is that a company sometimes has to get the wrong people off the bus. This is where my services become essential. I get the wrong people off the bus. The target employee can fit a variety of profiles. He might be a rank-and-file staff professional who poisons the atmosphere with his bad attitude, turning his colleagues against management. She might be a first-tier manager who has made veiled threats about filing a frivolous sexual harassment or discrimination claim. Or he might be a union agitator…”
 

Now for the inevitable questions: Is any of this real? Is it even plausible?

To the best of my knowledge, consulting firms like Craig Walker Consulting don’t really exist.

(I should also note that nonfiction author Cynthia Shapiro had nothing to do with Termination Man. I haven’t even corresponded with her. A few passages in her nonfiction book became the germs of my novel; but her involvement ends there.)

While the practice of “managing out” is well known in management and HR circles, it is generally done informally, and well within the bounds of the law.

Nevertheless, we all know that the Big Corporation—just like Big Government and Joe and Jane Citizen—occasionally breaks the law. Moreover, the firing of unwanted employees is a legal, and often a public relations—nightmare for private-sector employers.

As Craig Walker notes:

“If all this sounds complicated, well—that’s because it is. But so are the politically correct, overly litigated times in which we live. Demand for my services exists because employment law has become such a minefield. Every year private-sector employers spend billions of dollars combating wrongful termination lawsuits. Despite the doctrine of employment-at-will in corporate America, a discharged employee can still create problems for his or her former employer. 
 And in the Internet Age, a lawsuit might be only the beginning. Sometimes disgruntled ex-employees also take to the Internet, telling their tales of real or imagined mistreatment to anyone who will listen. This not only encourages add-on and class action lawsuits, it can also cost a company millions in lost revenues from sympathetic consumers.”

So no, the main premise of this book isn’t real—strictly speaking.

But it is plausible. If an organization did choose to resort to marginally legal (or outright illegal) means in order to manage someone out, I believe that the results would look a lot like what is depicted in Termination Man.














Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The holiday fiction blowout sale continues...

As I mentioned back on November 22, I've deeply discounted all my fiction titles through December 25th. Happy Holidays!


Only $0.99:

Our House

Buy it from Amazon

Get Our House on Kindle for only $0.99 

Read the first ten chapters online



Some dream homes are deadly…Appearances can be deceiving.

On the surface, 34-year-old Jennifer Huber seems to have it all: a handsome, loving husband, a six-year-old son whom they both adore. A respectable job.

Jennifer and her husband have just purchased their first house: The neo-Tudor house at 1120 Dunham drive appears to be their “dream home”.

But everything is not what it seems: The previous owner of the house has an unusual—and ultimately violent—attachment to the house. After the Hubers move in, sinister things begin to happen: Dead animals appear in closets, strange figures disturb the Hubers’ sleep in the middle of the night.

There is more to the house at 1120 Dunham Drive than meets the eye: As Jennifer uncovers the secrets behind the home’s history, she finds herself drawn into a web of lies, violence, and sexual betrayal.

All the while, Jennifer struggles to contain a secret of her own—and to combat an act of blackmail that could destroy her marriage.

Our House is a riveting thrill ride through the dark undercurrents that might lie beneath the placid surface of a suburb near you.


The Maze

Buy it from Amazon

Get The Maze on Kindle for only $0.99


THREE ORDINARY PEOPLE STEP INTO THE WORLD OF THE MAZE, WHERE DEATH WAITS BEHIND EVERY DOORWAY…

Amanda Kearns is a hard-driving executive with a broken heart. Her male subordinates think she is a “machine”; they have no idea of the real, hidden Amanda.

Hugh Jackson is a software salesman with a defective heart—a condition that will kill him in a matter of months or years.

Evan Daley is a young college graduate adrift in a career for which he is ill-suited; he struggles with the scars of a barren, loveless childhood.

Amanda, Hugh, and Evan were expecting another routine day on the job at the Lakeview Towers office complex just outside Columbus, Ohio. But this massive structure hides a secret—a hidden passageway that plunges the unwary into a labyrinthine network of endless, twisting hallways: the Maze.

Trapped inside the Maze, Amanda, Hugh, and Evan must battle their way through perilous corridors filled with half-man, half-wolf beasts called “manwolves”, killer robots, and demonic wraiths known as “watchers”.

But they face their greatest challenge in the snowy, earth-like wilderness on the other side of the Maze. Here a group of ragtag rebels and settlers struggle against a tyrannical demigod known as the Director. The Director is determined to enslave or annihilate everyone within his reach, using a combination of worldly and unworldly weapons.

Amanda, Hugh, and Evan each find love and momentary comfort on the other side of the Maze. But they cannot escape the ultimate battle with the Director. The three Ohioans find themselves forced to choose—between the draw of love and loyalty, and the instinct for self-preservation.

A riveting emotional tale wrapped within a fantasy adventure, THE MAZE is sure to appeal to adult readers who fondly recall childhood “parallel universe” stories like “Through the Looking Glass” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”.



Termination Man

Buy it from Amazon:



The novel that takes an unflinching look at the dark underside of the 21stcentury workplace.”


CRAIG WALKER is a hotshot young MBA with his own consulting firm. He’s handsome, rich, and in demand. His Fortune 500 clients—the most powerful men and women in industry—call him “The Termination Man.”

Craig Walker is no ordinary management consultant. He’s a spook, a workplace spy. Assuming false identities, Craig works undercover, building the evidence that will allow his corporate clients to terminate unwanted employees without legal repercussions. His targets are the troublemakers, the agitators, the employees whom management believes are no longer “good fits” for their hyper-competitive organizations. 

Craig Walker believes that he serves the cause of economic efficiency, and in a way, the greater good. Most of his targets don’t like their jobs anyway. In a free market, “a firing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Sometimes an employee needs to leave a bad a situation.”

SHAWN MYERS is a manager at TP Automotive, a global giant in the automotive industry. Shawn struggles to control his lust and rage, and to escape a hideous past that might catch up with him at any moment. His forbidden desire for a girl young enough to be his daughter threatens to drive him over the edge.

When TP Automotive hires the Termination Man to remove two innocent employees from its payroll, Craig Walker is forced to reexamine his notions of justice and morality. But these questions are soon overwhelmed by the dangers that he faces from the TP Automotive management team. After Shawn Myers commits a heinous act in Craig’s presence, the Termination Man discovers that his new clients will resort to any means in order to protect one of their own.


Only $1.99


Hay Moon and Other Stories: Sixteen Modern Tales of Horror and Suspense


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During the Great Depression, a young boy confronts zombies… 

- In the present day, a software salesperson discovers that he can commune with the dead at airports.
- A business trip is cut short when three corporate colleagues stray into a den of vampires near a major interstate.
- A Russian gangster makes a killing in America---murdering romantic rivals for hire.

These are just a few of the bizarre scenarios you will encounter in the pages of Hay Moon and Other Stories


Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense…

***Hay Moon***

In the summer of 1932, the undead invaded a corner of rural Ohio. Nearly eight decades later, one man still lives with the nightmares, and a horrible promise left unfulfilled.


***Giants in the Trees***

Jim knew that his older coworker, Paul Taulbee, had a checkered past. But he was unprepared for the horror he discovered on the night he gave Paul a ride home from the office. (Get the $0.99 short at Amazon.com)


***The Vampires of Wallachia***

Three corporate employees on a business trip stop at the wrong place for a late-night dinner: a restaurant in central Ohio that hides a terrifying secret.(Get the $0.99 short at Amazon.com)


***Bitter Hearts***

Have you been wronged in love? An Internet company promises to make things right for you---for a price.


***Gate Time***

Traveling software salesman Josh Gardner had never been afraid of airports---until he discovered that some of his fellow travelers were not what they appeared to be. (Get the $0.99 short at Amazon.com)


***By the River***

The old man who lived on the houseboat warned people about the shadows lurking beneath the waters of the Ohio River. But some failed to heed his warnings.


***The Girl She Used to Be***

Thirty years ago Allison disappeared on the night that her college boyfriend was planning to give her an engagement ring. Now Allison is back--- but she’s not the girl she used to be.


***The Caliphate***

When a terrorist organization stages a bloody takeover of a Canadian city, two friends are forced to confront their innermost demons---and each other.(Get the $0.99 short at Amazon.com)


***The Wasp***

Leo had always been afraid of wasps---especially wasps that learn to assume human form.


***The Red Devil***

A security guard at a car dealership learns that death lurks in the nocturnal hours in a city torn by gang warfare.


***The Robots of Jericho***

Pete Greer suspected that the industrial robots purchased by his company were more than mere machines. Alone in a West Virginia factory with them over an extended summer weekend, the robots threaten his sanity---and his life.



***Last Dance with Emma***

University of Minnesota graduate students Eric and Randy travel back in time for hedonistic purposes. But when they visit New Year’s Eve 1978, Randy unexpectedly falls in love. Determined to secure an impossible future with a doomed young woman named Emma, Randy battles his friend, and the cruelty of a random universe. (Get the $0.99 short at Amazon.com)

***Gaia Cried Out***

When Kara Teller met Nicholas Naretti in the student union of her university, she believed that she had found the ideal man. But there is something horribly wrong with Nicholas’s friends…And Kara reluctantly discovers that Nicholas harbors sinister intentions of his own. 


***Citizens***

Robert and Susan Craig discover that the politics of the twenty-second century in America can be deadly. A leisurely time travel voyage lands them in a cell in the bloodiest days of the French Revolution. Condemned to the guillotine by the Jacobins’ Committee of Public Safety, they suspect the hand of the rising American demagogue, Senator Barry Olsen.


***Whatever****

Corporate middle manager Greg Hensley simultaneously desires and loathes his new subordinate, Jessica Tanner. A bit of research into Jessica’s past reveals that Jessica may be dangerous. But Jessica is not the only one who is hiding evil secrets.


***The Dreams of Lord Satu***

Rapid GeoWorks salesperson Marc Jonas was ordered to visit the remote planet of Kelphi. His boss, Larry Dozier, told him to do whatever was necessary to make the sale. But Kelphi is a world where psychic spiderlike creatures occasionally devour the planet’s human population. The Kelphiaristocrat known as Lord Satu wants Marc’s mind, and possibly his body as well. (Get the $0.99 short story at Amazon.com)



Only $2.99

My 5-star supernatural thriller:







Eleven Miles of Night
Jason Kelley is a young, struggling filmmaker looking for his first big break. When the semi-famous cable television ghost hunter Simon Rose approaches him about a freelance project, Jason is understandably thrilled.

He isn’t fazed by the fact that his assignment is a walk down the Shaman’s Highway, an eleven-mile stretch of rural Ohio roadway that is reputed to be haunted by malevolent spirits, hellhounds, and demonic forces. Jason is an agnostic in regard to the supernatural.



He isn’t prepared for the reality that awaits him on his walk through eleven miles of night—nor the more human violence and heartbreak that he will face along the way.



Blood Flats


Buy it from Amazon






Meth, murder, and the mafia—a vast tapestry of a southern gothic crime novel with a Dickensian cast of characters.”

***Lee McCabe is home from Iraq, but home has changed.***

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and recently discharged U.S. marine Lee McCabe never imagined the dangers awaiting him in Hawkins County, Kentucky. While Lee has been in the Middle East, a network of violent methamphetamine traffickers have established a foothold in the county, corrupting, intimidating, or murdering anyone who stands in their way.

***Charged with murder and marked for death***

Lee quickly discovers that his neighbor, Tim Fitzsimmons is a meth dealer. When Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend are killed in a drug-related hit, Lee attempts to intervene. The law and the community blame Lee for the murder. The meth traffickers target Lee for death, knowing him to be a witness to the crime.

***Enemies motivated by passion, greed, and desperation ***

Sheriff Steven Phelps has his own personal reasons for hating Lee: Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s now deceased mother had a youthful affair with the sheriff. The sheriff planned to marry her--until she jilted him to be with the man who became Lee’s father. Phelps is torn by his duty to justice, and his obsession with the doomed love of his adolescence.

Lester Finn is a classics-quoting, self-aggrandizing local hoodlum and meth dealer. He is caught between the law and the Chicago-based mafia, which wants a greater share of the southern methamphetamine trade. From his bar, the Boar’s Head, Lester controls a sordid regional enterprise that consists of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution. Lester is torn by his grudging respect for Lee---and his need to see the ex-marine dead.

Paulie Sarzo is a Chicago mobster, a rising star in the Coscollino crime family. He despises Kentucky, Lee McCabe, and most of all, Lester Finn. But Paulie has an important mission to accomplish in Hawkins County: If he fails to eliminate Lee, he risks the ultimate punishment for failure in la cosa nostra.

***A journey toward death or redemption***

Dawn Hardin is a former golden girl, honor student, and premed whose life has fallen into a downward spiral of meth addiction and prostitution. Dawn had a tumultuous relationship with Lee before he went to Iraq. Now she tries to help him wage war against the mafia, even as she struggles with her own inner demons, and a family that wants to deny her existence.

The Hunter is a mysterious figure who compels Lee to go on the offensive against the forces pursuing him. But will the Hunter offer any concrete assistance, or only advice?

Brett St. Croix is a journalist who offers to tell Lee’s version of events. But Lee suspects that St. Croix has a contrary, private agenda of his own.

Ben Chamberlain lost his wife to a meth-related murder. Will he assist Lee; or will Ben’s desire for revenge destroy them both?

***A battle in Blood Flats***

Pursued from all directions, Lee embarks on a cross-country journey toward the town of Blood Flats. There he faces a showdown---in which he must pit his wits and determination against the ruthlessness and superior resources of his enemies on both sides of the law.