Thursday, April 28, 2016

'Luk Thep' an online novel, Chapter 6

Previous: Chapter 5


It was several weeks later, and Jane had all but forgotten about the doll, the dream, and even the friction with Ram. She had exchanged a few routine emails with Khajee, to confirm that all was going smoothly with the new supplier in Vietnam. There were no problems to speak of, and Jane turned her attention to other issues, of which there were plenty. She also readied herself for David Haley’s return. Less than a week now. Jane could hardly wait.

Jane returned from a hurried lunch one day to find a large cardboard box placed atop her desk. It was not wholly unusual for such containers to be delivered directly to her office. When there were quality problems with a component within Jane’s sphere of responsibility, a plant quality manager would sometimes box up a sample of the defective parts and ship them to Jane for her reference and personal inspection.

This was a practice that Jane encouraged, where appropriate. When she needed to describe a quality problem to a supplier representative located six or eight time zones away—a man or a woman who spoke English as a second language—the task was made much easier if Jane had a sample of the offending components in her hands. Sometimes she snapped photos of the components and emailed them to the supplier representative before calling.

As Jane approached the box she noticed right away that it bore the return address label of the TRX Automotive plant in Thailand. Khajee Wongsuwon’s information had been written with a black felt-tip pen.

As Jane began to tear open the box, her first assumption was that it would contain, as usual, defective mass production components. Her only hope was that these wouldn't be components from the new supplier in Vietnam. There would be no end to Ram’s gloating, and he would immediately lobby to get the old supplier reinstated.

The size and weight of the box suggested a collection of large, fragile parts—definitely portions of an ignition system’s electronic circuitry, rather than one of the heavier housings.

She lifted open the top flaps of the box, and then removed a covering of several Styrofoam sheets. Then she caught a glimpse of the object that had been shipped to her attention.

Her initial, immediate impression was that someone from Thailand had sent her a severed human head—for the first thing she saw of the main contents of the box was a length of braided black hair. But not even the wildest flight of fancy could permit this impression to persist for long. There were limits to what Jane could believe, even after that disturbing dream she had in Thailand, a dream that she now rarely thought about.

Jane almost screamed, though, when the overhead fluorescent lights of her office revealed exactly what Khajee had, in fact, sent her: Little Lawan, the luk thep, the angel/spirit doll, was seated in the box amid a pile of Styrofoam chips. Lawan was clad in the same red and white dress, her pigtails as neat and tightly braided as they had been when Jane had seen her a few weeks ago, in Khajee’s office in Thailand.

The doll looked exactly as she had in the dream, sitting in the corner of the hut while the adolescent girl murdered her latest sibling…

For a moment Jane believed that she was going to swoon. Suddenly, she had an image of the doll climbing into the box by its own power, then closing the flaps of the box above its head, so that it could make the journey to America.

That was ridiculous, needless to say. As ridiculous as Khajee shipping this, of all things, to her all the way from Thailand.

What the hell?

There was a note in Lawan’s lap. Now Jane was once again catching flashbacks from the dream, the murderous girl in her early teens, doing what she had done to her infant siblings. All three of them. Nevertheless, Jane was able to summon the objectivity needed to make a crucial discernment: the note was not from Lawan, either Lawan the doll—or Lawan, the girl in the dream. The note was from Khajee. The very human Khajee who had now sent her an inexplicable package. Perhaps the note would provide an explanation.

The note was written in blue ink, in Khajee’s hand. Despite Khajee’s otherwise fluent English, the hand-printed letters revealed Khajee’s lack of intimate familiarity with the shapes of the Latin alphabet. The letters curved and swirled like the Thai script. Khajee’s words were legible, however:

"Dear Jane:

I hope you’re well. As for me, I have great news! I met the most wonderful man. His name is Tom and he's British. Tom works for a multinational here in Thailand.

I think that Tom and I will end up getting married! This means that I’ll have children of my own, and I won’t need Lawan anymore.

I’ve therefore decided to give Lawan to you, Jane, in order that Lawan may bring you happiness. As she has brought me happiness!

Take care!

Yours truly,
Khajee Wongsuwon”

Just then, someone spoke behind her. A male voice.

“Jane! There you are. I was looking for you.”

Jane turned and saw that her boss, Martin Tully, had walked in. Martin was in his mid-forties. He had the bearing and gently declining physique of a former athlete who now spent most of his waking hours in a corporate setting. Martin had walked in while Jane was opening the box.

“I wanted to check the status of the status of the Santos Electronics issue,” Martin said. “I have to go into a board meeting this afternoon. The production VPs are going to want to know where we stand.”

Santos Electronics was a TRX Automotive supplier located in the Philippines, outside Manila. There had recently been quality problems with the components Santos manufactured.

“I think we’re okay now,” Jane said. “They’ve improved their work-in-process inspection procedures and the defect rate has gone way down, close to zero. I’ll forward you an email that has all of the relevant details.”

Martin nodded. “That’s good news. Thanks Jane.” Martin looked over her shoulder, at the open box. “Hey, I don’t mean to be nosy, but that looks like a—”

“It is,” Jane said. “It’s a doll.”

“Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a doll quite like that.” Martin made as if to step closer to the box, to examine the doll; and then he paused. “May I?”

“Sure,” Jane said. Though I’m not sure why anyone would want to get close to that thing.

Martin peered down into the box where Lawan sat, smiling her eternal smile. Somewhat to Jane’s surprise, his reaction was not revulsion, but a mixture of admiration and awe.

“Very realistic,” he said. “What kind of a doll is that?”

“It’s called a luk thep.” Jane then gave Martin a brief explanation of the concept of the spirit doll, and how the dolls were popular among educated, affluent, childless women in Thailand. Jane summarized Khajee’s note, and the Thai woman’s purported reason for giving away the doll.

“That’s an interesting custom,” Martin said. “Where do you plan to put it? That’s the sort of thing that might look good in a display case in your home.”

The thought of Lawan in her condo filled Jane with a mixture of disgust and dread. There was no way she could fall asleep with Lawan under the same roof.

“I think I’m going to send it back to Khajee,” Jane said, more sharply than she had intended. “To tell you the truth, the doll gives me the creeps, and I certainly didn't ask for it.”

“Whoa, whoa.” Martin’s brows furrowed. “I understand that tastes vary, but I’m sure that Khajee was only trying to be kind. I remember meeting her when she visited headquarters last year. She’s a nice woman. Seems to be very considerate. A team player.”

“You’re right,” Jane said. “She is.” Jane recalled Khajee’s constant assistance with work matters: the change to the Vietnamese supplier, and everything since then. Jane was now able to focus on other suppliers in other countries, because Khajee was so capably handling the situation in Thailand.

“If you don’t want the doll,” Martin said, “then fine. Give it away. You can throw it away, even—though I think that would be a terrible waste. The doll looks expensive.”

“It is.” Jane recalled the amount that Khajee had paid for the doll, and its equivalent in dollars.

“But don’t send the doll back, Jane, please. That would be insulting. We’ve both spent a lot of time in Asian cultures, and we both are aware of the importance of gift-giving in that region of the world. Asians seem to particularly enjoy giving us cultural artifacts, which is nice for us—because they have some really beautiful handiwork over there. My house looks like an Asian culture museum. Beautiful stuff.”

Martin paused and nodded in appreciation, no doubt picturing the gifts from Japan, Korea and elsewhere that adorned his home.

“So I see this doll, Jane, as just another one of those items. It’s a little atypical, sure. But let’s keep this in perspective. That doll was made in a factory out of plastic and synthetic materials. What I’m saying is, it’s not like Khajee sent you a shrunken head from New Guinea.”

Jane had to agree that Martin had made a valid argument. Like Martin, Jane had received many gifts from overseas business contacts over the years, and a handful of them were mildly macabre. She owned a grimacing kabuki mask from Japan that—according to the explanation she had received—was supposed to depict a Japanese oni, or devil. She also had a small statuette of a skeleton dressed in traditional Mexican garb. The statuette had been made by hand, to celebrate Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” festival in early November.

These items did not bother her. So why should she become so overwrought by a doll? It was, as Martin had duly noted, nothing more than a mass-produced collection of synthetic parts. From an analytical perspective, Lawan should be no more repellent or threatening than an ignition system made in one of TRX Automotive’s factories.

The dream was her sticking point, of course. Had she allowed her subconscious to psyche her out? And if she yielded to that self-imposed intimidation now, how would it manifest itself in the future? Today she was afraid of a doll. Tomorrow her subconscious might make her afraid of mirrors or clowns. Fear could easily become a slippery slope.

Perhaps it would actually be a good idea for her to take the doll home, at least for a little while. That would force her to confront the spooky feelings that had been troubling her ever since she had first laid eyes on the doll in Khajee’s office. She didn't have to keep it forever. After a month or two with the doll in her condo, she could sell it on eBay if she didn't want it.

Such an outcome wouldn't be problematic, from a psychological perspective. That would be nothing more than the rational disposal of an item that didn't fit her taste and the d├ęcor of her home. But to throw away the doll now would be an act of instinctual, gut-level panic. It would represent a willing submission to fear, a cowering to superstition. 

“Perhaps you’re right, Martin,” she said. “Maybe I can find a place for this in my condo, after all.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Donald Trump and the new Republican Party?

This morning Trump’s supporters are planning for the new Golden Age. 

The Republican establishment is scrambling to see if Donald Trump can be disqualified for the nomination on some technicality. (“Wasn't Trump’s great grandfather born in a disputed township on the German-Austrian border? Ah, therefore, Donald Trump is a citizen of no country!”)

Nitwit celebrities are making threats to move to Canada, which they will never make good on. But we can hope.

Twentysomething Bernie Sanders fans, having seen that their cause is lost, are gradually turning their attention back to video games and the search for the perfect bong. But that’s another essay…

Yes, Donald Trump. As I've stated in this space before, I am neither an enthusiastically (and somewhat obtusely) giddy fan of Trump, nor a frothing (and melodramatic) Trump hater.

I am definitely a Trump skeptic, though. Skepticism comes with being a conservative. I reflexively distrust bandwagons and mass movements.

Love it or hate it, the Trump phenomenon is a product of our times.

Various iterations of the Republican Party (just like various iterations of the Democratic Party) have arisen as responses to outside factors. The original GOP was a response to slavery. The GOP of Ronald Reagan was a response to the apparent ascendancy of global communism.

The GOP of Donald Trump, if that is indeed what it has become, is a response to unfettered globalization and abject political correctness.

“Angry white men” did not create the Donald Trump phenomenon. There were plenty of angry white men when Jimmy Carter was elected in 1976, and when Barack Hussein Obama was elected for the first time in 2008 and (for the second, even more disastrous time) in 2012.

NAFTA created the Donald Trump phenomenon. The offshoring of millions of jobs created the Donald Trump phenomenon. So did illegal immigration, and our government's failure to stop it.

Oh, and while you’re at it, the Obama administration’s refusal to utter the phrase “Islamic terrorism” created the Donald Trump phenomenon.

Much of what Donald Trump says is vague and bombastic. But Donald Trump refuses to cower before the globalist elites and the finger-wagging commissars of political correctness.

That doesn't make him the best choice for president, necessarily, but that does make him unique and noteworthy.

Sanders-Warren ticket?

Ha-hah-hah! Ha-hah-ha-hah-hah-hah!

(Your humble correspondent pauses to recover from spasms of belly laughs.)

First of all, let's be clear: this (ultimately meaningless) stunt was mostly a thinly veiled slap at Hillary Clinton. Elizabeth Warren was Hillary's only real rival for chief matriarch of the Democratic Party. Bernie is saying, screw you, Hillary Clinton. I may be losing, but I can still needle you by nominating Elizabeth the Fake Cherokee Warren as the running mate for my imaginary candidacy.

In an alternate universe in which Sanders had a fighting chance, a Sanders-Warren ticket wouldn't make much sense from a strategic perspective. Presidential candidates usually pick running mates that balance out their weaknesses. A Sanders-Warren ticket would be comprised of two incompetent representatives of the moonbat left. That’s doubling down, not balancing out.

In fact, Warren would make Sanders’ chances much, much worse. Bernie Sanders may be a deluded Marxist, but at least he’s sincere in his delusions. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, is the consummate opportunist, the textbook limousine liberal.

Elizabeth Warren as a running mate, in fact, would make Bernie Sanders completely unelectable…which of course he already is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Apple and the Tim Cook effect

Call it the Tim Cook effect: Since the untimely death of Steve Jobs, Apple has not been the same company. 

Steve Jobs was, by all accounts, a demanding, self-centered, and often unpleasant individual. He was also a genius who was passionately devoted to making the best, most innovative products.

Tim Cook, on the other hand, is a typically unimaginative corporate bureaucrat. Granted, he had a tough act to follow, but he's done a poor job of trying to fill Steve Jobs' shoes. 

Since Cook has taken over the helm, Apple has mainly focused on squeezing more revenue from existing Apple customers, via unwanted services. (I'm an iPhone user; every month Apple wants to install a new version of iOS, which is invariably built around selling me new subscriptions to services I don't want.)

Cook has launched nothing that is truly groundbreaking. He is cannibalizing what Steve Jobs achieved.

Tim has, however, had plenty to say about the benefits of illegal immigration. (Illegal immigration lowers Apple's personnel costs, for one thing, and also provides Cook with cheap gardening and domestic help).

Tim Cook has also had a grand time presenting himself as the Great American Gay CEO. (Note: The problem is not that Tim Cook is gay; the problem is that Cook has put more creativity into pontificating about gay issues than he has invested in developing the next generation of Apple products.)

Tim Cook, you're no Steve Jobs. 

Target, and more bathroom brouhahas

“The petition started by the American Family Association on Wednesday raises concerns that Target's inclusive stance on transgender rights encourages sexual predators and puts women and young girls in danger, because "a man can simply say he 'feels like a woman today' and enter the women's restroom."
Have we talked enough about men in women's restrooms yet? I know I've had about enough of this issue. 

But what if a company (like Target, for example) really wants to show its support for transgenders?

The solution is simple: Make a third, private unisex facility available. Such a facility could be used by men, women, or any self-identifying member of any other stripe of the ever-expanding sexual rainbow.

This would accommodate transgenders who truly believe they were born with the wrong equipment, while protecting "cisgendered" (you know I hate that unnecessary neologism, but I'll use it in this case) women who don't want to share their facilities with men.

Target transgender restroom boycott

Reading in a foreign language

How do you learn to read in a foreign language? A little bit at a time. From my YouTube channel:

Learning to read in a foreign language

Lena Dunham for Trump?

"Television actress and producer Lena Dunham says she's planning to move to Canada if GOP front-runner Donald Trump becomes president.  
"I know a lovely place in Vancouver, and I can get my work done from there," Dunham said Monday at the Matrix Awards, which honors women in the communications industry, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "I know a lot of people have been threatening to do this, but I really will."

One question: Is this a false flag operation?

Like many Republicans, I view Donald Trump with a healthy dose of skepticism. But Lena Dunham’s announcement is the best pro-Trump argument I have heard since the billionaire’s campaign was first launched.

Stanford University vs. Western Civilization

Earlier this month, Stanford’s student body voted down a proposed required course in western civilization. The students’ reasons were predictable, and predictably foolish.

Stanford University has long excelled in the peculiar idiocies of political correctness. In 1988, when I was a college student myself, then Democratic (of course!) presidential candidate Jesse Jackson led Stanford University students in the chant, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, western civ has got to go.”

A generation has passed, your humble correspondent has grown gray and bald, and Stanford University is still a cesspool of PC stupidity.

Case-in-point: Stanford students were recently allowed to vote on a new requirement for a two-quarter course in the fundamentals of western civilization.

What would a course in western civilization entail? It would include a wide variety of topics: everything from the Greco-Roman roots of liberal democracy, to the evolution of Judeo-Christianity in Europe, to the ideas of the Enlightenment.

These are concepts that every college student should know. Heck, every citizen should have a grasp of these topics. Nevertheless, the initiative lost by a 6-to-1 margin.

Why, you may ask? It wasn't for administrative or course-load-related reasons. (Again, we’re talking about a two-quarter course.)

The reason, rather, was ideological in nature. A column in the Stanford student newspaper declared that a requirement in western civilization would serve only to, “uphold white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.”

Give me a break. (Cue eye rolls.)

Let’s start with capitalism. How many Stanford students own iPhones and drink Starbucks lattes? A fair number, I’d wager. Has no one told these kids that capitalism produces iPhones and Starbucks?

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and suggest that relatively few iPhone-toting, Starbucks-guzzling Stanford students are eager to relocate to say…Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe.

And the Stanford students aren’t alone. Non-western countries like India, China, Russia, Nigeria, Iran, and Egypt don’t have many problems with illegal immigration. Why? Because almost no one wants to move to these places. Everyone wants to move to Western Europe or North America.

And there is a reason for this, too: In the twenty-first century, it is western civilization that provides the greatest amount of prosperity and freedom to the greatest numbers of people. If it were otherwise, migration patterns would be otherwise. We’d all be boarding boats for Vietnam or Burundi.

But what about slavery? What about colonialism?

What about all those things? Notice that I didn't say that western civilization is perfect—or ever has been. I only said that western civilization has, comparatively speaking, done the best job of providing freedom and prosperity to the largest numbers of people. That fact alone makes it worth learning about—despite what the Stanford student body may think.

Yes, there are dark chapters in the history of the west, but that is true for every civilization: The Aztecs engaged in human sacrifice. The Iroquois delighted in torturing war captives for sheer fun. Many Native American tribes practiced slavery—long before Europeans ever landed on American shores to show them how slavery is done.

Speaking of slavery—it was practiced in one form or another, at one time or another, in every major civilization on earth. (Including in Africa, I should note.) The Muslim world practiced slavery well into the twentieth century.

But western civilization’s concepts of individual rights—which can be traced to the New Testament as well as to secular western philosophers like John Locke—proved to be the ultimate slavery killers. Slavers have come from all races and backgrounds. Almost all abolitionists have been western, or educated in the west.

Wars, exploitation, and injustices have existed everywhere. There was a major genocidal war in Africa in 1994.

But you will notice that almost all humanitarian aid flows from the west to the non-western parts of the world. Not the other way around. If the west is so exploitive, then why are most major world charities western institutions with predominantly western contributors?

The evils of colonialism. Indian Hindus still occasionally burn living widows with the corpses of their deceased husbands. This practice—known as suttee—is one that British imperialism partly, but not completely, eliminated from the Indian subcontinent. That’s why Hindu widows are now burned alive only on occasion.

And as for that flimflam about white supremacy: If the west is so white supremacist, then why are so many of the people trying to emigrate to the west so-called ‘people of color’? What’s up with that?

It would be easy to insult the students of Stanford for their gaps of knowledge, (and, oh, it is fun to poke fun at college kids who aren’t quite as smart as they think they are), but the real fault lies with the generations-long, leftward march of the educational system.

Remember my initial reference to 1988: The slogan that “western civilization is evil” was around long before the current crop of Stanford undergrads were soiling their environmentally friendly diapers or slurping organic baby food while seated in their designer high chairs.

Sadly, there are too many college students nowadays who have learned history only fragmentally, and only in the context of ideologically biased, one-sided grievance narratives.

This is a deficit that might have been partly offset at Stanford University, through a short course requirement in western civilization.

Sadly, the students of Stanford have chosen not to increase their knowledge, but to bask in their smug ignorance.

I have no doubt that Stanford was once a great university. Today, it seems to have become a training ground for leftwing lemmings.

Monday, April 25, 2016

'Luk Thep' an online novel, Chapter 5

Previous: Chapter 4


Some hours later, Jane had checked out of her hotel room, and yet another taxi ride had taken her to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.

An ultra-modern airport of gleaming marble and polished metal, it might have been the ideal setting to forget all about the doll, the dream, and the unthinkable notion that their juxtaposition suggested. 

But the airport was also filled with statues and other motifs of grinning, unfamiliar Hindu and Buddhist deities. Jane wanted no more of the spirit world of Thailand, thank you very much.

She sat at the Delta departure gate, sipping a black coffee, waiting to board the plane that would return her to snowy Michigan. She was surrounded by a mixed group of travelers. The conversations around her were both in Thai and in English.

To avoid thinking about the dream, Jane allowed her thoughts to return to more earth-bound matters: namely, the issue concerning Ram and the new components supplier in Vietnam.

Automakers like Ford, GM, Toyota, and Volkswagen didn't manufacture most of their own components. Each company relied on a complex supply chain consisting of hundreds, even thousands, of external suppliers.

Within the automotive industry, companies like TRX Automotive were known as “tier one” suppliers. TRX Automotive sold directly to the automakers. TRX shipped its completed ignition systems directly to the automakers’ plants, where they were assembled directly into vehicles.

But TRX Automotive didn't make all of its own components, either. Within any ignition system sold by TRX to an automaker, there were dozens of subcomponents manufactured by outside companies. These companies, the suppliers of the tier one suppliers, were known as “tier two” suppliers.

TRX was responsible for the management of its tier two suppliers, and these suppliers were located all over the world—but mostly in developing Asian nations like China, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

And, of course, Thailand, where TRX had a manufacturing plant. The political situations in many developing countries were complicated, but this was especially the case in Thailand. Two years ago, a group of Thai generals had orchestrated a takeover of the national government. This was the twelfth such coup to occur in Thailand since the early 1930s. Since the most recent coup, the country had been governed by a military junta, with the acquiescence of the Thai monarchy.

The junta could and did exert its influence in business activities—particularly the business activities of foreign companies operating inside Thailand. That said, it was by no means a one-sided relationship. The foreign companies had a certain degree of leverage: The generals relied on foreign investment to keep Thailand’s economy going, thereby preventing a counterrevolution.

However, if a foreign company incurred the concentrated wrath of the junta, it would certainly find the operating environment within Thailand to be more difficult and expensive. Necessary permits would be mysteriously delayed or denied. Government safety inspectors would suddenly find violations of regulations that no one had ever heard of before. There were many subtle ways for the ruling generals to interfere. They did not need to send in tanks to crash a foreign company’s gates.

Ram, in addition to being a deputy plant manager, was rumored to have financial ties to one of the generals who sat on the ruling junta. Ram was also rumored to have connections to the tier two subcomponents supplier that had recently been replaced.

There was of course corruption in Vietnam, where the new supplier was located. In Vietnam, however, the controlling factor was not the Thai military junta, but the Communist Party of Vietnam. Ram had no influence or connections in the CPV, and therefore, no chance to sell influence or otherwise profit.

The entire situation was frustrating. But TRX Automotive needed to maintain its manufacturing facility in Thailand. The friction with Ram was therefore a circumstance that Jane would have to manage.

She was thankful that she had allies within the Thai subsidiary, conscientious employees like Khajee. There was corruption in Thailand, to be sure; but many Thais held themselves above it.

Thoughts of Khajee inevitably looped back to thoughts of the doll, thoughts of the disturbing dream. The doll named Lawan, and the adolescent girl named Lawan—the girl who had murdered her younger siblings before being murdered by her father.

The dream had indicated a fairly clear connection between the murderous, doomed young girl and the doll in Khajee’s office. For a moment she wondered: Should she call Khajee...or perhaps send her an email about the dream, make some attempt to warn her about the doll?

And what exactly would she type in such an email? Dear Khajee: You know that doll in your office, the one that’s supposed to be haunted? Well, I’m quite certain that it’s haunted—by the spirit of a malevolent little girl, one who killed her infant siblings, and was then murdered by her father decades ago. I have a feeling that the doll might be dangerous.

That would go over quite well, wouldn't it? TRX Automotive, like most corporate entities, reserved the right to scan its employees’ emails. Jane imagined the guffaws of the folks in the IT department while they read that one.

More to the point, Jane imagined her subsequent conversations with human resources, with her boss, Martin Tully. Maybe your current position as Asian Supply Chain Manager is too stressful, Martin would say. Maybe you need to step back, take a less demanding position. Martin would then make a gentle suggestion that Jane should consider other, less stressful career options.

No, there was no way, given the realities of their professional relationship and corporate politics, that Jane could warn Khajee about the doll. And besides, there was probably nothing to warn her about. Not really.

Jane didn't believe in ghosts, didn't believe in superstitions like Friday the 13th and the unlucky auras of black cats. Her imagination, she decided, had taken a brief flight of fancy because of a combination of circumstances: The spookily realistic doll in a dark, unfamiliar office late at night, combined with jet lag, fatigue, and the sort-of confrontation with Ram in the hallway.

What about the dream, though? Well, the more she thought about it, that too could be explained. Jane didn't read a lot of crime fiction or horror fiction. (Most of the books she read nowadays were business titles by authors like Seth Godin. She also read USA Today with some regularity, and The Wall Street Journal.)

She had, however, made numerous visits to various locations in Asia. The dream scene in the little hut was likely a composite of scenarios that her subconscious had absorbed during her business trips to the Far East. And as for the distance in time that the dream conveyed…well, she had certainly seen old period films. It wasn’t inconceivable to think of all these disparate elements blending together to form a single, unified nightmare.

It was time to forget about the doll, forget about the dream. When she touched down in Michigan, an entirely new set of deadlines and problems would await her.

With this prospect in mind, she pulled out her phone, which had a generous international data and calling plan, and began to go through her sundry inboxes. There was a text message from Martin Tully about a quality problem with a new supplier in the Philippines, and an invoicing issue with another supplier in Taiwan.

She also responded to David’s latest email, and thought about his imminent return. She wondered briefly if he was remaining faithful to her over in Germany, surrounded by all those frauleins, not to mention women from Eastern Europe. She reminded herself (for the umpteenth time) that she hadn’t yet slept with him. Their relationship had just been advancing to that threshold before he’d left. Jane had narrowly decided to make him wait until he returned from his assignment in Germany. (He wasn't going off to the wars, after all, but only to a corporate assignment in Europe.) Jane didn't want to sleep with a man for the first time, and then have him take off for a months-long posting on the far side of the world. That was a formula for heartache, as she knew all too well from experience.

But while you could give in to a man to soon, it was also possible to make a man wait too long. If David was still devoted to her on his return, she was going to take the next step, she decided.

She was glad to have David to think about. She heard one of the people at the Delta counter click on the loudspeaker, and announce that boarding would begin now on her Michigan-bound flight.

Jane switched off her phone and returned it to her pocket. The previous night’s dream was finally beginning to acquire the indistinct haziness that a dream should properly have. Nevertheless, Jane was glad to be leaving Thailand behind her. 

Next: Chapter 6

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why this politically incorrect conservative likes the Tubman $20 bill

Yes, Harriet Tubman is a good choice for the newly redesigned $20 bill.

I will admit that when I first became aware of the Women on 20s campaign, I was skeptical. The movement began, let’s face it, as yet another exercise in the sort of tit-for-tat, zero-sum-gain bean counting that has come to typify political correctness and identity group politics.

Some of the figures on the initial list of candidates, moreover, were clearly chosen just because they were women. Feminist Betty Friedan and environmentalist Rachel Carson, while admirable in their own ways, don’t rise to the standards that such recognition demands. (If you think I’m being petty here, ask yourself: Will there ever be a Ralph Nader 5-spot?) Margaret Sanger, another one of the Women on 20s primary round candidates, expressed attitudes on race and eugenics that would have disqualified her for the namesake of a dorm at an American college if she had been male. But because Margaret Sanger popularized contraception and is associated with modern abortion industry, her sins against racial justice are conveniently overlooked. Yet another case of the progressive left’s selective outrage.

When the campaign to get a woman on a piece of U.S. currency began, the first male targeted for removal was Alexander Hamilton. I’m not sure why this was the case. Hamilton, the architect of the American financial system, did little to incur the wrath of social justice warriors, even by the most exacting standards of 21st-century presentism.

Hamilton was saved, interestingly enough, by the widespread popularity of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical Hamilton. Hamilton is a hip-hop rendition of the life of the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. Ah, well, whatever it takes to capture short attention spans.

Which brings us, belatedly, to Harriet Tubman. Tubman was not a president, a general officer in the U.S. military, or a cabinet member (the usual criteria for recognition on American currency). She was, however, a true American patriot who spied for the Union during the American Civil War. Her escape from slavery—and her subsequent aid of other escaped slaves—make her worthy of anyone’s admiration. Her accomplishments also rate recognition on the $20 bill.

Harriet Tubman’s visage will replace that of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States. This is the point where, I think, I am supposed to wax sanctimonious about Jackson’s attitudes regarding racial issues, and his harsh policies toward the Native Americans who lived east of the Mississippi. I won’t go there—not because these arguments aren’t valid—but because they have already been made by every pious leftwing blogger who can still recall the basics of his high school American History survey courses. Disparaging Jackson, while not unjustified, has become a tiresome exercise in me-tooism.

(Jackson also thumbed his nose at the Supreme Court, and sabotaged the much-needed national bank, by the way. The latter action precipitated a widespread financial crisis after Jackson left office.)

It is fruitless and usually self-serving for twenty-first century Americans to refight nineteenth century battles, let alone attempt to right injustices perpetrated by the long dead against the long dead. Suffice it to say that Andrew Jackson, slave owner and defender of slavery, would be taken aback by the replacement of his own image with Tubman’s.

That is an irony well worth noting in passing; but our primary focus should be the worthiness of Harriet Tubman for the honor. No reasonable person can find complaint with her selection for the newly redesigned $20 bill. Whatever the flaws in the original motives of the Women on 20s campaign (just-get-a-woman-on-some-currency-already-will-you!), the final result turned out to be a good one. Yet another irony here: Sometimes we end up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.