YouTube deplatforms RSBN, Trump

Whether you love Trump or hate him, he isn’t going away just yet. The former president may indeed run again in 2024. (Though personally, I think it’s a bit early to be making hard predictions on that one.)

The overlords of social media, meanwhile, seem oblivious to the concept of reverse psychology, and determined to shoot themselves in the foot with every American who didn’t vote for Joe Biden in 2020.

The conservative Right Side Broadcasting Network (RSBN) recently rebroadcast Donald Trump’s CPAC speech on its YouTube channel. The video was getting a lot of views (around 4 million), when someone at YouTube decided that allowing diverse viewpoints on the platform could only lead to trouble. YouTube’s in-house censors removed the Trump video, and suspended RSBN’s channel.

The ostensible reason was that President Trump’s speech “violated YouTube’s guidelines on election misinformation”. This is another way of saying that Trump’s speech raised questions about irregularities during the 2020 election. After all, one shouldn’t question the way the government does things in a democracy.

It is true that social media companies are private-sector firms, and that they technically have a right to censor whatever content they choose. It is also true that YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter have demonstrated themselves to be ideological monocultures with minimal tolerance for any viewpoint that does not gibe with those expressed by management. Whatever claim these companies might once have had to being champions of free speech and grassroots expression, they have long since forfeited through their conduct.

From Redskins to Raptors

A high school sports team with which I have  some history has recently rebranded itself. The Anderson High School Redskins in Cincinnati will henceforth be known as the Raptors.

I did not attend Anderson High School, but I attended a neighboring school, and I frequently competed against Anderson athletes in cross country and track. So this is local news for me. Back then (the 1980s), no one grumbled about the name of the team. But those were less ideological times.

Anderson High School is in the Forest Hills School District. The district does not have a substantial Native American population. (Forest Hills occupies a very white part of Ohio.) And being a high school, Anderson High School does not have a footprint in the national media. No one outside the immediate area knows much about it.

This is my way of surmising that the name change was (almost certainly) less about avoiding offense to Native Americans, than about making white members of the Forest Hills Local School District  administration and teaching staff feel good about themselves.

But one has to pick one’s battles in the culture wars. Native American team mascots were originally meant as a homage, not a slur. You name yourself after that which you admire.  This is why we don’t have sports teams with names like the Bibulous Boston Irish or the West Virginia White Trash.

That doesn’t mean that all such names were aptly chosen. The term “redskin” does have a tainted, if linguistically ambiguous, history. And even if woke white liberals make up 99% percent of the offended in this case, this one is close enough to justify erring on the side of caution. Sometimes we end up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Moreover, the Raptors logo does look kind of cool, I have to admit. I will give this one a provisional thumbs up, for what it’s worth.

Robin DiAngelo, Purdue University, and “free college”

Various versions of “free college”—including but not limited to student debt forgiveness—are on the table now that the Democrats are in power.

College has become obscenely expensive, and many students and parents understandably wish that it were less so. I get that; and I’m not unsympathetic.

But even with the current Democratic majority (which is likely temporary), additional subsidies for higher education will have to be sold to the taxpayers. That means people who do actual work for a living.

So what are taxpayers getting for their money, in higher education? Or, more to the point, what are college students getting for the money that the government confiscates from taxpayers?

This past week, Purdue University paid “white fragility” author Robin DiAngelo a cool $7K for a 90-minute virtual event. That comes to an hourly rate of a little more than $4,600.

Robin DiAngelo is not even black. She is a leftwing white academic. DiAngelo has capitalized on the current fashion for white guilt, with her book White Fragility, and the various moneymaking opportunities that have flowed from it.

If you’re peddling white guilt in corporate and academic circles nowadays, it is literally raining money, after all. Coca-Cola’s senior management recently hired DiAngelo for in-house employee training, during which she encouraged Coca-Cola employees to “be less white”, whatever that means. (Should Coca-Cola employees try to be more purple, more chartreuse? More aquamarine, perhaps?)

And now Purdue University has just given DiAngelo $7,000 more. Cha-ching!

Granted, $7,000 is not all the money in the world. But at a time when taxpayers are being asked (or perhaps forced, under Democratic Party misrule) to send even more money to universities, this isn’t the kind of optics that higher education needs.

Equality and respect for everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, should be our standard. White guilt, on the other hand, is divisive and intellectually lazy. Moreover, it’s usually leftwing white folks like Robin DiAngelo who end up lining their pockets with this particular cultural neurosis of ours.

If you’re going to hold a white guilt event, at least let the speaker be a genuine person of color. As black academic John McWhorter said, DiAngelo’s book is “about how to make certain educated white readers feel better about themselves.”

But back to free college, or subsidized college, and/or the forgiveness of student debt: When lamebrain university nabobs engage in stunts like this, they only bolster the commonly held perception that American universities have become corrupt bastions of pointy-headed leftwing ideology that deserve to fail. Hiring Robin DiAngelo for a speaking engagement is certainly not a way to built support among factory workers and plumbers for more taxpayer-funded higher education. Just saying.

Timpo medieval figurines

Being a kid during the 1970s, almost none of my toys had any sophisticated electronics by today’s standards.

And the Internet? Who had heard of the Internet?

Most 1970s toys that didn’t involve balls or game boards relied on the imagination.

One of my favorite toys in this category was the Timpo Medieval Castle. The UK-based company marketed these toy sets in the US as Black Baron’s Castle. I was eight or nine years old when my parents got this for me. I had hours of fun with it.

Based the knowledge of history that I’ve acquired since, I understand that the toy set was historically inaccurate.

The toy set crusaders didn’t do battle with the lightly armored Muslim warriors of the 11th or 12th-century Middle East, like the real ones did. Instead, their foes were black-armored knights reminiscent of the Hundred Years War 1337-1453.

When these toy sets were made, there was no political correctness as we know it today. No one would have been offended had Timpo made a historically accurate toy set, complete with the clash of civilizations. Rather, someone in the Timpo marketing department probably figured that the target market (young boys) would prefer the black-armored knights to turban-wearing Saracens.

Photos from eBay and Etsy

***

Below: a modern take on the medieval play set. Not bad, but I’m attached to the Timpo original

Will we ever see another Jonathan Tropper novel?

There are a handful of writers of my generation (Generation X) who write literary fiction about the times and travails of people our age, our “generational experience”, if you will. One of those writers is Jonathan Tropper, who was born two years after me, in 1970. I’ve read everything Tropper ever wrote, which is only six novels in about twenty years.

As a novelist, Tropper comes from the Hemingway school of writing, which is to say: write what you know, and only what you know. All of Tropper’s books have a distinctly autobiographical feel. His characters are predominantly upper-class, well-educated men who live in or near New York City. That describes Tropper to a T.

Tropper also writes only about characters who are roughly his age at the time of composition. His first book, Plan B, is about a 30-year-old man struggling with an early mid-life crisis. The book came out in 2000. Guess how old Tropper was in 2000.

Another Tropper novel, This Is Where I Leave You (2009), is about a 30-something man who is dealing with the death of his father and the end of his marriage. Tropper turned thirty-nine the year that book was published.

The last Tropper novel, One Last Thing Before I Go (2012), is about a 40-something man who is looking back on the mistakes he made as a parent, spouse, etc. Oh, and the lead character has also received medical news that hints at his impending mortality. Those are all very 40-something concerns.

Tropper’s books are shelved under various categories on Amazon. One Last Thing Before I Go is categorized under “Doctors & Medicine Humor”. (Like that’s a big genre, right?) Really, though, all of Tropper’s books are best described as “male literary fiction”.

There aren’t many male authors doing this kind of writing, because there aren’t many male readers reading it. Most men who read fiction prefer something more along the lines of Clive Cussler or Michael Connelly.

Nothing wrong with Clive Cussler or Connelly. As chance would have it, I’m presently reading Cussler’s Treasure, and Michael Connelly’s Fair Warning. (Yes, I read multiple books at once.) But not every novel has to have a serial killer or a fiendish plot to take over the world to be worth reading.

There has not been a Jonathan Tropper novel since 2012. Tropper is still around. (He’s only fifty, at the time of this writing.) But he’s transitioned into screenwriting, per his Wikipedia page. His latest endeavor, The Adam Project, is a science fiction film slated for release in 2022. I’ve made a note to check it out.

I’m going to take a wild guess and speculate that there won’t be another Jonathan Tropper novel—at least nothing like the ones he’s previously written. This might be a market issue; but it might also be that Jonathan Tropper, having answered all the personal questions that his novels were meant to explore, has no more novel-length stories to tell.

Andrew Cuomo and Harvey Weinstein: it’s about power, not sex

Remember when Andrew Cuomo was “America’s governor”? It seems hard to believe now, but it’s true. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Andrew Cuomo briefly reassured us with his daily news conferences, which were superficially lucid and non-partisan.

I must admit that for a very brief span of time, I even liked him myself. This was during the Democratic nomination scrum; and I asked myself, “why aren’t the Democrats running this guy?”

But Governor Cuomo would soon reveal a different side of himself. We recently found out that he engaged in or tolerated extensive coverups about nursing home deaths during the worst months of the pandemic.

Even before that, Cuomo showed his willingness to stretch the truth. During the pandemic, Cuomo claimed that the Trump administration hadn’t sent him ventilators, when non-partisan sources (physicians and hospital administrators) acknowledged that the promised ventilators were right there, in New York.

After the 2020 election was over, Governor Cuomo suggested that New Yorkers should hold off on vaccinations. Why? Because the COVID-19 vaccine was developed under the tainted auspices of the Trump administration.

That was the point when I decided that Andrew Cuomo is a total schmuck.

Andrew Cuomo has now been accused of inappropriate sexual touching, and other forms of sexual harassment. There are multiple accusers. There is also, in at least one case, some photographic evidence.

We should be clear here. No one is accusing Governor Cuomo of outright rape, or sexual assault. When very powerful men engage in this type of behavior, their actions usually cannot be traced to the straightforward cause of an overactive libido.

Eliot Spitzer, former NY governor

I don’t mean to be crass, but if you have lots of money at your disposal, there are other ways of satisfying excess sexual urges. Just ask Andrew Cuomo’s predecessor, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer fell from grace in 2008, after it was revealed that he had spent thousands of dollars on high-end call girls.

Eliot Spitzer’s (now defunct) escort agency of choice

I’m neither condemning nor condoning Spitzer’s conduct, mind you; but he seems to have been what we would colloquially call a “horndog”. Spitzer wanted lots of sex with lots of attractive women; and he was willing to spend money to get the job done.

That isn’t what Cuomo’s recent shenanigans are about. Andrew Cuomo seems to have far more in common with disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein than with his own predecessor, Eliot Spitzer.

With the money that Weinstein had, he could have easily provided himself with an all expenses paid, 24-hour-per-day orgy. Once again, I don’t mean to be crass. But that’s the way it is. Harvey Weinstein, we may safely conclude, was no garden-variety horndog. His life was no orgy, even though it could have been.

Harvey Weinstein

What Harvey Weinstein did was more about the exercise of power. For example, Weinstein would sometimes orchestrate situations in which unsuspecting women would be forced to watch him shower. In purely sexual terms, that is rather silly stuff. That isn’t the conduct of a man who simply isn’t getting enough sex, and wants more.

And so it goes with Andrew Cuomo. In one documented incident, the governor placed his hands around the face of a woman named Anna Ruch at a wedding. He then kissed her without permission. In his defense, Cuomo claimed that this is simply his “customary” way of greeting people. (Note to self: If I’m ever at a wedding in New York, watch out for Andrew Cuomo.)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 30 years, that isn’t the customary way of greeting people anymore…if it ever was. Especially not strangers, or people you barely know, at public events.

I began my corporate career in 1991, the same year as the Anita Hill hearings and the Tailhook scandal. Sexual harassment avoidance training was part of my new employee orientation from day one, at every post-college job I’ve ever had. The message I got, from the very beginning, was: don’t be casually sexual with people you barely know, even if that is your instinctive of way of doing things.

We could have a spirited debate about whether or not our 30-year organizational obsession with sexual harassment avoidance training has made people a bit too paranoid around each other. Asking whether or not various aspects of political correctness have gone “too far” is one of my favorite pastimes, after all.

But that’s another discussion for another day. The point is, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 30 years, you know what is expected of you in professional situations. The evidence strongly suggests that Andrew Cuomo did not meet that standard.

This is, I reemphasize, an issue of the governor’s attitudes about his personal power, not his sex drive. Andrew Cuomo felt entitled to grab a young woman’s face at a public event not because he wanted to sleep with her, but because he felt that certain rules of propriety and personal space did not apply to him.

Just like he felt, not so long ago, that he could justify spreading fear about the COVID-19 vaccine, so long as it served his political objectives.

Once again, Andrew Cuomo has demonstrated himself to be a schmuck. He would do well to resign, as so many voices at both ends of the political spectrum are now encouraging him to do.

The controversy over Amanda Gorman’s Dutch translator

If you tuned in to Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20th, you probably remember Amanda Gorman. She was the young poet who recited her poem, “The Hill We Climb” to a worldwide audience that day. Gorman wrote the poem especially for the inaugural event, on the theme of American unity.

Amanda Gorman is youngest poet to ever recite at a U.S. presidential inauguration. Gorman is a 22-year-old Harvard alumni. She is also one of the few living poets that the average American citizen could possibly name—or at least recognize. (Robert Frost died a few years back, in case you didn’t know.)

Amanda Gorman has recently found herself at the center of a controversy, though. Or rather, the Dutch translation of her poetry is at the center of a controversy.

The Dutch translation brouhaha

The Dutch publisher Meulenhoff has picked up the rights to translate Gorman’s poems into Dutch, and publish them in the Netherlands. The publisher became the target of a noisy leftwing Dutch activist after it selected Dutch writer Marieke Lucas Rijneveld to translate Gorman’s work.

Why would anyone object to Marieke Lucas Rijneveld as a choice? Rijneveld is not exactly a knuckle-dragging neo-Nazi, if that was your first thought. And since Rijneveld is a Dutch citizen, we don’t even have to ask ourselves whom the writer/translator voted for in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld

Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, moreover, identifies as non-binary. All online sources use gender-neutral pronouns like “they” and “their” when referencing Rijneveld. One would think that Rijneveld’s selection as translator of Gorman’s work would therefore be regarded as a triumph for diversity.

But nothing is simple nowadays. One thing I didn’t mention: Amanda Gorman is black. Ideally, Gorman’s race would be little more than a footnote. But in the race-obsessed environment of 2021, race is everything, all the time, twenty-four hours a day. Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, transgender or not, fashionably liberal or not, is most definitely not black. Rijneveld is blond, and as pale-skinned as most white northern Europeans tend to be.

Which brings us to the noisy Dutch activist. Janice Deul, a self-described “cultural activist” in the Netherlands, has claimed that Rijneveld, by virtue of their race, cannot properly translate the poetry of an African American woman.

Janice Deul

Describing the selection of Rijneveld as “an incomprehensible choice,” Deul claimed that Rijneveld had “no experience” in Gorman’s identity as a “black woman”. “Why not choose a writer who—just like Gorman—is a spoken word artist, young, female, and unapologetically Black?” Deul went on.

In our current environment, no corporate entity wants to find itself on the “wrong side” of the racial narrative—whatever the “right side” of that narrative happens to be at the moment. The publisher, Meulenhoff, quickly kowtowed to the noisy activist. Rijneveld, for their part, withdrew from the project,  not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings.

What about Janice Deul, though? Deul’s parents are from Suriname, and she’s of distant African descent. Like most educated residents of northern Europe, she has a command of English. But she describes Dutch as her native and primary language. All of her social media posts are in Dutch.

This would all suggest that Deul doesn’t necessarily share the U.S.-based, English-speaking formative experiences of Amanda Gorman, any more than Marieke Lucas Rijneveld does.

Why you probably don’t speak Dutch

Herein lies the important point, where commercial translation is concerned. Dutch is a minor language in global terms, spoken by only about 24 million people worldwide. That’s a bit less than the population of Texas. By way of comparison: there are 477 million native speakers of Spanish, and 378 million native speakers of English. That makes Dutch small linguistic potatoes by any standard.

Dutch-speakers are geographically and culturally isolated, too. Most of them live in the Netherlands, or in the neighboring Flanders region of Belgium. Variants of Dutch are spoken in a few former Dutch colonies. But European Dutch is basically a European language. Dutch doesn’t have the global reach of English, Arabic, Spanish, or French.

Dutch, like English, is a Germanic language, too. English is therefore comparatively easy for Dutch-speakers to learn. Most Dutch-speakers do obligingly learn to speak English with reasonable fluency. If you’re an American or a Brit living in Amsterdam, you probably should learn Dutch, just to be polite. But the truth is—you probably won’t need to, if your only goal is to get by.

And as we all know, native English-speakers are notoriously lazy language-learners, anyway. Most Americans struggle to remember a few phrases of high school Spanish while on a trip to Mexico. Few British people I’ve met are even minimally comfortable in French, German, or Spanish, either.

So no—not many of us learn Dutch.

Native speakers and the art of commercial translation

But there’s a further complication, you see. When producing a commercial translation, the translator should be a native speaker of the target language. I read Japanese fluently. (I used to be a professional Japanese-language translator.) I can produce a high-quality Japanese-to-English translation for you. When translating a complicated, nuanced text from English to Japanese, though, my finished product is invariably going to contain little glitches and awkward phrases that a native Japanese-speaker would immediately recognize as “foreign”.

This is how it goes with any other language. The target language translation should always be performed by a native speaker. This all means that whoever ends up translating Amanda Gorman’s poetry for the Dutch marketplace, he, she, or they will almost certainly be a native Dutch-speaker, i.e. not an American. This means that he, she, or they will have a formative experience different from Amanda Gorman’s American (or, if you prefer, African American) upbringing.

The dangers of tying race to qualifications

The Amanda Gorman Dutch translation kerfuffle followed a now familiar pattern. A previously obscure, self-important activist harnessed the amplifying power of social media to fabricate a controversy surrounding the politics of identity. Corporate entities quickly yielded ground. The press reported what was happening, but didn’t challenge any of the activist’s underlying premises. The activist got their way.

We’ve reached a point in Western civilization where no absurdity will be challenged, if it is only uttered in the name of racial justice or diversity. But genuine diversity will not be served by kowtowing to self-serving demagogues like Janice Deul.

To declare that only a black European translator may render the work of a black American author into Dutch is to suggest that race—regardless of native language, background, or formative experience—is the primary determinant of identity. In literary terms, the result is to create a permanent separation between the work of black authors and everyone else.

This places black authors permanently outside the mainstream, which will limit their market reach. If work by a black author is so abstruse and tied to race that only a black writer can translate it, then it is so abstruse and tied to race that only a black reader really has any business reading it, either.

This ghettoizes the work of black authors—not just in the bookstores, but also in the minds of readers in a crowded literary marketplace.

This also creates a dangerous precedent that can be exploited by racists and bigots of any background. Once you accept the basic idea of tying race to professional qualifications, you have opened a Pandora’s box that you cannot simply open and close at will. If we accept the premise that only black translators may handle the work of black writers, then it is not a far jump to the notion that only people with Teutonic ancestry should be teaching high school German.

As someone once said, “You don’t want to go there”. And we shouldn’t go there. No one was served by this latest capitulation to the social justice mob—least of all black authors who would like to find a wider readership.

$0.99 book deals for this week (March 1st through 3rd)

It’s the beginning of March. Two months of 2021 are already in the rearview mirror!
 
To celebrate March, and the imminent start of spring, I’m putting two titles at $.99 for the first part of the week (through Wednesday).
 
One is a horror novel, the other is a corporate thriller.
 
12 Hours of Halloween is a coming-of-age supernatural horror novel set in 1980. On Halloween night, three young friends must face the trials of a ghostly curse in the suburbs of Cincinnati.
The Eavesdropper is a workplace/corporate thriller set in a large electronics company. A purchasing agent named Frank Joseph has just discovered that three of his coworkers are planning a murder. One of the conspirators happens to be his boss.
 
Will Frank stop the murder conspiracy, or will he become its next victim?

Both  The Eavesdropper and 12 Hours of Halloween will remain at $.99 (on Amazon Kindle) through Wednesday, March 3. Hopefully that will give everyone a chance to check them out!

New book: ‘1120 Dunham Drive’

I’ve launched a new series: Clint and Jennifer Huber Mysteries. These novels are classified in the “amateur sleuth’ category. 

The first book in the series, 1120 Dunham Drive is out. 

Amazon description:

Introducing Clint and Jennifer Huber: amateur sleuths who must investigate a very personal mystery—the web of obsession, betrayal, and violence surrounding their “dream house” at 1120 Dunham Drive.

The problems begin with a former owner who refuses to leave quietly, and strange disturbances during the middle of the night.

Oh, and there’s something sinister about a room in the basement.

1120 Dunham Drive is a suburban mystery/thriller that will keep you guessing to the last page.

***

Preview the book below!

Chapter 1

Summer, 2014

To thirty-four-year-old Jennifer Huber, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive seemed pretty close to perfect. If only, she would later think, there had been something wrong with it—something that would have sent her and her husband Clint running, never to return.

That wasn’t the way things worked out, though. On a sun-scorched Saturday afternoon in mid-July, the house at 1120 Dunham Drive drew the Hubers in.

Or at least the house drew Jennifer in. The seduction began in earnest in the realtor’s car, as Jennifer, Clint, and Tom Jarvis (the realtor) pulled into the driveway.

“It’s a Tudor!” Jennifer exclaimed.

“And what would that be?” Clint asked.

“This style of home,” Jennifer replied. “This is what they call a Tudor-style home.”

Jennifer had a fairly extensive knowledge of residential architecture, and she had studied the house’s spec sheet on the Internet the previous night. So she already knew that this would be a Tudor-style home. Her surprise had been feigned: It had simply been a gambit to prod Clint into showing some more enthusiasm about what they were doing today.

“You’ve got to admit, hon: It looks good from the road.”

“It’s a good-looking house,” Clint allowed.

Built in 1940, the house had a look that was simultaneously homey and classic: It had steeply pitched gables (a prerequisite of the neo-Tudor style), decorative half-timbering on the exterior walls, and brick inlays around the ground-floor windows.

“Let’s have a look-see,” Tom Jarvis said, turning off the engine of his Lexus and opening the front driver’s side door. Jennifer didn’t wait for either Jarvis or Clint.  As soon as the vehicle was parked, she was out of the overly air-conditioned back seat and racing ahead of the two men.

“It looks like somebody really wants a house,” she heard Jarvis say conspiratorially to Clint.

Who wouldn’t want a new house? Jennifer thought. That’s the sort of thing we work for, after all.

That thought reminded her of the job she hated and the secret that kept her bound there. She pushed these thoughts away. Today was a happy occasion. She wasn’t going to think about her job at Ohio Excel Logistics. Not on a Saturday afternoon like this.

“Check this out,” Jennifer said, pulling her husband Clint by the hand. “Japanese maples.”

The front garden did indeed have three Japanese maples, plus several small pine trees, and a whole lot of ivy. It was the sort of landscaping that took years to develop—either that, or a whole lot of money.

“Connor would like the yard,” Jennifer observed as Tom Jarvis bent down and retrieved the key from the lockbox on the front door.

“He probably would,” Clint replied.

“And best of all, it’s in the Mydale school district.”

Their son, Connor, was going to be a first-grader in a mere two months. The public schools in Mydale were regarded as the best in the Cincinnati area.

And then there was the most important thing about the house—the factor that made this a real possibility: The asking price of the home at 1120 Dunham Drive was within the Hubers’ range. Most of the homes in Mydale were a lot pricier.

By now Jarvis had unlocked the door. He smiled and held the door open for them.

Jarvis smiled again as Jennifer walked by and looked down. He wasn’t overly obvious about it, but the realtor had clearly taken the opportunity to check her body out.

It wasn’t the first such glance that she had noticed from the real estate agent. Nor was it all in her imagination. Clint had remarked the other day that Jarvis had taken so many liberties with his eyes during their real estate office meetings and home viewing excursions, that he owed them an additional ten percent off the asking price of whatever house they eventually settled on. 

She asked Clint if it made him jealous—Jarvis looking at her that way. Clint had scoffed in reply: Jarvis was an old guy, basically harmless.

Jarvis was indeed older than them, maybe in his mid- to late-forties. He was balding and could have dropped ten pounds; but he still carried himself with the swagger of an ex-jock. Jarvis had probably been a “hound” back in the day; and his manner strongly suggested that he still considered himself a claimant to that title.

As Jennifer walked into the cool house and out of the midsummer heat, Jarvis closed the door and briefly loomed over her. He finally looked away, but not before allowing himself a furtive glance down her blouse.

Okay, that one was a bit much, she thought, but did not say.

Since roughly the age of thirteen, Jennifer had noticed that a large number of men noticed her. That seemed to go along with being thin, blonde, and reasonably pretty. Most of the time it wasn’t a big deal; and for a period of her life it had been undeniably flattering.

But she had been married for most of a decade. She was a mom now; and she was devoted to Clint.

Or at least she thought she was. Would a woman who was totally devoted to her husband and son get herself into the jam she was in at work?

Is there something wrong with me? she wondered. Do I give off the wrong signals?

Her unpleasant thoughts were pushed aside by the interior of the house. The front hall was high-ceilinged and spacious. Their footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor. Unlike many older houses, this house wasn’t dark and dingy. Quite the opposite, in fact. The windows of the downstairs flooded the first floor with natural light.

“I think I love this house.” Jennifer declared, setting aside what she knew to be her habitual skepticism about being sold anything at all. Clint, who was standing beside her, gave her a curious look.

Then the realtor said what Clint must have been thinking:

“Well, Mrs. Huber, you’ve only just seen the front yard and the front hallway. But that’s a good start.”   

It’s like he doesn’t want me to get my hopes up, she thought. They had toured numerous homes with Tom Jarvis—most of them homes that Jennifer and Clint had preselected through exhaustive, late-night Internet searches. Practically none of those homes had given her instantly warm and fuzzy feelings.

But this one did. And Jarvis wasn’t exactly right about her having seen only the front yard and the front hallway. Having spotted this house online and grasped its potential, Jennifer had pored over the available photographs of its interior and landscaping. She had bookmarked the home’s portfolio in her web browser, and had returned to it numerous times, in fact.

 

On the drive over from the realty office, Tom Jarvis had said that the situation surrounding this house was “complicated”. He had started to explain; but apparently the act of giving an explanation was complicated, too.

“For now let’s just keep our options open,” he’d said. But what exactly did that mean? Was Tom Jarvis planning to ultimately steer them toward another house? Maybe a turkey of a house that could only be unloaded on a naïve young couple making their first home purchase?

Well, she thought, the unknown motives of a self-serving and mildly lecherous real estate agent were not going to dissuade her if this house turned out to be as perfect as it seemed. Real estate agents were always working their angles, she’d heard. None of them, she had been warned by friends, were to be trusted.

She didn’t want to make a negative generalization about an entire profession. Still, she and Clint would have to be careful. The Internet was filled with horror stories about dishonest and prevaricating real estate agents. Tom Jarvis knew they were first-time homebuyers. That might lead him to the conclusion that they could be easily led.

One thing was undeniable: For some reason, Tom Jarvis didn’t want them to purchase this house.

New series: “White-collar mysteries”

I spent more than 20 years in the corporate world. There are a lot of good stories there. (And they’re even better, when embellished a bit.) Some of those storeis have become novels, for me. 

For those of you who like stories about “corporate employees in trouble”, consider my series, WHITE-COLLAR MYSTERIES

The series is new. I wanted to group together some of my books that are best described as thrillers-in-the-corporate-workplace.

At present, I have two existing titles in the series:

THE EAVESDROPPER: A purchasing agent at an electronics firm discovers that three of his coworkers (including his boss) are planning a murder. Will he stop them, or become their next victim?

TERMINATION MAN: A business consultant makes his living by going undercover to “eliminate” problem employees. But will he draw the line at actual murder?

More titles will be added as they’re written!

An American abducted by North Korean agents

The writing of THE CONSULTANT.

For fans of:

  • James Clavell
  • Vince Flynn
  • Brad Thor

Here’s a little about the story, and why you’ll enjoy it if you like a.) East Asian settings, and b.) adventure.

North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens

In my prior professional existence, I was deeply involved with Japan. I learned the Japanese language, and even worked as a translator for a time. I also worked for years in the Japanese automotive industry. I made many trips to Japan.

One of the ongoing issues I learned of in Japan was the so-called ratchi mondai 拉致問題, or “abduction problem”. This intractable matter came up whenever there was talk of Japan and North Korea resuming ordinary diplomatic relations.

Throughout the 1970s and part of the 1980s, North Korean agents abducted numerous Japanese citizens on Japanese soil. (Japan and North Korea are quite close, geographically.) These ordinary Japanese people, who happened to become targets of the North Koreans, were taken to North Korea and forced to work in a variety of capacities. Many were employed against their will as Japanese language instructors.

North Korea’s abductions didn’t stop there. In 1978, North Korea abducted Shin Sang-ok and Choi Eun-hee. Shin Sang-ok was a well-known South Korean movie director. Choi Eun-hee, his former wife, was a successful actress. The pair spent about eight years in North Korean captivity. They worked directly for Kim Jong-il, the future Supreme Leader of North Korea. Shin and Choi were tasked with making films for North Korea’s movie industry (against their will, of course.) They finally escaped in 1986.

North Korean abductions and Americans

I knew there was a story there. I wanted to write a story about an American kidnapped by the North Koreans, though. So far as my research could determine, there had never been a documented case of the North Koreans abducting an American on foreign soil.

But why couldn’t it happen? After all, thousands of Americans travel to Japan and South Korea every year. Many are skilled business and technical experts, human assets that Pyongyang would surely covet. And North Korean agents are known to be active in both Japan and South Korea.

An American abducted and taken to North Korea

THE CONSULTANT is the story of Barry Lawson, a successful business consultant from Chicago who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And then he finds himself in North Korea.

Barry Lawson is an aging Lothario in his late forties. He has a way with the ladies, and this has often gotten him into trouble. Barry is divorced, with two children.

When Barry is approached by an attractive woman at a bar in Osaka, Japan, he can’t resist….even though he knows better.

This is a decision that he’ll soon regret. Within hours, Barry Lawson, successful business consultant and ladies’ man, must find a way to survive in—and hopefully escape from—the hellhole that is North Korea.

He’s not the only foreigner there, though. Barry he meets a Japanese man, Shoji Tanaka, whom the North Koreans abducted from Hokkaido (in northern Japan) when he went out for cigarettes one night.

Barry also meets Anne Henry, a woman who knows the Korean language. Anne, it turns out, has a traumatic abduction story of her own.

***

That’s all for now. I don’t want to ruin the book for you.

THE CONSULTANT is available in paperback and Kindle. (An audiobook is in the works.) You can presently read THE CONSULTANT in Kindle Unlimited, as well.

Want to preview THE CONSULTANT? You can do so below.

Winter wonderland, writing updates

As the above view from my front porch suggests, Ohio’s plunge into the Ice Age continues unabated.

This afternoon we had about three hours of ice pellets on top of last night’s snow. So…the snow that was already on the ground now has a thick, icy glaze.

I believe I’ve had about enough winter until the 2030s, thank you.

But as long as the power holds out, the writing continues.

At present I’m about halfway through Book Two of The Rockland Horror saga. You can preview Book One below. And remember: For the time being, at least, you can read it in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.

I’m working on the first two books of another series as well, but I’ll provide more details on that later.

Wherever you are, dear reader, I hope the weather is nicer there. But if you’re anywhere in the mainland United States, odds are that your weather is pretty bad, too. This has been a rough February, weather-wise.

1970s blizzard years

Those awful, wonderful winters from 1976 to 1978

This past week two consecutive winter storms dropped more than a foot of snow on Cincinnati. I managed to shovel two driveways, twice, without a.) throwing out my back, b.) re-repturing my 2005 hernia, or c.) having a heart attack. At my current age of fifty-two, I consider that a not unnoteworthy accomplishment.

The winter of 2020 to 2021 has been a rough one so far in Cincinnati, especially compared to the past three or four. Yet more snow is forecast to arrive later this week.

Of course, for American adults around my age—especially if they grew up east of the Mississippi—there are two childhood winters that stand out in memory: those are the back-to-back “blizzard winters” in the mid-1970s: the winter of 1976 to 1977, and the winter of 1977 to 1978.

The winter of 1976 to 1977

The winter of 1976 to 1977 was the winter of record-breaking, pipe-bursting, river-freezing cold. Here in Cincinnati, there were three straight days of record cold in January 1977, in which the temperature stayed below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time.

The Ohio River froze solid—for the first time since 1958, and only the thirteenth time on record. In the Cincinnati media archives, there are photos of people walking across the Ohio River, and even driving across the ice that month. The freezing of the Ohio was quite a novelty, much talked about on the local news. One of my older friends has told me about driving his car across the Ohio River that winter on a dare. He was then nineteen years old, and he’s now in his sixties. So he obviously made it across.

January of 1977 was also a snowy one. Cincinnati had 30.3 inches of snow that year. (The usual figure for Cincinnati in January is six inches.)

Photo: Kenton County Library
Photo: Kenton County Library

The winter of 1977 to 1978

The following winter of 1977 to 1978 was just as bad, with almost as much cold, and even more snow. On January 25, 1978, one of the worst blizzards in U.S. history pummeled Cincinnati with almost seven inches of snow. There were already fourteen on the ground.

I remember the night of January 25, 1978 well. I played forward on our fourth-grade basketball team. That night we had a game at a rival Catholic school in the area, Guardian Angels. I remember walking outside at halftime with other members of my team. The air was not exceptionally cold yet by January standards. (It would soon plummet below zero degrees.) But there was a strange fog in the air. I think we all had the feeling that something momentous was imminent. On the way home from the game, the snow began. By morning, it was a whiteout.

Winter landscapes of the memory

At the age of eight or nine, one doesn’t have much life experience to draw upon. I could sense, though, that those two winters were worse than the handful of winters I could recall before. During those two winters, the outside air always seemed to be bitterly cold. Furnaces ran constantly. Fireplaces crackled nonstop. The ground was always snow-covered.

Many people are depressed by snow and cold weather, and winter in general. Not me. I will confess that some of my happiest childhood memories are winter ones, in fact.

I was particularly close to my maternal grandparents. During those blizzard years of the 1970s, they lived just down the street from us. When school was canceled due to inclement weather, I got to pass the day with my grandfather, who had recently retired. We spent a lot of time together in those years. I’m grateful for all the snow.

The cyclical nature of winter weather

It has been my observation that bad and mild winters tend to alternate in cycles. From the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, the winters were harsh, with record cold and snow.

The winter of 1981 to 1982 was cold. The Cincinnati Bengals went to the Super Bowl that year. On January 10, 1982, the Bengals won a key home game against the San Diego Chargers. The air temperature at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium on game day was minus nine degrees, with wind chills down to 35 below. That game has gone down in NFL history as the “Freezer Bowl”.

I was in the eighth grade in 1981-1982, and going through a (brief, in retrospect) rebellious adolescent phase. This included hanging out with an edgier crowd, and embracing a short-lived fascination with smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.

Even in 1982, smoking and drinking weren’t acceptable pursuits for eighth graders. But hiding these illicit activities from adult authority figures was half the fun. I have many memories of shivering outside that bitter January, as I sipped a furtive drink of whiskey, or smoked a Marlboro. Even today, when I happen to smell someone else’s newly opened pack of cigarettes, or taste an alcoholic beverage, I’m transported back to that brutally cold winter of 1981 to 1982.

The last bad winter I remember from that larger cycle was the winter of 1983 to 1984. That winter brought record cold and snow to the entire United States, including Florida and Texas. As I recall, there was a lot of anxiety about the citrus crop that year, and skyrocketing prices of orange juice.

Over Christmas break in December 1983, my parents decided to embark on a rare family trip to Florida. When we reached Macon, Georgia, it was 4 degrees, with 23 degrees forecast for our destination in the Sunshine State. After spending a night shivering in a Macon hotel room with an inadequate heater, my parents decided to cut our losses. We headed home the next morning. We could freeze in Ohio for free, after all.

But the weather is no more constant than anything else in this world. That cycle of severe winters, from 1976 to 1984, transitioned into a milder pattern over subsequent years. The winters of 1984-1985 and 1985-1986 weren’t exactly balmy; but they weren’t severe, either. Throughout my last two years of high school, classes were rarely canceled due to weather. This was fine with me, because I generally enjoyed high school more than grade school.

And during my college years, spanning the winters of 1986 to 1987 through 1990 to 1991, the winters in Cincinnati were notably mild. I did not go away for college; I lived with my parents and commuted to two local schools. I did not miss a single class due to bad winter weather throughout my entire college career.

That mild cycle continued through the early 1990s, only to go the other way again in the middle of the decade. The winter of 1995 to 1996 was an especially bad one for the entire Midwest, resulting in a rare shutdown of the University of Cincinnati in January of ’96. By this time, I was a working adult in my mid-twenties.

The winter of 1995 to 1996 drew comparisons in the media to the blizzard winters of the mid-1970s. I remember scoffing when I heard this. Having been a kid during those fabled winters of the 1970s, I never took the comparison seriously.

But then, everything seems to happen on a larger scale when you’re a kid…even the weather.