We all know how the war in the Pacific ended. Early on, though, the Japanese seemed to have the clear advantage. In the spring of 1942, the United States desperately needed to even the score against its enemy in the East.
The score was partly evened in April 1942, with the so-called “Doolittle Raid”. Sixteen B-25 bombers, flying without fighter escort, were launched from the USS Hornet. They bombed military and industrial facilities in and around Tokyo.
It was known from the outset that the planes could not return to their carrier. Fuel and distance might have been issues, but the more immediate problem was that a B-25 couldn’t land on the deck of the Hornet.
The plan, therefore, was for the planes to continue on to China after their bombing mission was completed.
China was then the nominal ally of the United States, but much of the country was occupied by Japanese forces. The American flyers therefore had find their way to friendly troops while avoiding the Japanese.
So this was a perilous plan, indeed.
In Harm’s Way (2017) is a film about one of those American flyers, who crash-lands in China’s Zhejiang province. He is rescued by a young Chinese widow and her daughter. The resulting story contains equal parts adventure and love story—a reliable formula, as stories go.
I don’t know if In Harm’s Way is a true story, but that makes little difference for our purposes here. If the story is completely made-up, it certainly could have happened. And if the movie is based on actual events, we can assume a generous amount of dramatic embellishment took place.
In Harm’s Way was made by a Chinese production company. The director is Danish, and the actors are almost all Chinese and American.
Emile Hirsh stars as the downed American flyer (known only as “Jack” in the movie). The Chinese actress Liu Yifei plays the young woman, Ying, who rescues him.
Despite the international ensemble, In Harm’s Way is first and foremost a Chinese project. The movie premiered at the 2017 Shanghai International Film Festival.
The movie has three alternate titles: The Hidden Soldier, The Chinese Widow, and (in Mandarin): 烽火芳菲.
Chinese filmmaking has made great strides in recent years. Chinese production values have come a long, long way since Mao’s fourth wife, Jiang Qing, was supervising hackneyed state propaganda films to celebrate proletarian values. In Harm’s Way has a strong script, and the plot moves along at a brisk pace. There were no boring parts, in other words. All the characters are more or less believable—though all the Japanese characters are unremittingly evil, this being a Chinese film about WWII.
Much of the movie (basically all of the flight scenes) relies heavily on CGI. The CGI here is not quite at the level of Game of Thrones, but it’s still pretty good. You know right away that you’re looking at CGI, but this doesn’t jolt you out of the story.
Since the Mandarin language is a longtime hobby of mine, I particularly enjoyed the long passages of (subtitled) Chinese dialogue. Although the story takes place in rural China, the Chinese used in the movie is standard speech (putonghua), rather than the dialect that you almost certainly would have heard in a rural location in China in 1942.
Speaking of language: Some of the best parts of the movie take place shortly after Ying gives Jack refuge in her little home, and the two are struggling to communicate without a common language. Although this isn’t the point of the movie, these scenes make a pretty good argument for learning foreign languages, or at least being open to learning them.
The movie concludes with a historical note about the fate of the Doolittle bombers. Many of them were rescued by Chinese partisans, and the Chinese rightly take credit for this.
The closing credits of the movie also state that the Japanese executed 250,000 Chinese civilians in retaliation. With all due respect to the losses that the Chinese suffered during World War II, that number sounds rather on the high side.
To be sure, the Japanese committed many atrocities in China during World War II. (The conduct of Japanese troops in Nanjing in 1937even shocked the Nazis.) Nevertheless, there are often gaps between the casualties that the Chinese government reports, and those of third-party, scholarly estimates.
I suspect that this is once such case. The execution of 250,000 people in response to a single incident would have been logistically daunting, if nothing else, under the conditions in China in 1942. Did the Japanese kill innocent Chinese civilians for helping the Doolittle raiders? Yes, they almost certainly did. But a quarter-million?
But once again, this is a Chinese-made movie about World War II. Although seventy-four years have passed since the end of the war, the Chinese are still very much aware of those events.
If only they reflected as much on Mao’s depredations. (Mao’s portrait adorns Tiananmen Square.) Not to mention their own government’s massacre of two thousand civilians in Tiananmen Square a mere thirty years ago.
China may no longer be as strictly Marxist as it once was, but the country’s art and culture are still subject to inviolable party orthodoxies.
These orthodoxies are detectable in In Harm’s Way. But this is still a rather good movie.
If you enjoyed the television series Justified, if you like westerns, then you owe it to yourself to check out Cuba Libre by Elmore Leonard.
I am enjoying this book immensely. Lots of fun. As was the case with the FX series Justified (which was based on source material written by Leonard) there is some snark and black humor in Cuba Libre, but not so much that the tale becomes farcical, and the fictive spell is broken.
Earlier this month, I wrote a piece about how the evolution of a pay-to-play marketplace on Amazon is leading to the reconsolidation of publishing. Indicative of this trend is the emergence of advertising aggregator firms like AMSAdwerks.
It should be noted that Adwerks isn’t to “blame” for what is going on in publishing. But the presence of such a company is a good indication of which way the wind is blowing.
Russell Blake, a very successful indie author (and recent investor in Adwerks) has written another post about the state of advertising on Amazon.
As I did my due diligence on their model, I learned more than I ever cared to about the current state of the Amazon ad world, and came away somewhat surprised.
First off, I believe that over the next year or two, it’s going to get harder and harder to get organic visibility of any sort from Zon. Why? Because they have people lined up around the block to pay for the vis. So why give away what you can sell? That would be dumb.
Where that leaves most authors is a rock and a hard place. The indie business is now becoming very much like if you started a soda company. You’d have to pay to get your soda into the stores, and pay more for an end cap or a prominent area. That’s classic retail. Just the way it works. It’s lucrative for the store owner, but sucks for the vendors, especially if they don’t have really deep pockets and sufficient margin to take the hit.
I don’t disagree with Blake’s analysis. Amazon realizes that vendors are another source of revenue…just like customers.
Days after raising the bar for retailers by moving from two-day to one-day shipping for Prime members, Amazon is racing to disrupt another industry. The e-commerce giant launched a trial version of its online freight brokerage platform on Friday, undercutting market prices by more than a quarter, according to FreightWaves.
Amazon, which delivered a first-quarter earnings beat last week, relies on a nationwide network of trucking carriers to move huge volumes of products across America. It has decided to cut out the middle man and act as the broker between shippers and truckers. As a result, it should have greater control over its access to trucking capacity and the price it pays.
Can Amazon do this?
Probably. But at what cost?
I’ve noticed a real decline in the Amazon platform as a consumer of late. Those organic search results (once the strong point of the Amazon search engine) have been replaced by paid ads.
Leaving Louis’s office, it occurred to me that I hadn’t yet taken Keith Conway into consideration, and that yes, he might be a problem.
But had Keith Conway even noticed Diane Parker?
My answer to that question was not long in coming.
“Hey, Stevie!” I heard someone shout.
Speak of the devil. Or Keith Conway. Scant difference between the two.
Keith worked back in the kitchen area. I could see his tall, broad-shouldered frame between the metal shelves that the kitchen crew used to supply the customer service staff with cooked menu items, almost all of them fried.
Keith’s long blond hair was tied back in a hairnet. He was smiling sardonically at me, accenting that dimpled chin of his, which I found ridiculous, but which I had once heard a girl at West Clermont describe as “the likeness of an ancient Greek god.”
This same girl was quite intelligent. (How many high school students, when pushed for a metaphor, go instinctively to classical mythology, after all?) And I would have thought her amply capable of seeing past Keith Conway’s superficial charms. But I still had much to learn—or at least to accept—about such matters.
“Come back here,” Keith said, beckoning to me. He was standing over one of the fryers, tending a batch of the uniformly cut, uniformly cooked French fries that have always been a signature staple of McDonald’s.
I was torn. I should really have proceeded directly to my cash register. But I also wanted to hear what Keith Conway had to say. Ordinarily, I regarded Keith as a noisome presence to be avoided. But now I was in intelligence-gathering mode.
The other two cashiers on duty had been watching me while I was talking to Louis. They were watching me now, too, as I talked to Keith Conway.
“Hey, Steve,” Jenny Tierney said, pulling some coins from her register’s cash tray to give to a customer. “Come on. We’re backing up here.”
Jenny had just graduated from South Clermont High School. I didn’t know her well, and that was fine with me. Jenny had a reputation for being something of a tattletale, a goody-two-shoes who was always telling other people what to do.
But in this instance she wasn’t being unreasonable: I looked out into the dining area and saw that there was, indeed, a line backing up behind both of the two cash registers that were currently in operation.
“I’ll be right there,” I said. And then I stepped around the shelves and back into the kitchen area.
In contemporary parlance, Keith and I were what might be called “frenemies”. We had known each other forever, really—ever since our days of elementary school and tee-ball. But we were like oil and water together, and both of us knew it. We had never come to blows; and we maintained an external pretense of civility. We were teenage boys, however, and that pretense of civility occasionally cracked.
As soon as I walked back into the kitchen area, two of Keith’s sycophants immediately fixed their attention on me, clearly interested in what was about to happen next. Keith was the unofficial leader of the guys in the kitchen on the night shift.
Jonesey, a seventeen year-old who attended South Clermont, diverted his attention from his fryer to fix his gaze on his leader. Jonesey—whose actual name was Albert Jones—would seemingly miss no opportunity to curry favor with Keith.
The other Keith Conway follower, a chubby West Clermont junior named Scott Thomas, was watching and listening, too. He was chopping unions on a metal table near the fryers, but that work was paused as I stepped back into the kitchen.
“How are you doin’, Stevie?” Keith asked.
“Excellent,” I said. “Never better.”
My mother called me Stevie, and that was fine. But when Keith adopted the diminutive form of my name, it was usually because he was about to annoy me.
“I guess you’ve seen the new girl,” Keith said, jumping right to the heart of the matter. “Diane.”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t seen her.” I hadn’t yet, after all.
Keith made a noise with his lips that suggested I was lying. Scott Thomas and Jonesey simpered at their master, and sneered at me.
“Don’t tell me you don’t think she’s cute,” Keith insisted.
“Have you even heard me, Keith? I just got here. I haven’t seen her yet.”
“Well, when you do, you’re going to think she’s cute. And you shouldn’t get your hopes up. That girl is sweet on me, I’m telling you. She’s going to be taking a ride in the Love Machine any day now.”
This prompted much laughter and sniggering from the red-haired Jonesy, as well as the chubby Scott.
Keith drove a black 1971 Trans Am. He constantly referred to it as his “Love Machine”.
And not entirely without reason. Plenty of girls found Keith attractive. Not only was he a big blond guy with an attitude. He occupied a niche between jock and outlaw that was uniquely possible in an environment like Clermont County.
Keith played tight end for the West Clermont football team. He was also fond of smoking weed, and binge drinking. Keith had been arrested at least once for drunk driving. He saw no contradiction between these two modes of behavior.
And many girls—including some otherwise smart ones—found this combination irresistibly appealing.
“Steve—come on!” I heard Jenny Tierney shout from the cashiers’ area. “We need some help here.”
“I’ve got to get to work, Keith,” I said. “Later.”
Today a regular reader of this blog asked me for my opinion about Wattpad, and whether I would ever consider posting any content there.
To cut right to the chase: I have nothing against Wattpad, but my content would be a bad fit on the site.
I’ve visited Wattpad. (I even have a member login.) Everything on Wattpad seems to be written for teenagers by teenagers–especially teenage girls.
I think it’s great that the younger generation is taking an active interest in storytelling (as opposed to the mind-numbing white noise of social media), and that they have an online place to practice their skills, and display their work.
I also think it’s best if people my age stay away from there. I graduated from high school 33 years ago, after all.
The writer should know his place; and my place isn’t Wattpad.
I walked in through the front door. As the six o’clock hour neared, the restaurant was doing a fair amount of business.
This early, it was mostly families. Young parents with small children. McDonald’s wouldn’t release the Happy Meal for several more years, but the fast food chain was already a hit with children.
When I walked back into the employees area, behind the customer counter, I didn’t see any unfamiliar faces—and certainly no one who could be Diane Parker.
I was about to take my place behind the open cash register—the one on the far right. But first I had to clock in. The time clock, with a card for each employee, was mounted on the wall, adjacent to the manager’s office. As I stepped past the office door, I saw Louis seated behind the desk. He was smoking a cigarette, as always.
Louis saw me through the window in the center of the top half of the door. He waved me in.
I pantomimed punching my timecard. Louis nodded. I clocked in, so I would get credit for my time. Then I entered the smoke-filled office.
Oh, another thing about 1976: Smoking in public was still more or less acceptable behavior. Most restaurant dining rooms had nonsmoking sections. But smokers lit up without hesitation in the common areas of offices, shopping malls, and bars.
“Shut the door behind you,” Louis said.
I complied. The smoke inside the office was so thick it stung my eyes, filled my mouth and nostrils.
I waved my hands about dramatically, as if I could drive the smoke away. “You’re going to stunt my growth with that stuff, Louis.”
Louis was a tall, gangly young man with black curly hair and a light complexion. He often developed inexplicable red blotches on his cheeks and neck. He wore thick glasses encased in heavy black frames.
Louis smiled impassively at my objection to the smoke. We had had this discussion before.
“How tall are you?” he asked.
“Well, there you have it. You’ve already done all of your growing. And look at me: I’m six-three.”
“We could both get cancer.”
“You won’t get cancer. Have a seat, please.” He motioned to the visitor’s chair on the far side of the desk. “I wanted to go over next week’s schedule with you.”
I sat down, coughing.
“Quit hamming it up. The smoke will make a man of you.”
“If that’s the case, then I should have a twelve-incher by the time I walk out of here.”
“Hey, I didn’t say that smoke is a miracle drug. Think of what you’re starting with. Anyway, take a look at the days and shifts I have you signed up for next week. Let me know if there’s any problem. But please don’t let there be any problems. If I have to redo your schedule, I have to redo everyone else’s schedule to fill in the gaps.”
He slid the paper across the desk to me and I gave it a quick look. I was scheduled to work almost every evening, as usual.
Ray Smith had a diktat about day shifts: Day shifts were reserved for the older employees, especially the young married women with children. I think Ray Smith believed that he was doing his part to keep at least a handful of the local teenage population out of trouble, by keeping us at work at his restaurant during the witching hours.
“I don’t see any problems,” I said, sliding the schedule back to him. “That will be fine.”
“I saw you looking around when you came in,” Louis said. “You were looking for Diane Parker, weren’t you?”
“Not really.” I said.
“Bullshit. You were rubber-necking like you’d never seen the inside of a McDonald’s before. Anyway, Diane Parker is working a half shift tonight. She’ll be in at eight. Speaking of schedules: You’re good for closing up tonight, right?”
“Closing up” referred to the procedures that we went through after the conclusion of business hours. Some light cleaning, restocking supplies, etc. Everything that needed to be done so that the morning shift didn’t walk into a chaotic, messy restaurant.
“Of course,” I said dutifully. I would leave the restaurant at 10:30 or 10:45 p.m. tonight, I estimated.
“I guess you can go ahead and get to your cash register.” He glanced at his watch. “Did you get here at six?”
“Five minutes early, actually. Then you called me in here to talk.”
“Ah. Yes. Well, anyway.”
I could sense Louis hemming and hawing around. There was something else he wanted to talk to me about.
“Is something else on your mind, Louis?”
After pondering my question for perhaps five seconds, he said, “I’m not sure, really. I’ve been feeling a little…weird, of late.”
“‘Weird’? You’re always a little weird, Louis.”
“Come on. I’m being serious.”
“All right. What do you mean by ‘weird’? Are you sick?”
“No. I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong or weird about me. I feel like there’s something weird going on. Around here, I mean.”
It was as if Louis had read my thoughts, been privy to the events of the entire day: the hoofprints at the Pantry Shelf, the missing persons flyer, that shadow I saw in the hallway of my home…and then finally, the second set of hoofprints and the bizarre reaction of the clerk at the Sunoco station.
“What about you, Steve? Have you noticed anything unusual of late?”
I could have confided in him in that moment. I could have told him about everything I had experienced since roughly noon.
Unlike the clerk, Louis was certainly open to a speculative conversation.
But I didn’t reveal anything to Louis.
“I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary,” I said. “Not really. Not at all, now that I think of it.”
Why didn’t I meet Louis halfway, when he was clearly attempting to take me into his confidence?
I wondered to myself—even then.
My reasons had nothing to do with Louis. I don’t know if I was still in denial, but I was definitely in a state of resistance. This was the summer before my senior year of high school. I wanted it to be filled with fun. Pleasant memories. Maybe a new girlfriend.
I didn’t want to think about young people around my age going missing, possibly the victims of some horrible forces that I could barely imagine existing. I didn’t want to consider the notion that Harry Bailey’s article in Spooky American Tales might be anything more than the sensational ramblings of a pulp journalist. I didn’t want to contemplate the possible meaning of those two sets of hoofprints, the nasty gunk around their edges.
“I’d better get to my cash register,” I said.
“Yes, I guess you’d better.”
I was standing up from the visitor’s chair when Louis gave me yet one more thing to think about.
“Oh,” Louis said, “if you do happen to hit it off with Diane Parker, I recommend that you don’t take too long in making your move. What I mean is: Don’t let Keith Conway make his move first. You know how he is, after all.”
According to the graphic on the company’s homepage (see below), the fortunate author/client might hope to shovel $8,000 into the maw of the Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) machine, and net a profit of less than $2,000…minus the Adwerks commission, of course.
Russell Blake said in an earlier post that indie authors have little choice but to invest heavily in advertising nowadays. He’s right. Over the past year, Amazon has changed its algorithms to make its website a pay-for-play venue.
I’ve been listening to Bryan Cohen’s podcast, Relentless Authors Advertise. In the podcast, Cohen generously reveals the details of his extensive advertising activities throughout the week, including his final profit or loss.
Cohen, to be sure, is a smart guy who takes advertising seriously. And even he is barely making money at it.
The entrance of a company like Adwerks into an already overheated market will make advertising on Amazon even more expensive. I have no doubt that, with a cash infusion from Russell Blake, the company will hire a full staff of bright young things, and be very good at what it does….Certainly better than the typical indie author, tinkering away in her AMS dashboard, playing with ad spends of $10 or $20 at a time.
In 2019, the indie author who relies solely on the Amazon ecosystem must advertise. In 2020, the likely new imperative will be: The indie author who relies solely on the Amazon ecosystem must hire an outside consulting agency to tweak his ads constantly throughout the day.
This, of course, will require wheelbarrows full of cash. (Notice again, the sample numbers on the AMSAdwerks graphic. These are telling.)
I predict that by the middle of next year, or thereabouts, the requirements of advertising spending (for authors solely reliant on the Amazon ecosystem) will become prohibitive for most individual authors.
The likely result of this will be a reconsolidation of publishing.
Authors have always been technically free to self-publish. There has never been a law against it. Twenty years ago, though, indie publishing was prohibitively expensive, because of the economies-of-scale of printing and distribution.
That changed ..for a while. About ten years. But the speculative bubble of indie publishing has brought about a practical need to winnow down the number of books being published and thrown into the Amazon database.
Having observed the dotcom bubble of twenty years ago, I saw this coming. (Also, economics was my undergraduate major.)
But I was wrong about one thing: I predicted that Amazon would eventually charge authors and publishers to list their books on its site. A listing fee of $50~$300 per title would have met with some complaints, but many authors and publishers would have paid it.
But Amazon has opted for a much more profitable course (for Amazon): The company has convinced authors that they should engage in a bidding war for AMS ad clicks. Bids of over $1 per click are now common in competitive categories within the AMS system.
Very few authors will be able to make money at that game, long-term, selling $3.99 ebooks. The margins simply aren’t there.
Publishing will once again require deep pockets to shell out up-front costs…if you want to make any money at it, that is.
Economics is inexorable. Despite all the utopian pretensions of the indie publishing community, the future may end up looking very much like the past.
Amazon wants Prime members to do more of their grocery shopping at Whole Foods:
Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017 for nearly $14 billion to gain entry into the $860 billion US grocery industry. Amazon hoped the deal would help it convert Whole Foods’ shoppers into Prime members.
The retailer also set its sights on an even bigger opportunity: Convincing more of its approximately 100 million Prime members in the United States to buy their groceries at Whole Foods.
Amazon has tried to make Whole Foods more attractive to Prime members since the acquisition. Amazon initially cut prices on products like salmon and avocados. Then it began offering an extra discount on sale items exclusively for Prime shoppers last year to sweeten the Whole Foods offer.
Despite those steps, most Prime members still avoid shopping at the organic grocery chain. Only about 18% of Prime members shop at Whole Foods at least once per month and 70% of Prime members say they rarely or never shop at Whole Foods, according to a recent survey by Wolfe Research.
Whole Foods isn’t convenient for most shoppers. I live in suburban Cincinnati, and there is one Whole Foods within driving distance of my house (and it’s not in a convenient location). On the other hand, Walmart, Meijer, Kroger, and Jungle Jim’s (a local, Cincinnati-based chain) are all within four miles of my front door.
Whole Foods has always been something of a hoity-toity affair, a shopping destination for wealthy singles, and a few helicopter parents who don’t want their precious Tiffanies and Connors and Alexanders to consume any pesticides.
Whole Foods will always have a following in the big cities. But out here in redneck country? Hell no, we’re going to Walmart.
What about Amazon Fresh? Amazon is also marketing a grocery delivery service. I’m not sure if this is connected to Whole Foods.
I like having books delivered to my house. The mail carrier invariably crams the oversized package into my mailbox, thereby damaging the book, and presenting me with the challenge of prying it out. Nevertheless, where books are concerned, the convenience of home delivery outweighs the headaches.
But as for groceries? No…not so much. I like to pick out my own fresh produce, in particular. And I can only imagine what the slipshod delivery methods of the US Postal Service would do to a dozen apples and some bananas. There wouldn’t be an undamaged piece of fruit in the entire delivery.
In short, I am generally a fan of Amazon. But I’ve always felt that Whole Foods was little more than a novelty. Home delivery service for groceries, meanwhile, is mostly a solution in search of a problem.
Yes, the Internet is wonderful. But some things really are better done the old-fashioned way. Grocery shopping is one of those things.
I was an occasional KISS fan during the 1970s and 1980s. (“Love Gun” and “Lick it Up” were my favorite KISS songs.) That said, KISS was never my favorite band.
But I’ve always been an enthusiastic fan of KISS bassist Gene Simmons. His bass playing and singing are well….Let’s just say that the man is more interesting when he doesn’t have an instrument in his hands!