‘Luk Thep’: Get the ebook, dirt cheap, through the weekend!

Through Sunday the ebook version of Luk Thep: a horror novella will be reduced to $0.99.

I wrote this one I after I read this article in The Economist.

Amazon description:

The ‘luk thep’ are the ‘angel dolls’ or ‘spirit dolls’ of Thailand. Ultra-realistic in appearance, some Thais believe that each doll is infused with the spirit of a prematurely departed child. But are all child spirits benevolent?

Jane Hughes is an American executive who is visiting Thailand for a routine business trip. When she sees her Thai colleague’s ‘luk thep’ doll, she has dark premonitions about what is actually inside it. When Jane later receives the same doll as a gift, she begins a ghostly nightmare that will lead to terrifying supernatural encounters on two continents.

From the Author

Excerpt:

(Excerpt from Chapter 5: “This is Lawan.”)

Jane looked closer, and now she saw that the small figure seated in the chair was only a doll, albeit a very realistic-looking one.

“She gave you quite a scare,” Khajee said with good humor. Jane noted Khajee’s use of the personal pronoun. Jane also noted that yes, indeed, the doll had given her quite a scare.

The corporate realm was not a world without fear. The cutthroat competitiveness of the global economy produced a macro-level fear of being downsized, “right-sized” out, or otherwise falling into obsolescence. Jane had not a protectionist bone in her body, but she couldn’t help feeling the occasional twinge of admiration-mixed-with-resentment toward her Asian colleagues: They worked so tirelessly, so efficiently. All of the jobs at TRX Automotive Thailand represented jobs that no longer existed in the United States. How long before her job, too, was outsourced to a more efficient Asian or Latin American rival?

Beneath the macro-level fears was the constant uneasiness about where you stood within the company hierarchy–not just the formal organization chart, but within the ever-shifting hierarchy of senior management favor. This was not simply a matter of doing your job well, but of maintaining the outward perception that you were doing your job well.

Although Jane was single and had no dependents, she had much invested in her career. She knew that despite her undeniable hard work, she was fortunate to be where she was at her age. Jane did not want to lose what she had gained. She wanted to continue moving forward.

Anxiety about such matters occasionally kept Jane up at night. But the fear of the genuinely unknown was mostly alien to her existence. No one ever discussed haunted houses or vampires at a corporate meeting, even during the informal pre-meeting banter. To express an interest in the macabre would be (yet another) way to sideline your career prospects. People would think you were unhinged.

Perhaps that was why Jane was momentarily uncomfortable over her reaction to the doll. She now knew, rationally, that the doll was just a doll. But it made her uneasy, nonetheless.

“It looks very realistic,” Jane said. “Like a real little girl.”

Khajee nodded. “Each one of them is unique. They aren’t cheap.”

Khajee then mentioned the price she had paid in baht, the Thai currency. It was an amount that corresponded to about $800 American dollars.

“A lot to pay for a doll,” Jane blurted out. Then she realized the potential rudeness of her observation. “I–I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that remark.”

But it was a lot to pay for a doll, realistic-looking or not.

“That’s okay,” Khajee said. “But this is a special kind of doll, you see. And I’m not only talking about the way it looks. The doll is called a luk thep. That means ‘angel doll’ or ‘spirit doll’. They perform a ceremony for each doll at the plant where the dolls are made. And then each doll is supposed to be inhabited by the spirit of a deceased child.”

“You mean the doll is–possessed?” Jane asked. Khajee gave a puzzled look in response. “I mean–haunted,” Jane clarified.

“Well, yes,” Khajee replied, after giving the matter some thought. “I suppose that’s one way to look at it, though a Buddhist would see the matter differently than someone from the West, you understand.”

Jane nodded noncommittally. A lapsed Roman Catholic, there were many holes in her knowledge of her own spiritual and religious traditions. She had only the vaguest grasp of Buddhist beliefs.

Didn’t the Buddhists believe in reincarnation? Jane was almost certain that the Buddhists did. Perhaps that would make them more comfortable with the notion of a ‘haunted doll.’

But still, even a Buddhist would have to ask certain inevitable questions. For starters: What kind of a spirit would want to inhabit a doll, and to what purpose?

“It certainly looks realistic,” Jane said, repeating her prior observation, not knowing what else to say.

“Her name is Lawan,” Khajee said, as if correcting Jane. Khajee smiled self-consciously. “Yes. I named her. Most luk thep mothers do. I suppose you’re wondering why an adult woman would want to buy a doll and name it.”

Jane couldn’t avoid an involuntary flinch at Khajee’s description of herself as the doll’s ‘mother’.

“I suppose I would wonder,” Jane admitted.

**

If you think you might like to read Luk Thep, now is a good time to get it. Next week, the price will go back to $3.99. (Still cheap, but not dirt cheap.)

 

The kissing sailor dies at 95

It is one of the iconic photos of World War II: A U.S. sailor, upon hearing the news of the Japanese surrender, spontaneously kisses a nearby woman in celebration. It was VJ Day in Times Square, New York.

The sailor in the photo, George Mendonsa, died Sunday at the age of 95. The woman in the photo, Greta Friedman, passed away a few years ago at the age of 92.

Mendonsa assumed that Friedman was a nurse. She wasn’t. Friedman was a dental assistant. Mendonsa was very grateful of the work that nurses had done during the war for wounded American servicemen.

There should be little to say about the photo itself, after all these years. But in this age in which nearly everything becomes a point of controversy and revisionism, it has become fashionable (in some quarters) to say: tsk, tsk and wag one’s finger. Did George Mendonsa wait for a signed consent form before he kissed Greta Friedman? One dingbat blogger even described the kiss as “a sexual assault”.

Just shoot me now, say I, as I roll my eyes. Even Greta Friedman has said that the kiss was no big deal. Making an issue of it was something that had to wait for twenty-first century social justice warriors with too much time on their hands, and little in the way of historical knowledge.

Context matters. As a rule, I certainly wouldn’t advocate kissing strange women in public. I have never done this. Nor do I suspect that I ever will.

If you knew the members of the generation that fought World War II, however, you’ll understand that theirs was a different time and a different mindset. (I was fortunate enough to know many of them, including my grandparents.) They literally believed that the world—or at least their version of it—was going to collapse.

And suddenly, they found out that it wasn’t going to collapse. First the Germans, and then the Japanese, surrendered.

Swept up in the relief and the celebration of the moment, George Mendonsa kissed Greta Friedman, whom he did not know.

On VJ Day, sure, one can understand how something like that might happen. Especially if you were a young man who believed that you were likely to be involved in the invasion of Japan—a battle that was projected to claim between 400,000 and 800,000 American lives.

To the best of my knowledge, George Mendonsa never again kissed an unsuspecting stranger in public. It was a onetime thing. Again: the context and the moment.

Godspeed, George; and thank you for your service. If there are any social justice bloggers in heaven, I hope that Saint Peter keeps them out of your hair.

Remembering my childhood “shark phase”

When I was a kid, I went through various phases with hobbies, interests, and obsessions.

One of these was my “shark phase”. For about a year, I read every book about sharks that I could get my hands on.

I still have a passive interest in sharks. Sharks are awe-inspiring creatures. I mean, just think about it: A shark is a fish that, even now, in the 21st century, will eat you if given the opportunity.

My interest in sharks has occasionally shown up in my fiction. (There is a shark story in my Hay Moon short story collection.) And I’m still a sucker for  Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

But back to that childhood obsession with sharks. While poking around on Amazon, I recently came across a listing for the book, Sharks: Attacks on Man, by George A. Llano. Published in 1975, the book is long out of print; but there are still some old used copies floating around.

I owned a copy of this book around 1979. I read it and reread it. Included in this slender volume were stories of the Matawan Creek shark attacks of 1916, and the harrowing experiences of the sailors of the USS Indianapolis, who had to contend with man-eating sharks after their ship was sunk by the Japanese.

There are probably better books about shark attacks on the market today (and certainly more current ones). Nevertheless, I’ll always look back fondly on George A. Llano’s Sharks: Attacks on Man, which provided me with many hours of entertainment about forty years ago.

 

Amazon, and the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez reality check

This past week, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and a group of radical anti-gentrification activists screwed NYC out of untold millions worth of tax revenues, and 25,000 new jobs. Amazon was going to put a second headquarters in NYC.

Now they’re not. Amazon has run screaming from New York, stating that they “don’t want to work” in such an environment.

As a result, there was finally a concerted backlash from the center-left against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez : It began when Amazon execs criticized Cortez as the radical leftwing moonbat that she unmistakably is. (They were a bit more tactful in their language, though, of course.) Governor Cuomo criticized AOC. Even Cher–no rightwing Republican, in anyone’s estimation–lamented the loss for New York City.

Meanwhile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez skipped blithely to her office, and waxed poetic about how “people power” had chased a major source of tax revenues and jobs from the Big Apple.

(BTW: There is an Amazon center in Hebron, Kentucky, not far from where I live. I’ve met a number of people who work there. Most of them have told me that the jobs are pretty good. But then, Kentucky doesn’t elect idiots like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House of Representatives.)

Of course AOC thinks that chasing Amazon out was a  great move. She’s a card-carrying member of the DSA, the Democratic Socialists of America. She doesn’t want people working for big corporations at all. Or little corporations. Or mom-and-pop grocery stores. In her glassy-eyed vision of America, everyone works for the government. (With her in charge of it all, of course).

AOC has been the darling of the leftwing media since she first appeared on the scene in the summer of last year. Since her election to the House of Representatives last November, hardly a day has passed without a hagiographic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez story on CNN.

But New York’s loss of the Amazon headquarters (thanks, in no small part, to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) has  been a reality check. This is a demonstration that ideas have consequences. And when you elect radicals to Congress, your district pays a radical price.

This week, New Yorkers paid that price.

‘Revolutionary Ghosts’ in Kindle Unlimited…for a while, at least!

I’ve enrolled Revolutionary Ghosts in Kindle Unlimited for the next 90 days.

Eventually, it will probably be going out to other stores and platforms. For now, though, you can read it for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited membership! I hope you enjoy it.

 

About Revolutionary Ghosts:

The year is 1976, and the Headless Horseman rides again!

Steve Wagner is an ordinary Ohio teenager in the year of America’s Bicentennial, 1976.

As that summer begins, his thoughts are mostly about girls, finishing high school, and driving his 1968 Pontiac Bonneville.

But this will be no ordinary summer. Steve sees evidence of supernatural activity in the area near his home: mysterious hoof prints and missing persons reports, and unusual, violently inclined men with British accents.

There is a also a hideous woman—the vengeful ghost of a condemned Loyalist spy—who appears in the doorway of Steve’s bedroom.

Filled with angry spirits, historical figures, and the Headless Horseman of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” Revolutionary Ghosts is a terrifying coming-of-age story with a groovy 1970s vibe.

 

Howard Schultz: no love from the Democrats

I’ve been keeping my eye on Howard Schultz. I’ve noticed that he is getting no love from the Democrats, even though he would probably like to head the Democratic Party ticket in 2020.

Howard Schultz is exactly what the Democratic Party needs:  a center-left candidate who is pro-business, and progressive but not revolutionary on social issues.

Schultz, however, recently stirred a backlash among Democrats. He had the gall to debunk Kamala Harris’s unicorn plan to abolish private health insurance overnight, and replace it with a top-down federal government plan. In a country as large and diverse as the United States, socialized medicine would be an unmitigated disaster, and Howard Schultz knows this–as does anyone with a basic grasp of economics.

Schultz was correct in pointing out that the Republicans have tended to ignore the healthcare crisis, whereas Democrats can think only in terms of socializing health insurance. An effective solution likely would involve a role for government; but it would be fundamentally market-based (a dirty word if you’re a Democrat, nowadays.)

The Democratic Party is also currently obsessed with identity-group politics. Democratic strategist Symone Sanders has said that she doesn’t want “white people” leading the party anymore. This racialist sentiment would have been regarded as radical in the Democratic Party of 2000. But not in the Democratic Party that approaches 2020.

The first priority of the Democrats heading into 2020 will be “diversity”. In practice, this  will likely mean a fire-breathing radical like Kamala Harris or Julian Castro.

And if that happens, the Democrats can forget about the suburban “soccer mom” vote.

America is by nature a centrist country. Most Americans are not radicals of either the far-right or the far-left variety.

Ideological indulgence therefore has a cost in national elections. The GOP discovered that in the midterms of 2018. The Democratic Party will relearn it in the presidential elections of 2020.

Kamala Harris and the world’s oldest profession

This across the transom today: Kamala Harris is not the favored candidate of our nation’s sex workers.

Why? She has a history of supporting legislation that either reinforces outright bans on their trade, or otherwise makes it more difficult.

It has been said that social conservatives want to ban sex work because it involves sex, while left-wingers want to ban sex work because it involves money. This might not be too far from the truth.  In any event, the legalization of sex work has few advocates among either of our two major political parties.

One can easily make the case that in a perfect world, no women would be sex workers, and no men would be their clients. In a less than perfect world, however, we allow emancipated adults to make their own choices–even when they make the wrong ones.

You might ask: Would you want your daughter to be a sex worker? I won’t dodge that question. The answer is a resounding “NO”.  But it’s also true that I wouldn’t want my (hypothetical) daughter to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, cohabitate with a man before marriage, or vote Democrat.

Now, are you really sure that you want to use my aspirations for a daughter of my own as a basis for the law?

The law should not be about what we would want for our daughters, but what the state has a right to ban and regulate. And that answer is always: as little as absolutely necessary. 

Goodbye, Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren is twisting herself in rhetorical knots, as she tries to talk her way out of this one:

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic contender for the party’s presidential nomination in 2020, was facing new fallout Wednesday after the Washington Post reported that on a 1986 registration card for the State Bar of Texas she identified as “American Indian.”

The revelation prompted yet another apology from Warren, who told the Post she “can’t go back,” and change her decision but that she is “sorry for furthering confusion on tribal sovereignty and tribal citizenship and harm that resulted.”

During a gaggle with reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Warren apologized further for “not being more sensitive to tribal citizenship and tribal sovereignty.”

“I really want to underline tribes and only tribes determine tribal citizenship. It’s an issue of tribal sovereignty,” she said.

Asked why she listed herself as “American Indian” on the form, to begin with, Warren explained “this is our family story” and did not rule out that there may be other similar documents.

“When I was growing up in Oklahoma, I learned about my family the same way most people do. My brothers and I learned from our mom and our dad and our brothers and our sisters. They were family stories,” she said. “But that said, there really is an important distinction of tribal citizenship. I’m not a member of a tribe. I have apologized for not being more sensitive to that. It’s an important thing.”

In the context of 1986 (when people were far less touchy about this sort of thing), this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.

There are many basically white Americans who have been told that they have a Native American great-great-great grandparent back there in the gene pool.  For some white Americans, there is clearly a bit of romanticism attached to distant Native American ancestry. I don’t doubt that Warren heard such “family stories” while growing up.

That said, my great-great-grandmother’s origins in County Cork, Ireland don’t make me eligible for Irish citizenship. Even if Warren does genuinely have long-ago Native American roots (or believes she does), they are a tiny  part of her DNA.  She isn’t a Native American to any significant degree.

This was obviously a cynical attempt to stretch the truth in order to qualify as a minority, and thereby take advantage of various programs designed for real minorities.

Again, this is something that people used to do all the time. One of my college friends was about 1/8th Cherokee. He listed his ethnicity as “Native American” when applying for graduate school in 1990. No one batted an eye.

In 1986, Elizabeth Warren likely didn’t know that she was going to have presidential aspirations more than three decades hence. Nor did Ralph Northam likely imagine that he would one day be Governor of Virginia, when he posed for that ridiculous photo back in 1984. (Or, as he now says, when he darkened his skin for a Michael Jackson dance contest.)

But these are different times, and there is zero tolerance for any deviation from accepted narratives and orthodoxies regarding the politics of race, sexuality, and gender.

This is true even if you’re a Democrat who wants to soak the rich (like Elizabeth Warren), or make abortion legal until a kid graduates from high school (like Ralph Northam).

Warren and Northam probably won’t be the last two politicians to get bitten by the less uptight 1980s, as we approach the election season of the very uptight year of 2020.

P&G scrambles for damage control after Gillette’s “We Believe” ad flops

Marc Pritchard, a chief brand officer at P&G (the corporate home of the Gillette brand) certainly knows that Gillette’s “We Believe” ad was a colossal flop.

But when you’re hauling down a few hundred thousand dollars as a marketing manager at Procter & Gamble, you don’t back down from your mistakes–you double down on them. That’s exactly what Mr. Pritchard did in a recent op-ed on CNN.

Pritchard asserts that the Gillette ad was intended to “stop bullying and harassment and demonstrate how to treat people with respect.”

All fine and good. But we’re talking about a shaving products commercial. People are sick of being preached to at inappropriate moments by big corporations. We’re sick of big corporations taking political (always leftwing) stands.

As a mental exercise, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Suppose, for example, that a feminine hygiene products company were to run an ad showing vignettes of caricatured female misbehavior–women cheating  on their husbands, abandoning their children, etc. (I know that most women don’t do those things, but some do.)

Now imagine that the same commercial showed vignettes of other women who were “doing better”…by not cheating on their husbands, abandoning their children, etc.

A commercial like that would meet with an immediate boycott by women throughout America–and for good reason. Women would (rightly) perceive  such a commercial as preachy and condescending.

The real problem with the Gillette commercial wasn’t its explicit message that bullying and sexual harassment are wrong. Approximately 99.99% of American men would agree with that.

The problem was the tone and the timing: The ad was set up as a kind of “men, you need a scolding” message (and you need a scolding from Procter & Gamble, specifically.)

I’m not sure if Marc Pritchard was pressured into producing this disaster, or if he simply doesn’t grasp the basic principles of marketing. Either way, this was a debacle for the Gillette brand.

And just to make sure that the commercial was as condescending and annoying as possible, it prominently featured Ana Kasparian, that shrill, leftwing harpy of The Young Turks. Who thought that one up? (Hopefully not you, Mr. Pritchard.)

The “We Believe” ad was set up to fail, and it failed brilliantly.

 

Hawaii, cigarettes, and social engineering

Hawaii’s state legislature is considering a bill that would ban cigarette sales to anyone under the age of 100–almost everyone, in other words.

I’m no fan of smoking. My paternal grandmother died from lung cancer in 1996. Another relative of mine died from lung cancer in 1992. (They were both smokers.)

I don’t miss the days when smoking was tolerated in restaurants and bars, either. Even when they had separate smoking and non-smoking sections, cigarette smokers had a way of sitting near the non-smoking section.

That said, I’m also concerned about allowing government bureaucrats to regulate our personal conduct. Smokers should have to pay for their habit–in the form of higher insurance premiums (that’s only fair)–but an outright ban on cigarettes is a bridge too far. Once you give the government the power to ban personal choices, it becomes a habit. The bureaucratic appetite for power is insatiable.

In my lifetime, I’ve watched cigarette smoking go from an activity that was more or less accepted everywhere and by everyone, to a practice that makes one a virtual pariah.

All fine and good. But how do we square that with the present enthusiasm for legalizing marijuana, and turning marijuana into an industry?

Marijuana cigarettes aren’t very good for you, either.