Tuesday, June 28, 2016

'Luk Thep: an online novel:' Chapter 18

Previous: Chapter 17


Jane had developed what she thought was a general understanding of the way this all worked: The doll had been given to her and she had accepted it, albeit acquiescently. She could not throw the doll away. If she tried that, it would come back to her.

Crazy. Ridiculous. How many times had she used those two words to refer to her own thoughts in recent weeks? But she was sure that she had put Lawan away in the closet before going to bed, only to find the closet door open, and the doll on her living room sofa in the morning. The pills were blurring her mind, that much was true; but they hadn’t completely disconnected her from reality. Yet.

Nevertheless, she would have to quit the sleeping pills soon.

The drive to the Marriott would have been short, had Jane not left at the height of the evening rush hour. The suburbs around Detroit were becoming overdeveloped and overpopulated, even as the city itself was hollowing itself out. There areas of the inner city, directly to her south, where one could find blocks and blocks of empty, decaying buildings. 

She had heard that on the radio earlier in the week. Or had Martin told her that today, during the annual business meeting?

Jane placed a cool palm to her forehead. She had to get herself under control.

She walked into the lobby of the Marriott, Lawan under one arm. Despite all that had happened, Jane wasn't overly squeamish about handling the doll. It could have smothered her while she slept any number of nights, if that had been its purpose. Lawan reserved her real violence for others. Like David.

Jane headed for the front desk. She would ask the front desk attendant to ring Khajee’s room. If Khajee had gone out for dinner, Jane would wait for her in the lobby, Lawan at her side.

For once, though, Jane found herself in luck. Just before she reached the front desk, she made a sidelong perusal of the lounge area, adjacent to the lobby. Khajee and Ram were seated at a small table, not talking, by the look of them, but nursing two beers and what looked like hamburgers. 

Hamburgers, Jane thought. The quintessential American food. She couldn't count how many of her foreign colleagues, when visiting the U.S. for the first or second time, asked to be taken out for a genuine American hamburger.

Neither Khajee nor Ram saw Jane approach until she was upon them, ambush-style. 

“I believe this is yours,” Jane said without preamble, holding the doll out to Khajee. 

Ram stopped eating and glared silently at Jane. Khajee looked briefly at Jane, at the doll, and then looked away.

“The doll is yours,” Jane repeated. “Please take it. I don’t want it anymore.”

“If you don’t want it,” Khajee said, still staring straight ahead, “then throw it away.” 

Over the course of their professional relationship, Jane had met Khajee in person perhaps four or five times. The Thai woman had always gone out of her way to be friendly and compliant. Jane was not technically her boss, but as a manager at the corporate headquarters, Jane was higher in the informal corporate pecking order. 

Now, however, Khajee seemed to regard Jane as a recalcitrant waitress or a wayward chambermaid.

“I can’t take it back to Thailand with me. I thought it would be a nice gift for you. Like I said, you can throw it away if you don’t want it.”

“It isn’t that simple,” Jane replied. “But I suspect you already know that, don't you?” 

“Please,” Khajee said, continuing her tacit refusal to look at Jane, “you’re making a scene. What would Martin Tully think of this? What would TRX HR have to say?”

The implied threat was very apparent. From a corporate HR perspective, Jane was attempting to thrust an unwanted object on a colleague who had explicitly expressed a preference for her to cease and desist. There was no way Jane was going to sit before either Martin or corporate HR, and spin some story about a curse. If push came to shove, Jane would lose this battle. The rules of the game allowed Khajee to turn the protocols of corporate behavior against her. TRX might take pity on Jane, given her recent personal difficulties—which was another way of saying that they might terminate her with a halfway decent severance package, versus simply terminating her. 

Jane had long experience with such maneuvering. She hadn't attained her position at such a young age without learning the rules, without mastering all the intricacies of corporate political gamesmanship. She had also handled passive-aggressive behavior before. That was a tactic that could be turned around—if you kept your cool.

"Very well," Jane told Khajee, "if that's the way you've decided to play this. There's a little divan out in the lobby. I'm going to leave this damned doll—your little girl, as you once described her—out on that divan. You're staying at this hotel for two nights, so that will suffice for giving her back, if I understand the way this thing works."

Jane did not give either Khajee or Ram a chance to reply (not that they seemed inclined to reply, anyway). 

She spun around and walked resolutely into the adjacent lobby. As promised, she placed Lawan on a white divan that formed part of an island of furniture in the center of the polished tile floor. Let this be the last I ever look at you, she thought, as she set the doll down.

With that done, she made for the exit. Perhaps she would sleep tonight. She might require a pill, but she would quit them soon.

An African American security guard had materialized at the front door of the hotel. Jane had not noticed him when she'd entered, but there was nothing particularly unusual about that: She had been focused on locating Khajee. The guard was at least six feet, three inches tall, and he had the build of an NFL linebacker. His head was shaved, and his exposed pate was shiny in the glow of the overhead fluorescent lights.

The guard's attentive stare made clear that he was waiting for Jane to approach. This did make her a little nervous. She didn't recall shouting at Khajee, or otherwise making a scene. But given her recent mental state, a misjudgment of her own behavior wouldn't be inconceivable. If the guard's intention was to gently reprimand her for accosting two hotel guests, then fine, so be it. She would endure the guard's spiel contritely, so that the situation wouldn't escalate and then become known at TRX. She had no idea how she might handle any of this should it become a TRX human resources matter.

When Jane was a few paces away from the door, the guard stepped forward. "Excuse me, ma'am," he said, but you left someone in the lobby."

The guard was referring to the doll, obviously. It was strange that he'd used the term ‘someone’ rather than ‘something’. Was he trying to be ironic?

"Oh," Jane replied, as nonchalantly as she could. "That doll belongs to the woman in the hotel lounge. The woman's name is Khajee Wongsuwon. She's a guest from Thailand. She'll pick it up once she's done with her meal and her drink."

The security guard slowly shook his head. "I don't think so, ma'am. That little girl's going to get lonely, if you leave her there like that. It isn't the right thing to do."

The guard swayed ever so slightly on his feet. He righted himself. Then he looked at Jane with fresh determination. "Please go back and get that little girl. Take her with you."

"What?" For a moment Jane thought that the guard might be intoxicated. Or this might be nothing more than a bored man who was taking a bit of circumstantial humor too far. In either case, he was effectively barring her way.

Jane was about to ask him to step aside, enough already, please, when the guard preempted her.

The hotel security guard looked directly into her eyes and spoke in a lilting, tonal language. Jane did not understand the words, of course, for Thai was incomprehensible to her, though she had on occasion been able to decipher it in dreams. But there was no mistaking the language: It was Thai, a language that almost no one learned outside the borders of Thailand.

"Go get the little girl," the guard repeated, in English now. "Take her home. You're her mommy, after all."

Jane was abruptly pushed into a daze. She stepped backward, turned around toward the divan. The guard smiled and nodded as she picked up Lawan and tucked the doll under her arm.

The security guard gave her a broad grin and stepped aside as she approached the exit this time. "You have a nice evening, ma'am!" he said.

On the way out, Jane was almost certain that she saw a diminutive figure standing there with the guard. A young girl, shadowy, there but not there, partly covered with the filth of her rice paddy grave.

Chapter 19 coming soon. Check back often!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Best two out of three for Brexit, with a celebrity override clause

Sore losers and sour grapes in the UK.

A leftwing Labour Party politician, David Lammy, has launched a poorly conceived and desperate effort to overturn the Brexit, claiming that a.) the results were too close, and b.) not enough people voted.

The results were roughly 52% to 48% in favor of the Brexit. That's a 4 percent margin. Many U.S. presidential elections have been determined by much thinner margins. 

And while voter turnout was significantly below one hundred percent in the UK referendum, that's the way it works in a democracy, where voting is voluntary. 

One of the benefits of living in a Western democracy is that you can freely choose to ignore politics, just as you can freely choose to ignore religion. Only dictatorships force their citizens to vote or pray. 

If a plurality of UK voters had agreed with Lammy (Lammy calls the Brexit "madness") they could have made their opinions known this past Thursday. They chose otherwise.

Now for the next piece of this: About 2 million people have signed an online petition to overturn the Brexit results. 

The online petition is a bit of fatuousness that is unique to the Internet Age. How difficult would it be to get 2 million Americans to sign an online petition to impeach or recall President Obama? Or to do the same to George W. Bush back in 2005? 

Online petitions are about as meaningful as informal, unscientific polling done by various media outlets about all sorts of matters. Which is to say, online petitions are not very meaningful.

If one doesn't like the results of an election or referendum that is anything but a total blowout, it is always possible to dream up new conditions on the fly. Lammy and his supporters want to impose a 60% requirement on a new Brexit vote.

Why not 70%, while we're at it? Or 80%? Why not declare that there will be no Brexit until J.K. Rowling (a vocal celebrity opponent of the Brexit) declares a change of heart on the referendum via her official Twitter account? 

Or perhaps we should make it best two out of three, with a 90% requirement imposed on the "leave" side. There should also be an option to overturn the Brexit if a plurality of British celebrities with more than 1 million Twitter followers issue negative Tweets about the Brexit.

Yes, that's what democracy needs to stop the "madness" (as Lammy calls it) of democracy: a celebrity Twitter override clause. 

This is an innovation that the American left can make use of in November, should Donald Trump win the general election with a 4 percent margin.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit and the Sky is Falling

Among the establishment types, globalist elites, and their allies, reactions to the results of the June 23rd Brexit referendum in Britain have been uniformly dire. You would think that Godzilla walked up the Thames, belched out a fireball, and smoked London. 

There have been widespread assertions that the Brexit was nothing more than xenophobic bigotry. There have also been prognostications of disaster for the UK, Europe…and possibly the entire world! Maybe even the whole universe, while we’re at it!

I’m exaggerating, but only a little. Even J.K. Rowling—the author of all those Harry Potter books—is getting in on the post-Brexit, anti-Brexit action. A noisily outspoken advocate of “remain” for months, Rowling has used her public media footprint and her social media accounts to shame to the “leave” faction and signal her own globalist virtues. 

Rowling declared her pride in being part of the 48% who voted for a continuation of the status quo—and then proceeded to compare “leave” voters to the villains in her children’s stories. And, of course, mini-Trumps.

Rowling is to be commended for her success as a children’s author; but nothing in her background makes her uniquely qualified to hold forth on political or economic matters. Where the Brexit is concerned, in other words, she’s just another citizen, another blokette. Her guess is no better than yours, and possibly it’s much worse: The “Voldemort argument” isn't exactly brilliant as rhetoric. And the “mini-Trump” charge is embarrassingly low-hanging fruit for people of a certain political persuasion.

The U.S. mainstream media, meanwhile, has engaged in slightly more subdued finger-wagging, predicting that Anglo-American relations will be strained in the wake of the Brexit. President Obama is in full crisis mode. (Prior to the referendum, he publicly scolded British voters, declaring that they should reject independence.) 

You would think, by all this melodrama, that Britain had just declared war on the Continent. And far too many people have been taught to conflate any assertion of national sovereignty with “bigotry” or “xenophobia”—on both sides of the Atlantic pond.

But these latter two words exist in a separate category for a reason. As an American, I have nothing against the good people of Poland or France—or Mexico— for that matter. That does not mean that I would like to see the U.S. merge politically and economically with any of these nations. 

Does that sentiment make me bigoted or xenophobic? Among some globalist extremists, it would.

The fact of the matter is that bigger is not always better where political bodies are concerned. We Americans have enough difficulty resolving differences among the states. And we come from a common culture and speak the same language—most of the time. 

I live on the Ohio side of the Ohio-Kentucky border. There are plenty of people on both sides of the Ohio River who will tell you that the land on the opposite bank is a different country, or should be. And that’s Ohio and Kentucky. Alabama and California practically are different countries. 

Europeans have spent centuries resisting political domination by a single administrative entity: the Roman Empire, the Catholic Church, Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, the USSR. Why all this sentimentality over the Beast of Brussels, and shaming for those who resist its expensive, meddling embrace?

We also see amid this fracas how self-declared progressives and liberals (the main advocates of “remain”) can be so, well…selectively reactionary. These are the people who have insisted, for roughly the past fifty years or so, that we should jettison our age-old institutions of Judeo-Christianity, and socially engineer new definitions for family and gender. But we mustn't tamper with a supranational political union that has existed in its current form for less than twenty-five years! If we do that, all hell will break loose, and we’ll probably deserve it.

The Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992 and implemented in 1993. The Euro was introduced only in 1999. If the Euro were a person, it would barely be old enough to drive, and it wouldn't be able to vote yet.

If my high school history classes served me well, Britain and the United Kingdom have been around since slightly before all that. Throughout many of those years—those centuries, rather—the country did quite well on its own. 

And don’t give me any of those but-this-is-the-era-of-globalization cliches. It’s always been the era of globalization. Ask the Gauls who were conquered by the ancient Romans. Ask the millions throughout the Mediterranean who were absorbed into the Hellenistic empire of Alexander the Great. Ask the Native Americans who were displaced by Europeans. 

Moreover, can we forget for a moment that an accident of geography has placed the British Isles off the coast of Europe? Would you insist that your daughter marry your neighbor’s son just because his parents happen to live next door? If you were going to pick a business partner, would your next-door neighbor be your automatic first choice? If we’re so darn global nowadays, then geography should not be the sole determinant of the countries you align yourself with.

There are plenty of countries—the United States, Canada, and Japan come immediately to mind—that have done quite well without membership in the EU. There is no reason to think that the UK can’t prosper without it as well. After all, the UK has prospered without he European Union in the past.

Far from seeing the Brexit as a British self-detonation or an expression of xenophobia, we should see the Brexit as an exercise of national self-determination. 

The UK gave the EU more than twenty years—about a generation. A substantial number of Britons didn't like the results; things didn't work out as promised and planned. 

Therefore, last week the country’s electorate voted in a national referendum to change course. 

That isn't bigotry or suicide; that’s democracy and self-determination in action.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

'Gate Time: a short tale of terror': the video

From my YouTube channel: a reading of my short story, 'Gate Time': This is a short story about a frequent business travel who sees ghosts in airports:

"Josh Gardner spent a lot of time in airports. That territory came with a job in software sales. As a sales rep for EntroSoft, Josh was responsible for three dozen corporate accounts in eleven states. Every week it was the same routine: airports and hotel rooms and rental cars. But EntroSoft’s commission structure was decent; and Josh preferred living out of a suitcase to being stuck in an office all day, like so many other working schmucks. It was still work—but work with a certain degree of freedom. 
Not that there was no monotony involved. Flying often meant hours stranded in an airport, waiting for a connecting flight. When the flights lined up poorly, a layover could last as long as three hours. 
The key to staying sane during a long layover was knowing how to entertain yourself. He had that problem solved. Airports were a great place for people-watching. Josh was in his early thirties and still single, so most of his people-watching involved people of the female persuasion. (And women always dressed to the nines when they flew.) But airports offered human novelties of every gender, age, and creed: foreigners babbling in incomprehensible languages, oddballs peddling flowers and handing out pamphlets, and so many businesspersons like himself. 
Josh was not shy about talking to strangers (how could you be, and survive in sales?); and he occasionally struck up a conversation with someone who might prove influential in the next deal, or even the next job. It could never hurt to pad your Rolodex. 
So Josh was not particularly taken aback when the man in the navy uniform spoke to him out of the blue.....