Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Le Petit Faux Pas

Mon Dieu! Quel horreur! Pommes frites avec le pate? Jamais!

Chef Kevin Thornton didn't earn his Michelin star because his cuisine was adequate. No indeed, that star means he is a master, in command of the kitchen and the restaurant that carries his name. So when a patron had the audacity to ask for a side of French fries, well, it got hotter in the kitchen and then the dining room caught fire.

Glenn Waldron wanted fries with his venison. I was once in a Parisian bistro when a nearby patron asked if his dinner came with "pom frits", and even I cringed. Some things don't go together, and every meal does not require fries to be complete. According to Mr. Waldron, he felt that his portion looked skimpy, and he needed potatoes to fill out the plate. If the tastes and flavors were contradictory or complimentary, it made no difference to the Dublin diner. He wanted fries.

No one tells a master chef how to compose a plate, not even a hungry eater, but Chef Thornton did what he could to comply with the request. Being a fancy restaurant, there were no bags of pre-cut fries in the freezer. Someone had to be put to the task of slicing spuds into a perfect julienne, and then soaking them in ice water before drying and deep fat frying. Not a speedy process, in the middle of the dinner rush, and the side of fries did not arrive until Mr. Waldron had finished his main course and was perusing the dessert menu.

Too late, he informed the waiter, and the fries were sent away. Chef himself returned with the fries and a few choice words for Mr. Waldron. In essence, the man who asked for fries was going to eat them and that was the end of the discussion. After a bit of a verbal kerfuffle, Mr. Waldron and his party were told to leave.

Mr. Waldron is upset over his shabby treatment, but anyone who asks for a special order of French fries in a Michelin restaurant deserves to be tossed out on his arse. French fries, indeed. Un cretin, n'cest pas, et tres gauche.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New Writers Conference

Having submitted to the Gettysburg Review, I am now on their mailing list. That would explain the brochure that came in the mail today. Rather have gotten an acceptance letter on my most recent submission, but that's how things run sometimes. Being of a charitable nature, I am posting the information in case someone has the financial means, time and desire to go.

As much as I would love to see Gettysburg, I can't make a week long conference at the beginning of June. That's orientation time at the universities and we've made other plans already.

Workshops will focus on revising, which is a skill any writer must master. Attendees will have a chance to talk to real writers and editors about writing and publishing. Who couldn't use some advice from someone who's been there and done that? Joan Connor is a professor of writing at Ohio University, the author of several short stories and a Pushcart Prize winner. Clint McCown is a novelist and short story writer who lectures at Virginia Commonwealth. And that's a wealth of information between the two of them, to be shared with a hungry group of fledgelings. Friday evening looks to be a fun time, with readings given by the students at the conference. It will be a productive weekend for those involved.

Besides the lack of time, I'm also suffering from a lack of cash. The conference itself runs $585, with room and board adding an additional $335.

Like the rest of the poor starving artists, I'll have to continue my home schooling, which is not as efficient, but quite affordable.

The Irish Soprano

The HBO series had a long and successful run, and The Sopranos is selling well on DVD. Companies live for that, when they make money on the first go round and then make more on the spin-off products. The stars of the show became household names, the series was the talk of the water cooler meetings, and the re-runs, cleaned up for television, are as popular as ever.

What better idea than to copy what has been successful? How many DaVinci Code-like clones appeared after the success of Dan Brown's book? Even James Cameron is looking to make a buck off a tie-in, in spite of scholars telling him that his Discovery Channel documentary is a cod. But let's get back to the Irish.

Hot on the heels of an Oscar win for a movie about Irish mobsters, NBC unleashed their own Irish-scented opus. Titled The Black Donnellys, the show is nothing more than the Sopranos a-wearin' of the green. There could have been so much more done, with so many channels left unexplored.

Take the title. We all know about the black Irish, those who are said to be descended from men who survived the sinking of the Spanish Armada. Laugh if you like, but there's been genetic evidence of a Spanish link in some Irish people. The olive skin tones and dark brown eyes had to come from somewhere. In Chicago, the black Irish are also those of African-American origin who happen to have Gaelic surnames. Hence, LeKeisha Moore or DeJuan Riordan would, behind their backs of course, be identified as black Irish. So why not have some black character named Donnelley in the television program? A bit of racial diversity goes a long way in building a bigger audience.

And let's do away with the stereotypes. For the love of Christ, the four brothers in the NBC show own a feckin' bar. Look how well Dion O'Bannion did with his flower shop...until he ran afoul of Al Capone, the Italian mobster who drove the Irish mobsters out of town. Couldn't the Donnelleys own a butcher shop? Or be plumbers? Although, as a descendant of Irish cattle dealers, I'm partial to the meat cutters myself.

Having watched bits of the pilot last night, during commercial breaks in the basketball game, I don't think this show has legs, in spite of the esteemed Paul Haggis and his literary skills. One of the great appeals of Italian mobster shows is the fact that, no matter how ruthless the thug, he will take the time every day to call his mother. It's all about family, the almighty family, that is run by the women who let the men think they're in charge. As for the Irishman, he's off drinking with the lads, oblivious to his family, and after being inculcated by the priests and nuns, he's afraid of having sex and touching girls, and that makes for dull television viewing.

Maybe Mr. Haggis will include some Riverdance-type numbers in his show to sex it up a bit. Still, set dancing is nowhere near as sexually charged as the tarantella, which is arousal set to music. And you can't argue that Italian food is so far above a plate of boiled bacon and cabbage that scenes of a family gathered around the table for a meal just won't attract a wide audience.

The pilot is scheduled for a repeat somewhere down the line, with a couple of episodes lined up for airing. There might be more, if the ratings come through, or this could just be one of those shows that are put on for the sake of losing money, to ease pressure on the bottom line and reduce the tax load. The accountants are the ones who live for that.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Is It Live Or Is It Memorex?

Joyce Hatto was celebrated as a brilliant pianist in her day. After her death this past June, an enormous compilation of her recordings was put out for her fans. There were CDs that no one knew had existed earlier, as if some stash of undiscovered music had been found behind the old box of corn starch up there at the top of the press, all the way back tucked in a corner.

Ms. Hatto had been ill for years before she passed away, and had not performed in concert since the 1970's. Labelled by the Guardian as one of Britain's greatest pianists, the release of so much unknown recordings, brilliant pieces, turned her into an even bigger star after her death. Up in the heavens, outshining the moon, her legacy burned bright, her name listed among the greats of piano players for all time.

Or so one might think. Apple's iTunes blew the whole thing away.

The Liszt CD that iTunes credited to Laszlo Simon was said to be a recording by Ms. Hatto, but who figured that one out is left to the music accredidation police. Gramophone magazine got involved, and they claimed that 119 CDs that were supposedly made by Ms. Hatto were identical to CDs made by other pianists. To further examine the recordings, Pristine Audio carried out some technical tests and concluded that iTunes had it right, the Liszt piece was a Laszlo Simon performance. And there was another by Philip Martin, identical to one labelled a Hatto finger plonking. There were many more, famous artists and obscure artists, all identical to the recordings purported to be newly discovered Joyce Hatto performances.

BBC Radio played Beethoven's Sonata in E, Opus 109 on Saturday. On one channel, they ran the Hatto CD, and played Irish pianist John O'Conor's recording on the other channel. The two CDs were completely identical. Granted, they were playing the same notes, but each pianist brings their own interpretation of the music. If they were different CDs, there would be some slight differences in timing, in emphasis, but there was none.

Ms. Hatto's husband, William Barrington-Coupe, runs the independent label that put out the posthumous CD collection. Needless to say, he has pulled all of her recordings. Also needless to say is that Mr. Barrington-Coupe is standing over his claim that the late Joyce Hatto was one of Britain's greatest pianists.

Perhaps she was one of the best, but her once stellar legacy is now tarnished by a well-meaning husband who wanted to promote his dear wife's accomplishments and unmatched skills after her death. That, truly, is a grand gesture of love.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Waterford Dictionary

At his age, Vincent O'Toole did not need such a shock. He's 80 years of age, a hotel keeper in Waterford city, and in his former occupation of master mariner he must have come across a brothel or two. If what they say about sailors is true, of course.

Imagine arriving at that ripe old age, comfortably semi-retired, minding your own business, and then it all crashes down. Out of the blue, a guest arrives late at night, you let him in because that's how you run your hotel, quite friendly-like, and the next thing you know, the guest is asking about the girls. Not once, mind, but over and over again. Men arriving at all hours, ringing the bell, waking up the house, looking for a room and a paid companion.

On the web, and reported in the Sunday World, was a website that supposedly was a Waterford-English dictionary. All in fun, of course, as the people of Waterford are perfectly capable of communicating clearly. What came through loud and clear from the item lifted from the website and cited in the article was the definition of The Maryland, which happens to be the name of Mr. O'Toole's hotel. According to the website, and explained in the newspaper, that is reputed to be a local term for a brothel, taken from an "infamous hotel in the red light district of Waterford city."

Despite the fact that men were calling at all hours, counsel for the defense tried to argue that a reasonable person would see that the article was a spoof, perhaps in poor taste, but not to be taken seriously. However, there were those who did indeed take it seriously, and Mr. O'Toole was repeatedly calling the Garda to roust the randy rascals.

Mr. O'Toole was awarded 50,000 euro in court, with a jury of his peers agreeing that he had been libelled. The gentleman is absolutely not a brothel-keeper, as was implied by the article, and anyone reporting on such nonsense had best check the facts. It isn't much of an award, and the Sunday World did issue an apology, but Mr. O'Toole has been vindicated.

Anyone looking for the location of the red light district in Waterford city would be wise to double check the results of a Google search. What was on the website is now in print, a vanity publication, and anything self-published must be regarded with a great deal of scepticism.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Coca-Cola With a Side of Jihad

Should you find yourself hot and thirsty in Tehran, you'll have no trouble locating your favorite soft drink. Both Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola are shipped into Iran, in spite of the American ban on dealing with the most dangerous gang of crackpots in the world today.

Why pass up the opportunity to make more money, when all those Iranians are happy to slurp down a bottle or two? In 2006, it's estimated that the average Persian consumed 95 bottles of pop, and they'll chug down as many as 120 each this year. It's addictive, that lovely caffeine and sugar buzz. We're talking of a billion dollars or so, give or take, in sales, and aren't the stockholders happy when they look over the annual report.

What? How? you may blubber, shocked by the news. It's all so simple, really, and Dick Detwiler assures us that it is all legal. He's the senior vice president for public affairs at PepsiCo International, so he knows what he's talking about. Pepsi has been shipping to Iran since 2002, he says, and he's very up front and open about the trade.

Charles Sutlive, senior communications executive of Coca-Cola, has been a bit more cagey about Coca-Cola's activities. A bit of an embarrassment, to be found out. Rah, rah, patriotism, and all that, and what's more American than Coca-Cola? Turning a profit, corporate greed, that's far more American.

The soft drink concentrate that is shipped to Iran for bottling as Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola is manufactured in Ireland. There's no embargo in Ireland, so the giant soft drink companies can legally sell their goods in a country that would love nothing better than to wipe out Western civilization, and Israel along with it. No matter that Coke has its headquarters in Atlanta, which just happens to be in the US. It's their Irish arm doing the selling, and the American arm accepts the money without flinching.

The hard core anti-American contingent in Iran rails against the American beverages, which only helps to boost sales. It's the drink of the young, hip and trendy Iranian. Maybe it's not such a bad thing after all, this loophole in the embargo. Any chance to poke the mullahs with a sharp stick, or a frosty cold Pepsi, and you've got to enjoy their pain.

How To Cheat Uncle Sam

Most computer owners have some piece of SanDisk equipment. I'm fond of their jump drives, those miniature sticks that have the storage capacity to hold all of my manuscripts, novels and short stories and the cover letters that go with them. The popularity of their product line helps to explain their profitability, but there's more than one way to pocket a dollar these days.

With only eight workers in their Dublin office, SanDisk had revenues of nearly one billion dollars. Their profits came in at around $106 million, and that is a lot of money. So you'd guess that they must have paid handsomely into the coffers of the US Treasury. Ah, but you'd be wrong.

The money that SanDisk made on their technology products, manufactured on the cheap in Asia, was then shuttled to its Irish holding company. One might guess that the eight people employed in Dublin were all accountants, tallying and counting and toting up lists of figures. It only cost SanDisk about half a million to set up the office, so it's a good deal all around for the corporation. This relatively inexpensive shell company allows SanDisk to account for their Asian manufacturing expenses and income in a tax friendly foreign country, so that the profits are well out of the reach of the IRS. All quite legal, of course.

Not that SanDisk is the only major corporation to set up a holding company in Ireland to dodge taxes. Microsoft and Google are doing it too, avoiding their responsibilities at home and paying taxes at the Irish rate of 12.5%. Set up shop in America, manufacture goods in China, make a lot of money, and pretend the money was made elsewhere to cheat Uncle Sam. Sort of like the free-loading cousin who turns up for a visit every Sunday at dinner time, gorges on the ham, but never brings a bottle of wine or an iced cake. And you know he's a millionaire. And you're struggling to meet your bills.

Nice to think that every time I open a Window or save to the jump drive, I'm helping to fund my friend Margaret's pension. I'd much prefer to be funding maintenance at the National Parks, but the big multinational corporations that had their start in America don't care much about the country. Taxes...that's for us little nobodies to be saddled with.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Flight of the Earls

Four hundred years ago, Hugh O'Neill and his clan left Donegal and his departure reverberated through history. It was the end of the rule of the Gaelic chieftains in the north of Ireland, which opened the doors for the Protestants from England who settled in Ulster and brought English law with them.

The departure of the ruling class marked the beginning of English domination of Ireland, and a sad history it is. The O'Neill and O'Donnell clans fled to Spain, a Catholic country, to make a new life, and so began the great wave of emigration that spread the Irish all across the globe.

You can read all about it the official website that has been set up as part of the big commemoration festivities. There's said to be millions of Americans who claim Irish ancestry, famous politicians like Ted Kennedy or movie actors like Martin Sheen. Read up on the Flight of the Earls, and you'll know who to thank that they're here....or who to blame.

Tracing a Leak

Mick McCaffrey was arrested yesterday. He is a journalist with the Sunday Tribune, but his troubles began with his previous employment, at the Evening Herald.

A member of An Garda Siochana, a detective sergeant who has not yet been named, was also arrested.

The Garda isn't saying much about their employee, but the National Union of Journalists is in an uproar. It's a matter of leaks, and who said what to whom and who dared to write the story.

Ten years ago, two psychiatric patients were murdered in their beds, and a junkie somehow confessed to the crime. As it turned out, he did not commit the murder, nor could he have, and the Commission of Investigation did their investigating to find out how the Garda could have gotten it so wrong and sent an innocent man to prison.

As it is against the law to reveal the contents of a draft report before the report is published officially, Mr. McCaffrey is in a boatload of trouble. As the one who put the story out there last August in the Evening Herald, he's the one facing jail time. The Garda sergeant is only in trouble for leaking the story, apparently, although no one has said anything on the record. It does seem to follow quite nicely with the overall scheme, however, as why else would an officer of the law be hauled into the Blackrock Garda Station?

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell is notorious for spilling the random drop from the secrets jar, and Sunday Tribune editor Noreen Hegarty is pointing a finger at himself, suggesting that the Big Leaker shouldn't be prosecuting a journalist when he's used them to his advantage. She finds it ironic, but there's another term that might better suit.

The idea of running down the messenger and throwing him in jail, blaming him for the bad news, smacks of cynical self-interest. It was the Garda sergeant who provided the fodder for the news article, and he's the one who should pay the price for slipping a copy of the report out of headquarters. Mick McCaffrey isn't the one who coerced a homeless junkie into a false confession. But heaven forbid that the people of Ireland find out something negative about the guards, that they should be made to harbor a doubt about the integrity of the force.

Freedom of the press, but not too much freedom if you please.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Chief

Tonight, all eyes will be on the University of Illinois, where the team mascot will dance for one last time. Chief Illiniwek is being put out to pasture, a politically incorrect emblem that could never hope to gain the approval of those he was said to honor. Unlike the Seminole Nation, still going strong and in a position to bless the mascot of Florida State University, the last of the Illini perished many, many years ago at Utica, on the banks of the Illinois River.

The chief's regalia was more Lakota than Illini, but again, when there's no one around to run the costume by, one must be imaginative and make a best guess. No matter any more, because the buckskins and the head dress will not be seen at half time after tonight.

The university claims to be full up for tonight's basketball game/ last dance, leaving this epic event to the pens of sports writers instead of proper news people. After all the controversy over the chief, news directors all over Illinois are frothing, growing ever more incensed at the inability to wrangle an extra ticket for the 10 o'clock anchor and his live remote broadcast. They can rant and rave all they like, but there are only so many tickets and so much square footage, and the university does not really want a holy show made of the dance.

The University of Illinois will always be the Fighting Illini, because the state was named for the people who lived here once, before the Pottawatomie pushed them out. The dancing Illiniwek is out, cast aside as an insult to Native Americans. So Greek Americans are all happy as can be with the Spartans, is that it? And don't get me started on the feckin' leprechaun and the Fighting Irish. We're lovers, I'm telling you, not fighters, and doesn't that make the whole Notre Dame business as politically incorrect as can be? If there'd be any money in it for me, I'd sue. Ah sure and how could anyone sue the good Fathers of the Congregation of Holy Cross?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

With Thanks From Boeing

The European Union wants very much to make Airbus the top provider of airplanes all over the world. Thus far, they have done so much to help Boeing that it's high time the American manufacturer sent them flowers or chocolates or a certificate for the Beer of the Month Club.

Right now, Airbus is in desperate need of restructuring. There are technical problems with the newest aircraft, and workers must be laid off while the engineers iron out the kinks. Whose workers are going to be laid off, now?

All for one and one for all, the member nations demand that lay-offs be spread out equally. Let one hundred go in Germany, and France must also see one hundred people out of work. Same goes for every other nation that hosts an Airbus manufacturing facility. No matter that most of the lay-offs would most logically fall on one or two plants. This is an EU operation, after all, and it's management by committee.

Christian Streiff used to run operations, or at least he tried his best. For one hundred days he fought the EU Aeronautic Defense and Space Board, struggling to wrangle some bit of control over the place. That's what bosses do, at least here in America, they run things and direct things. He quit when it was clear that he was not actually in charge of anything.

Louis Gallois was tapped to lead, and now he's in the same predicament as his predecessor. He came up with solutions that were as balanced as he could make them, but business is not all so neat and tidy that it was perfectly, completely and totally equitable. Germany, Great Britain and France are determined to preserve jobs in their countries, and so, there is absolutely no solution that Mr. Gallois could ever propose that would make them happy and let him got on with his job.

So where will Airbus build its hot new product, the A350 XWB jet? Which employees will be let go, where will the outsourcing go to save on expenses, where will cuts be made to reduce procurement costs? To become the hottest plane builder ever, Airbus has to be competitive price wise, but the member nations of the EU won't let it happen.

Governments are not suited to running a business, because the government mandate is antithetical to the business mandate. While Mr. Gallois treads water, and the major players feud over his recommendations, Boeing moves along as a purely commercial entity, beholden only to its shareholders. Boeing sells airplanes, locks in orders for future delivery, and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company flounders. No planes, no orders, but a great deal of hot air expelled.

The men and women of Boeing thank you, EU, for their continued success.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Need For Speed (Reading)

We went to the Auto Show this past weekend, to look at cars. It sounds mad, doesn't it? Walk for miles, weave through the crowds, and just to look at every car that is now available, or may never be if you're examining a hybrid prototype. And you can sit behind the wheel of some of them and pretend you're driving. Brilliant marketing strategy.

Granted, it was largely a testosterone fueled herd that milled about, but there were plenty of females examining the goods. If you're in the market for a new car, whether it's the family taxi or something that fits in the most minuscule of city parking spots, there's no better place to see the full range of every manufacturer. Beats going from dealership to dealership, and it's more organized that the average car lot.

Harlequin was sorely missed at the auto show. What were they thinking, or rather, how did they not think of it? A new line is about to be released, the same old love sopped soap operas, but now, with a NASCAR theme. The Army was there this weekend, pushing their product line (over an hour wait just to sit in the tank), so why not a booth near the Bridgestone Tire display, featuring the new books?

Not all the NASCAR lovers were at the Daytona 500 over the weekend, and surely Harlequin could afford to send one or two reps with a crate of books. Hand out book markers, let the ladies know about the new car-oriented theme that will soon arrive in a Wal-Mart near you. Publicity is everything in marketing.

The tie-in is a natural, especially if Harlequin is trying to appeal to their readers by giving them stories that they can relate to. Make that male protagonist a NASCAR driver and she can almost imagine her significant other as a more desirable suitor. After all, he's doubtless imagining himself as a race car driver as it is, so for the female reader, it's not a stretch to go from her everyday humdrum existence to the oil-soaked pits of the track. It's been a difficult exercise in imagination to picture the dolt as a Regency lord of the manor. At least a NASCAR driver probably looks a bit like the man of the house.

The basic plots are the same from one Harlequin romance to the next, usually involving the boy meets girl, loses girl, gets girl spin. Literary agents are looking for fresh, new takes on the old line, and by setting the tale in a different place, the author has a chance at publication. After all, there's only so many paranormal vampire love stories that are going to be bought before the genre crashes and burns.

Romance authors, start your engines.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Hungry, Hungry Minnow

Hard to resist a good bargain, even after you've spent your last dime. Not satisfied with his acquisition of education materials publisher Houghton Mifflin, Barry O'Callaghan is salivating over big, juicy Harcourt Education. This tasty dish may be up for sale, with parent Reed Elsevier looking to unload its educational publishing group.

Mr. O'Callaghan has gone back to his financiers and is said to be asking around in search of new blood, in an attempt to scrape together 880 million euro, on top of his already bloated loan in excess of 3 billion euro. But Harcourt is just too delicious to pass up, no matter how full his debt belly may be.

Financially, it looks like a long stretch to pick up Reed Elsevier's offer, so soon after finishing up the Houghton Mifflin deal, but they are unloading Harcourt Education for the same reason as Houghton Mifflin went on the block. The world is going electronic, and Harcourt is a dusty old paper publisher. No wonder then that Mr. O'Callaghan sees it as a perfect fit, quite in line with the Houghton Mifflin acquisition.

All well and good, the potential synergies and increased ability to control the educational materials market (and thus the ability to charge a bit more for the product), but there is only so much debt that a bank will swallow before it pushes away from the table. Add to that the recent defection of Ernst & Young as auditors, due to some unpleasant "incorrect representations", and suddenly the dessert menu is not so appealing anymore.

This one may not go as smoothly as the Riverdeep buyout of Houghton Mifflin, if a deal can be done at all. The savvy investors are going to hang back and see if the monolithic HM Riverdeep can perform as advertised before they kick in for more. A new acquisition adds to the risk, and there is a limit to the chances that financiers are willing to take, given the potential return on investment.

It's up to Barry O'Callaghan to do some powerful convincing. Hasn't he been seen recently, up at that old castle? With his lips firmly pressed to the Blarney Stone?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Child Support

Some experts say that a parent should give their child an allowance, to teach the wee ones about proper money management. That leads to the next problem, how much should a caring parent give?

Would 50,000 euro be too much? For an adult child, of course, not some toddler. And what if Da thinks that's a bit much? A strapping lad of thirty would find a way to convince the aul' one. Pity that the Garda got in the way.

No names have been released, but the Da in question is a Dublin business owner who formerly resided in Belfast. While news reports don't provide details, we can assume that Sonny went to his father and asked for a loan...or maybe a gift. Figuring Da had plenty of cash, what with the business and all, so why not get some of the inheritance now, when it's of more use. A savvy entrepreneur would never go along with that particular line, especially with its suggestion of demise and a reading of a will. Unpleasant to think of, and sure Da sent the boy packing.

What next? Stage a kidnapping, of course. Brilliant! All Sonny needed was a couple of snaps, and his friends were handy with the camera. Send that off to the recalcitrant father, that photo of the beloved son with a gun pointed at his head. And better yet, have the girlfriend deliver the ransom note with the threat of imminent murder. Out of love and a touch of fear, that 50,000 euro would soon be in hand.

Da just wouldn't follow the script. He called to the Garda station in Tallaght and told them all about his son's kidnapping, about the threat to kill the boy if money was not given to the girlfriend to be delivered to the criminals. A quick check of the computer and the gardai learned that Sonny was a known drug dealer and addict. These aren't exactly the Keystone Kops that we're dealing with here. They figured something odd was afoot, and they set up a sting operation.

In come gardai from Drogheda, where the son and his girlfriend live, followed by the National Surveillance Unit and Emergency Response Unit. They worked with Da, set up a drop-off for 11:30 Wednesday night, and then waited. Sure enough, the so-called kidnappers showed up, the officers swarmed in, and promptly arrested Sonny, his friend and his girlfriend. Leaving Da 50,000 euro to the good. A job well done, lads.

The money-starved trio is expected to be charged today, and can't you just imagine what Sonny must be thinking? Christ Almighty, if you can't trust your own father to follow some simple instructions...

Is He Running For Taoiseach As Well?

Either that, or Barack Obama is thinking of getting a seat at Stormont. Will he run under the Sinn Fein banner? Don't think the DUP would have him, what with his skin color and his heritage and all.
The determined optimism of the Irish people has enabled them to grab hold of hope in the United States, from south Boston to the south side of Chicago. It's an optimism expressed in three issues so important to Irish-Americans today: a lasting peace in Northern Ireland, an American immigration policy that keeps faith with our tradition of offering opportunity to those who seek it, and strong economic and cultural ties between our two nations. As I chair the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Europe, and as I travel around the country learning from and listening to the American people, I will be advancing ideas and policies to meet these goals.

Lovely sentiments, I'm tearing up, but this quote is lifted from the Irish feckin' Times. It's published in Dublin, and that's the city in Ireland, not the one in Ohio. Do you think anyone abroad really cares about your campaign promises? Sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but there's an election coming up in Ireland as well, with Fine Gael and Fianna Fail and the Progressive Democrats slinging mud. To say nothing of the election up in the north, where the DUP is splintering on the whole devolution issue. There's Continuity IRA against the Provies, the SDLP trying to get some attention, and the little Alliance Party hanging on by their fingernails. It's a bit much, isn't it, to have American politics flogged as well?
The gains of the last decade were in part made possible by US engagement. Going forward, we should continue the practice of having a special envoy for Northern Ireland, and our president should personally engage where America can play a constructive role, working closely with the Taoiseach, the British prime minister, and party leaders in Northern Ireland.

Ah Christ, will you leave off? Do you have any idea what's been happening in the Six Counties for the past hundred years? You think the Irish want a lasting peace? A republican in Ireland is not the same as the one in America, lad, and it isn't peace that they're after.
To seize this hopeful moment, the Democratic Unionist Party should take the next step outlined in the St Andrew's agreement: a commitment to a power sharing executive after March elections, so Northern Ireland can continue the process of peace that its people so clearly wish to follow.

How about getting England out of Ireland completely? Got a position on that one?

Oh for feck's sake, he's after quoting John F. Kennedy. Ah sure he was that Irish-American fella that came through in the early sixties, and now Barack thinks he'd be pleased to see Ireland lifting up other lands, "...from east Africa to east Asia." I know he's not Catholic, so how would he know about the Irish priests and nuns who went to lift up other lands, before JFK was even born. Obama is one of those brilliant speakers who puts words together so they sound pretty, but if you look at the content, he knows fuck-all.

What about the thousands of illegal Irish in America? Why, your man is reaching across the aisle to bring about a guest worker program. You've heard of that program; it's the one that President Bush proposed. But there's Obama, the savior of the immigrant, the man who understands the plight of the Irish in America. Why, he's the son of a Kenyan immigrant...who was here legally. And his mother was an American. Maybe he's good at using his imagination to feel the pain.
I welcome this opportunity to be a part of that story, and look forward to hearing your concerns in the months ahead.

You want to be President, so? And you think you can spew this 'sensitive man' shite in Ireland and everyone's granny will ring them up and tell them to vote for the nice young man? And I'll be sure to let my friend Margaret know you'd like to hear her concerns. She's upset about all the black faces that she sees in Dublin. Care to address that?

All that sickly sweet prose...I think I need a shot of insulin.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Tide Is Turning

It seems like only yesterday that the publishing world was in an uproar, when Riverdeep swallowed that mighty whale Houghton Mifflin. All the players in the drama were happy, content, and a new educational publishing company was ready to arrive on the scene and make it big.

Ernst & Young, well-known accounting firm, has just quit as Riverdeep's auditor. citing "incorrect representations" made to them about a contract between Encore and its parent Riverdeep. They have been Riverdeep's accountants for many years, yet one has to wonder what could be going on to alarm the bean counters, and this after Barry O'Callaghan put the financial package together. Remarkable that he could scrape up $4.15 billion for his pet project. Frightening that $3.14 million of that is debt financing through Credite Suisse and Citigroup.

Never fear, investors, because Mr. O'Callaghan has his hand on the tiller and the vast ship of HM Riverdeep is on course. There will be a slight adjustment to Riverdeep's accounts for the first three quarters of 2006, but that's the time before the merger took place, so don't be alarmed. Riverdeep will simply re-state its earnings from $86.2 million down to $84.6 million, all the principal players in the deal have been informed and this will have no bearing on the enlarged company.

According to the contract, Encore guaranteed revenues for the first couple of years, but there was no such guarantee for 2006. Unfortunately, whoever did the books failed to report actual sales and went with the former revenue guarantee, which had the effect of padding the bottom line. Mr. O'Callaghan described it as an isolated incident. After the slow and painful death of accounting heavyweight Arthur Andersen, one can understand why Ernst & Young would exercise an overabundance of caution, isolated incident or not.

Ernst & Young has let it be known that they were not interested in the accounting contract for the merged company, and never had been seeking the job when the merger was being put together. Businesses exist to make money, yet Ernst & Young was not interested in the HM Riverdeep business. Odd how it reminds one of rats being the first to leave a sinking ship, with their exodus serving as a warning to those on board.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dear St. Valentine

If you happen to run into Cupid, will you send him to New York City? And then could you point out the literary agents that he's to prick with his arrows? For St. Valentine's Day this year, I'd like an agent or two to fall in love with my manuscript.

Roses and chocolates are fine, but these agents are hard to please. They only seem to really care about words and sentences that are put together in such an order as to earn them a great deal of money. So many of them have told me that they have to love something to sell it, and get themselves a bit of cash, and that's where you and Cupid come in.

I've not heard of a novena to St. Valentine, except for that Dorothy Parker prayer. You've heard it, surely? Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker. The problem is, these agents won't accept candy or liquor. They want double-spaced pages, numbered consecutively, covered with words that make their heart flutter.

For this year's day of love, that's all I'm asking of you, St. Valentine. I've done my bit, with a pile of queries sent out with the requested sample pages. Now if you could see your way to touching the heart of the literary agent of my dreams...Amen.

Don't Mess With The Mouse

After weeks spent slaving away, all the gay-lesbian-transgendered-asexual -bisexual-did-I-miss-anyone-it's-a-long-list-I-know of NUI Galway are devastated. Gutted, even. No, it's not because Martin Sheen has finished his course and is going back to sunny, warm Los Angeles.

Blame it on the mouse. The legal suits at Walt Disney Corp. have pulled the plug on the gay-lesbian-transgendered-asexual-crossdressing-sure-that-covers-all-the-permutations theatre group that was fully prepared to do their own unique version of the Whoopi Goldberg vehicle, Sister Act. According to reports, this play that will not now be seen was loosely based on the movie, and we are all left to use our imaginations to guess how loose the adaptation would have been. Whatever might have been planned, those in charge presumed that Walt would not have been pleased, and so, the lawyers fired off a letter or two, threatened a bit of legal action, and the show will not go on.

Produced by Jeff Rockett, the play was scheduled to open in two days time. Sets were constructed, tickets sold, posters printed, the lot. Six months of writing and rehearsing, only to be told that the group would be infringing on Disney's intellectual property rights. Poor Mr. Rockett doesn't understand how the giant corporation could do such a thing, to put a stop to the play.

"They are simply in disbelief," he said about the cast and the crew. "Something that they have poured their hearts and souls into has been destroyed..." by the same company that gave them Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck when they were wee little babes.

All they wanted to do was promote acceptance and support for the gay-bisexual-transgendered-lesbian-celibate-and-if-I-missed-your-particular-sexual-orientation-I'm-sorry community in Galway, and Disney was upset. The Big Mouse is in a tizzy and Mr. Rockett is dumbfounded.

Sure it's understandable. if you've ever been to one of the theme parks and seen all those gay dancers and costumed characters employed by Disney, you'd think the company was quite open-minded. But it's not the mind at issue, you see, it's the bottom line. The bottom line, where all the traditional Ma and Da families deposit their hard-earned dollars for that magical trip to Disneyland, accompanied by their children who were created in the old-fashioned way...and no one messes with that.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

It Wasn't Me

The blame shifting game is in full swing once again. George Tenet, of CIA fame, is back on the scene with his own version of that popular kid's game. "Wasn't me" he will say, "it was him", and with so many in the family, it will be hard to tell who Mr. Tenet is shifting the blame to, exactly. As long as it's deflected, however, he comes out a winner.

HarperCollins is patiently waiting for Tenet to finish writing his tell-all memoir masterpiece, as the author has missed his initial deadline. The publisher wants to time the release so that they achieve maximum sales, and with Presidential candidates lining up to run, now is the time. Can't you type a little faster, George? The book must hit the shops just in time for an appearance on 60 Minutes, that cutting edge news show that is all the rage at the nursing homes.

Tina Andreadis of HC isn't talking about the book's content, but the word on the street is that Mr. Tenet is going to lay out his entire CIA career, and then cover his arse about Al Qaeda and 9/11 and Afghanistan, etc., etc. Chances are good that he won't trash George Bush, with whom he is said to have a good relationship. The long knives are out for Condie Rice and Dick Cheney, the people who threw Mr. Tenet under the bus when the time came to blame someone for faulty intelligence. There'll be a gripping narrative, Saddam Hussein, and a cast of other current events to fill the pages. The problem is, the book is going to come out a little late, considering.

There have been reams of paper used to publish books about the run-up to the war, countless pages that skewered the CIA and its director. Like any historical figure, Mr. Tenet would like to get his spin out there, to create his own personal history, but it may not jive with already published works. Even the 9/11 Commission is raising a collective eyebrow over some of Mr. Tenet's assertions, as they do not quite follow what he told them during their investigation.

The bottom line on all this is simple. Books, written words, live on into the future. What is written now will be used by researchers hundreds of years from now as they put together the history books. Hoping to be fondly recalled, George Tenet is putting out his story, but it will be filtered through time. Can't write history in the present, that's the problem. The history gets written long after the fact, and those who created the history don't get much input on how it finally gets told.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Unexpected Information

I googled "sock yarn" because I was trying to find a good source for Lorna's Laces, a hand painted yarn that knits up into some wildly colorful socks. You see, when I'm in a bind and can't come up with the next sentence or the paragraph that ties point A to point B, I like to knit socks. It's fairly mindless, knitting in the round, row after row until the heel gets turned, and even that's a simple mathematical construct.

How shocked was I to find a link to Making Light, Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog that normally covers all things publishing. She edits books, sci-fi, for Tor books, and I'd consider her to be quite knowledgeable in her field. But knitting?

Read the post if you're interested in the problems that a female-owned yarn co-op had when they started up a sock knitting club and the bank thought they were setting up a scam. Generated a big heap of outrage in the knitting world, all those twenty- and thirty-somethings who have hopped onto the latest trend and become addicted to the craft.

Anyway, for now I'm out of yarn but my head is full of words that need to be set down on paper before they get lost on the way out.

I Was Only Joking, My Dear

Non-fiction is an easier sell, so why would anyone try to get fiction published? That being the case, it makes a world of sense for Jay Forman to position an article as reality when in fact the whole thing existed solely in his head.

A couple of grad students at Columbia University broke the story, proving that a 2001 article that Mr. Forman had written for Slate was a complete fabrication. He said it was true, about a trip to Lois Key, and fishing for monkeys. But it wasn't. Hard to believe, isn't it, that someone would believe such a nonsense, but there were those in charge of Slate who did indeed think Mr. Forman had been after the big fish...or would that be monkey?

Must be a bit of an embarrassment for Jack Shafer, who was the editor at the time. He's since moved up the ladder, to editor-at-large and columnist, but the higher ups must be questioning his judgment, and now, his abilities. Not only did Mr. Forman fudge the original article, he maintained his innocence when confronted, and it took a pair of Columbia journalism students to wring a confession out of the man. He said he was "troubled", or perhaps more likely, desperate to get a publication credit in a prestigious venue such as Slate. Aren't we all just as troubled, then?

One might reasonably surmise that the idea of fishing for monkeys is rather far-fetched and not exactly possible. Yet Mr. Shafer did not seem to question his author too heavily, and he no doubt was so pressed for time that he could not possibly do the legwork to investigate the whole monkey fishing notion. And so, he was burned badly by someone he needed to trust.

Will Mr. Forman suffer the pains of Hell and damnation for his slick bit of business? He'll certainly not be working as an investigative journalist anytime soon, but if he chooses to write short stories or other fictions, he's got himself a brilliant credential. Fiction so well-crafted that a savvy editor fell for the ruse...hook, line, sinker, and monkey.

Coming Soon

Let's look at the newest list of debut fiction, shall we?

First up, we can expect Sam Michel's first novel. Yes, he has already been published, a collection of short stories. What else, you ask, as you prepare to write a collection of short stories so that you, too, can be a published author. He's taught creative writing, making good use of his MFA. Let's skip him and move on to someone we might have a better chance of emulating.

A novel from a former New York Post columnist, I see. And it's a book about the Hamptons, written by someone who has undoubtedly spent time in the Hamptons, and witnessed all the hot tub hookups, hangovers, etc., etc. And who gives a flying fuck about the Hamptons when you're not living in NYC? Moving along...

I see that Jennie Nash has a novel in the pipeline. She wrote a book about her travails with breast cancer. Technically, her novel is her debut in the fiction world, but realistically, she is already a published author with a big, fat publishing cred. Next?

There's a guy who's a member of a creative writing troupe that teaches creative writing classes, and now he's getting a novel published. There's a woman who pens inspirational columns and she's got an inspirational novel coming out, published by a Christian-leaning press.

I'd say it's hopeless for the unpublished. I have twenty short story submissions out there, and I'm going to get me a publishing credit one way or another. And when I have enough for a collection, I'll be right behind Sam Michel in the debut novel queue.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Springfield Springboard

All eyes turn to Springfield, Illinois, a sleepy backwater sort of town when compared to Chicago. Near the steps of the old State Capitol building, Senator Barack Obama will try very hard to get everyone to see him as the next Abraham Lincoln. Just look at all the analogies.

Like Father Abraham, Barack served in the state legislature. Of course, that august body is not what is was in Lincoln's day, when the two party system was in effect. Nowadays, we have what columnist John Kass calls the "Combine", a machine that rakes in cash for the benefit of its members. Robert Kjellander is a fine example; the man who runs the Republican Party in Illinois has taken payments from Democrat governor Rod Blagojevich for some lobbying work. Why split the take when cooperation goes a long way on the bottom line? Perhaps Senator Obama could point to this as an example of reaching across party lines. Blur the lines, more like it, and count up the profits.

Lincoln freed the slaves, and there's our Senator, more African American than any other person of color. His father was African, so there, Jesse Jackson. Mr. Obama never had to grow up in a drug-infested ghetto or anything like that. And when it comes to racism, he's got a long way to go to beat Condeleeza Rice, who knew the four girls murdered in their church by a KKK bomb. Better for Barack to play up his blackness and avoid too much of that 'I feel your pain' rhetoric when speaking to those who actually are descended from slaves.

Look at that lack of experience, some might say, and wasn't Lincoln equally fresh? Sooner or later, someone is bound to point out that the world is vastly different today than it was then, and trying to draw parallels to Lincoln's resume is a foolish exercise in hubris. Even so, he will channel the late president, wrapping himself in the whole national crisis thing, calling for new direction. Kind of reminds me of General McClellan, but that's just my impression.

Let's see, Lincoln was in office when an unexpected attack precipitated a war. The war was grossly unpopular, and most people wanted him to pull out and give it up. He struggled to find competent generals to lead, and when he did, more blood than ever was spilled, even though it brought about a winning end to the conflict. Yes, that sounds about right, Senator Obama. The Republicans, the party of Lincoln, will love it if you make their job easier.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Witness To A Wreck

Why the interest in a former stripper? The gaping and gawking resembles nothing more than a gaper's block on the highway, as motorists crawl past the scene and take a good long look at the mangled vehicles, searching for blood or broken bodies. Such fascination amidst the curiosity.

Anna Nicole Smith married a senile, decrepit old billionaire and caused a bit of a buzz when she pursued a portion of his estate. Now there's a story that intrigues us all. The gold digger, the vixen of tales since the beginning of time, was starring in a modern version of an ancient tale. Would you do it, for four hundred million dollars? That was the question that was put out for discussion over drinks after work. Ms. Smith gave us all something to talk about, to really gnaw on, for months.

With the financial windfall on hold, tied up in the courts, we were then treated to a so-called reality show that was like watching an ongoing train wreck. In episode after episode we could observe some bizarre creatures that were lifted from a Texas trailer park, providing a glimpse into a world that we had never before seen, and never would observe first hand. Like a motorist, we cruised past every week, taking in the scene, finding horror and shock and pity and an amalgam of mixed emotions. Bottom line, like the traffic accident, we drove past and said a silent prayer that it wasn't us in the mangled car, or laying on the gurney being shoved into the ambulance.

We could not get enough of the vicarious thrill, the desire to see more coupled with our mothers' admonishments to not stare at the freaks. Ever in search of attention, Ms. Smith delivered the goods, wrapping herself up in one scandal after another, and always with cameras close by to record the news.

Her son died, and our eyes were riveted to the gore at the scene of the wreck. One baby dead, another newly born, and another scandal as a man popped up and claimed that he was the father, while she insisted that the father was someone else altogether.

Now the vultures begin to circle over the corpse, the scent of money nearly overpowering. Where is the child, her mother is claiming custody of the estate, er, the infant. Who is the real father, the one to raise the baby and handle the financial legacy? Sure she was murdered by that attorney she married, some claim, and we can be amused by empty-headed discussions of conspiracies and plotting in the name of greed.

Over time, the evidence of the wreck will be cleaned up, and soon we will not really remember much about the accident that we witnessed. Maybe there'll be some note in the gossip column, a bit about the ongoing lawsuit to claim part of the billionaire's estate. Eventually, there will be another ongoing train wreck to divert our attention from the harsh realities of the world. And we will utter our silent prayer, thank God that it's not me or my family in there.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Taking The Lead

To gain some traction in the fight against global warming, the mighty European Union is going to legislate car emissions. Make it law, and it will be, and the EU will show us the way.

By 2012, car manufacturers in Europe will have to produce vehicles that emit 130 grams of carbon per every kilometer travelled. That works out to a 25% drop over current levels. Naturally, the car makers are up in arms. Change costs them money, after all. There'll be a general need to re-engineer and make more efficient, and that is not free.

Angela Merkel is on the manufacturers' side. She's worried about the industry, and rightly so, since Germany is dependent on the jobs that Porsche and Mercedes Benz provide. Should cars become more expensive, with a resultant decline in sales, her nation is looking at industry lay-offs and higher unemployment figures. No politician wants that in their district. Some of the more strident environmentalists in the EU are rather annoyed at Germany's attitude, with a desire to protect the auto industry and its bottom line instead of tackling this earth-destroying climate change. Of course, the commissioners keep their jobs during economic downturns, while the peasants go on the dole, so it's easy to talk.

The EU commissioners would also like to legislate for more fuel efficient vehicles while they're at it. Stavros Dimas, the EU environment guru, is thinking of switching to a Japanese hybrid himself, but I've read that the Prius actually spews more carbon dioxide into the air than a standard gas-powered engine. Can't ever seem to get it all, the cake and the eating of it, can you?

Before anyone panics, however, one must realize that the EU wants a manufacturer's product line to reach the reduced emissions standard, not every single vehicle produced. All the auto makers have to do is crank out a few tin cans that don't churn out massive amounts of carbon dioxide. It doesn't matter that no one will buy them, as long as they are available. That way, the wealthy of Europe can continue to tool around in their gas-guzzling pollution-mobiles, dumping scads of carbon into the air, and all is within the law.

The EU commission can trumpet their great success at legislating a reduction in greenhouse gasses, people can continue to drive what they have always driven, albeit at a higher purchase price, and everyone can feel good about themselves.

Meanwhile, the many signatories to the Kyoto Protocol fail to meet its standards. Somehow, it doesn't seem to matter, as long as everyone looks good while they miss the mark.

Dumb Down

A few professors at Southern Illinois University and the elite campus of UIUC are in trouble for being too smart. Actually, the trouble is that they did not act dumb.

The brilliant minds who run the state ethics training course know how long it takes a person to answer the questions in their on-line test. They know better than a professor at one of the state universities, and since all men are created equal, no one is smarter than anyone else. Therefore, everyone must take the same amount of time to complete the test. Or else.

All state employees have been required since 2003 to take the test, which covers such issues as how to blow the whistle on corruption, what political activities are prohibited, etc. And hasn't it been a brilliant success? Illinois must be the most politically corrupt state in the union, despite the training that the state has ordered. Clearly, the problem is people who breeze through the test too quickly, so Gilbert Jimenez, the deputy inspector general, has gone after that 10% of employees who are responsible for this excessive test-taking speed.

All the other state employees took about thirty minutes to complete the material, but the speed demons finished up in ten minutes. Professor Marvin Zeman got his wrist slapped for covering the topic in 6.18 minutes. His punishment? He was told to sign a confession, admitting that he agrees to face disciplinary action if he fails to complete the training in a timely manner. He even was supposed to agree that he could be fired for being too fast with his mouse.

Unfortunately for Mr. Jimenez, the man who thinks that everyone is equally dumb, Professor Zeman has filed a lawsuit against the state. As it turns out, the punishment to be doled out to the swift violates the university's collective bargaining agreement, and the inspector general's office cannot do that legally. And then there's the question of the inspector general's mandate, also part of state law, that permits the office to act on a complaint, but not start one on their own.

Jimenez has an answer for that last one, though. It's Professor Zeman who's not complying with the ethics training, and he's disrespecting the inspector general's office. So the office is complaining, and now they're acting on their own complaint.

Ah, Illinois. By thy rivers gently flowing....anyone investigating Patti Blagojevich's ties to Tony Rezko and K.K.Bio? Maybe the wrong people are being made to take the ethics exam.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fraternite, Egalite

Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons last year that led to rioting. No American paper reprinted the pictures, as they were said to be inflammatory. Certainly had the hard-line Muslims up in flames, filled with indignation...after a few days, when the hard-liners got wind of it. When the cartoons were first put out, no one noticed.

Charlie Hebdo, a French publication, also published the cartoons. In tribute to the notion of freedom of the press, the Union of Islamic Organisations in France and the French Muslim Council are taking the magazine to court. The charge? "Public insult towards a group of people because of their religion."

The Muslims claim that they have taken a page from the Jews, who have used a similar tactic to battle anti-Semitic literature. It is worth noting that the Islamic group filed a case in Denmark, where the offending pictures originated, but the case was thrown out. Likewise, a civil lawsuit against Jyllands-Posten for slander was dismissed. As far as the courts in Denmark were concerned, the cartoons were in the public interest, and that was the end of that. And now, to France.

Flemming Rose, editor of Jyllands-Posten, will act as a witness for the defense. Like many of his fellow news people, he's worked up into a state about the case. He likens the lawsuit to the sort of thing that marked the Soviet Union; no free speech, don't criticize those in authority.

France's left-wing newspaper Liberation is going to publish a joint edition with Charlie Hebdo on the day that the trial starts. Earlier, they printed a signed declaration of support for the magazine. It is unthinkable that a French publication would not dare to mock religion. This is the country that turned Notre Dame Cathedral into a theatre after the revolution, at a time that French citizens saw the organized church as a tool of the established order.

The editor of Charlie Hebdo sees a conspiracy behind the entire case. President Chirac seems to be supporting the Muslim groups, and his lawyer is representing the plaintiffs. Then there is the timing of the trial, rushed through so that it is heard before the upcoming elections. And as for the judge, instead of the usual group that hears media cases, there will be a high court judge who found a company guilty of insulting Christians when it used an image of the Last Supper in an advert.

I believe I'd avoid France in the near future. Dangerous there, with all that political correctness running amok and trampling everything in its path. And the ground's none too stable either, with Marat and Danton and Mirabeau all rolling in their graves.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Cock of Gold At The End of the Rainbow

Imagine how her husband must feel. Astronaut Lisa Nowak drove for twelve hours straight, her mind fixed on one thing. Another woman was after her man, a man who was not her husband. Surely William Oefelein has a cock of gold, to warrant such obsession.

Lisa Nowak got in her car, loaded up with all the paraphernalia that one might require to scare off a rival. Now, to get from Houston to Orlando, a sensible woman might take a plane, but not our Lisa. She wanted to meet the plane that Colleen Shipman was on, and not to welcome the woman to Orlando, Florida.

And there's the husband, back home in Houston. Everyone is snickering behind his back, and the lads at the gym are the worst. Couldn't get the job done, and that's obvious to all. The little woman had to look elsewhere for gratification of her lusts. Had to drive nine hundred miles to protect the prick that she coveted with all her heart and soul. Sure he might be a good provider, minding the little ones while Mummy piloted the space shuttle. Not every man is so understanding about the business trips out of town, with a schedule of play dates and nursery school theatricals left behind for Daddy to manage. Still and all, well, there was a wee bit lacking in the bedroom, eh?

What of the object of desire that two women wanted? What of the man with a cock of gold, a miraculous tool that drove Lisa Nowak wild? Top gun pilot, they say, and you can bet that he's strutting his stuff around town. Now there's a real man, the lads will say. Can you imagine what he's got in his pants, to cause a wife to break up her home and family? To commit a crime to get that glittering organ into her bed?

Don't the ladies always tell us that size doesn't matter? This Lisa Nowak story puts a lie to that entire notion, and the makers of Enzyte can expect a sudden influx of customers. Wonder if the Cialis people have called Mr. Oefelein yet?

Monday, February 05, 2007

A Man Hears What He Wants To Hear

The adverts during the Super Bowl were relatively lame this year. After reading Stuart Elliott's article in the NYT today, I understand my disappointment. The ads were all about the war in Iraq.

Couldn't you tell? Why, every time the ad for Prudential Insurance ran, Mr. Elliott heard the announcer proclaim: 'What can Iraq do'. Funny, but I heard it as 'What can a rock do', but that's because we in fly-over country pronounce it "I - rack". Not "Ah- rock". But then, we aren't so fortunate as to have attended prestigious schools out East, where they speak the Queen's English. More similar to Paddy's Irish, actually.

Mr. Elliott bemoans the violence of the adverts as well. What violence, you might ask? Ah, so, you were one of the hordes who ran home after school and watched reruns of The Three Stooges. The face-slapping ad, the man being hit by a rock, sure it was Moe, Larry and Curly. We feel sorry for Stuart, don't we? He was the boy who ran home after school, chased by the bullies, and went straight to his violin lesson and then trundled off home to do his homework and pull straight A's. No doubt passed many an afternoon stuffed in his locker, waiting for the janitor to set him free.

Where else did Stuart Elliott find war? In the beer ad that featured an axe-wielding hitchhiker toting a six pack. Scratching your head, are you? You have to keep in mind our man Stuart, who never goes to see movies unless they have subtitles and never brighten the screen of a megaplex. He doesn't know, you see, about the current slasher movies that Budweiser was mocking. It's all right that you found the ad very funny and Stuart sees the war in Iraq.

Finally, there was the FedEx commercial, in which a character's demise is straight out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Oh, right, cartoons. Stuart was surely too busy working on his project for the school newspaper to have time to park his arse in front of a television on a Saturday morning. So, "...the ongoing war seemed to linger just below the surface..." of all these commercials, according to Stuart Elliott.

No light and happy ads, barring the gay oriented fluff of Coca Cola that garnered a 'What the fuck?' and 'Turn off that shit' from my fellow football fans. According to Mr. Elliott, it's all because of the war, all this cartoonish violence and lack of happy-bubbly. What the fuck is right.

Day Off

The Bears lost the Super Bowl.

I'm depressed. I'm not wholly sober. There's a bit of a hangover coming on that should be in full bloom come morning.

I'm taking the day off on Monday. I expect that half the city of Chicago will do the same.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

To Add To Your Worries

Thousands of turkeys have died recently on a farm in Suffolk, England. The cause of death is reported to be the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, the variety that can pass to humans and has killed 164 people to date.

The farm in question is run by England's biggest turkey producer, which would indicate that there are a great many turkeys congregated into one small area. A three kilometer protection zone has been set up around the farm, and Ireland's Minister for Agriculture, Mary Coughlan, has been meeting with the National Disease Control Centre to get all the ducks in a row, so to speak.

With so much commerce across the Irish Sea, both human and animal, Ms. Coughlan is concerned that the disease will quickly spread to Ireland, and steps will have to be taken to prevent that. She's also going to have to tell people that they can safely eat poultry, because misunderstandings will savage the poultry industry on the island. There won't be any imported birds of any kind going from England to anyplace beyond the protection zone in Suffolk, but the fear remains that some infected person, a la Typhoid Mary, might bring in the virus.

Tourism will likely fall, as it did during the hoof and mouth crisis. 24-hour news channels will now have something to fill the empty hours, with doomsday scenarios and talking heads discussing the 1919 epidemic and what might happen if this bird flu takes off like it did then?

Recently, genetic researchers discovered that people descended from those who survived the Black Death carry a duplicate copy of a gene needed to fight viral infections. The same folks have ancestors who survived the flu epidemic, and they carry the double gene to this day, a possible hedge against the next flu outbreak. 'Tis grand, this evolution business. There's something to be said for examining all the branches of your family tree.

Fill In The Gap

The earth is getting warmer. All the scientists meeting in France have said so. And it's us, human beings, who are at fault. But, was the earth ever this warm before? Not within our lifetime, but within the earth's lifetime.

As a matter of fact, the earth was warmer 125,000 years ago. Geologically speaking, that's recent history. Sea levels were as much as twenty feet higher back then, and that had nothing to do within fossil fuels or homo sapiens. So if the ice sheets were smaller then, why is it not normal now to see retreating glaciers? 24,000 years ago, early humans migrated from England to France on foot. The sea level was so low that there was no English Channel to cross. 10,000 years ago, the place where I am now sitting was under a sheet of ice. Is it a bad thing that the glaciers retreated then? How do the climatologists know that this current warming is not part of an ending ice age?

Lost in all the 'sky is falling' hysteria are the answers that I need to be convinced about man-made global warming. I agree that pollution is bad for our health, as the human lung was not made to suck in massive amounts of toxic gases. Oxygen, carbon dioxide, a bit of nitrogen, all harmless in the proper proportions, but carbon monoxide and a host of other pollutants can harm the human organism. But the whole warming issue?

Analyzing data, scientists have concluded that temperatures were relatively stable for a few thousand years. During that time, we endured a mini ice age. Is that the benchmark for normal? What is normal? In the past century, temperatures have gone up, hence the alarms. But is there any change in solar activity during that same time period? Why is the increase in temperature so shocking, when the earth used to be warmer and sea level higher?

Sea levels are predicted to rise, but scientists don't understand the whole process well enough to gauge the rate at which the change will take place. Yet, if this is a natural earth climate cycle that runs over tens of thousands of years, shouldn't we be prepared to deal with coastal loss that will occur whether we cut down on pollution or not? The report out of Paris states that temperatures will continue to climb, even with a reduction in greenhouse gasses. Why is that? Is it because the earth is on a warming cycle anyway, and pollution is making it worse?

Back in the '60s, overpopulation was the boogey man for the globe. Many people alive today remember the hand-wringing, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that was the panic of excessive population growth. Forty years later, we see that it never happened, and the scientists were wrong. Trained to be sceptical, we ask them now, is this the overpopulation bugaboo revisited?

With the meeting taking place in Paris, but aimed squarely at the US of A, scientists might turn to the historians for a nugget of advice.
"The genius of this nation is not in the least to be compared with that of the Prussians, Austrians, or French. You say to your soldier, 'Do this' and he doeth it, but I am obliged to say, 'That is the reason why you ought to do that'; and he does it."

We're not Euro-socialist pinheads over here, you see, and we weren't born yesterday. Baron von Steuben figured it out two hundred thirty years ago. Two hundred thirty years ago. In the mini ice age, back then. Cooler temperatures...crop failures...starving peasants...the French Revolution. Yes, the historians really should be weighing in on this report.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Next Big Thing

Within months, the last of the Harry Potter books will be released. Scholastic will gladly accept the piles of money that will pour in. Book sellers will welcome the throngs who will flock to the shops, to buy Harry Potter but maybe, just maybe, they'll pick up something else as well. There'll be Harry Potter merchandise, marketing gimcracks to be produced and sold on. Very many people make a living off of J.K. Rowling's invention.

And yet, Scholastic sees the dark at the end of the tunnel. The publishing house has benefited from the blockbuster sales, a long string of hits. This is the last, the seventh installment, and after July there will be no more Harry Potter. Ms. Rowling will be under pressure to come up with something else, but she's made her fortune and has no need to go back to grinding out another hit. She may not have another story in her, either. Harry Potter may have been the only character that spoke to her, insisting that his story be told, and now he's out and put on paper and the stories are gone with him.

This is the chance that YA authors have been waiting for. After Harry Potter took off, the market for YA rose with it, and publishers are longing to be the one to find the gem of a novel that will do for them what Rowling's works did for Scholastic. Even literary agents are getting in on the game, with more and more willing to consider YA fiction. You couldn't go wrong with several people at Writers House -- Daniel Lazar, Jodi Reamer, and the list goes on. Over at Vigliano Associates, Kirby Kim was brought in recently to expand their YA stable. In fact, if you look up Young Adult on, you'll get a listing that runs over twenty pages.

Don't give up hope, all you adult fiction writers. We all pray that those young people who discovered the pleasures of reading through Ms. Rowling's works will grow into adult readers who will buy our novels, in the event that we ever get an agent and a publishing deal. Stranger things have happened.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Respondez Vous

At the beginning of the new year, I sent out six queries. A month later, only one agent has responded. After previous incarnations of the query fell flat, I revised the letter and hoped to get a few answers back to gauge the quality of my humble request. With only one rejection coming back, I can't tell if the letter is no good, or good enough to be put aside for a second read, or not worth pursuing at all, even if a SASE was enclosed.

Then there are the literary journals, not noted for speed when it comes to accepting short fiction. The Carolina Quarterly asks for four to six months, which is a long, long time to wait. Yet here I am, waiting on the novel excerpt that I sent to them in September. Crab Orchard Review is another slow one, with a response time running three to five months. It's been over five months for me, so does that really mean, as they suggest, that the piece is being seriously considered? Or did it just get lost in the mail? Same thing with the Missouri Review, which offers a turn around time of 10 - 12 weeks. Thirteen and counting for me...again, serious consideration or lost in the mail?

Writers of literary fiction are in particular need of publication credits, since everyone need a platform. The time has come to take a break from the querying, and to wait patiently for the responses from the literary journals that must surely be coming soon. Maybe, just maybe, I'll garner a couple of credits to put into a bio paragraph that proves someone thought my prose was worth printing. In the meantime, I've got another manuscript to work on, the sixth one I've begun. Sooner or later, I'm bound to figure this business out.

Clean As A Whistle

Everyone jumped on Joe Biden when he paid a compliment to Barack Obama. What was it that had folks so alarmed? Not the bit about being clean, based on the comments of Jesse Jackson. The Reverend was insulted by the part of Biden's blather that suggested Mr. Obama is the first African-American candidate to be mainstream...normal, if you will. There was an earlier Presidential campaign, you may recall, that featured a certain Operation Push promoting candidate. Didn't much like Senator Biden's implication that he was less than sharp and not exactly centrist.

If you follow Chicago politics, you'd be laughing your head off about the "clean" remark. Usually, one thinks of a clean politician as one who is untouched by scandal or dirty dealings. A man like Edward Kennedy is far from clean, resulting in a Senator who dares not speak out on any issue that touches on morality. Harry Reid is coming under fire these days for some shady real estate deals, making him less than spotless and pristine. Senator Obama is not exactly Mr. Clean either.

Patricia Blagojevich, wife of the Illinois boy-governor, dabbles in real estate. She dabbled a bit with Tony Rezko, who is now under indictment. She dabbled a bit with the owner of K.K. Bio-Science Inc., and the drug testing firm is now under investigation. Mrs. Blagojevich earned over $113,000 on her commision, which is traditionally 6% of the sale price. You can do the math, but even without a calculator you can see that the price on the property was high.

When Mr. Obama bought his lovely home in Kenwood, he paid less than the asking price. On the very same day, Tony Rezko bought the empty lot next door, and paid an inflated price. Within a short period of time, Obama was buying a strip of Rezko's land to make his own lot larger, and the generous Senator paid far in excess of what the strip was worth. Raised a few eyebrows with that transaction.

The FBI and the State of Illinois are investigating K.K. Bio-Science, which has enjoyed a no-bid contract with the state to do urine tests for DCFS. Allegations of fraud have been raised, with evidence that the company billed for tests never carried out. A search of K.K.'s offices revealed a great deal of empty space this past Tuesday, as the company had abruptly terminated the contract, gone out of business and emptied out every last cubicle. Even the employees were surprised when they discovered that they were fired -- no notice, no nothing.

Right now, no one is saying that there is a connection between Patti Blagojevich and the illegal doings of K.K. Bio-Science. Just as no one is saying there is anything amiss in her real estate business done on behalf of Tony Rezko. But when it comes time to sling mud, later, when the election really heats up, the whispering campaign will begin. The now impeccable Senator will be lumped into the same pile as the Blagojevichs, the Rezkos and all the rest of the muck that is Illinois politics. Barack Obama is clean now, on the surface, but look for his tailored suit and shiny shoes to become quite splattered, and fairly soon.