Saturday, March 31, 2007

Titanic Meets Das Boot

All a matter of time, and there'll be a documentary or two, and the next thing you know, Leo DiCaprio will be slated for a starring role. The ill-fated Titanic has become heavily romanticized, thanks to Hollywood, and now we're about to get the Lusitania.

F. Gregg Bemis has been trying since 1968 to get permission to dive and salvage the grand ocean liner that was sunk by a German torpedo in 1915. His dream is about to come true. Somewhere off the coast of Kinsale, Mr. Bemis will launch his operation to search for mythical treasures.

Historians would like to know if the Lusitania was indeed carrying wartime munitions from the US to England, as was rumored at the time. Sinking a passenger ship, thus causing the death of 1200 people, created an uproar that was directed at Germany, firing up strong anti-Kraut sentiments that may have pushed the US further away from neutrality. Hence, the conspiracy theorists would suggest that the sinking was a set-up by the wily Allies, but in the absence of hard evidence, no one can say with certainty.

Mr. Bemis is over the moon with his license to dive on the Lusitania. An earlier salvage operation, back in 1982, brought up a few odds and ends like the ship's bell, some propellers and a few pieces of silverware. He's not saying anything, but there are those who think that the gentleman is looking for some other reputed artifacts that are far more valuable than a fork with the Lusitania's crest.

One of the lost passengers on the last voyage was Hugh Lane, who may or may not have been carrying a few priceless works of art. A painting by Monet and two by Rubens are said to have been on board, sealed in lead containers to protect them from the elements. And what of the jewels and assorted paraphernalia in the purser's safe? Very Titanic-ish, this quest for mysterious riches. Bemis is not expecting to find a treasure chest filled with gold, of course, as the transport of gold overseas during war time would be rather foolish. Still, the expedition is expected to focus on the purser's office, the first class suites, and then they can take retrieve a few nuts and bolts.

A brief look-around by the Cork Sub-Aqua Club last summer found some .303 bullets, but they were listed on the ship's manifest and there was no surprise there. Perhaps Mr. Bemis will explore the hold a bit more thoroughly, to ascertain the cause of the explosion that went off about twenty minutes after the torpedo hit the ship. If there were stores of war materiel on board, and Mr. Bemis were to find the evidence, it would clear up some mysteries and put to rest a highly debated theory.

The possibilities for Hollywood are endless in this particular saga. There's espionage and intrigue, innocent passengers sacrificed for the Great War, and one cannot forget the grand love story that some screenwriter could fabricate. Right now, Mr. Bemis is trying to raise $3 million to fund his expedition. Surely there's a big studio that would like to contribute, in exchange for the movie rights. Considering the success of Titanic, it sounds like an absolute bargain.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Thought It Was This Time

According to the editors at the Crab Orchard Review, if they have your submission longer than five months, it's being considered. So after six months passed, I had a good feeling. One of my short fiction pieces is under consideration. Thatclose to gaining a publication credit. Editorial work was due to be finished in mid-February. By mid-March, the sense was strong that my piece was going to be picked up.

The moral of the story is, don't read so much into the drivel that is spewed by literary journal editors who are short-staffed and can't handle the submissions in a reasonable amount of time. Today I received the rejection notice, a standard form. The fault was mine for not submitting the short story to other journals a month ago, under the assumption that the story was about to be published and what's the point in spending money on postage?

There are a few other stories on submission, rapidly approaching or just beyond the journals' reported response time. I have learned today that I must submit when I want, and not worry about something that may not happen. I misjudged the situation, let hope get in the way of practicality, and that will never happen again.

Fire up the printer and crank out the next round. The literary journals will soon close for submissions for the summer, and I'll do all I can to swamp them.


The South African Development Community had a meeting, and Robert Mugabe was there. He made sure to imprison his leading opponent before he left Zimbabwe for Tanzania, however, as he is no friend of Morgan Tsvangirai and could not well risk taking a vacation with Tsvangirai on the loose.

Inflation in Zimbabwe is running around 1200%, give or take, and the average economist could tell you that it's not a sign of a healthy economy. Who's to blame for the disaster? It's England this time, or the west in general. Mr. Mugabe is most definitely not at fault for turning his country from the bread basket of Africa into a starving skeleton. And when your friends agree with you, well, you can go home with your head held high.

After the meeting was over, and the situation in Zimbabwe was discussed, the fourteen countries that make up the commission issued a statement, calling on the rest of the world to lift sanctions on Mugabe's government. And then they stood solidly behind the honorable thug from Zimbabwe in a show of solidarity with one of their own.

So what if the riot police beat the snot out of the members of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change. Big deal that the leaders were arrested and thrown into jail for trying to foment democracy in their nation. As for the criticism of other nations over Mugabe's brutal dictatorship, it's all a great huge plot to undermine the efforts of the downtrodden by those who supported the brutal regime of colonial rule; we must fight the British, it's all their doing. Or something like that.

That would be why the meeting ended with a call for Great Britain to compensate the white farmers whose farms were seized and handed to Mugabe's cronies. It's not up to Zimbabwe to pay up for what was taken. And besides, the ungrateful white farmers didn't stick around to teach their new masters how to farm, and now Zimbabwe is facing another famine. But none of that is Mugabe's fault, and his buddies down at the Development Community agree with him.

Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania has an answer for those who oppose Mugabe's rule. They're to blame for getting arrested, because they use illegal means to protest. So there, all you anti-Mugabe-ites rotting in prison. The Development Community is not about to ask Mugabe to step aside, and he's running for president again.

Where did all those reports of human rights violations get to now? Ah, there they are, swept under the rug. The western nations, they're so critical of African housekeeping. If only they'd mind their own, and just send another aid check.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

European Vacation

Not that I'm biased, but if you're looking for a pleasant vacation in Europe, you can't do better than Ireland. The food's improved, thanks to EU membership, the scenery is lovely, and the craic's going ninety. And, best of all, you can take a train without fear of being caught up in a riot.

Unlike Paris, France, where a full scale battle was raging at the Gare du Nord on Tuesday afternoon. An illegal Congolese immigrant, already wanted by the gendarmerie, tried to jump on a train without paying his fare. After the man reportedly tried to head-butt the ticket inspector who nabbed him, he was dragged off to the station's police office and a crowd of irate teens went ballistic. Oh, yes, well, no one wants to say it, but most of the rioting teens were Arabs of African or North African descent. Shouted a great deal of abuse about Nicolas Sarkozy, the man who would clamp down on Arabs in France.

The rioters broke into shops in the underground mall, looting and smashing windows and having a grand time of it. Disrupted commuter traffic, terrorized the commuters, and gave a group of foreign tourists the fright of their lives. A man who tried not to have his mobile phone stolen from his hands was beaten up by a gang of rioters, and he's not at all pleased that the riot police stood by and did not come to his aid. I wonder if he was wearing a 'Segolene Royal for president' campaign button at the time?

The whole illegal immigrant issue has exploded in French politics, with far right wing (relatively speaking, as this is socialist Europe we're talking about) political candidates screaming about the lack of control over who comes in and who gets kicked out. Segolene Royal, like her Socialist ilk, started out with a demand that all illegals with children in French schools get a free pass and be allowed to stay. Like so many other of her pronouncements, that one caused quite a stir and she has had to backtrack, taking a stand on a case by case basis for legalizing status.

So, as the fires burned in the streets near the Gare du Nord (the rioters had to do something to kill time once they were driven out of the train station), the people of France were asking what sort of country they had become, for such unbridled violence to erupt over the arrest of a wanted criminal. And they can't blame America for this one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Thank You Jesus (and a shout-out to Mary Magdalene)

Victory for Dan Brown! Praise Jesus!

As far as the British Court of Appeal is concerned, Mr. Brown most definitely did not steal the words right out from under the pens of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. The whole Da Vinci Code book, cover to cover, is Brown's own, a work of his personal imagination.

Writers of historical fiction are exhaling again, knowing that they can make use of historical sources and other people's non-fiction books to create their flights of fancy. We can all acknowledge the "vast amount of skill and labor" that goes in to crafting the non-fiction books that form the basis of historical fiction, but that does not spell plagiarism, and the Appeal Court agreed.

Realistic historical fiction is good when it rings true, and a novel rings true when it has been well researched. Even something as fanciful as the Jesus and Mary Magdalene union, as presented in Dan Brown's book, became a believable story because of the use of so-called evidence which was sprinkled (heavily) throughout the novel. Where else does anyone find facts and theoretical proofs but in non-fiction? Making use of those same facts does not equate with plagiarism, because the novelist is making up a story, spinning a yarn.

Lawyers for the claimants are still not satisfied, however, and they may be sorry that they went after Random House as publishers, rather than Dan Brown as plagiarist. They still wonder over the role that Mrs. Brown played as researcher and note-taker, intimating that she was the intellectual property thief, but Baigent and Leigh are up to their necks at the moment and this may be the end of it. As this was tried in England, they are responsible for all court costs as the losing party, and it's said they owe somewhere around $6 million.

The Da Vinci phenomenon pretty much ended when the Hollywood film tanked. The pair who wrote the non-fiction source of the novel's plot get nothing from the millions that Dan Brown earned on his book. The author did not lift passages wholesale from the Baigent and Leigh masterpiece, but he used it to fuel his imagination. The authors made their money on the sale of the book to Mrs. Dan Brown, and that's all they're getting out of the DaVinci Code wallet.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's The Line At Paddy Powers?

Did the bookie have to pay out when the Stormont deal faded? Were the odds long that the DUP would accept the official deadline of 26 March? Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, we have a brand new deadline and a second chance to gamble on devolution.

As long as both sides agreed an extension, then Peter Hain was amenable to presenting new legislation to Parliament to make a different absolutely not changeable deadline. In the snapshot seen round the world, Gerry Adams sat within strangling distance of the Big Man, and I'd swear I felt the earth tremble. Both sides of the political divide came to terms, we've been told, and the former date of Stormont's grand re-opening was pushed back, just like the DUP wanted.

The whole idea of sitting in government with the Shinners was so indescribably unbelievable that the Proties needed an extra six weeks to settle their stomachs and get the blood pressure down to manageable levels. And the strain on the heart, sweet Jesus, it was apoplexy on a massive scale without that six weeks to adjust. And after that, come May, well, absolutely it will be Stormont revisited.

So, what's the line over at Paddy Powers' famed institution? 20 to 1 that the DUP will find fault with Sinn Fein's commitment to policing and call the whole thing off? 10 to 1? Even money? After all, there's no benefit to the DUP to share power. They're perfectly happy with the United Kingdom and legislation from afar. They give no genuine inkling that they want things to change, to bring the Catholics in or do their own governing. If the folks in Northumberland are satisfied with Parliament, and they're English, then the loyal subjects of Northern Ireland should be just as English and just as happy, and Stormont isn't part of that joyful picture.

This back and forth, discuss and dither, has been going on for so long that it's hard to believe it will ever end. For now, the outrageously high water bills will not be mailed to each and every home in the six counties, as threatened if the DUP backed out of the original date. The DUP is said to be jawboning London in search of even more money if they go into government with Sinn Fein, a bribe in the billions of pounds sterling.

So now, they have six weeks to come up with a new excuse not to open Stormont. I'm going with the whole policing issue, that the Shinners aren't ready for the rule of law and they're not fit to govern. What are the odds?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Until Pavee Point Weighs In

Comic Eddie Izzard is hardly recognizable without make-up and high heels. Minnie Driver is lovely as ever. Whether their new television show The Riches will make it depends on the critics and the numbers, but whether or not the show will be picked up by RTE is another matter.

Izzard and Driver play Travellers in this particular program, and sadly they are playing up to a long-standing stereotype. I'm sure a lot of homeowners across America have heard of the Irish Travellers, a gang that travels from their isolated enclave in Kentucky like migrating birds heading north in the Spring. Some might lump them together with the gypsies, another group that is known for criminal activity and scams in general. The Irish Travellers are famous for cheating the elderly, charging for home repairs that are never done or done so poorly that a professional must be called in. They take the money and run, always a step ahead of the law.

In Ireland, Pavee Point has long been speaking on behalf of the Travellers, those who were once called tinkers. Besides having a reputation as a bunch of criminals, the Travellers are notorious for their feuds, which often spill out of their clutch of caravans into the newspapers. Many's the pub that's been fined for discriminating against a Traveller, refusing to serve them, and Pavee Point is there to fight the fight. You'll not hear much out of Pavee Point when the Travellers go after each other with knives or slash hooks, or when a family of Travellers is arrested for stealing or trading in stolen goods. They're after putting an end to the negative image, and they scream loud and long when all the pubs in town shut down rather than cater to a large gathering of the travelling folk.

Pavee Point is determined to maintain the mobile anachronism that is the Traveller lifestyle. They push for roadside halting sites where the nomadic clans can pull their caravan over for a month or two before moving on to another town. As in the new television program, Travellers are largely illiterate, owing to their constant movement and the fact that the children are never in school for very long before the family pulls up stakes. The problem is, there's not much work for those who once tinkered pots and pans, and the Travellers in Ireland are at the bottom of the economic ladder. Yet Pavee Point is there, insisting that this way of life be supported and maintained. With that kind of backing, the Travellers should remain destitute, illiterate, and completely isolated from the Celtic Tiger for generations to come.

No matter how good the television show proves to be, Pavee Point will be furious when they learn that the fictional characters are just like the worst of everyone's assumptions about Travellers. Not exactly a positive image, to follow the crazy misadventures of a bunch of thieves who are pulling off a grand scam. Show that on Irish television, and everyone can nod their heads and say how true to life the characters are, and that is exactly what Pavee Point is trying to stop.

Let it be known that not all Travellers are crooks, trying to play the fast game and get away with something illegal. It's just that some are, and they make for more entertaining viewing than the settled community. But the FX Channel will have a hard sell to get past the watch dogs of Pavee Point.

Who's Making Their Debut

Does the ability to produce documentary films make you a novelist? It does if you're Poppy Adams, who surely has an agent who knows someone in the publishing industry. Denise Shannon represents the film maker turned writer, and managed to get six figures for this sensational story of estranged sisters and butterfly aficionados. What are the chances that Poppy has herself a sister and they don't get along? Has she perhaps done a documentary about butterfly scientists and thus has a most sturdy platform? The question is, are you a film producer? If not, you have little chance of getting your novel published.

Maybe you're the editor of a literary journal, like Mark Budman. He's penned an autobiographical novel about the Russian Jewish experience. That must be a code name for memoir that was so deadly dull it had to be spiced up with pure fantasy. Neither Russian nor Jewish, and as no one cares about the Irish Catholic experience, we're shut out on that count.

Publication would surely be easier if you were a journalist in New York and could write your debut novel about well known characters in Manhattan society. The concept flew high with Diane Bartoli of Artists Literary Group. She's representing Tatiana Boncompagni, a journalist who wrote a novel based on her own experience as a journalist reporting on Manhattan's movers and social shakers. And her mother's an Italian princess to boot. Now that's a platform I could never hope to construct. No point in querying Ms. Bartoli, in that case.

Would you happen to teach writing at a prestigious university, one like North Carolina State? Then you could seek representation from Bill Clegg at the William Morris Agency. And an agent wouldn't even have to read the manuscript, what with that teaching credential William Conescu possesses. His professional experience alone would open doors.

And still, literary agents will loudly proclaim that you don't need credentials and publishing credits, you just need good writing. The deals posted at Publishers Marketplace put the lie to that statement on a regular basis.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

A Done Deal Coming Undone

Peter Hain is sitting at his desk, pen in hand, ready to sign the legislation that would restore the Northern Ireland Assembly. The clock is ticking down towards midnight, the deadline that is set in stone, carved in granite, unchangeable. And there's the DUP, wielding a chisel, trying to chip away at that deadline.

The DUP is divided on the power sharing issue. After all, the whole Home Rule issue was stalled and talked to death for well over one hundred years. Why stop now? Who wants to go down in history as the man who caved in to pressure and let the Catholics have any say in their government? The diploma mill reverend might like the idea of going to his grave as the First Minister of Northern Ireland, but he surely does not want to be remembered as the man who lost the never ending battle for the Union of England and Ireland.

The British Exchequer offered a hefty package of benefits if the DUP would play nice, but the Big Man turned up his nose at the offer. Not at all enough money, he sniffed, and the worst of it is that a big chunk is coming from the Republic of Ireland. They'll be wanting their money's worth, and who wants Paddy sticking his nose in UK business? So more was demanded, but not another penny offered.

That tactic didn't work, so the DUP is trying a new approach. They are meeting today, trying to find a way around the Monday meeting deadline with some clever bit of business that would postpone the opening of Stormont. Commit to power sharing, as required, but the Protestants are going to set the timetable and not the English and Irish governments. Play that one right, and nothing has to change. Stall until May, then claim that Shinners have not adequately proven their embrace of law and order. Call them a gang of terrorists and criminals, not fit for sharing power with, and that's the end of all this nonsense. And best of all, the blame for failure can be planted in Sinn Fein. Perfect.

Sinn Fein has thrown their lot in with the power sharing notion, and the DUP is doing all they can to hold off on completion of the deal, in the fervent hope that failure to gain political power will shatter the political party and leave the Catholic contingent in disarray. From that collapse comes the undisputed hegemony of the united Protestants, and the Union is saved.

The DUP is counting on support in Parliament, and there are plenty of politicians in Commons who see the dissolution of the Union creeping up on them. The Scots are angling for their own Parliament, and then inclusion in the EU as an individual nation. If the Northern Irish get Stormont, they might be next, and it's a known fact that Sinn Fein is still pushing for a united Ireland by 2016.

Whether the deal is done or undone will depend on the British and Irish governments holding firm, letting the DUP hold their breath until they turn blue. If there is no deal, and water rates skyrocket, it will be the DUP doing the splintering and their constituents laying blame.

Can't hardly wait for Monday, to see the next play in the long game.

Friday, March 23, 2007

From Blog To Book

There's a few reports out there, about a blogger who is discovered by some literary agent or publisher and gets a book contract. Six figures, big buzz, that sort of thing. I'm not expecting such a windfall, but it's only because I don't blog about sex.

That must have been the key for Zoe Margolis, who started blogging about sex, and more sex, and group sex, and needing sex, and, well, you get the picture. Using an anonymous on line presence, writing as the permanently randy Abby Lee, Ms. Margolis created a world around this fictional person that garnered thousands of hits per day.

The blog's Abby Lee was forever looking to hook up, and her sexual dalliances were fodder for the blog. Getting it off regularly, was Abby Lee, but then the men never called back. Sounds like a bit of a morality tale as told by Mother Mary Cordula, but there were plenty of ladies in the audience who related to the sad tales. There's been praise given, with accolades for a blog that 'empowers' women. Personally, I think the ladies have all the power, and saying no is a grand gesture of all that empowerment, but maybe that's just the Catholic seeping out of the pores.

At any rate, the blog was published as a memoir, and before long Ms. Margolis had her cover blown. Imagine mammy reading the salacious bits, and you'll understand her desire for anonymity. With a six figure advance from a publisher, however, there is no room for secret identities. Interviewers have found Ms. Margolis to be quite the feminist, and not quite like the imaginary Abby Lee that stars in the blog. So the woman has a flair for fiction, and may go on to write a novel down the line.

As for the book version of the blog, it's not as popular as the daily installments of the sex search soap opera. Some feminists may find the search for sex, the casual hook-up, a part of the men's club that is raunchy culture, and Ms. Margolis is falling into the trap. The author counters, taking up a position as hopeless romantic, searching for love. But didn't your granny tell you to keep your knees together and the boys would linger? Why buy the cow when the milk's free, did you never hear of that one?

Still and all, she's got the big advance whether her book earns out or not, and I'm hoping an agent will at least consider my manuscript. There's no market for a memoir written by an author that details their futile search for publication. If there was, I'd be on a book tour by now.

Calling All Mystery Writers

Here's the plot for your next who-done-it. A cricket coach, murdered.

Cricket, for feck's sake. Is there any sport more moribund and sedate? They take breaks for tea; they play for days on end before the match ends, and the players are required to wear white flannels. Now put that sort of boredom in a murder mystery and make it exciting.

Wait, make it even more bizarre and have the coach murdered right after the Pakistan team loses to Ireland. Yes, Ireland, home of the GAA and hurling and hatred of all that is British. The Irish team wins the match, unexpected and against all odds, and then the Pakistan coach turns up dead the next morning.

Need something for filler? Write a bit about the scenes in Pakistan, where various players and the coach are burned in effigy for losing to, of all the countries on the planet, Ireland. You'll need a date for the match. St. Patrick's Day would be appropriate. Then set your novel against a backdrop of religious tension, and you've got it made.

For a bit of detail to the murder scene, you could describe how the coach was found in his hotel room. Oh, right, you'll want to set the story in the Caribbean. Lots of lovely description you could put in, get that touch of the poet going, tropical flowers with excessive color, the heat and the humidity. Anyway, the coach is found in his hotel room, mouth hanging open, blood and vomit everywhere. Go on now, get to writing.

You can make up your own ending, or you can use the Jamaican coroner's report to flesh out the manuscript. How's that for a story, the losing coach murdered by strangulation. Manual strangulation, to be more precise. Of course the room will be full of fingerprints, and the police will take prints off all of the players. As the writer of this particular story, you can decide if it was a player on the team who wrapped his hands around an old man's neck, or you can make a rabid fan the perpetrator of the crime.

There's something about cricket, a passion that I neither share nor comprehend, but Jamaican police are investigating the murder of the Pakistan coach, who was indeed found dead in his room and reportedly died of manual strangulation. Sad to imagine that a man could be killed for a fan's perception of his failed play calling, for losing a match that the coach did not actually, physically, play. The players lost, the coach gets the blame, and so it's always been. But to kill a man over a game? And a boring, stupid game at that?

If you put it in a novel, no one would believe it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Singing The Blues

It's been close to four months since an agent has requested a partial manuscript. So, the query letter is an abject failure, as have been the previous collection of queries. Sent in batches of five at a time, I have been repeatedly rewriting the letter in hopes of creating a catchy hook in the opening paragraph, but no takers.

There are a few odds and ends still out that were never answered, and never will be at this point. If Melissa Chinchillo hasn't responded by now, and the query was sent four months ago, she's not interested. Alex Glass at Trident Media is another slow one, sitting on a query sent ten weeks ago and no answer. At the same agency, Laura Blake Peterson took only a month to respond, so it's not an agency issue but the work of individual agents. And even though I know that Jane Rotrosen's agency doesn't want new queries, I gave Kelly Harms a go. She must not want new queries either. It's been ten weeks for her as well, no response and none expected at this point.

I tried Tara Mark of RLR again, even though she never responded to the query sent in September. Let's assume it was lost, I decided, and off went a replacement. That was a month ago, and I'm beginning to believe that she's adopted the 'no response is a no' tactic, and thanks for the SASE that can be recycled for office use.

So it's yet another version of the query letter, and another batch sent out two weeks ago. It's mighty silent in the e-mail box, and the postman's not been burdened either. The waiting's such fun that I really must submit to another three literary journals, just to add to the excitement. With a new manuscript to work on, I hardly notice the time flying by. At this rate, I'll be running out of room under the bed, what with all the unpublished manuscripts stored there.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Buck Stops....Over There

What do you do when you stand accused? Accuse someone else, of course, and hope that it sticks.

That, in a nutshell, is the strategy that will be employed by attorneys defending Conrad Black. In court, the prosecution painted the former media mogul as a thief, a criminal who took money from a corporation to fund his lavish lifestyle. The attorneys representing the government promise to demonstrate exactly how Mr. Black and his cronies helped themselves to $60 million of corporate funds, to pay for trips to Seattle and Bora-Bora, to purchase luxury co-op apartments in Manhattan, and to cover the costs of some lavish parties. Mr. Black was the ringleader of this cabal, directing his underlings to lie to the Hollinger board and fool such wise men as former governor Jim Thompson. Evil in a lavender tie, that was Conrad Black.

Not so, contends the defense team. It was the evil cabal that worked against the sainted Mr. Black, doing their naughty deeds behind his back and then turning on him when they were caught. Attorney Edward Genson blames the whole thing on Mr. Radler, one of Conrad Black's cronies, who is working with the government to lighten his sentence following his conviction.

As for that whole nobility business, Mr. Genson did a fine job of blowing smoke up the jury's arse, making light of Black's bombast and swollen ego. Means nothing, he said, downplaying Black's own written words about his rights to the company being the same as the rights of nobility. So the man thinks he's king, can you hold that against him? So he thinks his shit doesn't stink, well, is that a hanging offense? That lavish lifestyle? Just business, really, what with a successful company needing to put on a good face. Why, the poor man doesn't even have a personal life. It's all business, all the time.

Perhaps Canadians are more forgiving of someone who longs for a noble title. They're more closely tied to England than the average Chicagoan, and not as likely to be descended from some Clan na Gael supporter who gave up his hard earned wages to fund an invasion of Canada back in the 1870's. Fewer Canadians would have inherited a hatred of all things British, a genetic marker that has been handed down through multiple generations of Irish-Americans in Chicago. Triggered by British-style snobbery, this gene may be expressed at some point during the trial. Not that it's a crime to be a complete asshole, but the jurors are products of their DNA, after all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Conrad's First Pitch

It's opening day here at the Federal courthouse in Chicago, and the sun is coming out from behind those morning clouds. The stands are packed with this sell-out crowd, all hoping for a glimpse of Conrad's first pitch of the trial.

"He's looking nattily attired in a dark suit and colorful tie. That's the mark of a man who knows his business, and he means business today."

Right you are, Nancy, and the missus has donned her business casual uniform as a member of the visiting team. The judge is taking the stand and the lawyers are on the field. Emotions are expected to run high today. You can almost taste the anticipation in the air.

"Tastes like hubris with a dollop of vengeance."

Strong palate you have there, Nancy. Let's get back to the trial. Edward Genson is stepping up the plate. Looks like he's thinking of swinging for the fences on the first pitch. The ball is over the plate and it's....

"Batted it back to Ms. St. Eve. Who would have expected Eddie to request that the jurors be questioned in chambers to see if they've been tainted by news coverage of Hollinger? Well, I've seen a lot of trials in my day, but I never could have predicted this."

Surprising move, Nancy, and we sure didn't see that coming. Well, there you have it. Judge St. Eve is calling the entire jury in for interviews. Looks like a long delay, and there's going to be a steady, drawn out shower of words.

"The judge may have to call the game if this runs up through the lunch break."

Good call again, there, Nancy. An aide to the judge has just announced that the trial has been postponed for the rest of the day. There's some concern on the field that the jury pool would be tainted if the Chicago Tribune got their wish and the names of the jurors were released. Could be a problem if reporters started calling them up and asking questions. Might put a notion or two in someone's head and that could sway the panel. Do you think that a juror might already have been tainted? Certainly, a lot of the applicants had some strong opinions. That character from Boeing, for example. Got cut before he even made the team.

"The judge would like to point out that the delay today is due entirely to a juror having a previous commitment and not being able to attend. No one's talking about a dismissal at this point."

Well, that's a relief. Wouldn't want someone sent down to the minors on opening day. So there you have it. No runs, no hits, no errors. Next up, we've got prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer on the mound Tuesday morning, and this trial is going to open up into a real barn burner.

"Wait, there's a late breaking report. It seems that Barbara Amiel Black just swore at a Canadian news reporter who tried to get into the elevator with Their Lordships. Expect the pundits to make a play on words with that one. Lady Black not acting like a lady. A little too obvious for our fans out here at the courthouse."

Yes, they're not going to take the lowbrow approach, Nancy. And we should all keep in mind that Mrs. Black would recognize a Canadian reporter, considering how often they've played against that team, but wouldn't necessarily know who's who in the British and American press box. We don't want anyone to think that she's discriminating against non-Canadians.

The fans are heading for the exits and it looks like that's about all for today. If you're scoring at home, chalk up one for Mrs. Black and her barnyard epithet. We'll be back tomorrow for another exciting game as the people of the United States take on Conrad Black and his North of the Border crew. So long, and please drive safely.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Your Window On The World

Unfortunately for Professor Harry Harrison of County Wicklow, he's not to be allowed a breath of fresh air. He'd like more light in his dining room and laundry room, but the powers that be at An Bord Pleanala have denied his request for three more windows installed in his country house. It's the cows, you see.

The professor went to his local county council to get permission, and he no doubt was comfortable with the notion that it was a done deal. The house is there, and all he needed was a bit more light. He paid an architect to draw up plans to pop in some extra windows, a very humdrum sort of business. Who could have guessed that the neighbor's cows would object?

The architect, Vincent Delaney, proposed the installation of strengthened glass, and then he set the sill heights at the equivalent grade level of a gate. Granted, cows have been known to jump over the moon, but in general they're not likely to leap a gate that's just over a meter high. Even if, for some bizarre reason like the sudden appearance of rattlesnakes in the pasture, the cows were to bolt, they'd not be leaping through Professor Harrison's dining room window. Slap a bit of a coating on the windows so they don't look as clear as an escape route from those same snakes, or what have you, and the cows aren't about to crash and injure themselves.

County Wicklow's planning inspector didn't see anything wrong with the new windows, what with the wide space between properties and the odds of a cow bolting into the dining room anyway. Sadly, the council sided with the neighbor on behalf of his livestock, and then An Bord Pleanala sided with the council, and now there's two government bodies that look like complete eejits.

Well done, bureaucrats. The cows of the world thank you for your consideration of their safety.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


If the editors at the Crab Orchard Review are to be believed, then the short story that I sent them at the beginning of August is under consideration. They'll get to the submissions, they say, within a month or three. Once it gets past five months, well, consider yourself one of the select few whose epic masterpiece is getting a serious look. It's six months and counting. Is that an indication of even more seriousness? So, do I hold back on the queries and wait for something definite?

Getting published in a paying journal would be a big plus, since I'd have something to put in the closing paragraph of the query letter besides 'Thank you for your consideration' that would actually enhance my credentials. The Carolina Quarterly is supposed to respond in four to six months, and they've had an excerpt from one of my manuscripts for six months. Should I wait for another week to see if they've picked up the submission? Now there's a dream, to query for a novel that's already had a bit put into print. Or, is the literary journal quite turtle-like in responding, and I'm wasting time in waiting on them?

I know that Zoetrope is overwhelmed and thus, very slow to respond. Is that why I've yet to hear from a submission sent last May? To lay claim to a published story in a journal this top of the range would be a very large plus in the query letter, but is it worth while to hold back on the assault of the literary agent fortress?

Then there's McSweeney's, who suggest a response within five months, or maybe they've lost it so feel free to re-submit. Am I waiting on all these journals for nothing? Is it possible that they've mislaid the submission?

Maybe a few query letters wouldn't hurt. Maybe I could hold off until Wednesday. Or Friday. I could send query letters over the next weekend, give the journals a bit more time. One more week?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

St. Paddy's Day 2007

You've been to Mass, adhering to traditions that are more ancient than memory. The corned beef is ready for boiling, to stand in lieu of the boiled bacon that you can't get on this side of the Atlantic. There's spuds and parsnips and the can of Batchelor's peas that you slipped past customs in the embracing folds of your dirty laundry. Cabbage is cored and sectioned. The buttermilk's in the fridge and you'll time the baking of the soda bread so that it pops out of the oven at just the right time.

The computer is on, and you set your Internet dial to
RTE Raidio and sit back, listening. Can't understand a word, but it sets the mood. Gets you in that St. Paddy's Day frame of mind.

Pry off the cap on a bottle of Harp's and split it between two glasses. Then open up a bottle of Guinness draft and let the foam crest, eager to escape from captivity. Hold the big teaspoon flat, with the tip resting against the side of the glass, and divvy up the Guinness between the half filled pints of Harp. You take a step back, to admire the sight of two fine beverages maintaining an uneasy alliance, with the Guinness always coming out on top.

So you cook your meal, drink half and halfs until you forget that you've not eaten yet, and toast to the blessed Saint Patrick. He'll grant you an indulgence for not putting green food coloring in the beer. And don't get him started on the Shamrock shake nonsense.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Even Greener Pastures

SanDisk set up a shell company in Ireland to avoid heavy taxation in its native land. Plenty of other multinationals did the same, all looking to ease the burden and not have to give the government quite so much, thus allowing the CEOs to make a decent living wage. After all, why give Uncle Sam a few million that he'll squander on some nonsense like food stamps, when the chief executive deserves a bonus of $6 million for all his hard work.

The whole tax avoidance scheme has played to Ireland's benefit, with the small island nation taking in their share of taxes on corporate profits. As they only take a small bite, just enough for a taste, the hulking conglomerates were happy to ship their profits overseas. Taxes are inevitable, so why not find a well-run establishment that doesn't ask for much of a cover charge? And when that fine establishment gets undercut by competition, it's easy to pull up and move the money caravan to another country. No manufacturing plants to shut down, a minimum of jobs to be lost, and the cost of relocation is virtually negligible.

With that in mind, Bristol-Myers Squibb has announced that they are removing something in the neighborhood of 25 million euro worth of assets. They took advantage of the lower Irish tax rate, thank you very much by the way, Ireland, but they've found someplace else to go that'll charge even less. They're not saying where they're headed, but it's been suggested that Belgium, land of excellent ale and fabulous chocolate, could be the next destination on the tax dodge tour of the world.

Lately, several companies that located factories in Ireland to take advantage of lower wages have moved on, finding sites in Eastern Europe that afforded even lower operating costs and cheaper wages. It's been a blow to several communities, where the multinational facility was the only game in town, and there's nothing coming in to replace it. Not everyone is a computer whiz, ready to step into an IT position, but that's where the jobs are these days. The blue collar working man, hoping to get a piece of the prosperity pie, is getting the sack instead of the demanded pay increase.

Bristol-Myers Squibb was quick to point out that there are no jobs being lost because of their move. What they failed to mention was the fact that a great deal of money was being lost to the Exchequer, and that cash is a loss to the entire nation. Other firms are following suit, liquidating Irish assets and shifting the profits to other countries that are happy for less than the 12.5% Irish rate.

Some of the pillars of the Celtic Tiger are crumbling. It might come down to an international bidding war, with the lowest taxing country taking the prize and learning to make do with less. Less national health care, less road building, less public spaces created. Sort of like the way it used to be, when the most asked for gift after passing the Leaving Cert was a one-way ticket out of Ireland.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

We Love You Conrad Oh Yes We Do

When you're a peer of the realm, you expect to be judged by a jury of your peers. Sadly, there are no noble men or women in Chicago, so Conrad Black has to settle for a jury of people who don't know him from those other white guys in dark suits and coordinated ties.

Jury selection is under way at the Federal courthouse, where Judge Amy St. Eve is presiding. Sorry, but doesn't that name sound like it belongs to a burlesque dancer? Poor woman, probably teased about it all her life and now she's a judge with a chip on her shoulder. She'd never dare to wear short skirts or tight blouses, not if she's expecting to be taken seriously with such an appellation attached.

Who will decide if His Lordship is guilty or innocent? Juries are fairly anonymous, so there's no names or occupations mentioned just yet. The reports from the court room claim that most of those undergoing the selection process have never heard of Conrad Black and his financial shenanigans. That news should lift the heart of the defense team, the empty slate upon which they can chalk their story. There was the one juror who had seen some pictures of the defendant, however. She said he looked like he was going to a cocktail party, all dressed up. The members of the jury pool are not so inclined as to don a tux and head off for an elegant night on the town, and the defense does not want anyone who resents the party-goers on the jury.

Reportedly, potential jurors were heard to remark that there's no way any mere mortal could make tens of millions of dollars in any legal way. For the average wage earner, tacking on all those zeros in comparison to their measly income becomes mind-boggling and they get a bit woozy. The judge had to caution the jurors that it was not a crime to make a lot of money, but the seeds of doubt were planted long before this trial opened. The notion of ill-gotten gains is deeply entrenched in literature and religious lore.

The debacle of Enron has colored the opinions of some jurors, making them look cynically upon any and all corporations and the men who lead them. Again, the judge had to issue a caution, since this is Conrad Black's trial and not Ken Lay's and don't get them mixed up or even think about the fall-out of Enron and how so many little investors got hurt. The problem is, it's nearly impossible to sever all past opinions from the present case. I wouldn't expect the defense attorneys to allow in anyone who once held stock and got burned by an Enron or WorldCom collapse.

Judge St. Eve sent fourteen people home after the interrogation, and another three dozen will be called in for questioning. By Monday, she'll have a panel of twelve plus a few spares and the circus will officially be open. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Author In The Flesh

What might a published author look like? Photogenic, perhaps? Slim, blond, athletic? Jodi Picoult is none of that. There's hope for us all.

An average looking woman with the figure of a mother of three, she could blend in with any crowd at the market. At a recent talk given as part of her book tour, Ms. Picoult proved to be bright and personable, with a wicked sense of humor and an easy manner. For an hour, she stood alone on the stage at the local community center and held the rapt attention of a sizable crowd.

For about twenty minutes, she read from her newest release, 19 Minutes, which deals with the topic of high school bullying and touches heavily on the Columbine incident. She mentioned that much of her research for the book came from interviews with the Littleton, CO sheriffs, lending that certain air to her story that makes me feel as if I am reading the newspapers again. One of the characters in her newest novel, which was written three years ago and is just now being released, was based on her interviews with a survivor of a Minnesota school shooting. Even fictional characters have to have real emotions, or they fall flat, and Ms. Picoult did a fine job of explaining why the actors on her literary stage make sense.

The remainder of the time was passed in a question and answer session, with most of the audience members somewhat curious about where she finds her topics. Given that she is a mother, like the ladies who attended, she described her inspiration in the issues that she sees. Hence, her stories often revolve around children and parents, with plots springing from the authorial "What if" that drives all writers.

Did I ask her how she landed an agent? Or does she have a couple of first manuscripts gathering dust under the bed, never to see the light of day? Of course not, I'm a rank coward and would never raise my hand.

One participant did ask if she wrote from an outline or winged it, and it was a relief to me to find out that she writes as I do. Start with a beginning and an end, and then let the characters tell their story. Even if they go where you did not expect them to.

As for writers' block, she doesn't believe in it and neither do I. Write whenever you can, she said today, if it's ten minutes or a day. And if it's a load of garbage that comes out sometimes, don't worry because you can edit later. It's more important to write.

Ms. Picoult also is attached to her characters, bringing back a couple from previous novels because she was so fond of them. I don't feel like such a freak anymore, not when I hear that a published author looks on these imaginary people as nearly real.

Funny to listen to someone who's made it to the Big Show, and realize that you do things like they do without ever being trained in this curious art of writing. Pity that the literary agents don't care about the process, only the query letter. Since my query letters are getting more and more lame by the week.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Happened To The Neanderthals

Spring came early, as it had come early the year before and the year before that. Dordogne sniffed the air, searching for the scent of game that had grown scarce. Nothing. They would be hungry again today, unless those nice people down the road had something to spare.

Returning to the cave empty-handed, Dordogne could not meet his wife's eye, so ashamed was he at his lack of hunting skills. None of the other men in the village were doing much better, but that made no difference to one man who had already buried two children. Francie was making do with grace, brewing up a pot of nettle soup, but Dordogne felt her silent disappointment.

The men of the village held a meeting that night, to discuss the changes that had taken place. The animals that once were plentiful were gone, but more troubling was the river that had appeared one day in their great-great-grandparents' time, forming a boundary to the north of the village. The river had now grown so wide that they could not cross it. There were days when the wind blew from the north, carrying a whiff of mastodon that made a person's mouth water, but there was no way to get at the beasts. The herds of wild animals might just as well have been wandering across the face of the moon, equally unattainable.

Yerog the Wise stood within the meeting circle, his Council of the Learned behind him. He announced that he would make a 'powerful points' presentation, and all were to listen carefully. Yerog and his advisers had determined the cause of the changes, and they were going to offer the only solution available. Dordogne looked around, but none of their taller neighbors, the people of that other clan, were there to lend their knowledge.

Slowly, as if preparing to speak, Yerog the Wise ground his foot into the soot of the fire and then imprinted his mark, a large footprint in carbon, on the wall of the cave. "This is the reason," he said, pointing at the dark smudge. "We burn the trees, and the waters rise and the animals flee."

Just yesterday, Dordogne had run into Sapiens in the open grassland, stopped to chat and learned about the handy gizmo that the tall, blond neighbor used to fling his spear. One thing led to another, and they were discussing religion, though the tone was quite civil. Sapiens had such a different set of beliefs, coupled with a host of ancient ancestors who supposedly carried some vast store of knowledge. Because of his faith in the wisdom of these very ancient ancestors, Sapiens and his clan were not at all alarmed by the climate change, not when they were so sure that their ancestors had seen the weather change from hot to cold. Now it was going back to what it used to be, according to Sapiens. Adapt, he said cheerily. The man was deranged.

"From this moment on, we will stop burning and within ten years, the cold will return," Yerog the Wise announced. "The ice will grow and the river will disappear. Then, we can walk back to our ancestral hunting grounds and we will soon prosper."

A humming through the cave meant that the motion was passed unanimously. Dordogne went back to his cave and scattered the last remnants of the fire, poking with a stick until the stones of the fire pit grew cold. In the dark, there was nothing to do but go to sleep.

"It's freezing in here," Francie groaned. "Can't we have a little fire? It's a small cave."

"No fires," Dordogne said. "It is forbidden."

"The Sapiens aren't using all their fire. Why don't you buy some of theirs?"

"If they were wise, they would stop putting all that smoke into the air. Cuddle up, darling, we'll share body heat."

"Body heat my arse. I can't stop shivering."

After a week had passed and Sapiens had not seen his neighbor, he thought he might drop in. Out of charity, he brought along a haunch of meat to share with those who had once been flush with wild game and berries. He knocked on the cave, but heard no sound beyond the whistle of the wind and the steady drip of condensation. The same silence greeted his knock at every cave, as if the entire village was deserted.

"Hello there," Sapiens cried out, and a weak voice answered back.

"Has the ice returned yet?" Yerog the Wise asked.

"What the hell are you going on about?" Sapiens said. "It's the warm cycle now. The ice won't come back for another twenty thousand years. This is how it's supposed to be. The earth changes, old man, it isn't like those flies in the amber beads that my wife is so fond of."

"No, it's the fuel we burned. It made the ice melt."

"Where is everyone?"

"Frozen." Yerog sighed, using up his last breath.

Chilled to the bone, Sapiens returned to the comfort of his hearth and home, to tell his clan of the Neanderthals and the crazy notion that killed them all. He put another log on the fire, to watch the sparks fly up like the souls of his good friends Dordogne and Francie. Adapt to a changing world, he had told them, but some people would not listen. There was no talking to a Neanderthal anyway, so set in their ways, thinking that every rock was always where they found it and would never move from that spot. So enamored of doomsday scenarios, and now they were all dead.

"It's ironic," Sapiens said to his wife. "A touch of irony"

"Irony? What's that? Did you invent something else today, dear?" She crushed a handful of nuts against the grinding rock. "Thought I'd do a pecan-crusted halibut for dinner. For a change. Getting tired of mastodon every night."

"Change is good," Sapiens said. "In fact, change is inevitable."

Near Death Experience

Don't have my carbon monoxide detector just yet, even though it's the law now. The silent killer, it's called, the deadly gas that victims can neither smell nor taste nor see. Carbon monoxide nearly wiped out the guests at the New York Sligo Association gala in Long Island.

On Saturday, Debbie McGoldrick was named Sligo woman of the year, perhaps because of her fine work as news editor of the Irish Voice. Politician Fergus O'Dowd, visiting from County Louth, was taken ill at the banquet where the announcement was toasted, but of course at the time he had no idea why his head was throbbing. He could have put it down to the noise, too much salt in the food, or even some bad hops in the beer. Ms. McGoldrick had to take her little girl home because the child felt sick, but again, at the time she did not know why and may have been somewhat upset to have to leave her own party early. Of all the times for the child to take sick, she could have thought to herself, not knowing that her little canary in the mine shaft was providing a warning.

The president of the association, Bridie O'Reilly, had to be carried out by paramedics after she passed out some time before midnight. There she was, enjoying the evening, and she begins to feel weaker and weaker until she falls to the floor. Yet there was no odd smell to warn her, no off taste to her food or drink. If Ms. O'Reilly had not fainted, it's likely that the alarm would not have been sounded when it was, and who knows how many might have succumbed to the deadly gas?

Turns out that the flue was blocked, which is what usually causes CO to back up into the rooms being heated. By the end of the evening, twenty people were treated for CO poisoning in the local hospital. By the end of this week, the lawsuits will be getting filed against the banquet hall with the blocked flue.

Expect Mr. O'Dowd to propose that carbon monoxide detectors be standard issue for all public and private places in Ireland. Now that he's experienced first hand what it's like to come that close to dying and not even realizing you were on the way out, he can argue forcefully for the passage of a law that requires the addition of CO detectors. Nothing like a retelling of his experience to bring it home to his fellow politicians. And a CO detector isn't all that expensive, considering the peace of mind.

Nothing as sure as death and taxes, and today I'm meeting with the accountant to get my annual income taxes filed. (You spend a lot on stamps, he'll say, and I'll just nod. One of these days I'll have some income to post against that particular expense.) Before the day is over, I'll have a CO detector installed in the house, and I'll put a new battery in the smoke detector while I'm at it. Death and taxes are guaranteed, and the tax business comes around with regularity. We can at least stave off the death bit for a while, or make sure the Grim Reaper doesn't come around in a haze of carbon monoxide.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Au Revoir, Chirac

In an announcement not unexpected, Jacques Chirac has retired from politics. He has decided not to seek another term as President. Political pundits are inclined to believe that he would have lost badly had he chosen to run, so it would be best to step aside rather than go down in a humiliating defeat. Quit while you're ahead, in a way.

Le Pen, the man who will lose his most frequently skewered foe, has offered up a prayer for Mr. Chirac, asking God to forgive the French president. As far as Le Pen is concerned, Chirac is the worst leader France has ever had, leaving office with a nation in the doldrums. High unemployment, low productivity, and the alienation in the banlieu have all been assigned to Chirac's legacy.

When the French people said no to the European Union constitution, Chirac was handed a resounding defeat. He had pushed hard for passage, but when the referendum failed, it was clear that he was losing his following. When he attempted to break the stifling stranglehold of job security with a 'First Job Contract', he had to send in the riot police.

One of the well-heeled elite, Chirac campaigned on a platform of equality, that hazy socialist notion that the haves should give to the have-nots. The problem is, the haves work hard to get, and they're not going to give away to some lazy sod who doesn't turn a wheel. Now, when Chirac is stepping down, the gap between rich and poor in France is greater than it was twelve years ago when he first took office. Campaign rhetoric has proven to be so much hot air that has dissipated into the atmosphere.

Not all of the problems should be laid at Chirac's feet. The over-all socialist tone of France's ruling bodies does more to damage the standard of living than anything one man could do on his own. They compare what they have to what Americans have, and then rail when their country comes up short. Pity that the French lawmakers can't rewrite the laws of economics. Really a shame that they don't understand those laws and act as if they can get around them.

Politicians make promises to get elected, and Chirac has run out of new promises while carrying aloft a banner of failed proposals. Right wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is the current front-runner for the post. Watch out that the swinging pendulum doesn't hit you on the way out, Monsieur Chirac.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

China, Bastion of Freedom

Name and shame, that's the ticket. The Chinese pot is calling the American kettle black, but isn't funny how that pot is so much blacker that the kettle looks shining?

Beijing is not pleased with this year's State Department human rights report. They've come right back, pointing out how hypocritical the American government is being. Why, look at...yes, look at, um, right.

Start with the war on terror. Just look at how abused the prisoners are in Guantanamo. Please don't look at the fact that they are free to practice their religion, unlike the Roman Catholics who have been driven underground. It's no abuse of human rights to select the priests and bishops who can minister to the faithful, even if it means stepping on the Pope's toes. Will you stop looking at that and concentrate on the terrorists in Cuba?

Washington DC is spying on its citizens. So what if they are connected with terrorist organizations, that's not the point. That spoils the point, actually, so let's move on. What about the Internet? The Americans are monitoring people's computer connections. China just bars access to entire websites, so there's no monitoring going on there. If citizens can't access YouTube and MySpace at all, there's no spying going on so the Americans are the hypocrites and the Chinese are, shall we say, more efficient.

Try to travel into the US and there's all kinds of checks and double-checks and where are you going kinds of questions. Travel into China, and no one asks such things. The government merely assigns someone to follow your every step and listen to every word you say. Clearly, those are two completely different strategies and the American technique is the one that infringes on human rights.

We could compare the prison systems, but it's common knowledge that Chinese courts are swift and a trial never drags on through appeal process after appeal process. A bullet to the back of the head and that's the end of it. Isn't that far more considerate of a prisoner's human rights than letting them sit in jail for years on end? And the government wouldn't bill the condemned prisoner's family for the cost of the bullet if they had the kind of money that America has, so tell that to Amnesty International.

Things are so fair in China. It's no wonder that there's a tremendous problem with foreign nationals trying to sneak over the border. Sorry, what was that? Oh, those are Chinese citizens trying to get out of the country. They need a little re-education to see how great it is to live in the land of the free...China.

Friday, March 09, 2007

St. Patrick's Day Visits

There'll be no one in government next week. They'll all be in America, the lot of them. Too many tourists in Dublin, and who wants to deal with the congestion?

As usual, the Taoiseach will visit Washington and give over the traditional bowl of weeds. Shamrocks are lovely, yes, but they're weeds nonetheless. The Tanaiste will travel to Savannah, Georgia, which is a beautiful, historic city that boasts of rather fine weather this time of year. Far nicer than New York, at any rate, although not as cozy and warm as Phoenix, where Eamon O Cuiv will be representing the Emerald Isle. He's the man in charge of all things Irish, so he'll be able to offer up a speech sprinkled liberally with the native tongue. Don't speak it myself, but it's almost hypnotic in its smooth lilt.

Those cities are all fine places for a short holiday, but where will the Minister for Finance go? Not to some sunny locale with sandy beaches. Mr. Brian Cowen is going to Chicago.

He may notice the bright green river, he may be accorded a place of honor in the big parade of politicians that marches smartly down State Street on St. Patrick's Day. The point of his visit is not to be a well-positioned tourist. Chicago is a city that was founded to do business, a central hub that exists to this day to make money. There's more than Wall Street when it comes to generating investments and creating jobs in Ireland. Chicago is home to dozens of major corporations, all of whom will be wooed to invest in Ireland.

Brian Cowen will savor the thick and juicy steaks served up at Gibson's. He'll enjoy the generous slabs of Eli's cheesecake and trade bon mots with the movers and shakers. In between bites, however, he'll be working, to keep the Celtic Tiger purring.

Learning To Read

The wise bureaucrats in Madison, Wisconsin, are not about to be bullied or bribed with Federal education dollars. They've settled on their technique to teach children to read, and that's the end of it. Does their system work better than the one proposed by the Federal Government? Doesn't matter, does it?

To get federal aid dollars, the elementary schools have been told to teach reading via phonics. If you went to Catholic school, back when there were flocks of nuns, that's how you learned to read. Given that the Church is so unchanging, the private primary schools continue to use phonics for reading, and with good results. Catholic schools routinely show higher test scores, even in impoverished areas where the public schools use excuses about lack of resources and difficult home lives to explain away their failures. Wouldn't want to take a page from the Catholics, Lord no, because that's too religion-oriented for the secular world.

So Madison insisted that they were entitled to the $2 million grant because they had data that showed their teaching method was effective, even though it was not purely phonics-based. They were hitting the mark on the goal sheet. Did they think that maybe they could do better? What difference, as long as they did just enough to satisfy requirements and no more. Who cared that government data showed phonics to be the superior method to teach reading? The government study was probably overloaded with former Catholic pupils who looked back fondly on the old nun who made them sound out words. Why, accept that and the next thing you know it's orders to offer up morning prayers and such.

There were some in Madison who felt that they were under pressure to buy particular teaching packages or risk losing the funding. Then there were the teachers who felt that they were smart enough to figure out their own way of doing things. No doubt some were. No doubt the rest were not.

In the end, the Madison school district opted out, gave up the money, and went off to teach reading in their own way. An example cited in the New York Times described a child looking at a word, and rather than sounding it out, deciding between 'pumpkin' and 'pea' based on the size of the word. Two words that don't sound alike at all. Two words that phonics separates in the blink of an eye.

Thank you God for the Ursuline nuns and their steely dedication to phonics. God help the children of Madison, Wisconsin, who will soon tire of all the work involved in measuring words and examining context as they plough through a paragraph. They'll not be reading much once school is done.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Translation Please

The Senator from New York is after making a fool of himself again. He's done it before, when speaking to the undocumented Irish. It's grand, Mr. Schumer, that you've a cupal focal, but did your handlers not tell you what the phrase actually means? Not the literal translation, but the rest of it.

In Washington yesterday, a crowd of illegal Irish immigrants rallied for their cause. Like everyone else who comes here and finds out how good life can be, they'd like very much to be able to come and go. At the moment, the undocumented workers are stuck in place, unable to visit or attend funerals back home out of fear that they won't get back in when they return to America. The new immigration reform bill put forth by Ted Kennedy and John McCain is supposed to address the issue, to give the illegals a new status as sort of legal and on the road to legality.

Even though the case of the Irish sounds simple, it's not. They're here to work, and they are working. They buy homes, start up businesses, raise families. If not for the 1986 amnesty program, I'd be laying claim to an illegal alien in my family, so I'd say that I'm familiar with the overall problem. On the other hand, I work with men who have jumped through hoops and spent countless thousands of dollars to normalize their status. They've counted the years until they could bring their families to this land of opportunity, and they resent the attitudes of the illegal aliens who feel that they are entitled to special privileges. There's more than one side to the issue, but in general, those who are closer to the immigrant experience tend to favor some kind of normalization process. Not that it should be an easy ride, but when your own father came over on a boat with nothing in his pockets, you tend to view the world from a different angle.

As for the charming New York politician, he's doing what all politicians do, making like he's one of the group he's speaking to. If they were Hispanic, he'd be shouting out slogans in Spanish. But it's the Irish he's addressing, so it's 'Tiochfaidh Ar La" to the sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle.

Senator Schumer, if no one's told you yet, you could get a T-shirt with that very slogan printed on it. It's available here. Or are you a closet Republican (of the Irish variety, of course)?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Election Day

The political junkies are in heaven today, with the election in Northern Ireland up and running. Perhaps walking, or even crawling, would be a better analogy, given the level of apathy amongst the voters. They've seen it too many times, heard too many promises, and lived through too many setbacks to get up off the chair and walk to the polling place.

Not many surprises are expected as far as the results are concerned. It looks to be the DUP and Sinn Fein taking the lead, with the smaller splinter groups not having much effect and the SDLP and Alliance parties scarcely heard above the noise. But once the election is over and the votes are counted, the fun will swing into high gear.

The Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement, are about to blossom...or die on the vine. The rhetoric of power sharing, and not sharing power, have filled in the time in the run-up to today's election. After Friday, when the tallies are tallied and the winners announced, all talk will turn to the next step, the one that leads to devolved government.

No one is questioning Sinn Fein's commitment to getting on with the process. All eyes and ears turn to the DUP, which is finally coming under some severe pressure after years of pressurizing the Shinners. Will the big man do it? Will he reverse himself after a lifetime of saying no and finally say yes?

Never never never would the DUPers go into government with the Shinners, or such was the rallying cry for more years than anyone cares to count. One by one, Gerry Adams and crew met the requirements presented for devolution, and now there are no hurdles to vault. All that is left is the weak protest, the complaint that the Shinners aren't there yet, they have to prove themselves, can't be trusted you see, it'll be next generation at the earliest.

On the last Monday in March, the DUP will have to make a move, now that they are painted into a corner. The rules and regulations that drop in from London, especially the decisions on where to set the water rates, have rankled the average Ulsterman, and even they are looking to some local politicians to take charge. Unfortunately, the system is now set up to put both the DUP and Sinn Fein, together, Home Rule at last, so where can the DUP go? Will they say no again, and risk the ire of the electorate? Will they say yes, and gain the financial benefits that England and Ireland are ready to shower upon them?

The election is today, but the real contest is just beginning.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


So now the truth can be told. The Irish and the British are brothers under the skin. Way under the skin, all the way down to the DNA.

Botanists have taken to using DNA to sort out plant family lines, and evolutionists have made more progress with genetic analysis than they did with nothing more than their keen eyesight and thoughtful insight. Sooner or later, you had to expect some clever scientist to look at the ongoing battles in the north of Ireland and say, "Gee, wouldn't it be funny if those two groups of combatants found out they were actually related?"

Does Ian Paisley believe in evolution? Has anyone told him that both his Scottish ancestors and Gerry Adams' Irish clan all came from the same group of hardy Spaniards who trotted across the English Channel some 16,000 years ago?

Geologists know that the Channel and the Irish Sea were not the least bit wet back then, during an ice age when sea levels were much lower. What is now Ireland and England was covered by ice, and the people who lived there prior to glaciation made their way south, walking across the dry Channel for a sun holiday on the Spanish Riviera. It has been suggested that some of the vacationers went back as the glaciers retreated, to set up housekeeping and burn fossil fuels and make the ice sheets melt even more, exposing the land in Ireland and England.

The Celts were not the original Irish, according to scientists, but rather they were a group of people who moved to Ireland from Eastern Europe and brought along their knowledge of farming. Not only farming, but their native tongue became part and parcel of Ireland and the west of England as they intermingled with the natives. A few people from the Germanic tribes took advantage of some frequent roamer miles, came to visit England and Ireland, and overstayed their visas. Few in number, they liked the eastern and southern coasts so much that they put down roots and added their mother tongue to the language as spoken.

And then the sea began to rise as the climate grew warmer. (Sound familiar?) The Irish were eventually cut off from their English cousins, who would then be left to host the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Normans while the Irish were saved from the burden of so many guests calling unannounced. One can see how the animosity began, in ancient days, when the Brits were being eaten out of house and home by a bunch of guests who never left, while the Irish were merrily farming and keeping themselves to themselves.

Dr. Mark Thomas of University College London does not entirely agree with this thesis. He believes that most of the indigenous population in England was wiped out by the invading hordes, thus his genetic material is not so entirely Spanish at all. By implication, then, he is further removed from those bog trotters across the sea, and much closer to the wise and clever Scandinavians and progressive Dutch who supplied the Anglo-Saxon blood stock.

Looking at languages, the jury is very much out. There are those who believe that Celtic is the more ancient language and must have been spoken in both Ireland and England, but others will argue that the lack of Celtic place names in England indicates that English was spoken there much sooner than previously believed. Based on genetic evidence, however, it is accepted that the first to arrive in the British Isles at the end of the Ice Age provided the core population to both islands.

Expect Ian Paisley to side, most vehemently, with Dr. Thomas. Or better yet, perhaps his handlers should keep this news from him. To learn that he is genetically related to the Catholics in the north, at his age? Sure it'd kill him.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Excessive Hot Air Emissions

Nothing like a good game of one-upmanship to get something done about all that carbon dioxide being spewed into the air. With Germany slated to take over the rotating EU presidency, the government is trumpeting a new initiative to lower emissions by 30% come 2020. Not that meager 20% cut that the EU called for last month. No indeed, the Germans are going to do better.

Problem is, the pre-Merkel government set in motion, also by 2020, the complete phase-out of all German nuclear power plants. Michael Glos, the economics minister, laid into the environment minister on that one, noting that the Social Democrat was too enamored of a leftist anti-nuclear ideology. Atomic power doesn't emit carbon dioxide, and it would provide plenty of electricity, but the environment minister won't allow it. Bad things, those electrons and protons, especially when no one knows quite how to dispose of the debris.

In fact, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel is convinced that his country can lead the way on emissions reduction by using energy more efficiently and turning to renewable energy. Sounds lovely. Sounds like nothing that's been invented yet. Sounds like something not physically capable of being done at this time. Is that a pie he sees up there in the sky?

The nuclear power plants in some EU states are highly suspect, largely because they were built by the former Soviet Union which was not famous for quality control. A recent leak of radioactive water from a plant in the Czech Republic has really boosted Mr. Gabriel's argument, but Mr. Glos has his point as well. It's either dangerous nuclear power or less power, because the technology to lower CO2 just does not exist at this time. Given a choice between sitting in the dark or turning on the lights, the average EU citizen would take the brighter option. As the average EU citizens is doing the voting, the more politically astute politicians know which side they should take.

In the end, look for Germany to do what all the other EU countries are doing. They will talk up the whole emission reduction game, get some feel good quotes in the newspapers, and act surprised that emissions are rising along with a growing economy. Then the EU will fine everyone for going over the limit. Does wonders for the atmosphere, doesn't it?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lord Rumpelstiltskin of Crossharbour

Not everyone can spin straw into gold, but Conrad Black is giving it a mighty try.

Very soon, he will enter a court room in Chicago, where few know of him. Except, of course, for all of his former employees of the Chicago Sun-Times, a newspaper he very nearly demolished. A contingent of the disgruntled will probably attend, to gloat over the impending downfall, but this is the sort of case that will drag on for years. If all goes as planned, Mr. Black will be burning in hell long before things draw to a close, and he can then be buried with all the honors due to a peer of the realm.

In the meantime, he's spinning a golden tale of his victimhood, and there are reports that his floss has taken on a certain glitter. Many Canadians who once reviled him are beginning to see his take on the situation, and offer up a bit of hard-bitten respect for their native son. Seeing as the case is being heard in Chicago, however, his spinning wheel may not work once transported further south.

Take the whole peerage issue. You'll rarely see the man referred to as Lord Black in the news, and that is a reflection of the Irishman's antipathy to British nobility. Chicago's mayor is descended from Mayo stock, and the river's about to be dyed a lovely shade of Kelly green in a few days. Look at the roster of judges in Chicago, and you'll see more Irish names than the Dublin telephone directory. The lead prosecutor on the case just happens to be named Fitzgerald, and the lad's a Domer. Lord have mercy on His Lordship, but the Great Famine is still a fresh memory (and one that never gets stale).

The pending litigation revolves around some shady financing, and His Lordship stands accused of using corporate funds as his private bank account. He's outraged over the allegations, the smears on his noble character, but Patrick Fitzgerald is confident that he has a case. Not to be humbled, Conrad Black continues as before, making the scene with his glamorous wife on his arm. It's as if he's entirely in the right, the victim of some jealous detractors. It's being done to him by members of Hollinger Inc.'s board, he says. One of those members is a former Illinois governor, and Big Jim Thompson will throw the Canuck overboard to save his own skin. And not even blink. In the city known as the Stacker of Wheat, the odds are stacked against the former media baron.

So Conrad Black spins his version of events, hoping that the gold will translate into enough money to pay a raft of lawyers to get him off the hook. As for the whole peerage business, all in all it would be best to play it down. City of the Big Shoulders, Hog Butcher to the World...Bareheaded, Shoveling, Wrecking, Planning. Not impressed with your credentials. And the jury will soon guess your real name.

Glimmer and Shine

No Glimmer Train for me on this round of free submissions. The short story was rejected, and in a timely manner. Nine weeks of waiting, but there's still another one out there.

Yes, it's true, Glimmer Train requires exclusive submissions, but it's also true that the odds of getting picked are so small as to be nearly microscopic. Four weeks after I sent in a short story, I sent the same story to another journal. It's a game, isn't it, and I'm modifying the rules to suit my needs. The chances of being published are slight, so I'm casting as wide a net as I can to get something in print. Now that Glimmer Train has passed, I'll find a few more journals and submit the same story to them. Like kiting a check, it's all in the timing, and it helps to balance the submissions between exclusive and multiple styles.

Can't be all doom and gloom after the rejection, not when Rod Stewart was performing on the very evening after I got the sad news from Glimmer Train. Nothing like a brilliant showman, singing from a vast song list for two full hours, to lift the spirits and make the struggling writer forget their troubles for a time.

Off to compile a list of lucky recipients of my short story, and maybe look at the outstanding submissions and decide which of the stories should be sent out to others. It's all about getting published somewhere, to get the foot in the door. Rejected, yes, but still I'd look to find a reason to believe.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Support The Public Library

Public libraries serve as an example of a truly beneficial use of public funds. Open to all, the buildings beckon the reader to enter and explore, at no additional charge beyond the tax dollars that all must submit. Voracious readers can consume words to their heart's delight, without having to be able to afford the cost of three or four books per week.

Pick up a book and bring it home. If you don't like it, if it doesn't grab you (although it must have garnered the love of some literary agent somewhere), you simply take it back and you've not lost much beyond a few minutes of your time. Test out a genre that you might not otherwise choose, if you had to buy the book and were not certain to like it after all. Again, it's essentially free. Those of us trying to get published can take advantage of the vast and varied assortment of novels to help us learn how to do the writing that gets published; the struggling author can examine word by word, line by line, paragraph by paragraph to determine how to hook a reader.

There's more to the library than books. Readers can check out a few soothing or stimulating tunes to play in the background as they enjoy their hobby. Interest in a particular area, a must for the writer of historical fiction, can be explored with the music of the era in question, to better get a feel for the age and how the drawing room might have sounded during a country dance or a formal ball.

Don't feel like reading? The well-stocked library has a collection of DVDs and tapes. Always fun to observe the fashions of the 1930's, the dream world of the rich that played out on movie screens for those who were dirt poor.

Should you find yourself with time to kill, there's always the magazine collection at the public library to provide some free amusement. And besides, it's warm and dry in the library, and who wants to wait out in the rain or the snow? Most times, it's also a quiet place, a respite from the screech and honk of big city traffic.

The modern public library is a very user-friendly place, and some young people are finding unique uses for those dusty, quiet, secluded stacks. Raul Tapia of Woodstock, Illinois took his sixteen-year-old girlfriend to the local library, to make use of all that it offered. Sixteen being below the age of consent, however, the unfortunate Raul was arrested.

For all that one can do in a library, having sex is not one of them. Perhaps there was some romance in the air, or maybe Raul and his jail-bait lover were overly aroused by the covers in the romance section. Overcome with passion, inspired by the rows of bodice-rippers, the young lovers did what came naturally, without having the sense to hide in the bathroom while engaging in coitus.

Martha Hansen, the Woodstock library network administrator, won't say where exactly the coupling took place, no doubt for fear that some other starry-eyed couple will try the same thing. And just so you know, she's not about to let this sort of thing happen again.

Raul is no doubt an avowed non-reader these days, seeing as he's facing up to a year in jail...and the unparalleled envy and praise of his mates.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Home Health Care

An article in today's NYT presents a familiar picture for those of us with elderly parents to care for. We're very well versed in the home health care industry these days, an education that was earned through experience.

The partner's mother is on the downswing portion of Parkinson's disease, largely unable to dress herself and definitely not able to safely cook a meal. Add to that the onset of dementia, a common problem with Parkinson's patients, and there's a woman in need of 24 hour watching. The only solution was to hire a live-in caregiver.

Word of mouth, via a friend who had a friend with a sick mother, brought us to an agency staffed by Filipinos. Caregivers came and went, a revolving door. They were women who wanted to become nurses but could not afford an education back home, so they turned to home health care and found jobs through family channels. However, dealing with a demented, sick old woman who hated having strangers in her house was wearing and so the carer's face changed with regularity.

After a couple of years of paying the agency, we learned that the agency was ripping off their employees, which explained in part the frequent turn-over. A dissatisfied caregiver quit the agency and offered her services as an independent employee. She was the first aide to get along with the old woman, who was finally accepting her dependent status, and the price was right. When there's only so much to go around, you don't take on a luxury agency.

Our personal home health care aide worked for six months, after making enough money to cover some old bills, and gave notice. She also introduced us to her sister-in-law, another full time caregiver, whom we promptly hired. The whole family, husband and wife, grown daughters, are all home health care workers who earn more money in a week than me and the partner combined. It's a lucrative field, a growing industry, but every penny is hard-earned under unpleasant conditions.

Bit by bit, the savings are going down and we expect to be tapped out within five to six years. If the partner's mother is still living, she'll have to be put into a nursing home and Medicare will be left to foot the bill.

Pray God that I just up and die before I get so sick as that. I'd never be able to afford the health care.

Lost Mail

The first of March, the beginning of spring (or nearly so) and it's time to assess the query list. I keep re-working the query, then try it out on a few agents who accept e-mail. When I get no response, I revise again and try a few agents who accept snail mail. Oddly enough, it's been more of the response.

There must be piles of lost mail in NYC, or maybe it's an unpaid intern dealing with a backlog via the shredder. How else to explain the lack of a response from Sally Van Haitsma at the Castiglia Agency, with a query mailed at the beginning of last September? After six months, the query was either lost, stolen or strayed. Or pulped. Whatever the reason, the query is now lined out of the list.

Alicka Pistek no longer accepts paper queries, but I sent mine in before she changed her policy. So that must mean that she is not going to do anything with the ones that arrived before the switch. Or mine got lost. Or the mailman grew disgruntled and has it stuffed in his cellar, along with the queries I sent to Michele Beno, Chris Parris-Lamb and Tara Mark. They were all mailed in September, and not one has garnered a response, so what else am I to conclude?

Melanie Jackson is a busy agent, and that is why she never responded to the query I mailed four months ago. Another one lined out, the no response is a no being the most logical reason for the fact that my SASE has yet to land in the mail box.

I thought that it was well past time for replies to the snail mail sent after the first of the New Year, but today I discovered an e-mail rejection from Andrea "Andy" Barzvi, courtesy of her assistant. Nearly two months to get the response, but it's getting to the point that I'm grateful for any sort of signal from a literary agent.

This looks to be a new trend, where the agent does not bother with a query that does not grab them. The SASE becomes filler in the envelope, as it serves no purpose, unless of course the agent is able to recycle the things and correspond with actual clients. But to omit the SASE could be a mistake, for who knows which agent really wants them and which will not actually use them? It's a tough game to play, when the rules vary by location and change over time.