Friday, August 31, 2007

A Minor Tweaking

Yet another query. Nothing's worked so far, might as well re-work the hook, the premise, the short synopsis.

Change the title. There's plenty of titles that would suit, and it doesn't really matter what I call the manuscript, as long as it sounds catchy and makes sense as far as the plot goes.

I swear I've queried every agent out there. So that means it's time to change the names of the main characters. Maybe the names were too clever, too confusing, too foreign, not foreign enough, etc. etc. Change for the sake of change, lest the query letter raise a recollection from one who has seen it before.

Give it a test run. Send it off to five agents who accept e-mail queries.

Get a response from one. It's an auto-response, the agent is out of the office until the fifth of September. Aren't they all? It's the last summer holiday weekend; who in their right mind would be working?

Take a break over same weekend. No one's there to read the query letter, so there's no point in thinking about it. Of course, come Monday night, it's time to print out a few snail-mail queries and get them in the mail. Catch the agents as they settle in for the winter.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Explore Ireland By Car

In a joint effort with Failte Ireland, farmers across the island are actively promoting tourism. Following a report by the Environmental Protection Agency, farmers see increased motoring and increased CO2 emissions as key to their future success.

Analyzing records that go back one hundred years, the government agency has noted that Ireland is getting warmer twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The end result? Fewer frost days, warmer winters, and a longer growing season. Scientists at NUI Maynooth have declared that there can be no doubt that human activity is behind the rising temperatures, and farmers would like to promote human activity as much as possible. Nothing could be more effective than getting millions of tourists to motor up and down the island, preferably in large SUVs to maximize emissions.

The report, prepared by Dr. John Sweeney and Dr. Laura McElwain, has offered hard-pressed farmers a glimmer of hope. With the promise of a longer growing season as a result of localized warming, current crops of cereals and grains will see an increase in production. In addition, new and different crops could be introduced, adding to the biodiversity of Irish farm products.

As for the tourism industry, the suggestion that summer days would be drier has marketing gurus scrambling to prepare advertising campaigns that prominently feature the warmer country as a sun holiday destination. Historians may find irony in such a change of fortune, noting that the climate of 1845-1855 had a profoundly detrimental effect on Irish farming, with a concomitant period of famine that is in marked contrast to the promised global warming bounty.

Who Would You Believe

A man wearing a checked tie of pink and black accuses another of being a liar. Would you not raise an eyebrow and question the honesty of a man wearing such an item?

Joseph Lopez, he of the loud tie, is defending Frank Calabrese Sr., who stands accused of numerous Mafia murders. As a defense attorney, Mr. Lopez has the task of casting aspersions on the government's witnesses, most of whom are also Mafiosi and have cut deals with the Feds. That's the crux of the defense, right there -- you can't believe the parade of witnesses who have said that Mr. Calabrese Sr. committed numerous murders because they'd say anything to keep their sorry selves out of prison.

What else might a defense attorney do to distract a jury and help them forget what was said (and taped) in a prison visiting room, when Mr. Calabrese Sr. described various killings to his son. Perhaps a flashy PowerPoint presentation will lull the twelve into somnambulence, while reminding the jurors that they were empaneled because of the sacrifices of George Washington and the soldiers at Valley Forge who marched through the snow, bare feet bleeding. Or will the jurors murmur a collective "WTF?" over such disjointed ramblings?

Perhaps the only thing Mr. Lopez can hope to do is to drive his defense theory home. His client is being railroaded by a guilty brother and guilty son who would like someone else do the time for their crimes. And don't believe what my client said on those tapes. He was just talking out of his head, trying to impress his son, trying to act like a big shot when he was just a juice loan man who never killed nobody. Look deeply into my tie. You are getting sleepy. Very sleepy.

The jury in the Family Secrets trial is expected to begin deliberating later today. Time will tell if a man in a wildly patterned tie can create enough confusion and doubt to get his client off. Can a bizarre tie or a flashy suit convince enough people that Mr. Calabrese didn't mean he had killed people when he said he killed people? Or will the conservative suit of the Federal prosecutor carry more weight?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Re-Telling An Old Story

"There's a new book coming out. Paul Bogaards of Knopf says it's a compelling call to do something on behalf of others."

"Ah, sure and that's the New Testament you'd be referring to."

"No, this book is called Giving and it was written by former President Clinton."

"Did he attend Catholic school, so? Didn't the sisters drill such things into our heads? How many black babies did you buy?"

"I gave my pennies to the Missions so that the starving children in Africa could eat and find God, same as everyone. The loose change in the pocket? Went into the St. Vincent DePaul collection box at the back of the church. We did what we could. But Mr. Clinton's book is so inspiring that you can't read it without wanting to act in some way, shape or form."

"And you swear he's not regurgitating what the nuns and priests were preaching day in and day out?"

"This book is said to be so phenomenal that it's not just a publishing event. It could become a movement."

"It's been done. We call it the Catholic Church. Jesus started it."

"You know what they say about books. All the stories have been written before, so you have to present the plot in a fresh way and no one can tell it's already been done."

"Isn't that the truth? Especially when you take such an old plot. Be of service to others, St. Ignatius Loyola said, and now we've got the likes of Bill Clinton saying the same thing with different words."

"Sorry, but I can't quite put Clinton in the same room as St. Ignatius."

"You're right there. St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits and he didn't make anything off the book rights."

"Will you buy the book?"

"No. Better that I pick up a copy of The Spiritual Exercises."

Shannon To Heathrow And Back Again

Aer Lingus generated a fire storm when it decided to end its run from Shannon to Heathrow and fly out of Belfast instead. What makes fiscal sense for the corporation, however, has yet to be run past the shareholders. And what of the majority shareholders?

There's the government of Ireland, for one, with about a quarter of the shares. They'd be entitled to sound off and represent the wishes of the people. They already stand accused of obfuscation on the issue so that Aer Lingus's stock price wouldn't be made to suffer in the current downturn. The average stock holder doesn't much like governments meddling in corporate affairs, and the stock holding government certainly did not want to be seen as meddling in Aer Lingus's affairs. All the same, there is pressure building for the Irish shares to be voting against the move.

Who else owns a great deal of Aer Lingus stock? None other than Ryanair, with around thirty percent of the rival's stock. Couldn't be allowed to buy out the lot, but Ryanair has enough muscle to do a bit of serious flexing. Doing things like calling extraordinary general meetings and putting forth proposals.

Here's a suggestion, says Ryanair. The decision to eliminate the Shannon to Heathrow route? That's got no legs. Instead, Aer Lingus can scale back on its service to Gatwick, and use the savings there to build up the Belfast hub. Brilliant, is it not? Everyone will be happy, everyone gets what they want, and Ryanair gets a leg up on Aer Lingus.

Ryanair would like to get more business out of their Gatwick to Charleroi and Gatwick to Dublin runs, where Aer Lingus is the competition. How fantastic is that, when you can not own a company outright, but you can get it to do things that benefit your airline? And to make it look like you're doing a good deed for those hard done by in the west of Ireland, that's sweet.

Count on the board of Aer Lingus to point that out, of course, when they explain to their shareholders how wrong Ryanair's suggestions are. After all, Ryanair was not allowed to buy up Aer Lingus because it would decrease competition, and allowing the airline to decrease competition through the back door cannot be allowed to stand.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Are There Any Adults Here?

The Illinois State House and Senate have devolved into a school yard, and there's a definite lack of adult supervision.

Rod Blagojevich became governor and figured that he could run the state and leave a lasting legacy, his name emblazoned on the lists of the great politicians. It's the Land of Lincoln, isn't it, and who wouldn't want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of himself. The problem with running things is that you pretty much have to enjoy a consensus, you have to be doing that which a majority would also like done. But when you can't get your own way, it does no good to have a temper tantrum.

The Illinois legislature refused to come to heel, because Speaker of the House Mike Madigan has been running the state for years and he's not about to give up his position of power. The governor tried to push through legislation that was wildly unpopular, although his cronies and political allies stood to gain. Wise politicians wouldn't go along with the program, seeing as they had an eye to getting re-elected when the polls next open. Mr. Madigan refused to kneel to the governor who would be king, and the fight has been hot all summer long.

It comes down to a lawsuit, with the governor suing the house speaker to do what he says and here's a court order that says you have to. It sounds more like a spat in the school yard, with an absolute whinger calling on the headmaster to make the upperclassmen be nice to the boy that everyone in the school despises. Solve the problems like an adult? Work things out through give and take? Not in Illinois. And why should Mr. Madigan bother, anyway? He's only to bide his time and Mr. Blagojevich will be indicted, and then there'll be a new boy in the schoolyard who's a bit more mature.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Tech Support In Chinese

My ten-year-old Gateway computer still runs, boots up every time and purrs happily in its dotage. The software is outdated, of course, and there's no point in keeping the thing except it runs this one particular game and I can access the Internet if my new Gateway goes down. Which it did. In spectacular fashion.

Somewhere along the road to competitive leadership, Gateway stumbled and quality control suffered. It happens often, when a firm is trying to cut costs. The knowledgeable gentleman at the Gateway Country shop who helped us put together our custom computer lost his job when the shops were shuttered, and we lost a nearby location to take the CPU when things went awry.

As it turned out, the brand new Gateway computer's hard drives (both of them) crashed and burned. It took the tech support people a few days to figure it out, as if the last thing tech support wanted was to have to send a technician out. And there we were, stumbling along on a ten-year-old item that worked fine, but could not be updated with the latest Windows operating system. If only we could keep this old dinosaur, we thought, but technology only advances, it never retreats, and there weren't enough guts in the thing to allow an upgrade to Windows XP.

After a fight that would have done George Patton proud, we ended up with a replacement for the lemon we were stuck with for months, followed by another battle to get the additional components that we had paid for on the custom model. When we bought a laptop this year, we went with Dell.

Were we the only clients to have such problems? Probably not, because Gateway stock has steadily sunk and that would not indicate happy clients. But Gateway still has name recognition, still has the distribution channels and manufacturing facilities, and they are a ripe takeover target.

The charming cow-print boxes and South Dakota charm are over. Acer of Taiwan is going to snap up Gateway for $710 million (that's $1.90 per share) and the Chinese company will find itself the third largest PC manufacturer in the world. What that means for Gateway employees remains to be seen. Labor costs in Taiwan are cheaper, after all.

Even business is Darwinian -- survival of the fittest, and those who cannot adapt will become extinct.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

That Which Is Hidden Will Be Revealed

The land of saints and scholars was also the land of the industrial school and the Magdalene laundry, but the religious communities would rather you didn't ask about the last two items. And if anyone should ask, they're not to be told.

No wonder, then, that the Christian Brothers have pitched a fit because an old report about their notorious Artane industrial school was recently released by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin to a former resident of Artane. It's all over the newspapers now, about the random and excessive punishments that were thoroughly described by Father Henry Moore. Discipline that approached pure regimentation is how the priest described it in his report to Archbishop John Charles McQuaid back in 1962. The Christian Brothers are shocked and dismayed that Archbishop Martin didn't tuck the report under the rug. No word on yet on the shock or dismay of the former residents who lived through it.

The Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse is still actively inquiring, and the Brothers would prefer that this scathing report not be broadcast until the commission has issued its final report, and then, they'd rather the report not be made public at all. Archbishop Martin gave the report to Jim Beresford, who first requested it many years ago, because the public hearings had concluded and this was now the right time to expose what was hidden for so long.

Brother Garvey wonders just how much Father Moore really knew about Artane, implying of course that we should take it all with a grain of salt. Or a ton. Or an ocean's worth of salt. How did Father Moore know about the physical abuse, except by seeing a few instances or hearing about it from the inmates. How can one believe a bunch of delinquent boys in an industrial school, after all?

What of Father Moore's allegation that clothing was of poor quality, randomly distributed and passed around from boy to boy? What of his discovery that shirts and socks were changed once a week and underwear every two? Where did he get off, suggesting that the practice of treating all clothing as common property led to the marked habit of former inmates to engage in stealing? And to declare that the complete lack of women at Artane in any capacity was shaping the lads' sexual maladjustment and inability to judge appropriate behavior, well, who is Father Moore to judge why the liberated inmates failed so miserably to re-integrate into normal society?

Father Moore did not paint a rosy picture for his Archbishop, and the Christian Brothers would very much like to whitewash this particular canvas. But that's the problem with hypocrisy, sooner or later that which is hidden gets revealed, and there's no going back to the hiding.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Publishing Takes A Holiday

Just as Europe closes up shop for the month of August, so too does the publishing industry go on a long hiatus. With the Labor Day holiday approaching, the upcoming week will be a peak period of agent vacations.

Is it a good time to send a query? Something posted via snail-mail will arrive and sit on a desk, untouched, unless the agent you're submitting to is one with an assistant to handle the paper work. E-mail queries may be met with an automatic response that says the agent is out of the office until early September but that query will get read then, don't you worry. I'm of a mind to do the worrying, in spite of the promise, because it's too easy to overlook an e-mail. Especially when the agent comes back to an inbox with hundreds of messages.

Go on and query, even though you know there's no one at home. Your letter will sit on the desk a bit longer, but if it manages to land at the top of the pile, when the agent is refreshed and ready to find your little gem, what could be better? So you have to wait longer. If you've been at this querying process for a time, you're a master of waiting.

And do you have your short story submissions ready to go? Literary journals start opening up in August and almost all are reading in September. Wouldn't some credentials look lovely on your author bio paragraph in your query? Better than a simple "Thank you for your consideration", isn't it?

Getting Away With Murder

The European Union likes to stand as a bastion of civility. They are very much against the death penalty, and never miss an opportunity to berate America whenever a convicted criminal pays the ultimate price. Barbaric, mais oui?

Because of their stand on capital punishment, the French will not extradite a criminal back to the United States if said criminal would be subject to the death penalty. Seeing as the death penalty only applies to the most heinous of crimes, the French are giving sanctuary to the very worst criminals. For murderers, this is a very good thing. For Hans Peterson, it is a life-saver. His life, that is. Not the man he stabbed to death.

Dr. David Cornbleet was a dermatologist with offices in Chicago's Loop. Hard to imagine a more mild-mannered specialty than dermatology, with an office filled with acne-faced teens and the occasional elderly golfer with a bit of skin cancer to be lasered away. Last year, Hans Peterson walked into the doctor's office and viciously knifed the doctor to death, and then Mr. Peterson calmly strolled out.

Security cameras caught the murderer leaving, but by the time his photo was made available, Mr. Peterson had returned to the land of his mother's birth and promptly applied for citizenship. The police finally caught up with him, and he turned himself in to the authorities in Guadaloupe. This Caribbean island is French soil, Mr. Peterson is a French citizen (only as of May), therefore he knew full well that he could not be sent back to the States to face trial.

The State of Illinois submitted an extradition request, the French asked if the criminal might possibly face execution, Illinois said yes, so the French said non. While the Cornbleet family deals with the senseless loss, Mr. Peterson is hiding out in a tropical paradise, aided by the French government which will not release him to face justice.

The story does not end here, however, because the U.S. is still negotiating. And the Cornbleet family has weighed in as well. Forget lethal injection, they've said, there's no need. Tell the French that their citizen won't have to worry about that, so that he can be extradited to face trial and justice can be served. If Hans Peterson wants to play games with French citizenship, the prosecutors in Illinois can trump his hand.

And you'd think that the French would be happy to entertain the compromise. After all, they're looking less than sophisticated for having fallen for a con's scam that's helped a man get away with murder.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Does It Come With Pigs?

Just when Estelle Walgreen won her battle to keep her pot-bellied pigs in Lake Forest, she lands in another tight situation.

The property where the pigs live in a luxurious converted garage is now in foreclosure. The mortgage was taken out last April and one would have to guess that all of Ms. Walgreen's ready cash went to pay her legal fees, leaving nothing for the monthly mortgage payments.

She has until September 17 to make good with the bank, or the loan will be declared in default and the property will be auctioned off on the steps of the Lake County Courthouse or some other very public venue.

If things proceed to that sad conclusion, the winning bidder will put down their money and take possession of a very choice piece of North Shore real estate. Like all other foreclosed properties, however, the parcel will not be open for inspection so it's a true case of caveat emptor. Naturally, then, the potential buyer must surely wonder if they'll be acquiring a family of swine in the process.

Brangelina In Chicago

The paparazzi are hanging around the Peninsula Hotel like flies on .... well, you get the picture. And they're determined to get the picture too!

In town to film a movie, Angelina Jolie and her entourage have taken rooms at a most luxurious spot, but they're having a difficult time of it, getting out and about. It's the photographers of course, chasing after the clan with cameras clicking. Wouldn't the little ones love a day out at the Museum of Science and Industry? Wouldn't the missus enjoy a slow stroll through the galleries of the Art Institute? Yet how could such a thing happen without a massive security presence? The planning alone would make the D-Day invasion look like a picnic.

If you happen to be crossing Michigan Avenue, be sure to look both ways. The madmen who snap photos for fan mags are driving like maniacs, ignoring traffic signals in pursuit of the money-making shot, and you'd not want to be the pedestrian who got in their way. In fact, you'd want to stay away from the Magnificent Mile altogether, or risk life and limb.

Seems cruel, though, in a way, to keep the little ones cooped up in a stuffy hotel room when the Oak Street Beach is just outside the window and the dolphins are leaping at the Shedd Aquarium.

10,500 Synergies

ABN was given permission by Dutch regulators to sell its LaSalle Bank unit, and it is expected that Bank of America will acquire LaSalle Bank by the end of this year. Sounds lovely on the surface of it, as if a foreign entity is going to lose and the good old USA is going to get back what is rightly American. With any merger, of course, comes synergies, those cost-saving actions that make mergers work financially, and that's become a very international goal.

Community advocates have released a study that claims Bank of America's purchase of LaSalle Bank will result in 10,500 synergies. That is, 10,500 fewer people working and drawing salaries. Not sounding quite so lovely any more, is it?

Anderson Economic Group took a hard look at the impact that the merger is likely to have on LaSalle employees and the community at large, which would of course suffer some effects of job losses in the area. For example, a popular lunching spot could go out of business if a LaSalle office were to be shuttered, adding more lost jobs that result indirectly from the merger.

There would be plenty of bad news to go around for everyone, if Anderson's report is accurate. Bank of America is expected to consolidate its headquarters at its home base, meaning the loss of LaSalle's Chicago headquarters and attendant jobs. Without a base in the city, Bank of America would find a cost savings on rent and taxes, to the detriment of Chicago and the state of Illinois. Perhaps as much as $48 million in lost revenue, according to Anderson's Tim Mahon.

Federal regulators have yet to weigh in, and the Anderson Economic Group report will be used by the faith-based and union-led crew that hired Anderson to make this analysis. Look how bad it will be, the report presents in its worst-case scenario, while Bank of America will counter with a rosy outlook that promises minimum job losses while achieving brilliant synergies.

The Nineteenth Century robber barons knew that consolidation, creating one big entity from many small firms, was the way to get rich. At the time, Congress figured out that it was not good for the country, and anti-trust laws were enacted to protect the little people. Is anyone still minding the monopoly store?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tainted Tuna

In remote villages of Peru, people are trying to recover from a devastating earthquake. Homes have been destroyed along with stores of food, clothing and blankets. So leave it to Hugo Chavez, the dictator in the making, to make things worse.

Hugo Chavez sent canned tuna to Peru, to be distributed to those in need, but it wasn't enough to send ordinary tins. The labels had been specially prepared, with a photo of His Despotness front and center so that the starving masses in Chincha would know who their benefactor was. And so that those same starving masses might know why they were suffering, they could read the label on their can of Venezuelan tuna.

"In the face of the natural disaster" it said on the can, "the Peruvian National party, along with our sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela" and its lord and master Hugo Chavez were handing out tinned fish because the legitimately elected government of Peru was operating in "a slow, inefficient and heartless manner, not caring about the pain of the victims and leaving them suffering from hunger, thirst and theft."

The Peruvian National Party was represented by Ollanta Humala, whom little Hugo supported in a failed presidential bid. But it's never the wrong time to campaign for office, as any politician knows, and there's no better time to stump for votes than in the midst of a humanitarian disaster.

Even so, it's a bit of an embarrassment getting caught, so Venezuela's propaganda minister was quick to shift the blame, insisting that it wasn't them what put those labels on the cans. It was them others, the enemies of the Peruvian National Party who only sought to discredit the friends of Chavez. And just because Peru's President Garcia has seen his approval ratings fall has nothing to do with any attempts to bring them down further and boost Humala's chances in the next election.

Is there anything worse than living next door to a pompous bastard, and you can't even move to a better neighborhood? The only solution is to get a new neighbor.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tear Down The Past

Back in the days of the Easter Rising and the subsequent civil war in Ireland, the IRA was a radically different organization than it is today. No Marxist-Leninist socialism, the Irish Republican Army in 1921 was more similar to a loosely organized band of partisans with guns and a mind to get England completely out of Ireland.

When England offered a peace treaty, giving up twenty-six counties and keeping six, some jumped at the chance. Men like Michael Collins, Sean MacEoin and Arthur Griffith, who founded Sinn Fein, were in favor of the treaty. Many were against it, foreseeing the tragic results that played out in the form of The Troubles many years later.

Sean MacEoin fought for Irish freedom, leading a flying column in County Longford and making his name during the Battle of Ballinalee. He set up headquarters in Rose Cottage, just as George Washington and U.S. Grant used area homes for their central operations during America's rebellion and civil war. But would anyone ever suggest that Appomatox Courthouse be torn down, to make way for new homes?

Midland Housing Development would like to rip down General MacEoin's former headquarters and put up ten single-story houses in its place. It's an old, shabby building, they must think, and what's the point of saving something like that? Ireland is thriving, there's money everywhere, and the people want new and shiny and fresh and modern. That old shite? Who has any use for it?

The Longford Historical Society is against the demolition, and has asked the Longford County Council to issue an order to preserve the cottage. Will the Council really care about the historical significance of Rose Cottage? After all, it's Fianna Fail that's in the majority in government, and Sean MacEoin was Fine Gael. And who wants to be reminded about the Treaty and all that happened because of it? Who wants to preserve their history when there's money to be made on a new housing development? Who indeed? Let's hope the Longford County Council has a sense of what is more important in the long run, knowing that ten houses could be put up on some other parcel of ground that has no connection to a history worth preserving.

When Credit Crunches

In the blink of an eye, over one thousand people are about to lose their jobs because Capital One has made a sound business decision. The company best known for its credit card business wandered into the home mortgage game recently, but the mortgage business has turned sour of late and Capital One did not wish to go down in flames. Close up all the branch offices, no more mortgages, and how will the former employees pay their monthly bills?

The credit crunch has crushed another firm, but one that is not well known to the average investor. Sentinel Management Group took money from futures brokers and hedge funds, with an eye to managing the cash. The clients of Sentinel were expecting their money to grow, and Sentinel promised to invest in safe havens such as government securities. On Friday last, Sentinel declared bankruptcy and the Securities Exchange Commission is all over the bones of Sentinel's carcass.

In a bit of a Ponzi scheme, client money was used to dress up the corporate bottom line, all in an effort to borrow money for investing. One can picture Sentinel's head trader, watching his investments lose money day after day, and cooking up a little scheme to save his arse. It might have worked, given enough time and a better credit picture, and it had worked before in 2004. This time around, the house of financial cards tumbled down as the subprime mortgage market collapsed and brought easy credit with it. Sentinel used its clients' money in ways that are illegal, in an effort to create a facade of financial liquidity so that banks would loan the firm money. Like a gambler on a losing streak, the firm figured that the next deal would be a winner and all the debts could be repaid and the SEC would never know and the losses made good and the clients none the wiser. The scheme failed when easy credit expired dramatically and world markets tanked.

Over at Capital One, employees will lose their jobs and have to scramble to find other employment. High powered futures brokers will be forced to shut their own businesses if they can't access the funds they invested with Sentinel and a few more people will be added to the unemployment line.

And what of all the workers whose livelihood would not seem to be dependent on the credit markets? Those who toil for the Tribune Company will be left to ponder their fate, wondering if the lack of easy money will prevent Sam Zell from buying up the Tribune and injecting it with new life. The nervous employees of Harcourt are thinking along the same lines, not knowing if the credit crunch will keep them from joining forces with HM Riverdeep or find them working (or getting laid off) by some other faceless corporate entity.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Avarice, Sloth, Envy, Embezzlement?

Confession is good for the soul, as the nuns surely told you years ago. Confess and find peace. You'll feel better after you've told the truth. But if the truth will land you in jail, isn't that another matter altogether?

Anton Zgoznik and Joseph Smith (thank God they're not Irish) are about to go on trial for embezzling a bit from the Cleveland diocese. They won't confess their many sins and be forgiven. Instead, they're accusing God's representatives on earth. It was the Bishop's doing, they've said, and he's the one who should be on his knees in the confessional.

Prosecutors say that Mr. Smith got kick-backs from Mr. Zgoznik, a cost of doing business for Mr. Zgoznik who landed a contract that was worth $17.5 million. It was a sizable project, to handle the accounting for the entire diocese, and what accountant wouldn't want such a highly public and potentially lucrative position? There's a lot of business that would accrue to the Church's bean counter from those who would assume they could trust Mr. Zgoznik, seeing as he works for a religious organization.

It's Joseph Smith (is he a Mormon by any chance?) who's really in deep, standing accused of lifting a bit off the top from the cemetery fund and getting a bonus from the insurance agent for the privilege of selling insurance to the Cleveland diocese. Naturally, the ill-gotten gains were hidden so that the IRS never got their cut, and they're exceptionally fond of getting their slice of the money pie.

But Mr. Smith's attorney insists that his client is merely a scapegoat for Bishop Anthony Pilla (sounds like an Italian -- Mafia maybe?) who had off-book accounts and no one knows if it's his savings or profits of a skim operation. And of course, Father John Wright (there's an English name for you and you know you can't trust them), the priest who was the diocesan financial guru, is saying that Smith and Zgoznik pulled a fast one on him, the trusting man of God who must not have ever looked at the books for twenty years. But he'd say that, the defense team adds, because he was pocketing cash himself.

It sounds like everyone was on the take, from the head honcho on down to the secretary, who by the way has been accused of being Father Wright's girlfriend. A tangled web, filled with greed and intrigue, and it will take a while for the federal prosecutors to present the case so that a jury can follow the money trail. Someone will go to jail eventually, the money will most likely never be completely recovered, and not all of the guilty will be made to suffer.

The ones to suffer the most are the parish priests who have to get up in front of the congregation and preach the gospel. My house is a house of prayer, they will read from the New Testament, and you have made it a den of thieves. But do as I say, of course, and not as I do. Hello? Is there anyone sitting out there in the pews? Any parishioners left?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Be Careful What You Pray For

....because you just might get it.

An old saying, but it never hurts to be reminded about the consequences down the road. Look before you leap is another one, a suggestion to analyze and create forward looking scenarios before taking action. Think ahead, so that you don't wake up one day and discover that the national airline you set free upon the marketplace ups and does what makes business sense, to the detriment of your constituents.

No longer under the thumb of the Irish government, Aer Lingus has determined that pulling out of Shannon Airport is in its best interest. They will take their slots up to Belfast, where the labor agreement between management and pilots will result in a huge cost savings. The company expects an increase in traffic, and reduced operating expenses, which is all to the good for a company that has to meet stockholder expectations.

The people affected by the decision, all the pilots and ground crew and local business people, don't matter to a faceless corporation. That's simply how things are in the free market. The people. of course, matter very much to men like Willie O'Dea, defense minister and Fianna Fail representative from Limerick. Those who vote for him are up in arms over the planned move, and they turn to Mr. O'Dea, their man in the government, to do something.

The problem is, the government has no control over private businesses, and Aer Lingus is no longer a national airline but a private concern that is run by its board of directors and looks to please the stockholders. The government cannot force the airline to make or change any decisions, not since the Dail decided that they did not wish to be in the airline industry.

Willie O'Dea has vowed to fight, to urge Aer Lingus to change its corporate mind, because he is well aware that the government of Ireland can do nothing to control the decisions of Aer Lingus' board. He is looking at the future of the west of Ireland without Aer Lingus, and he paints a grim picture of job loss, lack of investment by large firms who need regular flight service to do business, and a general decline in a region that is struggling to employ its citizens.

Aer Lingus has no incentive whatsoever to reverse its plan to leave Shannon, and all the meetings and talks between Aer Lingus and government ministers will make no difference. What Mr. O'Dea might try is to court some other small airline, to come to Shannon and take over the Aer Lingus slots. A sweet deal that makes economic sense will do more to solve the crisis than a wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Render Unto Caesar, Render Unto God

Borrowing on your credit card is like having free money, provided that you pay your balance in full and never incur credit charges. For the banks that loan the money that covers your purchases, they would prefer that you not pay so promptly because they make money off of your interest payments.

But it's not all such a free ride. Those who accept your credit card in lieu of cash must fork over a percentage of the take to the issuer of said credit card, and in the end, you're paying for the privilege of credit. Buy a two hundred dollar pair of shoes and the vendor sends two dollars to Visa or MasterCard. Or the Vatican.

The time is now, all you good and loyal Catholics. Forget the Gold Card and the American Express Platinum because you can flash some holy plastic. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith, that august group that holds out its empty palm once a year from pulpits world-wide, is issuing credit cards. After all these years, the Vatican has figured out another way to make money and you have to wonder what took so long.

The Society's crucifix logo will be emblazoned on the top of the card, along with the impressive "World Missions" in large letters across the top. Make your purchases as you always have, and 1% of the price will help spread the good news of Jesus Christ around the world. You're a good Catholic, aren't you? You're a consumer, aren't you? Here you go, then, combine the two and feel so much better about picking up that glittering jewel that you don't need at all but it's lovely and it matches the shoes ah sure it's brilliant.

Charge your groceries and you'll send a few dollars to the orphans in Kenya and the AIDS patients in Africa. Buy a few new books and Catholic children in Sudan will get some new clothes. Entertain a business client, whip out your World Missions Visa and explain the deal to them, and you'd make the sale right then and there.

No annual fee, a variable rate of 31.99% with a 25 day grace period if you're paid in full every month, and that's in line with all the other non-Catholic credit cards. Washington Mutual will run the program, which requires the card holder to keep current for six months or your accumulated donation won't be submitted. And if things don't work out for them, they'll cancel the program and your pastor will have to pound on the pulpit again to wring blood out of his flock of turnips.

You can selfishly accumulate airline miles and cash rewards, or you can let the Society for the Propagation of the Faith have the bonus. But can you write it off as a charitable donation on your income tax? Caesar's fond of being rendered to, even if you're trying to render unto God.

Oprah And I Are Best Friends

I can make that claim because no one I know watches Oprah Winfrey's talk show. I can tell my friends that I was interviewed by the Queen of Chat and they'd be none the wiser. My novel was selected by her book club, I could say with a straight face, and there'd be congratulations all around. We did lunch, she told me I was brilliant, and I'll get to confession on Saturday I swear to Jesus.

It worked for Bill Schneider -- for a time, at any rate. He told people that his self-published novel was an Oprah Book Club pick, but he told far too many people. Promotion is the key to selling when you're doing it all yourself, and poor Mr. Schneider took it a step too far and now he's an object of intense mockery.

The literary community would, of course, have been mocking him for self-publishing his novel to begin with, since it means that no one thought the manuscript was good enough to consider. And who's going to buy the vanity printed book, beyond the limited number of friends and family? Who will even know that the book exists, unless the author gets the word out?

Mr. Schneider, administrative director of tourism for Provincetown, Massachusetts, set up a website and he needed content to attract browsers and Googlers. What better way to encourage traffic to his site than put up a transcript of his interview on Oprah's show? Anyone googling a key word like "Oprah Book Club" would be directed to his site and surely the orders would flow in like a river.

As there never was an interview or a book club selection, Mr. Schneider's ruse was uncovered and he was exposed. His Romeo and ... well, Romeo, frankly... tragedy was not all that he said it was, and he pulled the phony transcript from his web page. Now he's looking the fool and it can't be easy to face the rest of the office staff or members of the public who would like to visit Provincetown. You're the man who said he was on Oprah, they would say, and then they might collapse into a fit of giggling. Who can deal with that on a daily basis?

The would-be author is getting all kinds of publicity, even though it is highly embarrassing and not what he had in mind when he first practiced to deceive. But it's publicity just the same, and if Bill Schneider is any kind of marketing guru, he'll find a way to capitalize on this new turn of events. Hope his hide is thick enough, however, to handle the book reviews.

Controversy Closes The Door

There used to be a preacher who stood on a busy corner in Chicago's Loop, his voice artificially amplified. For hours on end, it seemed, he would spread the word and give it his all to save the souls of those who passed by. And pass by they did, not paying any attention to the gentleman who was answering the call of the Lord.

John J. Mearsheimer may or may not have seen the preacher, for who knows if the professors from the University of Chicago ever venture onto State Street. If he had, he might have observed that a few people did, rarely, pause to listen. Some folks walked along, ears open, taking in the lecture without pausing in their busy day, but finding comfort and inspiration in the words of a street corner minister. Mr. Mearsheimer may be forced to emulate the old man, and bark his thesis from the corner of State and Madison.

With a new book to plug, Mr. Mearsheimer and his colleague Stephen M. Walt are finding it increasingly difficult to find venues that will host their book tour. They have, to their misfortune, written a book that is critical of the Israel lobby and its heavy influence on American Middle East policy. In essence, they are blaming the Jews for the Iraq War, and Jewish community leaders won't have any of it.

Critics claim that The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is an anti-Semitic rant, poorly researched and deeply flawed. The authors put forth their hypotheses, that the pro-Israel lobby worked behind the scenes to keep the US from talking with Syria and Iran, while preventing US legislators from saying a bad word about Israel's incursion into Lebanon in 2006. In contrast, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has written his own analysis which sets out to prove that there is not Jewish cabal hard at work in Washington D.C. His book is due to be released on the same day, not unlike a duel where the pen is mightier than the pistol.

The end result of all this squabbling? Nothing more than the censorship of the marketplace.

Appearances at several events have been cancelled in light of the controversy, out of fear that supporters of those organizations will take offense and pull their much needed donations, putting the organization out of business. The whole premise of the yet to be released book is entirely too controversial, too dangerous, and the authors are being shut out of one site after another, as if there is some cabal at work trying to prevent them from selling their book.

No one will allow them to expound on their premise in the comfort of a meeting room. But there is nothing to stop Mr. Mearsheimer from mounting a soap box in Bughouse Square and setting forth his hypothesis. He could plug his new book at the same time, although an open air venue is not the best location to sell a large number of copies.

Free speech is alive, but sometimes it takes a bit more effort to get the message out.

Indie Agents

Why do literary agents go off on their own?

Is it the prestige? The money? The challenge? The control?

Emily Sylvan Kim was toiling away at Writers House for a time, a short time, and then she opened up her own shop at the Prospect Agency. Was she not happy at Writers House? Was she troubled by the distribution of commissions? Or did she simply not get along with her fellow agents?

Kirsten Manges was at Curtis Brown prior to her departure. She has her own agency these days, but in a carry-over from her Curtis Brown days, she does not have a website. Elyse Cheney was once employed by the Sanford J. Greenburger agency, as was Julie Barer, and they opened up their own private shops so that they could cater to their own personal clients in their own unique way. Was the money better, or was the climate better?

Now there's word that Elisabeth Weed, formerly at Kneerim & Williams and later at Trident Media, has hung her shingle somewhere, current whereabouts unknown. Was she so successful at Trident that she decided she could do better without the excess baggage? Was there a row in the board room, the partners refusing to grant her partner status and so she stormed out?

Now that has all the makings of a fine bit of chick lit. The New York City setting, the exciting world of publishing, a hard-working gal trying to make it in a tough industry, tackling the job on her own when her bosses failed to see her potential. It only takes someone to write it, and then submit the Weed Literary Agency, one might suppose.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Losing Artistic Control

Don't fall in love with the title of your manuscript, the budding novelist is advised, because the publisher will change it to their liking. It's part of the marketing strategy, should you be so fortunate as to get published. Not all authors like the notion, however. Imagine, then, losing artistic control over the manuscript and wouldn't you be upset?

If I Did It will soon morph into Damn Right I Butchered The Two Of Them, once the Goldman family and book packager/literary agent Sharlene Martin is finished. The family of murder victim Ronald Goldman won control over the manuscript that O.J. Simpson had ghostwritten and hoped to sell, with proceeds hidden in a shell company so that he could skirt a court ruling and keep money that was owed the Goldman clan. There was a lot of talk about what would become of the manuscript that Judith Regan was ready to launch, the manuscript that broke the HarperCollins back and sent Ms. Regan packing. It will be published after all, albeit in a highly modified form.

All that work, all that time spent with the ghostwriter to put together a book that would sell through because of curiosity and titillation....and all for naught. Mr. Simpson lost control (and he lost control of the book about the same loss of control), with all rights to his manuscript handed over to the Goldman family as part of their civil suit decree. The Goldmans plan to release the book after some heavy editing, which is rumored to include their editorial content. It will cease to be a flight of Simpsonian fancy and re-emerge as a full-blown confession, and the original author has no say in the matter.

True crime non-fiction is a hot item in publishing. The revised version of the O.J. Simpson manuscript will fly off the shelves, to the benefit of the Goldman's foundation, and the detriment of the man who claims he didn't do it. New title, new content, new slant -- by losing control of the story, the author has also lost control of the historical record that will sit on book shelves for years to come.

Letting Go A Little More

We searched for the right pre-school. The caregivers had to be caring, the place had to be clean, there had to be plenty of toys about and some thought given to the early education process. We tried it out, going to visit and observing and snooping around.

Then we took you to the creche and put you in the care of strangers. We were comfortable that we had chosen the right strangers, but we didn't actually know for sure that you would be fine. We worried that you might not warm to your peers, or that you'd fall ill or fall down or suffer some dreadful calamity because we were not there to hold your hand. But we had to let go just that little bit, to leave you behind, because it was time for you to learn your colors and numbers and letters.

We chose a primary school that would teach you how to be a good person, and give you a superb education in the major disciplines. The sacraments were taught and received, there was extra maths because you could handle more, and advanced reading when the time was right. And then came organized sports, and we let go a little bit more because you had to learn how to deal with everyday things like teamwork and time management. It was time for you to learn all the things you'd need at the next level.

Public or private, we debated, and settled on public education for second level. We stood to the side as you learned how to deal with disappointment, with petty politics. We watched but didn't get involved as you dealt with competition because it was time for you to learn about the bigger world that awaited you.

We searched for the right university. The school had to offer a wide variety of courses and majors, the dorms had to be clean and there had to be plenty of activities available because it wouldn't do you any good to spend all your time with your nose in a book. We visited the campus, tried it out and observed and snooped around.

Tomorrow, we will take you there and leave you in the care of strangers. We will worry that you might not warm to your peers, or that you'll fall ill or fall down or drink to excess or experiment with drugs because we won't be there to hold your hand. We are letting go completely, leaving you behind, because it is time for you to learn how to be an adult.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunday Morning Economics Lesson

The Bishop of Killaloe and the Bishop of Limerick issued an appeal to the shareholders and Board of Directors of Aer Lingus to reconsider their decision to leave Shannon. There is more to business than the bottom line, they said. Aer Lingus must consider the human aspect and not look only to the profit-driven bottom line. It is morally wrong, they implied, to abandon the west of Ireland in a mad quest for more money. Think of the damage wrought to the people who will lose jobs. Not only jobs at Shannon Airport, of course. The knock-on effect will spread beyond the ends of the runways.

Next Sunday, Dermot Mannion should be allowed to preach to the congregations. The people of Ireland have a duty to fly Aer Lingus, if the airline has a duty to provide such service. It is morally wrong for flyers to seek out a cheaper flight or complain about delays. The public must have "...regard to moral obligations beyond merely commercial and short term considerations" when they book a flight, if Aer Lingus is to be expected to follow suit.

Indeed, "there is no area of life, including the economy, in which social responsibility may be ignored" and the public has a responsibility to Aer Lingus. If Aer Lingus is to keep its Shannon slots, then the consumer has a responsibility to make use of them.

There's always two sides of the economic coin, and it does no good to berate one and ignore the other. It is time that the wise men of Maynooth bring in a visiting professor or two from that bastion of godless communism, the University of Chicago, to lecture the seminarians on Economics 101. Pray, pay and obey just won't cut it anymore.

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I flew JetBlue. Gave in to the temptation of the discounted fare."

Good, Bad or Indifferent

A clever publicist will declare that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Any publicity is good; it is consumer indifference that is bad. In which case, Conrad Black can take heart on the eve of his next book's release.

While his trial for fraud, racketeering and tax evasion was chugging along, Mr. Black kept himself occupied by writing a biography of Richard Nixon. There is no debate as to the quality of the writer's research, and he has a successful biography of Franklin Roosevelt on his authorial resume. What has his publisher worried is the fact that the new book will be released just in time for Mr. Black's sentencing.

PublicAffairs Books had set the release date so that it fell well after the conviction date, but who knew that the sentencing would be set in November? They are now asking themselves if the negative publicity will hurt or help book sales.

Will people buy because they are interested in a well-crafted biography of Richard Nixon, or will they buy because they want to see how much of Conrad Black the author superimposed on the former President? Either one is good, as it involves sales. On the other hand, will people shun the 1200 page tome because the author is a convicted felon, no matter how good a book it might be? Such buyer indifference could severely hurt the bottom line.

The chances of sending author Conrad Black on a book tour are highly limited, as Judge Amy St. Eve has restricted his movements to Chicago or Florida. That may be just as well, since the book tour for the FDR biography took place shortly after Mr. Black was sacked from the board of Hollinger for the very crimes of which he was recently convicted. It was not a pretty sight, with hordes of media descending to question the media baron, asking unpleasant questions. This time around, it could only be worse. PublicAffairs Books would like their author to be asked about his book so that he can shill it, and they would not like the public to be continuously reminded that their author is a convicted felon about to undergo a long string of appeals so that he can stay out of prison.

Look for book reviewers to get a bug put into their ear. Expect the reviews to make mention of similarities between Conrad Black's downfall and Richard Nixon's fatal flaws. The biography will be positioned carefully, to imply that the author was writing about what he knows, and that would be the psyche of a liar and a thief. The publicists will, of course, make lemonade from the lemons handed them.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What An Agent Can Do For You

If you're looking to start at the top of the literary agency scale, you couldn't go wrong with a query to Trident Media. It's a big agency peopled with high powered agents, the very type of representation that you'd need to get million dollar deals like Justin Cronin.

He's already published, of course, which has something to do with getting the likes of Ellen Levine to represent him. His novel The Summer Guest and his short story collection were well received, taken up by those who are fond of literary works that could be classified as family saga. For his latest work, he wrote a vampire book, which is all the rage in certain circles, and his literary agent went to work.

Ms. Levine shopped the manuscript to editors that she knew, but she very cleverly changed the author's name. Justin Cronin, you see, was typecast in a publishing sense, slotted as a writer of inter-familial angst. An editor would see his name on the cover sheet and do what editors do best -- realize that there could be problems because current fans of Mr. Cronin would like another family saga and not get it, leading to grumbling and bad publicity and poor sales. Those who like vampire stories wouldn't find the book on the shelves because they don't know Justin Cronin and wouldn't go searching. Such a dilemma, and publishing houses don't like things that make book sales challenging.

Acquisitions editors at Random House, Penguin Group and Ballantine received a manuscript that was written by Jordan Ainsley. Ms. Levine solved the problem for the editors by leading them to believe that she had a fantastic manuscript by an unknown author. As she has a stellar reputation in the industry, the big houses trusted her enough to take a look. The novel went to auction, Ballantine placed the winning bid, and then Ms. Levine let them know who had really written this next best seller.

And because Ellen Levine is a top-tier agent working in a top-tier firm, she was able to get the film rights sold for a very hefty price. Hollywood loves vampires and fantasy, and Mr. Cronin's novel has the makings of a series that will fill the niche that Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings once occupied. A once rather obscure author of literary fiction created a bit of commercial fantasy and his agent has garnered him a small fortune.

That is what a highly skilled literary agent can do for a client. That is why writers work so hard to perfect a query letter and get publishing credentials, to get the attention of someone like Ellen Levine, a literary agent who will lead them to the promised land.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Forgotten History

Not everyone is current on the history of the US Marine Corps, but some may know where the shores of Tripoli are located, if not the halls of Montezuma. Do many know of the reason why the US went to the shores of Tripoli in the first place?

Rather obscure, the Tripolitan War, but it was fought to put an end to piracy and ransom kidnapping by North African Arabs. The newly born United States paid its 'street tax' for years, until the cost of protection became outrageous, and Stephen Decatur was sent oversees to open up a can of Old Ironsides whoop-ass on a port that is now part of Libya. He secured the release of some American sailors, or at least those who had somehow managed to survive the brutal conditions in prison, and that pretty much ended the kidnappings and ransom demands.

Today's Libya is, oddly enough, not all that different from the way it was back then. Almost nine years ago, five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian-born doctor were kidnapped, in a way, when they were accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with AIDS. The charge was beyond ridiculous, but the group was shut up in a Libyan prison and routinely tortured, raped and threatened with execution.

The six victims of Tripolitan piracy were released recently, and by some remarkable coincidence, a charity that had been set up to compensate the infected children was $400 million richer. And the EU was offering all sorts of economic and political incentives to Libya. Back home in Bulgaria, the nurses will face a lifetime of psychiatric care to help them cope with their treatment in a Libyan prison, while the Palestinian doctor can ponder over his abandonment by his fellow Arabs.

The Mafia has made a fortune from protection money, and Moammar Gadhafi has relied on this tried and true technique to extract concessions out of Europe. It worked brilliantly two hundred years ago, and it has worked again. He will continue to use the technique until someone recalls history, and opens up another can of whoop-ass.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Back To Square One

I don't expect to hear back from Mitchell Waters of Curtis Brown, not when it's been almost two months since I sent the query. And it's six weeks of waiting on Susan Ginsburg of Writers House, but there may yet be a SASE turning up in the mail. It will be a rejection, of course. Requests for partials come quickly, and usually via e-mail.

Only Joy Tutela of David Black's fine agency and Jonathan Dolger (on his own) have yet to reply on the other manuscript that I haven't been pursuing recently because the query letter was a flop. They've had four months to think about it, and that lack of response would be a no, would it not? Who needs the rejection letter in the mail to confirm what should be obvious?

Is there any point in sending queries now? By the last couple of weeks in August, the publishing industry has decamped for vacation destinations, houses in the Hamptons and the like, so no one is around to open the mail.

But I'll work up another query letter anyway and send it off anyway, so that I can be right there at the head of the line that starts moving after Labor Day. If I can just come up with a hook that intrigues, gives an idea of the plot, but shows that the novel is fresh and new and not a rehash of every other manuscript in the slush pile.

It would be easier to solve the crisis in the Middle East.

Testing The Limits Of Tolerance

Let there be no doubt that the members of the loyalists DUP are of a conservative, religious bent. Their leader, Ian Paisley, holds a paper from a diploma mill that has cranked out some highly fundamentalist preachers over the years, and the man is unquestionably a fundamentalist. In which case, did a participant in last Saturday's gay pride parade in Belfast mean to poke the religious right-wingers in the eye, or was she expressing her studied opinion with a sign that proclaimed "Jesus Is A Fag"?

A spokesman for a gay rights association defended the veracity of said sign, stating that he believes Jesus was gay, as he was unmarried and had a close male friend. He would not then be in the camp that has suggested that Jesus was married as a younger man, during the period that is not covered in Biblical accounts of his ministry years. Nor would he be in the camp that sees nothing gay in male friendship, as men do tend to have friends. How else would they put a sports team together?

The DUP is taking the issue to the Parades Commission, which was set up to deal with sectarian violence and the propensity of the loyalists to march through Catholic neighborhoods, rather than their own. Having grown accustomed to the heady delights of aggravating a minority population, the DUP doesn't care for the shoe being placed on the other foot. They are now the victims, blood pressure rising, and they're keen to put a stop to these gay pride parades. Hurts their feelings, insults and inflames Christians, to suggest that Himself was less than entirely straight.

P.A. MacLochlainn of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association defended the sign as an act of free speech, while the DUP's Christopher Stalford saw the placard as blasphemous and provocative. If anyone knows provocative, it's someone in the DUP. They've been provoking nationalists and Catholics for centuries.

There's fresh air blowing through Northern Ireland, and there are those who would prefer to keep the area as stuffy as it ever was. Hard to close up all the windows when the walls have fallen down.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Peace Pays A Dividend

The engine fell off the model airplane that Aer Lingus' CEO Dermot Mannion was holding, to his great embarrassment. No matter to Ian Paisley, however, because he was reaping a dividend from the peace that has taken hold in the north of Ireland. Smiling broadly, thinking of the credit he would garner for the jobs and assorted benefits, did Mr. Paisley notice the bright green shamrock on the tail of the plastic prop?

To the detriment of the staff at Shannon Airport, Aer Lingus has decided to eliminate service from Shannon to London, and move the planes up to Belfast. The airline of Ireland is going to operate out of Ireland's second largest city. The folks up in Ulster, the border cities and Donegal, will find it easier to fly Aer Lingus, while those who work at Shannon will lose their jobs. One part of the island moves ahead, the other falls further behind.

The trade union is considering some sort of gesture of protest, as well they should. They represent those who are about to get sacked, and one would expect the union to do something. Any action taken by the union will of course be futile, as Aer Lingus has every intention of making the move because the move will generate more profits for the company. It would be up to the government to take concrete action, to force Aer Lingus to continue flying out of Shannon, even in a reduced capacity. Hard to imagine that they would not not, considering the number of voters that will be hurt by the departure of Aer Lingus.

Businesses in the west of Ireland are up in arms over the loss of flights from Shannon because it will make it more difficult for them to do business. The hospitality industry, already struggling to bring in tourists to the rest of the country that is not Dublin, see the demise of Aer Lingus flights as a near death sentence. If the visitors can't be dropped off at the door, will they even bother to travel across the country to see the Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry?

For the people in the six counties that make up Northern Ireland, the presence of Aer Lingus, with green shamrocks festooned on every tail, means that they are more a part of the Republic than ever before. Less isolated, less British, and more unified Ireland-ish. Ian Paisley applauds the introduction of jobs, taking credit for improving things for his followers, but will he one day look back and realize that the Republic took over, not by guns and violence, but by stealth and the lure of euros?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

If You Build It And They Don't Come

The Lesser Horseshoe Bat was going to be disturbed by the building of the Ennis bypass. As the bat is a vulnerable species, something had to be done. People needed the road, but the bats had to be looked after as well.

Those in the know had a house built for the bats. Well, if they can build social housing for the Travellers, why not for the bats as well? Aren't they also honored citizens of the Emerald Isle? The bat house was custom built for the bats' every need, designed with the Lesser Horseshoe in mind. EU175,000 later, and the bats have turned up their sensitive noses.

At present, two years post-construction, the house remains vacant. In spite of all the input from bat experts, the ungrateful creatures have yet to set wing in the place. There's not a drop of droppings, no mating, nothing. And to cap it all, some swallows have taken over the place like a bunch of squatters, possibly terrorizing the bats out of their rightful home.

The new bat house had all sorts of bells and whistles, including equipment so that scientists could monitor and study bat behavior, but the bats have steadfastly declined.

In a remarkable display of utter insolence, the ungrateful mammals have taken up residence in an old school house. They were used to the lay-out and amenities, apparently, as the bats had been roosting in the house before the bypass was built, and they continue to use the same location while avoiding their new digs.

Scientists continue to hope that the bats will come to their senses and realize what a splendid house they could have if they would only give it a try. Taxpayers are hoping that the government will come to its senses and stop throwing away hard-earned currency on crack-pot schemes concocted by high paid eejits. Pundits might wonder if any of Bertie Ahern's mates, someone like Paddy the Plasterer, had a hand in the construction project.

Carbon Neutral In The Bin

250,000 copies of a directory that will help you to be carbon neutral.

Carbon neutral paper production.

Carbon neutral printing, carbon neutral ink production, carbon neutral binding.

Carbon neutral shipping.

How lucky to live in Ireland, where 250,000 free copies of a carbon-neutral business directory will be handed out to homes and businesses across the island. But for the love of God, households and shopkeepers, don't toss it in the dustbin.

Within its 300 pages, sponsored in part by the very green Department of the Environment, will be found sources for solar panels, stoves that burn processed scrap wood, places to buy environmentally sound detergents and soaps....but please don't clutter up the landfills with the new directory; don't throw it away with the rest of the junk mail.

EU330,000 has been invested in producing a directory that will make it easier for more people to make grand gestures of green management. Oh,yes, by all means, burn that scrap wood, but don't mind the carbon you're dumping into the air. You're not using freshly harvested trees, so feel good about staying warm this winter. Use those expensive 'green' soaps, but don't think about the pollution that will go into cleaning up your waste water. But whatever you do, don't dispose of the directory carelessly. That money was not spent to increase the amount of garbage every household tosses out weekly.

Please stop. Producing 250,000 directories at 300 pages each is not a carbon neutral operation. Giving another organization money to invest in research projects to reduce carbon emissions does not clean up the air that is made dirty by the printing house, the ink factory, or the bindery. Calculating how much carbon this project puts into the air does not do away with the carbon spewed into the atmosphere by the delivery vans that will truck this green tome across the land.

If the Department of the Environment was serious about reducing pollution, it would put the guide on the Internet, which saves on paper and all the rest. It's only electricity production then that's putting carbon into the air, and photons won't take up space in landfills like the 200,000 copies that will be thrown away by people who find the whole carbon offset business to be a complete cod.

Can you not see that you're adding to the problem?

Monday, August 06, 2007

Awaiting Your Query

Jennifer Lyons and Ayesha Pande are splitsville, as the tabloids might proclaim. I don't know how long they might have been together, but it's all over and they've gone their separate ways. The good news for us? They need clients, don't they?

Ayesha Pande has signed on with Nina Collins of Collins Literary, a highly reputable agency that has thus far seen fit to reject my queries. As for Jennifer Lyons, she made her literary chops long ago, having the good fortune to be born to publisher Nick Lyons, and sister to Skyhorse Publishers' very own Tony Lyons. With that kind of background, it's no wonder that she's decided to go solo at the Jennifer Lyons Literary Agency.

If I could get motivated to write a new query letter, I'd be submitting to the both of them. As much as I try to develop a solid hook for the letter, though, my mind wanders and refuses to return to the task at hand. I keep asking myself, what would happen if Jennifer Lyons and Jonathan Lyons were to merge their agencies? Lyons and Lyons Limited? But then what would they call their agency if Molly Lyons left Joelle Delbourgo's stable and joined in? They'd be a Pride of Lyons, and where would that put Peter Miller of PMA? No longer king of the literary jungle?

Sure and it's another Monday morning. Back to work.

Bienvenue Au Lac Winnipesaukee

Can't blame Nicolas Sarkozy for choosing the US for his vacation this year. While all of Europe goes on holiday for the month of August, the newly elected President of France has arrived in New Hampshire for a bit of a rest. With the current exchange rate, he's sure to get the most bang for his euro.

The estate where the President will be staying goes for around $30,000 per week, an absolute bargain when you realize that the euro is worth around $1.30. The place is spacious, at 13,000 square feet of comfortable room, and as it is owned by a Microsoft executive, one can assume that it is wired for all the latest technological advancements. After all, the chief executive of a nation has to be in touch with his bureaucrats at all times, even if he is lounging on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.

The kids have the opportunity to swim, boat or fish on the lake, hike in the woods, and otherwise engage in all sorts of nature study type things. The family will, sadly, be lacking in many of the tasty tidbits that make up French cuisine, as health department rulings forbid the import of many meats and cheeses. Not prepared in accordance with American safe practice, so the Sarkozys will have to get by on processed cheeses and California wine laced with sulfites. Quel domage.

It's a good experience for the young ones, to live rough for a month. Gives them an appreciation for what they have at home. And it sends a message to those at home, that France is open for business with the US. Parlez-vous francais, Microsoft?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Costly Mistake

The last outbreak of foot and mouth disease brought many a British cattleman to ruin. Herds of livestock had to be destroyed, and even tourists had to submit to disinfecting if they happened to be walking about the area affected. That made potential tourists very nervous, and the hospitality industry took a big hit. All because of a disease that devastates cattle.

Once the disease was under control, things returned to normal, and British scientists went back to their labs, to study the foot and mouth vector in hopes of finding a cure. As surely as smallpox was wiped out, the cattle industry wanted foot and mouth to disappear.

Enter Merck & Co., the American drug company. That's their job, to find new drugs and manufacture same. In partnership with Sanofi-Aventis, they went into business and set up a lab in England to develop a vaccine against foot and mouth disease. French-American firm Merial was given the task of running the place.

Within the past week, foot and mouth broke out again in England -- about five miles away from the Merial facilities. Britain's Institute for Animal Health is in the same neighborhood, but they quickly analyzed the infectious agent and discovered that it could not have come from them. It was not the government that was responsible for the current bout, no leaks or security breaches. All eyes turned to Merial.

Merial has halted production of its vaccines, as a precaution they say, but the strain of foot and mouth that has infected a herd of cattle just happens to be the same strain that they use to develop vaccines. According to government sources, Merial was producing that same strain as recently as this past July.

Don't be surprised if, come Monday morning, there's a big sell-off in Merck stock.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dealing With Summer Doldrums

No from Kathi J. Paton, no from just about all the agents who were queried (and took the time to respond). The query letter is another dismal failure, or the story is not shining in its best light, or the plot doesn't sound fresh and new.

I should have re-worked the query, but I've been entirely pre-occupied with the current Work In Progress. That's the only story that's in my head right now, taking up all the literary brain cells, and the desire to compose a brilliant query for some other novel is totally lacking.

With the arrival of August, the college interns return to their school's literary journals and begin to accept submissions again. So much easier to send a short story, no query required, and there are scores of magazines out there to try. It's productive work, trying to get some credentials to put before the agents. I mean, would Leigh Feldman have looked at Wayne Caldwell's Cataloochee if he hadn't published a few short stories first?

And then there's my conviction that the newest manuscript is better than all the others that went before, improvements evident in writing and overall construction. Why waste my time querying on the old stuff when there's something new in the works that will definitely get an agent's attention?

That is the voice of hope, crying in the wilderness of the unpublished.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Irish In English

To the intellectuals who wrote the dictionary, there were no words in the English language that were contributed by the Irish. Over a million of them leaving the island, spreading across the globe, yet no words of the Irish language ever became part of American slang.

Hard to believe, considering the fact that many of the Irish diaspora spoke Irish at home before they left in search of opportunity. Hard to believe that the emigrants would have abandoned their native tongue so completely. Author Daniel Cassidy didn't believe it either, and he has taken his knowledge of Irish and English and put together a very interesting book.

How The Irish Invented Slang details the connection between the Irish immigrants who populated the tenement districts of New York and Boston and Baltimore, and words that popped up in English slang. Starting his research with an Irish-English dictionary, Mr. Cassidy needed look no further than his own family to find connections between words. In addition, he is one of the founders of the Irish Studies program at California's New College, so he's well versed in the subject.

When your oversized lout of an older brother had you in a headlock and wouldn't let go until you said 'uncle", did you wonder what your uncle had to do with it? Was Uncle Brendan supposed to come running to pull the bastard off of you and give him a clout in the head for good measure? Or was your brother telling you to say 'anacal' - mercy?

And was that same brother just slicing up a bunch of baloney when he bragged about beating the snot out of the bully at the end of the street? Or was he talking 'beal onna' -- foolishness? As for the fancy-dressed couple in the biggest house in town, were they a bunch of swells -- or was it 'souil', the Irish word for prosperous and rich.

The late, great pianist Eubie Blake would never use the word 'jazz' in mixed company, as the word was originally a slang term that came out of the brothels. Jazz is a shortened form of the term jasm or jism, which still carry the original obscene meaning. But did 'jazz' come from 'teas', the Irish term for passion in a sexual sense? Author Cassidy traces the term back to a mixed group of Irish, Sicilian and poor whites who brought Dixieland out of New Orleans and brought it to New York in 1917, giving credence to his theory that there's more Irish in English than once thought.

Mr. Cassidy believes that the Irish immigrants, mixed in with poor Jews and blacks, added their words to the language stew that came out of the tenements and ghettos, the cant (caint) and clever spiel (speal). How The Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads is an interesting analysis of where words come from and how newcomers add their tongue to the melting pot that is a growing, thriving language.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

God Is Carbon Neutral

The Vatican is small as states go, but the home base for the Roman Catholic faith is taking a big step to reduce pollution. They've only just finished cleaning the statues at St. Peter's, and already the marbles are going spotty from the exhaust of all the cars. It is time to act, the church leaders decreed, and so they have set in train a brilliant strategy that will do absolutely nothing to keep the statues cleaner.

Some group of laborers and a plant nursery will benefit over in Hungary, once the order is placed. The Vatican is going to have trees planted in a national forest in Hungary, to offset the carbon emissions that are choking Vatican City. The carbon atoms that puff out of tail pipes in Italy will be attracted to these trees in Hungary, and fly on the prevailing westerlies to their new trees. Once the carbon atoms reach the newly installed foliage, they will be sucked up and turned into Hungarian chlorophyll.

Rome and Vatican City are crowded, congested places with no room for trees, so the carbon atoms will be forced to emigrate. Perhaps photosynthesis is cheaper in Eastern Europe than in Italy, and the Vatican has chosen to outsource its carbon off-setting. There may even have been a quid pro quo with some Hungarian cardinal, the promise of jobs given in exchange for a vote on the Vatican Council. As the Church operates in secrecy, we may never know, but suffice it to say, the Vatican is going to be declared carbon neutral by some watchdog group, and the College of Cardinals can pat themselves on the back with pride at doing their bit. Makes them appear quite modern scientifically, up to date and "with it", in direct contrast to the days of Galileo.

When your pastor gets up in the pulpit this year to shill for Peter's Pence, don't expect him to say a word about your contribution paying for carbon offsets. Bad enough that the faithful are keeping a close eye on the finances, making sure that they don't get stuck with the bill for the sexual abuse crisis. But to tell people that His Holiness in Rome needs more money for a worthless gesture? The sound of purses being latched shut would reverberate throughout the land.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Congoid, Arab

Never knew there were so many classifications of race before. Or at least there are more than I realized because a new race has been added. If attorney Robert Habib is to be believed, then Arab is a separate racial group, neither black nor white nor yellow nor red. And here I was thinking that Arabs fell into the Caucasoid group.

The reason that Arabs are not Caucasian is because Walid Elkhatib, a Jerusalem-born Muslim, refuses to serve pork products at his Chicago area Dunkin Donuts. Now, if he were only an employee of Dunkin Donuts, Mr. Elkhatib could still be a Caucasian, but he would be the victim of religious discrimination. As the franchise owner, he must cry racial bias to get his case heard in court.

The western suburb of Berkeley is not the busiest part of Chicago's metropolitan area, and the Dunkin Donuts shop was allowed to serve only donuts and not the pork-product breakfast sandwiches that were introduced five years after the shop opened. Having prospered at the Berkeley location and a second one in Westchester, also pork free, Mr. Elkhatib decided to move his Westchester shop to a busier corner and get a bigger piece of the donut. And of course, he would not serve pork, which had been fine with the lords of the donut before.

Busier corner, more opportunity for Dunkin Donuts to make more money, and the prior deal to ban pork became a problem. All well and good to omit a menu item where there's not quite so much business, or most of the clients are Islamic, but put a shop on a busy corner where there are people who will buy breakfast sandwiches and take their business elsewhere if they can't get them, and it's a new deal.

Mr. Elkhatib is suing Dunkin Donuts, and his attorney is using a law that was written during the Reconstruction to protect the former slaves from discrimination, dealing with the right of all persons to make and enforce contracts like the white folks do.

When he was a white man, a Caucasian, Mr. Elkhatib had an unwritten agreement with Dunkin Donuts to ban pork products from his shops. Now, as an Arab, he can't make the same contract, hence, he is being discriminated against. Such legal reasoning worked for black franchisees who sued when the were blocked from expanding into predominantly white areas, although they had no problem serving the pork products. Attorney Robert Habib believes that he can draw parallels between the two cases, but is he saying that Mr. Elkhatib is going to expand into a primarily Christian area and that's why there's discrimination?

The Federal appeals court is going to hear the case, citing evidence that Dunkin Donuts allowed other franchises to forgo pork due to space limitations at the shop, or because of lease restrictions at the location, or because of customer demand for kosher products. Nothing in there about a franchise owner refusal to serve part of the Dunkin Donuts menu because his religion forbade him from touching pork, but a good attorney can talk his way around anything.

Mr. Elkhatib is fighting over principle at this point, because Dunkin Donuts did not renew his contracts and he will lose the franchise rights. It is debatable whether or not he will understand, in the end, why he could not impose his religious beliefs on his customers, or why he could not operate a franchise under his own rules. The separation of church and state is a difficult concept to grasp for those who were inculcated in a religion that makes itself the center of daily life. And the cold, heartless rules of the marketplace dictate that one should always read the contract before signing.