Saturday, September 29, 2007

New York Don't Do Coupons

Macy's doesn't do coupons.

Simple as that. Too much trouble for the sales staff, too much of a headache for accounting. Plus there's all those slips of paper to deal with. It naturally follows, then, that when Macy's buys up other department stores, that's the end of the coupons for them as well.

Oops, my bad, says Terry J. Lundgren, CEO of the floundering corporation. Those rubes out in the hinterlands sure do love their coupons, and they just weren't ready for the panache and elan of New York City ways. That must be why they don't shop Macy's. There's no coupons for them to clip and think that they're getting a bargain.

Maybe it's the change of fashion apparel, the elimination of .....gag, the horror...lines like Dockers and Levis -- clothes right out of Hicksville, USA. All Macy's wanted to do was bring in some overpriced shite that the yokels would think was tres chic, low quality garments that were to be snapped up at retail prices. 'Macy's knows what you want and you don't' was the message, but what Macy's really wanted was to position the store so that they were no longer butting heads with Kohls and JC Penney because they were getting beaten so badly. Oops, my bad again, says Terry J. Lundgren. Dockers are back at Macy's; won't you come back?

Where did the shoppers go, the folks that put Marshall Field's on the map? They flew away to Kohl's and J.C. Penneys, where they can get the same quality as Macy's at a lower price. Without a coupon.

Coupons are coming back, Macy's has declared, but will the shoppers return to what used to be called Marshall Field and Company? When Mr. Lundren and his colleagues figure out that Chicagoans aren't flocking to Macy's because Macy's killed a beloved institution, they might return. And there's no coupon in existence that will fix what is really wrong.

Trade Union Negotiations

We, the members of the Irish Airline Pilots Association insist that Aer Lingus recruit their Belfast-based pilots in Dublin. These new pilots will be hired on under the collective agreement which Aer Lingus has established with its Republic-based pilots.

Aer Lingus says no.

We demand that any disputes that arise amongst the Belfast fly boys be resolved in Dublin, and are negotiated in keeping with Irish law. The hub in Belfast should be operated under Northern Ireland's laws, but as they are different than Republic law, we want the latter.

Aer Lingus says no.

In addition, we the pilots want the current seniority list to apply to positions in Belfast, so that the current senior pilots would still be top of the heap should they choose to go to Belfast. All pilots flying for Aer Lingus out of Belfast must be covered by the existing pension scheme, no changing around to a new plan for new recruits.

Aer Lingus says no. No to a batch of ideas that fly in the face of market rules, which dictate a leaner and meaner corporation. No to an "unwieldy, costly, protectionist" system of seniority. No to the pilot's union making business decisions for Aer Lingus when all their notions would hamstring the airline. No to ongoing inefficiency that threatens to kill the airline.

Aer Lingus is battling competition that sports lower costs, which are passed on to the clients in the form of cut-rate fares. Mr. Dermot Mannion is operating Aer Lingus like a business, making financial decisions that are aimed at keeping the planes aloft. The Irish government, with its 25% stake, has decided not to spook investors and has taken a hands-off approach to Aer Lingus's decision to pull out of Shannon for cheaper pastures in the north.

Aer Lingus used to be state-run airline that suffered at the hands of politicians. Now it is free to make its way in a brutal, unforgiving world, and Mr. Mannion has only to look at the state of United Airlines to see where his company might be headed if he doesn't put a stop to it.

The Irish Airline Pilots union is going to consider Mr. Mannion's response to their demands. While they're at it, they might try convincing their non-union colleagues at the discount airlines to demand more. That's one way to level the playing field.

Friday, September 28, 2007

It Can't Hurt To Look

Let there be no doubt that the EU is not, I repeat, not, planning to move forward with corporate tax rate harmonisation. Laszlo Kovacs has said it numerous times, hasn't he? Still and all, he's in talks that will lead to a report about the effects of such harmonisation on the EU economy. Think of your fat old auntie, ogling the dessert cart after dinner but insisting that she's not ordering. Can't hurt to look, she says, but before long there's a mound of sugary carbohydrates in front of her.

What would happen if the EU forced all of its members to tax corporate profits at the same rate? Examine the issue, research companies, from the perspective of harmonisation smoothing out the ripples caused by some countries having more than others but let's not name names or the Irish will be foaming at the mouth again.

The EU is spending up to 150 large for this study that is meant to show how much better everything could be if everyone in the EU charged the same tax rate on corporations. The same tax rate being the higher rate that France and Germany use. The one that has sent multi-national corporations fleeing to Ireland to take advantage of the tax savings.

Eoin Ryan, representing Ireland in Brussels, is aware that he's got his work cut out for him. It's a given that the bloated nations would never consider cutting their corporate tax rate, despite evidence that more revenue can be generated via volume. Mr. Kovacs, he of the forked tongue, is determined to force a wrong-headed tax strategy down the throats of the EU, a move that would be devastating for Ireland's economy.

On the other hand, eliminating the tax haven could be of benefit to the United States. If there's no profit motive in operating out of Ireland, the corporations will bring their profits home if US tax rates are lower than what will be the norm in the EU. The Internal Revenue Service might, even now, be working behind the scenes to encourage EU members to sing in perfect harmony.

My friend Margaret is forever saying that it never lasts, the boom times. The European Union is determined to turn her pessimism into dogma.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Wedding Like No Other

Ah, Bloomington. Home to Illinois State University, a well-regarded institute of higher learning. A college where the ratio of women to men is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 1. Sorry, ISU, but that's what gets talked about the most when it's college search time.

Bloomington can also boast of The Chateau of Bloomington, a fine venue for the wedding reception of any bride's dream. And on Saturday last, Bloomington laid claim to another star for their crown. They've been put on the map by that noble son of Ireland, Hilary Quinlan.

No one in Ireland had ever heard of Bloomington, Illinois before, and now it's all over the newpapers. Mr. Quinlan is no ordinary Irish citizen, you see, but he was once the mayor of Waterford City and he is currently sitting on the city council (Fine Gael, to Enda Kenny's chagrin). What did this august gentleman do that created such an uproar?

Back home, his actions would not have caused much of a ripple. It's almost common, at least at Traveller weddings, for fights to break out. So he pounded on his wife's niece, the settled community might say. Helena Brown got punched a couple of times, two other guests beat up their brother, and for that the Bloomington police were called in and arrests were made. No weapons, no bats or hurleys or brass knuckles? Not much of a brawl compared to some weddings.

Mr. Quinlan was a guest of the McLean County Jail for two nights before someone scraped up $100 for his bail. Now he's been told to appear in court on 7 November, and State's Attorney Bill Yoder is looking to see whether the Waterford councillor can leave the country between now and then. Sure and he wouldn't come back to face the music, would he, once he's away. Mr. Yoder may be forced to confiscate Mr. Quinlan's passport. Domestic battery isn't such a great crime, not like murder at any rate, but if he's done the crime, he must do the time.

The McLean County clerk and the Bloomington police spokesman are frazzled because of all the requests for information from Ireland, and trying to cut through the various brogues is really a strain. And what more can they say, anyway? About twenty wedding guests were duking it out, the police restored order, Mr. Quinlan was arrested for fighting.

What a grand affair it must have been. The bride has memories to cherish, and did the videographer get it all?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tall Aspirations

There's no money out there, the analysts are saying. Credit has tightened, hard on the heels of a collapse in the sub-prime lending market, and that would point to a decline in new development for some period of time.

On Wednesday, Garrett Kelleher will set his Chicago Spire on the world stage, confident that he can get funding for a $1.5 billion project and that there are people out there who will buy the ultra-posh condominiums.

His confidence has a solid footing, in that the building is being designed by one of the world's leading 'starchitects'. A flat in the Spire is unique, and far different from anything that Donald Trump is trying to sell at his tower on the Chicago River. Given a choice, a status seeker would pick Calatrava over Trump any day, giving Mr. Kelleher a leg-up on the competition.

In Europe, the shaky markets have caused a ripple in consumer confidence. Real estate investment in the States was billed as a can't miss proposition, a safe place to park a few euro and earn a decent rate of return. No more, as England and Germany step in to prop up banks that are on the fringes of insolvency. Europeans may not feel that they have the extra cash to invest anywhere.

Given that Mr. Kelleher has plans to push his Calatrava confection to the European market, he's got a tough go ahead of him. He has to sell a considerable number of units before he can even think about seeking financing, and no one can say where the financial markets will be at that time. On top of that, he can expect to pay a higher interest rate, reflecting the market's perception of greater risk.

One thing in his favor is the weak dollar, which makes prices translated into euros seem absolute bargains.

In real estate, it's all about location, and Savills PLC, estate agent to the project, is touting the property values in Chicago. Not sinking like a stone, a la Miami, and not quaking unsteadily like Los Angeles.

Talk to Gerard Kenny of Palladian Development or James Kinney of Rubloff Residential Real Estate and you'd get a picture that's less than ideal. No one's project is copper-fastened, with an assured source of financing. Sean McMahon of Teng Associates has told the Chicago Tribune that the firm's Waterview Tower project, while under construction now, has not as yet secured its construction loans.

Will the Spire pierce the sky above Chicago? And why are there so many Irishmen involved in the real estate and construction markets in that city?

Three Card Monte The European Union Way

Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Step right up. It's time to change the way corporate taxes are paid in Europe. A little slight of hand, and can you guess which member state will give you the best tax rate on your profits? Ireland, you say? That may soon be the wrong answer.

Laszlo Kovacs has it all figured out, a brilliant way to raise the tax rate for places like Ireland and Slovakia, who are doing ever so much better than everyone else when it comes to attracting multinationals and the money they shed. Ireland won't go along with raising their tax rate, so the wise men of the EU have found a way around and soon Ireland can be just as insolvent as the rest. All for one and one for all, the EU way, as long as that way is the wrong way.

Dear Mr. Kovacs is only thinking of the multinationals who have to deal with twenty-seven individual taxing bodies. The multinationals are quite all right with it, but the EU is hell bent to change it. This isn't about what's best for the large corporations, the blood-sucking capitalists. It's what's best for the member states who can't figure out how to cut their tax rates and insist that everyone else follow in their misguided path.

How to explain this, when I'm not sure I understand it myself. Part one: Businesses operating in multiple EU venues will be told by the EU, using EU formulae, what their profits are. Part the second: The EU will take those profits and distribute them amongst the member-states where the business did business. Part C: Whatever the tax rates of the member-states getting the profits happens to be, the business will pay taxes at that rate.

But wait, there's more. The EU will push for tax harmonization so that a multinational can instead treat its many entities as one business for tax purposes. That's rather like beating someone with a hammer and then expecting them to thank you when you stop. They were happier when you weren't beating them, but you've got that urge to swing away until they cooperate. I think the Mafia operates that way, actually.

How to calculate the profit distribution? Oh, perhaps, possibly, the EU could give more profits to the country that buys the most product. For example, if Waterford crystal was selling like mad in Paris, then Waterford's profits would be apportioned to France and Ireland could go scratch, or force their citizens to out-buy the French.

Alternatively, the apportionment could be based on payroll. That way, multinationals with shell offices in Ireland would lose the tax benefit because they'd have to be taxed in the land where most of their employees work. Good heavens, that's far too obvious. Better to go with the "sales factor" instead. Ireland's but a wee small island and it could never generate sales figures like France or Germany.

The EU must have harmony in corporate taxation, but that harmony must not come from a lowering of taxes. That sort of thing just makes far too much sense from an economic point of view, and there are no economists here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Still Not Dead Yet

The wheels of justice grind slowly. The Claddagh Pubs chain is yet in bankruptcy court, its fate still undetermined. Pat McDonagh says he still wants to buy up what's left, but that's a transaction for another day.

In the meantime, his Supermac's chain has written off EU 15 million, the amount of money that he sunk into Claddagh and doesn't expect to ever see again. The write-off represents a chunk of Supermac's profits that cannot be used for employee bonuses, charitable giving, financing new shops, or paying taxes. Write-offs aren't all bad news, after all. The twenty five shops owned by Supermac's Ireland have turned profits lately, business is up, so why not look at those profits as seed money. Mr. McDonagh has every intention of returning to America, taking charge of things himself this time, and making Claddagh Pubs succeed.

There's only so many spots in Ireland that can host a Supermac's outlet. There's no demand for Supermac's in America, but Mr. McDonagh sunk EU 15 million into Claddagh Pubs because he knew the concept was a money-making winner. As far as he is concerned, Kevin Blair botched the project, ran up too much debt and moved too quickly. Properly managed, Claddagh Pubs could be as lucrative as any other large American franchise, and Pat McDonagh has not given up on the chance to become the Ray Kroc of Irish dining.

Lies, Damn Lies, And Statistics

Bank records failed to indicate a large amount of sterling being exchanged on the day that Bertie Ahern lodged a large amount of money into his account. He said he was given sterling by friends who were helping him out financially when he split with his wife. The tribunal suggests that he could not have been given sterling notes. Who was wrong, so? The bank? Mr. Ahern believes that to be the case, as his recollection of events include a pile of sterling notes being converted to punts. Who knows what clerical errors the bank employees might have made, to not have records of all the sterling that Mr. Ahern is sure he dropped off with them.

How about the transaction of 5 December, 1994? If you use the most generous rate of exchange possible, you can calculate the value of the sum lodged as exactly $45,000. That's a lot of American currency, even if it was all in hundreds. How about that one? In theory, yes, it is mathematically possible to arrive at that value. In reality, unfortunately, there is one element missing. The records of Allied Irish Bank do not contain any evidence of an exchange of American greenbacks. No one brought 45,000 Yankee dollars to the bank to be exchanged for Irish pounds. Who is wrong this time? Those who toted up columns of numbers and came up with other numbers?

So there it stands. Mr. Ahern says he exchanged X amount of sterling but the bank records indicate that only Y amount of sterling came in. The tribunal calculated that $45,000 could have been exchanged on day Q, but the bank records do not support the hypothesis.

No matter to the Opposition, however. Enda Kenny is warming up his vocal cords, getting ready to sing out for a vote of no confidence in the taoiseach. Eamon Gilmore, freshly elected as Labour leader and feeling frisky, doesn't want to wait for the Mahon Tribunal to prepare their report, not when it could take them up to two years to draw their conclusions. He's ready to lead the charge come Friday, to confront the taoiseach about his "convoluted" testimony.

Has anyone noticed that drug traffickers are at war with one another, shooting at random like it's the American Wild West? Any talk in the Dail about the lack of adequate health care, not enough beds, that sort of thing? And the slow-down in the economy, the need to scale back on government spending, any discussions ongoing about reining in waste? I thought not.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lack Of Engagement

Susan Ginsburg was intrigued by the premise. Of course she was intrigued, or she wouldn't have asked for the first fifty pages. The hook in the query got her.

But why has she passed on the manuscript? "I wasn't as engaged with your characters as I had hoped."

Couldn't relate to them, is that it? The historical atmosphere was there, but it was the people who were populating the imaginary world who weren't up to snuff.

I understand that sort of thing. There's many a novel I've picked up and put down after the first few chapters because I didn't care about the characters. If they solved their problem or found happiness or sunk into misery, it was all the same. I'm not a shopaholic New York City up and coming publishing industry chick on the go, and I don't care to read about them, yet there's reams of paper given over to chronicling the exploits of chicks in lit.

What else is there to do but keep querying until I find an agent who can relate?

Or maybe she was just politely saying that the writing sucked. You never can tell with these subjective things.

Mandated Universal Health

Anita Epolito used to work for Weyco, but then she got fired. Because she was a smoker. And smokers cost too much to insure.

Analysts have been criticizing Hillary Clinton's health care plan, which would allow those who like their existing employer-supplied health care coverage to keep it. Yet this job-related insurance benefit has resulted in rocketing expenses for the firms that pay for it, so how can Ms. Clinton hope to reduce the high cost of health care insurance by maintaining the status quo?

If the analysts were to connect the dots, they would see just how simple the idea is. Employers have an interest in urging their employees to remain healthy, so that they don't use their health care coverage, thereby keeping the price down. Insurance companies like to take in premiums, and they hate having to pay out on a policy. As long as workers don't get sick and go to the doctor, the insurance company offers a reward in a lower premium payment. The firms buying health insurance have to like that sort of thing.

How to keep costs down? Don't insure the sickly or the drinkers or the smokers or the eaters. So if any such types are working at the company, get rid of them. They're a drag on profits, with their expensive personal habits jacking up insurance rates.

As the unemployed unhealthy masses lose their jobs and their insurance coverage, the Federal government will then pick up the tab, but the mandate to maintain a healthy lifestyle will hold. Quit smoking or you'll have to pay a higher premium. If you can't afford it, then you're out of luck. No health insurance for you. Good luck finding a doctor to treat you when you develop lung cancer. Is that a donut in your hand, you great fat lump of high blood pressure and elevated blood glucose? Lose fifty pounds or you'll never see a doctor again, unless you're wealthy enough to pay for it yourself.

Taking a page from big health care corporations like Clarion Health, everyone will have to face mandated wellness checks. Weigh-ins and cholesterol monitoring will become part and parcel of everyone's job. Surprise urine tests, on the hunt for nicotine or illicit drugs, will become the norm at every job site.

Before long, everyone will have the choice between free living or health care coverage. Submit to routine invasions of personal privacy or come up with the cash to buy your own insurance. Puts a whole new spin on the old "Big Brother is watching you" warning.

Nous Sommes Skint

The farmers of Corsica want more money from the government, but Francois Fillon turned out his empty pockets and let them know that their government was bankrupt. Not a sou for vous, he insisted, not from a government that had not balanced its budget in over twenty-five years. Nothing better to report for 2008, either, as the planned budget is EU41.5 billion in arrears. So don't ask for more, Corsican farmers, because it's not there.

The opposition blames Mr. Sarkozy, of course, for cutting taxes. Cutting taxes is a good thing, actually, from an economic standpoint, but it must be matched with spending cuts. Just ask Alan Greenspan, or anyone else from the University of Chicago school of economic theory.

Mr. Fillon has some spending cuts in mind, starting with state pension reform. The unions are very much against any change that would reduce government spending on their members' pensions, which are quite generous. One can afford to be generous if said generosity is borrowed and left to future generations to pay. That future generation isn't voting right now, is it?

Reform is urgently needed, because borrowing to live beyond one's means cannot go on forever. You only have to look at the sub-prime lending market, and the world-wide impact of massive mortgage defaults, to see what might happen if the money well should run dry. Mr. Sarkozy would prefer to make small cuts now, rather than sit back and watch France choke to death on debt.

The Corsican farmers have felt the first nick of the knife. Sooner or later, the unions will have to accept less, or there may come a time when there's absolutely nothing at all left to give.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cead Mile Failte, Terrorists

When not promoting impossible ecological mandates, Ireland's Green Party is also at the forefront of promoting anti-war sentiment. Together with Labour's own Michael D. Higgins (still rockin' in the Dail), they are preparing to welcome some terrorist to Ireland.

It's to be all cead mile failte to Hezbollah, which is sending its Minister of Propaganda to the conference, where he can spout rhetoric about Hezbollah as fighters against illegal occupation. Alan Shatter of Fine Gael has noticed that Ibrahim Mussawi's rhetoric is anti-Semitic and reminds the listener of 1930's Germany, but the Green Party is not troubled by this assessment. It's all about being anti-war, and who could be more anti-war than Hezbollah? They're not killing anyone who doesn't deserve to die, are they? They just want the Jews out of Israel, the interlopers, and don't go saying that the Jews were there first. That doesn't count.

The Sadr militia is sending along their beloved Dr. Qusay Abdulawahab Al-Suhail to present the Sadr spin on illegal occupation and how the Sadr Brigade is entirely not involved in murdering innocent civilians. Sunnis aren't even human, are they? They'd hardly count if you were tabulating deaths when the thrust of the forum is against war.

The U.S. has sent a little note along to the Irish government, to express their disappointment that a trusted ally and friend is opening the door to those branded as terrorists. Fianna Fail is in the unfortunate position of being in government with the Green Party, a merger of necessity, and now they're being painted with a broad brush, and in a color they don't care for at all.

What if the U.S. government paints the current coalition as a friend of terrorists? That would be the same government that regulates all the many businesses that have branches in Ireland. Eliminate a few tax breaks and those same multinational corporations would be happy to up stakes and leave Ireland, taking their tax revenue with them. The Celtic Tiger would grind to a halt in short order.

A very sensitive situation has been created by the Greens, one that will make their coalition partners most unhappy with them. How will they respond to this mess, when they have to placate the Greens to maintain the coalition and still make happy with the U.S.?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Building A Home In Dreamland

The Green Party is all about being green, and they're all about making Ireland more green now that they're in coalition. For their first foray into the heady world of environmental policy and legislation, they've mandated that which cannot be done.

From July on, new houses will have to install solar panels, in a bid to reduce CO2 levels. What about houses already planned and approved but not yet under construction? Do the plans have to be redrawn and re-examined and re-approved? Who pays for the delays? There is an answer for the last question, of course. The home buyer will pay the price because all the costs incurred in building a home are ultimately paid by the buyer.

Tom Parlon, former Progressive Democrat and now spokesman for the Construction Industry Federation summed it up nicely. The technology to build according to Green Party rules does not exist. One would have to build in some imaginary dream world to meet the requirements. Unfortunately for the would-be Irish home buyer, they exist in a most solid and real world.

How will the green houses be heated? Solar heating has been suggested, but anyone who's spent any time in Ireland will know that the land is not particularly sunny. It's not California, where solar panels are bathed in sunlight for months on end. A solar heated home in Ireland had best come with a stockpile of wool jumpers and heavy blankets. If that doesn't appeal, the builder can look to a stove that burns recycled wood pellets. Then it's up to the home owner to find a steady source of biomass to keep the pipes from freezing.

Energy efficient lighting, houses sealed up air tight, and the architects must see into the future so that they can design homes that can be upgraded in the future. For only around EU15,000 added to the price of the house, at a time when families are roaring about the sky-high cost of real estate in modern Ireland...doesn't suggest a broad backing from the public.

Like most pipe dreams, the new initiative will fade away like the morning dew. Fine Gael is decrying the hypocrisy of forcing new home owners to pony up right after Government slashes spending to help existing owners retrofit their homes. The building trades will have their say, the voters will make their opinions felt, and everyone will be reminded that no one voted to put the Green Party into Government to begin with. In the end, the pressure of opposition will come forward and snuff the initiative out with a shower of cold reality.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Honest Thief

Gavin Farrelly is already serving ten years for his part in an armed robbery, so why would he lie in court now?

Two years ago, he joined two of his mates in a robbery of the post office in Lusk, County Dublin. His job was to smash the glass partition that separated him and the lads from the cash. The lads were charged with keeping the many customers at bay, which they did with the help of a gun. When the vast majority of gardai don't carry guns, you'd have to say that the armed criminal would have the edge in such a crime.

Next thing he knows, Gavin's two mates are dead on the floor, shot by, of all things, an armed garda. Jaysus, he's saying now, they never had a bit of warning. If the garda had shouted out that he was armed, things never would have taken the turn that they did. It's police brutality and excessive use of force and all that. The feckin' garda should be doing time for murder, he should.

What of all the witnesses who heard the garda roar out that he was armed and the robber was to drop his weapon? All the people in the deli, the people behind the post office counter, all of those who were praying to Almighty God that they get out of the place with their lives, can they be telling some whopping great lie? The woman who feared she'd never see her girls again, can anyone believe that she heard the garda give a warning?

Was your man a bit pre-occupied with the smashing? Yes he was indeed, he admitted at the inquest. Too pre-occupied, the legal team representing An Garda Siochana implied, to have heard the garda's warning or heard the shots that killed Gavin's mates before they had a chance to murder the garda and the people cowering on the floor.

Some criminals are just plain stupid. Some are such bastards that you're left wishing the garda had fired one more shot and been done with it.

Bookshop Acquisitions

The name says it all. Risk Capital Partners has set up a new company called Bookshop Acquisitions and it has already done what it says. That is, it has purchased the Irish and UK divisions of Borders for ten million pounds.

Do they sell books? Doesn't sound like it. They buy book shops. And then what? Sell them on for a profit? I picture a clutch of accountants hovering over ledgers, tallying figures and suggesting that the firm invest in book shops. They could as easily suggest gobbling up auto parts stores or any other widget producer.

Borders will maintain a 17% interest in the new firm, but after all, someone has to be on hand who knows how to sell books. In the end, that's where the profit comes from.

The Image Of Success

Businessman Denis O'Brien made a fortune in the mobile phone business. Digicel's success paid for this home in Dublin 4, a 7800 sq ft work of art that was designed by Stanislaus Orpen. When Mr. O'Brien purchased the 1904 Arts and Crafts confection, he paid EU27 million, so clearly this would have to be the home of a wealthy man. All the world could view this magnificent facade and declare unanimously that Denis O'Brien, the man from Cork, made his way in the world and reached the top.

Mr. O'Brien, however, does not see things that way. He doesn't need a historically significant work of art as far as he is concerned. He needs a mansion of modern size and scope. He needs 22,000 square feet of roaring mass on the Shrewsbury Road. He wants to tear down this beauty and put up his own personal monument to financial success.

Needless to say, An Bord Pleanala has turned down his request. Sorry that this particular structure fails to meet the grade of modern layout, building regulations and energy ratings. Pity that it is not up to the "lifestyle and living standard requirements of persons likely to seek residence" in Dublin 4. The city council feels that what is there fits with what is also there, and an overblown mansion would not blend smoothly into the existing landscape.

As much as Mr. O'Brien would like to believe that this gem does not contribute to the streetscape, a modern behemoth hulking massively over its neighbors would be an eyesore to all those around him. Not that he much cares about them, it would seem, since he is arguing that they are wrong and he should be allowed to erect a stately edifice, to let Dublin 4 know that he has arrived.

There was a time when self-made men felt that they were beholden to the country that made them, and so they funded art museums and symphonies and opera companies to serve as monuments to their success. What is today's legacy of the entrepreneur?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Posh Universal Health Care

Hillary Clinton is the first Democratic candidate to lay out a universal health care plan with a few specifics. Insurance coverage for all, she declares, to the unbridled joy of the insurance industry, but those who can afford their own insurance will be free to continue along their usual path.

The two tiered system is just what is needed to avoid the debacle that is Canadian health care. No one can get anything better than anyone else up north, which means that everyone gets shite. At least in Ireland, where both public and private health care is the norm, the rich can escape from the shite pile. Very wise of Mrs. Clinton to proffer the same for those who would elect her.

If all the public beds are taken in an Irish hospital, those with national coverage will be put on a trolley in the hall until a bed is available. Those with private coverage have their own beds set aside in all hospitals, and they have private hospitals to choose from as well. All in all, it's a better deal if you're privately insured.

And if all the private beds are taken? Recently, the Mater's private unit found itself short of bed space and lodged eight patients in a hotel. They were all scheduled for elective surgery and had no place else to stay overnight, so why not enjoy the comforts of a hotel? Far better than being told to go home and come back later, as would have happened to a commoner.

Maternity patients presenting at the Rotunda hospital were sent to the Jurys Hotel when there was no room at the, hospital. Not the laboring mothers, of course, but women who were scheduled for scans or needed a drip, strictly the low-risk category who were able to enjoy a comfortable room with maid service. Who wouldn't prefer a cozy hotel room to a bed in a crowded ward?

While the public crowds the wards and A&E, those with the means can avoid all that. Universal health care is ever so much more palatable when you can rest assured that you'll not have to sacrifice the posh care that your private insurance affords you. And you can feel good, knowing that all those others can go see a doctor whenever they like....assuming, of course, that the docket is not overly full and the beds aren't all taken already.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Leaders In Corruption

Illinois can lay claim to yet another glorious achievement. The 'Family Secrets' trial was not enough, with its tie-ins between the Chicago Outfit and local politicians. Now the state that has its last governor going to prison and its current one facing indictment can look to Congressman Jerry Weller and say, he's one of ours. On the list of the twenty two most corrupt congressmen.

He's right up there with Louisiana's darling, William Jefferson, in the panoply of the ethically challenged. Poor Mr. Weller knows nothing of his wife's finances, he says, yet he somehow managed to do some deals in Nicaragua with the aid of her family. But that's not the worst of it.

Oddly enough, Mr. Weller just happened to own some resort property in Nicaragua when he was busy promoting the Central America Free Trade Agreement in Congress. The fact that he failed to disclose his ownership of South American land was merely an oversight. As for the price of the land, that's a bit shady as well. According to Nicaraguan records, the land sold for a pittance. According to American records, it was rather pricey. It's been suggested that he was merely trying to ease the tax burden, and who wouldn't do the same?

Clever man, to buy property for development and then promote legislation that would make it a better investment and attract buyers. If his fellow House members knew that he was wheeling and dealing in Nicaraguan real estate while urging them to support a bill that would make his investments more lucrative, would Mr. Weller have been taken seriously? Would the House Speaker have suggested that he sit out the vote because of vested interests?

With that kind of background, an endless string of corrupt and sleazy politicians, is it any wonder that the people of Illinois look at Barack Obama with a jaundiced eye? You don't always pick up fleas when you sleep with dogs, but aren't the odds in the fleas' favor?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Can't Tell The Players Without A Program

One merger after another. It's getting to be nearly impossible to keep track of who is where and which is the correct address for the query.

Now it's Peter Rubie joining forces with Stephany Evans and her Imprint Agency to create......FinePrint Literary Management.

No doubt all the agents will have to be given new e-mail addresses to go along with the newest dot com on the street, so be prepared to update your address book.

Does it mean that FinePrint will be actively looking for new clients to flesh out their bare bones structure, or are the two individual agencies already quite robust and plump? Did they want nothing more than to pare down the office staff by combining facilities? A bit of a cost savings there in the fixed expenses department.

If nothing else, we all hope that the new website will be a vast improvement over Peter Rubie's existing melange that poses untold navigational hazards. Query away, and good luck to all.

Smells Like Unity

Sir Reg Empey of the UUP got a whiff of something highly unpleasant. It's the rank odor of a united Ireland, all thirty-two counties acting as a unit.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has been meeting with members of his Fianna Fail party to discuss the possibility of setting up shop in Northern Ireland. They mean to give Sinn Fein a run for their money, as Sinn Fein currently holds the title of Ireland's only all-island party and Fianna Fail does not intend to get left off the guest list.

Rather than start up from scratch, Fianna Fail would merge with the SDLP, a move that would strengthen the Socialist Democrats and give Fianna Fail the benefit of working with a group that's been in the trenches already.

But for the UUP, the most determined bastion of maintaining the United Kingdom of England and Ireland, the implications are horrendous. One political party making decisions in the Republic and the North sounds very much like one political party leading the North into a new union, the very same union that Sinn Fein has been proclaiming since the treaty was signed in 1922.

Politicians make the laws, and Sir Reg is frothing at the mouth, so upset is he that some Irish person might have any influence whatsoever in his little corner of the kingdom. Why, it's disruptive to the peace process, he's claimed, given that the peace process was supposed to bring peace but not change. Fianna Fail running the show at Stormont? Most unwise and unhelpful, undermines the progress achieved.

Glad to have them, says SDLP's Mark Durkan. He'd say that, of course, because the SDLP has been crying out for a united Ireland all along, albeit with a somewhat quieter voice. Besides, Fianna Fail has taken credit for the prosperity of modern Ireland as the result of their policies, and that has a decided appeal to the voters of Northern Ireland, who would like a taste of the money pie.

Any political party offering more of the same old tired policies has a tough go of it when the flashy suits and big cars come to town. That is what has Sir Reg so furious. He's got nothing pretty to show off after years of UUP influence, and the competition is going to disrupt his hold on power.

Literary Fiction And What You Read

In response to their readers, the New York Times is going to add a new list to their book review section. The current list of best sellers is too, well, too low brow quite frankly.

According to Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of the NYT Book Review, this new list will correspond "closely to what we review in the section and what we gauge our readers are interested in" and that is literary fiction. As for the rest of you down there at the bottom of the reading barrel, you'll still have your common, plebeian list of fodder for the masses. At last, there will be a list for the rest of us, a list of literary fiction titles that the New York Times will track.

Trade paperbacks will make up the backbone of this bestseller list, because the publishers are using the cheaper format for literary fiction that does not fly off the shelves. Only those of us with sufficient intellectual faculties read the stuff, don't you know, and one cannot fault the profit-driven publishing houses for producing these gems at a lower cost. The commoners out there have yet to discover the sort of high-end prose that gets reviewed in the NYT and better that the publishers print on the cheap than not publish at all.

There are those who claim that the New York Times is creating another list so that they can create another source of advertising revenue. It is expected that the publishers who put out the trade paperbacks that will be featured in the list and in the reviews will buy ad space to further promote their stock. Granted, ad revenues for the book review section have grown while other newspapers have seen declines, but the advertising hypothesis is nothing more than a facade. One would not wish to inflame the great unwashed masses with a further reminder of their lack of panache, would one?

There will be a bestseller list for what we, the intellectual elite, like to read, and then there is all the rest. All done to increase advertising revenue? Brilliant bit of obfuscation, but really, Mr. Tanenhaus shouldn't have let it slip.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Earthquake and Aftershocks

Lenders gave money to people who had no chance of repaying the debt. At the time, it didn't much matter to the lenders, who were confident that they could flip foreclosed properties and still turn a profit. After all, home prices were on a steady incline and the new value would surely be better than the cost of the original mortgage.

The tide has turned and home prices have declined a bit. The mortgage lenders are holding portfolios of foreclosed properties that are not selling at the necessary high price. Their investors would like their interest payments on their investments, please, and there's no money in the till. That, in brief, is the current credit crunch. Too many bad loans made, not enough capital being returned.

The people who invested their savings in Britain's Northern Rock bank are queuing up, determined to take their money out of the bank that is failing because it made too many mortgage loans to too many poor people who shouldn't have been given a loan in the first instance. The Bank of England has funneled money into Northern Rock to prop it up, and Northern Rock is telling its customers that their money is safe, but if they were foolish enough to make bad loans, who would believe that they have developed any wisdom now?

The aftershock of the credit earthquake is rattling the homes of unsuspecting savers, the little people who put their money into the bank, expected to earn a little interest, and have the nest egg at some point in the future. Northern Rock is sinking, and the last thing it needs is to lose deposits, but the depositors see the floundering and they run for cover....with their hard-earned savings in hand.

To date, about 8% of the bank's deposits have been withdrawn, largely by old folks who have a clear memory of previous bank runs in the 1920's and 1930's. The bank is concerned that their stock value will sink abysmally, and then someone could come in and buy up the stock at bargain prices. And then, God help us all, but the stockholders will suffer. How cruel are the depositors, to not consider the holdings of the bank's owners as they remove their money and send Northern Rock's value down to the cellar. Shares have lost 70% of their value this year, and that's money out of the shareholder's pocket.

Easy credit is not so easy after all. More have to pay than just the individual who did the borrowing.

A Million Little Dollars

Those who criticize HarperCollins for picking up James Frey's novel do not understand that the publishing house is a business, not a purveyor of fine literature. Publishing has never been about producing great works, unless those great works happen to turn a profit.

Literary agent Eric Simonoff gave me an excellent critique of one of my manuscripts, advice that I am using to rewrite sections of the novel. He knows the business, knows what will sell and his guidance was a reflection of that. He's a literary agent, that's his job, and a job is designed to bring in a salary to support the wife and kids. Agents may, from time to time, take on some great writing because they can afford to accept a minute royalty on a picayune advance, but the literary agent's raison d'etre is to make a living.

Publishers like authors with a history of sales. No one can argue that James Frey had some hefty sales and proved that he could move paper. HarperCollins is taking a chance that those who bought the fraudulent memoir are so taken by Mr. Frey's style of writing that they'll buy up the novel. They believe so strongly that he will bring along a stable of loyal readers that they paid a couple of million dollars for the right to publish the manuscript.

Mr. Frey has demonstrated a tremendous ability to write fiction, given that he fooled a lot of people into believing his story. There's the argument right there, that the man can compose fiction and his books will sell.

Or they won't sell. There will be a part of the original Frey-fans who thought they were sharing a moment and will never forgive the author for tricking them. There will be those who resent his lies and won't buy anything that he writes, ever. There will be those who bought the memoir because everyone else did and they didn't like the style and they never finished it and they won't waste their money on another James Frey work again. There are no guarantees that the million readers of one book will become the million readers of the second. And if the author doesn't sell through, earn a good part of his advance, his third book won't garner such a hefty advance. And if the third doesn't sell, there may not be a fourth.

It's not personal. It's only business.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Plat du Jour: Grilled Bertie

The numbers don't add up, but according to Bertie Ahern's testimony, the numbers may not be accurate. Evidence given at the Mahon Tribunal investigating some money movements made by the taoiseach are becoming muddled, boiled up into a stew of varying numbers and imprecise exchange rates.

When Mr. Ahern said that he had obtained 16,500 pounds sterling from friends who had come to his aid when he was settling things with Miriam Ahern, representatives from Anglo-Irish Bank said that over 24,000 Irish punts were lodged in the account. It could have been more than 16,500 sterling, it has now been suggested. And there might have been some Irish pounds in the mix, perhaps Mr. Ahern emptied his pockets at the bank and dropped the lot into his account.

After a speaking engagement in Manchester, Mr. Ahern received an honorarium of 8,000 pounds sterling but when he brought it to the bank he might have added some Irish money or he might have added some sterling notes that he had on hand. All in all, the reason that the amounts listed on bank records don't work out to what was said to have been exchanged was because the amounts exchanged were not precise values but estimates.

All this debate over numbers, but what is the point? Michael Wall bought a house for Mr. Ahern and paid for its tart-up, but has anyone sitting on the tribunal asked what was in it for Mr. Wall? What benefit did he derive from the Drumcondra residence? Are there political or financial favors that can be demonstrated? Or was it truly a case of a bunch of good ole boys helping one of their own get rid of the old battle axe so he could take up with his bit on the side?

Did no one think to ask Celia Larkin why she thought she was fixing up the house at the behest of Mr. Wall? She testified about lodging the cash, she talked about the conservatory that Mr. Wall paid to be added to the house, she described her actions from the position of 'life partner' (like a wife, only not married and with no legal standing) but she never did get to live in the place she had selected. Did she really think that an Irish politician was going to get divorced so they could marry? Did she expect an Irish politician to live openly with another woman while he was still legally married to someone else? Or was she being used as a name on a bank account so that Mrs. Ahern wouldn't find out about all the loose cash that was floating around?

If the Mahon Tribunal is trying to equate cash payments to Mr. Ahern in exchange for political favors, they have yet to link the taoiseach to bribery payments that were allegedly paid by developer Owen O'Callaghan, with the allegation made by competing developer Tom Gilmartin in a case of hearsay having its day in court.

How much more testimony will be needed to make a connection between Ahern and O'Callaghan? There must come another day of exchange rates and AIB employees accused of using the wrong exchange rate on unspecified mixtures of Irish notes and sterling and pages of binomial equations that suggest dozens of possible combinations. Another day of 'could have been' rather than the much needed smoking gun in the hand of the accused. Another day of Bertie Ahern being roasted while he dances around the flames.

Friday, September 14, 2007

On The Outside Looking In

If you build it, they will come, according to Hollywood. What if they come and the doors are locked?

Malahide can boast of a brand new, state of the art public library, built at a cost of seven million euro and replacing an old structure that was but one-fifth the size. Imagine how many more books and journals and periodicals it must hold. Books that once had to be tucked away in storage could reside in the public stacks where people could have access, making more information available. New furniture of course, more comfortable chairs and more desks and better lighting. Money well spent, when a library is created.

As with any public building, there must be staff on hand to mind the place. Books would disappear out the door if no one was manning the front desk, and what would a patron do if there was no librarian and they were in need of information? What of the children after school, working on projects, requiring a librarian's assistance to locate a particular magazine or encyclopedia?

Unfortunately for the library-starved of Malahide, County Dublin, the Department of Finance has no room in its budget for more staff. All well and good for the Department of Education and the Fingal County Council to have the wherewithal to fund the construction, but the bureaucrats in Finance are sticking with their staffing cap. Rules in place for five years must be adhered to, a rule is a rule, as inflexible as an iron bar. Hence, the new library, gleaming in the late summer sun, remains shuttered.

For now, a temporary library must suffice, but the lease on that facility expires on the first of October. After that, the people of Malahide who thought they were going to have a new library will have no library at all.

The stupidity of it truly boggles the mind.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Adjusting The Global Thermostat

My theory on what killed off the Neanderthals has been verified by a multinational group of scientists who used radio-carbon dating and climate data to demonstrate a link I had postulated months ago.

There was a time when Father Nature turned down the thermostat, annoyed with Mother Earth who was always complaining of the cold and kept turning up the heat, and if she had to pay the natural gas bills she'd be putting on a sweater if she's so feckin' chilled. In the process of settling their domestic dispute, the Neanderthals froze to death and that's what extinction is all about.

These days, Mother Earth has her hand on the buttons and she could see her breath it was so cold and what's the point of having a furnace if you're not going to use it, for the love of Christ, and Father can strip down to his shorts if he has a problem with the temperature.

Like their Neanderthal antecedents, modern scientists are running from pillar to post, declaiming climate change and how it means the end of the world as we know it. Certainly it was the end of the world for the Neanderthals, who froze to death. They were wishing that there would be a period of warming, like now, but it came 35,000 years too late for them.

All the talk about climate change, the panic, the's a bit overblown, when you realize that the earth's climate has run through these same changes over the course of millions of years. The temperature last year, or one hundred years ago? Statistically, it's nearly insignificant compared to the overall life of this planet. Rising ocean levels? The ocean's been higher before. Is homo sapiens so mighty that he can prevent it by reducing greenhouse gasses? What a piece of work is man, so infinite in faculty, but not so powerful that he can control everything in his domain.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Minnow's New Fishbowl

I'm a fan of developer Garret Kelleher because he's building an incredible spiral tower in Chicago and he's bringing back a touch of the glory that was once associated with the home of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. And now he's also attracted the likes of HM Riverdeep to one of his office buildings.

Having swallowed up Houghton Mifflin and with Harcourt Education on his plate, you'd think Barry O'Callaghan might be looking to cut corners. HM Riverdeep has taken a long swim down to the Caymans, after all, to take advantage of the tax breaks, so it looked like there was a tightening of the purse strings.

Either the assumptions are wrong, or HM Riverdeep would like to appear successful. The publishing concern is moving its Irish headquarters to 75 St. Stephen's Green, into one of Garrett Kelleher's projects. In the process, HM Riverdeep will gain the title of Dublin's highest-paying tenant.

The former Department of Justice building has been refurbished for office space, a brilliant way to hold on to structures of historical importance that have outlived their original purpose. HM Riverdeep is to sublease a suite on the fourth floor, approximately 5,000 square feet at 65 euro per square foot, with an eye to house its executives in plush comfort. Additional office space will be found somewhere else in Dublin for the office staff and the rest of HM Riverdeep's Irish branch. The estate agent has said that these parcels are being sub-let for the short-term.

In the company of Dublin's other well-heeled tenants, HM Riverdeep will, for a little while, pay high rents for high-class digs. In spite of the credit crisis, they've said they're moving ahead with the acquisition of Harcourt. The posh surroundings fit the claim. But is the office space on St. Stephen's Green mere window dressing, or a true statement of financial strength?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

No, This Is Normal

One after another, the tabloids and trendies are trumpeting the news. She's fat, they're saying, she's fat.

She's normal. This woman is of normal size and dimensions, a mature female with curves.

Is it any wonder that there's an epidemic of eating disorders? As long as emaciated is the ideal, and a properly proportioned woman is labelled fat, impressionable young girls will self-starve and the same tabloids and trendies that promote the look will wring their manicured hands and wonder why oh why women are starving themselves to death.

Something is wrong when a woman who looks like she was just rescued from Dachau is applauded for maintaining such rigid control over her food intake.

Lift A Pint

In the days when Big Brother was to be watching us, author George Orwell envisioned a future in which the pint was replaced by its metric equivalent. Not quite the same exact volume, he grumbled in the pages of 1984. Some feel that Big Brother is indeed watching, given the number of closed circuit cameras dotting London, but the pint is safe.

The European Commission was promoting the use of metric measurements from shore to shore, which meant that English and Irish pubs were to be forced to adopt metric standards for the pour. No more pulling pints, the publican would be forced by law to pull a precise number of centiliters. The public, however, was having none of it.

Guenter Verheugen has declared that the culture and traditions of Great Britain and Ireland are to be honored, and so the pint will continue to exist. Grocers can continue to offer produce by the pound, and the British can motor along at miles per hour.

The change of heart has nothing to do with honoring anyone's culture. The fact is, Mr. Verheugen could have shouted from Brussels that the pub couldn't sell pints, and the pub would continue to sell pints and give Mr. Verheugen a two fingered salute for good measure. At the point where a law becomes ridiculous or is so unpopular that the public will not support it, there can be no enforcement of the law. Rather than look foolish, the commissioners of the European Union saved face and grandly declared that they were ever so wise in choosing to honor culture, magnanimous gentlemen that they are.

Europe is not quite so Orwellian after all. Those who make the rules have discovered the limits of their power.

Dollars To Donuts

Bertie Ahern's money problems just won't go away. After taking a break for the summer, they've come back, as questionable as ever.

Over ten years ago, Mr. Ahern was in receipt of cash and his special friend Celia Larkin was moving money and then there was Michael Wall who had a house and money and somehow Mr. Ahern ended up with all of it. Conveniently enough, it would turn out, as he was about to become the taoiseach and he was in need of a house. He was in need of money because he was also separating from his wife and she was not about to go away without a penny to her name.

The Mahon tribunal is scheduled to resume where they left off, on a cliff-hanger of an ending. There were questions being asked of a particular lodgement which involved exchanging pounds sterling for Irish pounds and a representative of Anglo-Irish Bank suggested that the amount of cash worked out to $45,000 U.S. dollars precisely. Could it have been 30,000 pounds sterling, the bank representative was asked. Could have been, she said, and so we were left wondering what might come next in this thrilling serial.

Four large chunks of cash were deposited in a Drumcondra bank, Mr. Ahern has an explanation for the sources of all that loot, and the Mahon Tribunal is trying to figure out if he's telling the truth or not. No one is saying it out loud, but the tribunal is wondering if Mr. Ahern was accepting bribes in his official capacity as Finance Minister. Did he break the law? Or was he merely trying to hide assets from a soon-to-be ex-wife?

Building a case on faded memories and incomplete bank records and mathematical gymnastics is no easy task. It certainly is not a task that will be accomplished in short order.

Monday, September 10, 2007

So Much For Pink Ties

The best efforts of the mob lawyer to confuse the jury with a pink and black checked tie have come to naught. All five defendants in the "Family Secrets" trial in Chicago were found guilty.

Jurors were puzzling over some words, like usurious, over the course of their deliberations, but they figured out what usury was and returned a slam dunk for prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his merry band.

Are appeals coming next? Possibly, but the old Chinatown crew, the Bridgeport dagos, are heading back to prison for a good long time. Are the higher ups in City Hall getting more nervous? Mr. Fitzgerald is working his way up the chain of command, rooting out mob influence and corruption in Chicago city government. City Hall is in his line of fire.

The story is not yet finished; the final chapter has yet to be written.

Final Exit Counselor

Having an impressive job title can be a boost to the ego, especially when the jumble of words manages to disguise the actual duties. Take "final exit counselor" for example. You'd never think that translated into murderer, would you?

George Exoo is, or was until he resigned, a Unitarian minister who served congregations in South Carolina and West Virginia. Somehow or other, his religious convictions led him into a side line, and he set himself up as a final exit counselor. His duties? To help kill those who wished to die.

Assisted suicide was a hot topic several years ago, and it is something murmured amongst medical professionals who deal with terminal cases. For physicians, the discussion centers around pain amelioration and how much opiates to give someone to relieve pain without killing them, which would lead to a medical malpractice suit. Dying and hurting, are you? Your doctor's got a dilemma on his hands and you may end your days on earth in agony. Or you may close your eyes in a morphine haze and fade away peacefully.

Should you find yourself in the 'terminal but low on pain killers' end of the spectrum, you might want to call in a final exit counselor to put you out of your misery. Maybe you've got a serious illness like Huntington's chorea or ALS. But what if you're just feeling low? The problem is, with such a thoroughly unregulated and marginally illegal operation, you might be calling in the counselor when you really need to see a psychiatrist to deal with severe depression. Irish prosecutors believe that Rosemary Toole fit the latter category, that of a woman who wanted to kill herself but who could have benefited from mental health treatment, as she had no terminal illness.

George Exoo travelled to Ireland and helped Ms. Toole to die. He said he only gave her advice about how to do it. Some are saying that he pushed her to do it, took her last ciggie from her lips and insisted that she put the plastic bag over her head. Actively participating is not counseling; in the eyes of the Garda, it's murder. Ireland has asked the United States to extradite Mr. Exoo so that he can face a murder charge.

Currently, the counselor is sitting in a West Virginia jail, and there's a rumor floating about that he's had a long chat with his cell mate. The topic of that conversation may be enough to fit the requirements for extradition, and Mr. Exoo may return to Ireland. He will not, then, be coming home any time soon.

Portlaoise is lovely this time of year, although it's hard to really enjoy the view from a prison window.

No New Authors This Week

Or last week, either. Should we chalk it up to the summer slow-down and the Labor Day holiday? Publishers Marketplace failed to have any listing for debut fiction in the weekly collection of new publishing deals.

Robert Gottlieb and Kimberly Whalen of Trident Media made a very, very, very lucrative deal for Kat Martin, but the author is going to have to pen a trilogy of contemporary romance and another trilogy of historical romance for her publishers at Mira. Would such literary agents be interested in your manuscript? Keep in mind that Kat Martin made the New York Times bestseller list, and you, oh unpublished one, have not. You should probably be submitting to someone on a lower rung of the agent ladder.

Danielle Egan-Miller of Browne & Miller just sold a work of historical fiction. Seriously historical as far as age goes, you should know, in case you're thinking of submitting to her. Jeane Westin's novel is set in Elizabethan England, which is probably second in popularity after the Regency period. But again, Ms. Westin has been through this before.

For now, there's a drought of debuts, but there's not much point in giving up on submitting and writing. If you quit, then you can guarantee that you'll never get your novel published. All the authors with deals listed this week? They had to have been debut authors at the start of their writing careers.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Cracks In The Foundation

Not satisfied with the tenets of the Presbyterian faith, Ian Paisley made up his own religion and invented the Free Presbyterian Church. And since he founded it, he made himself its head.

At the age of 81, Mr. Paisley has witnessed profound changes in his little corner of the United Kingdom, changes that are due in no small part to the influence of the European Union on the Irish Republic. Once highly industrial, the northern portion of the island has lost ground to the twenty six counties, which came out of a shell and discovered prosperity.

When Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party agreed, unwillingly, to go into government with Sinn Fein, it was because the patriarch of unionism recognized that his world was not encased in amber, forever preserved. Multinational corporations would not invest in a colony that was torn apart by factional fighting, and the only way that Northern Ireland could survive was through investment. The British government was clearly getting weary of propping up the place financially, and there was nowhere else to go.

Today it has been reported that the Free Presbyterian Church has shown Mr. Paisley the door, as if the time has come to separate church and state. After all, when the church's main function is to legitimize hatred and persecution of Catholics, how could the head of that same church turn around and accept Catholics in government?

Without the church's problems to worry about any more, Mr. Paisley can now focus all his attentions on preventing the devolution of policing powers to local authority, and fight with all his might to prevent a public investigation into the collusion between security forces and loyalist thugs that resulted in several murdered, and innocent, Catholics.

Throwing His Turban Into The Ring

In a bold move, Osama bin Laden has started a third party candidacy for President of the United States, choosing to declare his intentions to run after the Republican and Democratic debates. Fred Thompson is not the only clever one, it would seem.

A complete make-over was much in evidence, demonstrating an attempt to appeal to the young. Mr. bin Laden may also be hoping to attract corporate sponsorship from the makers of Grecian Formula for Beards and Moustaches, although he stopped short of a full face lift. Americans will, of course, excuse small displays of male vanity, and the wise candidate has not gone too far in his attempts to appear more youthful and energetic.

Trumpeting his own fundamentalism, the would-be president is unquestionably hoping to attract the right wing Christians to his fold. Mr. bin Laden has called on all Americans to convert to his party, and he was not hesitant to make frequent references to God, or Allah in the original Arabic.

At the same time, the candidate reached out to the anti-war crowd, promising to end the war in Iraq if he were to gain office. In a swipe at Republicans and the sitting President, bin Laden was quick to point out what he described as failures, although he could not find anything fresh and merely repeated many of the Democratic Party talking points.

Not to be confused with the Democrats, however, Mr. bin Laden took them to task as well, citing their failures in government. Like the Republicans, he cited party rhetoric that was all promises and no action once the Democrats took control of Congress. He may be recycling their attacks, but make no mistake, he does not plan to be confused with the current majority party.

Left-wingers have something to vote for this time around, according to the newly announced candidate. Siding with the Euro-socialists, bin Laden came down hard on capitalism and multinational corporations. Pundits have determined that he is attempting to woo members of the European Union, in the hope that they might influence the American electorate. One cannot help but be reminded that the United States is held in low regard in Europe, and Mr. bin Laden's attack on capitalism is a clear indication of his Eurocentric platform.

Granted, he has put a lot on his plate, but there was room for one more item that is sure to appeal to every voter, red state or blue state, Republican or Democrat. Preaching tax reform, Mr. bin Laden is channeling Steve Forbes in a call for a flat tax of 2.5%, coupled with the elimination of all the breaks and loopholes that have made the American tax system so highly complex. Add to that the elimination of mortgage interest, and bin Laden is definitely a candidate to be taken seriously.

In trying to be all things to all voters, however, he risks alienating multiple segments of the voting public, and his past record could prove to be problematic with working women, the so-called 'soccer moms'. No word yet on the size of his war chest, but there are creditable rumors that claim the newest presidential candidate has the financial backing of wealthy Saudis who would like to pay him off to leave them alone.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Those That Can't, Teach

The carnivores are out to get Dave Warwak, according to him. The middle school art teacher has been given a suspension by his bosses, the meat-eating cretins. He was only trying to convert his young charges to his religion, to show them the glory of vegetarianism, and for that he's to lose his job?

Since he saw the light in January, Mr. Warwak has avoided consuming dead animals. He went so far as to construct an exhibit in his classroom, out of candy to appeal to his target audience, that depicted animals in cages and animals squished into pulp on the motorway. How cruel it is to eat meat, he wanted his students to know. This is the way to live, my way, dead flesh free. The way your parents live, scarfing down animal proteins, is wrong and dangerous and evil. Can I get an amen, somebody?

Mr. Warwak thought he might indoctrinate the young minds put in his care by having them read a different Bible, the one that touts the vegan lifestyle. "It's probably one of the most life-changing books a person can read," the teacher has said about The Food Revolution. But he's not entirely obsessed with animal cruelty. "It's about how we're destroying the planet with pollution from factory farming. It's about health. It's about living longer."

Just because he's an art teacher, getting eleven and twelve-year-olds to express their creative side, doesn't mean he's not qualified to teach science. He's teaching art, but art can be anything, not just oils and pastels and gouache. And just because he's dealing with kids at an impressionable age doesn't justify his suspension by a bunch of flesh-chewers. He has a responsibility to warn these children about the dangers of meat, the threats to their health and the threat to the planet's future.

Where is the American Civil Liberties Union or the Illinois Education Association? They have no opinion on the case, or at least none that they have expressed publicly. 'Sweet Jesus, what a feckin' eejit' is nearly impossible to parse into legalese.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

How To Write A Thriller

Next to romance novels, it's the mystery or thriller that sells and literary agents can't seem to get enough good manuscripts to the publishing houses that crave them. The key, of course, is that your thriller novel has to be well written, with a plot that's not full of holes. Researching your details could only help.

Amok, written in 2003, was popular enough in Poland that it attracted the interest of the police in Wroclaw. Author Krystian Bala put together an intricate plot, described the crime with plenty of detail, provided a revenge motive for his main character, and then sat back to wait for the royalties to pour in. It was the police who came to his door, claiming that the plot of Amok adhered precisely to a murder that occurred in 2000.

Mr. Bala insisted that his novel was pure fiction, but Inspector Jacek Wroblewski found that parts of the novel read like the case notes for the real murder of businessman Dariusz Janiszewski, who was kidnapped, tortured and then drowned. In fact, there were situations in the novel that matched precisely some details from the murder that were not known to the public. The author insisted that he had based his novel on news reports and then made up enough to flesh out the manuscript. And the fact that Mr. Bala's wife was reportedly having an affair with the murdered gentleman was pure coincidence.

Was the novel penned by the travel writer particularly well researched, or were the police on to something? As it turns out, Mr. Bala sold Mr. Janiszewski's phone on E-Bay shortly after the murder, a little detail that he failed to include in his novel but which featured prominently in his trial. The author has been sentenced to twenty-five years.

Careful research will help to construct a well-crafted thriller that will catch a publisher's eye. It is not necessary, however, to actually kill someone.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Matchmaking For Corporations

Bertelsmann is looking for the right partner. Someone in education, CFO Thomas Rabe has said. Being German, it's no surprise that he's taking a rather clinical look at the merger market, no gushing or heart-wrenching poetry. That's exactly the sort of cool-headed partner that would suit Irishman Barry O'Callaghan.

When HM Riverdeep acquired Harcourt Education, Harcourt's parent Reed Elsevier bought up part of the deal, but they've made no bones about their desire to be rid of the investment. Over on the other side of Europe, in Germany, Bertelsmann would like nothing more than to get into the electronic educational materials publishing game. Sure it's a marriage made in heaven, if only the two firms could meet and get to know one another better.

Mr. Rabe has displayed his financial largesse, stating that his company will have anywhere from 1 - 1.5 billion euros to invest in a long-term partnership, and it's no secret that Bertelsmann wanted to buy up Canada's Thomson Corp. last year. And they're certainly no novice in the publishing trade, what with Random House in the Bertelsmann stable. The German corporation would like to expand the publishing end by getting into educational materials, and there's an educational materials firm out there that would suit perfectly.

HM Riverdeep, or Education Materials or whatever it calls itself these days, is poised to be a major player in the American market, which is where the money is. Bertelsmann could pick up Reed Elsevier's portion of the newly expanded minnow of a publisher and become a player in both Europe and the States.

Sounds ideal, two individual coming together, each with something to give the other, making two into one. You have to wonder if they've maybe met for drinks, or perhaps started dating.

New Brand, Same Name

Not many chose Labour in the last Irish election. Pat Rabbitte, having failed as leader of the party, has stepped down to let someone else figure out how to market the Labour Party.

While he's not seeking the post, Ruairi Quinn has found a way to position Labour. When the electorate thinks of Labour, they will think of holidays. Labour, the party of not working. Vote Labour and take a day off.

Research has shown that Ireland is second in productivity, behind the 'we never take a vacation' United States, and Mr. Quinn would like to introduce legislation that would reward the hard working Irish people with a couple of extra holidays. They've earned it, haven't they, with all their concentrated efforts to get productivity up there? And don't people always say they'd like an extra few days away from the office? With pay, of course.

Less work would be in the European mold, which of course is not anywhere near as productive as the States, but Mr. Quinn does not realize that higher productivity comes at the cost of fewer holidays. The more anyone works for the same rate of pay, the more productive their labor is. Give the Irish less hours, at the same rate of pay, and productivity will slide. It's only mathematics, after all, a statistical indicator and not a guide to worker satisfaction.

Labour wants you to live a rewarding life, fulfilled and happy. It's not all about working, about labor and brisk economic growth, is it? Vote Labour and spend more time with the family -- having picnics, attending festivals, on the go with all the kids from dawn until sundown. Working mothers across the land will support Fianna Fail in record numbers.

Pre-publication Buzz

Someone at Hatchette Books is watching the news. They're monitoring the number of blogposts that mention a certain book, a particular lawsuit, and they're counting up the number of times the story gets air time.

Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hatchette, has plans to publish Fox News reader Rita Cosby's new book, and you know she'll get plenty of notice from her friends at work. Greta van Susteren will certainly do an interview. There will be a five minute slot on the morning show to tout the latest manuscript, and don't forget the close-up on the book's cover so that all the viewers can see what it is they are supposed to buy at their local brick and mortar bookstore.

That comes after, of course, after the book is out and about. Before the lay-down date, however, the publisher likes to see a lot of buzz about something that has yet to be. All that chatter generates pre-orders and that means books are selling before anyone has even seen a single paragraph of Ms. Cosby's opus. What business wouldn't like that?

So what's the buzz? Larry Birkhead and Howard K. Stern, of Anna Nicole Smith fame, have gotten wind of a brewing scandal and they're threatening to sue everyone. Rita Cosby will claim the two gentlemen had a little fling, it is said, and the two involved parties have made it known that they won't take the aspersions lightly. Yet there's no book out yet, no specific passages to cite. It's pre-publication buzz. It will move books.

As for a lawsuit, it may happen after the evidence is put on paper, but that will generate even more interest and Hachette will sell even more books. Whether the parties of the first part can prove their case is another matter, given that an author with legal counsel can turn a phrase in ways that result in a cold recitation of someone else's quote. Rita Cosby will be reporting what is out there, putting together a story based on hearsay, and using all that data to compile her book. Here's what's being told out there, dear readers, in the drawing rooms of the tabloid's darlings, and Ms. Cosby brings it to you. This friend said Z, the neighbor down the hall said Y, the girls at the Playboy Mansion said S-E-X. Not Rita Cosby, you see, but her sources are to blame for the salacious gossip.

Her theory is that Mr. Birkhead and Mr. Stern conspired to fool the media with a made-up custody battle so that they could generate more money from the tabloids, and the homosexual encounter is somehow linked to the evil cabal. It's the gay sex that's got the news wires humming, not the core idea of the book, because it's the naughty bits that sell. It's up to the legal department at Grand Central Publishing to make sure that the selling business goes forward. If they drop the ball, then the accounting department can calculate a settlement that won't cut too deeply into the book's profits.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sharing Of Experience

President George Bush got all the press by going to Iraq, so few heard that Iraq may be taking a page from Northern Ireland in an effort to reconcile two very widely disparate religious groups.

One could argue that Catholics and Free Presbyterians are both Christian, just as Sunnis and Shiites are both Islamic. Hence, if one situation could be resolved through peaceful means, then the Muslims could be mentored and shown the way to get along, to agree to disagree.

Meeting in Finland, representatives from both sides of the conflict laid out a roadmap that followed the course of Northern Ireland's path. Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness was there, along with Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP. They joined politicians from South Africa, land of apartheid, to talk to men from both the Shia and Sunni sects. In the end, the meeting produced a twelve step program to achieve peace in Iraq.

The point of the meeting was to further political gains, to give the Iraqi representatives some goals that would allow the formation of a middle ground where violence could be avoided and outstanding issues resolved. How do you learn how to tolerate a viewpoint that promotes your demise? It's been done in the north of Ireland, and those who did it shared their hard learned lessons with Iraq, where killing as a way to show one's strong religious faith has been practiced for centuries.

Will the Shia and the Sunni find the courage to disarm, as the IRA did to further the political process? Will the many militias agree to a cease fire so that non-violence can be given a chance? Sixteen Iraqis have left Finland with a desire to spread this concept across a war-torn land. Their ability to influence their colleagues could tip the balance and send the country down the road to peaceful coexistence.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

A Nice Place To Visit, But

Pierce Turner won't be performing his annual Christmas show in Ireland because all the Irish will most likely be in New York for the holiday shopping. He's staying home in Manhattan and will appear at Joe's Pub in December.

Shopping trips to New York are all the rage with the newly well-heeled of Ireland. There's nothing they love better than a long weekend in Manhattan, visiting the shops or taking in a Broadway show or dining in fine restaurants. Yes, Manhattan is a lovely place to visit. But they'd rather not live there all the same.

Developer Sean Dunne has plans to build something grand on the site of the former Jurys Ballsbridge and Berkeley Court hotels. As land in the area is at a premium, he's planning to go up as he cannot go wide. That's what's done on the island of Manhattan, and this new proposal will brings a touch of Manhattan's density to Ballsbridge.

Councillor Paddy McCartan is of the mind that Manhattan is not suited to Ballsbridge, and he's not at all pleased with the Dunne project as presented yesterday. His constituents would end up with Manhattan, he said, and they don't want that. If they want New York City sprawl, they'll hop on a plane and go see it. Living in it is another matter altogether.

Hard to imagine a twenty-seven story tower in a city that very nearly scrapped its historic and beautiful Georgian treasures. City planners will get an earful from the area residents, and if Sean Dunne is a savvy developer, he's got a scaled-down proposal all ready to go. It will still be big, because that's the only way he can recoup his investment in the land, but it cannot be Manhattan revisited.