Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Unsafe And Unfair

So the jury found Joe O'Reilly guilty of murdering his wife Rachel. So they were unanimous. It's all so unfair, according to Joe himself.

Hard to argue with Mr. O'Reilly's point, that his trial was unsatisfactory. Well, sure, he was found guilty, wasn't he, and that's not particularly pleasing to the convicted. Should the judge examine that particular point from Rachel O'Reilly's perspective, he or she would have to believe that the trial was thoroughly satisfactory. In which case, Mr. O'Reilly must take the egotistical tack and make it all about him. No trouble there.

Reportedly, there are eleven points of contention that Mr. O'Reilly's legal counsel is certain will render the verdict unsafe. For example, the mobile phone records that showed himself in the vicinity of the house when Mrs. O'Reilly was murdered should not have been shown to the jury.

There you have it. By presenting evidence, the court was unfair to Joe O'Reilly. How could any reasonable judge have allowed such things in the courtroom as proof that a man was at the scene of a crime when the crime was committed? What about all the other bits and pieces, the testimony of witnesses who said they weren't with Joe when he said they were, and they couldn't account for his whereabouts while the murder went down?

In summation, we must conclude that no evidence should have been presented at the trial, and no witnesses called for the prosecution. Eliminate all that, and how could a jury have tendered a unanimous verdict of guilty? The prosecution's evidence tainted the trial, and Joe O'Reilly won't be satisfied until he's gotten away with murder.

Carve The Turnip

Jack the Blacksmith will wander the world tonight, and you'd do well to hollow out a turnip and put a burning candle inside. Fool that he was, Jack made a pact with the Devil but he's condemned now to walk the earth. You can keep him from your house if your Jack of the lantern is set out for protection. Too difficult to carve a wee turnip, isn't it? A lovely orange pumpkin will serve as well, and going modern with a flameless candle won't diminish the magic.

While you're safe and snug, with a cuppa and a slice of barnbrack to fill your belly, you must be ever on your guard against the fairies and spirits who will try to steal your soul tonight. Should the need arise to leave your house, where the Jack o' lantern glows bravely, be aware and be prepared. In the event that a fairy approaches you, be ready to snatch up the dirt under your feet. Throw the dirt at the fairy, and it will run away, releasing all the souls it caught until you acted. It's all about saving souls, this eve of All Hallows.

There'll be bonfires aplenty to bid farewell to the summer and light up the darkness of the coming winter. Don't be throwing your old Firestones into the blaze, for feck's sake. And can you not find someone to take that old sofa? The stink of it burning would put a man off his food for a week.

Happy Halloween!

How Many Doctors Needed To Change A Light Bulb?

In Ireland, that's a question with no simple answer. The very suggestion that a doctor or even the hospital porter be allowed to change a light bulb has resulted in a dispute that has seen electricians suspended from four different hospitals.

The Labour Court decreed that anyone could change a light bulb. An electrician, and member of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union, was not required to remove a spent bulb and screw in a new one. Should a doctor be passing by and notice that the light was out, he was within his right to replace it so that all might see more clearly, thereby avoiding accidents and injury. The electricians' union did not see things that clearly at all.

It's an electrician's job to change a bulb, the union members claim, and because they wouldn't adhere to the labour court's decision, the electricians have been suspended without pay at Mallow Hospital, Kerry General, Cork University Hospital, and St. Finbarr's. To show the Health Service people that they won't take the suspension lying down, TEEU electricians won't come running if the power goes out over night when they're sleeping. Unless someone's life is at peril. They're not entirely heartless, these masters of the alternating current.

In answer to the original question, it is now apparent that only one doctor is needed, to place a call to a union electrician, to come over with his union-mandated assistants and be paid union scale for a job that most people manage at home, on their own, with no difficulty.

The real question is, why would the electricians think anyone would actually believe that only a TEEU member was capable of safely changing a light bulb? Is it any wonder that home owners aren't so concernced about hiring union electricians to do a bit of re-wiring? After all, if the union insists that only a union electrician can change a bulb, and anyone can do it, what else might the TEEU members be saying that's a cod?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Buddy, Can You Spare A Dime?

Pass the hat for HMRiverdeep, the hard-pressed, whale-swallowing minnow of an educational publisher. They're in need of cash to cover the cost of all those many acquisitions.

You'll need a rather large hat, something bigger than a ten-gallon Stetson. Perhaps it would be better to pass around one of those enormous fish tanks that are so popular in hotel lobbies, with their thousands of gallons of capacity.

The first pass would have to net $4.95 billion to cover the first-lien term loan. Then you'd want to wheel your mighty fish tank around once more to pick up enough spare change to cover the $1.7 billion second-lien loan. Finally, it's one more dip in the money well to cover the $500 million revolving loan.

Keep in mind that this is in addition to the $250 million revolver, the $1.57 billion term loan B and the $2.1 billion add-on term loan B, all of which was needed to finance Riverdeep's acquisition of Houghton Mifflin.

Credit Suisse will be presenting the particulars in Barcelona on Tuesday, and then they'll pass their giant fish tank around the financial offices in London and New York at the beginning of November. Once that's done and the money's in hand, Harcourt Education, Harcourt Trade, and the Greenwood-Heinemann division of Reed Elsevier will be swallowed up by the former minnow that has grown to be a whale.

Financial gurus will take note that the pricing on the first-lien term and the revolver is set at 375 basis points over LIBOR. The rest of us will scratch our heads and wonder how Barry O'Callaghan will generate enough profits from his newly grown whale to pay for all that borrowing.

Whatsoever You Do To The Least Of My Brothers

Where do the poor live in Italy, Archbishop Bagnasco has asked. Shame on the government for failing to supply enough low-income housing for those who need shelter. Did not the Lord Himself tell us to feed his lambs and his sheep? What sort of Good Shepherd leaves his flock out in the cold and wet?

Well, the Catholic Church, for one. The good shepherds of the Catholic faith are busy these days, evicting tenants in church-owned housing in Rome. Laws being what they are in Italy, landlords are not inclined to hand out long term leases. Rents are rising in Rome, so why extend the lease of someone paying next to nothing? That's money lost, as lost as if the tenant had reached into the landlord's pocket and picked it.

Unfortunately, the landlord in Rome is likely to be some Catholic religious organization because the Church owns a great deal of rental property in the city. The owners are blaming the estate agents, who are doing what they are supposed to do: examine the rent rolls, find out who is paying below-market rates, and boot them out so that a new tenant can be installed at a higher rate of return.

A tenant's committee has informed Archbishop Bagnasco that they were never once late in rendering unto Caesar, so that must mean that they are being evicted because the landlord, i.e. the Catholic Church, is money hungry and greedy. The leases are up but no renewals have been offered. Connect the dots and you arrive at the point of eviction.

The government responded to the initial round of evictions by barring landlords from kicking out those who were old, disabled, or poor families with children. As that particular order is set to expire, the old, disabled, and poor expect to be shown the door, but where are they to go if they can't find cheap housing in Rome? Remember, Archbishop Bagnasco, the shortage of housing for the poor?

Might the poor and downtrodden find shelter within the walls of their local church? Or is there no room at God's house?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Two For One Rejection

The envelope must have come by way of Afghanistan, battered and scarred in a war zone. One corner was crumpled, crushed against something and held there for a long time.

There was a degree of softness to the envelope, as if it had been rubbed against its fellow pulp products for months, layered in a stack that fell over and spilled across an office floor. And not just once.

Two queries were sent to the David Black Literary Agency, for two different novels and in two different months. Only one SASE made it out alive, battered and bruised, with a haunted look upon its face. And what of the form rejection? The print was skewed, the words blurred after too many trips through a copy machine. It took a fight to get the single sheet out of the envelope, so enmeshed were rejection letter and SASE.

Which manuscript is not garnering further interest? Both, I guess. But since the first query was sent in April, after six months it doesn't make much difference. Take it as a two-for-one special, there was finally an intern on board to deal with the stacks of queries that no one has time to read and this is the best you'll get.

I'd write if off, but the queries were already chalked up as rejections based on the no-reply rule. Six months or not at all, it's close to the same thing.

Confined To West Virginia

The Exit Counselor has been spared. Praise the Lord. Prepare to die.

George Exoo, Unitarian minister and self-styled Exit Counselor, won his fight against extradition and may remain in West Virginia. Ireland wanted Mr. Exoo to stand trial on charges of murder, but the man who put Exit Counseling on the map insisted that he only helped. Snuff out the cig, love, and swallow the pills, was reportedly part of his assistance to a woman who wanted to die. She, however, had no terminal illness whatsoever and would have been better assisted by someone skilled in psychiatric counseling.

So Mr. Exoo showed a very depressed woman the final door, and he's feeling rather good about himself. He's so sure that he did the right thing that he's calling on the twenty-five states that criminalize assisted suicide to change their laws. In the meantime, he has to carefully avoid setting foot in one of those states.

Prosecutors were satisfied that Mr. Exoo participated in the murder of a woman who was too mentally fragile to make good choices, and as such he should have been packed off to Dublin to face the consequences. West Virginia judge Clarke VanDervort ruled that, because of the wording of the extradition treaty, Mr. Exoo could not be shipped overseas because West Virginia does not have a law on the books that bans assisted suicide.

A criminal can be extradited if the law they will be tried under in Ireland exists in the U.S. as well. In that case, say the prosecutors, if the Exit Counselor should exit West Virginia and wander into a state that has the necessary law, they will have him arrested. Ireland has not withdrawn its extradition request, so Mr. Exoo is not home free. Hence his suggestion that all of the fifty states erase their assisted suicide laws.

George Exoo may be a fine minister, but you'd think he would have more to offer than a push over the cliff after a depressed woman has taken a peek over the edge.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Shia, Sunni, Shamrock

Excuse me, don't mean to interrupt, but, em, would you happen to be aware of Sheikh Salman Al Awda's position regarding the Shia branch of Islam? So asked the imam of Ireland's Shia mosque, upon hearing that Sheikh Al Awda was coming to speak at a conference hosted by the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland.

Do you not know that he has branded Shias as not being Muslim at all? Don't you think that might be sending the wrong message, given that Shia and Sunni are getting along in Ireland. Why, pray tell, would you open the door to a man who was once Osama Bin Laden's spiritual mentor?

This would be the same sheik who said it was a Muslim's religious duty to fight the Yanks in Iraq. Why has a man who preaches hatred and divisiveness be allowed in the country?

Ali Selim of the cultural centre doesn't know what Mr. Al Saleh is going on about. Why, the sheikh was fully behind integration at Friday prayers, and he's not come to babble on about the sniveling dogs, er, I mean, the Shia sect. Sheikh Al Awda's a real prince of a man, only here to mentor our young men. No, pardon me, discuss their concerns.

Besides, Mr. Wajdi Ghunaim is attending the conference as well, and he's a fine upstanding Egyptian cleric. As for his links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, well, that's merely allegation now, isn't it? So what if Canada and Switzerland have barred the door to him? What would they know about suitable Muslim speakers? So much more progressive, these Irish. They understand religious fundamentalism in a way that few other Western nations can match.

And they're possessed of a refreshing naivete as well.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Love On The Rocks

Unpredictable weather and unpredictable footing -- if they weren't careful, they'd end up in the lake.

A thick blanket of fog was rolling in, but she wanted to walk along the lakefront and he wasn't about to contradict her. He'd been trying to get her alone for weeks, to split with the group that went everywhere together. Hard to build up a relationship when you were one of eight, all competing for the center of attention. He wasn't even sure she was the least bit interested in him until she suggested that they come over here, to look at the Bahai Temple glowing like the moon. Look at the temple, and watch your step. Algae and seaweed coated the rocks along the shore, green slime that was more slippery than ice.

How's calculus, he thought he might ask, but she lurched against him. Slipped, didn't see that patch of wet weed. They were too close to the edge. Gingerly, he touched her elbow to steer her away from the water's edge and onto a dry path that he couldn't see in the misty darkness. All this way to walk, and they couldn't even make out the temple through the fog.

"Did you hear that?" she said, stopping dead in her tracks. "Someone screaming?"

He pricked up his ears, but only the soft hush of waves on tumbled concrete whispered. "Noises carry funny in weather like this," he said. Physics 305, Applied, Engineering. Then he heard it too.

A man was calling out, calling for help, his voice getting louder. Out of the mist he appeared, drenched to the bone, dripping wet, gasping with exhaustion and panic.
"Please, we need help," the stranger said.

From far away, the couple picked up the echoes of many people calling for help, women screaming, but the fog blinded them. There could be dozens of people in the water, or a boat may have crashed into a breakwater. Again, the stranger begged for help, their boat had gone down, the Lady Elgin, get help.

"Stay here," he said to her, don't move and don't fall in. "Call the cops."

"There's no service here," she said. The lakefront was cell phone tower free. "I'll go back up towards Sheridan Road. Will you be all right?"

He was the man, the protector of the weak, masculinity in all its glory, encased in the short, pudgy body of a brainy engineering major. All those years in the Boy Scouts had done him some good service, however.

The stranger grabbed his arm, please hurry, and the student put aside his reveries, ready to spring into action. Locate the site of the sinking, look for survivors who could be pulled out of Lake Michigan. For someone who had struggled to swim to shore, the victim had a powerful grip. He would get pulled into the lake himself if he wasn't careful.

The fog swallowed up the stranger. "Where are you?" he screamed out. "Can anyone hear me? Is anyone out there?"

Before long, flashlight beams bounced through the mist and a voice announced the presence of the Evanston police. The student hurried to give the officers the details, such as he had. A man had approached, said he was on a boat that had gone down, and they needed help. Shouldn't the Coast Guard be involved?

"What boat went down, did he say?" the policeman asked.

"He said it was the Lady Elgin," the student said. "He didn't say how many people were aboard."

The cop, who had been interested and intense, relaxed his shoulders. He turned his head and spoke into the radio that was clipped to his shirt. "Forget it, dispatch. College prank again."

"Officer, I saw the man and he was not pulling a prank," she said. People were dying in the lake and no one would believe the couple.

"Listen, buddy, you tell your frat brothers we fell for it again, okay? You can all have a good laugh," the policeman said.

"What about the Lady Elgin?" she shouted, outraged.

"The Lady Elgin went down in 1860," the cop said. "And we're getting pretty fed up with you college kids making these prank calls. Next time, we're not going to be so nice about it."

A shift in the wind sent the fog back out, to creep over the edge of Indiana, and the Bahai Temple came into brilliant white view. She looked at him, puzzled, confused, and put her hand on his arm.

"Oh my god," she gasped. "It's wet. Your sleeve's wet."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A New Focus For The Obsessive Compulsive

While you're enjoying the Chicago ghost stories being posted in this run-up to Halloween, you don't want to lose sight of your querying business.

Everyone has their strategy, whether it's scraps of paper with scribbled notes or elaborate Excel spreadsheets brimming with data. Now someone's come along and offered up a free website that will help you track your endless supply of queries, along with enough data to keep you transfixed for hours on end.

Wander over to LitMatch and your craving for query obsession can at last be gratified. If you've ever tried Duotrope for tracking short story submissions, then you know how intriguing it can be to check whenever you please, any time of the day or night. How many days has that submission been out there? What kind of responses are others getting? How soon might I expect an answer? Mine's out longer than average, are they considering it?

LitMatch does the spreadsheet for you, all nice and well-ordered and shuffle-able. How many, to whom, how long, when sent, results, check out the agent, who wants what.....the list goes on. For now, the site owner makes money off of the ads that flash across and around, but who cares about advertisements when there's data to focus on? Numbers and statistics, how glorious to obsess more readily over even more obscure information.

If enough people make use of it, the site may eventually obtain the data needed to rate the literary agents by their response time...or lack thereof. But at least then you'd know, which is better than staring at a pile of notes and wondering if you'll ever hear back from that query you sweat blood over.

Harpo Studios: Behind The Scenes

People would try to hide after hours, that was human nature. Seth made his rounds carefully, thoroughly, probing every room, every corner, every stairwell and bathroom stall. They'd want to hide and then break into her office, maybe take a souvenir. Not on his watch they wouldn't.

At the end of the corridor, Seth could hear people walking. Not one or two, but a whole crowd, sounding just like the folks who came for the shows. A sort of shuffling, a lazy stroll when the mob moved as a unit into the studio. By the time he reached the place where he thought he heard footsteps, there was nothing but the quiet of the empty building.

Too nervous, he told himself. Too worked up about doing a perfect job, and maybe a little concerned about screwing up just one time and losing the best job he'd ever get. He'd been a bouncer at the nightclub where the folks stampeded in a blind panic and those poor women got the life squeezed out of them at the bottom of the stairs. No, he'd never work as a bouncer again. The way the cops and the paramedics had to peel the bodies apart, all wound together like tangled branches. Night watchman suited him fine.

A little girl giggled. Seth heard her, clear as if she were laughing in his ear. When he turned to see who was playing a joke, he saw nothing more than the shadows cast by the safety lights. Couldn't have been a child, he realized. It was just the building settling, an old board creaking. It was real old, this building, used to be an armory long ago. One hundred years ago, at least. Old buildings made a lot of noise, same as old people did.

Aware of movement over his shoulder, Seth spun around to see if he had an intruder on his hands. A woman in grey crossed the hall at the far end, heading towards the boss's office. He took off at a fast clip, ready to demand an I.D. Then they'd know he was on the job, nothing getting by Seth Lewis.

"Ms. Winfrey," he called to the woman. It was her, he was certain, putting in a late night, getting ready for the next round of taping. "That you, Ms. Winfrey?"

The lady in grey had disappeared before he could round the corner, but Seth's ears picked up her mournful wailing. Steadman must have broken up with her, to bring on that kind of sorrow, or that school in Africa had bigger problems than anyone knew.

He followed the sound of weeping to the green room and threw open the door. The room was filled with bodies, lined up so tight that a person could scarcely get a step between them. They were covered with sheets, but their shoes were exposed, rows of shoes on the feet of men and women and children. The lady in grey was crouching next to one of the dead, bawling her eyes out. A musty smell, the stink of the Chicago River, was a miasma that mingled with the eerie gloom that was broken only by his flashlight's beam.

"This is Harpo Studios," Seth said, as much to himself as to the sobbing intruder.

A picture crashed to the floor behind him and Seth spun on heels, heart pumping so fast it threatened to gallop out of his chest. The flashlight swung around, spraying sparkles across the carpet where the shards of glass had scattered. Except for the rattle of air bellowing out the night watchman's lungs, the room was strangely quiet.

With his breath catching in his throat, Seth took one look at the broken picture. The montage featured an old photograph of the Eastland, a lake steamer that had tipped over in the Chicago River not long after the Titanic sunk. Whole families, hundreds of people, had been trapped below deck and drowned, almost all of them employees of Western Electric headed over to Michigan for a company picnic. Spread around the center photo were newspaper articles that described the horrible day, accompanied by pictures taken by press photographers or maybe the County Coroner, chilling images of bodies that had been pulled from the river and brought to the armory. Hundreds of dead, all lined up in a makeshift morgue.

Harpo Studios was the makeshift morgue, Seth's lips mouthed the words that clattered in his skull, but he ran out before he read any more. The door of the green room slammed shut behind him, and he never looked back.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Resurrection Mary

Clothes make the man, and Jerry was a man from head to foot in a new suit and fedora. He examined the shine on his dad's Ford, the shine he had put into the car's finish that very afternoon. Perfect. With one foot on the running board, he stopped to verify the shine on his shoes. Also perfect. How could the ladies resist him?

Traffic was light on Archer Avenue, but not many people ventured out after eight, and not when it was cold and raining. The headlamps of the car swept around the corner and Jerry caught a glimpse of a woman standing at the corner. She was dressed for a night on the town, in a party dress that was too thin for a night like this. On top of that, she didn't have an umbrella or a rain slicker and if she stood out there much longer she'd catch her death of cold. Ever a gentleman, Jerry pulled over to the curb.

He leaned over and pushed at the passenger door, then called out, "Can I give you a lift?"

"Thanks," she said. She couldn't have been out there hitchhiking for long. She sure didn't look like a drowned rat.

"There's a lady dressed for dancing, I says to myself" Jerry said. "I'm on my way to the Liberty Grove ballroom. Say, if you'd do me the's Jerry, by the way. Jerry Palus."

"Pleased to meet you, Jerry Palus," she said. He detected a touch of an accent, Polack or Bohunk or the like. "Mary Bregovy. I'd love to go with you. I'm crazy for dancing. My parents, they don't think it's so good, that kind of crazy."

Jerry dismissed all the world's parents with a wave of his hand. "What do they know about being young? All the time, it's the Depression this, the Depression that. You gotta get out and live a little, you know?"

"Yes, exactly, Jerry. Live a little."

By way of conversation, he told her a bit about himself, about his brother who had just landed a job driving a garbage wagon for the city. Mary was a good listener, practically hanging on his every word. Easy to talk to, and even easier to look at. Jerry's pals wouldn't believe it, that he had the prettiest girl from Archer Avenue hanging on his arm. Nice legs, too, a dancer's legs.

Twirling around the floor while the band played, they cut a fine figure, or at least Jerry believed they did. Shoot, the way other guys gave him the eye, every one of them green with envy -- maybe it was meant to be, that he happened to see Mary on the side of the road, looking for a lift. She couldn't get enough dances, on her feet every time, and never once letting some lug cut in.

"Jerry, I have to go home now," she said after they'd practically worn out the soles of their shoes. "Can you take me home, please?"

It was early, but Jerry guessed that Mary had snuck out of the house, to go out on the town when her parents wanted her home, locked up in her room until she suffocated from boredom. He slipped his coat over her shoulders; the poor kid was shivering it was so cold. He drove back the way he had come, yakking up a storm, hoping that he could work up the courage to ask her out before he dropped her at her front door.

A cat ran across the road and Jerry slowed down to let it pass. "I can't go any further with you, Jerry," she said, out of the blue.

Before he could so much as turn his head, Mary was gone, the door of the car left hanging open to the cold wind that whipped dead leaves into swirling eddies in the gutter. This was no place for a girl to be out alone, not at this hour, with the streets deserted. Jerry pulled his car over, jumped out, and caught a whiff of the flowery perfume that Mary wore.

He followed the scent like a bloodhound, tracking her across the street and into the cemetery. Probably taking a short cut home, going in off the alley most likely, to slip into the house unnoticed. "Mary, I'll walk you part way," he called out to the wind that threw a cold mist into his face. And he needed his suit jacket back; she'd high-tailed it out of the car with the coat still on her back and he couldn't afford to buy a new one.

The sweet aroma of roses faded and he retraced his steps, back to where the smell was still strong. Jerry stumbled on a pile of rags laying on the ground. He stooped to lift it off his shoes, only to come up with his suit coat, not dropped but folded and left there. Jerry looked up, at the stone marker of the grave where his coat had been left. "Mary Bregovy," was carved in the slab of granite. "Died October 24, 1934."

Jerry ran until his lungs ached, ran until he could jump into his car and fling the coat into the back seat. Accelerator to the floor, he flew down Archer, flew from Resurrection Cemetery. Two years ago. She died two years ago.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Please Return To Baggage Claim

We are pleased to inform you that your garment bag has been found. Thank you for your patience while we investigated this matter.

The missing article did not make it to Atlanta after all, but got only as far as one mile from the airport. Well, technically, one half-mile up and then another half-mile in a plummet to earth, but suffice it to say that you can retrieve your garment bag. Be sure to stop by the railroad yard near the airport and thank the nice man who found your bag somewhere in the acres of tracks and boxcars.

Not to worry, because the very next time that a light in the cockpit indicates that a cargo door is ajar, we'll do more to check out that door and not write off the indicator light as faulty and the door as perfectly fine. We've learned our lesson!

As a passenger, you were never in any danger. The very minute that the pilots heard the wind whistling through the plane they knew that something was amiss. Even though they didn't put much credence in the faulty cargo door ajar light, they had enough alarms going off about the lack of pressurization to more than compensate. And as we already mentioned, they heard that breeze blowing and their keen pilot ears pricked up at once.

Our ground crew did check everything visually and gave the flight a thumbs-up, but we have decided to send them all to a respected optometrist to verify that the ground crew will see things more clearly in the future.

Thank you for flying Atlantic Southeast Airlines, in conjunction with Delta Connection. We look forward to serving you better in the future. If you wish to bring a parachute on your next flight, we will be pleased to accommodate the extra bulk.

Who Told Yas

The Irish Times reported, before the recent election, that Bertie Ahern had accepted payments when he was the finance minister. It was the opinion of the editor, Ms. Geraldine Kennedy, that the news was of public interest. It was the opinion of the Mahon Tribunal investigating Mr. Ahern's cash transactions that the newspaper was breaking the law.

The back and forth between journalists and lawyers ran up to the High Court, which is about to rule on an issue that has blossomed into a freedom of the press question. Who told yas about the money? asked the tribunal. All documents and records destroyed, so? Can you not just tell the world it wasn't us what done the talking?

What happens in the tribunal stays in the tribunal, at least until they issue their official report. In this case, with the election looming and Mr. Ahern set to claim a third term as taoiseach, the Irish Times got its ink-stained fingers on things that were being said to Mr. Mahon et al. Front page news, that, but someone broke the law when they leaked the story. Someone else implied that it was the tribunal itself what done the leaking, to damage Fianna Fail in the election.

The tribunal's lawyers have asked that Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Keena be made to speak, largely because the tribunal wants it known that they did not, as rumored, supply the bones of the story. Lawyers for the journalists have argued that they must remain silent because no reporter wants to impugn their source. Who'd ever talk to an Irish Times journalist again? Every confidential source would migrate over to the Independent, and that would be the end.

Will Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Keena be confined at Arbour Hill or the 'Joy until they break? Will the High Court decide that freedom of the press extends its protective arm around them? Reporters everywhere will be watching the proceedings closely.

Monday, October 22, 2007

No Ads In The Sidebar

Google would like to scan every book in existence so that you, the researcher, can have access to the most obscure of knowledge.

It sounds so glorious, but then why would the Smithsonian and the Boston Public Library say no thanks to Google? Are they trying to hide something?

All they'd like to hide, or avoid altogether, are the adverts that appear in the sidebar when anything is searched via Google. That's how the mighty search engine makes its money, and Wall Street is keenly aware of just how much money they make.

The Boston Library Consortium is aware that Google exists to make money for its shareholders. As for the highly laudable notion to put all the books on line, that's fine. But Open Content Alliance is out there with the same plan, except for the bit about generating income from advertising revenue.

Several New England universities are allowing this alliance to digitize their vast libraries, making content available to all, and without having to wade through ads popping up. Imagine scrolling through an image out of John Adams' library and being barraged by ads for Sam Adams ale or John Adams on E-bay? Rather annoying when you're busy working and the last thing you need are distractions.

When Google does the scanning work, they also want to have the exclusive rights to the words. If you're searching for an old book, you can only find it on Google, which would tend to make Google even more the search engine of choice. Why bother with something else when you'll not find what you want there?

By going with the Open Content Alliance, libraries are telling Google that they're more interested in broadly disseminating their information. The World Wide Web is forever open and free, as far as they're concerned, without restrictions. Thanks but no thanks, Google. Anyone with a computer get have at their collections. That's what the Internet does best.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Tangled Web

And so you see, dear readers, he was a she and time should have been reversed and he should have been she from the start and as for the two children she fathered as a he, well, life's a bitch, ain't it?

Dr. Lydia, originally Donal, Foy has won his/her/its case at the High Court. Mr. Justice Liam McKechnie has agreed that the European Convention on Human Rights says she/he/it is correct and the laws of Ireland are all wrong. So now, the Republic must find a way to backtrack, to reverse time, and correct the doctor's birth certificate.

Dr. Foy must surely grant that he/she/it was male at one time, for example, at birth. The obstetrician didn't get it wrong, nor did the registrar. And Dr. Foy must agree that he/she/it was male when his/her/its marriage was celebrated. The wife didn't get it wrong when they were courting and she certainly didn't get it wrong she turned up pregnant. Dr. Foy was, at that time, a man of the masculine persuasion with fully functioning sperm cells that swam mightily and contributed half the DNA of two children. Takes a man to do that, no matter what the European Convention might like to legislate.

Then Donal decided to become Lydia, and so he/she/it entered a legal swamp. Lost all human dignity after that sex reassignment surgery, what with the big 'M' on the birth certificate and the girly cosmetics on the manly face. People would be thinking Dr. Foy was a transvestite or some other sort of perverted creep, when in reality the doctor was anatomically female. It's the damned 'Y' chromosome and the error-ridden birth certificate causing all the trouble. Can't get rid of the genetic material, but that piece of paper can be altered.

Very soon, Bertie Ahern will have to go to the Dail and tell them that they have to craft new laws so that Lydia Foy can have her birth certificate altered to reflect her altered state. That will then lead to even more legislation that will protect the rights of his/her/its two children, because the way the laws stand now, they'd lose a great deal if they never had a da. And if Dr. Foy is declared a girl, the children are made bastards and Mrs. Foy has some frightening legal problems.

Ireland will be forced to change its birth registration process so that it is in keeping with European Convention conventions, and Mr. Justice McKechnie has suggested that they take a page from British law, which was also recently changed on the heels of a court case. That would take care of Dr. Foy's distress, but the family will then be left in legal limbo and a solution to that problem will take months of debate.

At last, Dr. Foy can be spared the indignity that is visited upon the sex changed. So be warned, ladies, if you run across someone you'd swear is a transvestite in the toilets, don't go running to the gardai to have the pervert arrested. It just might be Dr. Foy. You wouldn't want to infringe on her/his/its human dignity, now, would you?

Friday, October 19, 2007

What's The Deal With Platforms?

Why does one author get selected for publication and another gets rejected?

It's the platform, of course.

Missy Chase Lapine wrote a cookbook that provided dozens of recipes for mothers to use. It seems that some people are obsessed with getting their children to eat vegetables and Ms. Lapine was offering plenty of hints to hide those nasty food products in things kids like to eat. (Wonder if there's a recipe for colcannon. Tough to get the wee babes to eat cabbage unless its buried in a mound of mashed potatoes swimming in butter.)

She submitted the book to HarperCollins and was promptly rejected. She got herself an agent, who submitted to HarperCollins, and was promptly rejected yet again. Running Press bought up the cookbook, and the next thing Ms. Lapine knows, there's another cookbook coming out from HarperCollins that same month, and it also provides recipes for tricking children into eating vegetables by hiding them in other foods.

What the ...?, Ms. Lapine was surely thinking at this point. Why not publish my book? Why is a book penned by Jerry Seinfeld's wife and agented by Jennifer Rudolph Walsh (powerhouse agent with powerhouse agency William Morris) all the rage at HarperCollins while I was yesterday's trash? And therein lies the answer to the author's quandary.

Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld has a platform. Her platform is made up of various planks, not the least of which is the fact that she is married to a celebrity. Who wouldn't want to book Mrs. Jerry Seinfeld on their talk show, and who the hell is this Lapine woman and who cares about her? Having a high-end agent makes a difference, and Mrs. Seinfeld got her agent because her husband is famous.

Who's book is better? That's not the point for HarperCollins. They'll move more copies because of the author's name and her connection to a popular comedian. The recipes could be wretched and it wouldn't matter. After all, an author's platform isn't constructed of the actual words on the pages.

With A Side Of Hubris

Food in Ireland is not what it once was, which was dreadful. There are fine dining establishments in Dublin, places where an excellent meal can be had and a certain special someone lavishly entertained. There's even places to dine where the manager will take your money and heap abuse upon you.

Robert Kennedy wished to impress his significant other on her birthday and what better place than Shanahan's on the Green. No word on what the couple ate, but the tab at the end of the evening worked out to 300 euros. Not likely to have been a plate of boiled bacon and cabbage with a side of pratai at those prices.

This being the modern era, Mr. Kennedy whipped out his credit card and a gift certificate that had been given to him by his sister. Sounds quite straightforward, a simple transaction, but the attractive young couple had not even made it out the door before the restaurant's manager called them back.

This isn't your gift certificate, the manager informed Mr. Kennedy, in full range of numerous ears. Bad enough to be humiliated in front of your sweetheart, but to know that a gaggle of strangers are listening in makes things that much worse. No indeed, the manager continued, this particular certificate was lost in the post and was cancelled. How you came into its possession, Mr. Kennedy, one cannot imagine. Unless you are a thief, the other patrons could readily surmise.

Christ, here's my credit card again, Mr. Kennedy may have said under his breath, feeling the hot flames of embarrassment singing his neck hairs. But while the transaction was being amended, the gentleman noticed that the gift certificate ledger showed that his sister had indeed purchased the gift certificate, and the number in the book matched perfectly with the number on Mr. Kennedy's certificate.

My bad, says the manager, and he credits Mr. Kennedy's card and restores the certificate's value and everything's lovely now, isn't it, terribly sorry, thanks for dining at Shanahan's, good evening. Will another gift certificate for 150 euros make things all better?

Shanahan's has been ordered to pay Mr. Kennedy 5000 euros for slander. That should be enough to treat his lady friend to a few meals at Gordon Ramsey's soon-to-be-launched Dublin digs.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

C'est Fin

The glamorous couple, the French Jack and Jackie, are finished.

President Sarkozy and his wife have officially separated, and most likely would have divorced formally if not for some quirks in French law that prohibit Monsieur le Presidente from engaging in judicial actions. As far as the world is concerned, the couple is no more, they are thoroughly split apart.

What a romance it was, two married people finding one another, divorcing their spouses and joining hands in a new marriage that was meant to last forever but only made it for eleven years. No one ever said it was easy to be be married to an up and coming, ambitious politician. The position of First Lady is not something to be entered by the faint of heart or the shunner of the public spotlight.

With transportation unions set to strike, Mr. Sarkozy has more to worry about than the fall-out of a second divorce. There was enough speculation during the campaign season, when Cecilia Sarkozy was rarely seen in public with her campaigning husband, and the word got out that she didn't even bother to vote for him in the second round of balloting. Today's announcement merely confirms what was rather apparent.

So that's over with, and now Mr. Sarkozy can focus his attentions on the striking workers, the dismal economy, economic reform, immigration problems....the list just goes on and on.

Two Stations, Four Stations, Eight Stations More

The FCC is thinking about changing the rules about television station and newspaper ownership, but is it a valid argument at all these days?

Sam Zell would like to close on his purchase of the Tribune Company, but then he would need a variance because the firm owns the largest newspaper in Chicago and one of its larger television stations, in addition to a number of other newspapers and television stations in five major American cities. Chicagoans think of WGN-TV as their local outlet, but thanks to cable television, the station reaches nationwide. WGN Radio is a major outlet, even though they eliminated the noontime farm report program, but the signal reaches far and wide, beyond the borders of Chicago. Rise above the confines of Chicago and look down. The Tribune Company, owned by Sam Zell, would amount to one man deciding what is printed and broadcast in five major American cities.

One man controlling all the news that's fit to print....and watch. One opinion. One side of any issue. The rule governing media empires was put into play for a good reason, but is it true these days?

Does anyone read newspapers anymore? Circulation is down in every major city.

Does anyone watch local news anymore? With the advent of 24/7 news programming on competing outlets, Katie Couric's low ratings are hardly shocking. The ratings for all of the Big Three networks are sinking like unwatched stones.

The mega-media providers grow too fat and powerful, the special interest groups announce. You can read all about it....on the Internet.

A previous attempt to change the ownership regulations failed when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC had not justified a rule change. And there are plenty of special interests who are adamantly opposed to the suggested changes, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (who urge you all to contact your cable provider and demand Eternal Word Television).

The public will have their chance to express their opinions, and the media barons will have their say. Is it a good thing for different forms of communication to be consolidated into a single provider? Are there too many outlets these days to make the FCC rule useful? Will Rupert Murdoch eventually take over the media world and turn everything he touches into Fox gold?

I Mean Now

How many times has a mother told a child to do something, only to tack on that familiar caveat when Junior ignored the summons? Pick up the Legos before you have your tea, she says, while the wee little one stares blankly at the television screen. I mean now, she growls with menace, and amidst much grumbling the toys are tucked away.

What would happen in such a scenario of Da were to pop into the room and tell the child that he could put away the Legos later if that suited him? The child will get to it in his own good time, Da says to the missus.

Little one doesn't pick up his toys, mammy puts the biscuits back in the tin and both Da and the child stare in amazement. How dare she do such a thing, to offer a treat and then take it back.

In essence, that is what Margaret Ritchie has done. She told the Ulster Defense gang to put away their arms, and she meant by yesterday. The Shinners destroyed their guns and armalite, so get to it, UDA. Or face the consequences.

The DUP's Peter Robinson is prepared to censure Ms. Ritchie for having the audacity to withhold funding for a UDA "conflict transformation initiative." 1.2 million pounds was to have been spread around various UDA affiliates to be used for improvements in local areas that are under siege by UDA thugs. Play nice and you'll have lots of treats to share with your friends, Ms. Ritchie offered. Don't follow the rules and pay the price.

Mr. Robinson took the side of the UDA, which decided it wasn't quite ready to disarm and had no intention of following some arbitrary schedule. The day came, they did nothing, and Ms. Ritchie put the money biscuits back in the tin. Other community groups can have it, and the UDA can go sit in the corner and play with their bullets.

Ulster Unionists have no intention of supporting the DUP's planned motion to censure, and the dogs in the street know that the Shinners and the SDLP are solidly behind Ms. Ritchie. Without a majority, the motion will fail and the loyalist thugs will lose another round.

Maintaining the status quo is not as easy as it looked, from the windy perch of St. Andrews in Scotland. Who ever imagined that the notion of equal treatment for unionists and republicans would come to legislated equal treatment?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Virgin Cash

Virgin Records. Virgin Airlines. Virgin Mobile. Virgins in Space. Coming soon to a financial institution near you -- Virgin Money.

Not satisfied with his current crop of businesses, Richard Branson is thinking of going into the banking business by purchasing floundering Northern Rock, a British mortgage lender that is on life support courtesy of the Bank of England's emergency funding.

He's not going it alone, but has taken on board a few wise men who know banking and hedge funds and mergers. George Matthewson is acting as Mr. Branson's adviser in this potential deal, and Mr. Matthewson is a household name in banking households. AIG, the insurance company, is represented, along with WL Ross which specializes in distressed debt. If it's one thing that Northern Rock has in abundance, it's distressed debt. It is reported that Mr. Branson would like to include some Middle East oil money in his new venture as well, along with some experienced bankers who would sit on the Board of Directors.

Virgin Money is small beer at the moment, providing some credit card services, but the acquisition of Northern Rock could move the company into the bigger game that is mortgage financing. Given the current debt load of the struggling lender, however, Mr. Branson's group will have to pony up a large pile of cash, possibly in the billion pound range. Northern Rock's stockholders don't expect to get much for their shares, as the lender is too far sunk into debt.

Can it be done? Is the mortgage market not quite so moribund after all? And will Mr. Branson bungee jump from the White Cliffs of Dover to publicize his latest undertaking?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Pride of Bray

Anne Enright, the pride and joy of Bray, County Wicklow, beat the odds and was today awarded the Man Booker prize.

On Chesil Beach was a fine bit of literary writing, but the Irish have once again risen to the top, like Guinness in a glass of Bass Ale. Ms. Enright's novel, The Gathering, is classic Irish literature, with a cast of characters that come out of a large, dysfunctional family. With the Man Booker to her credit, she can be sure to attract a new clutch of readers who have yet to discover her talent.

Raise a pint, tipple the deck, and celebrate The Gathering. To be true to the theme of the novel, you might want to invite the whole family and pick a fight with your brother.

Getting On With Life

Michael Moran got on with his life. He presumed that the woman he raped would have gotten on with her life as well. Why should he have been extradited when he was doing so well?

Before he could be tossed into jail, having already plead guilty to rape, Mr. Moran ran off to Boston to "get on with his life", and getting on would not include jail time, of course. Not much getting on behind bars, is there? He became a successful roofer during this getting on period, and he even fathered a child. That's all part of life, right there, working at a job, raising a family. Can't do any of that in jail.

During his time in Boston, Mr. Moran enthralled a couple of ladies who had nothing but nice things to say about him when he appeared at the Central Criminal Court. His partner knew about the rape, she testified at the trial, but he's such a lovely man, kind and gentle, and he treats her daughter as well as any natural father. Getting on with life, until the FBI ran him down and shipped him back from whence he came, to finish up what was begun before Moran left so that he could get on.

Poor lad is battling depression these days, and he's a bit concerned about the reception he'll be getting at Arbour Hill Prison, where he will serve seven years and come out a registered sex offender.

What of the victim? She's essentially in prison for life, because she's from a small town and everyone knows what happened so she's showered with pity and sidelong glances. Better to stay home, not getting on with life. Not that Michael Moran ever cared one way or the other. As long as he was getting on with life, that's all that mattered.

Coca-Cola Used To Be Medicinal

Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the soft drink manufacturer to return to its roots in the pharmacy. Coca-Cola is thinking about brewing up some medicinal concoctions that come straight out of a Chinese pharmacopoeia.

From Atlanta to Beijing, the maker of fizzy drinks has traveled in search of the next big thing that will give it a leg up on the competition. Coke is working in tandem with the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences to incorporate traditional medicines into beverages that the public will clamor for. The Beijing center develops the formula, and the folks at Coke are charged with making the vile brews taste good. No easy task, that.

China has a stake in the program, as they look for ways to regularize the herbal dosages and whip up easy to use powders, thereby saving the consumer hours of time in weighing, mixing and steeping. Coca-Cola would like to increase market share in a country where sugary sweet drinks aren't all that popular, but traditional medicines are all the rage.

Coca-Cola plans to open a research center in Shanghai to develop these new brews that will appeal to the Chinese. Piggybacking on western interest in herbal and holistic cures, they could then introduce some of the drinks to Europe and the US, where a waiting market exists.

There was a time when Coca-Cola was dispensed in small doses at a drug store soda fountain, and advertised as a health drink. With the introduction of new herbal gargles, the firm is returning to its roots in the pharmacy and betting that now, as then, people are keen to swallow anything.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Keeping Up Appearances

Monsignor Stenico is not gay, he was only pretending in the interests of science. He was conducting an experiment, acting, playing a role, seeking knowledge, but he is not gay.

When he said to an undercover reporter that gay sex is not sinful, Father Stenico wanted only to probe the gay mind, to further his understanding of homosexuality. Gain a confidence, that sort of posturing, but only to learn more than might be offered to someone being judgmental. So the Church says it's a sin, old friend, best mate, confidante, tell me more, I'm on your side. Is it lying, so, for a priest to deny the veracity of a religious tenet, or was he merely playing devil's advocate in the interest of reaching out to the sinners? What would Jesus do?

The priestly encounter was but one portion of the entire program, which dealt with homosexuality in the priesthood. A pair of men claiming to be priests discussed their gay orientation and declared that such couplings weren't sinful, in direct contradiction to established Church teaching. The Vatican's policy is pure hypocrisy, the out-of-the-closet clerics proclaimed. Why, the lot of them are all on line chatting up other gay priests and setting up meetings with fellow travelers, according to Italy's La Reppublica news daily. They're among us, this closeted clergy, not being celibate at all, at all, and not atoning for their sin.

An Italian television program filmed Father Stenico in his office, meeting with a man who was a reporter for the show. The priest claims that he was entrapped and mislead, that he invited the gentleman into his office because he thought a counseling session was in order. There have been no reports of toes being tapped or fingers waggled under toilet stall doors, so there were no overt signs of homosexuality. Where the Vatican has a problem with the monsignor rests entirely in the dreadful things he said on tape.

Monsignor Stenico was filmed as he told an undercover reporter that gay sex is no sin. He was sitting on a couch next to the reporter when he said it -- a reporter who was "...nice, very, very nice", to quote the priest. And then he walked the visitor to the elevator and told him to say nothing to no one. Of course the priest wouldn't want his cover blown, if he were to continue his scientific research into the homosexual mind.

Whether the priest is gay or not makes no difference, because it's no sin to be homosexual as long as he's celibate. The Vatican has suspended Monsignor Stenico over his words of advice, his assurance that gay sex is not sinful, which contradicts the official line. The television program set out to prove the existence of gay priests, but they ended up outing someone who doesn't believe what he's supposed to be telling others to believe. Is it because he's gay, or because he's compassionate?

Operant Conditioning

--Ring, ring. Ring, Ring.

--Who's there?

--We're economists from the University of Chicago. May we come in?

The members of the Swedish Academy reach for the serviettes that are placed discreetly at their right hands. So much drooling upon the sound of the bell and the mention of economists, coupled with the key words "University of Chicago". What tasty morsels the good professors always provide, and how could an Academy member not drool in anticipation.

This year's Nobel for economics has been awarded to three gentlemen who carry the dust of the U of C on their tweedy clothes. Their claim to fame revolves around a small subset in the mighty world of economic theory, tagged with the label of mechanism design. As the Academy has been thoroughly trained to award their economics prize to University of Chicago economists, they have followed through on their operant conditioning and handed over the goods.

What does mechanism design do? It seeks to find a system-wide solution to the problem posed by many cooks who wish to make the broth in their own way. Too many cooks, of course, spoil the broth, but mechanism design will discover a way to allocate the many resources of the kitchen to each chef so that they all contribute towards a unified goal.

The current economic model favored in Europe does not hold with the mechanism design theory, in which the selected outcome is implemented no matter what recipes the many cooks would like to use in making their broth. Of course, mechanism design is an offshoot of game theory, and it's the Americans who are so fond of playing games while their European counterparts are thinking deep thoughts and sipping fine wines and sniffing with disdain.

Leonid Hurwicz, Eric Maskin and Roger Myerson will split the million, get lovely medals from the King of Sweden and then go back to work, thinking really, really deep thoughts and finding even more ways to move markets efficiently. And so the American economy chugs along while the Europeans wonder how they'll pay the bills for a crushing burden of entitlements.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Nobel For Fiction

Not much of a surprise that former V.P. Al Gore has won a share of this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming awareness. He'll be sharing the million euros with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is made up of 2500 researchers who can no doubt use a few extra euros in their pockets.

Why did the Swedish Academy pick them? Because they have "created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming" of course. Good thing that the judge in London wasn't sitting on the academy's prize committee, or there'd be some other group celebrating this morning.

Judge Michael Burton ruled that Mr. Gore's movie is verging on fiction, as it contains "serious scientific inaccuracies" and "political propaganda". Any teachers using it in class will now be required to provide guidance notes, so that the little ones don't fall for made-up bits and think it's all true. The movie is too much political spin and not enough scientific fact, and so cannot be used as an educational tool because British children are supposed to be learning science, not fiction.

No matter, now that the Nobel Peace Prize has given a stamp of approval to the drowning polar bear scenario. Mr. Gore stands amongst the likes of former President Jimmy Carter, another man recognized for his great contributions to peace in the Middle East. Except, of course, that there is no peace there, nothing's changed at all. It's all a cod.

It Doesn't Look Like A Joshua Tree

From band that brought you Joshua Tree and How To Build An Atomic Bomb.....In The Name Of Love....Bloody Sunday.
It's the U2 Tower, soon to rise above the Dublin Docklands. Pending completion date is some time in 2011.
The band's recording studio is that egg-shaped business under the solar panel and the wind turbines. Yes, this tower is as green as can be had with current technology. Don't you wonder how noisy those wind turbines will be? Will U2 be played over loudspeakers continuously to drown out the steady whooshing? Or is the location not particularly windy, so that the turbines don't turn all that often?
If you've got the cash, you could live here, in one of the luxury apartments. To the south there's to be a high end hotel, where you might stay if you've a mind to see Dublin. And see it you will, because there will be an observation platform in the tower as well.
As there is more in life than money, the concept includes thirty-four affordable flats. The maids and cooks and nannies have to live somewhere, don't they, and it's ever so much nicer when they're nearby. Almost on call, in a manner of thinking.
The south facade is a massive solar panel, while the rest of the building's outer wall will feature interesting textures.
The plan has been put forth. What will the locals have to say about it?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing, Nobelist

This year's Nobel prize for literature has been awarded to Doris Lessing, at 87 one of the oldest recipients.

She has chronicled "...the female experience..." and "...with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny" according to the Swedish Academy. Unlike previous winners, Ms. Lessing has produced a volume of work and has been widely read.

Her life has leaned sharply to the left, which is almost a requisite for the Academy these days. Once a member of the Communist Party, Ms. Lessing has campaigned against nuclear weapons and became an icon in the feminist movement. Her criticism of apartheid got her banned in Rhodesia and South Africa, a notable achievement that indicates how deeply her prose cut. Not to be pigeon-holed, the author has also written science fiction and is currently intrigued with Sufism.

Those who have read and enjoyed Doris Lessing's works will applaud, and a new generation may discover a talented writer.

Courting And Sparking

Fortune 500 executives will be the belles of tonight's New York City ball when Martin McGuinness comes a-courting. "Come away with me," he'll whisper in 500 ears. "The best is yet to be, in peaceful Northern Ireland."

Mr. McGuinness is in town to entice American corporations to invest in Northern Ireland, bringing jobs and weekly pay packets to people who have little more than public service jobs from which to choose. No one's bombing pubs any more, he might point out. The RUC isn't working hand in hand with loyalist thugs to murder Catholics. Wouldn't you like to locate your next call center or manufacturing facility in the six counties?

A conference is planned for Spring 2008 that will, it is hoped, lead to some job creation. Tonight's Celtic Ball is meant to lay the groundwork, not unlike a courtship preceding the proposal. While mingling with the seven hundred honored guests, Mr. McGuinness is expected to entice investors with the ideal strategic location that is the north of Ireland, and he will tout the eager workforce, all educated and trained and just itching to work for Coca-Cola or AIG or anyone who puts a paycheck in their hands.

Things will chug along smoothly until someone asks about corporate tax rates. The Stormont Assembly wanted to match the Republic's low rate, but the powers behind the Assembly over in London said no. So there's a workforce, there's location, and then there's that 12.5% rate in the Republic. Makes for a very tough sell, when the Fortune 500 belles are examining their bottom lines and finding their suitor not up to snuff.

What About Manuscripts Sold?

I received a long reply to an old post about WriteHigh Literary Agency. Monique High included a link to the agency in her signature and I'm not willing to allow adverts in the blog, so I can't post the diatribe in its entirety. A few quotes will have to suffice.

A reputable agency sells books to publishers you've heard of. Check the clients of WriteHigh and you'll be hard pressed to find someone represented by the agency who has a publishing contract. I made it through the first half before getting the picture. Typical literary agency websites boast of all the books that they have successfully represented, but such information was lacking at WriteHigh. What connections do the agents have with editors of publishing houses? Without a list of publication credits, it is impossible to see where the agents have placed manuscripts, if they have sold any at all.

"How dreadful that a person would not bother to read our website
carefully...Before attacking a new agency, you need to research it

But I did read the website and I stand over my original post. And I did try to research the agency, but Preditors & Editors doesn't have a listing. Agent Query doesn't have it either, and those are two excellent sources of legitimate literary agents.

"Rather than ask us what we do, and read our website carefully, you, and the website from which you quote, went on the attack without the requisite information."

Actually, I did read the website carefully. And I quoted from the WriteHigh website. Is that akin to being hoisted on one's own petard? Ms. High went on to explain that the editing part of the agency is totally separate from the literary agenting portion. No up-front fees for representation, but editing and coaching will cost you if you choose to use those services. But have the agents sold anything to real publishing houses?

What about the target reader business that is described as "Frank in Indiana"? According to Ms. High, the client pays this Frank character forty cents per page, and Frank gives them a review at no additional charge. Who is Frank? "Private citizens, like your mom or my cousin. Or the grocer." And if the reviews are good? The review gets sent to an editor when the agent submits the manuscript. Lovely that Tony DeBartolo the butcher has extolled the beauty of your manuscript, but I'd much prefer a reference from Stuart Dybek.

In closing, Ms. High waves the flag as she bemoans the fact that we live in a country where one is supposed to be judged innocent until proven guilty and evil people go on the attack without consulting happy clients. I consulted the website. There are no sales made by WriteHigh to legitimate, agent-requiring publishing houses. If someone wants a perfectly manicured manuscript, then WriteHigh is the way to go. If an author needs a book doctor to polish and fix, if an author is grammar deficient, that's a different situation, and a paid editing service could be useful.

Perhaps WriteHigh will one day make a sale. If you're looking for the best agent to represent your manuscript, someone with experience, you'd be better off starting your hunt at the Association of Authors' Representatives.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Bad Rap

Blaxican is going to jail,
Can't find no one for to go his bail.
Fifteen years
Fifteen years
Never should have used the U.S. mail.

He's Eric Jaglicic, and he raised $1.6 million from people who were told they were funding a new movie by Adam Sandler. Who knew the comedian had so many fans in Will County, Illinois?

The rapper and his manager, Brian Falatovich, have been indicted for wire fraud and theft, after they were caught in their little scheme to generate capital without actually doing any work to earn it. Adam Sandler is going to make a movie called "The Record Deal" they said, and the money poured in. Everyone wants to see their name scrolling on the big screen, under the "Producer" title, which made the plan so lucrative.

Of course, there never was a movie, but Eric did manage to buy himself a lovely home in Homer Glen that was worth $450,000. The State of Illinois is keen to sell it as soon as possible, since home values are dropping by the minute and the victims of the crime would like to get some of their money back. Blaxican has been in jail since March, not trying very hard to get himself a lawyer, and the State's Attorney is growing weary of all the delays.

The rapper is looking at fifteen years for fraud and theft, with another five years tacked on for illegally communicating with a witness. That should give him plenty of time to hone his rapping skills. With all the new experiences he'll find while behind bars, he should have plenty of material to work with. Keep it real, bro.

Has Anyone Seen Paris Hilton Lately?

A woman walked into the Store Street Garda station last Sunday and had no idea who she was. At the same time, Paris Hilton seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, and fans would like to know if these two incidents are connected.

American officials in Dublin are not saying much about the woman, except that they believe she is from California. She was wearing leopard print shoes when she wandered into the station, and she was carrying a chihuahua under her arm.

The amnesia victim had no idea who she was or how she came to be in Dublin, yet today the American Embassy has said it is handling her affairs, and that she is actually from California. How could they know all that unless someone in the consulate recognized her from the cover of USWeekly or the like?

No word on where the confused lady has been taken, but the little dog has been put in the care of a lovely family in Dunboyne, to spare the beast from the stress of the Ashtown pound.

Before disappearing, Ms. Hilton had mentioned something about doing charity work. Did anyone hear her say anything about visiting with Bono to get some pointers on saving African babies?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Speak Irish In Ireland

Ulster Unionist David McNarry says his party isn't a flock of bigots. Just because they floated a motion to prevent Irish being spoken officially in Northern Ireland doesn't mean that they want to prevent Irish being Northern Ireland.

It's all in the way that the Shinners use Irish, as if it's the indigenous language and the unionists are a bunch of interlopers who refuse to learn the native tongue and don't want to hear it. It's all in the way that the use of Irish in official business reminds the unionists that they were planted there and that Irish is, indeed, the native tongue of the entire island. Even the part that they insist is a corner of the British Empire -- where they speak English.

The motion to ban Irish in Stormont was defeated, thanks to the SDLP and Sinn Fein and a few Democratic Unionists who regard the issue as a non-issue. Nelson McCausland of the DUP would like the Irish language to be embraced as part of the culture, to accept what cannot be erased. The Welsh speak Welsh, the Scots speak Scottish, and they're all part of the same empire. Why try to make a native tongue go away, or legislate it into the corner?

Unionists have been very vocal in their antipathy to Irish being spoken in the Stormont Assembly. It makes the nationalists that much more keen to speak it.

Not Even A Nibble

The new and revised query is proving to be as ineffective as the old model.

Four queries went out, and two rejections came back in the span of three weeks. Not sure if Kim Lionetti of BookEnds or Margot Meyers of Turning Point are ever going to respond at all, but after a month, it's sure to be a rejection if they do send the SASE back.

A tweaked query went out two weeks later, seven copies this time. Five rejections garnered to date, which makes it sound like the tweaked query is worse than the original. I prefer to think that the literary agents who received it are particularly well organized and quick to respond.

With twenty-five short story submissions still lingering, I'm having one of those weeks of discouragement, like a manic depressive on a down turn. A couple of journals say that they will be making their decisions in October, which it just happens to be lately, and they still have some of my stories under consideration. Hard not to obsessively check the e-mail inbox several times a day, when not lingering around the mailbox and scanning the horizon for the mail carrier.

The manic phase creeps in, the hope of getting a credential so that I can revise the query yet again. This time it will be a line added in the closing paragraph, to trumpet my ability to get published in a literary journal, so won't you take a look at the novel, dear agent, because an editor thinks I can indeed write decent prose. The slight tinge of hope, the sure ripple of failure, up and down from one day to the next.

Is it any wonder that writers become alcoholics?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Expand Your Horizons

"Write what you know" is beyond hackneyed, but there's a grain of truth in the old saw. Nicola Keegan, editor and Parisian resident, has penned her first novel and Bill Clegg is representing her interests. You'd like him to be representing your interests as well, but you've never set foot in Paris, have you?

Ms. Keegan's debut novel is centered around a swimmer who breaks down and goes to Paris to see a psychiatrist. Therapy, in turn, leads to a lot of back story that sounds like much of Irish fiction. Nuns and holy cards and addiction and illness are to Irish fiction as shopping on Fifth Avenue is to chick-lit. An editor for Fodor's knows Paris, and should know how to write. Maybe you've not been to Paris, but you've been somewhere, haven't you?

Are you working on your short stories? Nami Mun won a Pushcart Prize and she's won Amy Williams of McCormick & Williams in the agent lottery. If someone else thinks that your prose is good, a literary agent will be that much more likely to ask you for pages. A bit of their work is done, you see. You've been vetted, like someone knowing the password at the door of the speakeasy.

How about promoting your work as a freelance writer and slush reader? Amy MacKinnon is about to be published in book form, and you have to believe that her experiences writing articles for the Christian Science Monitor and NPR, along with a stint reading slush for Post Road, would have helped shape her words and form her sentences into marketable paragraphs.

Read and write. It's actually a lot of work, in spite of sounding so easy that anyone could do it.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Roadblock On The Book Tour

Presuming that all of Ireland would love to see the "other side" of a vicious criminal, New Island Books went and published a biography of Martin "The General" Cahill, as penned by his loving daughter Frances. Right now, they are fervently hoping that any publicity will move paper, even publicity of a highly negative nature. There are those out there, mainly victims of The General, who would like it if not a single copy sold.

Ms. Cahill has already been interviewed by Joe Duffy on his Liveline program and ruffled a few feathers. Her book tour was supposed to take her next to an appearance on Pat Kenny's Late Late Show, but her tour may have run up against a roadblock.

As far as RTE is concerned, Ms. Cahill's book isn't balanced. She writes of her beloved Da as a loving father, persecuted by gardai, but she forgets to mention that he was also a vicious murderer, criminal kingpin and bigamist. Easy to forget the bigamy, after all, seeing as it was her aunt who was the other woman in daddy's life.

Those who suffered at the hands of Martin Cahill would like the book tour to be halted. They see the book as pure fiction, a "fairy tale" in which The General comes across as something far less than the thug that he was. They don't want Ms. Cahill to be allowed on the Late Late, since all she's doing is hawking her book and they'd like to see the thing boycotted.

If you're curious about The General, you could rent a copy of the movie that starred Brendan Gleeson as Martin Cahill and Jon Voight as the inspector who was determined to bring the criminal to justice. Whether or not anyone has any further interest in the subject will be determined by the number of biographies that sell, and if Frances Cahill can't continue her book tour, she may not earn much out of her literary efforts.

The book was thoroughly panned by the Independent, which describes the tale as deluded. Ms. Cahill really should have done a bit of research before she put fingers to computer keyboard, starting with Antoinette Giancana's memoir. Sure there's a paternal side to any vicious thug, but it doesn't do to whitewash the brutality and try to turn a brutal gangster into a doting father. Sam Giancana was a known Mafioso, a brutal murderer, and his daughter didn't whitewash the picture. By including the negative, the positive stands out that much more. A good story needs a bit of contrast.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

What Would God Read?

God told Richard Roberts, the son of televangelist Oral Roberts, that it's the lawyers out to get Him. God spoke to Richard and said, Go, my son, and donate to political campaigns and remodel your home so that it's utterly lavish. Then pray for the lawyers who try to bring down God's own university. Throw in a sacred word or two for the university professors you had to fire, the ones who blew the whistle on the spending.

Mrs. Roberts is said to be overly fond of fine apparel, but is that such a sin? Can't expect anyone to wander the earth in sackcloth and ashes these days, even if such an outfit was described in the Bible. Speaking of the Bible, there's not a word in there that bans text messaging, is there? So why has Mrs. Roberts' obsession with sending texts to young boys become such a scandal? You'd think there was some eleventh commandment, Thou Shalt Not Text Minors, or something along those lines.

Since God speaks directly to the Roberts clan, it is highly presumptuous of their followers to question Richard as to what happens to the money they have donated. If the university wants to send a Roberts daughter to the Bahamas, why not? She's spreading the word of the Lord, isn't she, along with several friends, to the tune of $29,411.

Oral Roberts claimed that God spoke to him while he was reading a spy novel, and from that arose the Oral Roberts ministry. Being omnipotent, God would of course know that spies drive fancy cars, and would have approved of Mrs. Roberts' white Lexus and red Mercedes convertible, all paid for by donors to the Oral Roberts University. Anyone who's driven a Lexus knows that it inspires prayers. Thank God I can afford a luxury car, the driver of a Lexus will say as they motor along. You'd not hear the same from the lips of the person behind the wheel of a rust bucket.

God reads other books besides spy novels, of course, and He's said to have ghostwritten a phenomenal best seller. Pity that Richard Roberts hasn't read that one. He might have been inspired in his ministry by a passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke. Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, it says. For there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid that shall not be known -- all of which has nothing to do with our litigious society or lawyers.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Value Of A Website

Some agents might advise you, the budding author, to get yourself a website.

It is, of course, all to the good to own your domain name before it's needed for contact with the legions of fans who will want to know more about you and what you're doing. Well before that time, however, should a literary agent find your query intriguing, that agent will Google your name and you'd want something to come up, wouldn't you?

I have found that a website can save money on postage and printing as well. With some writing samples readily available for literary agents to peruse, they not only find something about me on the Internet, but they can read my writing and make decisions on whether to ask for pages.

After perusing my website content, a literary agent was able to send me a rejection straight away, rather than wasting everyone's time with sample chapters. She took a look, liked the writing but didn't fall in love as they say. For the cost of my very own site (around $100/year), I have already saved $4.95, the cost of postage for the first three chapters.

Brilliant bit of economy, however false it has proven to be.

How To Get To Bellow Street

Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for literature. That would make him a great writer in the eyes of the world. Chicago alderman Toni Preckwinkle is not impressed. No Bellow Street shall be allowed in her ward.

Friends of the late author would like a street named after him, somewhere in the vicinity of the University of Chicago in the Hyde Park neighborhood that was Mr. Bellow's home. Ms. Preckwinkle believes that Mr. Bellow was a racist, and therefore she cannot have that man's name appearing on a street sign in Hyde Park.

Saul Bellow was unquestionably elitist, in keeping with the ethos of the University of Chicago. He firmly believed in the Great Books produced by western civilizations, and since no other cultures produced Great Books, it just proves the point. The famed author might be considered a right wing conservative when it comes to political correctness. Saul Bellow was no fan of multiculturalism, but considering the fact that only western civilizations produced Great Books, but we're going around in circles here.

In the city of neighborhoods, anyone could tell you that wealthy Jews lived in Hyde Park and Austen. The Irish had their enclaves on the north and south sides, the Germans were the core of Old Town, the Swedes were to be found in Andersonville. Taylor Street was for the Italians. The Black Belt was for the Africans. Everyone knew their place and no one was allowed to leave it.

That was Bellow's world, and it changed with the coming of civil rights and fair housing. His world crumbled as black faces appeared on streets that were once the stomping grounds of Eastern European Jews. The physical space that he called home also changed, for reasons that an economist at the University of Chicago could best explain. Mr. Bellow chose to find his own answers in his prose, putting on paper the fear and confusion of those who did not understand what was happening, and so could not find a way to deal with change.

Block-busting real estate practices, neighborhoods "going black" almost overnight, and Saul Bellow was as alarmed as the average man who sold to get out before the value of his home fell to nothing. Was Mr. Bellow a racist for expressing his fears in print? Or was he trying to come to grips with some invisible force that seemed to be wiping out his past?

Reportedly, Ms. Preckwinkle has not based her decision on her reading of Bellow's body of work. She is said to have heard remarks from the author that she believes are racist, and has made her decision based on that. Was it remarks he made about the Puerto Ricans who moved in to Humboldt Park, replacing the hard working and house proud Eastern Europeans and allowing the area to become run down and shabby? Surely she couldn't be thinking of anything Mr. Bellow might have said to his former roommate, Ralph Ellison, the author of Invisible Man who found encouragement from a fellow author.

Was Saul Bellow a racist or a chronicler of what he saw around him, filtered through his elitist eyes? The issue is not so much black and white as it is complicated, just like Saul Bellow's writings.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Everyone's From Belfast

Dermot Ahern met with Condie Rice yesterday, to do the emigrant dance. There are thousands of Irish in America, all as illegal as the Mexicans who get all the press, and Ireland's Foreign Affairs minister would like very much if America looked on the illegal Irish as so about if we called them political asylum seekers?

Cubans can land on American soil and claim asylum, so why not the Irish? After all, as far as Mr. Ahern is concerned, most of them arrived in the U.S. during the Troubles, fleeing the madness and bloodshed and fear that gripped the six counties. Surely, Ms. Rice, an exception could be made for the Irish, considering the situation they were leaving? They aren't like the Hispanics at all, and why lump them together with a bunch of people who came to America for jobs alone?

What about the Irish from the Republic? Can't very well try to pretend that every illegal immigrant came from Belfast, and no one can make a claim that the government of the 1980's was repressive. Ask among my circle and they'll tell you that they left home in search of work, which was sorely lacking in Ireland at the time. Mr. Ahern has put a spin on this, however, and laid the blame for the high unemployment at the feet of The Troubles. All the bad publicity filtering out of Belfast and Omagh colored the image of the Republic, he says, and resulted in a paucity of investment and opportunity. So there you are. The former residents of the Republic of Ireland are seeking asylum as well, from the backwash of The Troubles.

Mr. Ahern understands the mania for security in this post-9/11 world, and he has assured Ms. Rice that any Irish coming across will be checked and vetted. And as for all those....many....maybe it's a round dozen....let's call it substantial any rate, there's Americans who have trouble getting a visa into Ireland, and if you scratch my back, Ms. Rice, I'll scratch yours. Wouldn't that be a friendly way to deal with the problem?

In Congress, members with a few drops of Irish blood in their veins are hoping to cobble together an agreement for Irish illegals, bringing together a package of normalized status mixed in with the shadow of The Troubles and the potential benefits of future economic co-operation. The Mexican illegals, however, are on their own.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

An Irish Kind Of Town, Chicago Is

Real estate investment trusts are popular vehicles to generate capital. You could go to the local bank and be happy with one or two percent, sure, but why not invest in real estate and gain up to 20% on your investment?

Where would you invest, to get that kind of return? If you're Iain Finnegan, you put your money in Chicago.

Mr. Finnegan is guiding Wilton US Commercial, an investment firm that has plans to obtain $50 million worth of property in Chicago and give back 20%. Forget New York City, too overpriced. Los Angeles? Outrageous prices, no value for the money. In the middle of the country, anchoring fly-over country, that's where Wilton US Commercial will stake its claim to an investment portfolio.

Isn't the mayor a descendant of Irish immigrants? Aren't 90% of the judges of Irish extraction? Look at the name of the airport, and you have to believe that the Irish belong in Chicago, that they're wanted. Forget that old "No Irish Need Apply".

Wilton will join forces with US Equities to manage the properties it will buy. Mr. Finnegan is impressed with US Equities' track record in turning around the John Hancock Center and they've done great things with Sears Tower. He's interested in picking up office space that is already rented, and then making money by tarting up the space as needed before going all out to fill every vacancy. The plan is to actively manage the properties, which sounds like secret code for "we're going to raise your rent."

There's money in Ireland, but the Irish property market is oversold and the values have nowhere to go but down. But Chicago, now, that's a different story. Reasonable rates, and values are expected to rise over time.

Plans are drawn up to purchase the American Medical Association headquarters, located near Chicago's toney Michigan Avenue. If the AMA decamps, no problem. Wilton will remodel, refurbish, and rent out the space for more than the AMA was paying. And that's how to make money in real estate.

Supprt Beijing Olympics, Kill A Monk

Ever at the forefront of Internet activities, has another website to their credit, and it's making quite a stir over the unrest in Burma.

Jump over to the website and join the world in protesting the crack-down on the democracy movement. Show the world how outraged you are that Buddhist monks and innocent men, women and children are being imprisoned without trial, beaten and murdered. Sign the online petition and stand, well, not side by side with the monks because that could get you killed. Click a link and let some electrons express your opinion.

It sounds so powerful, doesn't it, to add your name to a growing list. And what will happen to this list of names? Will it be sent to the military junta that is squeezing the life blood out of the Burmese people? Considering the fact that the country's leader won't even bother to meet with the UN's special envoy, I highly doubt that he'll notice some online petition.

Want to do something really powerful and constructive? Don't buy anything made in China.

China supports the current regime in Burma, and the cash that you spend on Chinese manufactured goods will find its way to Burma, to pay for bullets and tear gas and thugs to beat people to bloody pulp. If the Chinese wallet is pinched, and China understands the reason for the boycott, things will change. Millions of signatures on millions of Internet petitions? Very nice, but does it have a measurable effect on something that matters? When factories have to lay off workers because the product isn't selling, that's impossible to ignore.

The problem with a boycott is simple. It will hurt you. It will force you to make a tremendous effort to find what you need, because so much is made in China. It will require you to sometimes do without, make do with what you already have, rather than purchase an item and add to the problem.

Thinking of buying some Beijing Olympics merchandise? Don't. Thinking of reserving a hotel room in Beijing to attend? Don't. Give it up, sacrifice for the good of others.

If you do all that, you'll understand why the Internet petition is so popular. It's too easy and entirely painless.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Waiting For Answers

What are the circumstances surrounding the death of Ciara Durkin? Her family would like to know.

She was born in Ireland, in Connemara, but her family moved to Boston when she was ten. Some of her siblings returned to Ireland, to their roots, but Ciara joined the Massachusetts National Guard and accepted service in Afghanistan. Her sister has said that Ciara wanted to do something for her country, for America, so she volunteered.

On September 27, Ciara was killed by a single gunshot to the head. The U.S. Army is conducting an investigation, and they do not expect to have a report issued for another eight weeks. In the meantime, Ciara's family in Massachusetts and Connemara would like to know how and why she died.

The shooting occured on the grounds of Bagram airbase, but little more information than that has been released. There's been no mention of 'killed in action', not a word about firefights or enemy snipers. Neither has there been any suggestion that the National Guard volunteer was murdered by one of her colleagues. All that the Durkin family has are their own personal speculations and guesses and assumptions.

When the army releases Ciara's body from their facility in Delaware, her family plans to cremate her remains and bury half the ashes in America and half in Ireland. Then they'll wait to hear from the U.S. Army, to learn why their sister died.

The story hasn't made much of an impact in American newspapers, where the war in Afghanistan has moved to the back pages, into a few paragraphs in a single column. The Army may not want much publicity for the story anyway, not if it's a case of one soldier doing in another. However it happened, though, Ciara Durkin's story needs to be told and not forgotten, swept aside to make room for the big news and pointless Senate debates about what a radio talk show host might or might not have said.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Because Literary Agents Are Incompetent

Why else would Amazon and Penguin have started up a contest to discover the Amazon Breakthrough Novel? If literary agents were doing their jobs well, there'd be no need to circumvent the normal chain of acquisition.

Russell Grandinetti wants Amazon customers to have an exciting and significant voice in the process of discovering a new novelist. Ah, sure and if they've discovered my novels, they've found what they're looking for. No need to look further, Amazon.

There's nothing on the Amazon site at the moment to tell an aspiring novelist how to enter the contest, so it would appear that the rules of the game are still being written. According to news reports, there's to be no entry fee and authors have until 5 November to submit their English language tomes.

Those who Amazon labels as "leading customer reviewers" get the first look at the slush pile, rather like a bank of interns at a typical agency. Then literary types like Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote a memoir, and John Freeman of the National Book Critics Circle will sort through what's left. Just in case literary agents do actually have a clue as to what makes for a top-selling manuscript, Janklow & Nesbit's own Eric Simonoff will have a say in what takes the prize. A case of Amazon and Penguin hedging their bets, perhaps?

With an advance of $25,000 promised, anyone who knows how publishing works would also be asking if Mr. Simonoff came along with the total winner's package, to protect the interests of the winning author.

What sort of sales are they expecting? Better than the Touchstone "First Chapter" winners, according to Tim McCall of Penguin. The Amazon rankings for Touchstone's first and second place finishers are not in the best-seller territory, but Penguin expects their blue ribbon pick will enjoy better sales because they plan to promote the debut novel. Heavy promotion is more desirable than a big advance, especially if the debut author would like a decent contract for the second and subsequent works. is going with their crime novel contest again, in conjunction with Borders, but they're sticking with their panel of published authors to choose the manuscript. Again, members of the website will be slush killers. The advance of $5,000 is paltry, to be sure, and getting a publishing deal through Borders doesn't sound as promising as having a novel printed by the likes of Penguin.

In its own way, the focus group has come to publishing. The question is, will it be more effective at picking marketable novels? Are literary agents facing extinction? Where and how, exactly, do I submit my manuscript?

A Matter Of Perspective

On Saturday night there was a running battle on the streets of Derry.

On Saturday night, there were a few dozen drunks making trouble.

Same time, same place, same incident, so who saw things as they were? The police, or the bystanders?

According to Chief Inspector John Burrows, a crowd of fifty attacked his officers when the nightclubs shut down. Beer bottle and paving stones were flying like snowflakes in a blizzard, and if not for their riot gear, the police would surely have been injured. As it was, two officers were hurt in the melee. Over the course of two hours, the police had to deal with looters and rioters. And this on the evening after Nigel Dodds of the DUP insisted that police powers could not possibly be devolved to the authorities duly elected to Stormont.

A BBC display in Guildhall Square was damaged during the course of this wild night. As far as the staff member who was called in to set things to rights was concerned, it wasn't such a fuss at all, at all. The tables and chairs on site were tossed around, a plasma screen was broken, but a two-hour running battle? That's a bit of an exaggeration, according to the staffer. A large crowd, yes, but it was only a few dozen who made trouble. What he heard on the news, he couldn't quite believe, as it didn't fit what he had witnessed. Safe to assume, so, that he was not listening to the BBC because he wouldn't go biting the hand that feeds him, would he?

A local publican noticed more police around than usual, but that was about all that he noticed. Could it be that drunks leaving the local nightclubs might be rowdy every Saturday night, if he failed to see a riot while it was boiling up outside his door?

There is, of course, plenty of video tape to examine from all the CCTV cameras. Some will see a drunken riot, some will see a bunch of drunks behaving like boors. Depends on how the mind is filtering what crosses the retina.