Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lux et Not Much Veritas

Certain groups are vulnerable to being scammed. The elderly are often preyed upon, with their old-fashioned sense of trust turned back on them by criminals without morals or scruples. And then there are the illegal immigrants, the people who hide in the shadows and just want to make a decent living.

The illegals are not as naive as the old folks in the small rural enclave, so a hustler would have to be a bit more clever to get around any sense of distrust. A man looking to put one over on some illegal Irish immigrants in New York, for example, would appear to be quite a legitimate businessman if he were to set up shop at Yale University, for example.

Ralph Cucciniello managed to get hired by a Yale professor who was in need of a research assistant. The professor was working on a case, to get a man cleared of a murder charge. It was a Mafia hit, to be precise, and said professor must have thought that Mr. Cucciniello could blend in better and obtain the key facts that would allow the convicted murderer to go free. One would think that a professor at Yale would be pretty sharp, but one would be misled by such a presumption. The professor never bothered to do a background check on Mr. Cucciniello, just went ahead and hired him and gave him some space in the Yale law library to conduct his research for the case. As it turned out, Ralphie-boy had a rap sheet that detailed his many convictions for fraud.

With office space provided, and in a most prestigious setting, Mr. Cucciniello opened up shop. He advertised in the Irish community, claiming that he could obtain green cards via some previously unknown loophole in the law. From space that lent an air of credibility to his claims, the scam artist promised to help people become legal residents and escape the endless worry of being found out and sent back. At a cost of $5,000, he suckered in at least 50 people, but it could be more. Fearing deportation if they go public, potential victims of the scam would of course be hesitant to come forward and the full extent of the crime may never be known.

Thanks to the lack of oversight of the Yale University professor, Mr. Cucciniello was able to operate freely, and would still be running his scam today but for the outcry of a few of his victims. He has been charged in Manhattan with fraud and impersonating an attorney, and the police in New Haven (home of Yale University) are putting evidence together so that they can obtain a warrant for Cucciniello's arrest.

As your mammy often told you, if something sounds too good to be true, it isn't.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cicada Watch: Sing, Sing a Song

As recorded in a Chicago suburb -- the boys serenade the girls and doesn't it sound like an alien invasion? They're just about ready to start flying all about in search of hot cicada sex.

Enjoy the cicada songfest.

Time To Rest

Five e-mail queries were sent on Friday, and two rejections came in promptly on Tuesday morning. He likes humor, but the humorous manuscript was not right for Dan Lazar. Susan Ramer at Don Congdon's agency is too swamped. Holly Root, now with the Waxman Agency, lacks the necessary enthusiasm or whatever is needed to push a project down the throats of the big publishing houses. The other two agents will most likely not bother with informing me that they, too, are not right or too swamped.

The query is not working. Of the batch of snail mails sent on the 21st, Katie Kotchman of Denis Marcil Literary Agency might be seeking clients, but she says they're scaling back on their fiction stable. Jessica Regel and Mollie Glick are too busy with existing clients; can't consider the manuscript. It's not right for Malaga Baldi. After thinking about it for almost three months, Deborah Schneider has decided that she's too busy as well.

There comes a time when the brain grows weary of the marketing side, when the clever hook fails to materialize and the query letter fails to attract the least amount of interest. Time to pull back from querying and have a little fun with the writing. Another manuscript is taking shape, there's another short story about half-drafted, and the query letters are best left for another day.

The Race Goes To The Swift

In the heyday of the Union Stockyards in Chicago, Gustavus 'Stave' Swift was a legend. He invented the refrigerated rail car, cooled by blocks of ice, which allowed for a central slaughtering house and improved efficiency. Granted, his abattoir in Chicago became fodder for The Jungle, but the man did revolutionize the industry.

Soon, the Swift meatpacking business will cease being an American concern, in spite of its origins as a uniquely American development. JBS-Friboi of Brazil is going to buy the whole company for $225 million in cash, taking on $1.2 billion of debt held by Swift., in a deal that has caught analysts off-guard. The wise men of the markets expected Swift to get bought up piecemeal by other American meatpackers, but JBS-Friboi saw an opportunity and grabbed it. That's it then. Stave Swift's creation is about to be transformed.

JBS-Friboi wanted to get into the American market, which is closely regulated, and not particularly open to foreign imports. The biggest beef producer in South America wanted to be the biggest beef producer in the world, and they will be all that once Swift is taken under their wing. From their origins as cattle buyers in the 1950's, the Sobrinho brothers have grown a company that now slaughters 22,000 cattle. Per day. And they'll soon be adding to that number.

Buy American, the local businessman trumpets. Buy Swift Premium meats, and you'll support an American rancher. But the profits are heading for Sao Paolo. What's a consumer to do?

Pass The Hat For Illinois

The state is in need of funds. Billions, in fact. The governor must have more money to fund even more programs to make his legacy...well, to make his legacy something other than the impending indictment for campaign finance shenanigans. But where will this money come from?

The notion to tax the gross receipts of every single business in the state fell flat. More than flat, as there was not one single vote in favor of wrecking what business remains in Illinois. With that avenue torn asunder, how will Blagojevich generate enough cash to pay for health insurance for all?

First, he should figure out how to pay for the health care that is already available. The poor and uninsured are legally entitled to state funded care, but the state is so far behind on paying the bills that physicians will not see a Medicaid patient. For them, it's charity work and there's only so much charity they can dole out and still pay their bills. So you're poor in Illinois and you've got Medicaid coverage? Take a number. Maybe you can see a doctor in a few months.

Treating the past due bills like so much old news, Blagojevich sallies forth with new plans that will require tremendous amounts of money. The state budget is already bloated, the accounts are overdrawn, but he wants to do more. Where else can he turn to? How about more casinos and gambling?

House Speaker Mike Madigan is no fool when it comes to politics, and he knows that the average citizen is not keen on gambling, aware that it is the poorest and those least able to afford the losses that are attracted to the casinos. Senate President Emil Jones, who is questionably literate, wants more casinos....and he wants the state to bail out the wealthy folks who invested in a casino that was never built. Seems that the Mafia was trying to weasel in on the deal, and the Gaming Board put an end to it, but unfortunately, the investors figured they had it made and went right ahead and started building. As for the original investors, many of them had strong political ties to Chicago's mayor. It was a typical Illinois deal, one that stank of corruption from its inception, and it continues to fester. The gambling bill put forth by Jones was a move by a politician to do a favor to those who donate to campaigns.

Attempts to bury the bail-out in over two hundred pages of legislation failed, however. Once word got out that the Emerald Casino folks were going to profit, Madigan was sure to pull the plug on the legislation or face the ire of his electorate. As things now stand, he has no intention of bringing the gambling bill to the floor for debate and a vote. The state of Illinois is not going to generate more money from new gambling licenses and more casinos, as far as Mike Madigan is concerned.

But how to get more money for state projects? The funny thing is, not one politician has suggested trimming the budget of pork and fat and waste. A friend of Blagojevich earned over $100,000 through fraud. How about eliminating payments for work never performed? How about a bit of oversight at Emil Jones' pet project, Chicago State University. The folks who run the place have been siphoning off money for trips, dinners and anything else they desire, leaving less money for education. Any chance of using the state's income wisely?

No, it's easier to turn to the taxpayer with outstretched hand, weeping crocodile tears and bemoaning the fate of the little children with their low-quality education and lack of health insurance. The tears being shed by the taxpayers? They've just filled up their gas tanks with fuel that costs more in Chicago than anywhere else in the nation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cicada Watch 2007: Good Morning Starshine

The earth says hello...and isn't it like a bunch of teens to discard their skin and leave it laying around the house. Do they never clean up after themselves?

This is one small area of a Profusion crab tree that measures about 8 inches in diameter.

They crawled out of the ground last night, the little divils, and climbed up the trunk of the tree. Once they got up where they wanted to be, they split their skins right up the middle of the back and pushed their way out of their juvenile skeletons. They spread their wings, as children are wont to do, and crawled up into the branches where the leaves are doing a fair job of hiding them from the hungry birds.

And the shells that didn't stick for good on the tree fell to the ground, to make a lovely crunchy pile for the lawn mower to pick up and grind into mulch.

They haven't started their love songs just yet, but if you'd like the complete experience, go to: (can't get the link to work but you could copy and paste) courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times. Then crank up the volume on your speakers until you've reached the decibel level of a gas-powered leaf blower.....and enjoy.

Advanced Statistics and Probability

Maths must have been Enda Kenny's favorite subject. He's counted up the seats in the 30th Dail, divided by 2, added one, and come up with Enda Kenny as An Taoiseach. Numbers don't lie.

For Mr. Kenny to achieve his life's ambition, he has only to form a coalition. It would be the All In Except For Fianna Fail, You Can't Play With Us umbrella organization that would take in every party save the one with the most seats. He's started up already, whispering in the school yard behind Bertie Ahern's back.

"You don't want to go into government with him," he says to his would-be friends. "He's not the sort of boy your mammy would like you to associate with. He's done some very bad things. Dishonest lad, and not coming clean at all."

While Mr. Ahern's legal team takes the Mahon Tribunal behind the shed and beats it to a pulp for 'leaking' certain documents meant to damage Mr. Ahern's reputation, Mr. Kenny is reminding all of the newly elected politicians that Mr. Ahern's finances have been called into question. Intimating that the man who figures on being An Taoiseach for a third time is a dishonest thief, Enda Kenny is going around in search of coalition partners and presenting himself as the better choice. Sure he looks like a choir boy, clean cut and earnestly intense. Play with his team, he says, or you'll be cast in the same dim light as that nasty boy who has yet to explain where the money came from and how is that the amount lodged equals exactly $45,000. You're not like him, now, are you? You don't want the neighbors to think you turn a blind eye to such goings-on, do you?

The one problem with Mr. Kenny's mathematically feasible coalition is that, like a house built on sand, it isn't stable. Fine Gael and Labour had gone into the election as a team, agreements agreed, but if Mr. Kenny is to be Taoiseach his coalition will have to include the two Progressive Democrats who retained their seats, former enemies made over into pals. He would have to make the Greens happy, throw them a sop of reduced carbon emissions by 2020 or something along those lines. Sweep up the occasional independent, offer a low level ministerial position, and then Fine Gael would have to go into government with Sinn Fein. That part of the equation just doesn't add up.

A Thousand Splendid Reviews

Khaled Hosseini wrote The Kite Runner and it took off. Maybe it was timing, a book about the hardships in Afghanistan being published when interest in the country was still high. We're fighting a war there, where is Afghanistan exactly, and what are they like? A novel can give a better sense of a people than some dry treatise by the Margaret Meads of the world.

If you believe reviewer Michiko Kakutani, the book was a hit in spite of its flaws. Old-fashioned story-telling, and in this day and age. Too much emotion, too much melodrama, the characters right out of a cartoon...none of those elements go into best sellers that ride the crest of the New York Times weekly list. Well, it wasn't a book review that set The Kite Runner off into the stratosphere. Must have been word of mouth. Those book group things where ordinary people discuss books.

Mr. Hosseini's new book, again with a setting in his native country, garnered a positive review, but his book still has those....flaws. There's a "villainous villain" and a "saintly best friend" according to Ms. Kakutani. And there are "embarrassingly hokey scenes" of the B movie caliber as well. But there is still enough quality in there to salvage the novel.

What's wrong with old-fashioned story telling? Must everything published be self-centered and introspective and full of deep thought? In spite of what a reviewer sees as flaws, a novel became a best seller because people read it, liked it, recommended it to friends, and more readers came on board. Obviously, they didn't much care that the plot was contrived in parts. It was not critical to the readers that a character not have some cartoonish elements, or that the villains were painted with broad strokes of evil intent.

The point of a novel is to entertain, and if the reader gets a bit of an education as well, that's a bonus. It doesn't have to be the other way around, where a writer beats the reader over the head with his examination of the day's profound issues and maybe throws in a bit of entertainment on the side.

Iranians don't read much anymore, but their books are so heavily censored that they can't be bothered with what is available. Are Americans not reading much anymore because the big publishing houses are self-censoring, only putting out heavy-handed tomes that fail because they're dull? Have we moved so far away from the art of story-telling that a book that manages to tell a story has become a rarity?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fahrenheit 451, The Modern Version

I haunt used book shops because I can't afford to buy new. I frequent used book websites because that's the easiest way to find the old and out of print or the novel by George Ade when no one seems to know who George Ade was. To think that a used book seller has resorted to burning his overstocks is mind-numbing and heart-breaking.

Tom Wayne has owned and operated Prospero's Books in Kansas City, Missouri, for many years. He's built up quite a collection, from former best sellers to Victorian era treatises on the way things were at the time. Children's literature from the time of the Great War, novels from the Civil War era -- surely there's a home for everything he has, but Mr. Wayne has found that this is not the case.

Libraries and thrift shops told him that there was no room at the inn, so to speak, when he tried to give away some of his stock. Their racks were full, they wanted no more, and it's due to the sad fact that people don't read as much as they used to. If Google has their way, whatever you might want to know could be found in a search engine, and you'll not need to thumb through the library's collection or the used book vendor's dusty shelves. The downside there is the loss of the idle search, the wandering that brings to light something you'd never know you wanted because you'd not known it existed.

Mr. Wayne started the bonfire because he feels that the American public is not turning to books for their entertainment and amusement. They have the Internet now, and movies and DVDs and television. Watch the HBO special "Bury My Hear At Wounded Knee" and you'll know all there is to know about the last days of Sitting Bull and the decline of the Lakota Nation. Except, of course, that the HBO special was largely fiction and did not give an accurate, historical treatment of Indian affairs at the end of the previous century.

The Kansas City fire department put a quick end to the burning, but only because Mr. Wayne lacked the necessary permits for a bonfire. He plans to get that permit, however, and fire up another batch of books in an act of destruction that reveals his outrage. In the meantime, local people who were aware of the planned conflagration bought up what they could, and at bargain prices. How could anyone turn down the chance to cart away an armload of old children's books for $10? Sacrifice a couple of pints for the sake of keeping a book alive.

A good book can be company on a quiet night; it can be an amiable companion on a summer holiday or a long weekend when it's too chilly to lay out in the sun and get the first sunburn of the season. Antique novels provide a window into another era, acting as a better history lesson than anything you might see dramatized on a flickering screen. Are there not some things that are well worth saving, too important to lose?

As Predicted Here

Who's that on the front page of today's Irish Times?

And didn't I predict that Bertie Ahern would be posing for pictures with Rocco and Jay Byrne as soon as the election was won?

Doesn't he look all proud and grandda-ish? The boys are beautiful, wee little things, aren't they?

Now if An Taioseach can just get past the Mahon Tribunal, his smile would be ever bigger and brighter.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Where Is Everybody?

Granted, it's the start of summer, the long weekend that opens the season of beaches, vacations and white apparel. Chances are, the literary agent you're waiting on is opening his or her cottage in the Hamptons this weekend, and has no intention of reading your query letter.

And then? It's Book Expo America time once again. This year, the exhibition is being held in New York City, so you'd think the agents would be dropping in at the office from time to time. And there's more than one of them who works out of their flat, so they're dropping in the office every single night. But no. This is party time. Meet and greet. Sidle over, make a contact, make a deal, get a name out there.

If you want to get an idea as to what is going on, keeping your dream agent from perusing the query letter you spent months polishing, you can always go the BEA website. There will be authors signing, publishers selling, librarians wandering in little herds like so many lost sheep, and the literary agents are just too busy buying drinks to have time for agenting. They've got plenty of clients already, and this week they will be spending their time promoting all the birds in the hand.

In another week, they can consider your bird in the bush. Might as well get the snail mail query in the mail and have it waiting for them.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

For Fans of Sara Paretsky

As promised, the new Saturday edition of the Chicago Tribune book review section highlights a local star. This week, reviewer Samuel Freedman tackles Sara Paretsky's brief memoir. The creator of the V.I. Warshawski series has put her past on paper, detailing an origin in Kansas that blossomed in a career in Chicago. She's one of Chicago's own these days.

Even if you're not a great fan of mysteries, it will be worth your time to read up and see what goes into the development of a talented writer. Her story is dismally depressing, and I've come away from it wondering if abject misery in childhood is requisite for the right sorts of neural connections to be made if one is to be a published writer.

What you thought you knew about the woman who worships the city of Chicago on the pages of her novels may prove to be quite different after you've read over some of Mr. Freedman's key points. It's worth the time to click on the link and do a bit of reading.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Back For More But Not The Same

It's not a sure thing just yet, but Bertie Ahern is watching the numbers very closely. He's been returned to his seat in a landslide, but Enda Kenny's merry band is picking up the slack, making gains at the expense of the smaller parties. Everyone is dying to see a few snaps of Grandda and the Byrne twins, himself with Rocco and Jay, but Mr. Ahern may not be in much of a mood to pose with the little boys if his position as Taoiseach is not secured.

With counting not yet completed, it also appears that Mary Harney is returning, but the rest of her Progressive Democrat colleagues are taking a drubbing. Pundits are already proclaiming the end of the Fianna Fail - Progressive Democrat coalition, and Ms. Harney will be out of her ministerial post. One has to believe that the consultants and nurses are glad to see the back of her. Michael McDowell, the fearless leader of the PDs, has been deposed by his unhappy constituents, and he's saying he's going to resign from politics. Well, when the people don't want what you're offering, and your party has taken a drubbing, maybe it is time to stand aside and let someone else try their hand.

The Dail will be a dull place without Joe Higgins to rant and rave, spewing his Socialist Party prattle and lambasting the US government. That was always a tough position to take, what with so many emigrants living very comfortably in the US of A and sending money back home to aged parents. Knock on some doors and decry America and the old folks at home won't take kindly to the politician asking for their vote. Then there's all that Celtic Tiger prosperity, and socialism loses its luster when it's your pockets that Mr. Higgins is planning to pick and you know how hard and long you had to work to earn your lovely salary.

With transfers yet to be counted, Enda Kenny is so buoyant that he needs to be tied down like a large helium balloon. He's looking at the seats his lads have gained, and adding them in to the total held by Labour and the Greens, who would coalesce into a merry rainbow of politicians looking to run the nation and elect him Taoiseach if all goes well. If Fianna Fail doesn't pick up a second seat in Dublin, and if no more than two PDs remain, it will look bad for Mr. Ahern and his plan to be taoiseach for a third time. You know what form Mr. Kenny's prayers are taking.

But what if Fianna Fail does come out on top? The PDs are dead in the water, so who would go into government with FF? All those lovely ministerial positions, just waiting to be snapped up by ambitious folks. Could it be Sinn Fein? Never, not in a million years. Maybe some Labourites would be tempted, or the Green Party clan, drawn to higher office and a position with some real impact.

Something old, in the form of Fianna Fail, blended in with something new. The fun just goes on and on.

Excuse Me While I Gouge Out My Eyeballs

Turn on your television and you'll find a reality show. There's a man selecting a potential bride, and there's a woman picking out a husband. There are gangs of people surviving on islands, jungles, the back roads, and the inner city. It's all real. Gritty. Dirty. As it happens. Or, the contestants are singing and dancing and everyone's happy unless they've lost and then they're crying. Real tears. Real emotions. Reality.

Lauren Spicer looked over the program listings and realized that the world needed a reality show for authors. She also realized, at some point in her writing career, that the world needed her books so she published them herself. Assume what you will from that. In any event, Ms. Spicer has invented an on-line Writing contest, to find the Ultimate Author. Apparently no television program director would pick it up, so she's doing it herself!

Care to participate? Get yourself down to her digs in Florida and run through the various fun-filled scenarios of reality. Read the opening chapter of your manuscript, and all the judges in cyberspace will listen and vote. It's very American Idol, but without the music. According to the website:
Within the half-hour, contestants compete as a group and individually. The
contestant with the least amount of points for that week will be asked to close
their laptop and leave the premises. The judges tasked with scoring the
contestants will be literary magazine publishers, veteran authors, journalists,
book store representatives, and creative development managers from publishing
houses. There will be three permanent judges and one guest judge selected who
excels in the chosen genre selected for that week or for the activity.
Additionally, viewers will get a chance to participate as a guest judge by
filling out the form on the website.
A touch of Weakest Link in there as well, it appears. So much excitement! So much anticipation! How could ABC or NBC or Fox not have jumped at the opportunity to snap up this bit of must-see entertainment? What would be more thrilling than watching people read? It's right up there with watching grass grow, but it could never compete with the sense of anticipation that comes with watching the kettle boil.

So what's in it for you, the author? A book deal, wouldn't you know. Published by whom? In all likelihood, by Ms. Spicer. Lacks the cachet of HarperCollins or Simon & Schuster, though, and somehow it doesn't seem like it's quite worth the air fare to Miami.

How lame, exactly, is this reality show concept? The writing challenge tests your spelling and grammar. And you thought you were smarter than a fifth grader....but isn't that already on the air?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cicada Watch: Still Waiting

There's something I've developed into a fine art -- waiting. Not content to wait for literary agents to contact me, and not content to wait for literary journals to review my submissions, I'm waiting on the cicadas.

Sure they promised to come out by 22 May, and here it is two days later and no sign of them. A friend about four miles away found that his trees were covered yesterday, but no one else in his neighborhood has seen any. We put it down to the landscaping crew having been there the day before, vibrating the ground with their big mowers and startling the cicadas out of their holes a bit early.

I've got my camera charged up and the memory stick has plenty of bytes left. I'll be waiting again tonight to catch the little critters in action.

The Right to the Rights

Literary agents are up in arms, as are published authors. For the rest of us, well, we've bigger fish to fry. The dust up in the publishing world doesn't affect us, not yet, and in all likelihood, never.

Simon & Schuster decided to change their contract terms, out of the blue. From here on in, the publishing house would hold the rights to a title in perpetuity. At least that's how agents read it, and the Authors Guild came to the same conclusion. There was a time when an author got the rights back to their book when it stopped selling. It might have gone out of print, or sales might have hit some low, low level and the publisher lost interest. "Here, go on, take it back, so," the publishers used to say. "I've no use for this title, and no one else has either. Fair play to you if you can find another house willing to print this old rag."

Sometimes, a resurgent interest in a particular author, or a serendipitous rediscovery of an old title, would mean new fame and fortune for a forgotten writer. Holding the reverted rights, said author could march down the road to another publisher and get the book sent out again, to make a little more money. All very good for the author, who maintained a bit of control over their intellectual property, but Simon & Schuster realized that they could be losing a little profit. Hence, new language was plonked into the contract.

Simon & Schuster plans to hold on to the rights for ever and ever, because with Print On Demand technology, a book is never really out of print. Sure, back before the POD revolution, it cost too much to run the presses for a single copy, so the book was declared out of print and the author could have it back. Now the publisher can claim that the book is never out of print, because if someone wants a copy, it's easy enough to produce a single book. That being the case, the author never gets the out of print rights reversion. And if, for some odd reason, the book garners a bit of interest, Simon & Schuster reaps all the rewards.

From an author's standpoint, Simon & Schuster has no incentive to promote a book after it's peaked, while an author would actively promote their little darling. As things now stand, literary agents have no incentive to sell manuscripts to Simon & Schuster, because it's not in the best interest of their clients. As long as the other big houses don't follow Simon & Schuster's lead, it's going to be tough sledding for S & S.

But you and I, we have no literary agent trying to sell our manuscripts to anyone. We're at the waiting stage, waiting for the twenty-five literary journals to make up their minds about the short stories we sent. We're waiting for the twelve literary agents to read the queries we've sent since the end of April, with no response. But that is the response now, isn't it? All this other business, about rights and such? I'm too busy worrying about my opening pages to care.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Byron Dorgan Defines Fiction

North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan thinks he knows what fiction is. According to the anti-Immigration Reform Bill politico, it's a fiction that the jobs to be filled in the temporary worker program are jobs that Americans aren't willing to do.

There's no lettuce farms in North Dakota. They don't grow peaches or apples. Senator Dorgan would never hear from irate farmers, who know what the real fiction is. American people are not lining up, desperately in search of employment as fruit pickers. Down in Florida, it's a fiction to believe that Americans would jump at the chance to weed strawberry beds in the hot sun. It's a fiction to believe that Americans would take these jobs if immigrants did not.

The proposed guest worker program would depress wages, according to Mr. Dorgan. The wages that get depressed are in the low skill, back breaking, daily grind and misery sorts of jobs, and it's hard to imagine that the typical American would accept such employment at any price. The citizens who replaced the deported Hispanic workers in a southern chicken processing plant didn't last long, and the money was good. Better than the alternative, to be sure, which was unemployment and even less money on the dole, but in the end, welfare became more desirable than life on a chicken processing line.

Would Americans take jobs picking fruit and vegetables if the money was right? That's a story for the economists to write. But if the cost of growing, picking and packing food increased, the cost of food in the market would follow, and it's no fiction that Senator Dorgan would be hearing from his constituents when the price of a salad reached the sky-high cost of a prime steak, or an apple became an extravagance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Galileo, Galileo, Mamma Mia Let Me Go

What seems to be the problem, Mr. Jacques Barrot, EU Transport Commissioner? Why is Europe not poised to take the lead in outer space?

The parties involved can't agree? No surprise there, son. The proposed partnership between aerospace companies and governments didn't have the necessary patina of success that private companies look for. Businesses don't undertake projects that will lose them money, no matter how grand and glorious the goal may be. Go on, now, just hand the whole thing off to the EU and bill the taxpayers.

What kind of costs are we talking here? Eu400 million, you say? Or possibly higher. And that's the equivalent of 400 km of motorway. So if Europe doesn't build 400 km of motorway per year, they can take the money and fund the Galileo project? And then once Galileo satellites are up and orbiting, the revenue will come rolling in and one fine day the Galileo project will be making money for the EU.

Sure, why let the US have all the income from their GPS satellites. Who needs an American satellite to tell them where they are in Europe? Wouldn't a European satellite do a better job? If the private concerns had felt a bit stronger on the principle of the thing, Galileo would be operational by 2009, as originally planned. Now it's to be pushed back to 2012. Assuming, of course, that some fancy-pants American engineers don't invent a better system by then, making the Galileo project outdated before launch. The US is upgrading their system as it is, and it will most likely be as accurate or better than Galileo by the time Galileo is ready.

For three years, the individual member states of the EU argued over who would be in charge of the project, and then they argued over which country's factories would make the satellites. Once that was ironed out, wouldn't you know that the Spanish would put in for a control center in their country, and Germany already had two of them so it was a bit redundant.

All this squabbling, and Mr. Barrot is a nervous wreck. Everyone has become so highly dependent on America's GPS, but the Yanks could turn it off at any time. And the way European nations keep denigrating the President and the Republicans and Americans in general, well, it's only a matter of time before Europe really ticks them off and GPS screens across Europe go black.

Mr. Barrot can try an appeal to national pride, but he might try appealing to the US to start charging for GPS. When America gives it away for free to commercial users, it makes it awfully difficult for the EU to charge for Galileo's services. It's that whole 'why buy the cow when the milk is free' analogy.

Monday, May 21, 2007

What Are The Odds

On the heels of a recent article in the New York Times about the crap shoot that is publishing comes news that a new on-line focus group is setting up shop. It's not about the votes of the book-buying public that Media Predict is after. They want to know what the odds are that a book will be a big seller.

No, you don't have to read slush or anything like that. Simon & Schuster has come on board, and hopes that you will look at what's listed and vote on whether or not you think a book could make it. Not that you'd buy it, or even read it yourself. They want your opinion on what you see as market worthy. Of course everyone will be entirely honest and above board with it. No one would ever in a million years post the first chapter and then find a computer hacker to skew the results. Never. No indeed.

A site visitor is asked to register, and they then receive virtual money to 'invest', like picking a stock. If the book you select does indeed get a publishing contract, you win. It's all very game-like, this picking, but Simon & Schuster is going to look at the vote tally and then look at the manuscript. If enough people have selected a particular story, maybe it's like a focus group telling the marketing department that this one is going to be well received by the world out there. The acquisitions editors haven't been having the best run of luck, so why not expand the circle of editors and make the participants at Media Predict an adjunct of the publishing house?

The web site is all about the winning, for you, the participant. Would you select the book that you think will be published based on quality of writing, or will you make your pick based on the desire to win the game? This is the sort of shite that S & S usually publishes, you might say, and there's your vote for something you think is worthless and would never buy. Something like Paris Hilton's memoirs or a celebrity cook book. Then your choice makes the cut, victory is yours, and Simon & Schuster puts out another loser of a book that doesn't earn back the advance.

Would you find a way to cheat if your novel was in the running? Sure you'd be a fool not to, with a publishing contract on the line. Why trust to luck, or trust to other site participants being able to estimate the tastes of readers? And what if there aren't quite enough voters involved in the whole process? Wouldn't it be wise to create a load of fictional members and vote yourself in?

In theory, it sounds legitimate and even reasonable, but the books themselves aren't being judged for quality or readability by a real focus group of people who would sincerely consider buying the novel if it were available. Publishing is a crap shoot right now, but is there any sense in turning it into an interactive Internet game?

All For One But Not For Eire

The point of a union of European nations was to make them equal, or at least as equal as necessary to achieve some sort of financial might. And it's a work in progress, this European Union, which means that the highest hurdles are being reached. And being stumbled over.

Ireland set its corporate tax rate at 12.5%. Multinational firms flocked to Ireland to set up shell companies to become sinks for profits, which could then be taxed at the low Irish rate and there's more for the executive bonuses come Christmas time. The knock-on effect of a low tax rate has been nothing less than dazzling for Ireland, with a resultant boom in the economy that turned the country around so fast that heads are still spinning in Clondalkin and Bunratty.

Peer Steinbruck, EU finance minister and dour German, has looked across the water and seen that Ireland is making hay while the sun shines, but it's cloudy weather over the rest of the continent. So there's one EU member that's doing head and shoulders better than the rest, and isn't that what the union of European nations was supposed to prevent? Time to put a stop to it, and bring Ireland back into line with everyone else.

Mr. Steinbruck is calling for a tax equalization scheme, so that all EU members are charging the same amount and once again they could all be equal. There should be no winners and losers, therefore there must be harmonisation, a single corporate tax base for all. Wouldn't that be better, Berlin suggests, because this would boost the single market and companies could avoid dealing with 27 different sets of laws. Berlin is surely aware that companies avoid dealing with 27 different sets of laws by going to one place, Dublin, but it doesn't look very nice to come out and begrudge your neighbor's success.

The Irish Taxation Institute is hard-core against any such tax harmonisation, which they say will not reduce costs for companies but increase them. Clearly, the taxes paid by Dublin based shell companies would be increased if the tax harmonisation scheme goes through. And when the bean counters finished calculating, those same companies will close up their little offices and move on to the next tax haven, taking their profits with them. It's all to lose for Dublin, and they'll be fighting like savages to hang on to the engine that drives the Celtic Tiger. As for the rest of Europe, well, it's obvious, isn't it? Don't try to inflict your continental short-sightedness on the rest of the member nations. Lower your own tax rate and join the party.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cicada Watch - Getting Closer

Handsome, isn't he? They're still below ground, a good three to four inches, and with the recent chill the cicadas may not make their grand debut precisely on 22 May.

This one is clearly a male -- can you not see the tiny bottle of Axe body wash in the lower center? Besides, you'd never get a girl to sit still this close to the big dance....they're all off getting their hair and nails done.

In a hole about 12 inches in diameter, I found twenty to twenty-five of these lads, ready to go as soon as things heat up. The hormones are raging in these seventeen year old bugs, and it's not much longer before the cicadas are having it off like the sex-crazed beasts that they are.

Breathtaking Humility

The worst President in history? Jimmy Carter is pushing the label on George W. Bush, and we're admiring Jimmy's great humility, trying not to be at the head of the table. But when it comes to the worst President, ah now, Jimmy, you'll never shake the label.

You were hands down the worst man to hold the office. The most incompetent, no one can touch you there. Runaway inflation, the crisis in Iran, you've got those on your record. I'll never forget my neighbor whose husband lost his job during the economic downturn that was the highlight of your administration. She found a way to re-use emery boards, looking to cut corners at every turn. The Carter interest close to 20%...stand proud, now, Jimmy and wrap your arms around your legacy.

Jimmy "Turn Down Your Thermostat" Carter will be remembered as the wimp in the White House, donning a lovely warm cardigan during the height of the energy crisis. Long lines at the gas stations, such is the lasting legacy of Jimmy Carter, the peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia who was far out of his league as President. And he insists that George W. Bush is the worst President? If it weren't so laughable it would be pathetic.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New Book Section

Today is the day that the Chicago Tribune debuts their new book review section. There's been plenty of hand wringing and angst over the decline in the newspaper book department, but the Chicago Tribune's new version is much longer than their old Sunday review insert.

Not a lot has changed. They continue to list the Publishers Weekly best sellers, and there's still the top five sellers from a local bookstore, to show what Chicagoans are reading. And it doesn't match up completely with the Publishers Weekly version, either. Nice to see a flash of independence.

An interview with author Walter Mosley continues the tradition of a brief Q and A. Seems the man's gone and written a book on how to write a novel. There's something to watch for on the shelves of the book dealer's fine emporium.

Turn the pages, and there are book reviews. A lot of book reviews, full page reviews, and right there on page 5 is Tony Romano's debut novel. He's a teacher at Fremd High School in suburban Palatine, and look at that picture. He's not a twenty-something man-scaped specimen at all. Sure there's hope for us all, those who don't hail from New York and know their way around the island of Manhattan and don't have a wrinkle or a grey hair.

As promised, the Chicago Tribune is taking a look at books from local authors, home grown literary gems that may not get noticed on the coast. Isn't that what the town paper should do? It's not all about shopping at Bloomingdale's and affording to live in the trendiest part of town without losing one's soul. There are stories that are set in the Midwest, good stories that are worth the time to read, and the Tribune means to highlight some of them.

The debut edition of the Saturday book section is a winner. More reviews, with the same features that were part of the old Sunday version, make for a lovely part of the Saturday paper. Pity that more people don't buy the paper on Saturday. They'll be missing out on some news that's very much fit to print. Ah well, there's always the Internet.

Fast Peddling

The Tour de Ireland is about to get underway, with teams from Germany, the US, Estonia, Czech Republic, Australia and the Netherlands competing against Ireland's best. The Iranian team was supposed to come, but things took a rather odd turn and there's no Iranians racing after all.

Several members of the team have gone missing since landing on the shores of the Emerald Isle. Event organizer Dermot Dignam had worked long and hard to get them clearance, five cyclists and four support personnel, thinking that he was dealing with a legitimate official of an official Iranian team. He thought he was talking to Ali Zangi Abadi, vice-president of the Cycling Federation of the Islamic Hell of Iran, but he was talking to a complete impostor. Who could have known? When a man tells you he's the bronze medal winning cyclist from the 1982 Asian Games, you take him at his word. There's that commandment about not bearing false witness, except it's a Judeo-Christian thing and the Iranians will have nothing to do with either Jews or Christians. Except to persecute them, of course, but that's going off on a tangent.

Mr. Dignam started to get suspicious when four of the group turned up a week early, and when it was time to check in to their hotel, they were nowhere to be found. When two more Iranians trotted off a plane in Dublin a few days ago, Customs officials refused to allow them into the country, and one presumes that they were shipped straight back to Iran. This was after someone placed a call to the Iranian embassy, to see what was up, and then the whole scam was revealed. Apparently, the entire Iranian cycling team was shown to be a complete fiction.

Where are the four cyclists who made it in? While the legitimate teams spin across 1200 km of Irish countryside, there are four Iranian nationals on the loose. Will they show up and ask for political asylum? Will they attempt to enter the US and engage in terrorist activities? Will they discover that a key component of the Irish national diet is bacon and other pork products, and thus starve to death?

And do you suppose that the Department of Homeland Security in Washington DC is all over the story? And could it be that security's been tightened at Shannon Airport, where troops on their way to Iraq and Afghanistan stretch their legs at the lay-over?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Making Money The Old-Fashioned Way

As a chef on a cruise ship, Paul Humphreys probably made a respectable salary. Not enough to live a life of luxury, but enough to be comfortable. Comfort was not enough for Mr. Humphreys, however, and he probably grew weary of the peripatetic lifestyle that was the fate of anyone working on a cruise ship. All that back and forth on the water, sure who wouldn't want to reside on dry land?

He found another line of work, one that brought in money by the boat load. Unfortunately, owning and maintaining a string of brothels in Dublin is not entirely legal. Pity, as he was operating such a lovely set of premises.

Mr. Humphreys was counting money when gardai came to call at his home at Harty Court on the Lower Ormond Quay. Stacks of money, in the vicinity of Eu30,000, to be precise, and that's a very nice profit for any business. In court, it was revealed that the businessman had earned as much as Eu780,000 per year, and there's no chef in the world who can claim that sort of income from cooking alone.

He occupied five buildings that were used for prostitution, employing up to five ladies who worked two shifts of ten hours each. At a cost of Eu150 per 30 minute session, they kept half and paid Mr. Humphreys half, which sounds fairly equitable all things considered. None of the women were underage, he said, and the houses were kept very clean and neat, probably accounting for the four hours of down time that could have been used to air the mattresses. No one being taken advantage of, none of that, according to the defense, in a 'no harm, no foul' sort of way.

The brothel owner kept meticulous records, as would any sensible entrepreneur. The prosecutor had plenty of evidence to show that 47 clients were made happy in one shift, to the tune of Eu8,730, shared with the employees as per an agreement that was steadfastly maintained.

In his defense, Mr. Humphreys noted that he came from a good family, and showed no past inclinations to entering such a profession. Apparently he was not the sort of pimp to swagger about the streets in furs and large hats, overloaded with bling. A respectable gentleman, he ran his business like a respectable concern.

Still, prostitution and pimping are illegal, and Mr. Humphreys' hard earned gains have been sequestered. The court is looking into his other assets, with an eye to confiscating the lot. As Judge Frank O'Donnell said, Mr. Humphreys has no business walking around with his pockets stuffed with money now that he's been caught. So it's off to jail for the highly successful Mr. Humphreys, there's a fine of Eu40,000 to be paid, and he's going to lose his lovely holiday home in Cyprus along with anything else the Criminal Assets Bureau can locate.

Sometimes the best laid plans do oft times go astray.

Don't Quit Your Day Job

For all the illegal immigrants, the grand announcement of a tentative deal to normalize their status has left them scratching their heads. Is it good news, this bargain struck in Congress, or is it more of the same? Talk, followed by news headlines trumpeting a breakthrough, has been heard before.

The full Senate has yet to decide on whether or not to cobble together a program to allow those here illegally to come out from behind the wall and stand proud in the sun. To hear the news reports, one might think that a solution to a thorny issue had been tackled and wrestled to the ground. Hot on the heels of the announcement, however, came the first bleatings of protest. It's an amnesty, some Senators were heard to say, and we'll not have it.

It's not one political party or the other that's ready to attack and tear the legislation to shreds. Much depends on where the politician comes from and what the locals think. In these parts, where Mexican immigrants bus tables, clean houses, cut lawns, paint, dry-wall, and so on ad infinitum, voters agree that something must be done to change the law, but whatever happens don't make these people go back. Who'll mind the babies, for the love of God? Who'll bag the groceries? Not our local youth -- they've no need of jobs.

Some parts of the country don't even know what an illegal immigrant looks like. They've no need of cheap labor because there's not much doing where they live, and they fear an influx of foreigners who might come in and snatch up the few jobs that exist. It's "No Irish Need Apply" once again, and it's the same fear of change that's behind it. Can you look at Boston and say it's the same city as it was when shots were fired at Breed's Hill?

Under provisions of the proposed bill, 400,000 guest workers could come to call, and they can't settle down permanently. Those with skills, like computer geeks from India who would work for less money than their American counterparts, would get priority while the lovely Irish gentleman who's putting the addition on your house would have to take a back seat. 'Sure we'll have the dry wall up by next spring, missus, if I can get back in the country' will become a handy excuse for delays in construction.

Then there's the fines and requirements to leave the country before obtaining a green card. That's a bit of a problem for the illegals working for cash, at less than minimum wage, and who would be willing to go back home with no guarantee that you'd get back in? What happens to a person's business if they're not in the country to run things? Think you could bring in your brother to lend a hand, or get your oldest son over to wield a hammer or a saw? Not with the new program that guts the traditional methods to build wealth through a family business.

So don't be quitting your day job, illegal immigrant. This new plan won't take effect any time soon, and it certainly won't look the same when it's passed.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bill Clinton Campaigns

He's not busy enough touting the missus, apparently. Now the former American president is speaking on behalf of Bertie Ahern, the man who would be Taoiseach again. Going for a record third term, Mr. Ahern has brought out the heavy guns, and doesn't Mr. Clinton have quite the reputation when it comes to campaigning?

He's looked on as the golden boy, an attention-getter with a smooth delivery and charming persona. "If it hadn't been for Bertie Ahern," Mr. Clinton said in a recent election broadcast, "we would never have had the Good Friday agreement."

How's that for a hearty pat on the back? You'll not hear the same said about Enda Kenny, the other man who would be Taoiseach (in this case, for the first time). Sure 'tis Bertie himself who brought about peace in the north, and isn't he the statesman? No less a political light than Bill Clinton is his friend and admirer, and as for that other fella....Edna, was it? A woman? No? Pity.

The Fine Gael leader is not impressed by Bertie's buddies. They're on the way out, as far as Enda Kenny is concerned, and not worth a second glance. Has-beens, the Clintons and Blairs who touted Mr. Ahern's contributions to the world, and Mr. Kenny doesn't believe that a single Irish voter is going to be swayed by such a promotion. And didn't Fianna Fail make fun of Fine Gael for swanning about with a letter from German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Funny how the shoe pinches when it's on the other foot, Fine Gael wants the voters to know.

So it's back to the campaign promises, the hundreds of hospital beds and shorter work hours and more pay and the economy will keep bubbling along and don't pay any heed to the economists when they talk about decreasing productivity leading to inflation and further gloom and doom. Remember, it could be a lot worse. Sinn Fein could win enough seats to come into Government in a new coalition.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Joys Of Deregulation

The cost of living has skyrocketed in Ireland, making the small country one of the most expensive places to live in Europe. Fine Gael, if they can get into office, will make things all better.

High prices in certain sectors are due to Government regulations, according to Richard Bruton of Fine Gael. He blames all the fees and added costs, which do nothing but bring in more money which acts as a sort of tax that isn't called a tax. FG will put an end to this sort of nonsense. They'll set fees in accordance with an international benchmark, all very efficient with rate hikes in line with the rate of inflation. However, if Government is using the inflated fees to pay for Government, then how will FG pay for Government without the fees? By cutting programs? By raising taxes? It has to be one or the other.

And let's look at utilities. Specifically, let's tackle the high cost of electricity. FG will introduce competition into the marketplace. It's been done in Illinois, and from experience I can tell you it's been dazzling. Consumers pay more now than they ever did before, thanks to deregulation and the removal of government control. The newly privatized companies are making enormous profits, and their shareholders are thrilled to bits.

Deregulation sounds lovely. Competition, that's the ticket. New firms will spring up to take advantage of a highly desirable commodity. New firms will want to invest billions in construction of power lines, electric production facilities.....oh, wait, no they don't. That's the gaping hole in the plan. The cost of starting up a company to generate and distribute power is cost-prohibitive, therefore, deregulation does not bring about a decrease in consumer costs. Take the electric grid away from ESB, like the State of Illinois removed Commonwealth Edison, and companies will arise to buy existing power plants, and companies will arise to buy the electricity and distribute it, and consumers will have to pay more than before for the extra layer of bureaucracy.

To Fine Gael's advantage, and in spite of the quality of Irish education, few voters have taken a course in microeconomics and don't know much about the laws of supply and demand. Makes for fewer questions to answer.

Frankly My Dear

Every day, literary agents reject manuscripts that they may like, but feel that they cannot sell. Literary agents approach editors at publishing houses with manuscripts, and even they get rejected. Can't have anything that's too different, from an author that hasn't been published, and don't you have something like the blockbuster from last summer? Bring us something that's been done, and proven itself, but it can't be a duplicate. Different but the same.

As if there aren't more than enough good manuscripts out there, St. Martin's has settled on the tried and true. Hasn't Gone With The Wind proven itself? It still sells, it still generates buzz, and the sequel that came out a few years back was a big seller. The critics savaged it, but they're not buying copies of the book anyway so who cares what they think. Please don't publish something that's new and fresh -- go with a rehash of an old story with some comfy and familiar characters.

Margaret Mitchell refused to write her own sequel, but she's dead so who gives a toss what she wanted. Lawyers for Ms. Mitchell's estate turned to a known commodity, the woman who had written a sequel to the very deceased Jane Austen's beloved novel Pride and Prejudice. If anyone could channel Margaret Mitchell, they reasoned, it was Emma Tennant. Got to keep the original voice, tone, etc., and so Ms. Tennant let fly with the words and now she's the proud owner of a manuscript that can never be published. It turns out that her version of Gone With The Wind For A Third Time was a bit too British, wasn't acceptable, and can never see the light of day thanks to the machinations of her contract with Mitchell's people.

But there's money to be made. Why bother rifling through the manuscripts sent over by the literary agents? Find another author to pen the sequel to the sequel. Enter Donald McCaig, a novelist known for his Civil War tales. He was given a contract to produce a book, and he plunged into the necessary research. Coming soon to a book dealer near you: Rhett Butler's People. Haven't you been wondering all these years about the back story to Rhett's character? Now you can have it. Or at least that part of it that arises from Mr. McCaig's imagination.

Some will hate it, some will love it, but the fact remains that Margaret Mitchell didn't write it. There are countless hundreds of good manuscripts out there that may never be published because the big houses are afraid of the unknown. They churn out a repeat in the hope of success, and then ponder over their declining sales figures.

Will Rhett Butler's People maintain Margaret Mitchell's tinge of nostalgia for the good old days of slavery? Will the author take the modern tack and demonstrate the horrifying reality of lifelong servitude, or will he take a page from the Ku Klux Klan, which was lionized in Gone With The Wind? Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Campaign Speech

Bertie Ahern has made his statement about the Drumcondra house and how it was financed. Surely his way of making the purchase was the first time such a convoluted scheme was utilized, but there's always a first time for anything.

This afternoon, he'll set another precedent as he marches along the campaign trail. For the first time, An Taoiseach will address the British Parliament as a leader of a sovereign nation that battled for centuries to be free of the host country. We're doing well on our own, his presence will declare, and we're not your doormat any more. The Celtic Tiger, prosperity and new development are all present in the room as Bertie Ahern speaks. For the first time, Ireland and England are engaging as equal entities on the world stage.

The housing issue will fade into the background as pundits dissect the deeper meaning of Mr. Ahern's appearance before Parliament. Will someone reflect on the ghosts of Charles Parnell or William Gladstone, or will the echoes of the debate over Home Rule be resonating from the past?

Enda Kenny will be present, but he is a minor player in the day's events. He's running for office, but Bertie Ahern holds that office and it is Bertie Ahern addressing Parliament and getting news coverage. Yes, yes, he's looking forward to working with the incoming British Prime Minister when he's taoiseach, of course he is. But it all sounds like a bit of a dream, the wishful thinking of the man in the back of the room who'd very much like to be up front.

Incumbents run on their records, and Fianna Fail has been touting the success of their policies in transforming the Irish economy. They point out that the Opposition promises won't work, don't add up, cost too much, etc. etc. Dry numbers don't captivate the audience, however. Much more intriguing to see an Irishman walking proudly through the halls of Westminster, being the head of state, making the nation proud of what's been accomplished. Enda Kenny can only follow behind at a respectful distance and dream a little dream.

Too Hot, Too Cold

My four green fields, covered in ice. The end of civilization in Northern Europe, buried under a sheet of ice, the land unable to sustain agriculture or human life.

Sorry, not quite it, actually, say the climatologists. All that mini ice age business? Not to be. They had it wrong. When the global warming crowd terrorized us all with the promise of an impending ice age in Europe, they cited all sorts of computer models that supported their dire predictions of impending doom. Meanwhile, the temperature in Northern Europe stayed warm. A bit warmer than it had been for the previous ten years. Looking rather foolish, the scientists went back to their computers, punched in some new numbers, and voila! A new model. Europe's not going to get colder after all. It's going to get warmer.

The Gulf Stream isn't going to collapse at all. Odd though it may seem now, after all these top notch brainiacs came to their conclusions, the demise of the warm ocean current that keeps Ireland green would be quite impossible. And as long as there is a Gulf Stream, Europe will be bathed in Caribbean warmth. No creeping ice sheets covering Antrim and Leitrim, no frozen farmers out in their frigid fields. Turns out that the North Atlantic Current and the Gulf Stream are quite stable, thank you very much, and the computer models that predicted the end of the world were wrong, wrong, wrong. But the new computer models must surely be correct.

Part of the old theory was based on the notion that melting ice on Greenland (called Greenland because it used to support agriculture) would dump fresh water into the Atlantic, dilute the ocean, and disrupt the Gulf Stream. As it turns out, such an event did happen about 8200 years ago, when our ancestors were merrily burning fossil fuels and pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a tremendous rate. The result was a cooling of temperatures for 160 years. And since it happened once before, it could certainly happen again. We must learn a lesson from our carbon dioxide spewing ancestors, and prevent such a catastrophe. Sure it was carbon dioxide emissions, wasn't it? Couldn't be a natural phenomenon, that warm spell.

Fear not, Europe. You'll not freeze up any time soon. The earth was warmer once, and it's on its way back, in a cycle that we cannot control. Eventually, the climatologists will figure out how to make their computers generate the right sort of data so that their predictions fit in with what is happening and they won't have to flip-flop repeatedly. They're not generating a great deal of confidence if they say one thing today and then say the opposite tomorrow. You might get the idea that they don't actually know anything at all.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Last Place In The Eurovision Song Contest

Dead last, in fact. If not for the five points from Albania, handed out in an act of sympathy and charity, Ireland's 2007 entry would not have garnered a single point.

And someone thought this was worthy of entering in a contest, to represent the Emerald Isle? Is it any wonder that the USA is the heart of the music industry, when Dervish puts together a music video with fire and ice, wolves, and some bizarre vision of prehistoric Finns.

Watch at your own risk, and don't say I didn't warn you.

Better that Father Ted submitted My Lovely Horse, all things considered.

Agent News

According to today's edition of Publishers Marketplace news, and I quote:
Graywolf Press has hired agent Rolph Blythe as marketing director and Anna Peterson will take on the new role of managing director. Most recently, Blythe has run the eponymous Blythe Agency. Peterson has been the program coordinator for the writing division at Columbia University for seven years.

A check of Rolph Blythe's agency website, however, doesn't give a clue about his plans. Will he still be an agent, perhaps on a part-time basis? Is he giving up agenting all together and heading for the steady paycheck from Graywolf Press?

An author could take a chance and send off a query, but it's anyone's guess if there would be a reply. And what happens to the stable of authors that Mr. Blythe represents? Will they be turned out into the cold, cruel world to find representation elsewhere?

Manhattan, The Edge of the Known World

They have no idea, all the literary agents and editors in New York City. It's all a crapshoot to them, their own industry. Will a book be a big seller or a flop, they ask, and they have no answers.

A recent article in the New York Times attempted to analyze this difficult situation. Why do the New York based publishing concerns have no idea what is going to work? For example, the recently released Prep had a very rough birth. Agent Shana Kelly of powerhouse agency William Morris thought it was brilliant. The editors she contacted didn't fall in love. A book about coming of age in prep school? However would that sell beyond the toney East Coast, where people actually go to prep school? Surely the folks in fly-over country could not relate to a story about prep schools. Would they even know what a prep school is?

The bean counters at the publishing houses poured over the numbers. How many books has the author sold? None? What's the likely audience? Very small? Sorry, but that just does not add up. We can only buy manuscripts from famous people with platforms and a long backlist of highly successful titles who write things that appeal to the masses. You know, all those people who don't live on the island of Manhattan and so are as foreign and unknown as the Yeti in the Himalayas. And we don't even know what they like.

They liked Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, didn't they? Well then, they'll like his next book, so let's throw $8 million his way and we'll be rolling in money. Snake-eyes! Crapped out! Thirteen Moons only earned back $1 million, and it's fading away. Don't know why, those financial analysts at the big publishing houses. Hard on the success of Prep comes a second novel from author Curtis Sittenfeld, another coming of age novel. Not anywhere near as successful, but it's the same story again. Why oh why isn't it flying off the shelves like the first one? Repetitio est mater laurus, isn't it?

Big marketing campaigns certainly help, to get the word on the streets beyond the fringe of the known universe that is the island of Manhattan. But the suits in the offices that look out over the distant shore have no idea what all the rest of us are looking for in a book. What entertains those people out there in the parts of the country they know nothing about?

They see nothing beyond the ends of their own noses, and have no system in place to peer into the minds of those they would like to snag as buyers. Perhaps the time has come for the likes of Random House and HarperCollins to hire on some interns to surf the Internet. Want to know what people in the rest of the country are interested in, what they think of your books and what they would like to read? There's plenty of blogs out there that might give a hint.

That Would Be Why

Tara Mark hasn't answered my queries. Why is that?

A check of the agency website might provide a big clue. She's not listed as part of the RLR team anymore. Could be that queries addressed to her are being tossed, or forwarded to her and she just isn't into the agenting business anymore.

Strike another agent off the list. But keep an eye open. There's bound to be someone new coming in to take her place. Someone who hasn't seen the query before, doesn't know the title and has never heard your name.

There's always another opportunity on the horizon.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Bless Me, Father

No one outside of Chicago had heard about DePaul University until the basketball team made the news. Located in a very trendy neighborhood, the Catholic university and the athletic department staff put together some excellent teams and enjoyed a successful run, on into the NCAA Tournament.

With tournament appearances came money, lots of it, and the Vincentian Fathers who run the place sank the largesse back into the university. There was expansion, land acquisitions, buildings bought, new buildings constructed, and the corner of Belden and Sheffield has not looked the same since.

Having a basketball team on television on a regular basis provided the right sort of publicity, and before long the sleepy little private school was attracting more and more students. All to the good, for the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission is to teach. In spite of accepting federal dollars, DePaul held onto their Catholic philosophy, and the school is operated by priests. Where, in all of this, was there any training or preparation to handle a major dust up?

Allan Dershowitz, famous lawyer and frequent talking head, is out to get Norman Finkelstein. The DePaul University assistant professor is up for tenure, but Mr. Dershowitz will have none of it. Threats are flying right and left, while Father Holtschneider, university president, must sort through the babble and make a decision.

Mr. Finkelstein is controversial, taking the position of critic of the State of Israel and the notion of Jewish victimhood. He lashes the Jewish establishment, claiming that they are encouraging anti-Semitism by their actions. Wherever he goes, he attracts a crowd, and his students love his lectures. When a man titles a book The Holocaust Industry and has the likes of Noam Chomsky for a mentor, that man is a magnet for controversy.

To get tenure, college professors are expected to publish, and Mr. Finkelstein has done his bit, producing texts that have garnered positive reviews from scholars. But Allan Dershowitz thinks that the professor is an anti-Semite, and has no business getting tenure from any place. One might presume that Mr. Dershowitz was stung by Beyond Chutzpah, the Finkelstein answer to Dershowitz's The Case For Israel. Probably compared Amazon rankings and found that his tome was not selling anywhere near as well as Finkelstein's counter punch, and isn't there so much jealousy among authors? That, and Finkelstein called Dershowitz a moral pervert. A bit of an insult, and dueling has long since been outlawed, so they go after one another with the mighty word.

So what does the lawyer Dershowitz do? He threatened to sue Mr. Finkelstein's publisher if the 'moral pervert' business appeared in the new book. Just because the insult was not published, however, Mr. Dershowitz has not backed down or gone away. He's barraging the once quiet Catholic university, all in his protracted battle to deny tenure to his nemesis.

Father Holtschneider may be praying for divine guidance on this thorny issue. There's freedom of speech to consider, and freedom to express dissenting opinion. Yet there is a duty to respect the rights of others while upholding the rights of scholarly discussion. Some things they just can't teach a man in the seminary.

Cicada Watch

Cicada larvae, freshly emerged.
Imagine hundreds of them crawling up the trees on a warm spring night. Glistening in the lamp light...silent....preparing to molt into sexual maturity.

Counting down to Cicada Day.....
....Ten days to go....
Are you ready?

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Missing Step

In a recent blog entry, Jessica Faust of BookEnds describes the steps to obtaining an agent as she breaks down the responses an author might get from their queries. It's an evolutionary process, starting with the bad news and developing into the good. She left out one step, however, and it's a relatively new way station on the road to publishing.

Send out queries and get form rejections, that's the start of the process. That's how it used to be, at any rate, and how it was when I first stumbled into the querying process about four years ago. For all the query letters I mailed in the first couple of years, only five were never answered. Considering how many letters were posted, that's a fairly insignificant number.

Where do things stand today, on the rejection front? BookEnds never responded to a query mailed last August, which contained a SASE for the rejection letter to be stuffed into. Lost in the mail, possibly? Michele Beno of Curtis Brown, Tara Mark of RLR, Melanie Jackson, and Melissa Chinchillo of Fletcher & Parry never responded at all. The SASE was there, following proper agent approaching protocol, but the 'no response is a no' appears to have evolved into a suitable reply to snail mail queries.

Who else doesn't respond to snail mail queries? Alex Glass at Trident Media, Kelly Harms at Jane Rotrosen, Elizabeth Winick at McIntosh & Otis, and Anna Ghosh at Scovil Chichak Galen have added the 'ignore' step to the query process. It worked so well with the e-mail queries, got the authors trained, and now they can kiss their SASEs good-bye. There was a time when snail mail practically guaranteed some sort of response, so that the author at least knew that the letter arrived, but the times they are a-changin'.

With the introduction of the Forever Stamp, those pre-paid envelopes will be perfect for mailing correspondence to an agent's signed authors, and come Christmas time, the photo greeting card will fit perfectly in those #10 envelopes. In a way, anyone approaching an agent with their snail mail query will be paying for the agent's time to open the letter, glance at the first sentence of the query, and then ignore the whole thing. One hundred queries a week? That's enough stamped envelopes to buy bagels and coffee for the week.

Sure there's a black market in New York City, with literary agents selling SASEs at a discount to businesses in need of stamped envelopes. There's a new industry that's sprung up, making the rounds of the agencies and paying 85% of the face value. The agent, of course, keeps the other 15%.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

This Year's Christmas Gift

Barbara Holland must surely be the wisest woman on the face of the earth. Her new book was recently reviewed in the New York Times, and never has a work of non-fiction been more intriguing and well worth every penny of the cost.

I'll be buying The Joy of Drinking come November, multiple copies in fact, to give away to the many friends and relations who are in need of proper gifting at the holiday season. Has a more perfect gift book come along these past few years? Grand indeed to place that on the coffee table and let guests know where we stand on the issue. There's liquor in the house, and we're delighted to share. Will you have a drink?

Ms. Holland describes drink as the glue that holds society together, and her words ring true. The no-smoking rule in effect in rural pubs in Ireland has had a very detrimental effect on society there, with some choosing to stay home on the farm rather than travel to the local because they can't pair a cigarette with their pint. It's a point that's been highly debated, with a very real concern about social isolation. The local pub is the center of life in small towns, where gossip is traded and farm issues discussed, and even the politicians in Dublin are worried about losing the very necessary meeting of neighbors that happens in the local. It's not all about the drink, but the interacting.

The book covers such diverse topics as the nutrient values in beer, which we all know are quite high. There was a time when new mothers in hospitals were issued a bottle of Guinness a day, to build them up after childbirth. And didn't your mother tell you it was medicinal? Why else would she have given you a few spoonfuls when you were under the weather?

A woman after my own heart is Barbara Holland. The review describes her relative distaste for the current trend of drinking as an elite sport, with all the wine touring and cork sniffing and microbreweries with their product so rare. If you're hosting a drinks party and your guests are having a grand time of it, they won't much care if you're serving some fancy wine or the ten dollar barrel wash. As Ms. Holland points out, drinking has become a snob's game that has lost the fun of sharing a jar with friends, to become an opportunity to show off one's financial might and vast store of obtuse knowledge about vintage and grape. To make matters worse, the current trend of alco-pops and fruit flavored drinks has added a certain childish aspect to the mixed drink, a trend that was put in train by alcohol purveyors to sell more product to those raised on Coca-Cola and Kool-Aid.

But the very best part of the whole book is saved for last. What you've been wanting and needing for all these years is now available....directions on how to make a still. Can you smell the poitin brewing?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Obsessive Compulsive Fun

Must get published to be published. Must publish. Publish or perish.

I love my account at Duotrope. Whenever I like, I can bring up my page. I can study it. I can examine it. I can analyze it. I can compare. I can spend hours obsessing over statistics and data and I can drive myself mad with it. Sure that's what heaven is like.

I have 38 submissions logged so far, of which 14 are rejections. Forever and ever, I can see where I sent something and how long it took to get a reply. Was my rejection faster than average? The information's all there. Was my rejection slower than average? Simple to see, with a click of the mouse.

Has anyone heard back from Painted Bride Quarterly since last November? There's the answer, all very neatly set out for my obsessive pleasure. Yes, there is some activity there, for they have a new website, updated from last July when I sent them a submission. Someone else who subscribes to Duotrope has gotten a reply from them on 7 May. But they sent their material in October! I sent my short story in July. Has the journal lost my submission? Is it put aside in the maybe pile, to be examined more closely? Will I ever hear back from them?

Duotrope thinks I should follow up with The Greensboro Review and The Southeast Review because it's been ages since I sent material to them. The first one has had my submission for 203 days, but they usually get back to Duotrope users within 130 days. What are they waiting for? Did they lose the SASE and can never get back to me? As for the second journal, the editor was pretty clear about my sending them something else after he rejected my other short story. Now it seems that I'm either forgotten or under consideration. So it's 177 days and counting, compared to the more typical 85 days for a response.

The questions burn in my brain, occupying every thought process for hours, for days, for weeks. I'll have to check Duotrope again, searching for a clue. Lost or on the verge of acceptance or on the verge of rejection after being passed around the English Department; any and all options are open. Until, that is, my SASE turns up and the one true answer arrives...but the postage rates are going up next Monday and those SASEs only had $0.37 stamps because there was no talk of a rate increase that summer when I originally sent the manuscripts and will I ever get the letters or will they be returned for postage due?

So much to obsess over. So little time.

Bury My Heart In HBO

Books are rarely good enough for screen adaptation. Audiences who sit in front of glowing screens want to be entertained. If they wanted to learn something, they'd read a book.

Dee Brown's incredible history of the American Indian, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, was a blockbuster best seller when it came out in 1971, and it remains the quintessential non-fiction treatise. In page after page, the book is highly informative, educating people who had never before heard of the Lakota's side of the story and opening up many eyes to the harsh realities of Manifest Destiny and America's western expansion. This is the history of the loser, the other side of the coin.

HBO is going to make a movie of the book, but the book's just not sexy enough. In Hollywood's judgement, a character is sorely needed, one to appeal to the largely white audience. So bring in a fictional character into the non-fiction story, a half-native half-white, Ivy League educated gentleman. They plucked a somewhat similar person from history, a Santee who was sent away to boarding school back east, and plopped him in the middle of the Little Big Horn. The non-fiction story is set in a specific place, and HBO is trying to follow the historical narrative and adhere to the timeline of the events as much as possible. So they lift a real person, shake him out, dust him off, and put him where he never was in real life, all to make for a lovely story.

Dee Brown never allowed his book to be given the Hollywood treatment, no doubt because he expected the entertainment industry to do exactly what they have done. The esteemed author has passed away, however, and a project that was floated near the end of his life will soon come to life on the small screen.

Professor Raymond Wilson of Fort Hays State University is the leading authority on the real Ivy League native American, Mr. Charles Eastman. He's having a top laugh over Eastman's presence in the Dakotas, as per HBO's version, when in actuality Mr. Eastman was in Nebraska at the time of the battle at the Little Big Horn river. Watch HBO's version and you'd think Charles Eastman was there, watching events unfold. Read Professor Wilson's book, however, and you'll find an entirely different story, but reality is not as much fun as a writer's imagined scenario.

There has to be a love interest in any good movie, and HBO has warped time to put Elaine Goodale, who really was involved in native American education in the Dakotas, at a place she was not at with Mr. Eastman who was not there. Nicolas Proctor, the grandson of Dee Brown, is mourning this bastardization of a well crafted piece of history. As he has observed, the historical narrative, which is interesting in its own right, has been morphed into nothing more than a love story.

By resurrecting a book published thirty years ago, HBO may be doing something positive. Sales of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee may shoot up as viewers turn into readers and discover that there was far more to the story than the few hours of entertainment presented on television.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Unionism's Last Legs

No, no, no, the Big Man said for years on end, no to the Catholics and no to change. The IRA went to war and the Big Man said no, no, no to those who follow the Anti-Christ that they call the Pope. Today Ian Paisley, the paper-mill diploma reverend, took the oath of office as First Minister of Northern Ireland, the head of the self-governing body that was promised back in the days of Home Rule. It has come at last. Unionism is on its last legs, a slow death.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, wrapped in the Drumcondra housing scandal, was in attendance at Stormont when the oath of office was taken. Outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair was there as well, to witness one of the key items of his legacy. They were present when Martin McGuinness took the oath; they sat through the nomination of the ministers during this first sitting of the Stormont Assembly, to witness history being made.

"...on a road which will bring us back to peace and prosperity," Mr. Paisley said, because he sees that time has caught up to him at last. A bastion of sectarianism, a corner of the globe where hatred thrives, is not the stuff of which Celtic Tigers are made. The economy in the Six Counties is in a shambles, with a bloated public sector and no private industry to speak of. The Republic of Ireland passed them by, raced along on corporate investments and economic policies that created wealth. In the long run, that's what people really want. Unionism is grand for a talking point, but it never put a pound in anyone's pocket, and surely it rankles to see the Catholics to the south flouting their new found prosperity. Not unlike a Klansman looking at black folks driving Range Rovers through Atlanta on their way to jobs in banking and investment houses, while Mr. KKK is hard-pressed to buy a loaf of bread.

Gerry Adams spoke, remembering those who lost their lives in the Troubles, fighting for political rights. He talked of a united Ireland, of building a new relationship between Ireland and England. Sinn Fein has backed the police force and the rule of law, now that they have some say in those laws, but they're not about to support the United Kingdom of England and Northern Ireland.

What caused this earth shaking event, this complete reversal for Ian Paisley? As he himself admitted, he was driven into Stormont by the threat of London's Plan B. Go into government with Sinn Fein, he was told, or the Republic of Ireland will be involved in ruling the north, in conjunction with London. It will never be the same as it was, with direct rule; there will be a role for Dublin if you don't cooperate. And so he did.

Sinn Fein has won, in spite of Paisley's insistence that they were defeated when they accepted the rule of law. He thinks that the Shinners are accepting the United Kingdom as well, but he forgets Irish history. The Easter Rising of 1916 did not bring about the Republic of Ireland. It grew out of an election, to be driven by politicians who got into office and then took to governing as if England was not even there. After listening to Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, it looks as if history may be about to repeat.

Monday, May 07, 2007

If You Can't Say Something Nice

Finally got around to cracking open this month's book club selection. There's a little sticky note attached, calling for comments. I'm not the first club member to have the book. There's not one comment on the comment sheet.

First stop is the acknowledgement page, to find a mention of an agent's name. Some agents like to be told that you've discovered them through one of their client's books. It means you've read something, done some research, made an effort. Should you be able to stretch the truth enough and make your query sound like your novel is a good fit for the agent, you've got a personalized query letter for yourself. So who is the agent here? Oh, the horror. The author published the book herself, set up her very own publishing company to put this book out.

Amazon ranking? Somewhere on the far side of 1.7 million, clearly not a best seller by any means. Who is the author? Same last name as another book clubber....what if it's R---'s sister-in-law? And I can't ask, because if the answer is yes, the next question will be 'How did you like it?'

The book's bad. Really, really bad. Nothing happens until page 14, when the narrator is given a key to open a mysterious case, with the implication that Grandmother's hidden past will be revealed. That's the stuff of page turning, the stuff that goes at the beginning. Page 14 is too far beyond that. Fourteen pages of backstory, including a sizable info dump that does nothing to advance the story, is enough to dissuade the most intrepid reader. The start of the story is buried in extraneous material, and that's not a good sign.

But this is for book group, and I carry on bravely. What's this on page 18? Does it really say, in black and white, "As you know"? As you know, the narrator's parents were married fifteen years before she was born and she's an only child and what does that have to do with anything? It's drivel. It wastes space and my time. A good editor would have pointed this out, but the author printed up these things on her own and a good editor never had a chance to slice and prune.

By page twenty, it's obvious that this is an epistolary novel. One letter after another, all very chatty. The day was warm; the day was cool. I went for a walk up Road A and crossed at the intersection with Road B (as the author demonstrates her knowledge of the town in which the novel is set. I'm handy with Mapquest, and I don't need such extravagant directions even if I didn't live in the town. It's excess verbiage.)

On to page 26, where the author displays more historical research. We went to the theatre, saw a talking picture named this which starred them. It was a good movie. Did it move the narrator, make her think about her own situation? The next paragraph is just as boring, a litany of activities performed by the narrator that serve no purpose other than to show that the author did her research and she's going to share it with the reader. Does it matter that the women got together to talk about books and had chicken salad for lunch? What does that have to do with conflict, character, and all the rest.

And where is the conflict, anyway? After page 41, we can presume that the conflict is between the narrator and financial pressures that forced her to give up the man she loved to marry a man with money. Rather late in the day to set up that premise, as most readers have long since fled. The relative lack of conflict is not the worst part of the book. The major drawback is that it is a story that is told, and never once shown. The result? A shopping list of events that fall flat.

The author states in her acknowledgements that she wanted to do the book her way, so she went the vanity route. That's fine, but don't expect readers to follow along behind. Sometimes there's reasons for the rules, and reasons for editorial suggestions. It's shocking to discover that the author has taught writing classes at a local community center. She's had essays published in the town's weekly newspaper, but that's not at all the same as penning an engaging work of fiction and creating dynamic characters. The grammar in the novel is impecable, proper syntax, no head-hopping, but there's no life on the pages.

The comments sheet is blank, and it will remain unmarked. Everyone is too courteous to say something because there's really nothing particularly positive to say. Except for the front cover, of course. The photo of a bench and the lake at dawn is spectacular.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Twist In The Money Trail

Like unwanted guests that will not leave, some bundles of cash have been lodged in Bertie Ahern's political house and they simply won't go away.

In October of 1994, several wads of cash came calling. Evidence given to the Mahon tribunal indicated that this was a form of aid, when Mr. Ahern was getting out of a failing marriage and friends came through to help him get on his feet. Friends in Manchester passed the hat as well, and sent Mr. Ahern back home to Dublin with 8,000 stg. to see him through a rough patch. Mr. Ahern admitted to lodging 24,500 stg., all proceeds from private assistance.

According to the tribunal, at the exchange rate in use on the day the money arrived at the bank, Mr. Ahern had actually received the equivalent of 25,000 stg. A few pounds up or down, this is hardly an "Ah ha!" moment. Anyone using this one transaction to pillory the Taoiseach will be accused of over-reaching, splitting hairs over slight differences that fall within reasonable limits of memory.

That was not the only questionable transaction of cash, however. Michael Wall gave Mr. Ahern 30,000 in pounds sterling, yes, but that was turned over to Celia Larkin to manage. She placed the money at AIB, right there on O'Connell Street in the heart of Dublin. But sir, said the Mahon Tribunal, the amount that was lodged in the account was equal to $45,000, based on the rate of exchange on the day the money was tucked away. Mr. Ahern denies that he ever worked in dollars, and of that he is quite certain. Until more information is released, we are all left to ponder this particular exchange. Is the tribunal looking at bank records, and observing a transaction that exchanged dollars for Irish pounds? Why did the tribunal mention an exchange rate of dollars rather than British pounds? What's going on, exactly?

The money trail takes a decided turn further down the road, in June and December of 1995. According to the tribunal, the total sum that entered the bank did not add up, based on rates of exchange for Irish and British pounds. How did that happen? The Irish pounds left Mr. Ahern's bank account, 50,000 of them, and they were exchanged for the equivalent sum in pounds sterling. Mr. Wall was buying the infamous Drumcondra house, and Mr. Ahern was going to give him the money to pay for some work that Mr. Wall wanted done on the house. A designer kitchen could easily have run into the tens of thousands of pounds, and isn't the kitchen the heart of any home?

Wouldn't you know, but Mr. Ahern never did get around to giving Mr. Wall that money right away, so he kept it in a safe for a time. Mr. Wall did indeed receive some of it, not all of it, and the remainder was lodged back in the bank, mingled in with other sources of revenue that were lumped together in the same transaction. Hence, the numbers don't add up because there was more than one source. Rather like emptying out the trouser pockets at the end of a busy day and dumping all the change into one pile. After a week, there's five euro there and you couldn't say where exactly it all came from.

Somewhere in all this jumble is information that has the Progressive Democrats on edge. They've been in coalition with Bertie Ahern et al. and have been campaigning on their joint success. Do they want to be tied to a political party whose leader has some explaining to do? But if the voters don't turn against Fianna Fail, would they take it out on the PDs for turning against an innocent man?

So Bertie Ahern kept money in a safe -- what man doesn't try to hide assets from the wife he's leaving? It's all about the separation from Mrs. Ahern, and doing his best to hang on to the money that he didn't think she deserved after putting up with him for all those years. Better to dance around and hope the voters are more concerned with their own wallets than the Ahern billfold. It's far more politically damaging to be seen as a wealthy man who hid assets from the soon to be ex-wife than to be viewed as a Finance Minister who couldn't keep track of his own funds.

The Mahon Tribunal's gone home until after the election, delaying further investigation into the Ahern finances. If only the bundles of cash would do the same.